“How do I look?” her V.I.P client inquired.
“Like a million bucks.”
“Do I look tempting enough to marry?”
“That is a question reserved for you girlfriend.”
“No matter how I corner you into answering, you always shut me down.”
“Just another thing I’m good at.”
“You always remain professional.”
“I noticed you picked up some weight since your last fitting.”
“And I just gave you a compliment.” he chuckled.
“I’m going to have to adjust your measurements.”
“For the record, I’ve gained a bit of muscle not fat.”
“The only person who’ll care is your girlfriend, she sees you naked.”
“I feel like I should have waited. I know I should have waited. I got impatient and missed the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“We all miscalculate sometimes.”
“If I’d waited, I could have had you by my side.”
“I’ll make sure to adjust your measurements on your next order.”
“How can you look me in the eyes and not be moved by my words?”
“You confessed, I didn’t. Whatever you’re feeling is one-sided. I’m not wedging myself between you and your woman.”
“It’s going to take a helluva man to get you to submit.”
“What am I, a dog?” she teased. “If we’re finished, I’ll let you get back to your work.”
“You’re worth having, you know?”
“Of course, foolish me, how could you not know?” Isidora smirked and took her leave. She and Patrick have known one another for ten years. They had met through a friend of a friend who informed Patrick of her skills in fashion designing. As he put it, he wanted to test her out to know if she was worth her salt. They had clashed on their first meeting, both wielding sharp tongues and stubborn ways. He wanted her to bow and she determined to make a man out of him. Men shouldn’t constantly whine over the smallest things. Since then, he’s toughened up and mellowed out quite a bit. Every now and then, Isidora complimented him on reshaping his character and value system.
We all use one another but it’s the motive that’s important. She hated to see a shred of injustice toward people, and he hadn’t always been just with his employees. Isidora ripped him in two and then into fourths; he kicked her out of his office thinking that he’d seen the last of her. It wasn’t. She had made herself comfortable in his office, behind his desk at the start of the morning. When he walked through the door, he was notably surprised. That day they had come to an understanding with one another and since then it has been smooth sailing.
With one visit completed, Safe Haven was next. Thankfully she had a team of people to keep the community center going like a well oiled machine in her absence. Watching buildings fade in the distance, not much had changed in the city. Kids still wandered the street at all hours of the night, some were homeless, she’d even taken food to young squatters who would have otherwise starved. Isidora was well aware she couldn’t save every child from their screwed up situations but it didn’t hurt to try. Safe Haven was always open to them and she made sure they knew where to come if push came to shove.
Even this place was her first home before she had built the house she currently lived in. She slept here, on the floor when the final coat of paint dried. The money she made touring the world with her band she swore never to use for herself. It would have been too easy to live without worrying how the next bill was going to get paid. How could she in good conscience tell someone else they could make it through their hardships if she hadn’t experienced homelessness or hunger herself? The choice to struggle in this area was self-imposed. Even though she had millions in the bank, no one knew that and every facility she visited for help treated her without mercy. She wished she could say she was surprised by the selfishness of many, but she wasn’t.
The strong almost never help the weak. But she’d been in the position for the past ten years to make a direct blow to all who turned her away, turned away any person in an extreme situation. That’s why she takes from the wealthy, they need to pay and none of them are going to take their riches with them when they die, so their dollars may as well go to a worthy cause. Pulling herself from her thoughts, she exited her car and enter the building.
“Ms. Isidora! Ms. Isidora!”
“Hey Caleb.” She knew every kid by their name, their parents and their professions and which of them was an abuser or drug addict. It was her right to know to protect the kids at all costs. “Have you eaten?”
“I did. We had pizza and salad and bread sticks!”
“Sounds like a good meal to me.”
“Yes Ms. Isidora. We don’t always have enough to eat at home, so when I come here I know I can go to sleep at night full.”
“That’s what we are here for. If your household every needs anything, don’t be afraid to come and get what you need. Okay?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m going to go wait on my dad now. Thanks for lunch.”
“You’re welcome.” As she watched Caleb sit in a chair a few feet from the door, she turned and saw a little boy who must have been a newcomer, slyly stuffing food in a small black drawstring bag while simultaneously stuffing his face. She walked over and tapped him on his shoulder.
“I didn’t do anything, I swear.”
“I never said you did. What’s your name?”
“I’m Isidora Torres.”
“We have the same last name.”
“We sure do. I saw you from afar stuffing food in your bag.”
“Am I going to get in trouble?”
“Nope. First of all, welcome to Safe Haven, I’m glad that you’re here Dominic. Safe Haven provides all children with food, even their families, the community really. What’s ours is yours. That means you don’t have to secretly pack food away. It’s all free. So don’t be afraid to take what you want in the open. Lastly, take your time eating, there’s no need to rush. Okay?”
“De nada Dominic.” She ruffled his hair and got a huge smile in return. Just as she pushed herself from the table, two groups of boys stormed in pointing guns and hurling profane words across the room at each other. Another bunch of knuckleheads that she had to set straight.
“Excuse me young men.”
“Mind yo business old lady!”
“This place is my business. Imma need yall to put those guns away and watch your mouths. There are kids present, or don’t you see?”
“You wanna get shot or something?”
“I don’t want to have to make an example out of you in front of your homies or your rival group.”
“I’ll come over-”
“Come on over. You think you’re a tough guy, huh? You’re gonna get your face broke messing with me.”
“Bitch, what?” He was waving his gun around like a wet noodle and he actually expected her to be afraid? Slamming the gun up to Isidora’s temple, she smiled knowing how this was going to end. Knocking the gun from his hand, she jabbed him in the face and flipped him on his back and finished him off with a chokehold. Mark Karuso, a man Isidora adopted as her dad was a Marine. He taught her some combat moves, how to unarm an assailant and how to put their asses to sleep. She had also taken up karate, she was sure her instructor would be proud right about now.
“If the rest of you don’t want to take a little siesta, hand over your weapons. Now.”
“Ain’t nobody scared of you.” another boy chimed in.
“I’ll take your gun and shoot you with it. You really want to try me? Look at your friend down there, counting sheep. Be wise.” Both rival gangs looked at each other in confusion.
“Hey Izzy,” Don shouted back from the front door, “I hear cop cars.”
“Don, get me a sack from the back.”
“Hand over your guns, all of them, including additional blades you have tucked away. Stop standing there looking stupid. Move!” Don reappeared with the bag and had them store their weapons in the bag. “If you have drugs, dump it in the bag as well.” One of the boys smacked his lips in protest prompting Isidora to pop him on the back of the head. “Say something.” she threatened.
“Is that everything?” Don asked.
“Yeah.” they all replied in unison. She wasn’t nobody’s fool.
“You, lip smacker, lift up your pant leg, the right one.”
“Man.” he whined.
“I’m not a man. Don’t make me repeat myself.” He pulled out a switch blade and tossed it in the bag. “The only person who can have a gun or blade around here is me. Got it? Yall go over to the hot table and fix yourselves a plate. No fighting.”
“We ain’t no kids.”
“Shut up. And while you’re at it, pick your homie up off my floor. He looks weird drooling all over himself.” Majority of the kids didn’t even flinch when the wannabe gangsters plowed their way into their sanctuary. Most have seen or been apart of worse than this. Speaking of plowing, two trespassing cops walked in Safe Haven like they owned the place looking like Dudely Do-Right’s.
“We received a tip of rival gangs that came through here. Where are you hiding them Torres?”
“Do I look like David Blaine to you? Further more, you don’t come up in here trying to push me around. There aren’t any gangs in here.”
“Then how do you explain those two rival gangs sitting over in the corner?”
“Looks like they’re sharing a meal like civilized people to me.”
“Officer Rene, search em.”
“You don’t have a warrant do you? I didn’t think so. Leave.”
“They are dangerous-”
“Don’t forget I have a badge.”
“And don’t you forget I can make anything look like an accident, capiche?”
“I don’t like you Torres.”
“I don’t like you either.” He knew he couldn’t do anything without violating the rights of ‘innocent’ citizens, but he was sure one day soon, he’d be the one locking up those gang members, including Torres. For now he’d retreat, patiently biding his time. Isidora walked over to the table watching them scowl each other down like animals.
“Yo broad, you might be some good after all.” That lip smacker just didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.
“Have some respect, boy.”
“I ain’t no boy.”
“What are you sixteen? How about the rest of yall?”
“What if we are?”
“All of you work for me now.”
“What?” they all exclaimed in unison.
“Here’s the deal, you do what I say when I say it. Yall are nothing but wannabe gangsters. I bet neither of you have killed anyone yet. Soft.”
“You don’t know who you’re messing with lady. I can get our boss in here right now. Bet you won’t have nothing to say then.”
“Who told you, you had the right to speak? Judging by some of yall’s tattoos, I know exactly which gang you belong to. No more gangs, no more lip smacking and no more talking back. All of your are unemployed, so I have a job for you. You will make money the right way. Clean. I’m getting ready to add some worth and value to your lives. All of you meet me here tomorrow at exactly five in the morning. I count ten of you and if all ten of you don’t show up, I will come find you.”
“Whateva.” Before that lip smacker knew it, he’d been buried between the seats of the table with Isidora’s hands around his throat.
“One more word, just one more… As for the rest of you, enjoy your meal.” After releasing her hands from around his neck, she fished her phone from her back pocket and called Shilpa.
“You want to dine with my family?”
“Which family are we talking about?”
“Are you kidding? Yes I would love too. What’s on the menu?”
“Don’t know. He has no idea I’m coming but between his Greek and Italian roots, there’s bound to be something on the table.”
“We can’t just show up unannounced. That’s rude. You of all people should know that Ms. ‘don’t show up at my house without calling’.”
“You just stay home after all.”
“Psst. I’ll show up. What time?”
“Let’s try for seven tonight.”
“Okay, see you there.” Ending the call, she texted her father’s address to her friend and raced home for a nice soothing bath and a quick nap.
Isidora hadn’t felt like putting any real effort into her appearance so she left her hair in its natural wavy state and threw on a long knit dress and flats. She had felt revitalized after her nap that lasted for two hours. Normally she didn’t really get a chance to sleep because she was on the go all day. Compared to her former life as a singer, she had slowed down a lot as she grew older. She couldn’t do all the things she used to do in her adolescence, life was steadily creeping up on her when she least expected it. Stretching is a must these days to work out all the kinks in her body. But tonight should go well enough. Family was important to her and she wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. Scooping up a purse, she checked for both sets of keys, driver’s license and a pocket knife. One never could be too prepared these days.
Out the door and down the steps she went as she skipped along to her car. The evening sky left just a trace of burnt orange and a cool breeze blew all around rustling leaves on branches. Summer was soon to come to an end as autumn was a favorite time of the year. The smell of decaying leaves left a spicy yet pungent scent in the air. The sound of crunching leaves reminded Isidora of the crispy strips she crumbled up in her tortilla soup. She was excited to find out what dishes were present at her dad’s.
Driving at night was peaceful though hidden dangers in the shadows still made its presence known. As she drove closer to her father’s home, the atmosphere lightened. The streets were quiet and well-lit. It made her wonder what would have become of her life if she had been raised by her father. Would she still have this terrible heartache she always carried, or would she have been truly happy? She didn’t know, but there was no use crying over spilled milk, she had to deal with whatever wounds life and people dealt her on her own.
Pulling up to Anson’s house, she put the gear in park, noticing Shilpa’s car sitting on the other side of the street. Climbing out of the car, she walked the path up to the porch and rung the doorbell.
“Hey yourself, Christophe.”
“Come on in. Your friend is here and it looks like she’s caught Alex’s eye.” he whispered.
“No kidding? I’ve got to see this.”
“Oh and Xavier’s here too.”
“Why am I not surprised? Do you trust him?”
“Sure do. He’s a good guy.”
“Uh huh. So what’s on the menu tonight?”
“Greek salad, fasolada, lamb and potatoes and for dessert, loukoumades.”
“I have a healthy appetite tonight.”
“So how’ve you been?”
“Just living the life.”
“As long as you’re happy…”
“I’ve been wanting to ask you something. Why are you so accepting of us anyway?”
“I don’t have any problems with any of you. I’m not here to fight.”
“That’s the only reason?”
“Seems to easy.”
“I’m an easy-going person.”
“Right. Tell that to Xavier.”
“He’s a different story.” Walking through the living room, they meet up with everyone else at the dinner table.
“You finally made it.” Shilpa lamented.
‘Sit down so we can eat.” Anson rushed.
“Well hello to you too.” Once they were all seated, Anson said grace and everyone began passing bowls of food around.
“So, how was your day Ms. Torres?” Xavier inquired.
“Fine.” she added, short.
“Just fine?” asked Alex.
“Nothing special went on.”
“I heard gang rivals showed up at a community center you were visiting.”
“Everything is fine.” As they ate, conversations peaked on both sides, boisterous laughed filled the room and she definitely saw Alex stealing glances at her friend. Looks like he may be ready to take the first step, trusting himself with a woman. As dinner wound down, they cleaned up the kitchen as a unit and settled into the living space. “Excuse me, I’m going to step outside for a sec.”
“I’ll accompany you.”
“I don’t need your company.”
“Even still, I have something I want to say to you.” All eyes batted back and forth as tension rose over Isidora’s shoulders. She had to remember, she was not here to fight, but he knew she didn’t care for him one bit. Stalking out of the door, she waited with her hands crossed over her chest.
“What is it?”
“It’s good to see you. You look beautiful.”
“Uh huh. What do you want?”
“About the other night, I’m sorry I lost my temper. I don’t normally behave that way.”
“Water under the bridge, now go back inside.”
“Stop talking to me like I’m insignificant.”
“Or what? You’ll lose your temper again?”
“You like provoking people, don’t you?”
“You know I don’t like you.”
“But I like you and that’s not going to change.”
“Whatever keeps you warm at night.”
“Of what, you?”
“Exactly. You’re afraid that I’m going to get to close to you. That’s why you’re adamant on keeping distance between us.”
“I’m not afraid of you or anyone else.”
“Then show me.”
“Again, I don’t like you. Stay away from me.” As she passed him to go inside, he grabbed her by the elbow and pushed her up against the door.
“I’m going to make you my woman come hell or high water, so you need to get with the program.” he whispered into her ear. “And I want babies, at least three and you’re going to give them to me.” Just as Isidora began to protest, Xavier leaned in and kissed her silent. “I like you better like this. Quiet. Stubborn woman.” Xavier released her and went back inside closing the door after him. He left her feeling defenseless and weak.
Next part here: Full Circle
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