“Yeah, well, it’s what we have to do right now. Dad’s treatment is covered by the clinical trial, but we’re still making his house payment back in Sydney and he can’t touch his retirement from the Oilers until he turns sixty-five. Plus I still have student loans and there are some incidental medications that aren’t covered by insurance, so it’s necessary right now.”
“Do you mind me asking what you make here?” Hawke asks, and while that’s a deeply personal question to ask an acquaintance, I suppose our history means something because it doesn’t bother me.
“Forty-one thousand dollars and some change. I bring home a few hundred extra bucks a week at the gym, but that’s commission based and I only have a handful of clients right now.”
Hawke is silent as he pops open a bag of chips. He’d finished his sandwich, but that was always the way Hawke ate, one thing on his plate at a time until it was finished. And he didn’t like his food touching, despite the fact I used to remind him often that it would do so in his stomach.
“Do you need some financial help?” he asks quietly, raising his eyes from the bag to me, pinning me in place.
“Financial help?” I practically squeak out in surprise.
“Yeah…money to help pay expenses or something. I make considerably more than forty-one thousand dollars and I don’t mind. You know I’d do anything to help…um, your dad.”
My head is shaking in the negative before he can even finish his sentence. “No, thanks. We’re good.”
“Then how about taking me on as a client?” he asks as he picks a chip out of his bag. He waves it in a circle in front of his face with an impish grin. “I could use some extra conditioning.”
“That’s part of the job I already get paid for,” I remind him with a stern look. “If you want to schedule some time with me each week, we can do that.”
“But I don’t like the equipment here,” he counters. “Your gym would be better.”
“You don’t even know what gym I work at, Hawke. You’re just trying to find a way to give me money when I don’t want to take it from you,” I say, my voice bordering somewhere between a hint of frost and downright icy. Regardless of this new truce, there’s still unspoken anger on my part as well. I sure as shit cut him loose, but he sure as shit turned his back on me when I reached out to him. I don’t want any handouts from him, now or ever, because in the back of my mind, I’ll always believe it’s purely guilt driven.
“Okay,” he says with both hands raised up defensively. “But maybe I will take you up on some additional strength training.”
“That’s fine,” I say curtly before wiping my mouth with my napkin. “Just let me know and we’ll get something scheduled.”
Hawke dips his head in acknowledgment and pops another chip into his mouth. I ball up my napkin, throw it on the remains of my unfinished tuna salad, and stand up from my chair.
“Want my cookie?” I ask him as an afterthought, picking it up from my tray and holding it out to him.
A peace offering, perhaps to counter my snappish attitude? Added benefit—I won’t get those extra calories.
“Sure,” he says with a grin, and reaches out to take it from my hand.
His forefinger touches the end of my thumb…barely a graze, and yet I feel it ricochet through my body.
“Ouch! Son of a fucking bitch,” I scream out as I jerk my hand away from the bathroom vanity drawer, where I had just slammed my thumb.
Loud, crashing footsteps echo through our tiny apartment, getting closer until Hawke bursts in the bathroom door that I hadn’t shut all the way while I was taking my shower.
“What’s wrong?” he asks as his panicked eyes rove all over my towel-covered body in search of blood or guts hanging out.
“My thumb,” I whine as I hold it out for him to inspect. It’s red on the tip and throbs like a bitch. “I slammed it in the drawer.”
Hawke lets out a huge gust of relieved breath and mutters, “Jesus, Vale. You gave me a heart attack.”
I can’t help it. I giggle and try to look apologetic. “Sorry. But it hurt, and that was just a little reflexive curse that popped out.”
Hawke takes my hand, lifts it up to examine the end of my thumb, and then bends down to press a kiss on the tip. “That wasn’t a little curse that popped out. You screamed like Freddy Krueger was in here getting ready to slice you to bits.”
“And you burst in to save me,” I say as I step in closer to him.
“Always,” he murmurs before bringing my thumb back up to his mouth and kissing the tip again. Except this time, his tongue flicks out and licks the end, while his other hand comes up to finger the edge of my towel just below my hip. “Bet I know something I could do to you to take your mind off this little thumb injury.”
I release the cookie and jerk backward from Hawke. I drop my gaze quickly, but not before I see his eyebrows knit together in confusion. Grabbing my tray, I kick the chair back in toward the table and mutter, “I have to get back to the training room. I’ll catch you later.”
“Later,” he says softly, but I don’t look back at him.
I place the last stack of plates onto the shelf and shut the cabinet. The kitchen is now officially unpacked. I look around wearily at the empty boxes, crumpled newspaper, and packing tape scattered all over. It all needs to be cleaned up and I still have my bedroom to unpack. But it’s not going to get done today because I made plans to go hang with Dave tonight and watch some college football. It’s opening game day, and while us Canadians don’t quite get nor fully appreciate the sport, it’s what guys do when they hang out together.