NaNoWriMo 2020 Romance Novel Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Martin
The house smells great.

Susan’s in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on our dinner.

“Hi honey,” she says. “Did you have a nice day today?”

Did I? Well, the hour with Melanie was wonderful, but I wouldn’t call the rest of the day good.

“I finished the book.”

“Yes, I had a good day. Which book are you reading?”

She laughs.

“I finished writing book ten.”

“Oh.”

I sit down at the table.

Susan opens the highest cupboard she can reach and takes out a bottle of red wine.

“Wine, on a week night?”

We aren’t what anybody would call drinkers, which I think is a good thing. If she ever gets pregnant, she can’t be drinking, so best not to make a habit of it.

“Put that away.”

“I thought this Cabernet would pair so well with our dinner.”

“Did you not hear me? I said to put it away. We’re not drinking wine on a week night.”

She puts the bottle down, rummages through a drawer, and finds the corkscrew.

“Susan, I said to leave it.”

I smell something starting to burn.

“Something’s burning. Pay attention to what you’re doing!”

She ignores me completely and opens the wine.

Whatever is burning keeps right on burning.

She gets a glass and pours herself some. She puts the glass down on the counter and looks at the stove. She stands there for a few seconds, and then she turns off the burners. She takes her glass of wine and leaves the kitchen. The bottle is still on the counter and dinner is on the stove.

“Susan! Come back here now!”

I hear the guest room door close.

I get up and go bang on the door, but she ignores me, and I’m too hungry to wait very long. I phone and order pizza.

There’s nobody to talk to, so after I’ve eaten, I review the material for my upcoming training. We’re learning a bunch of new equipment, and I spend a few hours reading and thinking about how I’ll use the new stuff to benefit my clients in their individualized programs.

At eleven, I go to bed. Susan isn’t there, and I know she’ll sleep in her “office.” Oh well, at least she’s finished her book.

I turn out the light and close my eyes.

“Oh, Martin.” It’s Melanie. Her voice is low and sultry. “Martin, I’m not sure if I can do this anymore.”

“I know you can. Just one more interval, and then you’re done. Ready?”

She nods. Her hair is plastered with sweat and her clothes are clinging to her.

I touch the button, and she starts to climb.

I listen to her breathing and watch the heart monitor. Her heart rate climbs and climbs, and soon, it’s at almost maximum.

I check the time.

“Just twenty seconds more.”

She’s breathing too hard to answer, but I can see the determination in her blue eyes.

“Just ten more seconds!”

She gives even more, and her heart rate goes just a little higher.

“Five, four, three, two, one!”

I press the button, and the machine slows to moderate.

“You did it!”

I want her. Never mind that she’s a client, I’m taking her home. Susan’s so wrapped up in her stupid books, she won’t even notice if somebody else is in bed with me.

“Martin?”

I look at Melanie. Her face should be rosy and flushes with exercise, but it’s pale and sweaty.

“I don’t feel good.”

“What’s wrong?”

She’s not sweaty, she’s diaphoretic.

Her skin will feel cold and slammy.

“My chest hurts, and so does my left arm.”

“I’ll save you!”

“Will you?”

“Yes.”

“What about Susan?”

How does she know about Susan?

“Don’t worry. I’m coming. Hold on Melanie, I’m coming.”

I walk toward the machine she’s on, but as I get closer, I see it’s not a machine, but real stairs. She’s at the top, and I have to climb them to reach her.

I put my foot on the first step and she turns to face me. Her eyes are so bright and blue, but her skin is so ghostly and almost not there.

“I want you,” she whispers, but something is pulling her from behind, and she rises higher on the staircase.

“Melanie, wait for me!”

I try to run, but the stairs are moving me backwards, and I can’t get any closer.

There’s a ringing sound in my head, and Melanie collapses, but is still being carried upwards by the stair machine.

“I’ve got you!”

It’s Rick. He’s the one behind her. He lifts her up.

“I’m the only one who knows how to turn this thing off.”

The ringing sound drowns even him out, and I get a glimpse of him carrying Melanie away before my eyes open.

The ringing sound is my alarm.

“Melanie,” I say.

I’m soaked in sweat and definitely need a shower before I go anywhere.

I need to know she’s okay, even though it was only a dream.

It’s Wednesday, and she won’t be there today.

I’m not sure if I can wait for tomorrow.

Should I call her?

What will I say?

“Hi Melanie, I had a bad dream and am just checking to see if you’re okay?”

What if her dad or boyfriend answers the phone?

“Hello, it’s Martin, can I speak to Melanie please?”

“What is this about?”

“Oh, er, it’s her personal trainer. I just wanted to check that she’s okay.”

I’m sure he’d tell me to get lost, and then I still wouldn’t know if Mealnie was okay.

I need to hear it from her, and I don’t want her dad or boyfriend to know about me.

Susan’s dad’s a nice guy, but Melanie’s is probably a tyrant.

Her mom’ll be like mine, quiet and usually to be found doing housework or knitting warm things for poor people.

Use her books as a weapon.

That’s it! That’s the idea I had.

I look for a pen, but I don’t have one, nor do I see any paper.

I need to write this down.

I get up and rush into the living room. I see a pen and piece of paper lying on the coffee table.

What was it I was going to write down?

Crap! It’s gone again.

As I walk back to our bedroom to get dressed, I pass the door to the room that still doesn’t have a child living in it.

We keep the door closed, but Susan goes in there sometimes to clean, or at least, I hope she still does.

Maybe I’ll check.

I listen but don’t hear her. She’s usually up about now, but maybe she drank more than one glass of that wine. What a fool.

I approach the door but don’t open it. I’m afraid it’ll be all dusty and even more unlived in than it usually is.

I hear Susan’s door open and quickly go into our bedroom to get ready for work.

Susan and I eat breakfast in silence.

I don’t bother to say anything when she says goodbye.

I am not looking forward to a whole day without seeing Melanie, and I really don’t want to see Rick or listen to him talk.

I don’t even want to see Karin. I’ve never realized how big an attitude she has.

Asking me if everything was okay when it was Rick who was the problem.

Loud and lazy, those are his problems.

Well, I’m gonna make sure he stays the heck away from Melanie.

The first person I see when I walk into the building is Rick.

“Morning Martin,” he says. “Connie called in sick again, so I’m working double today. She doesn’t think she’ll be better tomorrow, and I told her I’d be happy to cover her shift then too.”

Great, just great. Melanie’s supposed to come tomorrow.

“By the way, Melanie called just after seven.”

That’s it, I’m changing my hours to start at six! I am not letting Rick have time alone with her.

“What’d she say?”

“She watched a video about HIIT and had some questions. I told her you would be in around nine, and she apologized for bothering me. I told her it was no problem. We chatted for a few minutes, and then somebody else came in, so I got off the phone.”

Chatted for a few minutes? What could they possibly chat about? For that matter, how can she stand listening to him?

But this is an opportunity. I’ll call her and ask her to come in and we can discuss the video in my office, because we can’t exactly do that over the phone.

I thank Rick and go into my office. I boot up the computer and check my schedule.

It’s full. I stare at back-to-back clients, with no time for me and Melanie in my office.

I swear under my breath and reach for the phone.

I’m gonna see if somebody can switch, but first, I need to ask Melanie what time works for her.

A man’s voice answers.

“Hello, may I speak to Melanie Thompson please?”

“Sure, just a sec. Mel, phone for you!”

Mel. Will she let me call her that?

“Thanks Dad. Hello, is this Martin?”

How does she know it’s me?

“Yep, how’d you guess?”

“Oh, I recognized the number. I forgot you didn’t start until nine. Do you have a few minutes to help me understand the video I watched? To be honest, I’m kinda scared now.” She laughs. “I mean, more scared than before.”

“Yeah, we can certainly do that. It would be easier if I could see the video you watched, so can you come to my office?”

“Sure, what time? I saved the link on my phone.”

“What times are good for you?”

“You name it.”

How am I going to do this? I can’t guess about which client will want tomorrow, and I’ll have to get off the phone and call around.

“Martin!”

It’s Rick.

What the heck is he doing here?

“Sounds like Rick’s calling you,” she says.

She recognizes his voice? This is not good.

I glance at my watch.

“I think my 9:00 is here, so I’ll call you back with a time.”

“Sounds good.”

I open my office door, and Rick is right there.

“Todd just called and canceled. He’s got a bit of a sore throat.”

“Okay, which time slot was he in?”

“He was your 9:00 today. He’s gonna call back when he’s feeling better and arrange to come in for a session.”

“Thanks.”

I practically slam the door in his face and run to the phone. I dial her number with shaking hands.

The line’s busy.

I try again but it’s still busy.

I pace my office and try Melanie’s number every two minutes.

Busy, busy, busy.

She said she had the video on her phone, but I don’t have that number. Rick might, but I really don’t want to talk to him or let him know that I’m desperate to see her.

I go to the computer and open her file. There’s no cell number.

What if she gave it to Rick and he either hasn’t put it in yet or isn’t planning to?

At 9:50, I finally get through.

“Hi Martin. Have you been trying to call me?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry about that. My sister was talking to her friend, and it was about something important, so I didn’t want to interrupt them. Would you like my cell number?”

“Yes please.”

She recites it and I write it down.

“Can you come at one?”

“Sure.”

There isn’t time for me to call my 1:00 to see if they’ll switch, so I go out to the waiting room and meet my 10:00.

The hour runs over because there’s a problem with one of the older machines the client likes, and my 11:00 is early and impatient, so I don’t get a chance to make any calls until noon.

I look at the schedule.

Ah, it’s Frank. He’s in his sixties and has bad arteries. He doesn’t want to have a heart attack, so he pays me to help keep him in shape.

I dial his number, all the while feeling kind of bad.

“Hello,” he says. His voice reminds me of my own dad, who died two years ago.

“Hi, it’s Martin from the gym.”

“Hi Martin, how are you?”

“I’m good, thank you. One of my other clients is concerned about something related to her program, and the only time she can do is 1:00 today. Would it be terrible of me to ask you to come in . . .” I check the schedule. “Tomorrow at 1:00?”

“Not a problem at all, but I think my wife might has something planned for us tomorrow. Let me get my planner.”

I hear him walking around and rustling papers.

“I’m free on Friday afternoon.”

I look. It’s full.

We end up just canceling this week.

Melanie comes just as I’m finishing lunch. Right behind her is Karin.

“Hi,” Karin says. “Melanie, right?”

“That’s right. Are you Karin, by any chance?”

“Oh, has somebody been telling stories?”

“I mentioned you when asking about scheduling,” I say. “Because you do evenings.”

She opens her mouth to speak and the door opens.

In walks Frank.

He doesn’t have memory problems on top of a bad heart, does he? How am I going to deal with this?

“Hello everybody,” he says. “I forgot to cancel the taxi and my wife said I should come here and see if I could use some of the equipment. Is that allowed?”

“For sure,” I say.

“I have an hour free,” Karin says.

Rick doesn’t say anything, but he gives me a look.

Does he know?

Frank smiles at Melanie.

“Are you one of them or one of me?”

“I’m a client like you, sir.”

“Please none of that sir stuff, call me Frank. What may I call you?”

“Melanie.”

What is it with men and Melanie? They all seem to fall in love with her, and he’s married, for crying out loud. I mean, so am I, but I’m half his age and his wife’s great.

Rick says, “Since Martin is your trainer, why don’t you share the hour? I can give you each half price.”

“That’s a good idea,” Karin says. “I would need to use up a few minutes of your time to make sure I know your program.”

I hate Rick. What a nosy, mouthy, unprofessional secretary he is.

“Sounds good to me,” Melanie says.

“Thank you,” Frank says.

She smiles and walks toward the gym.

Frank and I follow, and I hear Karin behind me talking to Rick about her class.

“What’s your favorite exercise?” Melanie asks Frank.

“I love the bikes. And you?”

“I haven’t tried them all yet.”

He laughs.

He hops onto a bike. To look at him, nobody would know his arteries were crap.

“How long this time?” he asks me.

“The usual hour.”

“Got it. Hey, did I tell you I’m seeing the doctor tomorrow?”

“No, you didn’t mention that. Is everything okay?”

“Hope so.” He starts to pedal.

“Should we go over there?” I ask Melanie. I point to an empty corner where nobody else will hear us.

“Do you mind if I sit on this bike?” She points to the one beside Frank. “I can prop up my phone on the dashboard or whatever it’s called, and I can get a little exercise while we watch these videos.”

“What are you watching?” Frank asks.

Butt out, old man.

“I found some videos of people doing HIIT, and I made the mistake of watching them. Now I’m terrified.”

“What’s that?”

“High-intensity interval training.” She taps the screen and a browser opens. A picture of a guy with huge muscles appears. It’s upside down, but it looks like a dating site.

I guess she does have a boyfriend.

“Wrong page,” she says, and taps the Tabs icon. She taps on a YouTube video. “This is it.”

Frank looks over, and she turns the screen so he can see, too.

The guy making the video is a very fit man, probably somewhere in his forties.

“I can do this HIIT for like half an hour,” he says. “I bought myself a bike, and I don’t even have to leave the office and go to the gym. Look at me go!”

He goes. His workout is very intense, and I can kind of understand why it freaked Melanie out.

“Wow,” Frank says when the video ends. “That’s really something. I wish I wasn’t so old and unhealthy. I’d love to be able to do that in half an hour instead of grinding these gears for so long.”

“I’m healthy enough,” Melanie says, “but I’m really not sure if I have the . . . do you know the right word?”

“Stamina?” Frank says before I can.

“Yeah, stamina. Maybe I should try the bike for an hour instead.”

“I’m sure you can do the HIIT,” I say.

The image of her pale face from my dream cuts in front of what I’m saying, and I force it away before continuing.

“It won’t be like the one he’s doing. Everybody does the maximum they’re capable of, so even if you have less energy, you can still do an intense workout.”

“He’s right,” Frank says. “Take his advice and do it. You’ll feel so much better when you start exercising. I know. I sat behind a desk for forty years and thought I was going six feet under when my doctor told me my arteries were clogged up and I was just this close to a heart attack.” He puts his thumb and index finger close together. “I’m so glad I listened to him and made an appointment with Martin.”

“Thanks. How often do you come here?”

“Every Wednesday, but I go for long walks most days now. It’s boring alone, and my wife gets invited to all kinds of volunteer things, so I think I might come here more often. What about you?”

“I come here three times a week. Too bad we probably can’t share Martin more often.”

I’m not about to correct her, but Tim happens to be walking by.

“You can certainly share your time. If you each need one-on-one, undivided attention, you can book two trainers.”

Inwardly, I curse him savagely, but on the outside, I’m all smiles.

At the end of the hour, the three of us go into the waiting room.

Karin and Rick are at the desk, chatting.

Have they been there for a whole hour?

“Oh, is it two already?” Karin says.

“Not quite,” Rick says.

“Hello Rick,” Frank says. “Melanie and I were thinking we’d like to train together.”

Karin’s client comes in and she waves to us.

After a few minutes of discussion, Melanie and Frank book me for 9:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I’m not happy, but what can I do?

At least I’ll have Melanie to myself tomorrow and Saturday.

I confirm those days with her and watch her and Frank leave together. At least his taxi is here, so there’s no chance Melanie will offer him a ride home.

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