The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(2)


by Mariana Zapata

He had a point of course. Between what he paid me and what Zac chipped in from time to time, I could manage to put a smile on my face—even if it was a forced one—and do what was asked of me. Every once in a while, I even did a little curtsy, which Aiden pretended not to witness.

I didn’t think he really appreciated the amount of patience I had exercised when dealing with him for the last two years. Someone else would have already stabbed him in his sleep for sure. At least, when I went through plans for how I’d do it, it was usually in a painless way.

Usually.

Since he’d ruptured his Achilles tendon barely a month into the season last year, he’d turned into something else. I tried not to blame him; I really did. Missing nearly three months of the entire regular season and being blamed for your team not making it to the post season, or the playoffs, was hard to deal with. On top of that, some people had thought he wasn’t going to make a full comeback after having to take six months off to recover and rehab. The kind of injury he’d sustained was no joke.

But this was Aiden. Some athletes took even longer than that amount of time to get back on their feet, if they ever did. He hadn’t. But dealing with him on crutches, driving him to and from rehab and appointments, had taken a toll on my patience more than once.

There was only so much cranky little bitch you can handle in a day, even if it was called for. Aiden loved what he did, and I had to imagine he was scared he wouldn’t be able to play again, or that he would come back and not play up to the same level he’d been used to, not that he would ever voice any fears out loud. That was all understandable to me. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if something happened to my hands and there was a chance I might not ever be able to draw again.

Regardless, his crankiness had hit a level not previously documented in the history of the universe. That was saying something, considering I’d grown up with three older sisters who all had periods at the same time. Because of them, most things—most people—didn’t bother me. I knew what it was like to be bullied, and Aiden never crossed the line into being unnecessarily mean. He was just a jackass sometimes.

He was lucky I had a tiny, itty, bitty crush on him; otherwise, he would have gotten the shank years ago. Then again, just about everyone with eyes who happened to also like men, had some kind of a thing for Aiden Graves.

When he raised his eyebrows and looked at me from beneath those curly black eyelashes, flashing me rich-brown eyes set deep into a face that I’d only seen smile in the presence of dogs, I swallowed and shook my head slowly as I gritted my teeth and took him in. The size of a small building, he should have had these big, uneven features that made him look like a caveman, but of course he didn’t. Apparently, he liked to defy every stereotype he’d ever been assigned in his life. He was smart, fast, coordinated, and—as far as I knew—had never seen a game of hockey. He had only said ‘eh’ in front of me twice, and he didn’t consume animal protein. The man didn’t eat bacon. He was the last person I would ever consider polite, and he never apologized. Ever.

Basically, he was an anomaly; a Canadian football-playing, plant-based lifestyle—he didn’t like calling himself a vegan—anomaly that was strangely proportional all over and so handsome I might have thanked God for giving me eyes on a couple of occasions.

“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.”