Chapter 10: What Nino lives for
“Seriously, I’m happy to see you, man, but you show up out of nowhere and just expect me to go with you?”
Not that he was wrong, Nino was already jogging alongside him, heading down the street with no intention to turn back.
Rivaldo looked relieved, but not elated or all that happy.
“I’ll just come out and say it, dude. Your dad made a deal with mom.”
I knew I heard right, Nino thought, curious. “What was the deal?”
“He promised her to replace one of her job’s income, so she can be home more often for us. The price was getting me into a different school, and make sure I never bother you again.”
Nino opened his eyes, shocked but not enough so that he would lose his smile. It just changed its nature.
“What the fu**, man!?”
Rivaldo laughed. “Hey, it could honestly be way worse. He could’ve just threatened her. Though if he had, I never would’ve gone along with it.”
“So you were okay with it?”
“I went along with it,” Rivaldo repeated, a brief flurry of inpatient striking to gets it rage on, but apparently practiced in holding back. “Doesn’t mean I was okay with it, how could I be okay with it? I couldn’t even meet with you to thank you for your help back then. Doesn’t mean I’d ever forget, though.”
Nino’s smile widened.
“I never did,” Nino said. “So what’s up? What made you give up on that deal?”
“A threat to my family, duh. Long story short that idiot Nurio left a lot of debt with his boss. He was apparently running around putting things on Pedro’s tab. I’ve been working trying to pay it off, even though Pedro still pays me on top of that. I think he likes me.”
Nino looked at Rivaldo, examining his face. It was bruised in the neck, had a cut on the cheek, and some bind was on his nose. Regardless of that, he looked much fitter than Nino remembered him to be, with knuckles which were considerably rasped and roughed up.
“You replaced your brother in his gang?” Nino asked. “All this time?”
“Don’t sound like that.” Rivaldo glanced at him with a smirk. “That’s what’s normal to happen in my world. Seriously, I got a better deal than most, considering how badly Nurio screwed up. If Pedro were your average gang leader, me and my family would be much worse off.”
“It’s the reality,” Rivaldo said with a shrug, speeding up. “But thing is, another guy’s been encroaching on Pedro’s territory.”
Nino was already getting tired, he wasn’t that physically fit to be running for so long.
“Pedro’s your gangue boss?”
“Yeah,” Rivaldo said, a bit doubtfully, for some reason. “Close enough, anyway. This other guy, we dunno who, has been attacking our operations a lot lately. Last night, we got word he was going after family members of a lot of Pedro’s crew, to try and force ‘em to turn.”
The situation made itself clear to Nino then. Rivaldo’s family was being targeted.
Right. Thing is we’re all targeted, and we all got families, whether they’re a lot or few, broken or not, ya know? Basically, we’re spread pretty thin. I got the short end of the stick because Pedro’s adamant I won’t be targeted. I have no additional protection.“
“Why’s he so convinced?”
“Because I just run errands,” Rivaldo replied with a shrug. “Pedro keeps track of a lot of people, I don’t think he realizes I don’t just do that anymore. I’ve been part of some guard duties, and some transport. In any case, everyone knows about what we did that day, getting revenge on my bro? I never mentioned you were part of it, obviously, but yeah, I’m known. Plus, I’m guessing they won’t care if they just catch small fry like me, they as in the people coming after Pedro.”
Nino nodded in agreement, pensive. “No advantage is too small,” he agreed. “Especially if it’s easy to gain.”
“Yeah, exactly. I’m scared I might have hesitated too long to get you, already. They might already have staked out my place and marked it for an attack since there’s nobody watching. I’m sorry about that.”
Nino breathed heavily as they came to the bus stop.
“So it’s that simple? You just need me to stay over with you for a while?” Nino asked.
“I seriously don’t want to put you in danger, but I know how you’d feel if mom or I got shot and I never gave you a chance to help.” Rivaldo bumped against his shoulder, and they traded knowing smiles. “It’s the same with me, no matter how much your dad hates me.”
“I think dad hates everyone,” Nino said, short of breath. “Even me. I’m more an obligation than anything else.”
“Maybe,” Rivaldo said. “I dunno. Never could get to know the guy, ya know?”
Rivaldo didn’t sound like the hothead Nino remembered. Whatever had been happening with him had changed him, somewhat, but he was still his best friend. They hadn’t seen each other in over two years, and yet there they were like they had just seen each other the previous day.
Rivaldo suddenly extended a pistol to Nino, since they were all alone in the emptied street, or far enough from others that made no matter.
“You think you still know how to use this?”
Nino’s eyes glossed over by the time he came to terms with how he felt about it. The anticipation and exhilaration that was tied to holding one. The thundering noise it made, and the way it kicked back against his grasp. The smell, the gunpowder had gotten in the way of being able to smell the bodies, back then.
Nino smiled warmly. Rivaldo pulled it away, glaring at Nino a little bit freaked out. “What the fu**’s that face?”
“What?” Nino said, his expression normalized, yet still smiling. He was with Rivaldo again, there was no frowning now.
Rivaldo eyed him carefully as he slowly pushed the gun back onto Nino’s grasp.
“I…n-nothing,” he said, suspiciously. “You made this face. Reminded me of someone, that’s all. You’re not going crazy on me, are you?”
Nino took the gun before Rivaldo pulled away again, but casually, so as not to startle him again. He chuckled at the question, as well, further relaxing his friend.
“I just turned my back on an opportunity for a scholarship assisted by loving and doting parents. Ahead of me is a possible firefight. Yeah, Rivaldo, I love ya, but I might be crazy. I don’t want us to die.”
Rivaldo laughed at the nervousness in Nino’s voice. Whatever had caused him concern was then utterly dispelled.
“Okay, that’s good, man. So do you still think you can use that?”
Nino looked at it. He hadn’t properly looked at the last ones he had used, back on that day. This one was completely painted black. It had a small barrel and a flat magazine for the bullets that fit into the handle.
“How many bullets?” Nino asked.
“Fully loaded so eighteen. Well, nineteen with the one that’s in the chamber. That’s an RP9 semi-auto, it’s my best gun, a reward from…” Rivaldo trailed of “it’s not important. I did good and they gave me that pistol in return.” He seemed proud of it, which only made giving it to Nino all the more significant.
Nineteen? Holy crap. Nino put it away inside his pocket, like a legitimate noob.
“You’re giving me your best gun?”
“Man, even after two years, I haven’t even come close to doing what you did back then. So yeah, without a doubt, you use it. If you’re gonna be shooting like that, they better hope they don’t come for my mom.”
Nino cringed, uncomfortable with talking about killing people so casually.
“I guess we should try to just shoot them in the legs or something. We’re on the defense this time.”
Rivaldo turned to him gravely.
“Nino! This is my family we’re talking about. Anyone comes to hurt them, you don’t hold back. You think they’ll spare you?”
Nino chuckled, scratching his head with a nervous sigh.
“Right, of course. Like I just said, I don’t want us to die.”
“Damn right,” Rivaldo said, reducing his intensity. The bus finally arrived so they couldn’t talk more on the issue. As they rode the bus, Rivaldo sat by the window, looking out in thought.
It occurred to Nino then, watching how his friend looked during the trip, that he was really worried. Not to say afraid. It occurred to Nino maybe he hadn’t changed, maybe he was scared enough that he would be cautious. Fear had made him levelheaded.
That he would dig up Nino from the past, hoping that he could help him put a stop to what could possibly be coming, spoke bounds to how bad he thought the situation was.
Once they arrived at Rivaldo’s neighborhood, he took Nino to a small alleyway overseeing his street.
“When they do attack, and it might not be tonight. But if they do, they supposedly don’t know that we know. So they’ll come around this path. You wait for them to pass, then you come out and shoot as many as you can. That will alert me, I’ll come out guns blazing and we can surround them.”
Rivaldo walked up to one of the sides of the alley, one that was a fence leading to another building. He grabbed hold of a specific part and pulled, revealing it had been cut clean.
“If you need to run,” he pointed out. “If nothing happens, put this back when the sun comes up, alright?”
Nino nodded. His heart was starting to race in anticipation. The fear and nausea were settling in, just like in that day.
“So you won’t be here with me?” Nino asked, sounding a bit more worried than he wanted to.
Rivaldo shook his head sadly.
“I mean, we think they don’t know but they might. Maybe they figured out a better way to take a crack at my house, which means they don’t take this street. You hear gunshots–”
“You don’t need to say it,” Nino interrupted, with a heavy and loyal smile. “I’ll come running.”
“And gunning,” Rivaldo added, holding up a fist. “We’ll get through this, man. Hopefully, nothing happens.”
“I’ll be here either way,” Nino said, bumping the fist with his own. Rivaldo choked a bit and then hugged Nino, however manly.
“I can’t thank you enough, brother. I fu**ing cannot believe how much I can count on you.”
It seemed like he was on the verge of crying. Nino was taken aback, but his heart flared with happiness. His friend was back, and so proud of him. So thankful. This was what Nino had always wanted, to be able to be counted on. To be dependable and to matter to those who mattered to him.
Nino hugged him with one arm. The other one was already grasping the pistol.
“I got your back, Rivaldo. Through nothing and everything.”
Rivaldo laughed and pushed him off. Nino was laughing as well.
Rivaldo wiped his eyes in protest.
“You fu**ing idiot, don’t make it so awkward.”
“You’re the one hugging me, dude.”
“Shut up, agh. Alright.” Rivaldo shook his head free of intimacies. “See you in the morning I hope.”
“We’ll see each other in the morning, Rivaldo,” Nino said, smirking, “even if we need to see each other before.”
Rivaldo rolled his eyes.
“Stop it.” He turned around and walked off as Nino chuckled lightly. “Idiot.”
Then Nino looked up and sighed. The moon was so bright, the stars too. There was noise of people awake all around him, awake but quiet. The air wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either, it was just there, caressing his skin.
Most of all, his senses were truly paying attention. To the world and everything around him. A sense of fulfillment and purpose flowed through him with relief and nostalgia.
“Man,” Nino said at the air, confessing to himself. “I feel so alive.”
These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:
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