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Authors: EJ McCay

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BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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Eighteen

Levi couldn’t understand what happened.
He hadn’t made the first move. Maggie kissed him.
And it was amazing, too.

Next thing he knew, he was driving her home and she wouldn’t look him in the eyes. When he’d stopped in front of the house, she’d jumped out of the car before it had come to a complete stop and ran inside. Part of him wanted to follow her inside and demand she tell him what was going on.

Gary was waiting for him in the basement when he got home. Levi told him what happened and Gary looked as confused as Levi felt.

“So she kissed you?”

Levi nodded.

“And you didn’t do anything at all?”

“Nope.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Wow.”

“Stop saying that.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else to say.”

“I’ll give you that. I just wish I knew what happened.”

Gary took a deep breath. “Give her time. I mean, look at you. It took you three years.”

Levi chewed on his thumb and nodded. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“Did you see her face when she saw that I’d shaved?”

“Hey, I was just as shocked as she was.”

Gary shrugged. “It was time.”

“No more protests?”

“If it worked it may have been worth keeping, but we both know you’re going to do what you want to do and you don’t care what I think.”

Levi looked like he’d been smacked across the face. “You really think that?”

“Name one time in the last three years that you cared what I thought. Just name one.”

“I can’t. I’ve been a jerk.”

Gary didn’t say anything.

“You could disagree even if half-heartedly.”

“I could, but even my half-hearted would be a lie.”

“I told Maggie. I told her everything.”

Gary jerked his head up and eyed Levi, acting surprised. “You told her everything? Like everything, everything?”

“Yeah, I told her about Amelia, Rachel, and I even told her about Sonja.”

“Is that why you haven’t had a drink in the last couple of days?”

“Has it been a couple of days?”

“Dude I was starting to think that scotch glass was permanently attached to your hand.”

Levi knocked Gary in the shoulder with the back of his hand. “Stop it.”

“That’s awesome man. Good for you.”

“Fat lotta good it did me. She bolted from the car like I had cockroaches crawling on me.”

“Something’s going on there. Like I said, you just need to give her time.”

“She once said she didn’t have any friends.”

“When?”

“Remember that first time I showed up at her house without you?”

Gary glared at him.

“Yeah, okay, you remember. Well, at the time I thought she was joking, but now I don’t think so. She said I was the first person to ever step foot in her house aside from the contractor and Laura. Maggie lives in that house by herself and she doesn’t know anyone here.”

“So that day we showed up…”

“That was the second time anyone had ever been to that house other than Maggie, Maggie’s contractor, and Laura. Even her assistant Ellis hasn’t been there, according to Laura.”

“How long has she lived there?”

“Laura said five years.”

“So she’s lived in LA for five years, she has no friends here, and that we know of, she only has one friend on the East Coast.”

“Yeah.”

“Man, can you imagine how lonely she is?”

“I know.”

“You really like her don’t you?”

Levi lightly punched him in the arm. “Yeah, I do.”

“It’s about time you liked a girl worth liking.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious. Amelia would have loved her.”

“I know. Maggie is just easy to be with, to talk to. I’ve never met anyone like her.”

“Plus she’s hot.”

“There’s that too.”

“And she likes me. She’s the first girl you’ve liked in a long time that actually doesn’t despise me.”

“I know.”

“On a side note, how long are you going to let Sonja stay?”

“As long as she doesn’t try anything, she can stay for a while.”

“Levi, no.”

“I can’t just kick her out.”

“Be honest with yourself, Levi, you don’t even like the girl.”

“She’s not girlfriend material, no, but she’s not horrible.”

Gary rolled his eyes. “She’s absolutely horrible and her idea of fun is inviting a million people she barely knows. Maggie called her sex-tape Sonja.”

Levi laughed. “Maggie called her…sex-tape Sonja.”

“She said if she didn’t want to be mocked, she shouldn’t have made a tape.”

“That’s not funny. Stop it.”

“It’s hysterical. I knew the moment she said that we were going to be friends. She could see through Sonja’s bull crap.”

“Look, for now, Sonja stays. She’s been going through a rough spot. I know what that’s like. Let’s give her some time and just go easy on her.”

Sonja had slipped down the stairs when she heard voices coming from the basement. She rolled her eyes when Levi and Gary talked about Maggie. That heifer had disrupted what she had going on and Sonja was not someone to take a back seat to some unknown chick who thinks she can walk in and just take Levi. Sure, Sonja didn’t want really want him, but she wasn’t going to let Maggie have him either. Quietly, she turned around and made her way back upstairs. Maggie was about to meet the business end of sex-tape Sonja.

Nineteen

Maggie had kept her distance from Levi,
letting Laura do most of the contact with him in the week following game night. She sat in front of her computer typing away, looking down at the phone every few moments. What she really wanted to do was invite Levi and Gary over for game night at her house.

Earlier in the week, she had a game system hooked up along with all the things they would need to have a proper game night, including a stomach-churning amount of snacks. When it came time to call, though, she had trouble picking up the phone. She didn’t want it to be awkward when she saw him again.

Just call him.
Maggie hadn’t realized how much she missed having people around and now that she’d had a taste of it again it was hard to be alone in her house in the middle of the woods. She snatched up the phone and tapped the screen.

“Hey.”

Her pulse quickened when Levi answered. “Hi.”

“What’s up?” Levi asked.

“Well, I know tomorrow is game night.”

“You’re coming?”

“Actually, I was hoping you’d come here. I get to have access to my own bed if I get tired and the seating situation is a little more spread out.”

Levi laughed. “Do you even have a gaming system?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, my house is tiny with many nooks and crannies. Just because you haven’t seen everything I’ve got doesn’t mean anything.”

“This is true. I have not seen everything you’ve got.”

Maggie blushed and rolled her eyes. “So, are you coming? I even have snacks.”

“Oh, wow. You sure you have enough?”

“I have more than I have space in my house. I even bought stuff to make pizzas again.”

“Gary is nodding his head vehemently so I guess I should say yes.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Maggie set the phone down, cleared her head, and began typing again. Writing continued to be the escape she needed. She couldn’t put a finger on why she’d gone so long without sitting down and just writing.

When she looked down at her phone the next time, it was nearly four in the morning. Maggie rubbed her eyes, pushed away from the desk, and blearily climbed the stairs to her loft. She crawled on her hands and knees to the bed and collapsed.

The next day, Maggie regretted her writing session. The progress was great, but the bedtime was kicking her butt. She stretched and turned over, stuffing her pillow under her head. As she was falling back to sleep, the phone began to ring. More than anything she wanted to ignore it, but she knew Laura would just keep calling back until she answered.

She reached behind her and snagged the phone. “Hello,” she answered.

“Hey!”

Maggie groaned. “You are much too perky.”

“It’s like three in the afternoon. Are you still in bed?”

“I got busy writing last night and didn’t get to bed until late.”

“You’re writing again? Maggie, that’s great.”

“Don’t get too excited. I don’t know how it will turn out.”

“I’m sure it will be just as awesome as the Famished series.”

“Don’t jinx it.”

“Sorry. Sorry. My bad.”

“I spoke to Levi. It’s getting to be crunch time for Geeks. The next few weeks are critical to getting the most out of it. He wants me to find the best place to donate.”

“Why not actually give it to people who need it? I mean, from what I’ve researched it’s an expensive disease. Transplants, monthly drug prescriptions, travel to and from hospitals, and there are so many other things. Why not have a way to apply for monetary support? That way he’s helping actual people?”

“Maggie, that’s a great idea. Have you told him this?”

“No, I just thought of it.”

“Maybe you should. It sounds like something he’d really get behind and we both know passion is a big part of this. When people feel that passion they are more likely to get behind you and donate.”

“He’s coming here for game night tonight, so I guess I could mention it then.”

“Wait, what? Game night? At your house? You don’t play games.”

“Well, I was invited to theirs last week and it was fun so I thought I’d invite them here. It’s better than Levi just showing up. At least this way I can plan for it.”

Laura was silent. For a moment, Maggie thought she’d hung up. “I just can’t wrap my brain around you inviting someone to your house.”

“Stop.”

“Seriously. Like who are you and what did you do with my friend Maggie?”

Maggie rolled her eyes. “Stop it. I can invite people over.”

“But that’s the thing, you don’t. You’ve lived there for five years and never even invited Ellis to your home.”

“Which reminds me. Did you find a way to get her and Gary to meet yet?”

“No, still working on that. I don’t want it to feel fabricated.”

“Right and Ellis better watch it. I like Gary. He’s a cool guy.”

“Ellis is a cool girl. I have a feeling about the two of them.”

“You always have feelings about people.”

“Yeah, but I’m usually right.”

“I need to go. Levi and Gary will be here in a few hours and I need a shower.”

“Okay, gamer girl. Next thing I know you’ll be going to Geeks in cosplay.”

“Not going to happen.” Maggie laughed.

“Go shower. I can smell you from here.”

“Shut up, butt.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.” Maggie held the phone while she climbed down the stairs. The bed could be made later. Right now, she needed a hot shower and coffee.

Twenty

Levi loved the drive to Maggie’s house.
Because at the end of the drive, I’ll see Maggie.
Gary enjoyed it too. Out of LA, on the road, and there were plenty of things to see on the way. He felt pretty proud of himself when he didn’t drive past her turn off at least four times like the previous times. He rolled the car to a stop and noticed the door was wide open. It still struck him as odd that she left her door open. No one he’d ever met would be caught with their door wide open. What if someone broke in?

Gary jerked his seatbelt off and jumped over the edge of the convertible without opening the door. “Maggie!”

She came to the door with a smile on her face. Gary did his usual, grabbing her by the waist and spinning her around. “One of these days you’re going to get tired of that.”

“Never!”

“Are you hungry?”

“Always.”

“Pizza is in the oven.”

Gary grabbed her by the hand and took off for the back patio.

Levi had to jog to catch up. Gary stopped on the patio and closed his eyes. “Do you smell that? That is homemade pizza in a pizza oven.”

“You had pizza here the last time we came,” Levi said and laughed.

“I know, but it’s amazing every time.”

Maggie giggled at Gary. “It’s the little things.”

“So where is this gaming system I didn’t see last time?” Levi asked.

“Follow me.” Maggie made a wide berth around Levi and walked back into the house. She picked up a remote and hit a button. Levi watched in stunned silence as the painting on the wall disappeared and large TV took its place. Underneath the TV, a panel opened displaying the newest gaming system on the market, several controllers, and headsets.

Levi walked to the nook and pulled out the games. “You’ve got
Grey City
? This doesn’t come out for another week.”

Maggie shrugged and smiled. “I know people.”

“This requires more explanation than I know people.” Levi looked back down at the game and turned it over. “How did you get this?”

“A girl has to maintain her secrets. I’m sorry. That’s all you get.”

“Gary!” Levi yelled.

Gary came running in and Levi held the game up. “Oh, no way.
Grey City
? We were talking about waiting in line to get that game. It’s the most anticipated game to come out in the last six months. Where did you get this?” He looked at her, his mouth hung open.

She simply shrugged and walked out of the living room.

“I swear Levi if you don’t marry her, I will. It’s a solemn promise.”

“Because she produced a game that doesn't come out for another week?”

“Yes, seems like an excellent tactical move.”

Levi clasped him on the shoulder. “I’m sure in your mind that sounds reasonable.”

“Oh, buddy, it is.” Gary got excited. “Oh man, if she has this cool of a game, wonder what she has for snacks?” He ran out to the patio and Levi followed him. “Maggie, just curious, what snacks do you have for tonight?”

She smiled. “Open the coffee table.”

“The coffee table?” Levi and Gary asked in unison. Maggie loved it when they did that.

“Yes, just lift the top and you can see for yourselves.” The first couple of pizzas she’d put in the oven were starting to smell like they were done so she got up to pull them out.

Levi and Gary went back into the house and she heard Gary scream. He came running back out and hugged her. “I love you, Maggie Lawrence.”

Levi stopped at the doorframe, leaned against it, and smiled as he watched Maggie and Gary.

Maggie patted him on the back. “It’s just snacks, Gary.”

“Just snacks? No, what you have in that coffee table are not just snacks. They are gaming culinary treats. We will feast like kings while playing a game no one else has yet.”

“After pizza, okay?”

“Best. Game night. Ever!” Gary said it like it was fact.

“I’m glad you think so. It can be pretty boring out here.”

“Well, I think we’ve found the new game night place. I vote we have it here from now on.”

“I have to agree with him. This is pretty awesome.” Levi laughed.

Maggie grabbed a slice of pizza and sat down, nibbling on it. “It’s okay with me. You are welcome here anytime.” She said it without thinking and immediately wished she could take it back. Not that she didn’t like them being there. Actually, she really enjoyed their company, but Levi might take it as a way to just show up.
What if…

She stopped the thought and concentrated on Gary and Levi’s conversation. Levi had picked up a slice of pizza and sat in the chair next to Gary. They cracked her up. Between the game and the snacks, it seemed she had solidified her place in their little duo; sort of like Batgirl to Batman and Robin. It was fun to watch them bicker and banter. It made her wish she hadn’t spent the last five years so isolated.

What she didn’t realize was that Levi watched her too. He’d catch her laughing and smiling at a joke. It was like she would forget to be weighed down when they were there. Like, it gave her a chance to let her shoulders be lighter. Levi understood, of course. He knew what it was like to carry around so much hurt. It bothered him she carried hers all on her own.

“So, Laura tells me we’ve got a sponsor for karaoke. That’s going to be awesome. I also hear I have you to thank for that.”

“It’s not a big deal. It’s what I do, remember?” Maggie shrugged and smiled. “Laura was pretty excited about that. When one company hears about other companies sponsoring something, it turns into sort of a competition because company A doesn’t want the public to think company B is more socially responsive. It’s like a domino effect really.”

“Did she tell you I wanted help figuring out where the money should go?”

“We talked about it. Have you ever thought about creating a way for people to apply for money? Real people? From the research I’ve done, cystic fibrosis is expensive. There are monthly prescriptions that can run in the thousands, transplants, medical equipment, hospital stays, and everything in between. How are middle-class families supposed to care for their kids when they are living paycheck to paycheck just to pay their mortgage?” Maggie realized she’d stepped on a soapbox momentarily. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop now.”

“No, you’re right. That would be great. How could we do that?”

Maggie considered it for a moment. “Maybe start small. I mean, it would be easy to get an overwhelming number of applications. Start with the local hospital. Ask them if there is a family struggling and help them. Let’s consider long-term solutions, though. Instead of just paying for a months’ worth of medication or whatever, pay off their mortgage. Let the money make a real difference in their lives. Something lasting that can give these people some peace at night. I can’t imagine having a sick child,” Maggie said and swallowed hard. “I can’t imagine dealing with sickness and also dealing with whether my house payment was made or my lights were going to stay on.”

Levi leaned forward in his chair. “Have you thought about this a lot?”

“No, I just talked to Laura earlier today, but I’ve been doing this a while so it’s pretty easy to put myself in someone else’s shoes.”

“I can see that. I think it’s a great idea.”

“Do you have a hospital in mind?”

“Well, part of me wants to donate to someone at the hospital Amelia stayed at in Wisconsin, but another part of me thinks it would be good to help a family here in LA.”

“Could you split it and do both?”

“I guess it would depend on how much we got.”

Maggie watched Levi as he considered splitting the fund. “How about finding a family at Amelia’s hospital and if enough is donated, we find someone here?”

“I like that idea. It would be nice to help someone in my hometown.”

She smiled at him.
Of course it would because you are sweet and caring.
Levi locked eyes with her and held her gaze until she became uncomfortable. Maggie closed her eyes and looked away. “So call Laura tomorrow and let her know what you’re thinking and she’ll get it started.” Her slice of pizza had become cold so she took it back to the oven and slid it back in.

“Okay.” Levi had never met anyone with such a passion for helping people. Sure, he partied with people who donated money, but they just threw dollars at a problem so other people could solve it. Maggie actually cared about the problem and coming up with the solution.

Gary watched the tension between Maggie and Levi. Part of him wished he’d stayed home, but when he looked at Maggie it was clear that would have been a mistake. He caught Levi’s eyes and they had a moment of unspoken understanding. Maggie needed some levity.

“So, I’m thinking it’s game time!” Gary clapped his hands and headed into the house.

“That sounds like a great idea.” Levi agreed.

“Go ahead and start and I’ll be there in a moment.” Maggie pulled her slice of pizza out of the oven and took a small bite.

Gary and Levi jumped up together and walked into the house. Being around Levi was harder than Maggie thought it would be. She should have never kissed him. Then she wouldn’t know what she was missing.
Is kissable really a thing? Because he always looks kissable.

Maggie rubbed her temples with her fingers, took a deep breath, and walked back into the house while she finished her slice of pizza. The guys had pulled out every snack that had been hidden in the coffee table.

“Where did you get these?” Gary held up a pastry.

“There’s a bakery in North Carolina. I spring for them every so often. I thought you’d like them.”

“It’s like heaven in my mouth.” Gary pulled off another large bite and chewed it noisily.

While Gary snacked, Levi opened the game and put it in the machine. He turned the television on and the picture came to life with the opening credits of the game. The graphics were incredible.

They didn’t need to know that the game which was based on her fifth book was the reason she had it early because it was part of the contract Laura had negotiated.
I bet Gary would lose his mind if he knew.

“All of these games have been awesome.
Famished
,
World Lost
,
Ghost Out
,
Looking Glass
, and now
Grey City
, they’re all just amazing.”

“I had no idea.” It was the truth. Maggie had never even opened her copies when she received them. She just tucked them away somewhere in the house.

“They’re based on a series of books by a guy named M. G. Law. It started with
Famished
, a zombie apocalypse book. The movie was awesome.”

“It was okay,” Levi spoke up without taking his eyes off the game.

“You only say that because you tried out for the part and didn’t get the lead.”

“The author didn’t think I was right for the part.”

Maggie turned to keep him from seeing her smile. Levi did not need to know she had been the reason he didn’t get the part. “The author? I thought once they wrote the book, the publisher was the one that did all the other stuff.”

“Yeah, but this guy, he kept some rights or something. There was a whole big thing when it came out that it was being made into a movie.”

“Interesting.”

“Apparently, he saw my screen test and said when he wrote the character he saw him as a little less lanky. I even tried bulking up for it, but it was a bust.”

That’s because your head looked too small for your body.
Maggie giggled. Levi thought she was laughing at Gary because he was moving around with the game so much. Maybe it would be a good idea if it never came out that she was the author of those books.

“Come on, Maggie. Grab a controller and a headset. Let’s do some damage here,” Gary said and scooted over to give her some room next to him without even glancing her way.

She picked up a controller and put on the headset. Her character lasted all of fifteen minutes before wolves came out and killed her. From that point, she watched Levi and Gary play.

They had a dynamic which intrigued her. She wasn’t sure how long they’d been friends, but it must have been a long time because of the way they talked to each other. They had their own system of communicating and most of the time they didn’t even need to finish their sentence to be understood.

Maggie moved to her chair after Gary nearly sat on her for the second time. It was her spot in the living room and it always felt weird when she sat somewhere else. Not long after she switched seats, she caught herself dozing off. When she could no longer keep her eyes open, she excused herself, climbed the stairs and fell into her bed.

The guys were free to stay as long as they wanted. At one point she woke up and could still hear them playing. She rolled over, stuffed her hands under her pillow and promptly fell back asleep.

When she woke up the next day, they’d left, but not before cleaning up the snacks, which surprised her. Maggie had no idea when they left, but her home was starting to feel empty when they weren’t there.

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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