Freedom

My visit to the pizza shop in a busy street, despite the guards' disagreement, reached Dad's ears. And that didn't sit well with him. 

I reached home to a fuming Dad welcoming me with his wrath. I didn't understand why he was so mad? It's not that I went there without any protection. And who would dare to attack me in the middle of a busy store? But that didn't deter him from insulting me before the guards, enunciating how careless and foolish I was.

And that only fueled the fire of my smoldering temperament.

"Didn't you think what could be the result of your ridiculous act? How can you be so foolish going between so many unknown people? Did you forget your promise that easily?" 

"I didn't break my promise. I promised not to go anywhere without any protection, and I didn't. They were with me all the time." 

"There is no point taking protection if you're throwing yourself literally in the danger's den!" His voice boomed. "I put them with you so that you can follow the protocol and abide by the rules. You do what they say, not the other way around. This is their job to keep you safe. And you're obstructing them from doing so! You-"

"I don't see why you're being so riled up on such a mild thing? I just went to buy a pizza," I queried, my mind filled with confusion.

"Do not cut me off when I'm talking!" he snapped.

"I will!" I replied with equal intensity. "I will if you keep treating me like that without giving me a solid explanation. I know there is danger out there, and that's why I let you assign those guards with me. But that doesn't mean I can't even go to a shop and buy a freaking pizza!" 

I lost my control. I don't remember when was the last time I talked to him like that. But everyone had a breaking point. And this was mine. 

"Stop treating like a caged animal who can't go anywhere without their master's leash! Do I have even a say in anything? Do my opinions even matter to you? Even these guards have more independence than me."

His eyes flashed with rage. "Don't you know the reason? One mistake, and you're dead! Do you understand? Dead!"

"So what? Let them kill me. At least I won't have to live like a puppet without any pinch of life in it. At least I won't have to live hiding in a corner like a coward in the fear of getting killed by some enemies." My breathing was harsh, my heart thumped loud with the hot lava in my veins while my eyes burned with the severity of it. At this point I didn't care if they really did it. I've been through much worse things than death.

"Sofia!" Mom gasped.

"You're not the only one with enemies. There are also other crime gangs out there. I don't see any of them keeping their families locked into the house. Yes, they do have protection. But they also have independence. They don't have to abide by their guards! Like I have to." I gulped the thick lump of tears. "They have a life, Dad. And I don't. So I don't care if someone comes and kills me. Because I don't give a shit anymore! I'm done with it!" With that, I turned around and stormed out of the room, leaving them with a pin dropping silence.

***

Mom tried to talk to me, but I didn't let her in. I needed some time. All the frustration and pent up anger had hit me at once, pouring out of me like a lava. I couldn't stop talking once I started. But it didn't mean what I said was wrong. Every bit of it was true and a mirror of what had been wrecking through my mind all these years. 

I stayed on my bed, staring at the dreamcatcher, trying my best to keep the stream of tears in, until a familiar voice floated in from the other side of the door.

"Sofia, honey? It's me, Aunt Marie. Open the door, sweetheart," she cooed, gently knocking on the door.

"Leave me alone. I just need some time, Marie," I said, closing my eyes.

"Honey, I know you need time. But I also know that a lot of things are going through your mind. Let me in, and talk to me. You need to get it off of your chest, don't you?"

She always knew what to say. And always had an idea of what the other person needed. Especially me. That's why Mom called her, which I was pretty sure about. 

No one could say no to her. Because that's how sweet she was. Marie had the solution to everyone's problem. Even Dad had to give up before her sometimes.

"Come on, sweetie. Open the door."

Sighing, I got up and opened the door. Her red hair tied in a high bun in a sophisticated way, was the first thing that came into my view. Identical green eyes beamed at me as she wrapped her dainty arms around me in a warm hug. Her same old sweet smell of sandalwood enveloped me when I returned her affection.

"How's my little girl?"

"Peachy," that's the only thing I could say. 

"Come now, tell me what happened."

Pulling away from the hug, she took me to the bed. And I told her everything. 

"I'm tired of this, Marie." I rubbed my face with a frustration building inside me again.

"You know, we don't have a say in what our fate decides for us. And our fate is to be a part of a crime family. It is what it is. You can't change it. Nor could I. I've gone through what you're facing right now. All you have to do is, just cope with it." Her gaze locked with mine. "Accept it, and get a way to deal with it. Because if you don't, then you will keep suffering no matter how much your family tries to keep you away from it. They can save you from the outer pain, but they can't help you with the inner. You have to do that yourself."

"And how can I do that?"

She smiled. "Even after all these years, you couldn't accept the truth of your life. That you're a daughter of a Mafia leader and no matter how much you want, you can't have a normal life like others. Accept it. Accept the truth. That will help you feel at ease. And find a way how you can live your life with a little happiness in it despite being locked around the shackles."

I thought of her words. She was right. I didn't want this kind of life ever, so I never tried to accept it. Deep down, I always tried to fight against it. 

"How did you cope with it?"

"Well, I accepted what I got in my share of luck. And I finally got to live with a little independence when I got married and finally my brother let me out of his sight." She chuckled. "But still, he keeps the security around though."

"So you mean, I should get married now?" I raised my brow.

Her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. "Oh, that would be awesome! I will organize your marriage myself! And your wedding dress…" She stopped once she saw the look on my face. A sheepish grin formed on her lips. 

I let out an exhausted breath. "I don't know what to do. What happened today, what Dad said."

"Honey, don't take his words to heart. You know how much your Dad loves you, right? Whatever he does, is for your own good."

"I know. But…he just doesn't understand."

"He does. But his hands are also bound." Suddenly her eyes glinted with secrecy. "But don't worry. Leave it to your aunt. Let me see what this fairy godmother of yours has in her knapsack."

I furrowed my brows. "What do you mean?"

"You will get to know later." A mischievous smile stretched across her lips. "Now get ready. I know you won't like to hear it, but Yang is waiting for you downstairs."

A groan left out of my mouth. I totally forgot about my training.

"Come on. Hurry up!" she said, standing up. "I need to help your Mom in the kitchen. Lots of dishes to make."

"Are we having a feast?" 

"We're having a family dinner. Everyone is coming. So go and get over with your training. And then get ready for tonight." 

When she was at the door, I stopped her. 

"Marie?"

She turned. "Yes, sweetie?"

"I love you."

A smile formed on her lips. "I love you too!" 

I didn't know there was a family dinner tonight. Generally Mom holds a family dinner at the end of every month. But if the date changes to a random one, then there must be something important.

***

After the training, I went downstairs after getting ready for the night. 

Dad wasn't anywhere to be seen, and I didn't bother to ask about him. I kept to myself despite the guilt of talking to him that way poked me inside.

I chose a simple full sleeved white dress for  dinner. 

A family dinner meant close family friends included in our house. Robert and his family, Tim and Chloe, and other trusted gang members joined in. It was pretty big. And that's why the dinner was always held in the backyard, under the open sky. 

As soon as I neared the hall, I met with the mouthwatering smell of different types of cuisine Mom and Marie made. But the aroma of sizzling grilled chicken covered it all. 

Not wanting to wait for the food any longer, I went to the backyard.

But my steps halted hearing a noise outside of our small library while passing it.

"Find out who it is! Otherwise I swear, you and your men won't live to see the next morning!"

Max? 

I pushed open the library door. 

He just put the phone down from his ear as I entered. 

His jaw was clenched, his phone almost got crushed under his vice grip. And the shadows under his eyes spoke the tale of his sleepless nights. 

"Is everything alright? You look like shit," I said, watching his disarranged state.

"Nothing. Everything is fine," he lied, a frown formed on his forehead as he tried to pass me.

"Max!" I grasped his arm. "What's wrong? Who were you threatening to kill? I heard you talking. So don't lie to me." 

He gave me a look that said: you eavesdropped again?

"I didn't mean to hear anything. Your loud voice is the culprit. Now tell me, who were you intimidating with your threats, and why?"

Heaving a sigh, he ran his hand through his hair. "It was Cole. I told him to get information on someone, but neither he nor his men were able to get me what I wanted. They got nothing!"

Cole was his most trusted man, he worked for him like a right hand. 

"What information?" I asked.

He hesitated, casting a quick glance towards the door. So I went and closed it, before turning to him. My raised brow urged him to speak.

"There is something big going on in the gang, Sofia. Someone from our gang is betraying us. Or should I say using our name in woman trafficking," he said, a muscle of his jaw ticked.

I watched him with horror. "Woman trafficking? But- who could do that?" 

Though Dad runs a mafia gang and owns many illegal businesses, human and organ trafficking is a taboo in his organization. His main business is focused on the arm business. And whoever breaks the rules, gets thrown out of the circle. 

"I don't know. I tried to locate the places where these deals are happening, but I got nothing but some clueless hired men who knew nothing but the job given to them," he spat. "Whoever it is, he is a clever son of a bitch! He knew he would get caught if he did the deals himself. So he hired local goons for the job."

"Does Dad know?"

He shook his head. "No. I didn't tell him anything. He is already stressed about," throwing a brief glance at me, he cleared his throat, "uh, he has other things to take care of. So I took it in my hand. I will handle it myself. And if things get out of hand, I will have nothing to do but to tell him."

I knew what things Dad had to take care of. Russell Checknov, and the mastermind behind the stage. But I didn't think Dad would appreciate Max's keeping this information from him that much.

"How do you know that it's someone from our gang?" 

"Whoever it is, knows the pattern of our work. He knows everything and everyone in the gang. He has every fucking information! That's why we still couldn't grab him. He is always a step ahead of us," he gritted.

Something snapped in me. It meant someone from inside was doing it. So could this mean, it's the same person who helped that man, the leader of the small troop that was sent to attack us, escape from Dad's captive? 

I wanted to ask Max, but I couldn't. He would know. And he knew better than me, he must've put one and one together and figured it out by now.

I asked him if Cole or one of his men could be the one as they were aware of all their plans. But he said he had eyes on them and they were all clean.

"You don't worry about it. I will find him out soon," he said.

"Can I help in any way?"

The shake of his head was instant. "No. I will handle it myself. You just make sure not to mention it to anyone. I don't want the word to spread."

"Alright."

***

I made him promise to let me know if he gets some new leads on this matter before we made our way to the dinner where everyone was already at the table, waiting for the food to be served. 

I sat between Chloe and Jenna. But they were busy with a glare down match with Charlotte, especially Chloe. Robert and Tim were in deep conversation with Dad who was at the head of the table. While Alex and Sam sat there, opposite of me, with a hundred bolt smiles on their faces. 

I raised my brow at them to know the reason for their mirth, and I just got a wink from Alex. 

After dinner was served, we all dug into the food. 

The grumbling of my tummy didn't stop until those decisions heavens landed in my stomach. As Dad didn't let me eat the pizza I brought earlier, I was starving. I didn't have any idea why he reacted the way he did. He threw that box from my hand as if it was an acid that would burn me if I held it for long. 

Then that strange guy from the store came into my mind. His tattoo, I saw it before. But where, I couldn't remember. His behavior was also strange. And what he said…

Accept it when life gives you something. Because when it'll start taking, it won't stop.

My trance was broken with Dad's clinking his glass with his fork, snatching everyone's attention to him. 

"Everyone, I have two good news that I would love to share with you all," he said, standing up. 

A practiced but somehow pleasant smile tugged up his lips. Mom and Marie had equal radiant smiles on their faces matching Alex and Sam's. 

"The first good news is-" his gaze moved to Alex and Sam, "-Alex and Sam got the partnership of a contract that they were working so hard on. The partnership of one of the biggest projects of this year. Cheers to them!" Nodding at them, he raised his glass while everyone cheered.

Max congratulated Alex and he returned with a polite 'thank you'. He was too happy tonight to remember any grudges, and Dad's being proud of him must've been a big thing for him. 

He always wanted Dad's approval, but he got a very few all these years. So after a time, he gave up caring. But the happiness in his eyes spoke that the small Alex still lived behind this grown up man who had different opinions in everything Dad and Max did. 

I beamed at him, demanding for a nice treat, Chloe and Jen nodded their heads eagerly.

When Dad cleared his throat for the second announcement, his practiced smile remained but the pleasantness vanished from it. Instead, a hesitancy latched onto his face. But with a look from Mom and Marie, he opened his lips that were pressed grimly.

"The second news is-" I noticed how he missed the 'good' in it, "-noticing how much my daughter is missing out on the world and her life due to certain reasons, I know it might not be the best idea for me to do this in this situation, but- I want her to be happy and not to feel caged in her own home. So from next week, she can join Alex in the office if she wants."

My heart stopped at my chest. Surprised gasps and whispers echoed across the dining table. Max sent a look of disbelief at Dad's direction.

He wanted me to join Alex in the office?

I had insisted on working with Alex many times in the past, but Dad never gave an ear to my requests. Then what happened now? 

I looked at Mom and Marie. 

They sent me ear-splitting smiles, mouthing me congratulations. 

So it was their magic. Then I remembered what Marie had said to me about having something in her knapsack earlier in my room. 

My eyes burned with unshed tears as I mouthed them a 'thank you'.

Dad looked at me at the same time I looked at him. I couldn't help when a smile ripped across my face. Just like when I used to get upset with him in my childhood and he would buy me a doll to cheer me up, I would give him this toothy smile after that.

"You happy now, princess?" he asked.

Getting up, I rounded the table and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry!"

He patted my head. "It's alright! I'm sorry too. I was a little harsh on you. Am I forgiven now?"

Chuckling, I nodded. "Thank you, Dad! Thank you so much! You don't know what you've just given me," I whispered, pulling away from him. My voice broke with the emotions clogging up my throat.

He smiled. He didn't say anything. I knew he wasn't happy with the decision. But he did it for my sake. And I was more than grateful for it.

"But, are you sure? You won't stop me from going to the office later, right?" I still couldn't believe he agreed on it. 

"Dad, you know what the situation is right now. It won't be safe for her," said Max, a warning hidden in his voice.

"I know. But don't worry. The office building will be safe for her. We have our trained guards posted around it for the safety of Alex and Sam. I will add some more to the team. And Alex and Sam would be there with her all the time. So I don't think we should be worried about that. I know it doesn't sound good, but for the sake of Sofia's happiness, I can at least give it to her." Turning to me, he fixed his serious gaze on me. "But you have to follow some rules strictly. Your bodyguards will keep an eye on you every second of your stay out of home. You will leave home from the back door and enter the office through the exit. So that you don't come under many people's eyes, alright?"

I nodded. If he had put some more rules on my shoulder, I wouldn't care. Because all I cared for was the little bit of freedom I got in my fist. And I wasn't letting it go at any cost.

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