I don’t go to the gym at 5 pm on a Monday evening because I love engaging with tall, thin girls with Lululemon sports bras and a full face of makeup in fights to the death for the last remaining open treadmill.
I also don’t show up right when the gym is the busiest of the week because I find the chorus of grunts from the protein-shake-mixing, muscle-tank-wearing, watch-your-ass-while-you-walk-by-to-get-a-drink-from-the-water-fountain bros in the weights section appealing.
And as hard as it is to believe, I don’t choose the absolute worst time to throw on my faded UCLA Theatre Department t-shirt and sneakers, and drive over to the gym because I enjoy stuffing my bag into the only available locker between the naked and very proud of it ninety-year-old woman and the mom trying to corral her three screaming children as they play keep-away with her bra.
No, I typically endure the gym at 5 pm on Monday evenings because I like to torture myself with the sight of yet another man I don’t stand a chance with, not even in my wildest dreams.
This particular Monday at 5 pm, however, I was killing two birds with one stone: admiring Cade, yes, but also avoiding an audition for an upcoming role I knew I’d never get.
As much as I loved acting, I was the kind of girl who stood outside the door to an audition and turned around without stepping inside. Performance anxiety? Maybe. Self-doubt? Totally. Three years ago I’d had a disastrous audition and been ripped to shreds by the audition director in front of everyone. Ever since, well…let’s just say that the idea of auditioning scared me more than zip lining. Or bungee jumping. Or parasailing. Or walking across an LA crosswalk in rush hour.
Heck, braving the gym is sometimes harrowing for me, but here I am.
I leaned against the rack of medicine balls as I waited for an Amazonian goddess to vacate an elliptical. At the same time, I stared at Cade through the windows of the yoga studio. Correction—I drooled over Cade. He was tall, with long, sandy blond hair pulled back into a bun. His body was lean and muscular and if there was a yoga instructor calendar he should be Mr. July, because he was oh, so hot. His smile was kind and genuine and all I wanted was for it to be directed at me.
I took a deep breath as he stretched into downward dog, his man-bun barely touching the floor between his spread hands. I immediately coughed and kept coughing as the stench of sweat and feet and energy drinks hit my lungs. By the time I looked over at Cade again, he’d come out of downward dog and was standing behind a woman with his hands on her waist, helping her into an elaborate pose I would have said wasn’t humanly possible.
A few seconds later, an elliptical opened up and I sprinted toward it, happy because the machine was right in front of the yoga room window, offering me an even better view of Cade. As I got the machine going, I quickly switched into fantasy mode (something of a habit of mine), imagining Cade’s hands running up and down my body, his long, soft hair tickling across my breasts, his gentle breath whispering sweet nothings into my ear, even though I knew my dreams were useless since Cade didn’t even know I existed.
My phone buzzed and I saw a text from Ellis, my hot, charming best friend who for some reason stayed friends with me even though he’d gone the way of success and I was still scrambling around trying to figure out how to adult. Ellis was also the reason I’d said Cade was yet another guy I didn’t stand a chance with romantically, Ellis being that other guy.
I checked the text and stumbled a little on the elliptical at what I saw.
ELLIS: I’m going to fuck you. Unzip your pants.
What the hell?
Even as I was hit with a wave of shock, then arousal, I burst out laughing.
Obviously this was a joke.
Ellis was a soap actor who was always encouraging me to grab hold of my own brass ring. He was the person I trusted most in the world. I was totally in love with him, but we’d never, ever remotely gone there. First, because he’d never shown interest in me that way. Second, because Ellis seemed to go out of his way not to talk about sex with me. Third, despite him generally avoiding the subject, I still knew he was sexually adventurous and slept with both women and guys, and outside of my very wild imagination, I was a vanilla kind of girl on a good day. Still, I’d fantasized about him plenty and I instantly imagined doing it—unzipping my pants in front of Ellis.
Because he was going to fuck me.
Swallowing hard, I started to text Ellis that I thought he was very funny (not) when another text came through.
Unknown: …I did.
Holy shit! I almost dropped my phone and had to do some quick juggling to save it. The girl on the machine next to me gave me a weird look but I ignored her, my attention glued to the screen, my movements on the elliptical slowing dramatically.
I couldn’t believe it. Ellis wasn’t joking around. He’d accidentally added me to a group text.
ELLIS: Good. Now slide your hand down to your pussy and cup yourself.
I stopped moving on the elliptical completely. I had to, because I could no longer breathe. I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. From shock. From sheer excitement and horniness.
ELLIS: Are you doing it?
ELLIS: I’m holding my cock now. You’ve got to get it hard. Can you do that?
I think I was drooling. My cheeks turned cherry-red even as I imagined all the ways I could get Ellis hard.
UNKNOWN: I can’t get my fingers all around you because you’re so big.
I could hear the harsh pants coming from me now. My panties were getting wet and, still standing motionless on the elliptical, I shifted around a little.
ELLIS: Are you wet?
Oh God, I am, I thought.
UNKNOWN: Yes, so wet.
ELLIS: Tell me you need me.
UNKNOWN: I need you so bad.
ELLIS: Spread those legs wide.
I felt my own legs tremble. I should interrupt. Let them know I could read everything they were saying to one another. But if I did that, they would stop, and I wanted to hear more. I wanted to do more but I couldn’t very well get myself off while standing on this stupid elliptical in the middle of the gym.
UNKNOWN: I’m aching for you. I feel so empty.
ELLIS: I’m stiff as hell, and I force you to take it.
I gasp. Fuck, I knew Ellis was sexually adventurous but he was so unapologetically kinky. I’d had a few dubious consent fantasies, but I’d always felt ashamed of them so would deliberately cut them short and think of something else. And here Ellis was, talking filthy and bringing them all to the surface again.
UNKNOWN: You’re huge… so hard to take but I want it all.
I moaned. That’s right. Moaned at the idea of Ellis’s cock being too big for me to take.
The harsh sound jolted me out of my fantasy.
Oh God. What am I doing? Getting aroused in public. Sweating and panting because my best friend had a huge dick and was talking to someone else about forcing her to take it.
Trembling slightly, I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. Then, refusing to look around in case half the gym was watching me in disgust, I quickly silenced my notifications, started my music, turned my phone over and started moving on the elliptical again.
At first my limbs felt shaky, my movements erratic, but eventually I stabilized. I was warm and aroused from what I’d read and what I imagined Ellis and his friend were still texting about, but each time I was tempted to pick up my phone, I just moved faster on the elliptical. Then I started watching Cade again, hoping that I’d start fantasizing about him again rather than Ellis. But forming the fantasies of Cade in my mind didn’t stop me from fantasizing about Ellis, too, knowing how different the two men were but imagining how uniquely wonderful they’d be in bed. Pretty soon I was fantasizing about the three of us together. And at some point, a third guy was added to the mix—my super hot Irish neighbor, a drummer who “rehearses” all day and night and who I used to crush on until I realized what a Neanderthal he truly was. But despite my mind loathing him, my body insisted he was exactly what it needed at the moment. And God, by that point—imagining Ellis, Cade, and Jamie fucking me in every way possible—I was moving like crazy on the elliptical, trying to outrun my fantasies, my legs screaming, lungs burning and sweating bullets.
Twenty minutes later, as Cade was bringing his class into Savasana, I was so wiped out, I was no longer even tempted to read Ellis’s sexting or torture myself by staring at Cade or imagining how strong Jamie’s arms were from drumming all day. I didn’t have the energy. I just wanted to get out of here and collapse. But still I kept pushing myself. Because once I got off the elliptical, I’d chicken out like I always did and leave before I talked to Cade. Then I would want to read Ellis’s texts again and he’d probably figure out he’d added me to the conversation by mistake and then we’d have to talk about it. I’d ignore him and head home, where I’d hear Jamie playing his drums but I’d go into my apartment instead of asking him to stop because his god-forsaken drumming at all hours was a term of my discounted lease anyway.
Ugh. No, thanks. I’d just stay here, striding on this fucking elliptical forever like a frizzy-haired guinea pig while Ellis and his lover sexted themselves to death and Cade had group orgies with his yoga class and Jamie kept drumming or maybe even worse did God knew what to the women I could sometimes hear screaming through the walls when they had sex.
Not that I was bitter or anything.
Suddenly, a man stepped into my field of vision. Another hottie. God, I was surrounded by them. This one was tall, with wide shoulders and long blond hair that made him look like a Norse god or a Viking warrior or a super-hot male Taylor Swift. I’d seen him in the gym a couple of times before, wearing a shirt with the gym logo on it, the same one he was wearing now. Had someone heard me moan earlier or seen me looking so intently at Cade that they’d reported me and now Norse Viking God was here to kick me out?
He said something to me I couldn’t hear.
“What?” I shouted, fumbling with my phone.
I’d dropped it in a puddle two months earlier as I tried to order an Uber after bailing on yet another audition before realizing I barely had enough money in my account for the bus. My phone was already having problems with overheating, but after that it also had a cracked screen and water damage. I had a better chance of winning the lottery than pausing my music while the elliptical thrashed me about.
“What did you say?” I repeated, jamming at the screen with my thumb like my second (of a grand total of three) boyfriend trying to find my clit.
The guy raised his voice and I watched his lips.
“Name?” I guessed, reminding myself to not shout when people around me started to glare.
Norse Viking God thumbed over his shoulder and I lifted an eyebrow at him. I risked imminent death again to take my hand off the machine and point to myself. He nodded and pointed again over his shoulder.
With a sigh, I fumbled with the machine’s controls but my fingers were too sweaty and I couldn’t get the End Session button to lock in.
Groaning, I looked up and glanced into the yoga room, mortified that Cade was probably watching all of this. A woman was standing next to Cade, telling him something, but just as I feared, his eyes were on me. Then on Norse Viking God. Then back on me. A slight frown pulled at the corner of Cade’s lips.
And I immediately thought, why does he look jealous?
I lost my balance. The elliptical pedals kept spinning and my reaching hands missed the handles slicing down like guillotines and my knees buckled. As I toppled backwards, my headphones ripped out of my ears and I ended up flat on my back with my feet over my head and Norse Viking God’s worried face between my legs. I flushed with embarrassment, because I’d only ever done missionary.
“Shit, are you okay?” he asked, his voice angelic over the thud of feet on the treadmill behind me. His hair haloed his golden face and I managed a nod. “Good, good,” he said, tossing his hair behind his shoulder better than I’d seen hair tossed in any L’Oreal commercial.
“You’re Tessa Stewart?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, feeling the heat on my face ramp up to Level Eleven. Here it comes. He’s going to tell me someone complained that I was watching porn in the gym. That I’d been moaning and wiggling around and—
“Your account is overdue.”
My eyes widened and I almost choked on my relief. Being broke and irresponsible was still embarrassing but not as embarrassing as what I thought he was going to talk to me about. “My account?”
“Your gym membership.”
Yes, it was. Unfortunately, I’d suffered through financial droughts before, and this was one of those times. I worked at a temp agency, and I’d had a pretty steady gig until a few months ago, when my employer suddenly closed shop, and it had been only sporadic gigs since. I kept hoping I’d land a more permanent position soon, but in the meantime I’d been maxing out my credit card.
Still, I was surprised this guy had tracked me down. I’d been late with my gym fee before and never been called out on it.
Norse Viking God smiled down at me then effortlessly hopped to his feet. He flicked his thumb again over his shoulder. “I need you to come to the front desk to get your payment up to date. Is your credit card in your locker or…?”
“Um, well, I’m kind of low in that department right now,” I mumbled, fidgeting with my fingers.
“Ah, bummer dude,” Gym Employee Norse Viking God said, making a sad face I guess for my sake.
“I’m gonna have to ask you to leave, then.”
Still on the floor—I so did not have his quads—I stared up at him in embarrassment. “Leave?”
He nodded. “Yeah, sorry. It’s policy.”
I sighed and dropped my head.
“Um, kinda now, bro.”
I heard the woman on the machine next to me snicker, and when I glanced Cade’s way again, he didn’t look jealous anymore.
He looked like he felt sorry for me.
The girl on the elliptical wasn’t hard to miss. She didn’t dress to impress, usually wearing a baggy t-shirt, loose sweats and funky sneakers but somehow her clothes still managed to show off her soft and delicious curves. I liked her heart-shaped face and her wild eyes, and the way she held herself, as if she had bravery waiting to bust a seam but she didn’t even know she was holding it in. At the same time, she was adorably awkward and easily embarrassed, which I found endearing.
I was attracted to everything about her, and all modesty aside, I knew she was attracted to me, too.
Usually, she’d grab a treadmill or elliptical, but either way, she always chose a machine that gave her a clear view of my yoga studio. It was hard to miss how intently she watched me. I’d catch her every once in a while, and every time, she’d quickly look away, usually to check a convenient text on her phone. She was authentic, sweet, and interesting, but as much as she watched me during my classes, she was always gone when they were over.
I’d been determined to find a way to catch up with her—employees couldn’t ask out the gym members, but we could chat with them, and hope they’d ask us out. Today, I’d caught one of the front desk attendants, Alfred, walking toward her and I’d totally lost track of what I was doing with a new student, a pretty girl wearing way too much perfume, asking me about private classes. What was Alfred talking to her about? Was he flirting? He had women crawling all over him, but maybe like me he saw everything the girl on the elliptical had to offer too.
Jealousy had flared inside of me and considering I’d never even talked to her, it surprised me, the intensity of those feelings.
When she went flying off the elliptical, I’d almost run out to check on her, but by then I’d been surrounded by several women in my class. I’d kept an eye on her though. Saw Alfred pointing to the front desk, and the girl get to her feet. She’d clearly been embarrassed, and not just because of the spill she’d taken. In that moment, I wanted so bad to comfort her. To tell her everything was going to be okay, but how could I do that? I didn’t even know her or what her situation was. I wanted to, though, and I started to excuse myself from my class, but it was too late.
She gathered her things, moved toward the exit, and then, to my utter frustration, she was gone.
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