The Wall of Winnipeg and Me(16)

by Mariana Zapata

“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.

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.