Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(10)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(10)
Mariana Zapata

“Great now that you’re here,” Creeper Christian said.

I almost groaned. It wasn’t like I’d known he was training at the same place Aiden was. I doubted Aiden even knew or cared.

“Taking pictures of Graves?” he asked, taking a seat on the floor next to me.

I brought the viewfinder eyepiece to my eye, hoping he’d realize I was too busy to talk. “Yep.” Who else would I be taking pictures of? I snapped a couple other shots as Aiden managed to flip the tire again and resuming that wide-legged, squatted position after each time.

“How you been? How long has it been since I’ve seen you?”

“Good.” Was it bitchy to be so vague? Yes, but I couldn’t find it in me to be more than cordial to him after what he’d done. Plus, he knew damn well how long Aiden had been out of the season. He was the team’s star player. Someone from the team had been constantly in contact with him since his injury. There was no way Christian wouldn’t have kept up with Aiden’s progress. It seemed like every time I flipped through The Sports Channel, some anchor or another was making a prediction about Aiden’s future.

The heat of his side seared into my shoulder. “Graves sure got back on his feet real quick.”

Through the lens though, I found Aiden glowering over in my direction, his trainer a few feet away jotting down something on the clipboard he’d been holding.

I was torn between waving and getting up, but Aiden beat me to decision making by saying loudly, “You can leave now.”

You can—?

Lowering the camera to my lap, I stared over at him, pressing my glasses a little closer to my face with my index finger. I’d heard wrong, hadn’t I? “What did you say?” I called out the question slowly so he could hear me.

He didn’t even blink as he repeated himself. “You can leave now.”

You can leave now.

I gawked. My heart gave a vicious thump. My inhale was sharp.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

“Kill them with kindness,” Diana’s mom would say when I’d tell her about my sisters picking on me. I hadn’t necessarily taken her words into account when dealing with my family, but they had made sense to me once I was old enough to have to put up with other people’s bullshit.

Being the kind of person who smiled at someone who was being a jackass usually pissed off the assholes a lot more than being rude in return did.

In some cases though, people might also think you had brain damage when you did it, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

But in this case, in that moment, forcing myself not to obviously flip Aiden off was a lot harder than normal.

It was one thing for him to ignore me when I tried to be playful with him, or when I said “good-bye” or “good morning,” but for him to act that way with me in front of other people? I mean, he wasn’t exactly a teddy bear on the best of days, but he usually wasn’t a model for Asswipe & Fitch. At least, not when we were around other people, which was rare.

One, two, three, four, five. I had this.

I raised my eyebrows and beamed over at him like nothing was wrong, even though I was pretty much seething on the inside, and wondering how to give him diarrhea.

“What the fuck is his deal?” Christian muttered under his breath as I settled the camera back into its case, and then into my bag. I couldn’t decide whether to leave as quickly as possible or stay where I was because he was out of his damn mind if he thought I was going to do his bidding when he talked like that to me.

The reminder that I didn’t need to take his crap anymore hit me right between the eyebrows, and my shoulder blades. I could take him being aloof and cold. I could handle him not giving a single crap about me personally, but embarrassing me in front of other people? There was only so much you could forgive and ignore.

One, two, three, four, five, six.

“Is he always like that?” Christian’s voice jump-started me out of my thoughts.

I shrugged a shoulder, conscious not to put my foot in my mouth in front of someone who was practically a stranger even though said man wasn’t exactly on my list of people I would pull out of a burning building at the minute. “He’s a good boss,” I let the bland, forced compliment out, getting to my feet. “I don’t take it personally.”

Usually.

“I need to get going anyway. See you,” I said as I slipped the strap of my bag over my shoulder and picked up the insulated bag with the big guy’s food inside.

“I’m sure I’ll see you soon,” he noted, his tone just a little too bright, too fake.

I nodded before noticing Aiden taking a knee on the turf, staring over with a perfectly impassive expression on his face. Fighting the uneasy feeling I got from him practically telling me to scram, I went to stand on the other side of the tire. He was sweaty, his T-shirt clinging to the muscles of his pectorals like a second, paler skin. His face was tight, almost bored—so basically the norm.

I tried to steady my words and heart. Confusion, anger, and, honestly, a little hurt soured my stomach as I watched him. “Is there something wrong?” I asked slowly, steadily as I tapped my fingers along the stitching of the bag with his camera and my things inside.

“No,” he answered sharply, like he would have if I’d asked him if he wanted something with fennel for dinner.

I cleared my throat and rubbed the side of my hand against the seam of my pants, warily, counting to three that time. “Are you sure?”

“Why would anything be wrong?”

Because you’re being a massive douche bag, I thought.

But before I could make up something else, he kept going. “I don’t pay you to sit around and talk.”

Oh no.

He leaned his entire upper body forward to rest against the length of his leg in a deep stretch. “Did you bring my breakfast?”

I tried to be patient. I really did. For the most part, I had patience on lockdown. There was no sense of “this is mine” when you had three older sisters who didn’t respect anyone’s boundaries, and one little brother. Needless to say, I didn’t get my feelings hurt particularly easily, and I didn’t hold 99 percent of things against my brothers or sisters when they said something they wouldn’t mean later on.

But that was the problem, Aiden wasn’t my brother. He wasn’t even my friend.

I could take a lot, but I wasn’t obligated to take anything from him.

In that moment, I realized how over this shit I was. I was done. Done.

Maybe I was scared as hell of quitting, but I would rather take a gamble on myself than stay there and get insulted by someone who wasn’t any better than me.

Calmly, calmly, calmly, despite the angry ringing in my ears, I made myself focus on his question and answered, my voice stony, “Yes.” I held up the bag he clearly would have seen when I walked up to him.

He grunted.

As much as I could respect Aiden for being so determined, focused, and logical, sometimes…

It grated on me just how blind he was to everything else in his life. In all the time I’d worked for him, he still couldn’t grace me with more than an occasional “thank you” or “good lunch.” Sure, I knew that you shouldn’t expect someone’s gratitude for doing things just because it was good manners, but still. I could count the number of times he’d smiled at me or asked me how I was doing on one hand. One freaking hand. I was a person who filled a role, but I could have been any person filling this role and it wouldn’t have mattered.

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