The cogent sound of the grinder and the sharp smell of the spicy sauce wafted across the kitchen. While Nana cut the cherry tomatoes I hated for her authentic Italian pasta.
Dangling my feet down the kitchen counter, I turned another page of the magazine where faces of handsome models were portrayed. This was the best a twelve years old could do to pass her boring time.
Well, they were… what the girls in my class called them again?
"What're you ogling at those half naked men, girl?" Nana asked, glancing at me from the corner of her aged eyes.
"I'm not ogling! Just looking. And why not? They're handsome, and… hot!"
Her nose scrunched hearing my reply. "Good God! Where did you learn that word, young lady? And those men," she said, taking the magazine from my hand, "there is nothing beautiful about them. They look like some hairless chicken!"
A frown marred my forehead. "What's wrong with that?"
She sighed in exaggeration. "Always remember one thing. It will help you when you come of age." Dropping the magazine, she leaned in, her eyes serious. "Never trust a man who doesn't have hair on their chest."
Now it was my turn to scrunch my nose.
"Mother! How many times do I have to tell you not to say those absurd things to her? She is too young for that." Nana rolled her eyes going back to her sauce as Mom strolled in, glaring at the old woman.
"Yeah, too young that she finds those men hot," mumbled Nana sarcastically, stirring her pasta.
Ignoring her, Mom turned to me and cupped my face. "Sweetheart, don't listen to her. She was just blabbering," Mom said, causing Nana to huff at her daughter's displeasing remark. "It doesn't matter if the man has hair on his chest or not, handsome or not, rich or poor. What matters is, if he is a good man, if he loves you with his whole heart. And when you will find someone like that, then think that he is the prince your fairy godmother has sent for you."
"And when will I find my prince, Mom?" My wide curious eyes stared at her hazel ones.
She smiled, looking down at me. "Soon, baby. You will find him soon."
Suddenly, her beaming face started to get blurry. I rubbed my eyes, but her sight only got hazier. Her distant voice drifted to my ear, but I couldn't seem to respond as black spots spread across my vision. And then everything was dark.
Out in the darkness, a whisper echoed like a gust of wind somewhere from an uncouth distance, drawing me towards it…
And then the whisper turned louder and louder, slowly pulling me from a profound darkness towards the rays of bright light that danced across my closed eyelids, an urgent voice reached my ears along with a jerk on my entire upper half.
I almost thought an earthquake was taking a troll around the house, until her sweet yet alarmed voice kicked my brain to consciousness.
"Sofia! Sofia! Honey, wake up!"
"Hmm…" A raspy groan came out of my throat.
Squinting in the shadowed room, I saw her figure hovering over me. Small beams of sunlight were coming through the gap of the closed curtains. Rubbing my still heavy eyelids, I let out a yawn.
And then my gaze concentrated on her face which was paler than usual, as her alarmed hazel eyes met my groggy ones. Panic laced in her soft features.
"Come on! Get up! We need to leave, hurry!"
A frown formed between my brows. "Mom, what's wrong? Why're you so riled…"
And then I heard it.
The faint noises coming from outside. The noises that made the hair of the back of my neck stand up. Chilled goosebumps crawled up my skin, my heart started to race beneath my chest..
"M-mom, what's happening?" my voice shook as I spoke.
"We're under attack!" Her voice quivered, tears of fright brimmed her vision; her cold dainty hands trembling as she urged me to get down from the bed. "T-they attacked us out of nowhere. They're trying to invade the house and it's not long till they do it. Hurry up! We need to leave!"
Oh God! Not again!
My mouth suddenly went dry. Faint sounds of gunfire making my breath speed up.
Why didn't I hear those earlier?
Oh yeah, semi soundproof doors!
Scrambling out of the bed, I grasped her hand in mine. "Let's go to Dad's study! Where is everyone else?"
"I-I think everyone is already there. I came to wake you up as soon as I heard them."
"Wait!" I stopped, making her look at me in confusion. Turning around, I ran to my side table and opened the first drawer. With hesitancy, I grabbed the cold material I never used in my hand.
It was the gun Max gave me for times like these.
"Let's go!" Grabbing her hand again, we ran towards the door.
And before we could reach it, it flew open, making my heart stop in my chest along our steps. My fingers subconsciously curled tight around the gun.
We sighed in relief when we saw the intruder.
"God, Alex! You scared the hell out of us!" I placed a hand on my chest to calm my frantic heart.
His rigid form stood at the doorway with his identical green urgent eyes set on us. Beads of sweat adorned his forehead where some strands of his hair were scattered across. His face was as white as a sheet matching mom's as he casted an apology in our way, his breathing ragged.
"Sofia! Mom! Come on, we need to hurry! Everyone is waiting for us," he said, ushering us down the corridor to Dad's study.
Deafening sounds of gunshots and agonized outcries now reached our ears causing Mom to gasp. The smell of gunpowder and smoke was heavy in the air, covering the ambience in an ominous veil while we approached our safe den.
My heart pounded down my chest, shivers of dread ran down my spine.
They're into the house!
"Don't worry, they still couldn't invade this wing of the house. Our men are stopping them. We just need to reach Dad's study, and then we will be fine." Alex's lips stretched in a feeble smile which did a very little to assure us.
We all knew better. But still, I reciprocated the gesture with a small nod of mine not letting my inner turmoil show on my face.
Stay strong, Sofia! You've got this! At least do it for your Mom.
I glanced at her, who was now clutching my arm tightly. I didn't know whom she was afraid more for. For her? Or for me?
Another loud noise rang somewhere around the corner urging me to cover my ears, vivid commotion rose in the distance like a wildfire.
Oh shit! They are close!
After reaching Dad's study, Alex closed the door behind us along with the deafening sounds of gun firings.
Rushing towards us, Dad pulled us in his warm hug. "Are you guys alright?" he queried, glancing at me and Mom.
"Yes, Dad. We're fine, don't worry!"
He gave me a tight nod, a crease formed on his already wrinkled forehead. "I don't know how this happened. They shouldn't have known about this place." A muscle of his jaw ticked as he glanced at the closed door. "Anyway, you don't have to worry about anything. We're getting out of here safely, alright? Nothing will happen to us."
"They'll pay for it soon," Max, my other brother, said beside Dad. His stance was calm, but the tight jaw and the darkness of his eyes told otherwise. "But now, we need to move. They're not far away. Guards!" He motioned the two bulky men standing behind him set with arms.
Nodding their heads, they walked towards the dark wooden cupboard that stood behind the huge desk. It seemed to weigh like a ragdoll the way they moved the old almirah easily.
Once it was moved, revealed a plain white wall.
But it was anything but plain as it started to slide open with a groan, once Dad pulled a small device from his pocket and pressed a button.
After the faux wall was out of the way, a high-tech metallic door came into view.
The secret door to a secret passage. Our way of escape.
Nobody could think of this covert passage behind that plain wall until they bash their knuckles on every wall to find some buried secrets between the bricks.
Just as I thought, we got this; the door of Dad's study started to jostle with furious pounding landing on it. The firings outside were clear despite the thick barriers.
My heart thumped faster as I glanced at the door.
"Leo!" Mom whimpered, clutching Dad's arm as if her life was depending on it.
"Hurry up, Max!" Dad hissed through clenched teeth.
"Break the fucking door! They shouldn't get away!" Came a faint frantic order through the door that was moving violently now, the latch of the door was coming out of its socket with the force, indicating its fall at any moment.
Blood drained from my face. My mouth went dry with my eyes glued on the door. The pounding of my own heart reached my ears as sweat trickled down my spine. Suddenly, I felt like the walls around us were closing in on me, making it difficult to breathe.
The guards took defensive positions before us raising their guns at the door.
Max swiftly tapped a passcode on the scanner situated next to the door, and as soon as it signalled green, the metallic door started to open showing the way inside. "Move in!"
Dad pushed Mom and Alex inside the passage. "Sofia! Come on, get in!"
I stayed frozen on my spot, my hands trembled at my sides as flashbacks from the past flashed across my mind, baring old wounds buried deep down my memories.
All I could see was blood.
"Sofia! What're you waiting for? We have to move, now!" Max hissed.
Blinking rapidly, I turned to my brother. Grabbing my arm, he pushed me inside before following himself. After we were all in, the guards swiftly placed the cupboard in its former place before closing the faux wall.
And just as the wall closed, we heard the doors slamming on the floor with a thud. But thankfully, the metallic door slided closed, providing us some relief.
I stood there with my shaky breaths while Dad comforted Mom.
"They can't reach us now. Even if they find this door, they won't be able to open it," Max said. "Now let's go, Robert is waiting for us outside with our cars."
And then we moved through the dark passage with my legs still trembling.
The pathway was dark, narrow and uneven. Eyeing the illiberal place, I felt the sudden lack of oxygen in my lungs. But I tried to keep myself together. The guards who were walking ahead of us, flashed their torches to show us our way. Sharp stench of rot and damp came to my nostrils causing me to gag. The plinks of water drops falling somewhere reverberated across the hollow passage.
An arm draped around my shoulder as Dad pulled me in a side hug. "Don't worry, princess, we will be out of here soon." He squeezed my arm gently.
"I know, Dad." I gave him a weak smile.
Though my heart beat came to a normal rhythm by now, the nervousness stayed behind.
After some minutes of walking, we reached an old two story building with no occupant in it. It was empty. We silently walked through it as our footsteps echoed throughout the quiet place.
When we got out of the building, Robert and some more of Dad's men came into our view, standing across the road with cars parked behind.
Once everyone piled in their respective vehicles, we drove away from that place. And I finally drew a breath of relief.
"Julia, stop crying! We're safe now."
"Safe? Really, Leo?" Mom's moist eyes glared at Dad's skull from the back seat. "We will never be safe. We never were, and never will be! And you know it! After all, this isn't the first time it happened."
Dad sighed at her taunt from the front seat, while Max drove the car silently.
"Why don't you just leave it? I don't want anything to happen to my family. I'm tired of always looking over my shoulder, Leo!" She sniffled as I rubbed her back for some comfort.
"You know I can't!" he snapped. "Once you join this world, you can never leave. You can't escape from your enemies no matter how far you go or how noble you become. The hungry wolves of this dark world will hunt you down and eat you alive when you're totally unarmed!"
Mom sniffled again.
"Mom, calm down. We're fine now. There's nothing to worry," I said, squeezing her hand. Her worries weren't irrational. But Dad was right. He couldn't leave that world. It was too late for that. Even if an ordinary member walks out of the gang, he leaves enemies behind to haunt him down later. And here we were talking about one of the most dangerous mafia leaders of America.
"Julia, I'm sorry! I don't mean to snap at you." His tone was gentle this time. "I also want a peaceful life with you guys, but I have to stay in this business to protect our family. You remember what happened nine years ago when I let things loose for once, don't you?"
I tensed at the mention of the incident happened years ago. Everyone went silent. Mom threw concerned glances at me as her hand tightened around mine. I squeezed right back to tell her that I was fine.
But I wasn't.
My free hand subconsciously traveled to my left rib cage, right under my chest. Nine years, and those memories still managed to haunt my dreams sometimes.
"Robert, any update?" Max spoke through the Bluetooth with his eyes set on the road, cutting the uncomfortable tension in the air. He nodded at something Robert said and disconnected the call.
"What is it?" Dad asked.
"Our men took them down. Everything is alright now," Max replied, causing Dad to nod.
"Thank God, Robert sent another team back to the farmhouse to handle them. Otherwise they would've found some way to locate us and then follow us," Alex stated from the other side of Mom.
I bit my lip, a crease formed obetween my brows.
It looked…quite easy. I mean, our escape. Something didn't feel right.
I've seen and heard about the past attacks. They were vicious. But this time…and these attacks had stopped for the last five years. Then why now? All of a sudden?
"They didn't send any back up," Dad noted, an unreadable expression laced on his face.
"W-what do you mean? Was it a trap to get us out of there?" Mom panicked.
Dad shook his head. "There isn't any trap. Everything is clear."
"Then what is it?" Alex looked at Dad, his eyes narrowed.
Something churned inside me as the realization set in. My eyes found Max's in the rearview.
"It was only a demonstration of what's about to come."
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, incidents and locations are products of the author's imagination. They don't have any affects in real life. Any resemblance to any living and dead or any events is totally coincidental.
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