As I drove past the last bend, obscure silhouettes lurked in the shadows of buildings. Troy and his sisters were in a nearby café a street down their home.
“Where are you?”
“I’m nearing,” I informed, advancing past their house to avoid any suspicions. “I see what you’re talking about now.” As if in slow motion, I noticed burly characters a frivolous distance from the Castillo mansion.
My gaze landed on a pair of steely orbs under the faint glow of a lamppost, where a motorcycle rested. I scoffed and stepped hard on the gas.
Troy explained that they hadn’t gone too far from home if by chance were to be left. My intuitions tell me that his assumptions were far from correct, pinpoint, and it was smart of him to have called me earlier. They should’ve hidden in a place further from here, but he insisted that he knew what he was doing. I rolled my eyes.
Within two minutes, I made it to Café Meraki and saw the trio inside. It was decent and aesthetic, not my type, but their food is worth the wait. I heard that it’s been running successfully for decades.
I craved for some peanut butter brownies earlier, and a steaming cup of black coffee from Meraki would do the trick.
We seldom dine here with our sisters when we first arrived and rid us of any old homesickness. I would appear here alone at times.
However, instead of expecting three people, I was met—with five. Some guys had taken their seats opposite the girls.
Troy ran out of the café as soon as he saw me park the car opposite their window. Without waiting for me to turn off the vehicle, he got himself in.
“I know what you’re thinking and before you do, let me explain,” he said cautiously but brushed him away. I was about to exit the car when he yanked me back in. “Wait! You must’ve wondered why I asked for her number,” he said in a hushed murmur.
I gave him a weird look. “Why are you whispering?”
It was his turn to give me the strange face. “Duh! Because she’s here?” he uttered in a jutting tone. I, however, couldn’t understand, so he pointed to the back. “I wondered why you brought her along.”
My features contorted into confusion, but turned around anyway, only to land on a frightful sight. My eyeballs widened, and my heart nearly leaped out of my chest. I grabbed the head of my seat firmly as I twisted myself around.
“Jeez, little brat,” Troy scoffed as he playfully glared at her.
“You! What the fuck are you doing here?” I asked in shock. Sitting, almost unconcernedly, in the rear, was Esperenza. Scrolling through the phone in the dark and her legs crossed. “And how did you get in?”
“Stop shouting, brother. I did ask if I could come with you when my car is at the garage, and you agreed. Today happened to be the day my car ended up being under repair.”
“I didn’t mean without my permission!”
“Alright, could someone tell me what-” Troy got cut off.
“Moreover, you’re wearing a mini skirt—God damn it!” I ranted at her clothes, flashing the light from my phone onto her bright outfit. She shielded herself in an instant and covered her eyes from the light in annoyance. “What the hell, Esperenza? Are you asking for a death certificate?”
“I was invited here by Verna and Antoinette, asshole!” she shrieked and bolted out of her door. “Besides, you were my ride to go at this hour. Dad would get suspicious.”
“Exactly, you sneaky vixen,” I exhaled through gritted teeth as she waltzed around the car and into the café to join her best friends. “If I hadn’t been in a hurry, I’d lock her in this car - or better - I’d throw her back home.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this wasn’t purposed?” Troy interjected.
“Because it wasn’t, idiot!”
He raised his hands in mock submission. “Before you go in there, I have some news,” he relayed. I turned off the flashlight and hummed. “It’s about Anthony.”
“Do you know what shit this means? We’ve just planted ourselves in a fucking bomb. How and why are the two involved?”
I turned to face him, and it seemed like he had just poured water all over his head. His hair glistened as he tried to dry it using the air-con.
“It’s messed up, man. I had to haul them out of there before Anthony’s gang showed up. I’d suggest we wait till the coast is clear. That’s the most suspected place they’d think my sisters are. They would camp there all weekend if they have to, before taking action.” Troy narrowed his eyes at the girls, who chatted interactively with the two boys sitting in front of them. “All will be settled—feasibly.”
“Who told you they were coming?”
“I had it figured out. It wasn’t hard to know, especially in this situation,” Troy declared, scrambling his hair in frustration. “Besides, I calculated a plan. I just need you here if the situation gets...gory.”
I gad to agree. With me there, I doubt the mobsters would get intimidated while I’m present. “They’re here, alright. A good 20 feet from your property. Any later, and you guys wouldn’t have the chance to call for me.”
“A war with our parents could forge, and this would end up in court,” he groaned. “I can’t ask them for help and act like a wet pussy. It could ruin my reputation completely!”
I rolled my eyes and smacked his head. “Why do you have to be an arrogant ass?”
“The fuck bitch!” he cursed, tugging his hood up to protect his head. “How many do you think are there?”
“Shit,” he cussed and nearly banged his head against his window.
I turned off the engine. “Come, let’s go join the others before anything happens. I’m assuming we have more guests joining us?”
“I called Gabriella for a reason and might’ve uncovered something in the past week, which will interest you,” he smirked. “But I ain’t revealing that now. I might get my ass in trouble.”
“Let’s see about that,” I shrugged, not wanting to force him. “Who are they?” I asked as we marched up the steps. As we got closer, I could see the little group they formed was too immersed in some discussion.
“Find out for yourself,” Troy said and pointed towards the cashier. “I’m ordering. Want food?”
“Are you serious? We have a crisis on our hands that needs immediate attention, and you want to—eat?” I asked, completely out of appetite.
“I was just asking,” he scowled.
“I’ll pass.” I turned back to the young teenagers and felt like an oddball. Zaza and her little gang laughed about and looked peaceful. She hadn’t done anything stupid so far.
I observed them for a while as they haven’t yet acknowledged my proximity before advancing towards them.
“Ander!” Vera waved as she saw me take a vacant chair so I could join them. I greeted back but regarded one of the guys suddenly sat stiffly. Their back faced me, blocking their faces.
The group stopped their conversation and became hushed as they watched me take a seat at the head with both parties at each side.
I looked at the noticeably silent boys. For the second time that night, I was appalled.
We both stared at each other like we couldn’t believe it.
“Well, this is a shock. Do you both know each other?” Zaza asked as she pointed between us.
“Yes, but how do you know him?” I accused back with a frown at them. “Why are you even here?”
“We’re classmates, dumbass. We were supposed to hang out, but it didn’t go as planned,” Zaza admitted. I gave a disapproved glance.
“And this was the place you chose?”
“We met by pure coincidence,” Antoinette spoke in a quiet voice. “It was canceled, at first.”
My eyes watched. “Who’s your friend, Ivan?”
“I’m Jace, his best friend,” the blonde answered for him as he took a long sip off his Iced Americano. “Nice to meet you, too.”
I nodded, and the whole table grew silent again.
“So, you guys are what? Are you on a date or...?” I questioned, breaking the awkwardness. “I’ve never seen it in this style; three to two.”
The boys chuckled, and the girls gave me a ‘What the fuck?’ face.
“We happened to be part of the same team for Physics. It’s how we became friends and chilled around at school,” Vera answered.
“We also sort off owe the girls after losing to a bet. Hence, how we ended up here - by pure coincidence,” Jace copied Antoinette’s earlier words.
“I see. But this is an odd number.”
“There’s one more, my brother, Antonio. He wasn’t able to make it today because he had to help our sister, Angelique.”
My eyes snapped towards him. “You’re related to Angelique Castillo?”
“Yes, the one and only,” he said as if unfortunately. “I feel sorry for myself.”
“I can see,” Ivan commented with an exhalation. “Me too.”
“Speak for yourself. I’d rather switch with yours,” Jace fired back.
“Good luck with that; you’re gonna die dealing with her anger issues,” he snorted.
“Wait, wait. I’m confused. What’s going on, people?” Zaza asked. Eyebrows scrunched in confusion. “Have you met before?”
I ignored her, obviously, so Ivan took up the job to explain. By the end, Vera and Antoinette sat frozen.
“Oh, my gosh! Now I remember,” Zaza gasped, and I half-suppressed a chuckle. The girls suddenly burst out all at once, similar to a button that clicked to unfreeze them.
“This is so weird. It’s like fate brought us all here,” Vera exclaimed excitedly to her friends. “How could you have forgotten?” she asked Zaza.
“I don’t pry into his business, and besides, that was like a month back, so it’s possible.”
“Does this mean Gabriella is coming here?” Jace asked. Ivan kicked him under the table, causing him to double over as he whispered loudly, “We overheard Troy.”
Everyone turned to me for an answer, but I kept quiet. It became uncomfortable for us when I chose to be mute, so I stared at the window to think.
“Holy crap. Why is the atmosphere so dead in here?” Troy laughed as he slid a chair next to me. We both sat at the head.
“How is Gabriella involved in this?” I immediately asked. Troy looked at Ivan, who’s eyes grew wide, but held soundless. I glanced at him. “Is there something you want to tell us, kid?”
He shook his head.
“It’s alright. We won’t judge you or anything,” Zaza reassured.
He sighed. “It’s better if Gabriella explains. I can’t interfere with this.”
“I already called her. She declined, unfortunately. I told her that I have to meet her in person, but she said she was busy at the moment and asked me to call her in an hour.” Troy informed, shaking his drink.
I sighed. “Since no one is telling me what’s this about, then I guess I can’t forc-”
VRRRRRRR - VRRRRRRR
“I have to take this call, don’t mind me,” Troy stood up and walked outside, phone in hand, which had vibrated wildly.
“No problem,” they all said.
Once he was out, I took my chance to interrogate his sisters.
“Something is bothering Troy. He only does that when it’s rather difficult for him to even blurt it out to anyone. I know you girls are the reason why. It’s as if he’s hesitant to tell me what’s going on to the point that even when a thug like Anthony Black is on your tail, he won’t budge,” I pressured, together with compelling eyes.
“He’s pausing to tell me until Ivan’s sister arrives, but you girls know me. I can’t wait. So you better explain what’s wrong before I think this is all some crazy goose chase.”
Vera became—silent. It was her sister who broke the intense gaze I gave them. “It’s...a lengthy write-up. We didn’t want you involved, but it escalated, and we had no choice but to contact you!”
“Do you know what you’ve gotten yourselves into? You have officially signed some deal with New York’s Devil. The one gang that gets what they want in an instant and doesn’t easily let grudges go. You could be dead in less than 24 hours!”
“It’s me!” Vera blurted; unable to control her shaking, she clung against the table. Her eyes stared at it. Then in a small voice, she said, “I’m who they’re after.”
“Fuck,” I cursed. “This is no place for young titties like you! Are you in your right mind to mess with them? Not only that—the leader is after you!”
“That’s also why I came with you, Ander. Verna hasn’t been feeling well lately,” Zaza added in a grave tone. “We all gathered here with Troy, and I forced him to ask you for help. Ivan and Jace knew what we were dealing with because they’ve crossed paths with Anthony before.”
My eyes shot at them. Why that double-crosser, I knew I smelled trouble from those two. But I’ll have to learn their excuse later.
“Troy and them have been meeting when we hung out on the weekends. However, it was too sketchy. We couldn’t escape it. So we made a plan. But nothing could begin without Gabriella.”
“Why?” I asked, my heart beating fast.
“You’re about to find out,” Ivan answered.
“What have you done?” I turned to Verna. “You won’t be able to go home. You’re trapped.” That did it as Verna broke into huge sobs and released everything. The girls tried to comfort her but to no avail.
“I’m s-so sorry, I-I didn’t m-mean to cause everyone t-t-trouble.” she cried into the sleeves of her jacket. “It was a mistake! A h-huge one. I was s-stupid and got lured into his t-trap. He was filled with promises, and I wasn’t in my right mind. H-He t-tricked me into it, but then, I found out he was a criminal.”
“And I accidentally slept with him.” She had vomited out the words in regret. Jace choked on his drink while the rest had their eyeballs out.
We all gawked at her in utter horror. She still hadn’t looked at us. “That’s the reason why Anthony’s after me and not some pervert stalker.”
“Nan-” Zaza gulped, touching Verna’s shoulder. She finally lifted her chin and saw our speechless expressions.
“What did you...just say?” her sister asked; the betrayal’s effects were evident.
Her face turned whiter than paper. “That’s not what I meant!” she shook her head and hands in denial. “I didn’t mean that way! N-Nothing happened, but I haven’t been resting well these days. And...I didn’t feel safe.” Now that she mentioned it, I could see the dark circles under her light makeup. Most likely to conceal it. “It was a short relationship, b-but he won’t let me go after I found who he was. Now, he’s after me.”
“Does Troy know this?”
Verna shook her head vigorously. “N-No, he doesn’t! And he isn’t supposed to know, till then.”
“Holy shit! He’s like Twenty-Seven, man. I didn’t know your fetish for older guys was this pressing.” Ivan spoke after recovering from the shocking news. “No way...are you a teleiophile?”
“Leave her be, Ivan!” Zaza and Antoinette condemned with pissed off faces.
The guys flinched. “Damn, I was just curious.”
“Please, don’t tell-”
“I’m not sorry to be doing this, but as his best friend, that’s not what’s going to happen,” I interrupted her and walked out with Verna bursting more fresh tears; she knew I couldn’t be stopped.
“She’s coming!” Troy suddenly burst through the doors.
“Gabriella?” I asked.
He nodded, but his expression was grim. “Everybody out. Black is hot on our trail. I got word that he’s not going to wait around. Verna, you’re riding with Ander. The others come with me.”
Verna had quickly wiped out her tears when she saw her brother walk in. The others scrambled immediately from their seats.
“How did you coax her?” I asked as we walked to our vehicles.
“Her weakness,” he smirked in triumph.
“Explain with more details, please,” I injected venomously, swiftly unlocking my car.
“Her brother is with us and I conveyed the problem, but the earlier phone call was from the person who tipped me. The goons knew where and who was with us. He caught a whiff of the boys with and grew furious. He thinks Ivan and Jace are plotting against him, using Verna as bait. It didn’t take her long to be convinced when. We’re meeting up in the abandoned amusement park.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Not my idea,” he riposted with innocence. “The lady said so, brother. You have to trust her on this. I thought it was absurd since it’s nearly 9 pm, but she insisted. It appears like our plan is about to go into operation.”
My mouth hanged open. “What plan? There are under aged kids with us!”
“We’re under aged, dude,” he pointed out.
“That’s not the point! Isn’t there a different place than that old construction site?” I asked in panic.
He shook his head. “I have to save my sister, and besides, you don’t know the lady that well. She isn’t who you think she is. I daresay Black knows what he’s in for.” My eyebrows furrowed. She’s insane. The worst scenario is all of us getting killed in there or ending up in jail.
“Gabriella won’t stand for her brother being in danger.”