Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(2)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(2)
Mariana Zapata

“Whatever you want, big guy,” I said with a fake smile and a flutter of my eyelashes, even as I still flipped him off.

“They’ll get over it,” Aiden said casually, ignoring his nickname, rolling back two immensely muscular shoulders. I swear they were wide enough for a small person to drape across comfortably. “It isn’t a big deal.”

It wasn’t a big deal? The promoters wouldn’t feel that way, much less his agent, but then Aiden was used to getting his way. No one ever told him no. They told me no, and then I’d have to figure things out.

Despite what some people thought, the defensive end of the Three Hundreds, Dallas’s professional football team, wasn’t really an asshole or hard to work with. For all his faces and grumbling, he never cussed and hardly ever lost his temper without good reason. He was demanding; he knew exactly what he wanted and how he liked every single thing in his life. It was honestly an admirable quality, I thought, but it was my job to make those requests come true, regardless of whether I agreed with his decisions or not.

Only for a little bit longer though, I reminded myself. I was so close to quitting, I could feel it. The thought made my soul rejoice a bit.

Two months ago, my bank account had finally hit a comfortable number through sheer willpower, penny-pinching, and working long hours when I wasn’t Aiden’s assistant/housekeeper/cook. I’d hit my goal: save up a year’s salary. And I had. Finally. Halle-freaking-lujah. I could practically smell freedom in the air.

But the keyword there was ‘practically.’

I just hadn’t gotten around to telling Aiden I was quitting yet.

“Why are you making that face?” he asked suddenly.

I blinked up at him, caught off guard. I raised my eyebrows, trying to play dumb. “What face?”

It didn’t work.

With a fork hanging out of his mouth, he narrowed his dark eyes just the slightest bit. “That one.” He gestured toward me with his chin.

I shrugged in an ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ expression.

“Is there something you want to say?”

There were a hundred things I wanted to tell him on a regular basis, but I knew him too well. He didn’t really care if there was something I wanted to say or not. He didn’t care if my opinion was different from his or if I thought he should do something differently. He was just reminding me who the boss was.

AKA not me.

Asswipe.

“Me?” I blinked. “Nope.”

He gave me a lazy glare before his eyes lowered to focus on the hand I had hidden on the other side of the kitchen island. “Then quit flipping me off. I’m not changing my mind about the signing,” he said in a deceptively casual voice.

I pressed my lips together as I dropped my hand. He was a goddamn witch. I swear on my life, he was a freaking witch. A wizard. An oracle. A person with a third eye. Every single time I had ever flipped him off, he’d been aware of it. I didn’t think I was that obvious about it either.

It wasn’t like I gave people the middle finger for fun, but it genuinely bothered me that he was cancelling an appearance without a legitimate reason. Backing out because he changed his mind and didn’t want to take an afternoon off from training, didn’t seem like one. But what did I know?

“All right,” I muttered under my breath.

Aiden, who I was pretty sure had no idea how old I’d turned this year, much less what month my birthday was, made a face for a split second. Those thick, dark eyebrows knit together and his full mouth pinched back at the corners. Then he shrugged, like he’d suddenly stopped caring about what I’d been doing.

What was funny was, if someone had told me five years ago that I’d be doing someone else’s dirty work, I would have laughed. I couldn’t remember ever not having goals or some sort of a plan for the future. I had always wanted something to look forward to, and being my own boss was one of those things I strived for.

I’d known since I was sixteen at my first summer job, getting yelled at for not putting enough ice into a medium-sized cup at the movie theater I’d worked at, that I would one day want to work for myself. I didn’t like getting told what to do. I never had. I was stubborn and hardheaded, at least that’s what my foster dad said was my greatest and worst personality trait.

I wasn’t shooting for the stars or aiming to become a billionaire. I didn’t want to be a celebrity or anything close to that. I just wanted my own small business doing graphic design work that could pay my bills, keep me fed, and still have a little extra left over for other things. I didn’t want to have to rely on someone else’s charity or whim. I’d had to do that for as long as I could remember, hoping my mom would come home sober, hoping my sisters would make me food when my mom wasn’t around, and then hoping the lady with social services could at least keep me and my little brother together…. Why was I even thinking about that?

For the most part, I’d always known what I wanted to do with my life, so I’d naively thought half the battle was in the bag. Making it work should have been easy.

What no one tells you is that the road to accomplishing your goals isn’t a straight line; it looks more like a corn maze. You stopped, you went, you backed up, and took a few wrong turns along the way, but the important thing you had to remember was that there was an exit. Somewhere.

You just couldn’t give up looking for it, even when you really wanted to.

And especially not when it was easier and less scary to go with the flow than actually strike out on your own and make your path.

Scooting the stool he was sitting on back, Aiden got to his feet with his empty glass in hand. His Hulk-sized frame seemed to dwarf the not-exactly-small kitchen every time he was in there… which was always. Big surprise. He consumed at least 7,000 calories a day. During the regular football season, he bumped it up to ten thousand. Of course, he was in the kitchen all day. So was I—making his meals.

“Did you buy pears?” he asked, already pushing our conversation and the middle finger incident aside as he filled his glass with water from the refrigerator’s filter.

I didn’t feel guilty at all about getting caught flipping him off. The first time it had happened, I thought I was going to die of embarrassment and then get fired, but now I knew Aiden. He didn’t care if I did it, or at least that was the impression I got since I still had a job. I’d seen people come up to him and try goading him, calling him all sorts of names and insults that made me reel back. But what did he do when people did that kind of stuff? He didn’t even twitch; he just pretended not to hear them.

Honestly, it was a little impressive to have that kind of backbone. I couldn’t keep it together when someone honked at me while I was driving.

But as impressive as Aiden was, as much as his perfect butt made women double-take, and as dumb as most people would think I was for resigning from a job with a man who starred in commercials for an athletic apparel company, I still wanted to quit. The urge got stronger and stronger each day.

I’d busted my butt. No one else had done the work for me. This was what I wanted, what I had always wanted. I’d kept my eye on the prize for years for the opportunity to be my own boss. Having to call assholes who made it seem like I was an inconvenience, or folding underwear that clung to the most spectacular ass in the country, wasn’t it.

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