Home > The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(9)

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(9)
Mariana Zapata

Aiden’s schedule had been as consistent as it could be in the two years I’d been with him, considering everything that had happened in the last ten months. After football season ended, and after he’d been cleared to train this year, Aiden headed to a small town in Colorado where he rented a house from some ex-football star for two months. There, he trained with his high school football coach. I’d never outright asked him why he chose there of all places to spend his time, but from everything I knew about him, I figured he enjoyed the time away from the spotlight. As one of the best players in the NFO, there was always someone around him, asking for something, telling him something, and Aiden wasn’t exactly the outgoing, friendly type.

He was a loner who happened to be so good at his sport there wasn’t a way around the spotlight he’d been thrust upon from the moment he’d been drafted. At least, that was what I’d learned from the countless articles I’d read before sharing on his social pages and the hundreds of interviews I’d sat through with him. It was just something he put up with on his road to being the best—because that’s what fans, and even people who weren’t fans, referred to him as.

With a work ethic like his, it wasn’t a surprise.

After his seclusion in the middle of nowhere—I’d gone with him twice because apparently he couldn’t live without a chef and housekeeper—he, we, flew back to Dallas, and his high school coach went back to Winnipeg. Aiden then worked on other aspects of his role with another trainer until the Three Hundreds called him in for team camp in July.

In a couple of weeks, official practices would begin and the insanity that surrounded an NFO season with one of the highest caliber players in the organization would start all over again. But this time, I wouldn’t be part of it. I wouldn’t have to wake up at four o’clock in the morning, or have to drive around like a crazy person doing the hundreds of things that seemed to pop up when he was busy.

This August, instead of dealing with planning meals around two-a-day practices and preseason games, I’d be in my apartment, waking up whenever the hell I wanted, and not having to cater to anyone else’s needs but mine.

But that was a party I could throw in the near future, when I wasn’t busy looking for Aiden while my hands were full.

Past the cardio machines and through two swinging double doors was the main part of the training ground. At a cavernous, ten-thousand-square-foot size, red-and-black décor swam in front of my eyes. Half of the floor looked like turf and the other half had lightly cushioned black flooring for a weight training section. Scattered around the building at six o’clock in the morning, were only about ten other people. Half of them looked like football players and the other half looked like some other sort of athlete.

I just had to look for the largest one of them all, and it only took a second to spot the big head on the turf section by one of the eleven-hundred-pound tires. Yeah, 1100-pound tires.

And I thought I was badass when I managed to carry all of my grocery bags to my apartment in one trip.

A few feet away, a familiar-looking man stood by watching The Wall of Winnipeg. Finding a spot out of the way but still close enough to take a decent picture, I sat cross-legged at the edge of the mats perpendicular to Aiden and his current trainer, pulling out the DSLR camera I’d suggested he should buy specifically for this purpose a year ago. One of my duties was to update his social media pages and engage his fans; his sponsors and fans enjoyed seeing live shots of him working out.

No one paid me any attention as I settled in; they were all too busy to look around. With the equipment out of the bag, I waited for the perfect shot.

Through the lens, Aiden’s features were smaller; his muscles seemed not as detailed as they were when you saw them in person. He’d been cutting his calories for the last two weeks, aiming to drop ten pounds before the start of the season. The striations on his shoulders popped as he maneuvered around the massive tractor tire, squatting in front of it, making the full muscles of his hamstrings look even more impressive than they usually did. I could even see the cleft that formed along the back of his thigh from how developed his hammies were.

Then there were those biceps and triceps that some people seemed to think had gotten the size they were due to steroids, when I knew firsthand that Aiden’s body was fueled by massive amounts of a plant-based diet. He didn’t even like taking over-the-counter medications. The last time he’d gotten sick, the stubborn-ass had even refused to take the antibiotics the doctor had prescribed. I hadn’t even bothered to fill the painkiller prescription he’d been given after his surgery, which might have been why he’d been so grumpy for so long. I wouldn’t even get started on his aversion to sodium laurel sulfates, preservatives, or parabens.

Steroids? Give me a break.

I snapped a few pictures, trying to get a really good one. His female fans always went nuts over the shots that showcased the power contained within that great body. And when he had tight compression shorts on while he was bent over? “BAM. I’M PREGNANT,” one of his fans had written last week when I posted a picture of Aiden doing squats. I’d almost spat water out of my mouth.

His e-mail inbox got flooded after those kinds of posts went up. What the fans wanted, they got, and Aiden was all for it. Luckily for him, between semesters, I’d taken a photography class at the local community college in hopes of snagging a few gigs during the summer doing wedding photography.

The tire started its path to getting flipped. Aiden’s face contorted as sweat poured down his temples and over the thick, two-inch scar that slashed white vertically along his hairline before melting into the beard that had grown in overnight. I’d overheard people talk about his scar when they didn’t know I was listening. They thought he’d gotten it during a drunken night in college.

I knew better.

Through the lens, Aiden grimaced and his trainer urged him on from his spot right beside him. I snapped more pictures, suppressing a sleepy yawn.

“Hey, you,” a voice whispered a little too closely into my ear from behind.

I froze up. I didn’t need to turn around to know who it was. There was only one person in the group of people that circled Aiden’s life that made my creeper-radar go off.

And this will hopefully be one of the last few times you see him, I told myself when I had the urge to flinch.

There was also the fact my gut said that making my dislike of him known would just make this situation worse, and it wasn’t like I would tell Aiden his teammate gave me the heebie-jeebies. If I hadn’t told Zac who was my friend that Christian made me feel uncomfortable, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell the person who wasn’t. But it was the truth. I minded my own business when I showed up to anything Three Hundreds related and tried to be nice or at least polite to the people who were kind to me. Trevor had drilled it into my head when he’d interviewed me that I wasn’t to be seen or heard. The attention always had to be on the big guy and not some crazy-ass assistant, and I was totally fine with that.

Plastering a tight, forced smile on my mouth, even though I wasn’t facing him, I kept the camera where it was, ready for action. “Hi, Christian. How are you?” I asked in a friendly voice that I really had to dig in there for, easily ignoring the good-looking features that disguised a man who had gotten suspended a few games last season for getting into a fight at a club. I thought that said a lot about him to begin with, because who did something that stupid anyway? He made millions a year. Only a total idiot would jeopardize a good thing.

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