Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(3)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(3)
Mariana Zapata

Tell him, tell him, tell him right now you’re planning on quitting, my brain egged on almost desperately.

But that nagging little voice of indecision and self-doubt that liked to hang out in the space where my non-existent spine should have been, reminded me, What's the rush?

The first time I met The Wall of Winnipeg, the second thing he said to me was, “Can you cook?”

He hadn’t shaken my hand, asked me to sit down, or anything like that. In retrospect, that should have warned me of how things would be between us.

Aiden had asked me my name when he first let me in the front door and led me straight into a beautiful, open kitchen that looked like something straight out of a home renovation show. Then he’d gone straight for questioning my cooking skills.

Before that day, his manager had already interviewed me twice. The position was in the income range I’d been aiming for, and that was all that had mattered to me back then. The employment agency I’d signed up with, had already called me into their offices on three separate occasions to make sure I’d be a good fit for ‘a celebrity’ as they called him.

A bachelor’s degree, a wide range of jobs I’d worked at that varied from being a divorce lawyer’s secretary for three years while I went to college, summers spent doing photography for anyone who would hire me, a pretty successful side business selling makeup and stuff from a catalog, and excellent references, had gotten me a callback.

I was pretty sure that wasn’t what really got me the job though; it was my ignorance when it came to football. If there was a game on TV, chances were I wasn’t paying attention to it. I’d never even seen Aiden Graves before my first day. I didn’t exactly walk around telling people the only games I ever watched were the ones I’d been to in person during high school.

So when his manager had mentioned the name of my potential employer, I had stared at him blankly. I would more than likely never know for sure if it was my lack of excitement that scored me the position, but I had a feeling it was.

Even after Aiden’s manager offered me the job, I hadn’t bothered looking him up. What was the point? It wasn’t like anything the Internet said about him could change my mind about becoming his assistant. Really, nothing could have. I wasn’t ashamed to say he could have been a serial killer and I would have taken the job if the pay were right.

In the end though, I thought it had been a good thing that I hadn’t done a search for him. As I would later learn when I was busy sending out promotional pictures to fans, photographs didn’t do him any justice.

At six foot four, just a quarter inch shy of six five, sometimes weighing up to two hundred and eighty pounds in the middle of the off season, and with a presence that made him seem closer to some mythological hero than an average mortal, Aiden was a beast even fully clothed. He didn’t have cosmetic muscles. He was just plain massive. Everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if X-rays showed his bones were more dense than normal. His muscles had been honed and crafted for the specific purpose of as-effectively-as-possible blocking passes and tackling opposing quarterbacks.

An extra-extra-large T-shirt that morning of our first meeting didn’t hide the massive bulk of his trapezius, pectorals, deltoids, or much less his biceps and triceps. The guy was ripped. His thighs strained the seams of the sweat pants he’d been wearing. I remembered noticing his fists reminded me of bricks and the wrists that held them to the rest of his body were bigger than I’d ever seen.

Then there was the face I would be looking at for the next chunk of my life. Where his features might have been bluntly shaped like so many big guys were, Aiden was handsome in a way that wasn’t aesthetically beautiful. His cheeks were lean, the bones above them high, and his jaw lantern shaped. The deep set of his eyes highlighted thick, black brows. Short, trimmed facial hair which always resembled a five o’clock shadow even after he’d immediately shaved, covered the lower half of his face.

A white scar along his hairline, from his temple to below his ear, was the only thing the short bristles couldn’t hide. Then there was that mouth that would have seemed pouty on any another man who might have been smaller and who didn’t glare half as much as he did. He was brown haired and olive skinned. A hint of a thin, gold chain had peeked out from the collar of his shirt, but I’d been so distracted by everything else that was Aiden Graves, it wasn’t until months later that I learned it was a medallion of St. Luke he never went anywhere without.

Just his size alone had been intimidating enough for me initially. His piercing brown-eyed gaze only added to the massive amount of intimidation he seemed to bleed out of his pores.

Regardless of that though, my first thought had been: Holy shit. Then I had shoved it away because I couldn’t be thinking things like that about my brand new boss.

That day of our first meeting, all I had managed to do was nod at him. I’d gone in convinced I’d do whatever was needed to keep the job. His manager and the agency had made sure during the interview process that I knew cooking was part of the job requirement, which wasn’t a big deal. When I was a kid, I’d learned the hard way that if I wanted to eat, I was going to have to do something about it because my older sisters weren’t going to trouble themselves, and I never knew what kind of mood my mom would be in. During college, I’d mastered the art of cooking on a contraband hotplate in my dorm room.

Aiden had simply stared at me in response before laying the bomb on me that no one had prepared me for. “I don’t eat any animal products. Will that be a problem?”

Did I know how to make anything without eggs, meat, or cheese in it? Not that I could think of. No one had even mentioned that stipulation beforehand—and ignorantly, it wasn’t like he looked like most vegans I’d met in my life—but there was no way in hell I was going back to working three jobs if I absolutely didn’t have to. So, I’d bullshitted. “No, sir.”

He’d stood there in the kitchen, looking down at me in my navy khakis, cap-sleeved, white, eyelet blouse, and brown heels. I’d been so nervous I even had my hands clasped in front of me. The agency had suggested business casual attire for the job, and that’s what I’d gone with. “Are you sure?” he’d asked.

I had nodded, already planning to search for recipes on my phone.

His eyes had narrowed a bit, but he didn’t call me out on what was obviously a lie, and that was more than I could have hoped for. “I don’t enjoy cooking or going out to eat. I usually eat four times a day and have two big smoothies, too. You’ll be in charge of meals, and I’ll handle anything I eat between,” he said as he crossed his arms over what seemed like a three-foot-wide chest.

“The desktop computer upstairs has all of my passwords saved. Read and respond to all my emails; my PO Box needs to be checked a few times a week, and you’re in charge of that too. The key is in the drawer by the refrigerator. I’ll write down the post office it’s at and box number later. When I come back, you can go make a copy of my house key. My social sites need to be updated daily; I don’t care what you post as long as you use some common sense.”

He’d definitely made sure to meet my eyes when he added that, but I hadn’t taken it personally.

“Laundry, scheduling…” he went off to include more tasks that I filed into the mental vault. “I have a roommate. We talked about it, and if you’re up for the task, he might want you to make him food too sometimes. He’ll pay you extra if you decide to do it.”

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