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Rose Thorns He Yielded

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Cold. Despite the seemingly pale and welcoming deep-set eyes of Manfredo Mazzili, I can feel a freezing air within. Laying below the surface. Dormant and waiting for the right timing. Was it because he belongs to the army? He must have witnessed a lot of death. I could know something about it. Maybe I should. If his dark past gets unfold, maybe this strange wanting in my chest will finally disappear. If I could untangle the vines hiding his heart, maybe I’d find a broken vase; or a blackened heart. Then this curious, longing heart of mine... will cease to exist.

Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

Summer, 45°

'HOT. It’s scorching hot today.’ Everyone who gets to look past their shoulders either has squinting eyes, or a scowl. When put on a fairly old face, it’s kind of hard to distinguish between the two.

Amery walked past the meat section to accommodate the woman standing by the frozen goods.

She looked down on her clothes and nearly winced. Her green shirt has a few splotches of water, courtesy of that broken sink by the ladies’ comfort room at the back.

It wasn’t her attempt on fixing the faucet that caused it to jump out. Desiree, her friend, has been complaining about it for a week. She doesn’t know why the owner of the store can’t seem to find the time to replace it. The small thing doesn’t need a whole team.

Amery schooled her expression into calmness but the woman is still frowning hard in her direction.

‘Is this old woman angry at me?’ She let her eyes roam the surroundings and thought, ‘Or is she p*ss*d because of the temperature?’

“Hold this up for me, will you? D*mn sunny out here. I have to get my sunglasses.” The woman stuffs her three bags of flour into Amery's arms. “Ugh...”

She smiled after putting on the tinted glasses. Amery was left blinking owlishly in front of her. She laughed amiably then spat, “What?”

“I... ah,” Amery suggested, “I can give you a cart?”

“Oh, no, no! No need. I just need to buy a few things. Thanks for helping me, Amery. It’s Amery, no?”

She’s not that old. Could be in her late 40’s. A little to the wider side but definitely nimble than a guava tree. Her skin was mottled with blackheads and wrinkles. Smaller than Amery’s height of 5 '8. And totally, a friendly customer.

Alice bent down a little to get her bags of flour. Her loose hair jumping over her shoulders to greet Amery. 

“I’m Amery. Do you need anything else?”

She had read Amery’s name from her nameplate and the fact that their little town has a tight-knit community where people know each other from their faces alone.

“None that I remember.” Alice added, “You have to invest in a good set of skin care products this year, girl. The sun gets too mean sometimes, you know?” She wiggled her eyebrows knowingly.

She nodded to show her agreement. Amery herself knew that the woman is a mother of five kids. Two out of which are her brother’s classmates. ‘Its indeed a very small place.’

Making a friendly gesture, she gently reminded,  “Might reconsider going outside tomorrow, then. The temperature’s going to shoot up like mad. A minute exposure could mean sunburn.”

“Really?”  

She raises her brow. Huffing a pained breath, Alice asked, “Are you going to be on the clock tomorrow? I might still need a few ingredients for my boy’s party. Maybe I can get your number and ask for a delivery? I give generous tips too. Ah, I’m just anxious about my oldest kid’s graduation. That’s allowed, right?”

‘What’s the extent of that word in a small retail store?’ Whatever the customer wants, the salesmen should bow their heads and obey. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great way of earning extra. 

The finals are coming. Every semester, Amery had to pay the student council fee to have her clearance signed and be enrolled for the next term.

She made a small calculation in her  mind before cheering up. ‘I’m free tomorrow from 10 to 5 pm.’

Her savings should mean a lot if her parents give her allowance. But her father strictly said that they should no longer expect from them once they are over 18, this amount of money gets extremely small and hard to spend.

Every cent contains her regret of buying something trivial.

“Okay. I don’t have my phone with me at the moment but I memorized my number. Do you have your cell with you?”

“Yes. Are you Javier’s daughter?” she quipped in the midst of typing on her phone. Probably looking for the contact icon.

Amery smiled after reciting her number. “What gave me away?”

Her father is a carpenter. He’d reached every single house in this small town trying to fix anything. The people knew him well. Though it’s a bit of a surprise that Alice could recognize Amery. She rarely goes out these past few years. There’s hardly anything new around to keep her entertained. 

“Ah, it’s because of your eyes. It’s a very cool color. There are only two families here with rare irises, Ms. Tolomeo. Your father with those very bright, steel-gray eyes and the Mazzili clan. All green-eyed men.” She waves her hands. “It’s a good family identification, right? I’ll contact you tomorrow, Amery!”

“Please call me after 10 am!” she shouted belatedly on her back.

‘The Mazzili men.’ Has anyone ever seen them up close?

There were rumors that the men residing inside the Mazzili household were not necessarily blood-related. Amery got a wink of their closing gate once. Dozens of men walked around the compound, with broad backs and tall figures that scared her a lot when she was a child. It’s been a decade since she last saw someone from that compound. Talk of the town is that the father and son duo were the ones who decided for the family and those men were business partners, and not their relatives.

Amery doesn’t know what’s the truth up to now. Their compound was far, almost mixing with the forest and the mountains. They’re always forgotten, in her opinion, because no one talks about them.

Their compound is in the most conspicuous part of the community. Near the mountains with the backdrop view of the falls. It was an expensive piece of land, and they had it. Owned it for a long time.

She only realized now that the reason why there’s no information regarding them is because they don’t allow themselves to get close with the masses.

One would say they are the esteemed gentlemen of the town. Although they barely communicate with the people, a lot gives massive respect for the whole family— if not fear. 

Money and power only have two effects on people. They either admire or get scared.

In Amery's case, she doesn't know how to treat them. She hardly got the chance to see one of them up close anyway.

‘Green-eyed...’

The house where Amery's family lived is poles apart from the Mazzili property. Quite a few kilometers away from each other. So there’s no reason for their family’s paths to cross. Some were lucky to see their expensive cars on the road.

The difference between them is like a teaspoon of oil dropped in a pitcher of water. They stand out. Whether they liked it or not.

The Mazzili people don't have kids, to her knowledge. They never enrolled anyone in the preschool center. She would have heard of it right away if that’s the case. Not because she’s interested, but it’s simply how their town works. Everyone is about their neighbor’s business.

‘Strange, strange.’

“Still spacing out, I see.” 

A loud clap almost smacked Amery's face. Desiree rolled away laughing at her own antics. She could only purse her lips tightly before facing the menace. “And if you hit my face with that?” 

Her friend works mainly at the storage room. She moves in the boxes and goes to arrange the stands. Dealing with the heavy stuff because apparently, she’s larger than most men Amery knows.

Tall and intimidating, her long black curls bobbed up and down when she nodded. “Sorry. What got you absentminded, baby girl?” 

“Your pet. When are you going to move your dog with you to that apartment?”

Desiree winced. “Oh, d*mn. Right. About that... the landlord is still not convinced yet. How about... you keep it for a while? I will give you his food for the week and maybe some cash for taking care of him.”

“My bedroom smells like dog sh*t, you know.”

“The very reason why my landlord doesn’t want me to keep him.”

Amery rolled my eyes at her. “Why keep a dog and make another person take care of it?”

Although there’s not much heat in the way she spoke, the more that Amery thinks about it, she realized that she’s not taking the short end of her ‘compromise’. The dog was a friendly one.

“Fine. He’s cute. I guess I’ll put up with it for a while.” 

Potty was a breed of corgi with a bright, peach colored fur that’s so soft to touch. The dog barely reached Amery's thigh and his tongue is constantly rolling off his mouth.

He’s not a silent dog. Potty can bark loud as hell and he’s not polite at keeping it to the minimum. But miraculously, Amery’s family puts up with it.

‘Keeping Potty is not hard.’

The thing she is mostly afraid of is getting attached to Desiree’s pet. Even if she’s asking Amery to care for it now, one day she will eventually ask Potty back. ‘What if I will love that little boogie monster more than my pillow? He can’t be the reason for my snappy attitude for a whole week.’

“It’s half past 3 now. You can now take off that nasty neon shirt and go home, Amery.”

She hummed. “You guys keep the shop twisting, okay?”

“Yes, boss!” Desiree mocked, “Your imitation skills sucks.” 

‘I never want to copy our employer anyway.' The man was hardly anything good. 'I guess it became a running stereotype for some old men to be either always complaining or sexually harassing someone..’

Amery loves her grandparents, and she wondered why Old Tom— their employer and Desiree's landlord — was too different from the loving old people that she cared a lot about.

They had a few people hired back in the day to give them a hand during the hectic season but one by one, they left without looking back. The curious thing is, they either go abroad or move to the nearest city. Most of the people that the boss hired were all women who had just reached 18. Although Amery didn’t hear it with her own ear, she can guess the reason why they all left without even saying goodbye. 

One person leaving is A-Okay, nothing to be surprised about since working at a retail store is something that is temporary for many but losing three or more people in less than a year. It’s not like they don’t know these girls. They are their school acquaintances. One even became her classmate in the third grade.

Old Tom, their boss, is a quiet man but he can chug two trays of beer in one sitting. He rarely communicates with his employees except when they are alone. He never tried hitting on Amery, but that’s because her dad is his diligent carpenter. He calls on him when there is something to repair around the shop. He won’t try to put himself on her father’s bad side.

Desiree was another matter though, because she’s a head taller than Old Tom, he won’t even dream about doing something bad to her.

They vowed to get the old man caught in the act of his malicious hands but up until now, they didn’t see anything. The vigilance and the sheer knowledge of what he's doing indoors is enough to make them never forget even if he treats them nicely.

That’s also one of the reasons why they pick his retail store out of all the basic shops in this small town. He’s the most controversial, and they can try keeping him in check.

Some old men...

They thought their age gives them a free pass for doing something so disgusting. It’s true when they say that there is no distinction between good and bad based on age. Young people can be evil, and old age and experiences can teach an old person nothing if they decide to live by their sorry principle.

Amery's dad is a different course, even if he’s in his prime now. 

He’s not in any way an abuser but there’s a certain air of confidence that surrounds him. Making him immune to her advice especially on his drinking problem. Him saying that there’s nothing wrong with it, and that he can handle it. But he can never be that bad in Amery’s eyes.

“Bye!”

Amery left the store early so that she could still cook and prepare their dinner at home. Her Mama gets sick whenever the weather is too hot, she gets bothered too by the extreme cold. Her father said it’s because their Ma took care of them almost all of her life that’s why she forgot how to breathe for herself and her body never recovered throughout the years. All those missed meals and lost sleep, they are all showing their long term effects now. Her weakened immune system is just the first. Amery refused to have a pessimistic mind especially about her Mama’s health.

Mothers... strange creatures, indeed. They put their family first before loving themselves. Desiree’s mom was the complete opposite though, the woman left when the pressure got too hard on her and she was left in her father’s care. Desiree doesn't want to see her mom again. Amery was blessed to have a patient mother.

The long and wide road ahead was filled with dust and exhaust. Though there was no car in sight, and the warm air kept blowing the dust and dirt on her face. Within just a few minutes walking, her throat ran dry and parched like the desert.

Although it doesn’t hurt, it gets a lot uncomfortable as time stretches.

‘No wonder no one’s going out.’

Whenever the warm air gets too much, she gets a feeling at the back of her head that maybe the weather forecast was wrong. It’s not 42° but 50° out here. If one persists, the sunlight can cook up a sunny side up egg on a pan outside. 

Uphill was nothing but vaguely moving waves of heat. Even inhaling became a chore because the air has gone warm. It’s safe to say that their town is a barren land at the moment.

Blinking her eyes rapidly, Amery caught a sight of an ant far away. It took her some time to realize that it was a moving vehicle. It created a funny image, shaking and twitching to reach the other end where she stood.

When it’s only a few meters away, she could finally read the car’s brand.

An old rusty Sanda. There’s no shiny surface of the car, just endless red and decaying paint. Amery tried to remember who owns it.

‘Nah. I’ve never seen this car before.’

Maybe she had. It’s just that it’s not remarkable that’s why she already forgot about it. 

Sanda is a very old label, and the model of this car looks ancient too. Whoever drives it should be at least 50 years old.

Her dad would get along with this person just fine because of their ancient tastes in cars.

It’s going in the opposite direction. There’s no use waving her hand. Amery needs to extend her suffering in this bad temperature. It’s just the first of a week-long sacrifice anyway. The peak temperature will be tomorrow, or so they say.

Amery lowered her head before sighing softly. The rumble of the car came close. When she looked up, the vehicle had fully stopped beside her.

Her forehead could have formed a question mark if it wasn’t for the oiliness of her skin. “Yes? Do you need directions?” 

The window rolled down with a bit of difficulty. Even with its half-closed state, Amery can hear the man behind the steering wheel click his tongue.

“Are you Ms. Amery Tolomeo?” 

It was a clean, accent-free voice. His tone was bland and disinterested. He’s large— by the way Amery can see the way his hand wraps around the steering wheel. Supported by his defined knuckles and long, scarred fingers. She can’t see his face clearly because of his heavily-tinted sunglasses, but his angled jaw promised a good sight.

Teachers and parents taught kids not to speak with strangers. But for a person who lives in a small community, Amery sees no harm in responding to them. Especially when they might have something important to tell.

It could be a lost person asking where to go.

This is one of those instances, she presume.

It’s just that this man... is not acting like how a lost person should.

He has the shortest hair clinging on his head. Amery never knew anyone who picks this haircut voluntarily. It should be for the purpose of work. His gray shirt is tight on the chest but loose on his stomach. She can see him clearly, except his face since Amery is looking down on him— his tinted glasses are on the way.

“Yes?” She didn’t sound meek and timid, but confused. “Did my father send you?” 

He spoke her name! Could it be someone that her father sent? Her father has a habit of asking few people what to tell her if ever they cross paths with her. It worked for them since her Pa doesn’t have a cell, and she’s often on the way home if not working in the store.

“Yup.” He stretched his arm towards the passenger seat. He motioned for  Amery to go inside. “Javier is fixing our stables. Someone broke in last night. My Aman wants you to come and assist your father.”

“Your Aman? Who is your Aman?”

The man didn’t answer. He looked at her behind his glasses for three seconds. After a few moments, he shrugged his shoulders. “Your father’s friend, obviously. Let’s stop wasting time. In you hop.”

“Okay...”

Honestly, she’s thankful for the ride. Her feet had become stiff and sweaty because of walking.

In retrospect, she entered a stranger’s car without hesitation. That’s a tell-tale of how careless Amery is. But she didn’t back out. There’s a row of houses not too far from them. She could yell for help if ever this man turned out to be a criminal.

She walked around the car and sat in the passenger seat. It was spacious. The only issue in this vehicle is its rusty state. “Is this safe?”

She can hear the door jingle and rattle with her every move. The car seems to creak constantly within every forward lurch. 

“Do you want me to lie to make you feel secure... or do you want me to state something more obvious?”

‘Is he kidding me?’ Amery frowned at him. Making sure he saw what her reaction says about him— *ssh*l*.

“You don’t have to be so condescending about a simple question, sir. Or I can get off.”

“You’re questioning my car’s capability. Of course I’ll take offense.” The man faced the road. His emerald gem-like eyes came to view on the image of his side profile. “This loyal car has been with me since my high school years.”

“You’re a Mazzili?” Amery blurted before she could stop herself. The man looked happy as if he did not just manage to piss her off. “Since high school, huh? Just a few years but it’s already in a deadbeat state. I wonder what’s so amazing about it.”

Amery relaxed on the chair. Strangely, she can’t feel any threat coming from him. ‘Maybe it’s because his sense of humor is skewed.’

“It lasted me more than two years. That alone makes it a legend.” The man turned serious after a few seconds. “Is there something about the Mazzili clan that requires a lot of shock? You look... surprised.”

He came off amused. Amery almost laughed awkwardly at him. “This is the first time I met a Mazzili face to face.”

The man snorted. His thick lips twisting in a wry smile. “How was the experience, lady?”

She can’t let go of an opportunity and spat, “Hardly anything good.”

The guy’s laugh in turn sounded genuine and loud. “You people make it hard to go out. Looking at us like we’re some freaks.”

‘Maybe you are.’ Amery nodded sympathetically. ‘I can see the appeal of the idea that you are truly a freak.’ 

All those years of wonder and curiosity boils down to this barely likable man. Amery can’t help but feel like the rumors were exaggerated and all the way untrue. 

Deciding to let go of her initial dislike towards him, Amery offered lamely, “Sorry. I guess the people are just eager for a new face to look at.”

The man removed his glasses. He folded it on his neckline. “Yeah, it must be it.”

He pressed on the accelerator, and the Sanda sped up leaving tornadoes of dirt and smoke behind them. Amery leaned back on the seat. Staring at the window as she grips the armrest like holding on for dear life. The man was not lying, this car is broken. 

“My name is Manfredo. You are?”

She shifted her eyes on his face. He doesn’t look curious. It was as though he’s just speaking for the sake of being casual. 

“My name’s Amery.”

He smiled. “Hello, Amery, it’s nice to meet you.”

Chapter 2

CHAPTER 2

Stable, Stables

Amery never put to mind how huge the expanse of land that the Mazzili’s compound holds. Actually, she never put in mind how much money they owned, or how deep their connection ran through the soil. She thought their lives would never cross the other’s path.

She thought her rough guess was right, but a personal experience of touring inside their estate made Amery realize how poor her perception of things was.

It first started when they entered the huge gate.

Three guards motioned the car in. Manfredo moved the car slowly towards the mountain. Their compound has three houses. The middle being the massive of them all. They are equally designed in the same pattern. Stylish brown and white with large modern glass as walls. They also do have a fancy pool that can accommodate approximately twenty-five people. Though she can’t be completely sure. It was still far, and that’s all her eyes could assess in the dist

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