Dakota woke up early for three cups of coffee. The usual, homemade sweet chai latte. Black coffee didn't bode with him well. It had a bland, bitter taste that was a bother to drink. On the other hand, sweet chai latte was a delight. It had a rich light brown color and forgiving sweet taste that warmed Dakota's soul. He had an ongoing habit of drinking more coffee than he should, but the caffeine invigorated him to push through the day, gave him the energy to function in the everyday rigorous workings of work and school.

Today, he was covering for an employee that called in sick. Nick always seemed to be under the weather. He always had an excuse to avoid his ever so difficult duties of standing at a cash register. Covering for Nick was exhausting, it wearied him. Word got out that playing hooky was a safe venture when Dakota was around. They knew Dakota would back them, it was because he had no backbone. He was a glorified yes man who donned the appearance of a timid boy. At least that's what he thought of himself.

Dakota had curly blonde hair that he often scratched or played with, he had bags under his eyes, and he always looked tired and he always looked like he was pouting or in a slump. Despite downing three cups of coffee when he looked in the mirror he still felt exhausted. Dakota ran his fingers through his curly hair, jumped in the shower and got dressed for work. As he was getting ready he tried to organize his thoughts.

Work.

Study.

Drink.

Sleep.

His thoughts became more complex once he left the apartment and down University Street where he worked. He let them jumble in his brain for a bit before focusing on what's in front of him. The traffic was always calm this time of day. Early in the morning, when the sun was just beginning to rise, cars peacefully drove to their destinations. Fewer cars meant minimal hasty drivers switching lanes constantly, and rapid honking because someone wasn't perfect and slept behind the wheel. The day was just starting so the natural havoc of the world hadn't completely permeated like the sun's rays hitting the back of necks.

Dakota needed to stay productive. He always had to be doing something. If he stopped working, he'd start thinking and when he does those bad things happen. He wanted to keep away from the bad stuff that haunts him. Keep away, far away. He breathed in and out, in and out, thinking about the mental schedule in his head.

The next time he focused on what was in front of him, he was about to cross the street that led to Aldie's, a humble grocery store. The blue logo buzzed dull under the sun. The automatic doors slid open, the soothing breeze of air conditioning made itself known as it brushed against Dakota's face. It was a welcoming feeling every day, and it eased his nerves every time.

He heard the faint buzzing of the air conditioner. He thought he was the only one who could hear it. His suspicions came true when he asked an employee. This gave him solace knowing he was the only one who could hear the serene tune of the air conditioning working. He took in the fresh smell of fruits but turned away quickly to the sight and smell of a bum wandering the aisles. Dakota went behind the aisles, through the black doors where only the employees can enter.

Pass the boxes and boxes of packaged produce, he called out the manager it was hard to spot her through the diligent workers coming back and forth organizing the supply. A portly woman turned the corner where Dakota was standing, eyes searching for her. Her Jet black hair was slicked back into a ponytail, Subtle black stud for earring gave her a much younger look. Her heels clacked against her loose shoes as she approached Dakota.

"You're a lifesaver."

"Glad to be of service."If anyone knew how much Dakota suffered inside they'd know it was said in jest. Perhaps it was his fault for keeping his emotions bottled up.

He exited the back room, into the well lit, busy grocery store. Customers pushed around carts, they filled it with what they needed and wanted. Dakota saw some people fill their carts to the brim, It was like they were playing Jenga with their shopping. It so happens that the people who looked more in shape had fewer items. Americans were well known for their affinity for food. It was an American pride to stuff your face, and to many Americans, it was a flaw that would come back to bite them in the future.

Dakota imagined these people laying on life support after their third heart attack. Bedridden, moaning, wanting to nothing more to end their suffering. If only they picked a fruit salad from the produce section instead of another box of Oreos. Dakota couldn't envision himself in that sort of future. He didn't think he was better than these people. He wouldn't dare think he was superior, he just didn't take a liking to food.

Drinking suited his taste. Being young was an advantage, it's possible that later down the road after all the misfortunes life would gracefully bring him, he'd be sporting a beer belly. Unlike the fat and lazy he wasn't drinking to enjoy, he drank to forget. A naive boy he was. Everyone drinks to forget. He hoped work would help. He worked the register for most of the day. He scanned items and put on a smile, waiting for the customer to pay. Sometimes he'd hear bickering amongst families.

The mundane task of ringing up customers took a toll on him, one that would be visible to anyone who cared. The smiles he shot at customers were tragic truth hidden behind false pretense. Dark skies framed by the windows of the store. It was down hours. Fewer cashiers, fewer people working in the aisles. Dakota sighed in relief when people lined behind the self-checkout areas. After a long day of working the only people, they wanted to deal with was themselves. Dakota could sympathize. They rung up themselves and scurried back to their cars. Dakota pulled out his phone from his back jean pocket.

The time was 11:30. A pitiful smile stretched across his tiresome face. He clocked out without caring to glance at his fellow workers and with much haste he escaped. Dakota didn't enjoy the dark. Everyone was a suspect to him. Shrouded in the night anyone could be a menace aiming to do ill. Evil prayed on the weak and that's exactly what Dakota was. He thought of himself as a prey in a world full of predators. He threw his hoodie over his head and sunk into his oversized jacket.

He watched intently, very aware of his surroundings. His senses seemed to heighten when he was scared. So, every day walking home his senses were at its peak thinking of the worst. The sharp sound of cars whizzed past him in his right ear, the soft breeze glancing trees on his left. He clenched his fist when he passed by a stranger. Anxiety rushed to his head. He imagined one man holding a knife to his throat asking for money, another dragging him to the bushes to be raped. Horrible scenarios all very unlikely it would happen to him, but it still scared him to death. Imagined disasters that plagued him were suddenly disrupted by conversation and laughter. Small groups of people stood outside a liquor store conversing, smoking cigarettes.

They talked about the usual, asshole bosses or family problems, what they would do if they had all the money in the world, you know, the usual. None of them seemed threatening they were normal. Dakota looked through the window and saw towers of rum and whiskey. Today was a Saturday, not much to do in the tropical shit land of Davie, Florida. He had no plans to arrange with friends. There were no night outs. He didn't have many friends.

His roommate, Ricky was the social type. He was always out partying, he brought girls home to fuck. Whenever Ricky invited him for a night out, Dakota would politely decline and make up an excuse involving school or work. A social gathering was a foreign concept to him. A plethora of things could go wrong. He was much safer behind closed doors, doors that were familiar to him. The door in front of him that led to processed foods and vast amounts of cheap alcohol, that was a door he was familiar with as well. A place his Father knew very well and his father, and his father's father, and so on and so on. An Irish family full of drunks. A cliche, perhaps, a stereotype indeed but all stereotypes are derived from truth.

Dakota walked up and down the small store. Fridges contained rows of iced tea, coca cola, and American beer. He examined the tower of hard alcohol. A tower of jack and Black Labels behind it a fortress of exotic rum. A change of pace was good once in awhile. Dakota wasn't so keen to change, it frightened him like many other things. Familiarity is what humans like. He asked for a bottle of jack. The middle eastern looking man asked for ID, Dakota reluctantly supplied it.

"Party?"

Dakota was surprised the man didn't have a thick accent akin to general assumption.

"Yeah. The devil and I."

The man seemed puzzled like he didn't know what Dakota was getting at. How could he?

"Well, be safe out there, kid."

"Uh huh"

Dakota waved the counter man off. He passed through many neighborhoods, wandered the streets while occasionally swinging jack. Many stop signs he walked past, schools and business buildings. Apparently, he forgotten about his pertinent studies. He heard Jack called his name and he obeyed the order, the rest was history. Drink me, it sung. Dakota happily replied as he took another swig, letting the harsh contents slide down his gullet, burning his throat.

He closed his eyes then shook his head. Dakota chose not to learn or at least remember the truth of hard alcohol; all you needed was a couple swig, same as shots and the devil had its claws around your neck. Out in the far distance that grew not so far the more he walked, a faint sound grew louder. The sound of bass heavy music smacked the atmosphere.

It blasted through Dakota's eardrums in ear-splitting fashion. He drunkenly swiveled around the corner almost losing his footing, he stumbled and latched on a palm tree to break his fall. His face pressed into the wood, he peered ahead through the dark. A mansion sat, pronounced, full of life. Bright colorful lights flickered and shone out in the night sky. It had a thunderous pattern as the flickering seemed to be ceaseless. The lights might have been annoying to a sober Dakota, but an intoxicated one was filled with wonder.

The attractiveness of the lights, the busyness of the mansion, it was all a wonderful. It reminded Dakota what he skipped during high school. Loud parties that were vivacious by nature, he'd never experienced them. He'd never laid with a woman in the night. He didn't have the luxury of being with a girl, frolicking about under the sheets speaking slurred words at her. It was his chance now, he thought. The opportunity has made itself known. He drunkenly stumbled his way into the lively party.

The large doors were already swung open which made it easier to push through a clustered, excitable throng. People adequately dressed for a business meeting saw fit to jump around drenched in sweat, and lose themselves to the music. They grind on one another, giggled and exchanged tongues. They thought it to be openly raw, passionate lovemaking, exposed and in the limelight. Dakota was deeply disturbed, the music continued to pound against his eardrums.

Another scene demanded his attention, A fight broke. Dakota was astounded anyone would try to brawl, he was even surprised when a bald old man with a biker vest and huge arms uppercutting a rich kid who thought too much of himself. Dakota smirked at the little bit of chaos. The crowd nudged at him sometimes pushed him forcibly deeper into the chaos. He let the topsy-turvy wave take him like the alcohol did.

He sensed the touch of cold, womanly hands running up his body. A beautiful woman with an alluring smile caressed his cheeks and not before long pressed her red-lipsticked lips against his. She tasted like the sweetest fruit, full and tender. It was his first kiss and it was with someone he didn't know, and he didn't mind it at all. What Dakota thought to be newfound luck and passion warped into a powerful force. The unforeseen power manifested into a large, dark man with furrowed eyebrows.

His form was exemplified by the powerful lights that reflected against his wide-eyed stare. He grabbed Dakota by the collar of his shirt. A smirk twitched into existence above his pronounced chin. He seemed satisfied and let out a hefty sigh, some sign of relief that he finally found the bastard that fornicated with his love.

"I finally found you. Must be out your mind, boy. Putting a hand on what's mine. I'll break those hands of yours after I break something else."

"Wait" Dakota tried to explain himself, but the man was quick to action, the same way he was quick to boiling anger.

Dakota watched as the meaty fist walloped him, busting his nose. The instant pain made everything blurry. The force of the punch propelled him into a half-open door. Dakota rolled into a quiet room. The sharp pain resting on his nose kept him on his knees. He tried to rise to his feet, his brain that just bounced around in his head was telling him to bolt for the nearest exit.

A retreat homologous to what he imagined wasn't possible. Fear that could only be explained by past trauma resounded throughout his entire body. It started with his fingertips to his arms, heart, and stomach, following through to his legs that were so shaky, Dakota was surprised he didn't collapse under it.

"I'm sorry." He muttered under shaky breath.

He clenched his fists and raised his hands for a means of defense. He felt a hand on his shoulder, it wasn't the woman who snickered to herself, thank god it wasn't the volatile man before him, he thought. Dakota turned his head, a welcoming smile greeted him.

"Hey." The smiling man said.

He was a well-kempt man, white-dyed hair, slicked back, elegantly parted. He was of Asian descent and wore a white suit. Hands caressed Dakota's cheek. The pretty man examined Dakota, sincerity in his eyes; a genuine care as he tried to clean the blood from Dakota's face.

"You poor thing."

The man pressed Dakota's face into his chest, he wrapped his arms around him, using one hand to comb through his blonde hair, the other keeping him close. Dakota wasn't sure what exactly was going on. Too much occurred in too little time. He was sent flying due to an enraged man, evil cackling reverberated with the muzzled music behind the closed door, but the calm heartbeat of the man who embraced him seemed soothing enough to ease his shaking just a little bit.

Although he was extremely uncomfortable being held by stranger especially since the stranger was a male, the word safe crept into his mind. Three individuals stood up seemingly guarding the two, another guarded the door.

"This ain't got nothing to do with all of you. Give me that asshole and I'll be on my merry way." The rageful man shouted.

"The fool's drunk." One of the men said.

"Liam?" The man to the right guarding Dakota and Liam spun his head around, intensely glaring. It was blatantly obvious the man meant to rid of the disrupter.

"He hurt this precious little diamond, he caused violence in my palatial estate, his face irritates me. Russ, teach him a lesson."

Russ left the other two men to gawk at the scene that would soon come to pass. They both looked at each other exchanging questions: "What the hell was going on, should we stay?"

The person who closed the door was conveniently a woman so she thought it fair game to grab the sniveling girlfriend by the hair. She pulled, yanked then sent a strong punch to her gut that made her drop. The solid thump and her belligerent yelp drew the attention of her furrow-browed lover. He swung at her, she ducked the incoming punch and his hand crashed into the wall, it was weak enough to make a dent.

Russ didn't appear to be much of a fighter at first glance. He was slim and most of his physique was covered by a suit a bit big for his size. He quietly closed the distance between him and the drunk aggressor, dug in his large pockets, he slid on gold brass knuckles.

"What is he doing?" Dakota asked.

"Teaching him a lesson," Liam replied.

It was safe to say that the lesson had been learned that night. It was also safe to say the last thing the angry drunk saw was a fast flash of bright gold before he laid unconscious, bloody and broken. Dakota watched, horrified at the man's actions. Russ's lanky arms provided to be very useful. He swung in big, heavy motions that plowed into the ribs, carved onto the chest, and reshaped the face.

Blood spurted and flew. And with every drop of blood that discolored the brass knuckles followed a morbid crushing sound that made Dakota wince. Liam left Dakota, he pushed through the two men gawking. He jogged over to the brutal scene and kicked Russ off the already unconscious man.

"It's done," Liam said.

Dakota's drunkenness still lingered about. He felt sick. Wrapped his arms around himself latching onto his sides. The gory scene deterred him from approaching the stranger when he motioned for him to come closer. Dakota tripped over himself and fell on his bottom. Shivering, the fear made feel really cold. Viciousness that reminded him of his Father. Dakota sprinted away from it all, deeper into the room, dark hallways that led to who knew where. He wanted to get away from the bad stuff. Malice that corrupted all of us. He ran.