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Authors: EJ McCay

Charitable Hearts (9 page)

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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Twenty One

The next few weeks for Maggie and Levi were all business.
The Geeks for Fibrosis Fan Experience was coming quickly, and they both wanted the event to outshine the last two years.

Based on the meeting minutes, the board members were more interested in discussing their current projects rather than discussing the event. Levi trusted people he shouldn’t have. When Levi fired the CPA and board members, he’d asked Maggie and Laura to be on the board and he’d put Gary on it too. Gary could be a little child-like, but he loved Levi and he had enthusiasm which made up for most of his antics at meetings.

A couple of the board members Levi selected left Maggie a little star struck. Graham North and Gina Redford were both legends. Graham was known for his movie scores, and Gina was the first actress to be paid more than her male co-star. How Levi managed to get them on the board, Maggie had no idea.

When she asked him, he simply shrugged and said, “A guy has to have his secrets.” She’d rolled her eyes and punched in the arm.

Of course, game night was a weekly requirement and shop talk was strictly forbidden because all of their conversations revolved around the upcoming event. After Hamper agreed to sponsor the karaoke, a few other companies ponied up sponsorships too. The gaming stations were being provided by the two largest gaming companies.

Maggie used her power of persuasion to get TriCam to use the Geeks event to release their newest game,
Girl Assassin
. Plus, she’d managed to rope a food supplier into donating to the concession stand.

Other than the rent for the building, everything was being donated and fans volunteered to run the different stations. It was quite remarkable the way the whole thing came together. Feeling the deadline crush really pushed them to work harder so the event was a success.

The night before the event, Laura flew into LA to meet Levi and Gary face to face since she was in charge of the finances and meetings. She and Laura didn’t run events, they only planned them. The fact that Laura flew in to see the Geeks event put together meant this charity was close to her heart. Maggie was just glad she got to see her friend whatever the reason.

Levi offered to pick Laura up from the airport and bring her to Maggie’s house which made Laura grateful. Maggie was sitting on the front porch waiting for her. So when Levi parked his car, Laura was out and running to Maggie.

“He is so freaking cute,” Laura whispered in Maggie’s ear as they hugged each other.

“I know.” Maggie smiled as she pulled back.

“Where do you want your bags, Laura?” Levi asked.

“Just set them inside the door. We’ll figure everything out later.”

“How did Greg feel about being a babysitter this weekend?” Maggie wrinkled her nose.

“Hey, he’s a parent too. It’s not really babysitting if they belong to you.” Laura hung an arm around Maggie’s shoulder and they laughed as they walked into the house. “I never remember just how small this house is.”

“It’s not that small.”

Laura turned around and looked at Levi. “He barely fits through the front door.”

“I can’t help it that he’s over six-feet tall.”

Laura smiled and Maggie knew she was just playing around.

“So, I got burgers and stuff to make s'mores.”

Gary was standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets looking like he was being left out of everything. When Maggie mentioned food he immediately perked up. “I’m sorry, did you say burgers and s'mores?”

“Yes, Gary, I thought you might like to cook them. I got you something. It’s hanging the handle of the grill.”

Gary’s flashed a smiled and bolted for the patio. They all jumped when they heard him yell. “This. Is. Awesome!”

Levi looked at Maggie puzzled.

“I got him an apron with a mash-up of the Famished games in the shape of Voltron, and a grilling kit.”

Levi raised an eyebrow. “Should I feel jealous?”

Maggie looked at Laura and laughed. “I’m sure given time I’ll find something for you too.”

“I have an idea if you’re looking for suggestions,” he said and winked at her.

Laura jerked her head to look at Maggie with a puzzled look on her face. Maggie tucked her hair behind her ear as Laura leaned in and said, “You and I will be talking later.”

Maggie forced a smile and spoke without moving her lips. “No, we won’t.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Maggie sighed, grabbed a drink out of the fridge and walked out to the patio to join Gary. He was already working on the burgers in his apron. “Maggie, this is awesome. I can’t believe you got this for me.”

“I like you, Gary.”

Gary shook his head and took a deep breath. “If this is like, I’m thinking love must be incredible.”

“Stop it,” she said as she took a seat next to the fire pit. The sun was setting and the best part of Maggie’s house was the way the sun peaked through the trees as it disappeared for the day.

Levi followed Laura as she walked out onto the patio with a glass of wine and sat next to Maggie. “I have to give it to you. This patio is the greatest part of this house. When you planned this, I thought you were completely nuts, but,” Laura and took a deep breath, looking around, “this is simply amazing.”

“I told you I knew what I was doing.”

“I thought you were nuts buying this place. One person on twenty acres?”

“It’s perfect. People hardly know I’m here. It’s like I’m hiding in plain sight.”

“You’re certainly good at hiding, that’s for sure.” Laura slapped a hand over her mouth and Levi snapped his attention to her.

“Good at hiding? What’s that mean?”

“I’m just talking about the house. I mean, look at this place.” Laura tried to cover, but Levi eyed her and Maggie like he didn’t buy her explanation at all.

“Right,” Levi said and picked his conversation with Gary back up. “You’ve got the grill too hot, buddy.”

“No, you sear the burgers first to seal in the juices, then you turn it down so they can cook on the inside. I know what I’m doing.” Gary carefully watched the burgers and took a drink of his Strawberry Yoohoo.

“So,” Laura said, and took a sip of her wine, “Levi, how are you feeling about tomorrow?”

Levi strolled to a seat and sat down. “I feel pretty good. This is the first year I feel like I’ve done my best.”

“That’s awesome. I think it will be great. The sponsors are excited to be helping, and the tickets sold out in twenty minutes this year.”

“Well, it helped that TriCam used this event to release Girl Assassin.”

“Did Maggie tell you they’re donating ten percent of the sales at the event?”

Levi’s mouth dropped open. “No way.”

Laura nodded and smiled. “Yep. Once they saw the fan response they felt like it would be good press.”

He raked a hand through his hair. “This thing would not have been as amazing if it weren’t for you and Maggie. I never thought when I met Maggie that night the Geeks event would ever have a chance to be this great.”

“Maggie is pretty amazing.” Laura smiled at Maggie.

Maggie playfully punched her arm. “You’re pretty good too. Besides, I’m just the middle man.”

“We both know you’re more than the middle man. It’s because of you we have the gaming stations and karaoke sponsored.”

“Yeah, but you take care of the finances.”

Laura giggled. “Let’s just agree we make a good team.”

“Agreed.” Maggie smiled and pointed between Levi and Gary. “You two are going to meet the fans at midnight right? To interact and give out goodie bags to the fans who are standing in line, right?”

Gary ignored the question. The burgers were taking all his focus.

Levi nodded. “Yep, and if it weren’t for you those goodie bags I’m handing out wouldn’t be nearly as cool.”

“Hey, anything to help a good cause,” Maggie said and shrugged her shoulders.

“They’re awesome and the fans are going to love it. Those first one-hundred people are going to be in for a surprise.”

Maggie nodded. “Yep, and when word spreads, next year’s event will be even bigger.”

Levi looked at his phone. “Gary, you need to hurry up with those burgers. It’s getting late and we need to get back to the city.”

“Burgers are done. Thank you very much. I was just waiting for you guys to finish talking.”

The four of them sat around the fire pit enjoying their burgers and talking. When the guys finished their burgers, they barely had time to make s'mores, but Gary insisted on it even if it made them late getting home to get showers before showing up for their pre-event goodie bag giveaway.

Having Laura there when the guys left kept the house from feeling so lonely. Laura immediately started in on her. “You have forgotten to tell me something about Levi.”

“I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have. What was that wink about?”

Maggie shrugged as she picked up around the house. “I have no idea.”

“Maggie, he is cute and sweet and so funny. That smile of his could melt the polar ice caps.”

“Don’t start, Laura.”

“But he’s so great.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“You are only thirty-six years old, Maggie. It’s been long enough. You can’t just be alone the rest of your life. I hear the sadness in your voice when you call. Or heard, I should say. Since those two have been around it’s almost like it was before…”

Maggie turned on her. “Stop.”

“We’ve never even really talked about what happened.”

“And we aren’t going to talk about it now either.”

“But Maggie…”

“No.”

Laura sighed and sat down on the couch. “Seriously, Maggie, I’m worried about you.”

“Why? I’ve lived like this for the better part of five years. I have my house, I live my life, and I’m happy with the way things are.”

“That is a lie. You are not happy. You are lonely. I am the only friend you have and you haven’t been with anyone since…”

“Don’t, Laura. LA is a large city. I’m sure I can find you a flight out tonight.”

Laura sagged and frowned. “Don’t be like that Maggie. You know it’s just because I love you. I love you and I want to see you happy.”

Maggie stopped and chewed on her lip. She took a deep breath and sat down in the chair across from Laura. “I know you do. I know you love me and want what’s best for me, but I can’t. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to…” Maggie couldn’t even get the words out.

Laura popped up off the couch and planted herself closer to Maggie, placing a hand on her arm. “I know. I’m sorry I’m pushing you. I just think Levi is great. Maybe if you just talked about it. Maybe with him? There is just something about him. He’s sweet and you can see by the way he looks at you that he really, really likes you.” Laura took a drink of wine. “Plus, his hair is so wild, and how it curls over his ears. It’s curlier than I expected. You just wanna run your hands through it.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. He’s totally adorable with the wild hair. I think I’d cry if he cut it. Plus, the last few weeks working on the Geeks event, I’ve gotten to know him better. He’s an amazing person. He’s got such a great heart.”

“See, I know you. I see the way you look at him when you don’t think anyone is watching. The two of you have gotten close and you have feelings for him.”

Maggie gave her a pointed look. It was Maggie’s ‘stop or I’ll send you home’ look. “You know what? It’s time to talk about something else or go to bed.”

“I think bed. I’m pretty tired and I can see bags under your eyes.”

“Hey, don’t talk about my bags when yours need a hand truck.”

“Shut up.”

“Come on. Let’s get ready for bed. I need to be well rested when we go into town tomorrow.”

“Is it ready to ride?”

“It’s been ready. I’ve just been waiting so we could ride it together on its first trip to town.”

Laura squealed and clapped. “I can’t wait. Does Levi know?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, now I really can’t wait. Now how am I supposed to sleep?”

“Easy, stop talking and close your eyes.”

Laura punched her. “Shut up.”

Maggie giggled, grabbed her hand, and pulled her to the bathroom to get ready for bed. Up in Maggie’s loft, they talked and laughed longer than they should have, and by the time they fell asleep they were going to be glad there were no alarms to wake them up.

Twenty Two

When Maggie rolled her bike to a stop in front of the building,
she couldn’t believe how many people were still around. When she looked at her watch, it was well after closing time.

Laura dismounted the bike, took off her helmet, and Maggie followed suit. They tucked their helmets under their arms and walked to the front door. She and Laura stepped into the building and scanned it for the Levi and Gary.

When one of the volunteers passed, Maggie got his attention. “Have you seen Levi Martin?”

The girl bubbled with excitement. “Yeah,” she said and pointed down the hall to the far left. “He’s down there. Second door to the left.”

Maggie turned to Laura. “He’s in the lounge. He sectioned off one of the conference rooms and turned it into an area off-limits to anyone but him and Gary. Levi thought it would be good if he had a place to escape for a moment here and there.”

Laura nodded in acknowledgment and walked next to Maggie as they headed to the room, stopping in front of a door with a keypad attached to it. She knocked on the door and a security guard answered. They deposited their helmets on a table as they walked in.

The room was large and two guards were monitoring screens and drinking coffee. Behind them, they opened another door and closed it as they entered.

“I didn’t see this room before,” said Maggie.

Gary greeted them with a smile as he kept his seat in a chair leaned against the wall. “It was a large office building at one point. That room up there was where the I.T. guy did his thing and this room held the servers and stuff.” Gary explained.

“That’s kinda neat. It seems to work well the way you guys set it up,” Laura said and looked around.

Levi sat in a chair with a low back and a seat big enough for two people. His head was leaned back so that he was looking at the ceiling and his legs were on a second chair with his ankles crossed. His arms were loosely crossed on his chest. Maggie noticed he looked pale and walked over to him. “Hey, are you feeling okay?”

He opened his eyes, and looked at her without lifting his head. “I think I’m just tired.”

“Are you sure?” She sat on the arm of the chair facing him and studied his face.

“Yeah, I think so.” He smiled and placed a hand on her arm.

Without thinking, Maggie pushed his hair back from his face. “The event is going well. There are still a lot of people here.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, and your volunteers are either the happiest people on the earth or we need to implement drug testing.”

Levi chuckled softly. Maggie was concerned now because he wasn’t his normal high energy self, but at the same time, she knew he’d been up all day. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Because you sure don’t look okay.

“I was up all night and I had a panel so I never really got a chance for down time.”

“Okay, well, I’m happy for you. This has gone even better than I could have predicted.”

“Yeah,” Levi yawned. “Me too. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t met you. The two of you have done more than I thought was possible.”

Maggie turned to catch Laura talking to Gary. “Yeah, we make a pretty good team.”

Levi reached up and cupped her cheek. “We make a good team too.”

“Stop it.”

He flashed a lopsided grin. Maggie’s concern for him grew as he closed his eyes. “You need to go home, okay. Get some sleep so you are ready for tomorrow.”

“I just want to sit here for a moment. I’ve been going all day.”

“Okay. Well, leave the rest to me and Laura. We’ll take care of it. When you get ready to go home, just go.”

Levi was falling asleep on her which didn’t surprise her. She just hoped he was telling the truth about just being tired. Maggie got up and walked over to where Gary and Laura were talking. “Gary, is he really okay?” she whispered.

“I honestly don’t know. If he doesn’t feel good he won’t admit it, ever. He’s terrified of hospitals. I think he’d actually bleed out before he’d agree to ever step foot in a hospital again.”

Maggie nodded and understood all too well about being afraid of hospitals. “He’s really pale.”

“I don’t know. He gets like that when he’s tired. I’ll keep an eye on him. You guys going to be here tomorrow?”

“No, we just wanted to drop by to see what it looked like after it was put together. Laura has a flight out tomorrow. We’re going to grab a bite to eat and then go back home.”

“Is it girls only?” Gary asked.

“Yes, and even if it wasn’t,” Maggie said and looked in Levi’s direction. “I don’t think he could manage it. He really needs to go home.”

Gary sighed and frowned. “Okay, mom.”

Maggie laughed. “Take him home, okay?”

He jumped up and saluted. “Yes, ma’am.” Then he walked over to Levi and shook him awake. “Come on, mom says I need to take you home.”

Gary held out a hand, a groggy Levi grabbed it and let Gary pull him out of the chair. Levi wobbled a little bit, yawned, and stretched. “Okay, yeah, I need to go home.”

Maggie and Laura headed out the interior door, back into the room where the guards sat, and picked up their helmets.

“Wait, who has the motorcycle?” Levi asked.

Laura bumped Maggie’s shoulder with hers. “Maggie.”

“I never saw a bike.”

“You know the door that’s to the right of my front door?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s where I keep it.”

Levi took her arm and turned her to face him. The look on his face was complete disbelief. “What kind of bike do you have?”

“Come outside and see it.”

Levi and Gary slid around Maggie and Laura and began to walk faster. By the time they got to the front door, they were nearly jogging. When the girls got outside, they found the guys walking around the bike with surprised faces.

“I can’t believe you have this bike,” Gary said, running his hand along the gas tank.

“I can’t either.” Levi’s eyebrows were knitted together and he studied the bike. “This is a 1946 Indian Chief. I know because I bid on one about four years ago.”

Maggie smiled. “The same bike style owned by Steve McQueen.”

Levi’s mouth dropped open. “It looks so…familiar…you!” He said, the tone accusatory. “You are the one who outbid me. I was winning. I had like five seconds and the screen refreshed and I’d lost.”

She bit her lip and smiled. “I’m more than willing to let you drive it some time.”

“How did you get it back in shape?”

“I hired a group out of Texas specializing in restoration of vintage bikes. I got it back about six months ago. I’ve been waiting on Laura to make a trip out here so she could have the first ride with me.”

With his hands on his hips, Levi licked his lips and shook his head. “You owe me a ride.” For a moment, Levi seemed like his usual energetic self, but Maggie noticed his eyes were dull and he still looked pale.

“You go home and get some rest and we’ll talk rides another day.”

Gary patted him on the back. “I agree. Let’s go home. Ladies, it’s been swell. We’ll smell ya later.”

Maggie turned to Laura. “Let’s go back in, get things closed up and ready for tomorrow.”

“Sure, then dinner because I’m starving.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said and looked back in Levi’s direction. “I’m worried about Levi. I think he may have pushed himself too hard.”

“Well, I’m sure with a good night’s sleep he’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Come on. I want dinner, sooner rather than later.”

Maggie wanted to check on Levi the next day, but when she tried calling, he never picked up. Gary eventually answered the phone and said he was in the middle of a panel with a couple of his friends from his television show. Maggie asked if he was feeling okay and Gary seemed to think that the night’s sleep helped. She tried pressing him, but he was distracted.

“Gary!”

“What?” he asked, trying to talk over the noise of the crowd.

“Are you listening?”

He was playing a two-person shooter game and barely responding. “Yeah, sure.”

Frustrated, Maggie hung up. Laura told her she needed to leave it alone. “If something’s wrong I’m sure you’ll be the first to know.” Laura could see the concern written all over Maggie’s face. “Why don’t you just admit you like the guy?”

“He’s my friend, which means I should be concerned with whether he’s feeling okay or not. This event is important to him.”

Laura pursed her lips. It was hard for her to remain neutral when all she wanted to do was shake Maggie and yell wake up. “So you do like him.”

“I like him. When I met him I wasn’t sure if I would like him because he was a little cocky and he thought he could smile and I’d just give him money. The last few months I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve realized we have some things in common and he’s just a really sweet guy.”

“I can’t believe he pretended to date Sonja.” Laura shivered in mock disgust.

“She’s going through a hard time. I kinda feel sorry for her, ya know? I mean, her entire life she’s had people that just hang on her because she’s famous. They don’t care about her at all. I bet she just had to develop a disconnect with the world just to survive without getting hurt all the time.”

“You always give people the benefit of the doubt. I think she’s just a butt that’s used to getting her own way. Who makes a sex tape? Gross.”

“I don’t know. I wonder if it was leaked and to make people think she didn’t care she just rolled with it and acted like she didn’t care. Like a defense mechanism.”

Laura dug through her luggage and looked up at Maggie. “I feel like I’m forgetting something.”

“I wish you could stay another day.”

“I know, but I just can’t. Leaving the kids for a day was more than I could handle.”

“But it was nice, right? Sleeping until you woke up?”

Laura sagged and smiled. “Yes, and this place is so freaking quiet.”

Maggie clicked her tongue on her teeth and smiled wide. “See, I knew what I was doing when I built this place.”

“You really did. It’s like an oasis in the middle of all the crazy. It’s so peaceful.”

“Got everything?’

“Yeah, I think so.”

Maggie looked at her watch. “Cab should be here any second.”

“If I didn’t have luggage you could take me on the bike.”

“Well if you didn’t pack so heavy…”

They laughed at the joke. Laura always packed like she was going to be stranded on a desert island. “Hey, there was a whole television show about people being stranded on a deserted island.”

“Did you ever find out what was going on?”

“Still have no clue to this day.”

“And yet, you watched it.”

“Are you kidding? It was a great show with hot guys stranded on an island. Of course, I watched it.”

Maggie shook head and rolled her eyes. She pointed out the door. “Cab’s here.”

They hugged each other tight. “I’ll miss you,” Maggie said in her ear as she hugged her.

“I’ll miss you most.”

“Take care and tell Greg I said hi and give the kids a kiss for me.”

“I will,” Laura said and waved as she got into the cab. The driver packed her luggage into the trunk, and Maggie watched as her friend rode away.

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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