“It’s just my first time seeing someone so cool.”
Ugh, why am I even seeing that guy in my dreams? His deep, dark orbs mesmerized me as he stared at me while we sat in what seemed like a table in some random coffee shop—god damn it. I’m aware this was a dream and I’m crushing on a guy I had only seen twice. Liam smiled at me, stretching out his arm to hold my hand.
I could feel the blush creeping in my cheeks as I felt his warmth. It almost felt too real that it hurt. My chance of seeing Liam was slim, really slim, and yet I couldn’t stop myself from fantasizing him. Was it possible for me to fall in love with someone I just met?
No, I’m pretty sure I’m just attracted to him. He was pretty good looking—with his facial features sharp and gentle at the same time. For all I know, he might have been an asshole. Even if he didn’t act like he was when we met back in the storage room where that idiot brought me (and caused my transfer to North Vale, further reducing my chance to meet Liam). He stood among the rest of the people, sticking out like a sore thumb from because of how sophisticated he was. He didn’t act like he was a gangster, unlike that fucker that kidnapped me. Liam was actually well-mannered, gentle, and calm—it’s as if he’s hiding sinister under all that goody two shoe act of him.
Who was the real Liam, I wonder?
It’s disappointing that I wouldn’t even know. I had never crushed on anyone like this. All the boys in school were either gross, an asshole, or an idiot. Though there was this one kid that I liked back in first grade and he was one of the many reasons why I discovered who I really am. He was cute and all and I always find myself wanting to spend more time with that kid instead of playing with the others. The teacher found it endearing but after asking me who I wanted to marry in the future just for fun and giggles, I admitted that I wanted that kid to be my husband. And of course, that started my beautiful journey of dad wanting me to turn straight hence why he trained me how to fight and be a ‘man’. It backfired hard, and in the end, he had no choice but to accept who I was.
Staring back at Liam’s wonderful eyes, I smiled in appreciation. It would have been better if I could talk to him to uncover the enigma surrounding this guy.
I tightened my hold on his hand but was surprised when I heard him yelp. What? That’s not his voice. I knew because I engraved in my brain what his voice sounded like and no matter how creepy that sounded, it’s just my way to remember the one that got away.
So dramatic, Iza.
“—et go, Isaiah.”
I woke up from my dreams, gasping out loud. Looking from left to right only to see the confused and bizarre faces the passengers sitting, I realized I was still inside the bus. Right, we were on our way to North Vale’s office in Manila!
I sheepishly smiled at them, quietly apologizing for causing a scene. They returned to whatever they were doing, browsing their phones, and falling back to sleep. I looked back at dad who was checking out his hand. “I thought you’d break my hand, Isaiah,” he commented.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, rubbing my face to bring myself back to reality. I was having such a good dream about Liam that I forgot the grim future waiting ahead of me.
“Did you even sleep last night?” dad asked.
How could I when I’m about to enter a terrifying school that was meant for housing juvenile prisoners of the country? Yeah, sure, of course I’d fall asleep like my bed was made out of the most expensive material in the world.
Instead of answering like the brat that I was, I only forced a smile at dad. “I did.”
Dad knew I was lying but didn’t try to comment about it. “Did you tell Stephanie about your transfer?”
I scowled. She wasn’t happy that her closest friend would suddenly transfer schools in the middle of the year and was partly blaming herself for being the cause of it all. But she knew there’s nothing she could do. It’s not as if Stephanie could march into our house and demand my dad not to enroll me in North Vale.
“I did,” I said, nodding. I wanted to tell dad that she wasn’t happy about his decision, but he wouldn’t care. Once he made up his mind, there’s no one who could change it. Well, maybe except mom. But that’s not an option I could choose.
“Don’t worry, two years will past by quickly,” dad said, ruffling my hair in comfort. “They’ll take good care of you in North Vale.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.
An hour later and we finally arrived in the heart of the busiest city in the Philippines. I dreaded to see the long line of traffics back and forth, vehicles occupying every gap just to escape the brutal tight streets, the loud roaring of engines mixed with angry car honks and of course, people walking in and out of buildings, talking, standing idly in the corners with their phones—everyone looked so busy with their own lives that it felt as if I was in another realm. I kept looking outside the bus window, both scared and amazed at how different the real world was.
The tall skyscrapers surrounded us like it was some sort of sphere imprisoning all these people who had to work hard to earn a living. There were people dressed in formal attire, probably employed in an office job, and there were people who wore casual clothing, and some just looked like they came out of their house and decided to walk around the street, probably to get a breath of not-so-fresh polluted air or to find victims they could either harass or pickpocket.
I wondered if I’d ever find myself in one of these people’s shoes. I’m already seventeen, but a few years later and I’d have to search for a job and provide for my family. I didn’t want dad to work for the rest of his life. I had taken it as my responsibility to pay for Sam’s education after I get a job in the future. Whatever it was, I still didn’t know. I had no particular interest in college courses, but I figured I’d take a vocational course.
The bus conductor began calling everyone’s attention, announcing that we had arrived at the first stop. A couple of people stood from their seats, squeezing through the narrow aisle of the bus to get out. I looked at dad and he said we still had a couple of stops before arriving at North Vale’s main office in Manila.
I didn’t even know they had an office here. I thought they only accept children who had committed crime, but it turned out that they were also more than willing to reform troublesome kids like me.
Were they also accepting normal students that hadn’t break any laws or such? North Vale did have a nefarious reputation as they aimed to rehabilitate children to be better citizens of tomorrow, but they also had a considerable amount of connections in any kinds of business, (from what dad had told me before) that it gives students better offers to work for their associates after graduating at the said school.
Another twenty minutes passed and the conductor yelled again, notifying the passengers that we had arrived at the sixth stop. Dad stood up, taking my arm to make me sure I wouldn’t get lost. It wasn’t my first time in Manila, but it’s not as if I knew the city like the back of my hand.
As for dad, he had worked here for several years before moving to the province to stay with mom and build a family. He knew the place more than I could ever be.
Getting out of that stifling bus, I sighed in relief. I wasn’t a fan of long rides, but thanks to being sleep-deprived, I was knocked out the whole time I was in. Dad took my hand and as embarrassing as it was to walk like I was some kid, I couldn’t defy him.
Looking around the tall buildings, dad easily found where North Vale’s office was. It’s probably the tallest high-rise among the others and just looking at it made me feel intimidated. I gulped as everything dawned on me—that my life’s about to change now that I’m going to change schools.
I could feel my stomach churning in distress. Dad guided me to the building, talking to the security guard to ask for guidance. I stood behind him, watching the office workers dressed in fancy suits and dressed, walking through the glass doors in elegance and pride—I couldn’t help but stare. I wasn’t used to seeing people in professional attires and I couldn’t help but be impressed. They looked so posh and so different, it’s amazing.
“Isaiah,” dad called. He was finished talking to the guard and was calling me to follow him. I did, running to where he was. We walked through the rotating door, and for the nth time, I was astounded. I didn’t want to act like I was some country boy who hadn’t seen the city for his entire life, but I couldn’t stop.
I glanced at the two women waiting in front of the elevator with us. Like the other, they wore tight blouses and miniskirt that goes way past their knees. The heavy make-up they had almost obscured their faces.
“Yeah, I heard it from the exec. office,” the woman on the right said, scooting close to her friend. I stood still beside dad, staring at the door of the elevator as if I wasn’t eavesdropping on their conversation. “They said Sir Kenneth is getting married!”
“God damn it,” the other girl cursed, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “To that bitch? She’s a matapobre (1). We all know she got plastic surgery.”
“I know. Do you remember that time she went to Sir Kenneth’s office and harassed her secretary?”
“Of course, I remember that. Sir Kenneth had to stop her from pulling Kat’s hair.”
“She’s so weird. I hope he doesn’t go through the wedding. He deserves better.”
I wondered who they were talking about. Sir Kenneth? Was he their boss?
The elevator dinged and dad motioned me to enter the elevator. We squeezed in the tiny four-walled box as more people came to board the lift. Soon, it was filled, and the door closed.
I couldn’t breathe. The elevator started moving upwards and I began to feel nauseous. I hold onto dad’s arm, thinking it would help me alleviate the sick feeling I had in my stomach.
But sadly, it didn’t.
Dad caressed my back in hopes of comforting me. A few seconds passed, and we finally arrived in our designated floor much to my relief. The people inside let us through, and I was more than glad that we were finally out of that cramped area.
The floor we were at had several glass cubicles, with a reception table out in front. Two women were sitting behind the desk, typing on their computers without a care for the world. They both looked identical…or was it their make-up doing that illusion?
Dad approached the table. I smiled, sighing comfortably and thanking the strong wind blowing from the AC.
Looking around the place, I immediately noticed the acrylic logo of North Vale Institute attached to the wall. The white and red color scheme was a good combination—I would have mistaken it as one of the many normal institutes across the country. Fortunately, I knew better.
“Good morning,” dad greeted, smiling charmingly at the women. He wore an old-style semi-formal suit; a grey blazer with a clean white shirt under and dark pleated pants. A good match if I may say so myself. Dad definitely aged like a fine wine and I’m proud of it.
The woman on the right raised her head to look at him. “Yes, sir? How may I help you?” she asked. The bored expression on her face didn’t match her polite speech, it was weird.
“Hi, I just want to ask if North Vale is still accepting enrollees?” dad inquired.
I prayed in my mind that the woman would shake her head and turn us away. I stared at her as if I was trying to possess her body and soul. Luckily, she didn’t notice.
Please say you’re not accepting anymore.
“Yes, we’re always accepting applicants all year, sir,” she answered, shattering the last hope I had for humanity. I almost slit the woman’s throat in my mind. My shoulders dropped in dismay. God damn it!
“May I know what the requirements are? I’m planning on enrolling my son this month if that’s possible.”
Please say it’s not possible.
The woman printed what necessary documents, handing it to dad. “As you may know, sir, North Vale has an unconventional requirement for students to get in.” He nodded, listening to the woman while reading the paper he had in his hand. “We have two branches in North Vale, the juvenile reformation where students have to undergo rehabilitation, and the other branch, the regular class who accepts students who haven’t committed any crimes but needed behavior improvement.”
I blinked, confused at what she just said.
“The juvenile class is, of course, has to be approved by the local government for students to get accepted in the program. North Vale has to go through certain procedures to take in juvenile criminals to help with their rehabilitation. While the regular class needs to be paid by the parents or guardians for their children to get in. We also offer scholarships, sir.”
“I see,” dad mumbled. Smiling sheepishly, he said, “my son needs to be…taken care of for his erratic actions, ma’am.”
The woman turned to me, silently observing me with those piercing eyes. “Just please fill-up the form please,” she said, smiling. “I’ll let you know if your child is eligible to take the entrance exam.”
Dad nodded and smiled briefly at her before turning to me. The woman stood up from her chair and guided us to another section of the office where visitors were allowed to stay. The cubicle was large, with glass doors that enabled us to see the outside. There was a complete living room set; two large grey sofas that complemented the gloomy painting hanging on the wall. There was a flat-screen television embedded on the other side of the room, playing a loop of a muted video of a Korean drama.
Dad sat behind the small coffee table while filling up the form. I walked to the rectangular end table placed near the wall and stared at the complex-looking coffee machine that I didn’t even know how to operate. It also had stacks of magazines and current newspapers displayed on top.
I filled up the cup of water from the dispenser and sat beside dad. I peeked at the paper and it was five pages long with dozens of questions that I didn’t even bother reading. I looked at dad as if he had lost his mind. Was he really going to exert this much effort for me just because he wanted me to behave? Yes, I did cause a lot of trouble, but not only was he willing to spend more money for transferring me to a new school, but he’s also prepared to send me to another place all on my own. I get it, he wanted to teach me a lesson but come on, isn’t this too extreme?
It took him quite a while to fill up the form—contemplating each question for like a minute or two before answering it with a lengthy paragraph. I grimaced when I saw the form—it’s as if dad wrote an essay about how problematic I was.
He stood up, telling me to wait in the lounge to give the form to the woman. I reckoned it’d take quite some time to evaluate it. Standing up from the couch, I walked closer to the bulletin board on the wall and read the paper tacked on it.
It’s an announcement of declared holidays throughout the year. Under the notice was the signature of the owner; Kenneth Torres-Shao.
Torres-Shao? Wasn’t that the wealthy Filipino-Chinese group? They were famous in the country for owning hundreds of businesses, including the infamous North Vale Institute.
“They said Sir Kenneth is getting married!”
Were those girls talking at that Kenneth? The owner of North Vale? He’s getting married?
“Isaiah,” dad called from the outside. I quickly left the room and went to where he was.
The woman smiled at me and said, “you’ll take the entrance exam next week. We’ll text you the details.”
“Wait, I can go to North Vale?” I asked, my eyes widening in shock.
She nodded. “Yes,” she answered, her fake smile almost blinding me. “Once you pass the exam, you’ll be able to transfer schools.”
Dad smiled in relief. “Thank you so much. I didn’t expect it to be this fast.”
Yeah, we’re so used to the system being as slow as the motherfucking turtle that we had to sacrifice a whole day just for our government documents to be processed.
“The Torres-Shao group is determined to give every Filipino citizen a better living that they deserve,” the woman said, her eyes smiling as well. It looked way too creepy as if she was in some kind of cult that practiced that line for years. “You could have filled up the form online too, but of course, coming here in person is also an option.”
Dad was impressed, obviously. Not only was the Torres-Shao helping the country to take care of its growing juvenile crimes. Poverty was one of the main reasons why these children were being neglected by their parents who were trying so hard to survive or was too poor to even care. It sucked but this was the reality that I didn’t want to admit in the country I was living in.
But if the Torres-Shao was really attempting to change the Philippines for the better, then who am I to question them. They might have an underlying reason why they were doing this but I’m sure someone like me wouldn’t even know what it was, even if I ask.
They belonged to the elites, the highest of the highest, the group of people who had too much money that they could buy a country and rule it. I’d never understood how these people think and how they got that much money.
“That’s great,” dad said. Our trip here wasn’t wasted. Good for him. “Thank you so much.”
“Of course. After passing the entrance exam, the student will have to undergo a series of seminars,” the woman informed.
Seminars, huh? What is this? A job training?
“Thank you so much,” dad repeated.
“We’ll email and text you the details of the exam. You’ll be taking it with the second batch,” she added.
Standing up, she escorted us out to the door. Looking at me, she said, “you’ve been a really naughty boy, aren’t you, Isaiah?” I shuddered upon hearing her say those words. “I’m sure North Vale will help you straighten your behavior. Your father will be so proud.”
Why did she say that like she was a villain in some horror flick? “Uh, thanks?” I muttered awkwardly.
The woman then turned to dad. “Please tell Mr. Santos that we are thankful for his recommendation,” she said, mentioning Officer Danilo.
Dad nodded. “Most certainly, ma’am.”
She opened the door only to be surprised to see a group of people coming towards our way. A man who wore a black suit was surrounded by men and women handing in documents at him. I was taken aback by his face that greatly resembled Liam—the only difference was that he looked older than him. The same jet-black hair, dark eyes, the shape of the face, and the same dangerous gaze—am I seeing Liam in the future?
“Sir, Ms. Elena Chotangco is requesting a dinner tonight,” the woman on the right informed, her hands holding a tablet and a bag.
The other on the left chided, “but you have a schedule to meet Mr. Morales this evening, sir!”
The woman who was with us quickly stepped aside and so did we. We didn’t have to ask her who the man in the middle was. He was important and we didn’t stand a chance against him.
“Cancel all meetings,” future Liam said, brushing the two women who were trying so hard to match his fast pace. “My brother’s coming home tonight.”
“But sir Kenneth—!”
The man ignored his secretaries as he walked past us. I get a whiff of that faint yet dominating cologne he had in him.
For a split second, I saw him eye me and I felt a shiver in my spine. I didn’t look away as I was fascinated by the similarities he had with Liam.
Wait, there’s no way.
Is it possible that he’s Liam’s brother?!
Matapobre - (idiomatic) one who looks down on others, particularly the poor; a snob
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