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Authors: EJ McCay

Charitable Hearts (5 page)

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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Twelve

Levi called Maggie on Saturday,
but the conversation was brief. She agreed to meet him the following week to take a tour of the place his foundation had rented and said goodbye. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why she was so irritated with him. He’d apologized and she’d accepted.

Plus, she knew why he behaved the way he did. He was hurting. She knew that feeling well, but when he called something inside her just crawled its way out and he was the recipient of her frustration. So, she ended the conversation before she could say something she would regret.

Maggie peered out the window of the cab on the way to meet Levi. Most people hated riding in cabs, but Maggie loved it. She didn’t have to concentrate on anything. Her favorite part was looking out the window and watching the world go by or at least that’s how she spent most of her rides in cabs. This ride, she’d spent it with her eyes closed trying to reel in her feeling of anxiousness. It had been a week since she’d seen Levi and for some reason her stomach fluttered and her heart raced.

He was just someone looking for a donation. Maggie opened her eyes just as the cab stopped in front of a large industrial complex.
Is this where a convention takes place?
She paid the cab and stood in front of the building.

“Hey!” She jumped and found Levi with his head sticking out the door to the building. “Come on in.” He smiled.

Maggie smiled, walked to the door, and followed him in. The building was huge. The area she was in was completely open which could be used for registering people. From the main room, the place split off into hallways with rooms attached.

“So what do you think?”

She took a deep breath which was a mistake. It was really musty like it hadn’t been used in a while. “I think it has potential. I also think the doors need to be left open.” Maggie wrinkled her nose.

“Yeah, it’s why we got the place kinda cheap. Plus, it’s bigger than last year’s place. Bigger, more people, more donations.”

Maggie nodded and continued to look around.

“Over here, we’ll have our volunteers registering people who are getting tickets when they walk in, if we have any. Last year we sold out pretty quickly.”

“Okay.”

“Now, these hallways will have different vendors that plan to donate part of their sales. The rooms will have panels or one-on-ones. Like some shows have an entire cast, they’ll be all together, and for some of the others, we’ll just have them in a room answering questions from fans.”

“Okay, what else?”

“Well, we’ll have rooms for gamers. Plus, this year we’re going to have a cosplay contest.”

“Cosplay?”

“Yeah, you know, people dress up as their favorite characters from shows like Star Wars, comic books, Star Trek…”

“Oh, that’s a real thing?” Maggie looked at him surprised.

Levi smiled and nodded. “Uh, yeah, that’s a thing.”

“Okay, I guess if it works, then great. Was this part of the financial statements you sent to Laura?”

“Yeah, have you talked to her? I sent the rental receipt to her last week.”

Maggie tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “No, I haven’t talked to her since last Saturday.” Actually, Laura had tried to call her, but she’d tried to bring up something in their last conversation Maggie had no intention of ever discussing. Laura was persistent, though, and she and Maggie had eventually talked, but Levi didn’t need to know that.

“Huh, I got the impression you guys talked a lot.”

“Where’s Gary?”

Levi smiled. Maggie was being evasive. “He’s around somewhere. I think he took off that way.” He pointed down a hall across from them. “Did you and Laura have a disagreement or something?”

Keep fishing, Levi Martin and you’re likely to get an arm bitten off by an alligator.
“No. I’ve just been busy.”

“Really? With what?”

“Things,” she said and walked off in the direction Levi had pointed. “Gary!”

“Wow, you really don’t want to talk about it.” Levi jogged to catch up with her.

Maggie ignored him. “Gary!”

“YO!” Gary popped his head out from a room at the far end of the hall.

“Hey, Gary!”

“Maggie!” He came running, grabbed her by the waist and swung her around.

She laughed and squealed. “Play any foosball lately?”

“Yes, but now I feel as though I’ve just been playing really bad players.”

“Hey!” Levi interjected. “You’ve been playing me.”

“Exactly,” Gary said, smiling at Maggie. “Come check out this room.”

Levi followed Maggie and Gary to the room and watched them laugh and talk. It irked him that they were so easy around each other.
Why is this irritating me so much?
The more Levi listened to them talk, the angrier he got. He stalked out of the room and back down the hall.
I should be happy Gary is getting along with Maggie so well.

He slid down the wall facing the hallway and sat on the floor. It felt like forever before Gary and Maggie came out of the room. They walked together, talking and laughing and grating on the very last nerve Levi possessed. He rolled his eyes. “Are you two done flirting?”

Gary came to a complete stop and furrowed his brows. “Dude, what is wrong with you?”

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong with me. I just need to know if you’re done so we can go. I’m sure Maggie has other things to do.” He looked down at the floor.
And other guys to flirt with…

“What bug has crawled up your butt?” Gary sounded as frustrated as Levi.

Maggie felt like she was caught in the middle of a couple’s private argument. Uncomfortable didn’t begin to describe how she felt. “Um, I think I’ll go. You two sound like you need to work something out.”

Gary placed a hand on her arm and leaned close to her ear. “Would you wait outside, please? Don’t go. Please?”

She nodded and walked outside.

Then Gary turned on his friend. “What is your problem, dude? You are acting like a complete jerk. To me. To Maggie. What happened? You were fine a moment ago.”

Levi leaned his head back and looked up to avoid looking at Gary.

“Come on, man. What is going on with you? You have a girlfriend remember?”

“She’s a girl and putting friend on the end is a stretch, remember?”

“Hey, I’ve never liked Sonja, but that didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t like Rachel either, and that didn’t matter. When it comes to your love life you don’t seem to consider my opinion on it at all. Even when they’re complete witches to me.”

Levi shifted against the wall. “I know.”

Gary sat next to him. “So, talk to me. You haven’t really talked to me in years. You are my best friend. It’s almost like you left home and I’m taking care of your cat. And we all know cats are…”

“Do I need to get my phone and start a tally?”

“Shut up, dude. This is serious.”

Levi took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair making it stick up in spots. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Maybe it would help if you just started talking. Stop trying to carry all of this on your own. I’m here. I’m a good listener.”

Levi clasped his hand on Gary’s shoulder, his eyes watering. “I know.” His voice broke and he cleared his throat.

“And Maggie. I like her, but not like that. She’s totally gorgeous and completely amazing, but it’s just not there. I wish it was because wow. If you like her, stop being a jack wagon. Levi, you are the coolest guy I know and the last few years you’ve become someone I barely recognize.”

Levi bit his lip and looked away. “Give me a little more time, okay?”

“I’ve given you three years.”

“Just a little more. I promise.”

“Okay, a little more time, but figure it out and stop taking it out on me and Maggie.”

“I can do that.”

Gary got up and held out a hand to Levi. Levi grabbed his hand and Gary pulled him off the floor. “Let’s go see if Maggie actually waited for us.” Gary laughed.

Levi followed Gary out and locked the door behind him. Maggie sat on the sidewalk in front of the building with her knees drawn up to her chest.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

Levi smiled, grabbed Gary around the neck, and ruffled his hair. “Yeah, things are okay.”

Gary pushed him off. “Yeah, and what do we say, Levi?”

“I’m sorry for being a jerk.”

“You should get that on a recording. It’ll save you time.” Maggie smiled.

Gary laughed. “Good one!” He walked to her and held his hand up to give her a high five. “You wanna come have a bite to eat with us?”

She slapped his hand and laughed. “I can’t. I need to get home.”

“Why?” Levi asked.

Maggie narrowed her eyes. “Because.”

“Okay, fine.”

A cab pulled up in front of the building. Maggie stood, walked to the car, and opened the door.

“I’m gonna figure you out, Maggie Lawrence. However long it takes, I’m gonna figure you out.”

She looked at him. “Good luck with that.” Maggie smiled and got into the cab.

Levi put his hands on his hips as he watched the cab drive away. He smiled.
Challenge accepted.

Thirteen

It was a full two weeks without Levi Martin
gumming up Maggie’s tightly controlled world. Of course, he’d called, but that was okay. In fact, she kinda looked forward to his calls. He was fun and easy to talk to when he wasn’t right next to her.

She smiled thinking of the last conversation.
He is just…flat out cute.
Beyond heart-skipping gorgeous, he was fun. The way his mind worked, the things he found interesting, Maggie couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to spend an evening forgetting the past and just…she squashed the thought in its tracks. There was no way she was going to even entertain the thought.

It was late in the day when Maggie stretched, threw her covers off, and climbed down the stairs. She took her time showering and getting dressed. The music was turned up loud enough she could hear it through the door of her bathroom. She liked days like this, slow and easy.

Toweling her hair, she walked out of the bathroom in a pair of short and a tank top oblivious to the car that had pulled up while she was in the shower. The knock on the door caught her off guard and she screamed. Levi and Gary stood at the door smiling. She walked to her computer and turned the music down. “Don’t you ever call before just showing up at someone’s house?”

Levi shrugged. “Nah, it’s more fun this way.”

So much for my easy day.
“What do you need, Levi?”

“Nothing. Gary’s been bugging me to see your place so I thought I’d drop by and let him check it out.”

“It’s not much.” With a wave of her hand, she invited them both in. “This is the living room, office, and general area.” She pointed to the bathroom door. “Through there is the bathroom and my closet, and out those doors,” Maggie pointed behind her, “is the kitchen on the patio.”

“I’m sure the bathroom and closet are lovely, but I need to see the kitchen.” Gary slid past her and jogged to the back of the house.

Levi strolled over to her computer and tapped the mouse. His eyebrows shot up, and his eyes bugged. “This says you have four years’ worth of music. How is that even possible?”

“It’s a custom built computer. That’s my second hard drive.”

“Second?”

“Yeah, the first one is filled with music. When I ran out of space on the first drive, I opted to have a computer built that I could just add another hard drive to when I needed it.”

Levi sat at the computer and stared in awe. “I’ve never seen so much music.”

Maggie shrugged. “I love music. It keeps me company.”

Gary came charging back in and grabbed Maggie by the waist and spun her around. He put her down and bent down on one knee. “Maggie Lawrence, will you marry me?”

She laughed, lifted her chin, and cast her eyes down while smiling. “Yes.”

Levi twisted in the chair and jumped up. “I object.”

Gary stood. “He objects.”

“Yes, he does.”

“I wonder why.”

“Let’s ask.”

They both looked at Levi at the same time. “Why do you object?” they asked in unison.

“Because.”

“That’s not a very good answer,” said Maggie.

Levi smiled. “Seems to work for you.”
Gotcha.

She narrowed her eyes at him and smiled. “Would either of you like something to drink?” Maggie pulled her gaze from Levi to Gary. “There’s stuff in the fridge. Make yourself at home, Gary.” She made a point of saying his name a little louder.

Gary walked to the fridge and squeaked. “Strawberry Yoohoo? That’s my favorite.”

“Is it?” Maggie shrugged and walked to the door of the bathroom, tossing her towel in and closing the door.

Levi eyed her. Color me impressed.

She casually walked to the patio, grabbed a can of soda, and parked herself in one of the chairs next to the fire pit. Levi and Gary quickly joined her, Gary on one side, Levi on the other.

“So, you two have nothing better to do with your day than spend it in the woods with me? I’m pretty boring you know.”

Levi propped his feet up on the edge of the fire pit, and Gary sat with his ankle across his knee. “We are easily entertained.” Levi smiled.

“That party you threw screams otherwise.”

“It was a Sonja party,” Gary blurted out.

Levi rolled his eyes and Gary shot him a look. “It was a Sonja party. She invites the people and I try to get them to fund the Geeks.”

“Does it work?”

“Sometimes.”

“Have you ever thought about asking for corporate sponsors? Like maybe having Sony or Microsoft foot some of the bill? That kind of stuff really looks good for companies.”

“Never really thought about that. The first year it was just kinda thrown together. Last year it was a little more planned. My hope is that this year is the best yet.”

Maggie took a sip of her drink. “It’s not until the end of October which means you have a few months. It couldn’t hurt to get on the phone and reach out to a couple companies. The worst they can say is no. If nothing else, it gives them a heads up about next year. It never hurts to put a bug in their ear for next time.”

Levi chewed on his lip and Maggie could see he was really thinking about what she said. “That’s a pretty good idea.”

“I told you I’m pretty good at this.”

“True. Guess I need to just trust you, huh?” Levi wasn’t sure if Maggie could read between the lines or not.

Maggie locked eyes with him. With what she knew about his past, she could tell he was talking about more than just charity work. It was fine. He could trust her, but there was no way she would ever let anyone closer than they were right now.

The tension between the two of them seemed to flicker like lightning. She shifted in her chair after the uncomfortable silence seemed to drag out.

“So, are we going to get to use that lovely piece of equipment and cook a pizza?” Gary asked.

Maggie was grateful that he broke the silence. “Check in the fridge under the grill. I keep stuff in there for pizza.”

Gary jumped up and walked to the spot Maggie pointed. He bent down and gasped when he opened the door. “Dude, seriously, she needs to be family. I need to live here.” He bit his knuckle. “I may cry.”

Maggie shook her head and laughed. “You are so easy.”

“Only when it comes to food, foosball, and Strawberry Yoohoo.”

“At least it’s a simple list.”

Maggie suddenly realized she’d left the music off so she got up and went back in the house. She palmed the mouse and clicked a song she thought Gary would enjoy: Piano Man. It was one of her favorites and she closed her eyes as the intro played.

As she turned around, Levi stood directly in front her. So close she could feel the heat from his body. She shivered in response. “What are you doing, Levi?”

“I wanted to see what you were doing and Gary was busy making pizzas.”

“I was just turning on some music.”

“This is one of my favorites.”

Maggie stepped back and knocked into the edge of the desk. “Uh, you mind stepping back a little?”

“Yes.”

“Levi.”

“Maggie.”

“Stop.”
Oh, please stop.
Her heart thrummed in her ears and her skin felt like she was being electrocuted.

Levi leaned in closer. “Have you wondered what it would be like to kiss me, because I can’t seem to get the thought of kissing you off my mind.”

“You have a girlfriend,” Maggie said, slipping around him to put space between them.
At least I can breathe again.

“She’s a girl and she happens to be a friend; although, I was recently told putting friend on the end was a bit of a stretch.”

Maggie crossed her arms. “You called her your girlfriend and that’s enough for me. You made no distinctions that night.”

Levi smiled devilishly. “You know what you haven’t done?”

“What?” she spat out.

“You haven’t denied wanting to know what it would be like to kiss me.”

Maggie gulped air like she’d been dipped in ice water and looked away. “I haven’t…haven’t thought about it at all in fact. Never even crossed my mind.”

“Really? Not even just a little?”

“No.”

Levi took two long strides and stood so close to Maggie she nearly had to look at the ceiling to look him in the eyes. The war inside her raged unlike anything she had ever experienced. Part of her wanted to push him away and make him leave, and another part of her wanted to melt into him until there was no way to ever be a separate person again.

How could someone she had only known a short while make her feel so completely out of control? He leaned closer. The smell of his breath was sweet and warm. Her heart jumped and her eyes watered. “Please don’t,” she whispered.

He pushed her hair back over her shoulder and palmed the side of her face. “I would never unless you wanted me to, but I want you to know there is nothing I want more right now than to kiss you.”
And if I was a complete jack wagon I’d kiss you and not care if you wanted me to or not,
he thought. Her still damp hair smelled like citrus and all he could think was that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. No makeup, a simple t-shirt, and thin pajama bottoms.

“I…” Her words trailed off.

Levi rubbed his thumb across her cheek, brushing a tear that fell. “It’s okay, Maggie.” He softly kissed her forehead and stepped back as Gary burst into the room.

Maggie pushed past Levi and briskly walked to the bathroom. She splashed her face with some water and mentally yelled at herself.
What is wrong with you, Maggie?
When she came out, it was like nothing had happened. Whatever tension had been in the air had evaporated.

The three of them sat on the back patio eating pizza, talking, and laughing until it was so dark all you could see were stars.

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
6.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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