Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(6)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(6)
Mariana Zapata

And I wasn’t helping by quitting on who I was sure was one of the most difficult of his clients.

“Did he say something?” he asked suddenly. “Do something?”

I shook my head, not fooled at all by his act. He didn’t care. Before I’d asked him to call me—and he’d insisted we do a video chat instead—I had asked myself whether to tell him why I was quitting or not. It didn’t even take a second to decide. Nah, he didn’t need to know. “There are other things in my life I want to pursue. That’s all.”

“You know he’s stressed out about coming back after surgery. If he’s a little on edge, it’s normal. Ignore him,” Trevor added.

Normal? There were different standards for what ‘normal’ could be considered when dealing with professional athletes, especially athletes like Aiden who breathed and lived for his sport. He took everything personally. He wasn’t some burnout who played because he didn’t have anything else to do, and wanted to make money. Maybe I understood that better than Trevor.

Plus, if either one of us had more firsthand experience with the way Aiden had been since his Achilles tendon rupture, it was me. I’d witnessed it all up close and personal; I also knew how he usually got right before training camp started, and that was right around the corner too, adding on to the things he worried about. Trevor had worked for him longer, but he lived in New York and only visited a few times a year. Aiden only talked to him directly on the phone once a month, if that, since I was his scapegoat.

“I’m sure there’s at least a hundred other people who would love to work for Aiden. I really don’t think you will have a problem finding someone to replace me. Everything will be fine,” I told him smoothly.

Was there at least a thousand other people in the world who would love to work for Aiden Graves? Yes. Minimum.

Would Trevor have a problem finding a new assistant for Aiden? No.

The issue would be finding someone to stay who could deal with the long hours and his prickly personality.

“This isn’t going to be easy,” Trevor had said to me after the workforce agency had sent me his way. “Athletes are demanding. It’s basically part of the job requirement. Will you be able to handle it?”

Back then, I’d been working three jobs, sharing a tiny house with Diana and Rodrigo, and unable to sleep some nights because all I could dream about was the massive student loan debt I was swimming in. I would have done just about anything to get out of that situation, even if it meant dealing with someone who may or may not be a psycho by the way others portrayed him.

While Trevor hadn’t been lying—Aiden wasn’t that bad once you figured out what made him tick—at least he’d given me a warning of what I’d be facing.

A demanding, cranky, perfectionist, workaholic, arrogant, aloof, clean freak of a boss.

No biggie.

Aiden Graves needed an assistant, and I had been lucky enough to get the job.

At that point, I had a plan that worried me to death, and student loans that were giving me an ulcer. I’d thought it over a million times and concluded that working for him, while keeping my own business on the side and trying to grow it at the same time was the best way to move forward in my life, at least for a little while.

The rest was history.

Saving money and working seventy hours a week had all finally paid off. I saved enough to keep me afloat in case my business slowed down, and I had my goals to guide me. When things were tough, it was my aspirations and the hope they brought me, that kept me going.

So even on the days when Aiden had me standing behind him, envisioning myself stabbing him in the back because he wanted me to do something ridiculous, like rewash his sheets because I’d left them in the washer for too long, I always did what he needed. All I had to do was remember my student loans and my plans, and I persevered.

Until now.

“You’re killing me, Vanessa. You’re fucking killing me here,” Trevor literally moaned. Moaned. He usually just bitched and complained.

“It’ll be fine. He doesn’t care that I’m leaving. He probably won’t even notice,” I said, trying to be as understanding as I could and at the same time, not really giving much of a crap that he was sweating bullets.

The grimace on his face quickly dropped, a total act, and got replaced by a glare, making him look more like the manager I’d been forced to get to know, than the one who was attempting to backtrack and be nice after so long. He sniped, “I highly doubt that.”

I understood why I was a good fit for Aiden. I was pretty patient, and I didn’t hold his callus, picky nature against him. I knew how to handle crazy in all its forms thanks to my family, but maybe I’d just been expecting so much worse from him, and he’d never gone straight into anger-management zone. He was way too controlled for that.

Realistically though, especially after yesterday, I wasn’t going to hold my breath. Maybe I’d feel worse about quitting if Aiden was my friend or if Trevor had actually been nice to me, but neither one of them would remember me two months from now. I knew who cared about me and who meant something to me, and neither one of them were on my list… and sure, that made me feel a little bad. But survival of the fittest and all that crap, right?

Both Aiden and Trevor would dump me like a hot potato if our roles were reversed. I’d let my misguided sense of loyalty, paranoia, and self-doubt keep me shackled to my not-so-bad cell.

All Aiden needed was someone who could do what he wanted. Cook, clean, wash, fold, answer e-mails, call Trevor or Rob when he wanted things out of my jurisdiction, and post things on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then there were the things I had to do when he traveled. It wasn’t anything crazy.

Anyone with a little bit of patience could do it.

But from the look Trevor pierced me with, he didn’t feel the same way. Mostly, I thought he was just being lazy. He blew out a breath, and started massaging his temples as the chat buffered and his image blurred for a moment. “Are you positive you want to do this? I can talk to him about reducing your hours…” His voice carried over the speaker even as the screen froze.

I only just barely managed not to ask him to let me think about it. “No.” I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to half-ass this opportunity in my life to go solo. I didn’t want to invite failure in the door by being hesitant.

“Vanessa…” he groaned. “You’re really doing this?”

This was exactly what I’d been working toward from the moment I finished school with my undergrad in graphic design. Graduating had been an uphill battle that sometimes felt like plain torture, and I’d done terrible, awful things to get my schooling done. It was why I had worked multiple jobs at once, why I now technically only had two, and why I had been sleeping four hours a night for the last four years and lived off the bare minimum. I took almost any and every job that hit my inbox and jobs that didn’t: book covers, web banners, posters, bookmarks, business cards, postcards, logos, T-shirt designs, commissioned pieces, tattoo designs. Everything.

“I’m positive.” I had to fight the urge to smile at how confident and determined I sounded even though I definitely didn’t feel that way.

Back at massaging his temples, Trevor sighed. “If that’s how you’re going to be, I’ll start looking for a replacement.”

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