“What do you do? Anything you like?”
Is this how things usually go? I’m curious what this has to do with our workout plan. “Roller blade. I used to ride a lot. Not as much anymore.”
Tegan smiles like I let him in on some deep secret. “Cool. Never done it myself. Maybe I’ll have to try it sometime.” He pats the treadmill. “Climb up.”
Sucking in a deep breath, I climb on. This is what I’m here for. I need to get over it and do it.
“Okay, we’re going to start out slow today. I want to see what you can do. Twenty minutes. A couple of them walking to warm you up, then we’ll go into a jog. Deal?”
We’ll? I nod my head. He pushes a few buttons on the treadmill. When the belt starts moving I do too. Tegan jumps on the one next to mine. Oh, nice. Is he trying to show me up or something? But to my surprise, he keeps it at a steady walk like I’m doing. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know what he’s doing, that he probably fears if he doesn’t stay up here with me, I’ll bolt. There’s a part of me that wants to run because hello? This is embarrassing. On the other hand, I appreciate it because somehow, it helps not to do it alone.
Before he thinks I’m ogling him again, I face forward. We’re both quiet until Tegan asks, “You ready to speed up?”
“I’ve been counting down the steps!” I tease.
He chuckles. “You’re funny. Go up to 3.8 and see how you handle that.” It’s not too bad, which is nice so I fall into a jog. Tegan’s right there with me, doing the same thing. The urge to talk to him bubbles up in my throat, but I don’t risk it for a couple reasons. The most important one being I’ve been at this for a few minutes now and I’m slightly out of breath. The last thing I want is to start gasping at the boy.
So, I keep my eyes on the timer instead. I guess like a watched pot never boils, a watched clock never ticks.
“Hey, Tegan. Why are you up here?” A pretty, long-legged brunette walks up next to his treadmill. Who does that? Just stands there talking to someone while they’re sweating and running? Okay, so Tegan isn’t sweating like I am, but still.
“Just working out with Annabel.”
Legs looks back and forth between Tegan and I, but I don’t pay her much attention for fear I’ll fall and eat treadmill if I do.
“Oh…so we’re still on for tomorrow, right?”
It would really be cool if I had my iPod right now to help me block this out. I shouldn’t want to—I don’t know why I do—but I sort of want to hear what Tegan has planned with this girl. I’m imagining all kinds of sordid things when he says, “Yep. 9:30 AM, just like every Sunday.”
So she’s a client.
A 9:30 client.
Nice. He might go from me to her. Hopefully we don’t share any of the same days.
She flips her hair over her shoulder. “Looking forward to it. I was thinking…maybe after you get off we could, like hang out or something?”
Oh, God. I really don’t want to hear Tegan and Legs make plans to go out.
“Um, thanks, but I can’t. I have to take my bro—I have an appointment.”
“Oh.” She looks at the ground and I actually feel kind of bad for her, but it doesn’t last long. I’m thinking about Tegan, wondering why he changed what he was going to say.
“I’ll see you later.” Legs walks away.
There are times my mouth just goes and I’m unable to stop it. This is one of those times. “Pick up chicks here often?” Ugh. What is wrong with me? It’s not like I care.
The treadmill starts to slow, indicating our twenty minutes is up.
Tegan jumps off. “I’m pretty sure I just told her no.”
“How old is your brother? It’s him you’ll be with tomorrow, right?” Why won’t my mouth stop moving?
Tegan groans, mumbling something that sounds like, “I knew it.” Then to me, “We’re not here to talk about what I do or don’t do, or about my family. We’re here because you wanted to make a change. If this is really what you want, I want it for you, but you’re going to have to decide right now.”
Now I feel like a bitch again. I’m judging him. Again. How many times have people done that to me? Not only that, but I’m being pushy about his family. It’s not like I want people to ask me why my mom can hardly stand the sight of me, so I shouldn’t be getting into his business. I lean against the rail of the treadmill. “You’re right. I suck. I get nosey and throw huge walls of sarcasm up when I’m uncomfortable.” Suddenly, I’m beyond uncomfortable. My face flames.
He kind of tugs on his hair. “Don’t be. Uncomfortable, I mean. We all have some kind of demon in our lives…” His voice trails off before he picks up my water bottle from the floor. “Huge walls of sarcasm don’t rank high on the list.”
I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe the sound of his voice, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of demons Tegan’s hiding.
I wake up from my nap knowing I’ll be sore tomorrow. The weights we lifted were light. According to Tegan: Less weight, more repetition is best. I definitely felt the burn and dread the ache a full night of sleep will allow to set in.
Since I crashed as soon as I got home, the first thing I do is take a shower so I can head out to meet Em. Should I tell her about the gym? I know her. She’s not like me. She’ll give me crap for going, assuming I’m doing it for all the Billy’s at school, which I guess I am. But it’s not like I need their approval, I’m doing this to prove a point. I’m doing it for me…I think.
But there’s even more to my reason for not wanting to tell her. For not telling anyone. I mean, beside the fact that I don’t want people to know if I fall on my face trying. For some reason, I want to hold onto this. Something I have that’s mine. Not Mom’s to micro-manage, Dad’s to defend, Em’s to get all emo about. It’s something only myself—or Tegan, I guess—can control. If no one else knows, I don’t have to worry about damage control or avoid confrontations from anyone in my life.
Shower complete, I dress in a pair of black jeans, despite the heat. My legs are flabby so I always wear jeans or capris, and black is slimming, right? That’s what Mom always says. After putting on my light-blue, button up, short sleeve shirt, I add a little mascara to my eyes. They’re my favorite thing about myself and one of the only things I get compliments on. They’re a strange color. Almost icy in their blueness. I run a brush through my hair and call it good.
A few minutes later I’m heading to meet Em in our spot. She doesn’t like me going to her house, which I don’t get. I’d love a mom like hers. Not that I don’t have a good one, but Mrs. M is…loving? Em thinks it’s because she knows how miserable Em’s life is so she’s trying to make up for it by being overly attentive. I’m a little unsure of how that’s a bad thing.
The hard part is she doesn’t like coming to my house either because Em is…well, I guess she’s just like her mom, but she doesn’t realize it. Mrs. M wants to make things better for Em, while Em’s overly protective of me. The only difference is where Mrs. M is all hugs and smiles, Em is all sarcasm and, well, kind of rude comments. There have been way too many times she’s wanted to let that out on Mom, but since I won’t let her, it’s easier if we avoid my place as much as possible.
Since neither of us are real social people, we always meet up at the park when it’s nice, or if we need to stay indoors, there’s this hole-in-the-wall coffee house that doesn’t have name brand attached so the kids from Hillcrest don’t go. The park is huge, with a skateboarding area, baseball, and all that, and this little circular area with a little pond, ducks, and a couple gazebos. Amazingly, it’s never crowded. Once in a while on the weekends, we catch a party or something and have to bail, but usually it’s only littered with a few people here and there. Probably other outcasts like us.
I get there early and head back to our favorite gazebo, close to the pond where we usually feed bread to the ducks.
“Hey.” Em plops down beside me, wearing her signature black, another reason Mom scoffs at her. It’s different than the kind of black I wear. For Em it’s head to toe. She’s really not Goth or anything, but it’s not often you see the girl wearing any different color. Instead of just wanting to slim down, though, I think she hopes it will somehow make her disappear.
“Hey you,” I say, nudging her when I notice she’s keeping her head tilted down. It drives me crazy when she does that. I sort of get it with other people, but there’s no reason for her to try and hide her birthmark from me. It’s strange how she can be so strong yet so vulnerable at the same time. Like I said, if someone looks at me wrong, Em’s quick to give it to them, but she struggles to make eye contact for herself. “Did you bring the bread?”
“Yep.” She pulls half a loaf out of her bag before sliding a lock of her brown hair behind her ear. It’s funny how quick she warms up when it’s just me. She wouldn’t do that with anyone else because it gives a prime look at the oversized, brown birthmark on half of her neck and the side of her face. It only takes me a second to block it out.
Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
“How were the classes, Miss. Overachiever?” It’s the most ridiculous thing I can say.
“Yeah, because I’m the overachiever out of the two of us. You can do anything, Bell, and we all know it.”
I flash to the gym. For some freak of a reason, that makes me think about Tegan. About how he ran with me because I needed it.
“You’re smiling. Why are you smiling?”
I grab some bread from Em and toss it at the ducks. “I’m not smiling.” Was I smiling? Why would I smile thinking about the torture that is the gym and Tegan?
“Um, yeah you were.”
Suddenly I feel really guilty for not telling her about the gym.
I blame it on my whole fear of failure thing. How typical is it for someone to try to shed a few pounds and fail? But the fact is, if anyone would get it, it would be her. Still, I’d have to hear about how lame it is, how I’m fine the way I am and if she ever saw Tegan, it would be over. She doesn’t trust anyone, and even though I don’t trust him either, my huge wall of sarcasm has nothing on hers. “I don’t know why I’m smiling, Em.” Which I don’t, so I’m not lying.
Lucky for me, Em gives up, something she usually doesn’t do easily. We hang out for a while, making sure to feed the baby ducks more often than the adults, then she pulls her laptop out of her bag and we each buy some more music for our iPods. I’m a little more careful than her because I have a big fat bill I have to pay to Tegan and if I spend too much I’ll either be screwed or have to ask my parents for more. It’s not a big deal, because they’ll give it to me, but I’m not really the blow cash kind of girl so they might wonder what I’m spending it on.