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Jackie’s Smile

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Blonde

October

It’d probably be a lot easier to do a decent deadlift without the whole gym watching me.

The whole gym wasn’t watching. To the best of my ability to tell, nobody was.

But it was a new gym in a new city, full of unfamiliar faces. You could forgive a guy for getting that chilly, exposed feeling that accompanies strange new environments.

I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in nearly two years, and felt like it showed, whether or not it actually did. My gym clothes had faded from one wash too many and were a few years out of style. My joints were stiff and my deadlifts were jerky. Perfect time for a back spasm, I thought. That ought to draw attention.

I didn’t want any attention. I had only moved into town about a month prior, fortunate enough to find a decent state job with good benefits and a future. My wife and I had endured two years of marriage that began with a job loss, an immediate pregnancy, and quickly led into financial straits and simmering resentment… but this story isn’t really about that.

Suffice it to say, I was still smarting from the forced sale of our house and our move to a new town, about whose charms I had considerable doubts.

For a city, it seemed strangely sparse, even barren. The pedestrians on the street seemed disinterested in the world; pasty, khaki-clad commuters, diabetic retirees, and meth heads in Carhartt jackets all passed each other without looking anywhere but straight ahead. The place had no life, no hum to it. It wasn’t, and likely wouldn’t be, home..

The gym, nestled into a corner of the downtown mall a brisk five-minute walk from the office, was the best safe haven I could ask for. I’d spent the past two years working a pretty physical job, twelve hours a day, six days a week, yet my body screamed for more regular exercise. A daily endorphin release seemed like the perfect remedy for combatting malaise.

Another creaky deadlift and the bar went back on the rack. I panned for a few seconds and took the moment to study my surroundings. About twenty or so other patrons were working out, roughly half of whom were about my age, if slightly older.

By the location, I knew that most were state employees like me, and a number of those were cops and security types. Some of these guys made a dozen pull-ups look like no sweat, an intimidating fact I took pains to ignore.

Then there were the women. Several were on the upper edge of middle age, but two or three periodically appeared who I judged to be in their early-to-mid thirties. One tanned, wiry girl with a sharp, no-bullshit expression made a daily habit of balancing herself on an incline bench, her arms and legs stretched out in a Superman pose, to the embarrassment of numerous other patrons who thought they were in good shape.

Another young woman, whose lower body almost suggested powerlifting, but whose plastic-framed glasses and neck-length bob gave her a bookish appearance, occupied a yoga pad near the entrance, holding a glute bridge with her pelvis jutting toward the ceiling.

I turned my attention back to the remains of my workout. I had no designs on meeting a woman for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that I was married and barely recovered from being flat broke. It also hardly helped that—although I wasn’t out of shape exactly—I wasn’t in fighting form, and my gym shorts called undue attention to the fact that my pale, thin calves had barely seen the sun in two years.

Mopping sweat from my forehead and neck, I headed for the locker room. I had to shower in a hurry and double-time it back to the office before my lunch hour ended. As I passed, the shapely yogi I’d spotted earlier was now on a treadmill, warming down. Without stopping, I gave her a small greeting nod, which she seemed not to notice.

As I opened the locker room door, I noticed peripherally that she glanced over, without really turning her head, and gave a quick, somewhat impish smile in reply. A smirk, almost, that immediately made me reassess my initial impression of her.

So there’s some life here after all, I thought as the locker room door swung shut.

December

After two months, that stiff, achy feeling had gone away.

The new job, the new living situation, the new city had all become familiar by now. I’d actually found a few spots I enjoyed visiting in the small pockets of free time I had. Likewise, the realities of our new home life had become tolerable.

The gym had gotten easier too. I invested in some new workout clothes and made a point of keeping disciplined in my routine. A buddy from the office had begun accompanying me to the gym during lunch hour. A retired Marine and ex-cop, Ron was a good workout partner, kept us accountable, and was good company besides.

Trying to shed weight, Ron was around the corner working the heavy-bag, while I worked on goblet squats. As I set down the kettlebells, I noticed a figure sauntering toward my end of the room. The yoga girl had been canlı bahis drawing my attention a lot the past few weeks.

It almost felt like she was adapting to the environment herself. She’d ditched the glasses and her workout attire had migrated toward flattering yoga pants, barebacked sports bras, and cutoff t-shirts.

Today she’d taken a break from her contortions and was distinguishing herself doing assisted weight workouts. She occasionally partnered up with one of the regulars, a bald, biker-type guy. The kind of guy who benchpresses 250 pounds in his jeans and boots. Their rapport seemed loose and platonic.

“Hey, Rocky.”

I looked up and pulled an amused face. My features are undeniably Italian, but no one would ever mistake me for a guy who ended the Cold War by going twelve rounds with a Soviet super-soldier.

“Hey yourself. No yoga today?”

“Nah, I like to change it up.” Yoga girl broke stride and stopped about three feet from me. Talking to her up close, it dawned on me that I was literally seeing her in a different light. She stood confidently, feet planted flat, hands on her hips, her chest forward. Though only shorter than me by two or three inches, she held eye contact with her chin up, almost defiantly, with an open, game-for-anything smile.

She’s no shy librarian, I noted. Today, a pair of turquoise yoga pants—the kind with the sheer racing stripe that runs diagonally down each leg—hugged the broad, rounded hips, muscular thighs, and ample bottom that all testified to frequent glute and quad exercises. She’d matched it with a severe black sports bra. Fingerless gloves added a dash of punk rock to the outfit.

I guessed that she wasn’t a strict dieter or teetotaler: a thin layer of baby fat tried and failed to hide her strong core, and her impressive tri’s jiggled slightly when she moved her arms. Her flushed skin glimmered with sweat.

We chatted for a few minutes about our respective jobs: she too was a state worker at a different agency. I couldn’t help noticing her hair, which was straight, naturally auburn, and cut off at mid-neck, with bangs that ended above mirthful blue-grey eyes. It would normally have seemed like an older woman’s style; by contrast, it gave her a transgressive, almost naughty edge.

Job talk naturally led to a discussion of where we lived. I explained that I lived in the bland suburbs across the river; she lived a few exits northbound in more rural environs.

“Oh Christ,” I chuckled, “Near that stretch with all the strip joints and adult toy stores?” Her town was a two-stoplight kind of place, and those were its main attractions.

She didn’t so much as blush. “Yup. Exactly there.”

“Don’t the neon palm trees keep you awake at night?”

“No, I live a ways off the highway. Spend a lot of time up there, do you?” Her eyebrows danced, and I momentarily felt pins-and-needles.

“No, I only ever passed by it. I haven’t been in the area that long. You originally from around here?”

“Northern Virginia, originally,” she said. “Been up here about five years.”

“I just got here this fall. Moved down from the Philly area.” Was this just friendly chit-chat? She wasn’t shy about personal space—I had just noticed that she now stood merely a couple feet away, gloved hands still on her hips—and still flashing that winning grin. It felt like flirting.

I decided to take it for a short test drive. “You know what always cracks me up about your area? The billboard with the flames and the big REPENT! ADULTERY IS A SIN! that’s right behind the porn shop. You gotta appreciate the sense of humor there.”

It was true. This area of the state was pretty conservative. I idly wondered where her sympathies lay…

“Well,” she offered, squinting with mischief, “I don’t think most people there feel guilty about enjoying themselves.” She dropped her pose, ready to proceed to her next exercise, a wicked smirk on her face.

“Nor should they,” I replied, smiling and trying to sound rakish. When nerves strike, I tend to jumble words and developed the bad habit of repeating myself to compensate. “Nor should they.”

“I’m Jackie, by the way,” she said. That fit. It was a fun, casual name. She half-offered her hand, starting to say, “Sorry, I’m all sweaty. I don’t know if you—”

I took her hand and shook. “I’m no germaphobe.” Her handshake was a firm up-and-down. That smile again.

I entered into something of a reverie as I watched her saunter away, my eyes tracing the small of her exposed back as she headed for a rowing machine.

A broad hand slapped down on my collarbone and gave it a hard shake. After years of towel-snapping, locker-room bullshit in the Corps, Ron had a rough sense of horseplay.

“You ready to go, dude? We gotta be back in ten.”

He didn’t notice this time, but my mind was still rounding the curve of those hips…

“Yup. Ready to go.”

January

The holidays passed. The wind grew colder. Jackie did not.

By now, our daily gym visits bahis siteleri often involved coy hello’s and a minute or two of banter.

It was hard to tell if Jackie was really being flirty. She was friendly with most of the regulars, and inaudible conversations between her and other male gym goers were usually peppered with laughter.

Guilt over my thoughts about another woman, despite the cold state of my marriage, led me to rationalize it. Maybe that’s just how she talks with everyone. Maybe she likes to flirt and tease every guy she meets. Maybe the whole thing’s just in your head.

Even Ron got the Jackie treatment. Ron and I were opposites, physically: he was a stocky, barrel-chested type with a spare tire and an imposing beard. He kept the high-and-tight haircut and blunt speech mannerisms he’d learned years before; he practically had “ex-military” tattooed on his forehead.

Whereas I was married and thoroughly domesticated, Ron was still living the single life: he’d recently started dating a wild ER nurse and was enjoying nightly rations of face-melting sex after beer-and-wing specials at his local bar. He was decidedly less attached. Maybe he was more Jackie’s type…

On the overhead speakers, M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” was blaring. Ron and I had just finished alternating sets of Russian twists as Jackie came loping past, still barefoot from her yoga routine. As Ron headed for a treadmill, she stopped and adopted her usual stance, feet shoulder-width apart.

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

“Not showering and changing today?” she called after him, turning her head, her body still facing me.

“Nah, I’m gonna skip the shower and go back to work naked.”

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

“Mmmmm. I hope so,” she purred, flashing him her Jackie grin, then turned back in my direction.

I felt a momentary pang of jealousy. Was this just how she related with people? Was she into Ron? Was she even into anyone? Was she trying to see if I’d get jealous? The internal monologue halted when she started talking to me.

“Any good plans for the long weekend?”

My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the dashboard.

“Not really. Our kid keeps us pretty busy when I’m not here. I don’t get much free time.” She’d no doubt seen my wedding band; no sport in hiding the fact that I was married and had a child.

“Ooh, yeah,” she feigned wincing, but didn’t break eye contact. “Never been a kids person. Not for me.”

My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the radio.

I had to laugh. “Yeah, neither was I, before I had one. You’d be surprised. It kinda changes how you look at everything.”

The exchange seemed innocent enough. Why was she bringing up her position on having kids?

“Anyway, how about you?” I continued. “Weekend plans?”

“Oh, you know, just hanging around the house, with my husband. Probably have a few drinks, have a little fun,” she mused archly.

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

If I was taken aback, I tried not to show it. She didn’t wear a ring in the gym and didn’t exactly act like a married woman.

Then there was the way she said it. Not self-consciously—I don’t think Jackie did anything self-consciously—but not in a matter-of-fact way either. She said it almost in two separate sentences. Just hanging around the house. (Pause.) With my husband.

Once again, I was seeing Jackie in a different light. Strangely, I didn’t feel judgmental—I was a married man flirting with this very sexy woman at the gym, after all—but curious. Did she not have a satisfying marriage? Was she intent on cheating on her husband? Had she already? Were they in an open marriage? Swinging? It also occurred to me that she might have a perfectly happy, vanilla marriage and merely enjoyed flirty banter.

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

Best to keep it conversational. “Sounds like my kind of weekend,” I half-sighed. “Haven’t had a couple days to just chill like that in a while.”

I returned Jackie’s gaze for a beat. She never shied her gaze, never looked down, ever. She wasn’t brazen, but her body language and tone all read like an invitation. Then the realization came: she’s challenging me.

My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the dashboard.

I’ve fought the instinct to lower my eyes around women most of my life, but here and now it was hard to take my eyes off Jackie. The megawatt smile, the flush of redness across her throat and her chest, the vague warmth radiating in my direction—it was all magnetic. Once again, I became suddenly aware of her proximity. I didn’t want to move.

A quick shove broke the logjam. Ron was huffing from his run on the treadmill and ready to get moving. “Come on, boy.” Another shove. “Back to the office.”

Jackie got curious for a moment. “When do you guys eat lunch anyway?”

“Usually at our desks when we get back in,” Ron replied. “Eat and work at the same time.”

“Ah.” Then she turned and faced me bahis şirketleri again. “So what’s for lunch today?”

“A little leftover pasta from last night.”

“Oooh, your grandma make it for you?” she parried.

My chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the radio.

“Actually, I did.”

“Really? What kind?”

Let’s see how this goes… “Uh, with sardines.” I wasn’t sure how that would go over. People in this area were not known for their sense of culinary adventure. It seemed like half of the residents I met thought the only two vegetables in the world were potatoes and ketchup.

But Jackie wasn’t a local. “Mmmm,” she intoned, flashing her big-trouble grin. “Sounds nice and salty.”

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

This time, I glanced sideways and noticed Ron watching with an amusedly cocked eyebrow.

I turned back to Jackie with a guileless smile and shrugged. “It’s not bad.”

Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

Ron shook his head and made for the locker room. “I better get moving too,” I said. “Enjoy the weekend.”

Jackie headed off to her next exercise, not even looking over her shoulder. “Have fun doing whatever you do,” she called back, “whoever you do.”

She was already out of earshot when my mouth caught up to my brain.

“You too,” I forced out, mostly to myself. “You too.”

February

“You gonna get divorced?”

“Probably not. Still hanging in for right now.”

“Shit’s always rough, man. I know a lot of guys who had marriage problems when I was in.”

Ron could be an easy guy to talk to. Sometimes he’d bulldoze ahead, and you couldn’t get a word in for a few sentences. He might not even notice an interjection. But then he’d get thoughtful and let you speak. When he talked, he talked. But when he listened, he really listened.

He also didn’t beat around the bush. If he had a point, he said it plain.

“Just don’t cheat. Worst thing you can do in a situation like yours.”

Ron had made corporal and led a team before he left the Marines. He was used to juggling his guys’ personal issues. Here, he wasn’t speaking out of moral judgment—Ron wasn’t even religious—just giving sound, practical advice.

I didn’t feel like explaining that divorce was a practical obstacle more than anything: I still had little savings, no close friends or family in the area, and couldn’t afford a place of my own on my salary. I wasn’t ready to be ruined twice in one calendar year.

I also genuinely enjoyed being with my kid everyday. The idea of waking up somewhere without that was reflexively painful. I was willing to endure a lot to put off the inevitability of joint custody and weekend visits.

Curiously, Ron wasn’t referring to my flirtations with Jackie, or at least I didn’t think he was. There was no concern in his voice, no raised eyebrows, no hard look to make sure I got the message. He looked straight ahead at the elevator doors as he spoke, just giving his two cents.

Fifteen minutes later, we were exiting the locker room, ready for the day’s workout. Ron headed for the curling bench. I stopped to grab a mat and get in a few stretches before my routine.

As happens at gyms over time, several of the mats had succumbed to dry rot. Today, not one hung from the rack. Shrugging, I sat and began stretching on the rubberized floor tiles.

About thirty seconds into a plank, a pair of bare feet padded over and stopped to my right. I craned up to see Jackie peering down, imposing in her black yoga pants and a purple cutoff tee, her short hair tied back in a knot. Curled under her left arm was a personal yoga mat she toted into the gym every day.

“No mat for you today?”

“Well, you know how it is,” I said, intent on holding my plank, “sometimes it’s just better right on the hard floor.”

That elicited a snort of a laugh. She looked around the room, shook off her amusement, and unrolled her mat a few feet from my spot. She then went into some crane-like pose that required her to maintain balance on one foot, her knee bent, with an arm and leg suspended in mid-air.

Just when I thought she was in a state, she opened her eyes and cocked her head over. “Think you can do it? You have to hold it for a minute.”

I sensed that turning down a physical challenge might lose me points. “Let’s find out.”

I turned over, set my foot, bent my knee, and raised my left leg and right arm. I lasted about ten Mississippi’s. I recovered with as much dignity as I could fake and resumed my hamstring stretch. “Yeah, don’t think I’m quite there yet.”

If she had a funny opinion on the matter, it didn’t show. She rolled onto her knees and then, very suddenly, leaned in about a foot above me. Even more suddenly, she blurted, “You smell good.”

Say what? I pulled a Robert DeNiro face, not knowing how to take that. “Your clothes smell really good,” she clarified.

“Oh!” The initial surprise of the statement gave way, and I found myself pausing to appreciate that this girl I was clearly drawn to now loomed a few inches above me. Close enough to make out the barely-there freckles on either side of her nose. Close enough for some errant hairs to brush my face.

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