Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(8)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(8)
Mariana Zapata

Just as he reached the door that connected the garage with the kitchen, I called out, “Bye.”

He didn’t say anything as he closed the door behind him, but I thought he might have wiggled a finger or two. I was probably imagining it.

Who was I kidding? Of course I was imagining it. I was just being an idiot for even thinking there was a possibility he’d done otherwise. While I wasn’t the bubbliest person in the world, Aiden had me beat by a landslide.

With a resigned sigh, I shook my head at myself, and started making my way around the kitchen when my personal cell phone started ringing. Taking a quick peek at the screen, I hit the answer button.

“Herro,” I said, slipping the phone between my ear and my shoulder.

“Vanny, I don’t have time to talk. I have an appointment in a minute,” the bright voice on the other line explained quickly. “I just wanted to tell you Rodrigo saw Susie.”

Silence hung between Diana and me on the phone. Two moments, three moments, four moments. Heavy and unnatural. Then again, that was what Susie did best—messed things up.

I wanted to ask if she was sure it was Susie that her brother, Rodrigo, had seen, but I didn’t. If Rodrigo thought he saw her, then he had. She didn’t have the kind of face that was easy to mistake, even after so many years.

I cleared my throat, telling myself I didn’t need to count to ten, or even five. “Where?” My voice came out in a slight croak.

“In El Paso yesterday. He was visiting his in-laws this weekend with Louie and Josh, and said he saw her at the grocery store by the old neighborhood.”

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

Nope. That wasn’t enough.

I had to start counting all over again, all the way to ten the second time. A thousand different thoughts went through my head at the mention of Susie’s name, and they were all pretty terrible. Each and every single one of them. It didn’t take a genius to know what she was doing in the old neighborhood. Only one person who we both knew still lived there. I could still remember our old stomping ground so clearly.

It was where Diana and I had met. Back when I lived with my mom, Diana’s family had lived next door to us. They’d had the pretty house—the freshly painted blue one with white trim and a nice lawn—the dad who played with his kids outside, and the mom who kissed boo-boos. The Casillas were the family I had always wanted when I’d been a kid, when things had been at their worst, and the only thing I found consolation in was my notebook, not the mess within the walls of my house.

Diana had been my best friend for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d eaten over at their house with my little brother until Mom had lost custody of us. Diana had always done what my own family didn’t, and that was watch out for me. She was the one who had found me—Stop it. Stop it. It wasn’t worth the energy it took to think about things in the past I was over. It really wasn’t.

“Huh. I had no idea she was back.” My voice sounded just as robotic aloud as it sounded in my head. “I just talked to my mom a week ago and she didn’t say anything.” Diana knew I was referring to my real mom, the person who had actually given birth to me and my four other siblings, not my foster mom of four years who I still kept in touch with.

At the mention of my birth mom, Diana made a small noise I almost missed. I knew she didn’t understand why I bothered trying to have a relationship with her. Honestly, half the time I regretted it, but that was one of those rare things I never told the person I was closest to in the world because I knew what she would say and I didn’t want to hear it.

“I figured you would want to know in case you were planning on visiting,” she finally said in kind of a mutter.

I didn’t visit El Paso often, but she was right. I definitely wouldn’t want to go now that I knew who was there.

“I really have to go in a sec, Vanny,” my best friend quickly added before I could say anything. “But did you tell Miranda you’re leaving?”

The ‘Miranda’ went in one ear and out the other. I’d been calling him that for so long, it sounded so natural it didn’t even register. “I just told him yesterday.”

“And?”

She couldn’t just let me sulk in my reality. “Nothing.” There was no point in lying or making something up that would make me seem more important to Aiden than I was. While I didn’t tell anyone a whole lot about him because of the non-disclosure agreement I signed when I first started working for him, Diana knew enough to get why his name was saved on my personal phone under Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.

“Oh,” was her disappointed response.

Yeah. I thought so too.

“He’ll miss you once you’re gone. Don’t worry about it.”

I highly doubted that.

“Okay, I gotta go, my client is here. Call me later, Van-Van. I get off work at nine.”

“I will. Love you.”

“Love you, too. Oh! And think about letting me dye your hair once you’re out of there,” she added before hanging up on me.

Diana’s comment made me smile and kept me smiling as I headed into Aiden’s office to tackle his inbox. Talking to Di always put me in a good mood. The fact she was one of the most easygoing people I’d ever met, had also soothed my soul more often than not. She never gave me shit for how much I worked because she worked a lot too.

But I told her the same thing my foster dad had told me when I was seventeen, and I told him I wanted to pursue my artwork: “Do what you need to do to be happy, Vané. Nobody else is going to watch out for you but you.”

It was the same belief I held onto when I first told my foster parents I wanted to go to school a thousand miles away, and what I told myself when I didn’t get a scholarship and my financial aid was merely a drop in the bucket to go to said school. I was going to do what I needed to do, even if I had to leave my brother— with his blessing—in the process. I’d told him the same thing when he was offered a scholarship for a college right after I moved back to Texas to be closer to him.

Sometimes it was easier to tell other people what they should do than to actually practice what you preached.

That had been the real root of my problem. I was scared. Scared that my clients were going to disappear and my work would dry up. Scared that one day I’d wake up and have absolutely no inspiration any more when I had my photo-editing program open. I was worried that what I’d worked so hard for would crash and burn and everything would go to hell. Because I knew firsthand that life could be taking you in one direction, and the next moment, you’d be going in a completely different one.

Because that was the way surprises worked—they didn’t tend to pencil themselves in to your schedule and let you know they were visiting ahead of time.

Chapter Three

This place smells like armpits, I thought as I made my way past the cardio equipment at the facility where Aiden had been training at since we’d gotten back from Colorado.

Located in the business warehouse district on the outskirts of Dallas, the facility had the equipment necessary for all levels of weightlifting, plyometric exercises, calisthenics, strongman, and powerlifting. The building itself was new, nondescript, and easy to miss unless you knew what you were looking for. It had only been open about three years, and the owner had spared no expense on any square inch of the gym. The facility boasted that it trained some of the most elite athletes in the world in a wide range of sports, but I only paid attention to one of them.

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