Three o'clock doesn't come soon enough and I'm out the door and back on the bus to my apartment. Once back home, I change into my workout clothes, a pink sports bra and a big and baggy white shirt. I look around for my pants but can't find them anywhere. Too pissed off to worry about it now, I grab a pair of Gina's yoga pants, which are too small for me but they'll just have to do. After I selected a bottle of water from the refrigerator, I was off to work out.
I cut through some side streets and alleyways, to the UMPC physical therapy location on Mary Street. Hank lets me work out there, as long as I promised that I wouldn't sue them if I broke something or hurt myself. When I go after work, around three thirty in the afternoon, the place is empty except for a few of the old geezers working, doing physio after hip or knee replacement surgeries. The place is mine for the hour.
Hank's at the desk, like always, and he waves me in. "Good afternoon, Charlie," he says with a wink. He knows I can't stand the nickname, so of course he uses it on purpose. But he's an old friend of my grandfather's, and he's like a part of the family now, like a really old uncle or something.
"Hey, Hank. How's it going?"
"Another day I woke up, so I'd say it's going just fine." I smile at him. He says that every day, but it never gets old. "How about you?"
I shrug and smile again, not wanting to pester the man with my problems. My phone rings, and I excuse myself to take the call, peering down to the screen. John. I shouldn't answer, but I do.
"Charlotte. And here I was beginning to think you died."
"Sorry. Been busy," I lied, keeping my answers short and sweet. I don't need to volunteer information to him.
"We used to talk everyday. It's so weird to not talk to you or see you when I want to."
I try to ignore that. See me when he wants to? How many times did I wait for him to call, wait for him to want to see me, only to end up spending the night alone because he got carried away with his friends and forgot our plans? What a bunch of bullshit. He's such a liar. "Yeah, well, I've got a new life now."
"A new man? Is that what has you so busy?" he asks, leaving me to wonder if he's trying to make conversation or if he's prying for information.
"No," I admit, even though I know I shouldn't. It's none of his business. "Listen, is there a reason you called? Because I'm in the middle of something." It's another lie, but I was about to start to my workout.
"No, I just wanted to hear your voice. You should call me sometime, when you have the opportunity to talk at leisure."
"Sure thing," I tell him, and I quickly hang up. I know that I must seem so cold to him on the phone. I don't know how to explain it. When we aren't speaking, I wish that he'd call, but as soon as he's on the line with me, I doubt why we're talking and I question his motives. I want it both ways: I want him to leave me the hell alone, but I want him in my life, too.
Hank looks at me as I walk back into the cardio room, watching my movements with careful and knowing eyes. I rub my eyelids and mumble some complaint about my contacts, and he nods and leaves me alone. Totally disgusted with myself, I plug my earbuds in my head and turn on my iPod, increasing the volume as high as it will go. First, I do the treadmill. I don't run, but I walk fast. The first ten minutes is easy, but the longer I keep at it, the more I feel my body perspire and strain to keep moving. I should've stretched first.
The music doesn't drain out my thoughts, and I keep thinking back to him. We can go weeks without talking, and I think I'm fine again. Like I'm finally ready to move on and put him in my past. But then he reappears with the strength and force of a hurricane, and I'm suddenly back to square one. Where I'm the one who's crazy for picking up and leaving. Where I'm the one who called it quits, even though I wonder if there was ever anything there that got started.
Because I'm the fuck up. I had the perfect life, the perfect guy, and I let it and him slip through the cracks between my fingers. And he was perfect, at first. But towards the end, I was miserable. I'm miserable now, too, but I can't help but think that at least if I had stayed with him in Chicago, I'd be miserable and with someone instead of miserable and alone.
Everyone thought I was crazy to leave and maybe it was foolish to run like that, but I needed the distance. After all, I thought he was it: The One. He accepted me at a time when I needed acceptance most of all. Overweight and ugly, about to graduate with no clue about what my next step should be. He looked at me like he could see through my exterior and into my soul, like he saw something in me that was good and worthy. I fell in love with him and I fell hard, and that fall broke my spirit and my heart.
We were on the right track. I met his friends, Terry and Joe, and he met mine; he met my parents and they loved him as much as I did. His parents were dead, and his sister lived in Canada with her husband and son. He talked about love wistfully and romantically, about how your life doesn't start until you find that someone that makes your heart complete. But he never once said that that person was me. I thought it was implied, but at the end, I told myself that it was never really there at all.
The work begins to pay off, and soon it's a struggle to keep up with the high pace of the machine. I can only concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and not flying off the back of the treadmill if I can't keep up. I've done that once before; never again. After thirty minutes and a couple hundred calories, I slow the pace and cool down for another two minutes, taking deep breaths in through my nose and releasing them from my mouth.
I step off the treadmill and drink some water, feeling the cool liquid as it travels all the way down my esophagus and finally splashes into my stomach. There's nothing like that sensation to cool you off after a warm day or a hard workout. My music's still blaring in my ears, but I look around the room. Hank's talking to some guy by the desk. He's young and well-dressed, and I wonder what he's doing here. There's no cast, no sling; so is he here for physio? Then I see as the man shrugs in response to something that Hank says, and his left shoulder doesn't go up as far as his right.
Using the hem of my shirt, I wipe the sweat from my face and transition to the stationary bike, focusing back on my workout. This is where I kick my own ass, picking the fat-burning program and pedaling as hard and as fast as possible for twenty minutes, because I can't maintain that speed for any longer than that. As the resistance level increases, I lean forward and grab the handles, keeping an eye on the miles-per-hour rate so I don't lag behind. Once I overcome the last crest in the program, I allow myself to lean against the back rest again. Cool down for another two minutes. I reach for my water, and there's only one warm swallow left in the bottle.
I step off the bike and my legs feel like Jell-O, and I hold onto the seat so I don't fall. I'm hunched over and still breathing heavily. Before I can wipe down the machine, Hank's handing me an unopened bottle of cool water, and I'm eternally grateful.
"Thanks, Hank," I say, grabbing the bottle and twisting the cap off, but it's not Hank. It's that guy.
"No problem," he replies, but he doesn't correct me and tell me his name. "Looks like you got in a pretty good workout."
Suddenly, I blush. Here I am, meeting an incredibly attractive guy, and I look like shit. He's dressed in darkwash jeans, black sneakers, and a black, lightweight sweater perfect for this time of year. I look up into his eyes, and they're a deep, dark blue that I would mistake for brown if I was standing farther away from him. There's a glint in them, a gleam of laughter and fun that is infectious. My heart palpitates for a second. He's so gorgeous that he literally takes my breath away—but at least I can blame that on my workout.
I smile at him before I look down at myself. My shirt is soaked with my sweat, and I know my hair's a mess, too, streaked with sweat and flying out of the ponytail. A man like him wouldn't ever give me a once-over when I looked my best, and here he is, talking to me when I looked my worst. Such is my life. The grin fades away.
"Well, that's what I come here for." It is a gym, after all, I think, but I keep that to myself. I take a few gulps of water.
"You shouldn't drink so much so fast. You're going to upset your stomach."
"Thanks, buddy. I'll keep that in mind," I say, rolling my eyes and taking another swig. He's just a know-it-all. I can tell through his stylish clothes that he's athletic, but he's not overly tall or overly muscly, so why should I take anything he says to heart? It's not like he's a professional or anything. He's probably in construction and he overexerted himself trying to impress his friends over how much weight he could lift. Serves him right.
"So, do you work out here a lot? I've been here a few times before, and I've never seen you."
Now I pick up on his accent. To me, everyone in Pittsburgh has an accent and speaks in that stupid "yinzer" language, but his is different. I can't place it, though. I've been coming to the physio center several days a week since I moved to the city at the beginning of the summer, but I don't tell him that. Instead, I shrug, trying to brush him off. I don't know why he's talking to me anyway. Who goes to the gym to make friends?
He opens his mouth to say something, but Hank returns and calls out, "Mr. Talbot, if you'll come right this way...." This man, Mr. Talbot, looks away from me and to Hank, and I take that as my opportunity to leave. I nod my goodbye to Hank and head for the door.
The walk home is long; it always is, especially after I push my body until it doesn't want to move any more. But it worked. My mind is clear, the endorphins are coursing through my bloodstream, and all I can think about now is getting a shower and about what movies are playing tonight.