“So this is just a January thing, right?” Danielle nuzzles her head under my arm and pushes the bowl of popcorn at me. “This new gym thing of yours?”
I push the popcorn back. I know it’s supposed to be one of the healthier snacks, but it’s never done anything for me. “I hope not. I have to pay a fee there if I cancel my membership before the year is over.”
“Oh my God, Leah. You signed a contract?”
She blinks. “So you’re serious about this?”
I lean back on the sofa and pull her closer at the same time. “Yup. I’ve even got an appointment with a personal trainer.”
“But why?” She’s genuinely upset. “You know you’re beautiful the way you are, don’t you? We’re both fabulous.”
“Oh, hon, I know.” I run my fingers through her hair. She has gorgeous hair—it’s rich and thick and, um, bright pink. But the pink works on her. I swear it.
“So if you know that, why join a gym? You want to lose weight that bad?”
“Um, because I’d like not to drop dead from a heart attack?”
She nuzzles even closer. “You have low blood pressure and good cholesterol numbers.”
“Maybe, but I don’t deserve either of them.”
“Well, here’s to good genes, then.” She raises the popcorn bowl up in a mock toast. Then she kind of shakes her head as she reaches for the remote. “Let’s watch Oliver work out on Arrow. That’s as close as I ever want to get to a gym.”
That’s as close as she wants me to get too. But I don’t say anything, because, really, what’s the point? If I tell her that I hate the excess pounds on my body, she’ll take that to mean that I hate the excess pounds on her body too.
For her, wanting to lose weight means you’re not satisfied with who you are. It means you have no self-respect. It means that you judge people by their extra pounds.
So this situation sucks. I know, I know. First world problems. But they’re still problems, at least for me.
Anyway, I got up the nerve to sign that contract, right? Right. So whether Danielle likes it or not, I’m going back to the gym.
“Excuse me, Leah?”
I stop gaping at all the different size dumbbells and turn around to find this Latino guy holding out his hand to me. Well, I assume he’s Latino. He looks mestizo and he has a Spanish accent.
I mean, it’s probably Spanish. Could be Portuguese. Maybe he’s from Brazil? Wait, are Brazilians Latinos? And mestizo—is that a PC term?
Oh my God, whatever. Anyway, he’s nice looking. And really fit. Not that I’m interested—it’s just impossible not to notice when the guy’s smiling like that and wearing a sleeveless tee. Which is normal attire, considering that this is a gym.
This is my gym, I mean. The one I joined for a whole year.
Okay, I’m babbling in my head now. And staring, because I have no idea why this stranger walked up to me. Does he work here? Am I doing something wrong? Am I about to get kicked out?
Meanwhile, he’s still standing there with his hand out.
“Oh,” I manage. “Um, hi. Yeah, I’m Leah.” I force myself to take his hand and shake it.
He shakes back and then lets go. “I’m Angel.”
He pronounces his name like a regular English word—not the Spanish way. And he says it like it explains why he walked up to me.
“Um, hi Angel. I’m Leah.”
He cocks his head at me and smiles even broader. “Yeah. I think we established that.”
Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. Is my face all red now? It feels like it’s heating up. Thank God I’m facing the only direction in the whole gym that doesn’t have a mirror. “Oh, right. Um—I’m sorry, is there a problem?”
Now he looks confused. “I don’t think so. Is there?”
Wait, is he hitting on me? No. There is no way a guy this good looking is going to hit on a cow like me. That just doesn’t happen.
Okay, not a cow. Danielle would roll her eyes at me for fat shaming. But that doesn’t matter right now. Even if I didn’t weigh over two hundred pounds, this Angel guy still wouldn’t be interested. He’s got this easy-going, confident vibe. That means that he’s way too comfortable in his own skin for someone like me.
“No. I mean, I don’t think there’s a problem. I was just wondering why you introduced yourself. Not that it’s bad to meet your or anything!”
“Ah, I thought we had an appointment?”
“No. I think you must have the wrong person. I’m waiting to meet with a personal trainer named Angela.”
He gives me this weird look. “Ah—”
“Oh my God!” Okay, could a Time Lord please come and take me back to about five minutes ago so I can start this whole conversation over? “I misread the card. It’s Angel, isn’t it? Not Angela.”
He’s laughing now. In a nice way, but he’s laughing. “Yeah, I think that’s what happened.”
“And—and you’re a guy.”
“Ah, yeah. I’m guessing you wanted a woman?”
“Well, uh, it’s just that . . . I mean—”
“You’d feel more comfortable?”
He nods. “Okay. That’s understandable. But why don’t we have a seat in the café, and just talk about your goals and what kind of training would work for you. You can ask anything you want about my experience, my credentials, my rates—whatever.”
I nod. So that he’ll keep talking, I mean; I’m not agreeing yet. But I’ve noticed something about him. He uses his hands to talk—and he has a wedding band. That makes me feel a million times better about him. He’s a nice married guy.
“Then, if you want, we can have a trial session. But if you don’t want that . . . .” He pauses to shrug. “No harm, no foul. Sound good?”
Oh shit. Now I have to answer. And you know what? I want to do this. Maybe I could be comfortable with this guy. Besides, one little talk in the café can’t hurt, right?
So I paste a smile on my face and pretend to be confident. “Sure. Why not?”
“Okay.” Angel relaxes into his chair. “So how do you like this gym so far?”
“Oh, um . . . .” I gulp down some water. “This is my first time here. Not counting the tour I got when I signed up. It’s all kind of, um—”
I put down my water bottle. “Exactly.”
He nods his understanding. “Have you ever belonged to a gym before?”
“No.” Can’t he tell that just by the way I look? “And my girlfriend is really not happy that I joined one.”
Yes, that was a test. But he doesn’t blink at the “girlfriend” thing. He just nods some more. “Okay. Do you know why she objects?”
“Yeah. She thinks that we should, um, accept ourselves the way we are. If I start losing weight—I don’t know. She’ll see it as me judging both of us. As if I’m going to suddenly fat-shame her or something.” Oh, no. That was way too much information.
“So she’s not on board?”
“No. Not really.”
“Oh, man.” He looks like this is something he’s heard before—and he’s got no good answer. “Tough situation. But let me ask you something: what do you want to accomplish here?”
“Here in the gym?”
“Um, I want to lose weight?” Wait, wait. That’s the answer that would most annoy Danielle. “I mean, I want to get fit.”
He smiles. “Of course, yeah. But why do you want to be fit?”
I blink. “Are you asking for my motivation?”
“I want to be healthy. I don’t want to die of a heart attack before my time.”
“Okay, that’s fair. And that’s a good goal.” Angel cocks his head back and forth, like he’s looking for the right words. “But a lot of my clients—it helps them to have something more specific to aim for.”
“Oh, their goals are all over the map.” There go his hands again, illustrating each phrase. “Some of them want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Some just want to survive a five mile hike with their S.O. Some want to run their first marathon.”
I cringe a little and bite my lip. “I never even thought about this.”
“That’s okay. Does anything just pop into your brain?”
Something does. Something . . . something that’s probably insane. Danielle and I were talking about it last night, when we were curled up on the couch watching Arrow on our big screen TV.
Oliver Queen does this one thing—it’s hard to describe. Basically, he grabs hold of a metal bar resting between two rungs: a metal bar that’s high enough to keep his feet off the ground. He has to swing his legs up for momentum, pull the metal bar off its rungs and push it through the air up to the next set of rungs.
Oh wow. That’s it! “I want to do a salmon ladder.”
Now it’s Angel’s turn to blink.
“Okay, that’s probably crazy stupid,” I say in a rush. “It’s just that, Danielle and I like to watch Arrow together, and the main character has these intense workouts—”
“Oh, yeah!” His eyes light up. “I’ve seen that show. Yeah, what that character does—Oliver Queen, right?—that’s a Ninja Warrior style workout. You know the show? It’s called American Ninja Warrior here. The parkour, the salmon ladder . . . cool stuff.”
I stare down at my water. “Is there, um, anyway this is possible?”
“Of course.” His hands start going again. “But it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of work. You’ll need a strong core and great upper body strength. This is a long term goal, okay? So you’ll have lots of smaller goals on the way—strict push-ups, unassisted dips and chin-ups, that kind of thing. We’re talking a lot of strength training. And then, when the time comes, we’ll need to find a place with the right equipment. . . .”
He keeps talking. I don’t interrupt. I’m too busy turning this whole thing over in my head.
I think Angel’s right. This isn’t just about me losing weight. If this works, I won’t be bragging about all the pounds I lost. I’ll be bragging because I actually climbed a salmon ladder. Well, one rung, at least.
For the first time, I feel like I’ve got a real goal. A goal that might—might—even pass muster with Danielle. I picture us a year from now. Or, okay. Two years. However long it takes. Saying I lost all this weight? That won’t impress her. But maybe the salmon ladder will.
“A salmon ladder?” Danielle looks like she’s struggling to stop her mouth from hanging open. “I mean—do women even do those?”
“Of course!” I act all outraged as I reach for my phone, but I had asked the same question earlier. “Look, Angel showed me a video of a woman doing it. Here it is.”
We watch the video together. Danielle bites her lip as she stares at the woman who—well, let’s just say that she’s in incredible shape.
“You want to look like her, Leah?”
I take a deep breath—there’s a lot riding on my answer. “This isn’t about looks, Danielle. I want to do what she does.”
More lip biting as Danielle re-watches the video. The whole thing is only about twenty seconds. When she’s done, she creases her brow and looks back up at me. “This is going to be hard.”
“Yeah. Angel said it’s a long term goal. I can’t even do a real push up yet, you know? So that’s my first goal: strict push-ups.”
She sighs. “We’re going to have to change our diet, aren’t we?”
Okay. Time to be crazy careful. “Um, no. I mean, I do. But you don’t have to change.”
Danielle elbows me. “You won’t make your goal if there’s all these carbs and stuff around. Just promise me that we’ll eat real food, okay? No living on protein shakes. And nothing too extreme. I can go, like, a little Paleo-ish, but no way I’m going hardcore.”
Oh my God. This is going so much better than I imagined. “Paleo-ish is good. That’s fine!”
She stares at me for a moment, like she’s gauging my commitment—either to her or to this crazy goal, but I’m not sure which. Either way, though, she looks satisfied by what she sees. She even puts her arms around me and draws me in for a slow, lingering kiss.
“You should have told me you wanted to be like Oliver,” she says as we break apart. “I would have totally understood that. You know me: fandom first.”
I smile. Thank God for Arrow.
© 2016, Jennifer R. Moss. All rights reserved.