They call me the anti-romantic. It’s been a running joke at 24 Hour Fitness that I am perpetually single. While sucking air my workout partners manage to distract themselves from their poor cardio by enquiring about my love life. I’ve been coming here for three years now to work out at various times, often at 6 am on workdays. Sometimes again after work at 8 in the evening, and most weekends. For two years a few others and I have crossed paths enough to eventually make small talk and fall into pace besides each other. Ed’s one of them. On this Thursday morning he is hunched over with his hands on his knees, red-faced, holding his Nalgene, and commenting on my “attitude.” Again.
“First thing’s first, Babycakes. You gotta lighten up. You’re a burnt out bulb in a night bustling with moths. You’re missing out by being dour.”
I stand across from Ed, sweating through my t-shirt at the end of our three-mile jog, marveling at my 40-something, paunchy-gutted, running buddy’s metaphor. I hope he realizes moths aren’t desirable. And that they usually die fluttering into glass, caught in the spin of misguided “romance.” He’s straight, despite being a caricature of the stereotypical gay male. It took a few months to get used to his terms of endearment.
“Anyway, maybe try putting yourself out there this weekend, eh? Jenn and I are going out for drinks tomorrow. I can give you a call and let you know what time if you’re interested.”
Through mild nausea I nod as he claps my left bicep and heads into the men’s locker room.
“Talk to you soon!” his voice echoes off tile.
I see Steve in the evening. He comments on my glow. “Gosh, I remember when we first met a couple years ago, Rachel. You must have been, what, thirty pounds heavier? Now your stomach is flatter than a wall. I mean, do you live here?” He chuckles to his out-of-shape Marine self while I lean against the wall and wonder if my “glow” is from poor rather than good health. I threw up this morning. I’ve been nauseous for a week, perhaps from the restlessness that comes from knowing I am close to my goal.
“I work out more than you do, Marine. You know that. Join me other days of the week if you want.”
“Nah, I’m good with my three days a week, thanks. Gotta spend time on other things, too,” he grins. I briefly consider what other things. Nursing and exercise fill most of my time.
Wanda and I both do cross-fit on the weekend. On Saturday her brown arms gleam with a sheen of sweat under the fluorescent lights as she strains during barbell deadlifts.
“Do you have any plans this weekend?” she gasps and raises her eyebrow between reps, staring at me. “Actually doing something? Kevin and I are going to see Interstellar at Lloyd. He’s been raving about it for weeks.” I roll my eyes and shake my head. Ed called about dinner but I let it go to voicemail. I’ll return his call later, letting him know I’m not up for going out tonight.
“Damn, Girl, you’re wasting that body. Use it for once, would ya?” She executes her last rep and takes a swig from her water bottle. “You’re making me sad, being that buff yet doing nothing with it. Go clubbing or something.”
“And what? Get smashed and use it in ways I don’t remember?” I respond. “No thanks.”
“Haha, fine,” she groans. “You’re hopeless. See you next week.” She screeches “ouch!” when we hug goodbye. I freeze then realize the band of my wristwatch is stuck in her hair. I pull my arm away slowly and exhale. I’m ready.
“Sorry! My watch snags easily; I need to change the band,” I apologize.
After Wanda leaves, I walk into the locker room, aware of the sudden brightness of its tan lockers and aloe green floor. My stomach churns and fingers tremble as I spin the dial of my combination lock. 4-27-9. The metal clicks as I pull the body from its upside-down horseshoe.
There it is. With deep care I slide Wanda’s hair into the ziplock bag with two fingers, astonished at the softness of all of my workout partners’ hair against the back of my fingers. Finally. The quart-sized baggie is full.
I am quite the romantic.