It was an hour before closing time at the diner, though there was barely anyone in today. It had been raining all day, so the regular customers either didn’t come by or stopped only for a minute.
Coffee was the most in-demand today. Everyone wanted to stay warm in the cold, wet weather, and coffee offered comfort that only the loyal customers of S&T Diner would know and appreciate. Every cup, after all, was brewed to perfection, with the right amount of each ingredient. People from in and around the city flocked there, not only for the beverage but also for their famous chocolate muffins. Only two had been sold today, though, but that was understandable, considering the slow business.
Five o’clock rolled around faster by the second, and Sapphire was on her third table, rubbing away the round coffee rim stains that sat on each surface. She hummed to her favourite song, appreciating the peace of the weather.
As she returned to the counter, D’Andre eagerly pointed at the small television screen as he stuffed a piece of his muffin in his mouth.
“Have you been listening to the news?” he asked eagerly as he reached over the counter to pull on her apron, seeing that she was attempting to escape him.
Sighing, Sapphire dried her hands in a paper towel as she turned to face him. “No, I have no interest in politics. The only reason why the station remains the same is that you demand that it does.”
“Well, it’s interesting,” D’Andre defended. “And I think you’ll like what it is saying too. Turn it up.”
Though it was against her better judgement, Sapphire grabbed the remote and cranked up the volume on the TV, enhancing the reporter’s squeaky voice.
“. . . Reports of continuous activities in the illegal drug trade have increased here in Moscow, Russia. Anonymous sources shared claims of a rise in criminal activities, which have spanned to the livelihood of residents. Sources believe that the Russian Mafia—”
The reporter’s statement was cut short when Sapphire switched it off in a swift action.
“Hey!” D’Andre protested. “I was watching that.”
Huffing, Sapphire spun on her heels to face him, sending him a steady glare that had him shrinking back. “Don’t you have a house?”
“Yes, but I am waiting for you to finish working. I’m taking you home, remember?” He didn’t receive a reply from her simply because he knew he had upset her.
They both knew why he insisted on watching international relations so often. It was because he wanted Sapphire to actually consider inheriting her father’s wealth.
“Sweetheart, I am sorry,” he said, reaching over to hold her hand. “You know I only want you to be happy.”
“And I am happy,” she told him for the umpteenth time. “I opened this diner with Tiffany because I want to. I work because I want to. Don’t you think I know I can leave the staff to take care of the regular day to day operations and do whatever else with my free time? But this brings me joy, okay? And I hope I don’t have to explain it to you another time.”
D’Andre knew he messed up again.
Since the very day Sapphire told him of her past and who her father was, he knew that she didn’t have to work. In fact, the fortune that was waiting for her after her father passed eight years ago was enough to buy this diner a hundred times over.
But Sapphire saw it as dirty money and wanted no part in it. It was hard for her to learn who her father was and what he did for a living when she was only fifteen years old. She remembered it like yesterday, when he found out of her existence, how he tried to get her to accept his way of life.
She studied him, though, and learnt his weaknesses and strengths. Even though he adored her as his baby girl, Sapphire never returned the affection. In fact, she despised everything about him.
Being the king of the Russian Mafia had its benefits in wealth, and after his death, Sapphire learnt that all that wealth had automatically fallen to her name. However, she has never used a single dime. In her view, she was doing quite fine without him before her mother died, and even after the pain of her mother’s passing that ultimately led her into her father’s path, she vowed to be better than him.
Her mother raised her to be good.
“You can go, D’Andre,” Sapphire said after a while, as the clock struck 4:30. “I’ll catch a cab home.”
“In this rain?” D’Andre gaped at her as he looked between her and the glass window, showcasing the very distinct view of the cats and dogs pouring outside. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I swear I won’t upset you again.”
“You’re my boyfriend,” she said with an exaggerated eye roll. “Of course you’ll upset me again.”
“It’s okay, really,” she insisted. “I’m not mad. I just need to think. Maybe a walk snuggled in my raincoat will help.”
D’Andre wanted to know what was on her mind but figured he upset her enough. He didn’t mean to get her flustered every time he brought up the topic. He could see that there was much more to her story that she didn’t tell him. In fact, all she told him was that her father, Enrique, was a Mafia boss, who died eight years ago in an explosion at one of his compounds, and he left a ton of money and property in her name.
In D’Andre’s mind, Sapphire could do great things with it no matter how the money was made. She was always a woman of moral values, and her love for people was far beyond his understanding. It’s one of the reasons he liked her so much. But perhaps he should give the topic a break, seeing how much it bothered her.
Besides, she made quite a decent dollar from her diner with her best friend. Her father’s wealth would only be a plus.
“Are you sure you want me to go?” D’Andre asked as he grabbed his coat and umbrella. All he got in response was a nod as Sapphire kept her eyes downcast, wiping away an invisible smudge from the coffee machine.
Sighing in defeat, D’Andre rounded the counter towards her, where he leaned down for a kiss but found his lips landing on her cheek instead. She had turned her head away at the last minute.
He nodded to himself, accepting that it was nobody’s fault but his, before mumbling a quick’ later’ and leaving her in the empty diner.
Sapphire plopped down on an empty stool with an exaggerated sigh, rubbing the evident fatigue from her eyes as a slight pound started in her head. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the sparkling silver of the coffee machine. Her skin was paler than usual, and even her fiery red hair seemed a bit duller than usual. Perhaps the gloom of the day reflected in her mood, yet she knew that wasn’t the reason.
In some sense, Sapphire regretted disclosing such a deep part of her life to D’Andre. But they had been together for six months, and he was growing quite curious of who she was behind her cheery smile, green, playful eyes and sharp tongue.
She thought that maybe it was indeed time to let someone else in. The only people who knew her, was her best friend, Tiffany, and the people who took her in after her mother died and she escaped her father, or in other words, when he died.
There was also Aella and Mason, who were like older siblings to her. In fact, they were the ones who saved her life all those years ago, when she was an equivalent to a prisoner in her father’s domain. But apart from them, no one knew what she had been through.
Interacting with people daily brings her joy. The very conversations that she would be engaged in with people who stopped by for coffee or moms who came to grab a muffin for their toddlers made her job most enjoyable. They would always remind her of the beauty of life.
Being in a diner really depicted a clear image of life. The busy, always rushing businessman who gets a cup ‘to go’, or those who send their assistant to fetch their daily dose of caffeine captures that end of the society. Then, there are the students who would grab a beverage and sit by the window, being immersed in whatever assignments laid on the screen in front of them. And her personal favourite, the very random passerby, who sits by the counter and orders something small, but in truth, they’re seeking someone to share a story with.
It was those very conversations that provided Sapphire with the feeling of normalcy. In fact, D’Andre was one of those same people. He had stopped by an evening after work, looking for a meal that wasn’t dipped in oil or cost a fortune. Luckily for him, Sapphire had just the thing. Homemade lasagna, precisely the way her mother used to make it, always did the trick for men who came by, who had obviously had a rough day.
He spent an entire hour ranting about his day to her, and she nodded and hummed throughout it all, even though she was serving other people. D’Andre was captivated by her interest in a mere stranger then, and Sapphire was dazzled by his vivid imagery of storytelling. He kept coming back every day from that day on, until one day he invited her to share a meal with him, somewhere other than the diner.
A smile tugged at her lips at the distant memory as if it was yesterday. D’Andre might’ve had better skill at talking rather than listening, but he was somehow the first man in all her adult years that stirred any sort of emotional attraction in her. So, he must’ve been special, right?
Yet, after he learnt of her net worth, he seemed like a different person, and it scared Sapphire. All he speaks about is the Mafia as if he wants her to live like her father did. In fact, he made it his personal duty to find every and any news article of the Russian Mafia and deliberately left it in her path. Sapphire took back her keys yesterday when she went home to find a newspaper lying on her kitchen island, with the big, bold headline ‘Russia in a State of Panic at the Rise in Organized Criminal Activity’.
The operations of what had happened in Russia after Enrique died weren’t even brought to her attention until recently. Enrique was a cruel man, but it seemed as if whoever was in charge now was a hundred times worse.
She didn’t believe D’Andre wanted her to get directly involved with it, but he certainly made it evident that he saw it as a waste to have that much wealth sitting around, not being used. Even when she opened the diner two years ago, Sapphire’s portion of the start-up was from loans. It was simply against her nature to indulge in such criminal activity and violation of basic human rights.
So, why has it been bothering her this much?
Trying desperately to get rid of the thought, Sapphire grabbed the remote and jammed her finger on the bright, red button, completely forgetting that she had switched it off while it was still on the international channel.
It seemed like a constant mockery to her, as if rubbing it in her face that she simply cannot live like an average person, like the hundreds of people she interacts with weekly. Was this entire façade only an excuse or effort to live a somewhat typical, mundane life? Why must her father’s past come haunting her every time she believes she is getting past it?
Tiffany got past it. So did Aella and Mason. So, why can’t she?
Without even thinking too hard, Sapphire knew the answer. Because they weren’t Enrique’s children. Only she was.
The picture, now plastered on the flat screen above her, showed hundreds of people who stood by the Russian Federation Government House holding placards. As her curiosity piqued, Sapphire increased the volume once again to hear what the reporter was saying.
“On Monday morning, hundreds of people turned out to the Russian White House, as a united action to plead with the government to take action against the Organized Crime Unit that had taken over the country. Protesters showed up in masks to protect their identity in fear that they and their families will be harmed later on, as most of these people are victims of extortion in their various business establishments.”
“Oh my gosh….” Sapphire couldn’t believe her eyes. Was it this bad? That people had to be protesting in masks to protect themselves?
“With little to no help from the police and government, residents are left asking the same question: who will help them?”
The screen went black again.
Sapphire could no longer watch it. If D’Andre didn’t start bringing it to her attention, she would’ve never known that things in Russia were that awful.
She could remember memories when Enrique took her to Russia on some of his trips. The way he operated was sneaky, evil and inhumane, but there was never a great uproar in the economy like this. In fact, even being in his house, everything was always so organized. Even though people were being taken advantage of and the crime was evident, Enrique had some sense of order.
He never ran his ‘business’ so intentionally and unapologetically like this new boss. Whoever was in charge now was nothing less than a monster. People were so sick of him that they were pleading with the heads to take action, while at the same time, he—whoever he is—evoked so much fear in them that they didn’t even want to show their faces.
As much as she is a born and raised American, Sapphire hated that a country was in such distress because of one person. And to how it seemed, there isn’t one person who dared challenge him. Maybe Enrique would if he was still alive. Indeed, Enrique would’ve taken command of his empire with so much of the snap of his fingers. She knew it, and maybe the current boss knew it too.
Sapphire sauntered to the door with a huff, turned the sign, and closed the shop’s door as the clock struck five.
As she got ready to leave, only one thought lingered on her mind, and she hated that it had found residence in her subconscious. But as bad as he was, perhaps if Enrique was still in charge, things wouldn’t have been so terrible.
Well, too bad he isn’t here anymore. And definitely, no one could command authority of an entire Mafia like he did.
No one who didn’t have his name, that is.
Cheers to our first chapter! I am so excited for this journey.
I hope you are too ;)