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chapter 1

- Four Years Later -

Z A R A

"Amma! I'm leaving!" I call out to her. "My interview starts at 1:30 PM but I heard they process everything by the end of the day so I'll probably be there for most of the day."

"Good luck, dear!" She kisses my forehead.

"Insha'Allah, things will go well for you."

"Insha'Allah!" I reply.

"Do you have that ring on you?" She asks out of curiosity.

I pull out the chain that's hidden under my cardigan to flash the black ring at her.

"I'm glad you stopped wearing that on your wedding ring finger. People in our community kept asking if you got married." She laughs.

"Amma! I stopped wearing it on my finger three years ago! We don't need to keep bringing it up." I whine.

"I know, I know. I'm glad you made it into a necklace." She smiles. "Yasmeen really chose a ring that matches your color palette." She comments.

"Mhm." I agree, nervously.

Obviously, there was no way I was going to tell her the man I was in love with for three years gave it to me before he ditched me and never contacted me again. Why do I still keep the ring? I don't know! I don't have the heart to put it away. I've been wearing it every day since he gave it to me four years ago. For a year, I wore it on a finger he left it on but aunties in the neighborhood wouldn't stop gossiping so Yasmeen suggested I turn it into a necklace. I feel like I can move forward if I just get a glimpse of him once. Just one glimpse and I can rest.

I would occasionally search for him on social media or the internet but it's almost as if he never existed. There's not a single trace of him, no photos, no email, nothing.

He's just... vanished.

Maybe I'm overreacting and he left the country or something. But it doesn't matter, he's gone.

But Alejandro is just a small part of my worries if he's even considered a worry. Recently, my Abbu debt has been racking up and I've been working part-time to help with bills.

I have my own student debt racking up and there's no way I can enter into post-graduate studies with so much money owing. I've been losing sleep over how we'll manage. My parents are the sweetest, trying to tell me there's nothing to worry about but I'm not a kid, I understand the depth of the problem.

One of the lenders has been nagging Abbu about taking him to court for the money he owes. I wish people were more understanding but this world is anything but that. That's why I need to step up and do something, no matter how much everything scares me.

I quickly send a text to Yasmeen, letting her know I'm leaving for my interview. I have to take a bus and a train today to get to the office because my interview is core downtown and I refuse to drive in such a hectic environment

.

"Let's do this," I mutter to myself some words of encouragement before leaving my house.

• • •

"Ms. Zara Khan, correct?" The woman at the front desk asks to confirm right after I finished my interview.

I nod.

"We are not too sure about how long the selection process takes, however, it will be done an hour before office hours end. If you would like, you may return at around 5:30 to see the results." She informs me.

"Okay, thank you so much." I decide to take a stroll around town, but stay close by to the building.

It's only 2:30 PM, so I have about three hours to kill. I'm pretty hungry as well so I'll grab myself something to eat and relax my nerves.

I find my favorite coffee shop, which is conveniently located a few minutes away from the office building.

"If I get this job, I'm pretty sure I'll be holed up here every lunch. There goes my hard-earned paycheque." I say to myself as I walk in.

"Hi, uh, can I get a chicken wrap, potato wedges, and a double chocolate chip cookie?" I order.

The server enters my order, "Is that everything?"

I nod.

I was going to get a cup of French vanilla but decided I should just stick to my bottle of water. I don't need a caffeine or sugar crash.

After a few minutes, they hand me my food and I pick a seat closest to the window. The view isn't much since it's all tall buildings and busy people walking by.

As I look daze off, staring out the window, something changes. The people passing by are starting to stare at something as they start to walk a little faster. The atmosphere outside looks... heavier.

I take another bite of my potato wedge, trying to enjoy my food but I become nervous and restless. The expression on people's faces are going from annoyed to almost alarmed. I send a video of the sudden shift of atmosphere to Yasmeen, saying: "Look, I think something's about to go down! Will I finally be the main character of my own YA, dystopian novel? Hahaha!"

I quietly giggle at my own text as I shove another wedge in my mouth. Side note, I love potato anything. Just cook me a potato and I will eat it. You can never go wrong with potato dishes.

I look out the window again to check on the odd situation and it gets even odder. There's a group of men, dressed in all black, whether formally or informally, walking towards the building near the coffee shop.

They all have their mouths and noses covered with a black face mask, each has their own unique design to them. I text Yasmeen again, after sending her a sneaky picture of the men: "I think I'm going to introduce myself to that group of mafia men. I need some spice in my life. LMFAO!"

Again, I decide my own text is absolutely hilarious.

Once I lookout again, I catch one of the men looking straight at me. His eyes... they're cold. They're so cold that it sent me straight chills. He's the one wearing a mask with a white or grey-ish dragon printed on it. The dragon looks like it's holding a red flower... a rose?

I quickly look away as my heart starts to hammer against my chest and my breathing quickens.

Relax, Zara. This has nothing to do with you. They don't know you, you don't know them. Just let them be, don't look their way. I try to look through my side vision to see if they were still there and to my relief, they disappeared just as fast as they appeared. I didn't realize I was holding in my breath until I let out a loud sigh. I really freaked myself out there.

Suddenly, a thought pops up in my mind.

I grab my necklace and pull it out of my shirt.

A black dragon holding a red stone... this has to be a mere coincidence, right? Those cold eyes... nope, no way. I couldn't even see his eye color. It's all just a weird coincidence.

A lot of guys wear dragons as graphics on their shirts and stuff, this isn't anything new. I can notice the discomfort on the faces of all the employees at the coffee shop. I want to ask what's wrong but my anxiety wouldn't allow it. I decided it would be better if I leave and get to the safety of the office building I just did my interview in.

Just as I was about to leave, the woman who took my order stopped me.

"Ma'am!"

I turn around. "Me?"

She nods. "I suggest... you stay inside until those men leave the area." I knit my brows together in confusion. This is my chance, "What's the deal with those men?"

"They're usually here for some... unethical business," she explains. "You never know when they'll harm someone or not. It's better to just stay indoors and out of their way until then."

She's clearly just as shaken up as me but she also looks like she's seen it happen a few times.

"Do they come by often?" I ask.

"Uh, I think about two or three times a month." She says. "Since there's a many big business and corporations around here, they do many of their dealings in the area. You could say they own a lot of what's here."

I see what she's getting at. They're basically from the underworld. I mentally gasp, they are mafia.

She's right, I don't want to be anywhere near them.

I mean, I could totally be y/n right now but when actually confronted with the situation, it's sort of terrifying.

I decide to sit back down in my seat and wait it out. The receptionist did let me know she'd call if the decision was made earlier. I drink my coffee as I scroll through TikTok until a loud burst of noise is heard from a distance, making me jump in my seat. A few of the masked men from the group I saw earlier enter the coffee shop and the atmosphere instantly turns grim. I wish I can explain the hair-raising feeling where time feels like it's frozen but in fear. My coffee cup is stuck mid-air, I'm unable to bring it to my lips or put it down on the table, scared that one movement might get me noticed or killed.

My heart is thumping against my chest loud enough that I force myself to stop from breathing, trying to physically quiet it down.

There he is.

I can see him from the corner of my eyes.

The one in the dragon mask. Three men begin to approach my table as the man in the dragon mask stands back.

Sweat droplets are running down my forehead.

"Excuse me, miss." One of the bigger, older-looking masked men starts talking to me. He has a thick European accent of some kind.

Italian, maybe? I can't focus because of my soul leaving my body. Do I acknowledge him? Will he go away if I ignore him? Of course, he won't!

"Y-yes?" I answer him without looking up.

My hands are shaking so much that my coffee is splattering across the table little by little.

"Could you come outside with us for a little bit?" He asks in a monotone, yet threatening voice.

"I'm s-sorry but I... I don't know who—"

He leans down slightly so I'll be able to hear his lower voice, "Rejecting would only cause the innocent bystanders more problems."

His scarred hands grip a gun at his belt, making me gulp painfully. There's no hint of any mercy in his tone.

I don't know who these people are! What do they want? Why did they pick me to torment? Was it because I stared? Maybe because I took those pictures?

"S-Sir, I'm s-sorry if I o-o-offended you, b-but I'm..." my throat is so dry, it hurt to speak.

He grips his gun tighter, his knuckles turning white. I quickly stand up, as if it's an instinct.

"Good, you chose the safer option." The man says as if that would make me feel better.

I slowly look at the man wearing the dragon mask, who's standing a few feet in front of me.

The eyes... they're blank, empty, void, but familiar...

Right before my mind could piece any of this chaos together, something hits the back of my head, instantly causing a blackout.

The only thing I remember is two people grabbing me before I could hit the ground.

- - -

Please vote and comment and let me know how y'all feel!!

Comments (5)
goodnovel comment avatar
k_nazima
I'm enjoying this story so far. I thought she'd get chucked into a van after walking out of the coffee shop.
goodnovel comment avatar
Meghann Crane
Good chapter but I don’t like the abbreviations. The abbreviations is something that would be use with texting. It takes away from the story for me.
goodnovel comment avatar
Melissa Wilson
Damn, why knock her out???
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