“You were right. Bratty is pregnant,” he told Rick over the phone later that night. “What am I going to do?”
After dropping off Rick, Aidan had called up his friend, who also happened to be a vet, to get an appointment for early that evening. After checking Bratty over, his friend had confirmed the cat was indeed expected to have her kittens in a week or two.
Aidan was freaking out.
“Calm down, Mr. Ross,” Rick said on the other end of the line. “It’s going to be alright. How’s she doing?”
He gazed at the cat sleeping calmly on the edge of his bed. “She’s fine. The vet said she’ll need extra care and attention now.” Aidan bit the inside of his cheek. “But, Rick, I don’t think I can handle this. I don’t even know what to do with her now, let alone when the babies come out!”
Rick giggled. “You don’t have to do anything. She’ll take care of herself. All you need to do is be there for her.” Aidan sighed and worried himself with all kinds of thoughts. “I’m still surprised you didn’t suspect that Bratty was pregnant until today. I mean she was moving around with such a huge belly.”
“I just assumed she was a fat cat. How was I supposed to know?”
Rick’s laughter filled his ears. “You’ve never had any pets before, have you?”
Aidan managed to smile through his distress. “Is it that obvious?” Rick giggled some more, and it warmed his heart. “But sounds like you’ve had pets before.”
“Nah! Never had any in my life. But I used to visit my aunt in Chicago, and she has three cats and two dogs at her place. I learned a thing or two from her about animals.”
“I know it’s not an ideal situation for you. But please try and be gentle with Bratty. And well, I’m just a call away if you need my help, Mr. Ross.”
Those words pacified some of Aidan’s worries. He could hear the confidence in the tone Rick had said it, and it was quite new and refreshing to him. “Thank you.”
He wasn’t alone in this situation anymore.
When Aidan went to collect Rick the next day, he didn’t see Rick coming out of the house when he showed up. It made Aidan suspect Rick had deliberately misguided him about where he lived. He made a mental note to ask him about it. Aidan seriously hated being lied to and from what he suspected, Rick had done so, and it left him feeling irritated.
As they settled into the car and drove off, Aidan couldn’t bring himself to initiate a conversation. He stopped for his coffee, just like he had the day before, and continued the drive back to his place. He could feel Rick’s eyes on him the entire time.
“How’s Bratty doing?” Rick asked, breaking the awful silence between them.
Aidan shrugged. “Alright, I guess.”
“Well, she was sleeping in my bed when I left this morning, so I didn’t get to ask her how she was doing.” His comment had been a little snarky and a bit too harsh.
Rick laughed nervously. Aidan glanced at him for a moment but didn’t smile. By then, Rick must have sensed that something was off about his employer. “Mr. Ross…?” He was about to ask, but Aidan stopped the car with a sudden jerk, cutting him off.
“We’re here,” he said and immediately got out. He helped Rick back into his wheelchair before they went inside.
They met Kim in the living room. She held a coffee mug in one hand, and a stack of papers gripped tightly with the other. “Hello, boys,” she greeted them happily. “I just made some coffee for myself. Do either of you want a cuppa?”
Aidan held up his Starbucks mug and watched Rick shake his head beside him. “I guess you’ve met already, but officially—Kim Rick; Rick Kim.” He pointed at each of them simultaneously as he introduced them.
Kim stepped forward and nodded. “It’s nice to see you again, Rick,” she said. “I have to say you’re a truly handsome guy.” Aidan felt butterflies in his belly as he looked at Rick again. He’d spiked up his messy hair today, and he looked hot.
He blushed. “Thanks.”
Aidan pushed away his personal feelings and turned to Kim. “How’s your schedule looking today?”
She looked at the papers in her hand. “I’ve got this paperwork to finish. I don’t think it should take too long. Did you have something for me?”
“Nope, did you call Ruth for an appointment?”
“I did yesterday, but her schedule is booked up for this week. She did say she’ll try to accommodate you. If I don’t hear back from her by the end of today, I’ll give her a call first thing tomorrow.”
Aidan frowned. “I hate that woman. She always does that to me.”
Kim laughed. “I know, honey,” she said, “but she’s also the only one who can get our work done.”
He gave his right shoulder a shrug. “Whatever.” He gazed at Rick’s innocent face still wondering why he would have lied to him about his home address. Did he not feel safe sharing it with him?
“I’ll be in your office for the next few hours if you need me. If I leave before you break for lunch, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Aidan nodded, and Kim went over to Rick to pat his shoulder. “I’ll see you around, Rick.”
“Let’s go,” Aidan said watching Kim leave and led the way into his art studio. He asked Rick to get himself positioned in the chair again while he went off to change his clothes. He’d be painting today, and that meant his involvement with a lot of colors. So, he put on some of the old clothes used while he worked. He walked back into the studio and organized the equipment and materials he needed. While he was pottering about, he took out his cell phone and scrolled through his playlist. He hoped some music would help Rick ease up. Aidan wasn’t in the mood to talk today. He was afraid if he opened his mouth to say anything, he’d start snapping at Rick. Moreover, when he worked, he liked to have his entire focus on the painting.
Without wasting any more time, he picked up his palette and began. Aidan had a connection with his brush. As soon as it touched the canvas, the colors flowed, giving life to his painting. The years he had dedicated to practicing his art had given him an eye for the right colors he needed. It didn’t take him too long to judge the colors for Rick’s portrait. The only tricky part that took time was the color of Rick’s eyes. He knew they were blue; too similar to the color of an ocean. But even after mixing up and creating different shades of blue, Aidan didn’t feel quite satisfied with the outcome. He concentrated more on his eyes as Rick stared back, trying to judge them correctly.
At that juncture, Rick looked down, and Aidan watched him reaching into his pocket. He retrieved his cell phone and looked up apologetically. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s my sister calling. Can I…?”
Aidan gritted his teeth in an attempt to keep his anger in check. The call had ruined the moment anyway. He nodded curtly and looked in the other direction. But he couldn’t help overhear the conversation.
“Um…hey, Jenny, what’s up?” he asked and waited. “No, I’m not at home. Why?” Aidan imagined Jenny speaking on the other end as Rick listened. “Uh…actually,” he answered lowering his voice, “I’ll be a while. I’m at a friend’s house.” His sister must not have known about this work he was doing, Aidan gathered. Another lie. “Sure, I’ll give you a call once I get back home, okay?” He took a pause. “Cool, bye.” Aidan didn’t turn to look at him again, but he assumed Rick was putting his phone away. “I’m sorry, I had to take it. My sister wanted to know—”
Aidan noisily dropped the brush and the palette on the table and stood up. “I guess lunch should be ready. Let’s eat and get back to this later.”
Mrs. Hutchinson had laid out their plates before they sat at the table. Bratty showed up but didn’t come up to Aidan this time. She sat on the floor and closed her eyes.
Aidan didn’t realize he was looking at her while different thoughts ran through his mind. Along with the worry he felt for his cat, Aidan also felt guilty for the way he’d treated her all this while. If it hadn’t been for Rick, he’d have continued to mistreat her and stayed ignorant of her condition until the kittens arrived.
Simultaneously, his thoughts about Rick’s lies kept popping up. He couldn’t help feeling a sense of betrayal at that moment, and it bothered him a lot. Probably why he blurted out the question he’d been dying to ask. “Why did you lie to me, Rick?”
Rick had a forkful of spaghetti rolled up, ready to be eaten. The sudden question interrupted his actions, and he stared at Aidan with a confused expression on his face and his mouth wide open. When he recovered from the initial shock of being accused, he closed his mouth and asked, “Wh-What did I lie to you about?”
“About where you live.” He set his fork back on his plate and sat back. “I know it’s not your house where I pick you up from. Why did you give me a fake address?”
Rick averted his eyes. “I had my reasons.”
“Yeah, so you lied?”
“I never lied,” he countered strongly this time. He looked hurt by the accusation. “You asked me where I wanted to be fetched from and I gave you a location. I never even once claimed it was my house.”
Rick was right. He’d never once said it was his own house where Aidan picked him up. His own assumptions misled him, and now things were completely fucked up. The anger he felt a minute back was replaced by guilt. But he had to justify his actions.
“No, you didn’t, and I apologize.” He played with his fingers, trying to think of something better to say. “I just assumed…I thought you didn’t trust me,” he stammered. “And then back in the studio…” Aidan pointed in its direction. “You took your sister’s call and lied to her about where you were.”
He shook his head. “She doesn’t know I’m working. Like my dad, Jenny likes to take care of me and wouldn’t dream of letting me work. I know her too well. If she finds out, it’ll hurt her because she’ll feel unappreciated and incapable. But I do appreciate her, so much, and I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Oh…” Aidan didn’t know what to say. But he decided to apologize again. “Um… sorry that I over-reacted.”
“Is that why you’ve been acting so distant with me, Mr. Ross?” Rick’s eyes shone in the bright sunlight coming through the window beside them. “Because you thought I was a liar?”
Aidan realized he’d messed this up big time. He shook his head harder. “No, Rick, like I said…”
“Oh no, you did!”
“Maybe I did, but…”
Rick put his fork down and wheeled his chair back. “I’d like to go home now, please Mr. Ross,” he said, looking at the door. Aidan could see the moisture in his eyes this guy was trying very hard to hide. “I don’t think I’ll be able to work for you. It’s fine, you don’t have to pay me, but I really think I want to quit.”
Aidan was dumbfounded. Is he insane?
“If you can’t drive me back…”
“Stop it, Rick! Why would you want to quit? It was just a misunderstanding, but we’ve cleared it up.”
“Thank God, for that.”
Aidan scowled. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“No, I’m not, Mr. Ross.” His face was red, and Aidan noticed his body was shivering a little. “You assume I misled you with a fake home address and you called me a liar. Who knows, tomorrow, if you find something has been stolen from your house, you’ll assume I’ve taken it and call me a thief.”
“Yeah, well, my stepdad didn’t think twice before calling me a thief when it was his own brother who was stealing from him. Why would you be any different?”
Aidan shut his eyes tight. What have I done? Rick was a decent guy, he had known it from the get-go. Then he found out about the hard life he’d led so far and how he was still struggling to find his peace. And yet, Aidan had ended up hurting him, though it was never meant to be that way.
“I’ll wait outside for you,” Rick said, and when Aidan opened his eyes again, he saw the guy leaving the room. He turned to find Bratty looking back at him with an angry glare. She meowed as if telling him to make amends.
Aidan sighed, dabbed his mouth with the napkin and followed Rick out, leaving his half-eaten food on the table. Mrs. Hutchinson would clean it up later.
The drive back to Rick’s neighborhood was spent in silence. His passenger was sulking worse than a baby, but Aidan had no courage to make light of it, given the circumstances. He tried to find the right words to make Rick understand he had not intended to hurt him, but he could come up with nothing that would either convince his own conscience, let alone Rick himself.
As usual, he carried Rick in his arms and set him in the wheelchair from where he began his journey down the street. Aidan’s heart sank, watching him go. He had to try once more, he told himself and ran behind the man. “Rick,” he called out. “Wait up!”
Thankfully, Rick did stop but did not turn. Aidan went around and knelt down in front of him. He was only a little out of breath. “Sorry, I’m really very sorry for calling you a liar. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I promise. But…” They stared into each other’s eyes. “I-I’ve been lied to before. I was dating this girl in college. She’d made up a whole web of lies and betrayed my trust. She made a fool out of me because I fell for her lies every single time. Ever since then…I can’t tolerate liars around me.” Rick had a blank face on. If the explanation was helping to change his mind, he did not show it. “I know I over-reacted badly before. You didn’t deserve to be treated like that, and I’m so sorry I ended up hurting you.” Aidan desperately looked for any sign of forgiveness in Rick’s blue eyes, but there was none. “I understand why you wouldn’t want to continue working with me. But still, don’t make any rash decisions. Sleep on it, please.” Aidan suggested and paused. “Tomorrow morning, if you think we can leave this behind us and move on, you’ll find me right here waiting for you at the usual time.”
Aidan waited for Rick to say something or at least give a nod of understanding. He sighed when he didn’t react. Slowly, Rick maneuvered his wheelchair back and away from Aidan. He then made his way around him and continued on his way back home.
It didn’t look as if Rick was going to forgive and forget, which saddened Aidan.
The next day, when he arrived at Rick’s pickup location, Aidan had zero hopes of seeing the man again. However, when he saw Rick navigating his wheelchair toward the car, Aidan beamed with his new-found happiness. “I’ll be damned,” he said to himself and rushed to get out and greet him.