Chapter 1: Martin
Maybe I can use her books as a weapon.
The idea pops into my head while I’m at work. I don’t have time to ponder, and I don’t want to risk writing something like that down, so I’ll just have to wait and hope I don’t forget.
“Hey Martin!” It’s Rick. He never speaks at a normal volume, and I’m out of aspirin. I’ll have to ask Susan to buy some and hope she remembers to add it to the shopping list.
“What?” In spite of how loud he is, I like Rick. He’s standing just outside my office door.
“We’re getting a newbie.”
“Yep, and I told her your 3:00’s free.”
“Have you gone over all the forms and all that crap?”
“Yep, everything’s good, so I asked her to come back at three. She’s nervous, but she said she’ll be here.” He smiles at me. “She’s cute.”
“I’m married, remember?”
“So, you can look, can’t you?”
“Happily-married men don’t look.”
“So you’re still walking the line?” He sounds disappointed.
“Yes, and I’m going to continue to do so. Now, tell me more about her.”
I lean back in my chair and say, “How young is she?”
“Okay, is there anything else I need to know?”
“She says she’s never exercised in her life.”
“What? Never gone for a walk?”
“I asked her that, and she admitted to having gone for a few of those. She said she’s never really exercised, like, for real. Like a workout, you know? I told her that was fine, and that my friend Martin would whip her into shape.”
“I hope you didn’t quite put it that way. She might take ‘whip’ the wrong way, and besides, it’s not exactly polite to imply that she’s out of shape. Is she?”
“She’s overweight, but it doesn’t make her less cute.”
“Okay. Does she have a name, by any chance?”
“Melanie Thompson.” He spells it for me.
I scrawl the name on a sheet of paper.
“Can anyone read your writing?”
“I’ll give you the papers once I’ve typed everything into the system.”
“No problem. See you later.”
I’m uncharacteristically excited about meeting Melanie. I know I shouldn’t be, and that mixing work and play is never a good idea, but my marriage hasn’t exactly been all that happy lately.
My next client is a nice guy, but he has some of the worst BO a man can have.
After our session, I go outside for some much-needed fresh air.
My 2:00 is canceled at the last minute, and by 2:05, I’m practically pacing my small office.
Will it ever be three?
At 2:25, Rick comes to my door.
Has Melanie changed her mind for some reason? Is Rick going to say she prefers a female trainer instead? Karin’s great, but I want this one.
“She’s here early. Thought I’d come and tell you.”
Yes! It takes all my willpower not to shout that out loud or pump my biceps.
I thank Rick and saunter slowly out of my office. I head down the hall and into the waiting room.
There’s only one person there, and she’s standing by the reception desk.
Rick was right. She is cute. She’s a strawberry blonde dressed in a black workout outfit that probably cost too much.
She’s maybe five foot three, and she is overweight.
She turns around and sees me.
“Oh, um, hi.”
She has blue eyes that a man could gaze into just about forever.
“Are you Melanie?”
“Great. I’m Martin. I got a cancelation, so we can start now if you’d like.”
“Are you gonna run me into the ground?”
I suppress a grin.
“Did Rick tell you that?”
“Yes, but first, please come into my office so we can discuss your program.”
I smile, turn around, and she follows me to my office.
I motion for her to take a seat and I sit behind my desk.
I grab a pen and piece of paper.
“So, what made you want to start an exercise program?”
“Well, er, I want to, er, get in shape.” She points to herself. “I’m fat.”
“I can certainly start you on an exercise program. Do you go to college or work? I’m asking because I only work during the day, so if you prefer evenings, I’d recommend you work with Karin.”
“I don’t go to college or work, so I can come any time.”
“Oh, okay. Do you have a specific goal in mind? A target weight or a level of fitness you’d like to achieve? For example, maybe you’d like to run a marathon.”
“Sort of a marathon.”
“A half marathon?”
“No, not really a real marathon.” She fidgets and looks away.
Am I making her uncomfortable? This is something I am very careful about not doing, especially with female clients. For example, I never touch them unnecessarily. We’re sitting a reasonable distance apart, and the door’s half open.
I decide to ask a completely different question.
“Would you prefer long or short workouts?”
“Whatever will get me physically fit, but I like to focus on things and get them done, you know?”
“I do. Straight to the point, right?”
“Do you have any medical conditions or health problems?”
I have to ask her this because Rick still hasn’t handed over the file.
“No. Well, I had my tonsils taken out, but I’m okay. My doctor said I can exercise.”
“Great. I recommend HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training.”
She takes a deep breath.
“That means running me into the ground, right?”
“Yes, or climbing stairs, rowing, cycling, or swimming you into the ground.”
She laughs nervously, and I suppress a smile.
“Well, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“I’d like to explain the program first.”
“HIIT means you will do short bursts of very intense excercise, alternating with less intense recovery periods. So for example, I might ask you to sprint for fifteen seconds, as fast as your legs can go, and then give you forty-five seconds of jogging or walking. Then it’s back for another fifteen seconds of all-out running. You’ll do those for about ten minutes in our first session. Make sense?”
“Y-yes. I hope I can do it properly.”
“I’m sure you can. It’s basically a list of times and exercises to do. Do you want to do running, or one of the other exercises?”
“What do you recommend?”
“I think a mix of all the different exercise options would be a good idea, and you can even switch between some of them during a single session. Let’s see.”
I scrawl some numbers on the paper, which has been blank so far.
“You’ll do four rounds. First the warm-up, which will take about five or ten minutes, and then you can do three intervals of sprinting and walking. Next, you’ll head over to the rowing machine and do three intervals on it. Then you’ll run over to the stair machine and do three intervals on that. Last but not least, you’ll do three intervals of cycling, and you can cool down on the bike. The actual workout will take twelve minutes, but there’s more time for warming up, cooling down, and going between machines. Swimming can be a different workout. Does that all make sense?”
“Yeah, but um, I’m not sure if I can do all that.”
“I’m sure you can. Do you have any questions?”
“Is there anything you’re worried about?”
“Well, um, like, is it dangerous?”
“There’s a risk of injury, as with any kind of physical activity, and a very small risk of death. I’ve had clients get injured, but they’ve recovered, and nobody has ever died here. Are you ready, or do you have any more questions?”
“I’m ready, I think.”
“Good. We’re just going to do some walking today.”
She almost looks disappointed.
“So you’re not going to run me into the ground?”
“Not today, no.”
By 5:00, I’ve cleaned and put away the last of the equipment my clients and I have used, and it’s time to go home.
As I unlock my car, I hope Susan has dinner ready. She often doesn’t these days, and it’s starting to become a problem for me.
The drive home takes fifteen minutes.
I spend the time thinking about Melanie.
She did everything I asked her to do, even though she was nervous about some of it.
Sure, it’s not HIIT yet, but even when that comes, I think she’ll do exactly what I ask, and give maximum effort. I would like to know just exactly what she meant by “not really a real marathon,” but maybe she’ll tell me some day.
After that, I never got the feeling she was uncomfortable around me, and I kept clear of her so as not to accidentally bump her elbow or something.
I turn the corner and park in front of my house.
The play set I bought when we moved in has never had children playing on it. Nobody swinging from the monkey bars or pumping their legs on the swings. In the summer, we get a few flowers and some vegetables, but the lack of kids running around makes being outside so much less fun.
I unlock the door and step inside. The house is quiet and doesn’t smell like anything’s for dinner.
I walk into the kitchen, but Susan isn’t there. The stove’s off and the coffee pot is both empty and needs to be cleaned.
When we moved here, we designated one bedroom as a guest room and another for our first child. We even bought a crib and changing table, but in the seven years we’ve been married, Susan’s never become pregnant.
Since we rarely have guests, she uses the guest room as her “office.” I think this is kind of silly, but it didn’t bother me at first.
I stand outside the door and listen. I hear the muffled sounds of Susan typing.
She’s writing instead of making dinner, again.
I knock on the door.
“Hey, I’m home, and there’s nothing much to eat, open up!”
“Just a sec,” she calls.
“How long is that?”
“I’m almost finished this chapter.”
“I repeat, how long is that? It’s 5:30. I’ve worked all day, and I’d like dinner please.”
“I’ll make you something quick as soon as I finish this.”
“I want my dinner.”
She doesn’t answer, and I hear her typing furiously.
Melanie would never do this to me. She wouldn’t be too busy for me in the first place, but if she was talking on the phone with a friend or something, she’d only ask me to wait as long as it took to say goodbye.
I go into the living room and sink into an armchair. I consider ordering dinner, but no, that would be letting Susan win. If I allow her to keep getting away with this, she’ll just keep doing it. I mean, I can understand her hobby keeps her busy while I’m at work, but she’s taking it way too seriously these days. I wouldn’t mind the occasional late dinner, I mean, it’s not like she can predict traffic, and sometimes I have to help a colleague with something after five, but surely it’s not too much for me to ask her to stop writing long enough for her to cook dinner and then for us to spend the evening together.
I’ll give her five minutes, and then I’ll remind her to come and cook something.
The five minutes pass slowly.
When they’re finally gone, I go to her door again.
“Your playtime’s up, kiddo. C’mon out and make dinner for a starving man.”
I hope the levity will make her laugh, but she responds with absolute silence.
“Susan! I mean it. Get out of there now! You’re overstepping the bounds of my patience!”
There’s no response. She’s still typing. I bang on the door, but am careful not to break it.
She just keeps on typing.
I finally give up and go back to the living room.
Susan doesn’t come out of the guest room until seven.
She walks into the living room. She’s dressed in what I’m sure are yesterday’s clothes, her brown hair is dirty, and her eyes aren’t blue like Melanie’s, but of course she can’t change her eye color.
“I’m just going to grab a sandwich and then go back to work.”
“I need dinner first,” I say.
“Okay, I’ll make you a sandwich. What do you want on it?”
“I want a hot meal.”
“Okay, I’ll toast your bread. What filling do you want? I’m having peanut butter and taking it back to my office.”
“No, let’s eat at the table for a change.”
“Maybe tomorrow. I repeat, what do you want in your sandwich? I think there’s still some ham and a package of cheese slices.”
“Susan, I don’t want that crap for dinner. I’ve worked a full day and it’s seven now.”
She shrugs and walks away into the kitchen.
I get up and follow her.
She’s getting out the peanut butter and the bread. She pulls out two slices and opens the jar of peanut butter. She gets a butter knife and starts to spread peanut butter thickly onto her bread.
How can she eat that without buttering the bread first?
“Look, I’m sorry I need to keep asking, but can you please make me something hot for dinner? I’ll even have something quick.”
Why did I say I was sorry? This is her job, not writing for hours in a guest room she insists on calling an office.
“You could order pizza,” she says with her back to me.
She finishes and puts the lid back on the peanut butter.
“I’m done here, so if you don’t want a sandwich now, I’m going back to work.”
Do I want her to make me a cold sandwich or do I want to order something? If I order something, I’ll have to wait for it, but if I have a sandwich, it’ll be cold and unsatisfying.
She rinses off the knife she used to spread her peanut butter and says, “I’m going to be working late, so don’t wait up for me. Night night.”
“I really want a hot dinner.”
She doesn’t reply, and a few seconds later, I hear her close her door.
She’s shutting me out, again.
If I were a violent man, I’d break down the door and demand dinner, but I don’t want to end up getting arrested and then lose my job.
I guess I’ll order something, but not the pizza she suggested.
What was it I was supposed to remember? There was something at work that I didn’t want to forget, but couldn’t risk writing down. Maybe it’ll come to me after I’ve had something hot to eat.