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Authors: A.M. Madden

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“You’re becoming more ungrateful than your mother. Nothing ever pleases her. Nothing ever makes her happy.” He pointed to me and said, “You’re just like her.”

“I’d rather be like her than you.” The words were out before I could stop them. His anger rolled through him. His free hand clenched into a tight fist. With every breath, his nostrils would flare wider.
He stepped closer, seething before he changed course and rammed his fist into the wall behind my head. My mother jumped, except for the muscles clenching in my jaw, I didn’t move otherwise.

The littlest things could make my dad’s temper flare. Most of the time instigated by my mother, sometimes me. He never hit any of us. The walls around us received the wrath of his fury.

Without a word, he grabbed his jacket and stormed toward the front door. “Dave!” His response was a resounding slam of the door behind him.

“It’s late. Why don’t you go to bed, Mom?”

She looked so tired. It had nothing to do with the hour. My mom looked much older than her forty years. You could still tell she was once a striking woman, in spite of the deep lines around her eyes.

Rob sighs and looks up from the folder. “Are you sure you want to take on Politto?”

“Yes.”

“Fine.”

The discussion is over. Rob thankfully doesn’t harp.

“This is ours to bust, Rob. Trust me.”

“Famous last words,” he mumbles.

With the Razzo account comes membership to Social Workouts. Andrea hasn’t been able to utilize the membership yet, living way out on Long Beach. I take full advantage of the perk. I could never afford this place on my paycheck. They cater to the elite of New York, who have disposable incomes to throw around. I get to benefit for free. Most days, I usually head there right after work. I don’t stay long, leaving before the rush arrives around eight each night.

The place is amazing. They surely thought this concept through. Training to be a Black Belt requires hours and hours of sparring. I immediately registered for their Taekwondo program. I started my training after my mother was murdered. It not only helped me feel safer, it helped my frame of mind as well. I get great satisfaction in watching a big arrogant dude’s face when I take someone down.

A small crowd gathers when I spar with one of the female instructors. Once men witness what I’m capable of, their interests become obvious.

My time at the gym is very regimented. Treadmill, then sparring, and then I take advantage of the free café. Sometimes I take a quick dip in the pool or enjoy a complimentary massage before heading home.

Those that aren’t interested in socializing while working out can simply wear the wireless headphones. If someone is wearing them, the rules state to have respect and not bother them. Needless to say, I always use the headphones. The owners control the crowd with the number of memberships they allow. Memberships are equally split between male and female. There’s a waiting list. People are dying to get into this place.

Andrea stands beside me open mouthed. “Holy shit.”

She said that Rob is working late on a case, and she’d be hanging with me until he’s done. She hasn’t mentioned Ben since last night. My curiosity is killing me. Actually, it’s more like my ego is killing me.

He acted like he was God’s gift to every female in that club.

He had an air about him that was arrogant and conceited.

Ugh, I’d rather die than ask Andrea what he thought of me.

It’s unlike her to not bring it up, though.

He must have said something bad.

Why do I care?

I don’t.

He’s a cop with a bad attitude.

Who the hell needs that
?

“This is amazing,” Andrea interrupts my pathetic mental rant.

“It’s not even rush hour yet. You should see this place around eight o’clock.”

“Give me a tour.”

I walk with Andrea around the first floor, which holds all the exercise equipment, the sparring mats and boxing rings, classrooms for Zumba and Spinning, the showers, saunas and locker rooms. The second floor holds the café, juice bar, and lounge areas with soft, comfy couches and low tables thrown throughout the empty spaces. A state of the art spa complete with manicure and pedicure stations, as well as private massage rooms, takes up the third floor. Finally, on the top floor you’ll find the indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, hot tubs, and an outdoor sundeck for when the weather permits.

“I want to live here,” Andrea says when we get back to the first floor. “Specifically, on the third and fourth floors.”

I laugh at her admission. “You’d get sick of it. Most of these people are here for two reasons, either because it’s the place to be or because they truly feel they’ll meet their soul mates.” I tsk at the last part of my statement.

Andrea watches me as I change into my exercise clothes. “You’re so cynical.”

“Why, because I feel the chance of meeting my prince in a pick-up-gym is slim to none?”

“No, because you feel there’s no such thing as meeting your prince.”

“That’s not true. For some, like you and Rob, it’s a reality. I believe there are those who are meant to be together, and then there are those whose soul mate doesn’t exist. There can’t be a match for every human on this planet.”

“Yes there is!” she responds with such conviction, you’d think she was arguing that Santa is real.

“Hurry up,” I command. “I want to get on that mat before the hoards arrive.”

Andrea and I warm up a bit on the treadmills. After fifteen minutes, she’s done. “That’s it?”

“I hate working out. I’ll watch you.”

I take the next ten minutes at a fast run, and she mumbles “showoff” under her breath before she walks away. After my warm up, I arrange a sparring session with an instructor on the mat. There are a few dozen people in the gym, all doing their own thing. With luck, I won’t have an audience. It bothers me a bit when I do, but once I begin to get in a zone, everyone around me disappears. I take my black belt training very seriously. I worked my ass off to get where I am.

My instructor works me hard and by the time we bow, I’m wiped. She smiles sweetly. “I enjoy sparring with you. It’s hard to find a compatible match around here. I’m Kelly.”

“Nice to meet you, Kelly. Same time tomorrow?”

She nods and says, “I’ll be here.”

I find Andrea sitting on a couch, texting. “Good workout?”

“My thumbs are very toned.” She looks up and laughs at my safety gear. “You look like a storm trooper. Are you done? Can we hit the third floor now?”

“Fine.”

She drags me up to get a pedicure with a reflexology massage. “Oh my God. Fucking heaven,” she says with her eyes closed. “I really do want to live here.”

“Mmm,” I respond, completely relaxed in my own world.

“So, what did you think of Ben?” At the mention of his name, my heart starts beating a touch faster. I turn to look at her, but stay silent. She remains in the same position, head back, eyes closed. “Well?”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing. You’ve seen him. He’s perfect.”

“I’m not saying his looks. Why is someone like him still single? And why haven’t you ever mentioned him? Besides the occasional reference to Rob’s partner, you’ve never spoken of him before. Tell me the truth. What’s wrong with him?”


Nothing
is wrong with him. He’s a typical guy who’s afraid of commitment. I haven’t mentioned him because it didn’t cross my mind that you’d be perfect for each other. Timing was bad. You were with Mr. Boring, and he’s been screwing the skank who I want out of his life.”

Great, he’s attracted to skanks…probably the blonde bombshell kind with huge boobs and huge sexual appetites. “He’s not my type.”

“You lie. He’s exactly your type.” She finally opens her eyes to meet mine. “And you’re his type
to a T
. The sparks between you two were practically visible in the air.”

“Pfft, what do you know? You were drunk.”

“I got drunk
after
he left. I know plenty.” She resumes her stance, closing her eyes and leaning her head back, making me think that is all she’s going to say. When I settle down and relax, she adds, “I know sexual tension when I see it.”

“You don’t know shit.”

“We’ll see.”

I feel a mixture of unease and…what?

Excitement?

No, it can’t be excitement. It’s just unease that I feel at the moment. That’s what is making me uncomfortable and causing my heart to slam hard in my chest. That’s what this is, unease.

“Rob said they’re not done yet,” Andrea says, as she gets comfortable on my couch. We ordered a pizza, and I’m pouring out two glasses of wine. “I’m glad I worked out today, now I can have two slices,” she says, grabbing her first slice. When I stop pouring, she asks, “What?”

“How you keep fit is beyond me.”

“Lots of incredible sex.”

Great.

We settle on my couch, and I flip through the channels to find something good on TV. Our topics of discussion are very random. I never know what Andrea’s brain will come up with next. The one topic I’m hoping she brings up, or not hoping she brings up - I’m still undecided at the moment - is Ben Stone.

She said we had sexual tension between us. So what if my insides were buzzing from the minute I met him until the minute he left? In all the time I was with Peter, I never once felt a buzz. I’ve felt jitters and maybe some fireworks when we first met. I do remember the first time he kissed me. My heartbeat sped up a bit, but never a buzz. I’ve heard about the buzz, but I’ve never experienced it personally. I always thought that the sexual attraction people claim they could actually feel in every cell of their bodies was nothing but a bunch of malarkey…until now. I felt it and not just once. I felt it several times throughout the night. The biggest buzz came from his lips on my skin. So, if he wasn’t interested, why the kiss below my ear? What the hell was that? He’s extremely handsome. Why does someone like him not have a steady girlfriend? That’s a big ass red flag, if I do say so myself. He was so arrogant. Maybe the buzz was anger. Maybe, with each word out of his mouth I wanted to punch him, thus causing the buzz? Then again, I wasn’t exactly Mary McSunshine either. My attitude is what made him take off. I’m a bitch.

“Earth to Ella?” Andrea waves her hand in front of my face. “Where the hell did you go?”

“Nowhere.”

She purses her lips and says, “Liar. Do you have more wine?”

“Yes. It’s in the cabinet next to the fridge.”

As she makes her way into my small kitchen to retrieve the wine, my phone rings.

“Damn it!” Peter says before I can even say hello.

“Peter? What’s wrong?”

“I was hoping you’d be here by now. That you suddenly hated New York so much and missed me so much, you decided to give the UK a go.”

“Um…the flights were all booked?”

He chuckles over the phone. “Likely excuse. How are you?”

“I’m great. How are you handling the move?”

“I’m missing you tons, beautiful. Seriously, hop a flight.”

I laugh at his request. “No can do.”

He releases a heavy sigh. “It was worth a shot.”

“It’s so late there. Why are you still up?”

“Work is seriously kicking my ass. I decided to take a break to hear your voice.”

Andrea comes back with our wine glasses refilled and rolls her eyes. She doesn’t understand why he keeps calling me, or why he’s obviously trying to keep a connection to me. The minute his ass hit that
Virgin Airways
leather seat, Andrea said he lost all ties.

Just like me, Andrea liked Peter, but she didn’t love Peter. After he announced he was moving to London, we sat in her office during a lunch break literally listing all his pros and cons to pinpoint why we both felt the same way about him. We couldn’t come up with one legitimate reason. All facts pointed to him being a very lovable person and a great catch. She assessed it had to be because I was screwed up in the head.

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