The tap on my shoulder nags for attention, but I ignore it. I’m determined to win the number of this beautiful blonde, so whoever is trying to interrupt us is going to have to wait.
The blonde wears purple yoga tights and a low V-neck singlet, one that exposes a generous amount of cleavage accentuated by a delightful fluorescent sports bra.
She may as well have a welcome mat on her breasts, I think out loud. She giggles as if I’m spouting poetry, and I pick at my teeth to disguise my triumphant smile. This is just too easy.
The tapping persists, but I don’t divert my gaze away from the brown-eyed beauty. I simply can’t pass up a girl who is both sexy and desperate.
That irresistible pair could slip through my fingers (which play with her fluorescent strap). I have enough clients anyway.
TAP TAP TAP
I sigh dramatically for the tapper’s benefit.
“Go work on your glutes, babe. I’ll come find you later,” I say to the blonde in resignation.
She pouts her greasy pink lips but skips away obediently.
I stare regretfully at her retreating shelf of an ass but force myself to acknowledge the persistent tapper.
I wish I could give them a piece of my mind. But instead, I plaster a fake smile on my face. I am working, after all.
When I do eventually turn, my irritation doubles in intensity. A high school girl in a frumpy maroon uniform is staring back at me.
There’s something exquisite about her face. Something exotic even. But whatever it is hides behind cheeks too round and full.
A vertical crease indents the middle of her lower lip, which would have been incredibly sexy on anyone else. I get the sense that she could be one of those late bloomers who undergo an evolution later in life. But for now, all I see is a frumpy school girl with a failed promise of something more. Too bad.
She smiles up at me with genuine bashfulness. I resist the urge to roll my eyes at the futility of that gesture. Does she really think she stands a chance?
“Sorry to interrupt,” the school girl says politely. Her double chin jiggles as she swallows in a way that exposes her attraction to me.
“Yes?” I inquire with impatience, my fake smile slipping.
Ignoring my tone, she thrusts a chubby hand toward me. My eyes travel up the length of her arm and down her generous figure.
I take her hand unwillingly.
“I’m Ayah. I asked the receptionist who’s the best personal trainer, and she pointed to you—or it may have been to that guy behind you,” Ayah says and points to Noah.
I frown at that.
“Anyway, I’m going overseas in a few weeks for an important occasion and would really like to get in shape before then. Sounds impossible, I know, but can you help me get started?”
She bats her thick black eyelashes slowly as she waits for me to respond. I didn’t pay attention to what she said; I was too distracted by her unwavering gaze.
Even though she’s not anyone worth glancing at twice (or even once), she does have the most striking eyes. I’ve never met anyone with two different-colored irises before.
I switch focus from her ocean-blue eye to her forest-green one.
“Sorry. I can’t help you,” I say and take a step backward in retreat. Pretty eyes or no, I can’t believe I missed out on getting the blonde’s number for such a mundane interruption. I should’ve ignored her in the first place.
“Oh?” Ayah looks disappointed but smiles sweetly. “Well, can I ask why? If you’re worried about funds, I’m okay in that department.
“And I’m not one to complain when pushed if that’s the problem. Well, maybe a little cussing, but I can keep it to a minimum if that kind of thing bothers you.
“I just really need some direction before I leave, and the receptionist said—”
“I don’t want to hear your life story,” I say, interrupting her. “I just don’t want to train you.”
Her dark eyebrows furrow together in confusion. “I’m sorry, but have I offended you in some way?” she asks, her sweet demeanor dwindling.
I sense another rant bubbling on the tip of her tongue. To save myself any more wasted time, I answer bluntly, “I don’t train lost causes.”
And that is that.
I don’t feel guilty when her broad shoulders droop and hunch self-consciously. I am the best. And the best only trains the best, my dad always says. “Sorry,” I say insincerely.
She looks over my shoulder at something, then looks back at me with a sweet smile on her face again. She is quick to recover; I’ll give her that.
“This is all just a misunderstanding!” she blurts while slapping a meaty palm to her forehead as if remembering a forgotten item from her grocery list.
“What do you mean?” I ask reluctantly. Did I not spell it out for her? Can she be any more desperate?
“I’m so sorry,” she says gravely. “The receptionist must’ve pointed to the other trainer. Since you only train the skinny bitches there’s no way you can be the best.
“And to think, if I’d known, you could’ve been suffocating in that bimbo’s tits by now! My mistake,” she says as she puts a condescending hand on my shoulder.
I’m too shocked to draw away.
“Don’t worry. Keep working hard, and one day you might be the trainer the receptionist points to. Maybe.” She offers one last pat for good measure and gracefully brushes past me.
What just happened?
I watch the back of her legs wobble with every step she takes closer to Noah. Unlike me, Noah is never busy so engages her right away.
Even from this distance, I can tell that his immediate attention relieves her, and I’m uncertain why I feel jealous. It’s not like her words are true—it’s not like I should care what that bitch thinks.
“Good luck,” I say under my breath to Noah.
They make their way toward the computer room to set up her new account. Noah laughs suddenly, and I wonder how she managed to make him throw his head back like that, so soon into the conversation.
Even I need a few minutes to butter up the opposite sex. But I suppose, given how quickly she made ~me~ feel like the one who’d been rejected, she must be confident. And smart.
I shake my head, unsure why her comment makes me feel insecure.
The school girl is wrong. I am the best, I chant to myself over and over to calm my cresting anger.
Every echo of the phrase resonates more surely than the last, chasing away that unwelcome cousin that is doubt.
I barrel through the last of it with stone-hard facts: I get every attractive woman into the gym with my looks and charm.
I work them into the ground until they are more attractive, and that is the bait I dangle in front of male clients.
I make the gym enough money to afford my own Mercedes. I have girls—even clients—throwing themselves at me every weekend out in the city.
I have friends. A healthy clubbing life. A great body and an even better face. I have everything I need, even the things I don’t.
I am the best. And what the school girl has to say about it means ~nothing~.
Now, where did that blonde go?
What a prick. I walk away from that despicable trainer. Who was stupid enough to let a guy like that work with people trying to better themselves—people like ~me~?
But I don’t let him get under my skin. Calling me a lost cause isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called in my life.
I relish each label that miscalculates me that way. Those assumptions act like a whip driving me forward with pain as my fuel.
And right now, I’m steering myself toward another trainer, another opportunity.
This one stands alone and is looking at his clipboard with a frown similar to the expression I wear when I’m working through algebraic formulas.
His dark eyebrows are puckered, but he’s so focused it’s as if he’s not surrounded by the sounds of grunting men and thrumming machines.
I wonder if he is concentrating so hard because he cares about his work and what it offers his clients.
I turn around and stare at that cocky trainer. He’s found the blonde again (big surprise there). His tanned, muscled arm is wrapped around her exposed rib cage.
His hand slides down to her rear, and I turn my back to them with a snort. Hopefully, the new guy has a bit more finesse.
Unlike his peer, the new trainer acknowledges me right away, sparing me the indignity of having to tap his shoulder like an infant interrupting her parents.
When he smiles and offers me his hand, I like him already.
“Hello,” he greets me warmly. His voice is husky, like a blues singer. “I’m Noah. You must be new since I haven’t seen your face around here before.”
“Nor have you heard me swearing every curse under the sun—which means you’re right.” My joke is all too serious. Just looking around the crowded gym fills me with trepidation.
I hate exercise almost as much as exercise hates me, especially when it involves machines.
I’m a full-blooded purist, and anything powered by an electrical circuit—except my computer—can always sense my fear.
Noah tips his head back and laughs loudly, startling me. I didn’t think my joke was particularly funny, but he has a look about him that says he finds anything and everything amusing.
Small butterflies blossom in my stomach when he stops laughing and looks at me with chocolate twinkles in his eyes. I notice his attractiveness for the first time.
“Most people start out all excited and get bored eventually. But you already hate it, which means you know what you’re getting into,” he says while still chuckling.
“I’ll bet you a free training session that you’re going to fall madly, crazy, need-a-straight-jacket in love with this place when I’m through with you.”
I laugh, enjoying his whit immensely. Boys that look like him never usually talk the way he does, if at all.
I sense a goofball under all that pretty packaging. It’s intriguing. “I don’t know if it’s your muscles or the temptation of a free training session, but I’m convinced.” And I am. “Where do I sign?”
He laughs again, taking my compliment in stride. It’s impossible to know if he’s genuine, if I’m that funny, or if he’s that good of a salesman. I don’t care enough to find out which.
“Great! Follow me,” he says, leading me to a private room. He notices the wide berth I give the treadmills and chuckles under his breath. “I’m going to enjoy training you.”
“Why? Because it’ll be an obvious contrast?” I ask, unable to jacket all my bitterness under the joke.
Even though I’m happy with who I am as a person, I have trouble accepting the fabric of my skin.
All my friends say I’m being stupid—that the extra weight shouldn’t affect me so much—but they’re wrong. It eats at me, makes me hesitant, and makes me second-guess myself.
I can’t go overseas dangling my emotions in front of hundreds of critiquing readers until I can hug myself with vigor. That is one of the reasons why I decided to join a gym.
Noah gives me a disgruntled look that reminds me of the cocky trainer.
But he surprises me by saying, “Don’t let your body—or what other people might say or think—dictate how you feel about yourself. Act like a winner; you’ll be a winner. That’s another promise.”
His intense chocolate eyes study me to see if what he’s saying sinks in. My insecurity is at war with me, but it is a war I intend to win.
I stare back at him, needing this stranger as my weapon. I can’t tackle my diffidence alone.
“You make a lot of promises for something that’s no guarantee,” I say for something to say.
He smiles encouragingly. I get the impression I’m not his first hesitant client.
“There’s always a guarantee if you’re dedicated. You just have to want it.
“But if you do everything I say and still aren’t happy with the results, then I’m always willing to hand out compensation.”
Noah leans in and stage whispers, “Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve never had to do that.”
“Like what?” I ask curiously as he pulls out two chairs for us.
The trance music playing throughout the gym makes a soft sigh when he closes the door. I feel like sighing too.
I’m alone in a room with a jaw that could cut diamonds. Maybe he’s not the best trainer for me; too distracting.
“Like free sessions or free coupons to our WitFit healthy-eating seminars if we don’t reach a goal we set together.”
He sits down with one leg lazily resting on the other and raises his eyebrow in warning. “But there are consequences for you, too, if you get slack.”
“Like what?” I echo myself. I mustn’t sound so clever now. Pay attention.
“What’s your favorite treat?” he asks.
“Cadbury chocolate popcorn,” I answer automatically, sounding dumber and fatter by the minute. He smiles kindly at me.
“Stay motivated, work hard, take what I teach you and apply it to your life, and you can keep all your favorite treats.
“But if you don’t hold up your end of the partnership, then you’ll have to give them up. You can cheat, and I’m sure I’ll never know—but you’ll be cheating yourself and your money,” he says seriously.
“I won’t cheat,” I say resolutely. Not because I’m all that afraid of giving up chocolate-covered popcorn but because I’ve had enough of my lack of self control in general.
I can no longer use it as an excuse to distract me from the pains and aches in my life. I want to feel energized in the mornings.
I want to shop in regular girly stores. I want to get an A in PE and have the strength to climb the mountain a few blocks up from my house.
I want to feel confident and sexy and take control of my life.
I want to change.
“Good. Do everything we agree on today, and the chocolate popcorn stays.”
We spend the next half hour making an exercise and eating plan, which he even makes me sign like a contract. I try not to be nervous about my decision to come here today.
It’s just a gym. ~And he’s just a boy.~
“What’s your favorite vice?” I ask out of the blue, needing something personal to humanize the guy taking over my life.
He looks surprised momentarily but eventually grins. “That’s my secret.”
“Hey! I told you mine. How am I supposed to trust you with my health nuisances if I can’t relate to yours?” I ask with a poke of his hard bicep.
He laughs, and I’m surprised the sound is not at all strained by my sad attempt to flirt—not the usual male reaction I’m used to.
“I’ve never thought of it like that,” he says, considering. “Okay. I like eucalyptus drops. I can finish a whole bag of them in one sitting. And I’m not just talking about the kid-sized package. I’m talking about the monster family pack they sell for twenty dollars at Costco.
“I keep telling my mother the half-empty package in my room is the same package I bought back in May when really, it’s like, the fifteenth package I’ve bought since the original.
“It’s kind of an addiction, actually. Talking about it is making the roof of my mouth itchy. You should feel bad about bringing it up.”
It is my turn to laugh, and I do so loudly. The sound disrupts the quiet in the small space, like a bag of chips opening in a cinema.
I should be embarrassed, but his story is just too funny, and luckily, he’s one of those rare people who can laugh at themselves, and he does so. He has the makings of a potential friend.
“Eucalyptus? That is your favorite vice? It’s the same as munching on pain killers.”
“Don’t attack eucalyptus, or you’ll be cussing sooner rather than later,” he says with a smiling frown.
I can tell he’s not entirely joking, but this excites me. If I’m cussing, it means I’m working hard. If I’m working hard, that means I’m eliciting change. I sit up straighter.
“Speaking of… When do we start?” I don’t even bother to ask how much the personal sessions and membership will cost.
My pride and joy—my latest manuscript—is in the throes of publication and distribution in three countries already. I can now afford Noah’s services and then some.
He checks his watch, and I swallow nervously when he peers under his lashes evilly and says, “Right now.”
For the past hour, I’ve watched Noah training the school girl, Ayah. They laugh sporadically, and I want to punch Noah’s big nose whenever I’m interrupted by his pestering chuckle.
How can he think everything she says is funny? No girl is that funny, if at all. A deceitful part of me wants to steal Ayah as a client just to prove I’m the better trainer. But I’m too lazy.
All I want to know is who the better trainer is between us, and there’s a faster way of finding that out.
I walk over to the girl who governs the gym’s front desk as if she’s the boss, but she’s only the receptionist.
“Hey, Celine. You are looking so damn beautiful today. I could lick your teeth,” I say to her and lean over the barrier to better expose my muscled arms.
Lines that ridiculous would get any other male slapped across the face, but of course, I’m the exception. I always am when girls are involved.
“What do you want, Austin?” she asks in a bored voice.
I offer her a dazzling smile, the kind that drops panties faster than a bursting bladder. “That chubby girl over there,” I say while pointing to Ayah. “I saw you pointing.”
Her stone demeanor cracks a hairline—but not enough.
I’d worry I was losing my charm if I didn’t see right through her indifference, straight to the wound I inflicted two months ago when I told everyone in the gym how loose she was in bed.
Try as she might to resist me, once tequila has its hold, there’s no stopping her from humping my leg, begging me for more.
I’d feel guilty for spreading rumors about her had they not been the truth. Is it my fault she’s desperate enough to keep coming back for more?
“And?” she asks, looking at Ayah pityingly. I’m looking at her, too, although that condescending pat she gave me put a stop to any sympathy she may have elicited.
No girl has ever spoken to me in that way. No one makes Noah laugh like that.
I frown when she makes Noah throw his head back—again. It’s a short-lived frown, one that is gone when I face Celine again. “Who were you pointing to?”
“Noah,” Celine says as a matter of fact.
Something inside me simmers in rage, a rage I’m more than familiar with but struggle to control with every passing day.
Celine notices and locks her teeth with an audible snap. She’s wondering if I know the reason she pointed to him—not me.
I burn to hurt Celine somehow, to make her cry again, but I smile in feigned ignorance instead.
“Oh, does she know him?” I ask, offering both of us a way out of acknowledging her colossal blunder. I don’t want Celine admitting that she finds Noah the better trainer. Not to me or anyone.
The color in Celine’s cheeks recedes, her relief potent like homemade moonshine. She doesn’t want me as an enemy, and that cowardice alone is enough to make me regret ever sleeping with the horseface.
“Yes. She…she… They’re friends,” she finishes lamely, digging the hole deeper.
To calm myself, I touch my lucky pocket knife hidden in my shorts, and eventually, my rage simmers down.
I can either appear stupid by believing her s-s-stuttering lie or be pitied for not being the better trainer in her eyes.
I choose the former; reputation matters more to me than intelligence.
“They look like they’re close. Definitely must be friends,” I say conversationally, all the while thinking about exposing the naked photo she let me take of her.
But I’d never do anything as incriminating as that—my father taught me better.
It’s easier to stab someone in the back if they think you’re giving them a hug.
An idea comes to me, and I lean over the barrier dramatically, causing her lips to part in yearning.
I curl my finger at her, beckoning her forward to hear my secret. She leans in close, and I don’t smile until my face is obscured in her rich chestnut hair.
“You know, I heard a rumor that he likes you. Noah, I mean. He wants to ask you out, but he’s so shy, you know? I heard him saying to Josh that you’re the hottest girl in this gym,” I whisper dramatically.
“Really? But… What about Aida? She’s definitely prettier, and he’s so…”
She presses her hands to her cheeks to cool them, and I wish I could boast about how clever I am. Even though I hate Noah, I’m not stupid enough to ignore how attractive girls find him.
Since his ex left him, he’s always wearing this wounded-puppy look that calls for female attention just as seductively as confidence or money.
I always hear the girls I work with talking about him and how they’d like to be the ones to heal him. It hurts to admit it, but they talk about him almost as much as they talk about me.
But I plan on using that to my advantage.
I can already see the wheels of Celine’s mind turning, calculating how best to proposition Noah.
Now Celine will probably make a move on him, end up embarrassing herself (and Noah), and hate me enough to quit cock-blocking me in the city.
I just killed three birds with one stone.
“Trust me, Cilly. Who am I to stand in the way of true love?”
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