Authors: Kaitlin Maitland
I pushed through the heavy door into the locker room. My fingers automatically spun the combination on my locker and I flung the door open. Grabbing up my personal items, I headed for the showers and a chance to think.
Water sluiced down my shoulders and back, the curls in my long hair stretching until the whole tangled mass hung almost to my waist. It felt good. I took deep breaths, trying to center myself and let all of the stresses and worries wash down the drain with the dirt and sweat. Once I’d shampooed and conditioned my hair I felt ready to examine a few of the things that were bothering me so deeply.
Anna was right in one thing. I was hopelessly wrapped up in Ollie. But where she thought of that as a negative thing, I figured it to be positive. I was looking for a long term, committed relationship. People in long term, committed relationships spent a lot of time together. They talked on the phone constantly, they met for lunch, had dinner together, did all that other couple stuff.
I didn’t pause to wonder exactly what kind of couple stuff I expected to do with Ollie. I wasn’t there yet.
Was Anna jealous?
I mulled the idea over in my head for a while. It seemed possible. She was still single and showing no interest in committing to anything long term. That was just Anna. Was she worried that if I took that step into a long term relationship with Ollie that she’d lose me as a friend?
I sighed deeply. That explanation made a lot of sense. But it also meant I was going to have to try and be understanding with Anna. I loved her. We’d been friends for too long throw it all away for nothing. I needed to be careful not to forget about her. And if that meant forgiving her for being mean about Ollie, then I guessed I’d have to do that too.
I shut the water off and reached for one of two towels I’d hung near the door. I flipped my head over and wound the smaller one around my hair, trying to wring as much water as possible from the long, tangled mass. Wrapping the fluffy white bath sheet around my body, I padded out of the shower and across the sand-colored tile floor to my locker.
Jared and his partners had done a big renovation of the locker rooms to modernize the old building’s facilities nearly two years before. Anna helped them to pick out the furnishings for the women’s locker room and, true to her trendy nature, the result was pretty fabulous.
Painted black, the overhead beams were visible, making the room less oppressive than the original low ceilings. Radiant heat flooring kept our bare feet warm and the walls were painted in shades of goldenrod and mocha. The lockers lining three walls were modern and neutral, a big change from the puke green prep school rejects of the old days. In the center of the room there were a series of benches covered in faux leather that could be easily wiped down but didn’t stick to your bare legs when you sat. A long vanity stretched the length of one wall with well-lit mirrors and plenty of places to sit and primp if you were so inclined.
After grabbing my clothes, I disappeared into one of the dressing rooms adjoining the private shower stalls. Anna had no problem dropping her towel in the middle of the locker room and standing buck naked for any and all to see while she pulled on her panties and figured out the clasp on her designer bra. Not me. Megan Myers doesn’t get naked for just anyone. I prefer to dress in privacy, thank you.
Early evening is the best time to be at the gym. Most people are eating dinner and the hard core crowd has gone home to their protein shakes. I like it like that for a lot of reasons. Number one: although I enjoy oogling an attractive guy, I do not like watching body builders do their grunting and heaving while their muscles look like an overblown action figure. And number two: barracuda women piss me off.
Those are the women who pay their membership fees and come regularly but never seem to work out. They dress in designer workout clothes, sit on the machines and put their heads together to whisper about how so-and-so should lay off the cupcakes and work out more often. Or, when they tire of taking potshots at other women, they hang around and check out any decent looking male in sight while taking it upon themselves to discuss his hypothetical sex life.
There are quite a few barracuda women at our gym. I once told Jared that if he’d quit sleeping with them, they’d go away. He didn’t think that was funny.
I stowed my shower stuff in my locker and exited the big double doors feeling a lot better. I’m a planner. I always feel better when I can identify a problem and plan a solution. In this case, the problem was Anna feeling insecure about our friendship and the solution was going to be my patience.
I said I liked to plan, not that I was any good at carrying them out.
Jared’s gym is located in really old building in the Soulard area. The building is almost an entire block, and the gym is the whole first floor. Jared has one of the four apartments on the second floor. The others are rented to tenants. His partners live in other areas of the city. He’s the managing partner and the one who handles most of the personal training. It used to be primarily amateur boxers until they expanded their services to try and get a bigger clientele.
One of the best things about the gym is that the building used to be an apartment complex and they managed to hang onto the pool in the lower level during reconstruction. I love to swim, so that was a huge deal for me when Anna first brought me to Jared’s gym three or four years ago. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who likes a pool, though some people aren’t much into swimming.
I already mentioned that I hate barracuda women. I could have been more specific and said I just don’t like two who seem to have taken up permanent residence in our gym. I don’t know their names, so I just call them Hungry and Desperate.
Desperate and I have too much in common for my comfort. I’d like to think she’s a year or two older than I am, and that’s why she’s so desperate, but I’m probably dreaming. She’s blonde haired, blue-eyed, tall, and model thin with no boobs and even less of a butt. Her legs are like twigs and the workout clothes she usually chooses don’t seem to flatter them in the least.
Now, that’s my opinion. I’m a fuller-figured girl, so I’m sort of hard on the waif-thin set. The guys in the gym seem to find her attractive, but every time I see her, she’s still on the hunt. I’m continually surprised that she hasn’t found someone to marry, unless it’s her desperate vibe that chases them all away. I know from experience that you can’t let a guy know on the first date that you’re ready to go pick out wedding china.
Hungry is a divorcee. Don’t ask me how I know that. I’ve got connections. Besides, she’s been stalking Jared since day one. Hungry is a brunette with contacts that make her eyes brilliant blue. She’s also on the slender side, but had a boob job. Jared once told me that she scares him when she uses the weight machines because he’s afraid those things are going to burst wide open and make a mess he won’t have the stomach to clean up.
For some reason, Jared’s comment about bursting boobs is the one thing I think of every time I see Hungry and Desperate. Today was no exception. When I passed them as I exited the locker room, I had to swallow back a laugh. As it was, my chuckle came out as more of a strangled snicker.
My faux pas earned me a suspicious look from Hungry. She doesn’t like me. I think it has something to do with the friendship between me, Anna, and Jared. Hungry hates Anna with a passion. It’s not surprising, since Anna is so familiar with Jared that what passes for friendly banter between the two of them could be construed as serious flirtation by someone who doesn’t know any better.
The two barracudas were several feet away from me, noses pressed against the wall of windows surrounding the natatorium. They weren’t even bothering to pretend to be working out. They were dressed in street clothes, heads together and whispering at a frenetic pace.
Curious, I set my Lucky hobo bag on a bench several down from theirs and put my foot up to adjust the laces on my Doc. Glancing down at the pool area, it didn’t take me long to see what it was they were gawking at.
Jared. More specifically, Jared getting out of the pool.
My breath stuck in my throat and my palms grew clammy. He levered himself up from the water and gained his feet in one graceful move. Before he turned his back I got an eyeful of his washboard abs above the low-rise cut of his blue Speedo. Not that his back is any less awe-inspiring than the front view. Stretching across both shoulder blades is an artist’s rendering of a gryphon with wings spread. Because I’ve seen it close up, I know the gryphon has its claws open and ready to grab prey. The gryphon’s tufted tail snakes around Jared’s left side and ends right on the hipbone pretty much where the waistband of his Speedo was at that moment.
He tossed his head, shaking excess water from his wavy blonde hair. The simple motion made every last one of the muscles in his abdominal area ripple like God’s own artwork. My mouth went dry, and I had to clear my throat to catch my breath. Then something in Hungry’s muttered ramblings caught my attention.
“I think he’s starting to come around,” she murmured to Desperate. “He was asking me a lot of personal questions earlier. I know I’d talked to him about starting some personal training sessions a few weeks ago, but I don’t think that’s why he was asking.”
“You are so lucky,” Desperate purred. “I love a guy with just the right amount of body art. And that piercing…” she let the statement hang.
“Sexy, I know. I wonder why he has it?”
They don’t usually make me angry. I mean they do, but not like that. I don’t know what it was that ticked me off so thoroughly right then, but whatever it was made me pretty bold.
It’s funny. Jared’s body art has always worked against him on my list of datable guys. I don’t consider body art a grown-up thing. I know that sounds silly, but I have this mental image of what my future husband will look like and body art just doesn’t fit in. Not that I don’t think it’s sexy. Jared’s tattoo was done by one of the most talented guys in the city, and it’s gorgeous. And even though everyone thinks there’s some sexually charged reason for the nipple piercing, I know they’re wrong.
Jared and his younger brother both got the piercings at the same time on a dare. Jared did the left and Jackson did the right. Two weeks later Jackson was killed in a head on car collision. So even though Jared didn’t originally intend to keep the piercing, it reminds him of his brother.
My throat was tight as I pushed my way past Hungry and Desperate and into the pool area. I heard one of them, probably Hungry, call me a bitch, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t sure what I intended to do. It wasn’t like Jared needed me to rescue him from being oogled by a couple of barracudas.
Taking the steps at a quick pace, my Docs squished their way over the wet floor around to the back of the room where Jared was drying off. The air was thick and heavy. My hair began to curl wildly in the humidity and the chlorine smell was a familiar tickle in my nose.
He saw me coming, face easing into a warm smile that showed a peek of his irresistible dimples and made his blue eyes dance.
I picked the first words that popped into my head. “I didn’t really get to thank you earlier.”
“Thank me for what?” He wrapped his towel securely around his waist and turned toward the door.
I fell into step beside him and nudged him lightly with my shoulder. “For watching out for me this morning. You and Anna were right. It was a good idea.”
“Anna is always right, remember?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to forget.”
“So how did it go?”
“He was really…” I searched for the perfect word and found it strangely difficult. “Terrific, I guess.”
We paused at the bottom of the stairs and I was hyper-conscious of Hungry and Desperate’s evil stares on my back. “It was just like talking on the phone. He’s easy to talk to and we seem to be able to talk about anything. It’s great.”
I glanced up, surprised. I hadn’t expected him to probe farther, but I’d forgotten how perceptive he was. “I still feel like I don’t know him as well as I’d like to.”
Jared nodded slowly, running a restless hand through his damp hair. “Is it just that you get swept away exchanging comments and observations and don’t ever get to the gritty stuff, or are you withholding things from each other?”
I’d come down to the pool to talk to Jared and make some kind of point I didn’t even understand to two barracuda women I didn’t care about. I hadn’t intended to have a heart to heart with him that would set me thinking about things I wasn’t ready to examine yet.
A soft smile touched his handsome features. “You don’t have to answer that. It’s just something to think about, I guess.”
Oh, he’d gotten me thinking all right. I bravely slapped a smile on my face and trotted up the stairs in front of him. I could hear him behind me, his bare feet treading softly.
We entered the observation area right in front of the locker rooms under the watchful gazes of Hungry and Desperate. Jared nodded to them in an impersonal yet respectful way before turning back to me. “I’ve got a meeting later tonight with the partners, but call me later if you want to talk, all right?”
My heart swelled and I forgot all about Hungry and Desperate. Reaching out, I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my face to his warm, bare chest. He smelled wonderful, a mixture of chlorine and his own personal spice. “Thanks, Jared. You’re the best.”