I pick up two packs of ramen noodles. It’s late and I can’t really afford to buy take-out. I stand idly in the small convenience store that’s not too far from my dorm. I juggle between beef flavour or chicken. I step over to the drink aisle, figuring that I’ll need something to wash down all the salt. One light fixture flickers lamely above my head, which bothers my eyes. I reach for an iced tea.
The old owner sits behind the counter and in front of his tiny 70′s looking television that has antennas sticking upright. He quietly watches the news and cashes in a couple of people’s speedy purchases. I take a trip to the sunglasses stand and try on a pair. I decide that they’re mostly too big for my face after looking into the plastic mirror. I try to think of other things I might need. But the loud news report makes me pause.
The anchor spells, “It has just been reported that organized crime has reached new heights with a $1.2 billion profit margin from illegal drug trafficking this week alone. Police are unable to commence a crackdown on serious gang affiliated groups—Joining me today on the gang discussion is criminal attorney, Will Brian; legal expert, Anne Herring; and crime control analyst, Dave Ire.”
I now stare at the TV. I raise the odd sunglasses atop my head for a clearer view. I watch the anchorman turn to his panel. I can’t help but listen, as this applies to me. I’ve been in contact with what I believe is a gang member. Judah. Maybe the severity of all this gang talk will scare me straight and prevent me from thinking about Judah so much. As far as I know, he’s who they’re talking about.
“Why hasn’t the police stepped up to stop these gangs?” asks the anchor.
“Asking that question, Tom, is like asking why can’t we breathe in space—It’s simply just not possible,” Anne lightly chuckles, opening the discussion. “At this level, there is no protocol for authorities to take this on.”
“What’s important to note is, first, we’re not talking about just any gang. We’re talking about the two largest gangs in the Western world, in history. The Mafia and the Brag,” Will counts on his fingers, shaking his head. “Second, the number of members keeps growing everyday. The scale isn’t like it used to be. These people are highly trained criminals across the board.”
Anchorman Tom pitches, “The Mafia has been around for decades and decades. But, the Brag is fairly recent. We just started to talk about them only a few years back—how did they become such an empire so fast?”
“They are an empire onto themselves, and they are a rival to the Mafia. From what we’ve discovered, trafficking is their biggest wheel. They also have spread into business stocks, which solidify their tight grasp on illegal, yet steady, profits,” Dave weighs in, “Because of this spread, it’s hard to tell who they are. Few arrests have been made, but evidence that confirms criminal activity is just not there.”
I frown. Hard to tell? I found one and I wasn’t even looking! No wonder these gangs are successful. Police are beyond clueless.
Anne opens her mouth, “These gangs know how to clean up their mess quickly and disappear quickly. They have hands around the globe. What’s scary is that they have loyal members who are also in the justice system to help cover up their tracks, which make it a hundred times harder to find these people.”
“The police system, what you’re saying, is corrupt. So is the bank sector. So is the business sector. These fundamental industries have secret gang members working from within. How can any citizen feel safe? What’s going on is that they’re unstoppable,” Anchorman Tom criticizes.
The three all talk over each other for a minute.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Dave says, tapping the table with his palm, “I would say that they’re good at what they do and it’ll just take us more time to destroy this network.”
Brian explains, “Anne said that there are gang members working from within. But there are also regular people who work for them. So basically, here’s what happens. You’ve got Brag members organizing a drug deal. They go to different corporations in different countries and say ’we’ll make x amount of money off of this drug deal, give me a couple million, and I’ll return you double or triple. Business gives the money. They pay off their people to say nothing. They buy weapons, vehicles, and hotels. Brag has a large exchanging trade network where all transactions are cashed or uncharted. They fly on unlisted planes, make deals with other gang lords, comeback and get richer and more powerful.”
“We might not be able to completely cut off these gangs for the time being—let’s not be deluded. We are, however, targeting to put an end to this exponential growth. Otherwise, uncontrollable gang wars will ensue, which will cost many innocent lives.”
Tom nods and then asks, “How can that be done?”
The store door swings open, clanging against the short hanging bell. The twinkling sound catches my attention. The grey stare... The only grey stare that can turn me into stone appears. I stand completely still, yet look at the side-swept hair and the sharp jawline that belongs to Judah. He has on a long black shirt with a v-cut neckline and a leather jacket over his broad shoulders. Tonight, he walks in black high-top sneakers. His black cargo pants have a hole in one knee. What irks me is that there is not a single imperfection on his face. Usually, when I see mug shots appear on the news, the criminals are unattractive and disfigured in some way. But Judah is overly good-looking.
I quickly look away and back up behind the chips rack. My heart races in my chest. My hands use the ramen pack as a stress ball. God, why is he everywhere? My eyes look between the airy bags. He doesn’t pursue me. Instead, he walks over to the counter coolly, and buys a pack of cigarettes, a candy bar, and some other thing. In less than a minute, Judah walks out the shop. He didn’t come over. He didn’t smirk. He didn’t call me sweet cheeks. I wait a few more minutes in my hiding spot, making sure he’s far away. I decide to hurry to cash my noodles and my drink, and get back home. My nerves have yet to rest.
I push through the door, hearing the bells ring again. There’s a shadow near the pavement’s edge. I blink and know it’s him... I stare at his profile, existing in the night. He smokes unobtrusively. I swallow hard, even though my throat is dry, and turn towards the hill. I carry one foot in front of the other. But I grimace once I hear heavier footsteps behind me. I look ahead, refusing to make anymore eye contact with the devil.
“Stop following me,” I say to the air.
“Are you scared?” his deep voice returns.
I want to run, but the steepness of the road will only make me tumble. I have to hold my breath. Of course I’m scared to death! Now I think about how he’s going to kill me. I start to imagine the police pulling my body out of the river or something. My teeth chatter, despite my efforts to stay calm. Why doesn’t he bother another girl? I look over my shoulder. He’s not too far.
“Judah...” I say.
I can’t find my words. I lost them. I turn my head and quicken my pace. I know he can catch up to me when he wishes. Having him near is always terrifying and electrifying. I glance back again, biting my lip. His devilish eyes are on me. His lips suck death in and blow life out. He embodies all my fears so beautifully. Why, though? Why am I so entranced by him?
Before I know it, I stand in front of my dorm. Surprise hits me when I see Judah walking through the entry. He throws his bud in the lonely bushes. My heart panics, wondering what’s going on with this guy.
“Where... are you going?” I ask.
He grins lightly at the tremble in my voice. He twirls his finger onto a strand of my hair. If only my brain had processed how close he was standing quick enough...
“Wherever you’re going,” he replies.
I scowl, “You’re not coming up in my room... If that’s what you’re thinking.”
He raises a provoking brow. My heart skips a beat. His smirk comes in full view. I have difficulty standing my ground, because my knees shake endlessly.
“Then stop me.”
Ugh. He knows very well that I can’t physically do that. I pull away from him and head up the fifth floor. He follows me up the stairs, nonetheless. Chills attack me all over. I rub my arms for warmth I don’t need. His large hand aims at tugging the hem of my skirt. I quickly slap his hand away. He just grins some more. I’m really not sure why he’s still around me.
After Judah and I reach the door to my dorm, I rapidly run inside and try very hard to close the door on him. I breathe out, feeling exhausted from thinking too much. He pushes past the door, effortlessly. I stop him from taking a step inside, placing my hand on his chest.
“I’m serious,” I say, as sternly as I can.
He smirks, “Good.”
“It’s a rule here anyway. No boys in rooms,” I explain.
My strength is nothing to him. He steps right in, despite my pushing.
“I’m very flattered that you think I follow rules.”
He lightly kicks the door closed behind him now. He towers over me, making me so small. The room shrinks in size. The lack of space he creates compresses me. My insides are leaping out of place. He’s in my room. What am I supposed to do? Even if I could say a prayer—It’ll take a major miracle for me to survive this. I curse everything in my head. I can only think of one possible thing. I dread his close stare. There’s a long pause in the air.
“Do you like touching me?” he asks, enticed.
My face gives him a disgusted look and I quickly drop my hand from his broad chest. I take a step back, which doesn’t do much. I watch him take off his jacket. He throws it on my desk, covering my books. I’m hooked on staring at his brawny arms and his dark tattoos.
“Mind if I stay?” he asks softly now.
Uncertain if I heard right, I blink a few times and stammer.
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” he says.
I close my mouth. What more can I say? He’s already made himself comfortable in my room. I imagine he’s haunted—by his past or his deeds, I don’t know.
“I just need to... know that you won’t hurt me...” I try to express.
I bite the insides of my cheeks. It’s not like I can throw him out the window. I realize that he’ll stay if he wants to. His calm look makes me calm. He approaches me, touching the corner of my eye with his thumb. His hand takes its time brushing my hair behind my ear. I naively breathe him in. He licks his lips... perhaps to moisten his lie.
“You’re too good to harm, sweet cheeks.”