The sound echoed through the gym. I wouldn’t have thought much of it– folks were always dropping large, heavy objects around there– but it was accompanied by a very atypical screech.
“Oh, shit!” some woman yelled out from behind where I was working with my trainer, Eric. I looked back and saw Kristy’s latest fling sprinting across the room, towards the cardio equipment.
Where Claudia had gone.
Eric and I both ran as fast as we could. Sure enough, when we got to the cardio area, Claudia was on the ground, wincing but sitting up, Kristy’s whatever kneeling beside her. The belt of a treadmill about a foot away from her whirred emptily.
“I’m fine!” Claudia said the moment she saw me, although she winced more when she tried to lift a hand from where it had been stationed, holding her lower back. Eric climbed up on the treadmill to turn it off.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, one of Kristy’s clients who basically lived at the gym, had hopped off a treadmill nearby and also come over, so there was now a crowd surrounding Claud. God, she was probably mortified.
“Really, though,” I said, crouching down beside her. “Everything okay? Wrists? Ankles?”
“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes?” Claudia finished. “Yeah. Fine.”
I helped her to her feet, which involved more wincing, but besides seeming a bit stiff, she really did seem okay. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I’m just going to go to the bathroom.”
“Need me to go with you?”
“No!” I was a bit surprised by how sharp the word came out. Claudia’s generally pretty even keel, even if she is a huge weirdo (I mean that in the most loving way possible). I nodded and watched her limp away.
“Poor thing,” Elizabeth clucked. “She’s another one of Kristy’s friends, right? I hadn’t seen her around before, and she looked a bit… new… to the treadmill. Ugh. I should have gone with my gut and helped her out.”
Which would have been a terrible idea, because it would have made Claudia even more self-conscious, but Elizabeth is so damn nice, I couldn’t tell her that. And I suppose it would have been better than what actually happened. God, I should have been there to help Claudia. But I thought she knew what she was doing.
I shrugged and said, “What can you do?”
Kristy’s whatever opened her mouth to say something, then closed it, then opened it again. “I’m going to go get an incident report to fill out?” To me, like I had any idea what the procedures for the gym were. She looked about 18. God, Kristy. What was she getting herself into?
“Yes,” Eric replied. “Thanks, Monica.” Once she’d left, he said to me, “Hey, do you think she’d like a free one-on-one session? To help her get to know the gym?”
I don’t know why, but I felt myself brace when he made the suggestion– my already burning muscles gripping. He’s a sweet guy– it’s one of the reasons I liked training with him so much. I said, “I mean, I don’t think she’s got the money for any kind of ongoing training…”
His eyes widened. “Oh, dude, totally. A one time thing. Teach her how to get on and off the equipment, show her how to do a couple weight exercises. You know, so she wants to keep coming back to the gym.”
My muscles loosened. “I’ll mention it.” I glanced at the door to the locker room, then back at him. “I should probably head out with her.” I felt a pang of annoyance, which I knew was totally irrational. Claud hadn’t done anything wrong. I should have been with her.
But my sessions with Eric were pretty much my favorite part of my week.
And, okay, I did have a bit of a crush on him. But I was also in a long-term relationship, so Eric was just fun. Like, I wasn’t going to go leave my boyfriend for him. It was just my chance to pretend I was still cute and interesting enough that a hot guy would flirt with me. Someone to think about when sex got boring. That kind of thing. The fantasy brought a bit of excitement to my otherwise dull existence.
”Bummer. I get that. Thursday? Same bat time, same bat channel?”
I nodded. Then, before I could think about it, I asked, “Actually, maybe I can book another session in? Since today was kind of a bust? Like, Tuesday?”
“For sure!” He smiled, and my heart gave a little tap dance in my chest.
Claudia emerged as Eric scheduled me in for 8:30pm on Tuesday night (I shuddered at the thought of being out so late, but told myself it would be okay because it was his only available appointment after work.) He made the offer to her directly about scheduling a free session– I felt myself hold my breath for a second– but she just shook her head weakly. She accepted his card when he handed it to her, though.
Calm the fuck down, Stace, I reminded myself. It would be good for Claudia to work with Eric. Why was I feeling like such a spaz?
“How you doing?” I asked as we walked away. Not that I needed to ask: her shoulders sagged and her eyes focused on something far off in the distance.
She slowly shook her head. “This fitness thing is not for me. I’m doomed.”
“You’ll figure out something that works for you. Maybe a class?”
“I’m never going into that place ever again. Ever. I don’t fucking care if Kristy gets married there.”
I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her on this line of argument, at least not at this moment. “Want to go get coffee?”
“Nah. I just want to go home and wallow in my studio.”
We hugged goodbye. As she drove away, I prayed that she didn’t use this as an excuse to self-destruct.
* * *
“You’re back early,” my boyfriend, Keith, said when I arrived home precisely when my training session usually ended.
“Yeah, there was an incident.” I gave him a tight smile and raised my eyebrows.
I explained what happened, and he cringed in sympathy for Claudia. “And she’s okay?”
I shrugged. “From what we could tell. Probably a couple bruises, but nothing major.”
“That’s good at least.”
“Yeah, except I’ll never get her back in the gym. And she needs to exercise.”
“I’m sure she’ll go back. She doesn’t give up that easily.”
“I don’t know…”
He put his arms around me and squeezed me tight to his chest, kissing my temple. “You’re a good friend.”
Which I wasn’t entirely sure of, but I also wasn’t going to discuss the crush weirdness with him, either. No matter what I felt about Eric, it was nothing compared to what I felt for Keith. Being around Eric was jittery and exciting, that rush of curiosity– could I make him laugh or smile? The novelty of a simple touch. Keith, on the other hand, was, I don’t know. Calm. His body felt like an extension of my own, in a way. I could guess what he was thinking before he said it.
Even the next thing he asked: “So did you have to pay for your session today?”
I broke away from him. “I’m going to go in on Tuesday after work.” I would like to point out this was not a lie: I did not say that the session was instead of the one that day. Just that I had another appointment.
He nodded, clearly satisfied with that answer. “How many sessions do you have left?”
“Uhhh…” I furrowed my brow like I was thinking, then moved to grab a glass from the cabinet, so I was facing away when I added, “I totally forgot to ask, with the Claudia thing.”
This was a lie. Ever since Keith and I first had the we’d-have-so-much-extra-money-if-you-stopped-seeing-a-personal-trainer conversation, telling Eric that I couldn’t keep meeting with him hung over me every session we had together. I also knew we had 24 sessions remaining because there was a 10% off coupon on all training packages during my birthday month, so I bought another 20.
That was right after the first time Keith brought the matter up– I told myself that if it came up again, then I’d really take it seriously. And, of course, it did.
He shrugged. “Ok, cool. Well, he can’t charge you for a new package without asking you, right? So worse case scenario, you’ll get to your last appointment and tell him then.”
Yep. In 12 weeks. I gave a tightlipped smile and poured myself some water.
“I know you don’t want to disappoint him. But think of what we could do with that money.”
I would like to point out, I was the only one who knew how much money we had, because I handled all the bills. And, to be honest, I doubt Keith even remembered the online login information for our joint account, or the current balance at any given point. So the only reason he knew for certain we’d have more money was he remembered me saying once that the sessions ran $75 a piece– while he wasn’t on top of our budget, he’s also not an idiot, and knew that came out to roughly $600 a month. Which, okay, is a chunk of cash.
But…. But! I, an acoustical engineer, earned double what he did as a high school Spanish teacher. So it seemed fair that I should get to have a little more say in how I spent all that extra money I brought in.
In fact, the only reason we were having the conversation in the first place is our condo was technically my condo– I’d been in the process of buying it when we first started dating five years ago– and Keith had been wanting to get a bigger, different place under both our names since before we even started living together. He’d just been promoted to chair of the school’s languages department, which resulted in a pittance of a raise, which he believed would make all the difference in what we could afford.
Look, we could have gotten a bigger place before he got the raise. But what was the point? There were only two of us. We weren’t getting married (not that I particularly wanted that), and it wasn’t like we were going to have kids anytime soon, if ever.
So what difference did it make?
I didn’t really want to have that conversation– that argument– with him, though.
Thankfully, he dropped the subject. “Since your workout got cut short, want to take our bikes out by the water?”
“Sure!” I replied, like everything was perfectly fine.
* * *
Life progressed as normal. Keith was asleep by the time I got home from my Tuesday night session, so I didn’t have to avoid the discussion of my training sessions yet again. Claudia seemed to pull out of her slump, although she didn’t say a word about the gym again, except to text, Don’t you dare tell Kristy.
Of course, Kristy texted me a little later with, WTF happened?!?!??!, so I’m guessing she figured the situation out on her own.
As it turned out, she wasn’t going to let Claudia forget it as easily as I did. The next weekend, our friends got together for our monthly outing to the local brewery. Before even saying hello, Kristy asked, “How are we getting you back in the gym?”
“You’re not. Anybody want to go to the bar with me?” Claudia looked pointedly at me, and I stood up to follow her, even though I’d already gotten my drink.
“Claudia! Accidents happen. You can’t let it hold you back.”
“Kristy!” I snapped. I swear, sometimes I think if I hadn’t known Kristy over 20 years, there was no way we’d be friends. She had zero tact. Even though I agreed with her that we should still encourage Claudia, her bluntness inherently made me want to disagree with her.
Mary Anne looked up from her kids, who were fighting over a set of bean bags for one of the cornhole sets on the patio. “Wait, what happened?”
I shook my head at her, and she nodded, turning back to the children. Jessi’s son had joined the fray and was gleefully tossing one bag up into the air and watching it tumble to the ground. “Mooooom,” Oliver whined. “He tooooooooooooook miiiiiine.” On that note, Davie ran as fast as his stubby toddler legs could carry him, Jessi following close behind. How could Kristy think this was a setting for a heart to heart, or even a lecture? Also, anyone who knew Claudia an iota knew that you couldn’t talk to her about tough topics in front of four of our nearest-and-dearest friends and their families.
Kristy would not be deterred, though– she followed close behind Claudia and I as we went to the bar. “Look, I’m just saying–”
“Kristy! Drop it!” I said.
Kristy threw her hands up in. “Sorry for caring!”
“Actually,” Claudia said. “I do have a sort-of-gym question for you guys. About Eric.” She waggled her eyebrows at me, one corner of her mouth turned up.
“Oh, did he convince you to do that free session?” Kristy asked.
My attention snapped to her. He’d mentioned that to Kristy?
“Not exactly. Somebody,” Claudia paused, staring at me, her grin widening, “gave him my number.”
I opened my mouth, and closed it. Nothing came out. A chill swept over me.
“That was me, actually,” Kristy said. “So he could set up a session.”
“Oh, he set up a session,” Claudia replied. “Sort of. He set up a DATE session.” She clapped her hands together and squealed. “Tonight.”
“Oh, shit!” Kristy exclaimed.
Exactly. Oh, shit.
© 2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original photo © 2019 nd3000 from Adobe Stock Images.