Surprise! Chapter 2 is up earlier than I promised. Hope you enjoy!!
Aidan had never been to this part of the neighborhood. He’d heard of it, of course. But he’d never known anyone who lived in downtown Los Angeles.
He’d parked his BMW in front of an old house and waited. It was the address Rick had texted him from his phone. Aidan couldn’t decide if he should go up to the door and knock or simply wait for him in the car. Finally, he settled on staying right there.
Aidan took his phone out and was about to text Rick when a knock on the window startled him. Rick’s face smiled through it. Where the hell did he come from? Aidan hadn’t seen him come out of the house. He quickly got out of the car and went around to meet him. “Hey,” he said, noticing how different Rick looked today. When they’d met, the day before, he’d worn formal attire, probably for the interview, he went for. This morning, however, he had on a t-shirt and a pair of torn jeans with a blue cap covering his silky blond hair.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to wear,” Rick said, looking uncomfortable under Aidan’s stare.
“Oh no, this is fine,” Aidan assured him and winked when he said, “You look totally hot!”
“Thanks,” Rick replied, turning what Aidan thought was an adorable shade of crimson.
“You’ll need help getting into the car, I guess?”
“Yea, sorry.” He fumbled with the wheelchair and looked up at Aidan helplessly.
Aidan gave a comforting smile to put Rick at ease. “There’s no need to be sorry. It’s totally fine.” He could pick up Rick. The workouts at the gym are totally paying off, he thought and grinned to himself. As he settled Rick into the passenger seat, Aidan tried hard not to think of how close their faces were. He gazed at Rick’s lips. They looked delicious and so tempting. Aidan wondered how they’d feel against his own.
When he looked up, Rick was staring back at him. Aidan could feel the heavy breaths on his skin. He bit the inside of his cheeks.
You’ll freak him out, Aidan. Back off!
And he did just that. He helped Rick put on the seatbelt and closed the door. Rick’s wheelchair was easily foldable and fit perfectly in the trunk of the car. Once he got into the driver’s seat, he asked Rick, “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes, thank you.” He smiled shyly.
Aidan smiled back and turned on the car’s ignition. It was going to be a fairly long drive so he would make one stop at Starbucks. “Would you mind if I stopped to get my coffee?” he asked.
Rick shook his head politely. “When you told me yesterday you’d arrange for my pickup, I didn’t imagine you driving all the way over here to fetch me.”
That made Aidan laugh. “Some people think I should at least hire a chauffeur to drive me around the city.” Aidan rolled his eyes, remembering a similar conversation he’d had with his brother a few months back. “Believe me, I can definitely afford one. But it doesn’t mean I want one.”
He shrugged. “Because I love to drive. My cars are my babies. I can’t trust them in anyone else’s hands at all.”
Rick stared at him. “Cars? Do you mean you have another?”
“I’ve got two more, actually.” He went on to explain their features as if he was doing a sales pitch for his cars.
When he stopped to get his coffee, he asked if Rick would like one too, but he declined. The whole way from the Starbucks outlet to Aidan’s place, all he talked about were the cars he had owned and why he’d chosen each one. Rick silently listened but didn’t look bored. Aidan enjoyed having a person around who let him blabber unchecked while showing interest in whatever the hell he said.
“Wow!” was the first word Rick uttered when they entered the gated community where Aidan lived. Big, expensive houses lined up one beside another. Rick’s blue eyes were wide the entire time as Aidan parked the car in his garage and helped him out and back into the wheelchair. “You’ve got a really nice place,” he said, as Aidan let them both in.
“Thank you, kind sir.” He threw the keys on the side table. “Please make yourself comfortable. Would you like anything?”
Rick navigated his wheelchair into the living room and stopped facing Aidan. “I’d like some water, please? If it’s not too much trouble, I mean,” he added quietly.
“No trouble at all.” Aidan grinned. At the same time, his new housemate made her presence known and purred from between his legs. His grin turned into a disapproving frown. “Bratty, not now. Move!” He pushed the cat gently away with his foot and made his way toward the kitchen.
“Is she yours?” Rick asked when Aidan came out and offered a glass of water. He nodded toward the cat. She stood behind the couch, looking at the two men with her big eyes. “She’s curious about me.” He snickered. Bratty meowed softly as if responding to his statement.
Aidan watched her closely and suspected she was up to something. “She’s a total brat. That’s why I named her Bratty. For now, at least. Surprisingly, she answers to that.” They shared a laugh. “And no, she isn’t mine. I don’t know where she came from, but she was on my doorstep a couple of weeks back and hasn’t ever left. Believe me, I’ve tried to make her leave, but she just won’t go.”
“Oh, I believe you.” Rick kept looking at the cat with an unwavering smile on his face. “But she obviously thinks you belong to her. I don’t think she’ll give up on you very easily.”
“Isn’t that fun?” Aidan rolled his eyes. “Well, let’s get started, alright?” He led his gorgeous model to the studio where he created his artworks. Many of his old paintings hung on the walls. Looking at them, he could relive the old memories more than once. These paintings were special to him in some way or another, and he refused to sell them. They were his most valued treasures. “Welcome to my world.”
Rick’s gaze travelled to every corner of the room. The twinkle in his eyes meant he surely liked what he saw. “Mr. Ross,” he said, after a few minutes of scrutiny, “these are beautiful. You’re so talented.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mahoney.” He’d always heard that from the world. However, when Rick said it, Aidan felt a different sense of pride. Rick’s voice carried no envy whatsoever. He’d genuinely complimented his work.
“This one, though.” Rick stopped his wheelchair in front of a lady’s portrait. “It is…” He paused and kept staring at it. “I don’t have words. But she’s beautiful.”
Aidan stood behind Rick’s wheelchair and smiled at the painting, remembering how much effort it took for him to convince her to be his model. She’d finally agreed, and he’d painted his first, completed portrait ever. After that, there had been no turning back. “That’s my mom,” he said. “She was the one who encouraged me to be what I wanted. So after I painted her portrait, I couldn’t sell it for any amount of money.”
“Where is she now?”
“My parents have a house in Beverly Hills. When I moved out, I didn’t want to go too far. You know so I can meet up with her whenever I want.” He patted Rick’s arm and walked away. He set up his easel and canvas while he talked. “I’m not too close to my dad. He was always busy with his work when we were growing up. Now he’s retired though, he wants us all to spend more time as a family. I know he means well, but it’s too late,” he said and then signaled Rick, “Come with me.”
Rick followed him to the sofa chair with a high backrest. Before Aidan could say anything, Rick understood what he wanted, maneuvered himself across and settled himself in the chair. Aidan stayed beside him, just in case. When Rick had gotten comfortable, he said, “It’s never too late, by the way.”
He smiled. “To have some nice, family time together.”
“Oh, believe me, it’s very late.” Aidan laughed. “It’s like we don’t even know each other. We keep meeting up for these family dinners he arranges for us.” He made air quotes as he spoke. “In fact, we met up just yesterday, and it was awfully awkward for my brother and me to sit at the same table with him. He’s no more than a stranger to us.”
“Okay.” Rick seemed to hesitate. “But do you talk to him?”
“We do. Mostly he asks a few questions, and I answer. Mom usually comes up with something to break the silence.” Aidan positioned himself on his chair to get a better view of his model and then adjusted the easel. He mentally made a plan for executing the idea for his portrait.
“You know what I think, Mr. Ross?” Rick asked grabbing his attention. “You’re not making an effort to get to know your father.” Aidan looked at him with surprise. It must’ve shown on his face because the next moment Rick hurried to apologize. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
Aidan waved his hand. “No, it’s okay. I guess I wasn’t expecting to hear that.”
“I crossed a line. I’m sorry.”
“What makes you think that?” he asked. “Why do you think I’m not giving my dad time to prove himself?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Rick turned red. “I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth.”
“Let me hear it. If I’m not doing something I’m supposed to, I really want to know.” Rick refused to speak. “Please Rick, just tell me. I won’t take offense, I promise.”
Rick nodded. “Well, you say he’s been making these dinner plans for you guys. So, obviously, he wants to make up for what he thinks is lost time.”
“It’s not like I don’t show up. I do.”
“But do you ever talk to him? Have you ever initiated a conversation? If you have, have you tried to hold on to it and go with the flow?” Rick asked, and Aidan didn’t think he was expecting an answer to his questions. “Because it seems to me, you’ve never had a real conversation with your father.” Thinking about it, Aidan realized it was true. “You told me he usually asks the questions, but have you ever asked him any? And I mean apart from you asking him how he was doing.”
All those questions had just one answer. No.
Why haven’t I done that? It was normally what he’d do with strangers he had met for the first time. He had done it with Rick, and with the other models, he’d met before him. So, it was curious why he felt so awkward having a conversation with his own father.
He considered it for a while.
For a long time, he never understood why his father couldn’t be there for him. Every time, when he had needed him the most, he had been either working ridiculously long hours or travelling abroad. Aidan was mostly mad at him. As the time passed, he had gotten so used to his father’s busy schedule that his presence had made Aidan felt out of place.
“Though, it really isn’t my place to tell you anything.” Rick broke the silence between them, and Aidan jerked out of his train of thought. “You know your father much better than me,” he said. “My assumptions could be totally—”
“Actually,” Aidan spoke up before Rick could finish his sentence, “I don’t know my dad at all. You’re right. I never made an effort to get to know him because somewhere in my mind I’m still so mad at him.”
A soft smile played on Rick’s pink lips. “I figured. But don’t you think you’ve been holding a grudge for far too long now?” He paused for breath. “Try to forgive him and move on. It’ll make things easier for you.”
Aidan stared into Rick’s eyes. The blue color had darkened now, and there was a kind of agony in them. It made Aidan uncomfortable, and he quickly averted his gaze, concentrating instead on the plain white paper in front of him. He cleared his throat. “I want you to try and sit as still as possible.”