Tracy comes into the kitchen, dressed for basketball. Alex’s old shorts and a t shirt with the arms cut off. Alex, wearing a t shirt and panties, is standing by the refrigerator, hand on the handle, deep in thought. His brow is furrowed and he looks adorable. “Hey baby,” she says, kissing him on the lips. “What’s up?”
“Oh nothing. Just trying to decide whether I want the supplement this morning.” He stretches his arms and a hint of his stomach peeks out.
Tracy can’t stand the taste of the supplement. Lately, it’s had a weird aftertaste, first metallic and then chalky. She reminds herself to ask Chuck when she can stop. She shrugs. “I don’t think you,” she almost says ‘we’ and stops herself, “need to take it every day. What does Amy say?”
“I’ll ask her today.” He looks in the fridge. “Do you want me to make you some eggs or something before you go?”
She smiles. “That’d be great. Thanks.”
He kisses her on the nose. “You’re welcome.”
Tracy sits down at the table and watches him. Watches him bend over and take stuff out of the fridge. Then, take out the frying pan from the cabinet under the counter. As he cooks, he hums to himself.
He comes over and puts the plate down in front of her. “Breakfast is served,” he giggles. It’s cuter today. He sits down at the table. “You’re not eating?”
He sighs. “I will. I just can’t decide.” She looks at him, her eyes drifting down to his chest. He catches her, giving her a look but not saying anything.
“So, when do you think you’ll be home?”
The question annoys her. “I dunno. 4:30 or so. Why?”
“What time will you be home?” There’s a harshness in her tone.
He looks at her. Is it possible his eyes could have become bigger and bluer? He takes a breath, his chest rising and falling. “Before then. The class is at noon. Figure that’s an hour. Then get dressed and then lunch. But, Mark’s parents are coming for dinner, so Jen can’t stay too long…”
“Oh. Got it.” She eats a piece of toast.
He fixes his eyes on her, then smiles. “And what are your plans?” He uses his flirty tone but she’s not buying it. He’s keeping tabs on her.
“I told you basketball then beers.”
He smiles again, “I know. Where?”
“I dunno,” she says through a mouthful of eggs. “Does it matter?” She thinks of the waitress yesterday. How her hips are just a little wider, her chest a little bigger than Alex’s.
“I was just asking,” his tone a little petulant. “Sorry.”
“Ok. Where are you going?”
“Probably the Pan Tree. They make those great salads.”
They do. She remembers going there with Emily and Laura. She makes a note to call Emily, she’s been great these past few weeks, offering encouragement. Laura? She can go fuck herself. “They do.” They sit and eat mostly in silence, looking at their phones. Alex looks nervous and can’t sit still. He looks at her plate, not hungrily although she imagines he is. More like he wants to take it and put it in the dishwasher, so that she’ll leave. Why he wants that she doesn’t know. It’s not like he has time before class to get into trouble. Although he’s not one of those girls who gets fully made up for class. He doesn’t have to. Don’t misunderstand. He looks amazing with just a little makeup but, even now with none on, he looks cute. He could throw on jeans and a top and look fine. But she liked yesterday’s look. “Anyway, I’m going to head over,” she says, standing up. She leans down and kisses him, feeling the softness of his lips. “Bye, baby.” He doesn’t flinch at baby.
Tracy leaves and Alex lets out a breath. Thank God she’s gone, he thinks. Now, I can get ready in peace. He saw her looking at him at looking at his phone. He was just looking at his news feed, but it’s still none of her business. When he came back from the bathroom, his phone wasn’t exactly where he left it. Whatever. He’s changed his screen code.
He gets up and walks over to her dresser to get his gym clothes. He pulls out his new sports bra and a pair of shorts. He debates whether he needs a t shirt too, since this isn’t his normal aerobics class. It’s hip hop and Amy told them to expect to sweat a lot. But he’s going to have to drive over and he can’t do that in just a sports bra, can he?
He picks up his gym bag and checks – he has his body wash, soap dries out his skin; his shampoo and conditioner; and his hairbrush. Then he looks at the bag from yesterday and debates. He’s never done it before, not there. Then again, he did it yesterday and no one said anything. Except the salesperson and she was just up selling him so he’d buy the other palette of blush. He takes the makeup case they gave him – he chose black – and looks at the bag. He takes out an eyeliner, blush and lip gloss. He doesn’t need lip liner or mascara. It’s just lunch with his friends.
He goes over to her closet and debates what to wear. His eyes scan the available options. There’s the linen top from yesterday. With the blue tank top and his new jeans, he should look pretty good. Or maybe the white cotton top with the embroidery around the neck. He hangs it on the door knob. His eyes however are continually drawn to her skirts and dresses. One long flowy Indian print skirt in particular. He tells himself he shouldn’t, that it’s crossing a bridge. But then she said her closet is his closet, and no one’s here. There’s no harm in trying it on, he supposes.
His eyes dart around, looking for..he’s not sure what. He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and pulls on the skirt. Avoiding the mirror, he puts on the top and twirls a little, feeling the skirt flow around his legs. He still hasn’t looked in the mirror, at least not the full length one. He’s afraid.
He looks for a pair of shoes, and his eyes alight on the heels from yesterday. He puts them ones and then looks down. They look utterly ridiculous, wrong for the outfit. He looks like he’s playing dress-up. He goes into the closet and takes a pair of sandals. Much better, he thinks. He still can’t bring himself to look into the mirror.
So, he decides to walk around the house instead, taking care of little things. By the front door, he sees Tracy’s shoes and her briefcase, just dropped where she came in and he’s annoyed. He could have tripped over them and really gotten hurt, and it’s not like there’s not a space for them. He walks around tidying up and then goes to the kitchen to have some fruit and a string cheese for energy. He takes care to eat the strawberries leaning over the plate, so he doesn’t get a stain on Tracy’s top.
He finishes up and looks at his phone. He needs to get moving. He heads back to the bedroom to get his gym bag. Without paying attention, he catches a glimpse of himself in the full length mirror, and he’s paralyzed with fear. There’s no mistaking what he sees. He turns this way and that, then takes a selfie. He’s about to send it to Nicole, when he stops. It makes no sense, he thinks. He can’t. It’s too much. This isn’t right. He takes off the skirt, making sure to carefully hang it up and put it back exactly where it was. He hopes Tracy won’t be upset.
He keeps on the top, and then debates whether to wear shorts or his jeans. It’s supposed to be in the seventies today, so he takes a pair of faded blue cotton shorts and a pair of sandals. He changes into his workout clothes and heads to the gym.
He comes into the gym, scans his membership card and heads left to the locker room.
“Excuse me, miss,” the girl behind the desk says brightly. “I, um, think you’re going the wrong way.”
Alex looks at her. “Sorry, what?”
The girl giggles, “That’s the men’s locker room. Not that I wouldn’t like to go in there, but,” and she smiles, “rules are rules.”
Alex is dumbstruck and stands there, unsure of what to say or do. He feels his face turn red and he stares at the two doors. He’s not comfortable in the men’s and hasn’t been for a couple of weeks but he’s afraid off what someone might say if he goes into the women’s. Bathrooms are one thing but this is different.
He takes a deep breath and heads right. He figures if he goes to the back and puts his stuff away quickly, maybe no one will notice. He finds a locker in the far corner, away from the entrance and not near the showers. The showers. Shit. He hadn’t thought about that. And they’re going to lunch after, which means he can’t go home beforehand. Shit. What can he do?
He quickly adjusts his sports bra, keeping an eye on the other woman in the locker room. She sees him, smiles and says that she’ll see him out there and to have a good workout. He exhales.
He puts his hair in a high ponytail. He’s started doing that lately, he’s tired of it flying in his face. He heads to the dance room, oblivious of the guys heading to the weight room, his obliviousness unreciprocated.
He feels a tap on his shoulder. “Hey, sweetie.” Sarah, his friend from class. They exchange kisses and look each other up and down. “I like this new look.”
Alex is wearing a pair of Tracy’s old shorts, which barely cover his ass, and a t shirt, no tights. He’s tired of the tights. “I figured these would work better for the class,” he says, walking over to the barre. He puts his leg up and leans forward, checking out his reflection in the mirror. He looks over and sees a guy stretching and looking at him, which is unnerving. He’s been the only guy in class since he joined the gym. He looks at this new guy, at the way his muscular quads tense as he stretches. At the way his shirt rides up slightly, showing what looks like a six pack. At his almond shaped green eyes. All the women in class are looking at him, which makes Alex feel invisible.
Amy comes in and plugs in her iPhone, pairing it with the speaker. “Ready ladies?” Which gets a giggle as all eyes turn to Alex’s stretching friend. “I’m sorry. I’m not being inclusive. We have a visitor.”
The mystery man smiles, clearly enjoying the attention, “I’m Marco. Thanks for letting me join you.”
The class starts, “Bad and Boujee” by Migos, and Alex keeps his eyes on Amy, following her moves. After four songs, he’s sweating like he hasn’t since that first aerobics class. It’s not that he’s not in great shape, Amy’s always complimenting him, but these are different moves. Still, he’s doing better than most, some of whom are huffing and not following the steps, not like he is. And Marco.
Half an hour in and Alex has gotten into the groove. He watches his ponytail flipping around in the mirror and feels it brush against his neck. Marco winks and gives a smile in the mirror, and he smiles back.
In the minute break between songs, Marco takes off his shirt. Alex was right. He has a six pack and a very…well…muscled chest. Alex feels self-conscious, especially when all the women stare, a couple even gasping. Marco smiles. Alex looks at himself in the mirror, maybe he doesn’t have a six pack but he’s been working hard. His stomach is as flat as anyone’s in here, maybe flatter. Without thinking, he takes off his shirt, so that he’s standing there in just his sports bra. He hears a couple of giggles, he thinks one is Sarah’s. He doesn’t care. He’s proud of himself. He looks in the mirror and Marco gives him a smile and a wink, which makes him turn a little pink.
The music starts up again and Amy really starts pushing them. He’s doing moves he’s never done before and he feels his muscles aching. He looks over at Marco, who is now sweating heavily, the sweat dripping down his chest onto his stomach. And then his groin. He smiles at Alex and moves closer. Alex watches him in the mirror, trying to match him move for move. He keeps up but it’s different. His hips don’t move like Marco’s, no matter how he tries. He feels sweat pooling his bra and is grateful that he bought one that pulls away the sweat.
By the end of class, there’s maybe five or six people keeping up with Amy, Alex and Marco among them. Not that they’re both not sweating profusely. He tries to keep his eyes on the mirror, but finds himself looking at Marco’s quads from time to time.
The class finishes with “Wobble,” Marco having moved next to him. He’s not watching Amy anymore. Instead, he and Marco are moving in sync, each one’s eyes flicking towards the other.
Class finishes and Alex goes to his bag to get his water, Sarah and Jen moaning about how tough the class was. As he leans over, he feels a shadow fall over him. He looks up. “You were great,” Marco says, with a smile. Alex thinks he has a great smile.
“So were you,” and he takes a sip, feeling his throat muscles expand and contract with each sip. Sarah and Jen giggle and then move away, slightly. “I mean, that was a really tough class.”
“It was. I’m Marco,” he says, smiling.
“I know. I remember,” which makes Sarah and Jen, his so-called friends, laugh. He gets flustered. “I mean, I’m Alex.”
Marco picks up his shirt and puts it back on. He smiles, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Without thinking, Alex says, “Probably not,” to giggles. “It probably feels weird.” He leaves his own shirt off, and he watches as Marco’s eyes move up and down.
Marco takes the bottom of his shirt and wipes his face again. Up close, Alex sees how muscular his abs are, and he takes another sip of water. “Have you ever taken this class before?”
“No, not this one,” Alex says. “Amy teaches another class during the week that I take. But not this one. No. Have you”?
Marco smiles, “First time too. I’m glad I did though.” He touches Alex’s arm and smiles, “So we’re having a party tonight, if you’re interested.”
Alex is confused. “Who’s we?”
Marco smiles. “Phi Delt. I’ve seen you around campus, haven’t I? You’re a Kappa, right?”
Sarah and Jen giggle a little and then move away. Alex smiles. He should say something about how old he is, about Tracy, about his life. But that would require him to remember any of that. Instead, “No. No, I’m not.” Followed by, “I have plans tonight. Maybe I’ll see you around though.”
He smiles. “I hope so,” and walks away.
Like lions on the savanna spotting an antelope, Sarah and Jen pounce. “Oh my God, Lexie,” Jen offers.
“What?” Alex takes his hair out of the ponytail, putting the band around his wrist.
“You and Marco is what. You two in class,” and she theatrically fans herself. “I was waiting for the two of you to get naked.”
He’s mortified. “We were just dancing…and not even with each other.”
Sarah looks him up and down. “I don’t know who you were dancing with, but he was dancing with you.” Alex thinks back to class and smiles, and Sarah continues, “Yeah, you weren’t dancing with him.”
Without thinking, they’ve walked into the locker room. Alex gets nervous, afraid they’ll say something. He goes to his corner and Nicole says, laughing, “Are you not talking to us”? He stammers something about getting there early and she says, “Bring your stuff here, silly”. He moves his things and she continues, “After that class, I could use a sauna.” She looks at Alex, “Are you coming or do you need a cold shower?” He quickly undresses and then wraps his towel tightly under his armpits.
He follows them into the sauna, the hot air hitting him. It’s fine, he thinks. We do this all the time. It’s no big deal. Sarah looks at him. “So, Lexie, are you going tonight?”
“Ha ha.” He sits down, smoothing the towel under him before he does.
“Or do Kappas not do things with Phi Delts?” Jen offers, giggling. Then, she looks at him appraisingly. “You could totally pass for 22.”
“Stop it,” he wants to crawl under the bench, however intrigued he is. “No.”
Sarah smiles, “We’re playing, Lex. Seriously, he was definitely a snack though”.
Nicole looks at him, “If he’s half as good in bed as he was in class, I’m going to that party.”
He tries to change the subject, talking about how sore he is. How the class worked muscles they don’t normally use. Eventually, they stop teasing him and move on. “What’s Tracy doing today?”
‘Tracy’ snaps him back into reality. “Basketball then beer,” Alex says. “Yours?”
Sarah smiles, “I have him doing stuff around the house.” She blithely takes off her towel, exposing herself and not giving him a second glance. “So we have all day.”
Alex thinks about the dress yesterday and the skirt this morning. He wants their opinion. Then, he feels his pulse race and his throat tighten. Without thinking, he unwraps his towel, exposing himself to them. He waits for someone to say something, to scream. But no one does. They just continue talking about work, he thinks. For a few seconds, the conversation sounds like he’s underwater.
They leave the sauna and head to the showers, stopping for their toiletries, and he pauses. Everything today has felt like crossing the Rubicon, but this is. There’s even water, he thinks to himself. He’s ready to turn and run out. Then, he looks. They’re separate stalls. If he finishes first and dries off in the shower, no one will see. He can do this.
He showers, making sure to shampoo and condition the way the stylist told him. He went the other day for a cleanup, and she oohed and aahed over ‘how gorgeous your hair is.’ She told him he could ‘never, ever, ever straighten or color it.’ The smell alone in there made him sick and besides he likes it this way. And so does Marco…Tracy. He, she’s always running her fingers through it. He thinks about yesterday, the way she ran her fingers through it after she finished with him…the third time. And he starts playing with himself in the shower, the way that Tracy did, bringing himself to orgasm. He’s been doing it since he was 14 but this is different. Like seeing color for the first time.
He gets out and heads to his locker. He’s first, no time to linger, especially as he hears the water turning off in the shower room. He quickly puts on his bra and panties, taking care to hide whatever is down there. Jennifer, Sarah and Nicole come over and begin getting undressed, as if he isn’t there. He takes out his clothes from his gym bag, pulling on the shorts first and then the top. His breasts aren’t sitting right, and he shifts them in the cups.
Nicole looks at him, then breaks into a big grin. “Ohmigod, Lexie. You look so adorable.”
Sarah looks him up and down. She smiles but it feels vacant. “Very cute, Lex. Very cute.” The last two words making him nervous.
Jen looks at her. “Oh stop it, Sarah. I think she looks great.” He misses ‘she.’ “Maybe we should find Marco. Get his opinion.” He says nothing, just sticks out his tongue, the way Tracy used to. He takes his makeup bag and goes over to the mirror. He starts putting on blush. Jen walks over and takes the brush. “Not too much, Lexie. Just a little bit. You have great color already. Now,” and she takes the eyeliner, “let’s make those blue eyes sparkle.” And then, taking the lip gloss. “Good. You went with pink. Works perfectly.”
He’s enjoying the ministrations, and trying to pay attention, for next time. If there is a next time. He says, without realizing, “Tracy wanted red.”
All the women laugh. Sarah says, “Oh god, they all want red. Red lips, red nails. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I’ll do it for him, but red is for old ladies and skanks.”
Nicole. “I know. For Todd’s birthday, I did the whole red nails and lips thing. And the heels and everything.” Then, she grinned devilishly. “On the other hand, it was amazing. I came four times…without help, y’know.”
Alex feels his face turn red. He shouldn’t be here. Jen laughs. “Oh look, she’s blushing. I think our little college girl is a virgin,” she teases.
“Saving yourself for the guy who pins you?” Sarah teases, the warmth back.
“Very funny,” Alex says, thinking of how he was pinned yesterday, not in the way she meant but still. Then, he looks in the mirror at his reflection. At the girl staring back. And she’s a girl, maybe 23. His mouth falls open.
Jen. “I do a pretty good job, huh?” She smiles. She turns to the other two. “What do you think?”
Alex says, “This is OK, right?”
They all stare at him, as if they’ve forgotten. Sarah comes over. “Lexie, you look beautiful.”
Nicole. “Lexie, stop it. We’re your friends.”
Jen puts her hand on his arm, the way she did the first day. “We’re here for you.” Alex feels himself tearing up. “Oh stop that,” she says. “I am not fixing your makeup again.” And he smiles. She looks at him. “You really do look 22. Bitch.”
He gets his purse and wonders if he should show them the selfie, see what they think. But he doesn’t. He’s afraid of what he knows they’ll say.
It’s a warm day, so they’ve decided to play on the outdoor courts instead of at the gym. Tracy’s not happy. She doesn’t like the idea of Alex being there alone. She’s seen the looks he’s been getting lately.
They’ve got enough guys for five on five, Dave on the other team. She didn’t want to come here but is glad they did. At the gym, there’s always some kid with his dad shooting on one of the side baskets distracting her. Out here, they’re at the other end and she can ignore them.
They’re playing to 21, it’s 10-6 her team. She’s not the best player out there, not by a long shot, but she’s the toughest she thinks. She’s not afraid to get under the basket and fight for boards. And all those years of dance her mother made her take are finally paying off. She can jump high enough to make up for the four inches some of the guys have on her. She’s guarding Dave, hip checking him enough that he’s giving her dirty looks. Don’t be such a baby, she thinks.
She grabs a board and passes the ball down court, when she hears it. “Woo hoo, way to go, black shirt”. She looks around to confirm what she already knows. She looks around as she runs down court and sees three girls, early twenties, looking down from above at them. A cute little redhead smiles and waves at her.
She sets a pick for Mike, her teammate, and he rolls to the basket for an easy layup, high-fiving her as they run down court. The redhead and her friends cheer again, the redhead yelling, nice…pick, black shirt. Mike looks at her and raises an eyebrow.
Dave has the ball now, and Tracy goes into a crouch, as she guards him. Dave looks at her and grins nastily, “Where’s Alex today”? He’s trying to distract her.
He fails, sort of. She knocks the ball away but slams his wrist in process. Bone on bone, which gives her a stinger for a second. He calls foul, which is bullshit. It’s incidental contact but she’s not going to fight about it. Dave’s team gets the ball back and she goes back to covering him. He looks at her and smiles, “You that rough with Alex?”
Dick. “No, just your wife. She likes it that way, especially after you”. Dave gives her a look. You crossed the line, she thinks, not me. She keeps guarding him but his teammates don’t pass him the ball again for a while. When they do, she makes sure that she doesn’t come close to fouling him.
When her team gets the ball back, she fakes out the man covering her and cuts to the basket. Mike passes to her and she goes in for an easy jumper. She hears cheers and looks up to find the redhead and her friends cheering. She looks up and smiles, and the girl smiles, never taking her eyes off of him.
By the end of the game, it’s 20-16, her team. And it’s all out war between her and Dave, each hip checking the other whenever possible, Tracy making sure to lean hard against him when they’re under the basket. Although it’s not really a contest. He’s taller but she’s stronger. Plus, she’s been creating space for herself since puberty.
The game ends, and they all give each other five, muttering good game, Dave first not meeting her eyes and then glaring at her. She mutters sorry but she isn’t. No blood, no foul. That’s the rule.
She goes over to the water fountain and is taking a drink, when she feels a shadow. She looks up and it’s the redhead, who’s smiling at her. “That was quite a game.”
Tracy feels warm, then decides she’s just sweaty. “Thanks. I can’t believe you guys watched that long.” She checks out the redhead. She’s wearing denim shorts and a green t shirt, which only highlights her eyes. She imagines her closet and sees lots of green. She’s about Alex’s height, but her legs are maybe two inches longer. Her chest a B or C, and she’s probably a size 6. 4 in some stuff, but mostly a 6. And young, no more than 20.
The redhead smiles and moves closer, Tracy feeling her breath. “Who doesn’t want to watch guys get all sweaty? You played really well.”
6 points, 8 rebounds. “Thanks. I’m Tracy.”
Of course, you are. Tracy looks in Megan’s eyes, emerald green. Her face is what her grandpa used to call a map of Ireland, a couple of freckles on her cheeks. She lets her eyes wander down, especially to Megan’s legs. She’s picturing her laying on the grass, in a bikini top and these shorts, trying to get some color. Then, “So what do you do when you’re not hanging around the park watching guys get sweaty?”
Megan blushes, which only makes her cuter. “I’m in school, and work at a bank. What about you?”
Tracy relaxed and, without thinking, puts her arms behind her head, flexing. She sees the ‘really?’ look in Megan’s eyes and puts her arms down. She wants to say she’s just stretching. “I’m an accountant.”
Megan shifts from foot to foot. “You don’t look like an accountant.”
She’s heard this since graduation. “What does an accountant look like?”
“Like the guy you were covering, the whiny one.” Megan moves closer. She moves back a half step.
She laughs. “He’s in real estate…”
Megan puts her hand up. “I don’t care about him.” She’s forward.
Tracy debates what to do, when Mike rescues her. “Hey, Tracy. You coming?”
Megan puts her hand on her shoulder. “Are you…coming?”
Tracy suddenly feels several sets of eyes on her. “Um, we’re going to Fraser’s. For beers… And stuff.” Megan looks at her, waiting for an invitation. “And then Alex…my girlfriend…is expecting me”.
Megan’s disappointed, but tries to hide it. “Got it. See you around,” and she walks off, Tracy’s eyes never leaving her ass.
Mike comes over, with Dennis, and they watch Megan and her friends walk away. Dennis laughs, “What does she see in you?”
Tracy looks at him. She knows his type, always negging (‘a lot of guys wouldn’t like that, but I do’). She wants to hit him and clenches her fists for a second, then relaxes. “The facts speak for themselves, Denny… There’s yours,”’and she tilts her head towards an old woman shuffling along. Which gets her a middle finger and a laugh.
Sarah and Jennifer leave, Jen having to get ready for her in-laws and Sarah having caught a ride with her. It’s just Alex and Nicole. His phone is face down on the table, a habit from his old job. They used to play a game there, first one to pick up their phone bought a round. He wants to ask her opinion of his selfie but doesn’t know how to ask. Or how he’ll respond when she says what he thinks she will.
They walk along the street, looking in the windows. They pass by a clothing store, a royal blue dress with a delicate dot print hanging in the window. It has a v-neck, short sleeves and ends a couple of inches above the knee. His eyes are drawn to it and then he’s repelled. Nicole offers, “Hang on, Lexie.” It no longer sounds strange. “I need a pair of black pants for work”. She’s a lawyer, a second year doing insurance defense. She can’t stand it but says that she has student loans to pay.
She pushes the door open, and it emits an electronic beep. The saleswoman watches them from behind the register, bored. Nicole begins thumbing through the black pants, periodically holding them up. He’s mystified at how many options there are. While she does that, he flicks through a rack of dresses. Absentmindedly, he holds one up to himself. It’s a paler blue than the one in the window. And it’s short, its hem an inch higher.
Which is when Nicole turns around. She’s grinning from ear to ear. “You should definitely try that on, Lexie.”
He looks at himself in the mirror. He’s blushing but he hasn’t moved the dress from in front of himself. “I dunno,” he mumbles.
She’s standing next to him, looking at their reflections in the mirror. “It’ll be fine, Lexie,” she offers, in a low voice. The saleswoman looks up again, then back down at her phone, as if deciding that she’ll deign to respond only if asked.
He’s paralyzed now. He wants nothing more…and nothing less. He knows what she sees, but he still isn’t sure what he sees. He feels a little short of breath. He trusts Nicole, he thinks. Of his three friends from class, he trusts her the most. But can he trust her here and now?
He walks over to the rack of black pants. He needs black pants. For work. He works from home. But sometimes he has meetings. So, he takes three pairs. And he’ll need shirts too. He forgets about the shirts in his closet, next to the skirts. And he goes to the dressing room.
Tracy comes in. She’s feeling good. Maybe it’s the two beers in her – it feels good not to get a buzz on quickly anymore – or maybe it was the way that Dave genuinely seemed OK when she apologized for kicking his ass. She thinks about Lauren, how she wouldn’t let things go over a lot less. She walks in and sees a cute little blonde girl, in short shorts and a flowy cotton top walking around her living room. She’s about to lose her shit, ask her just what the hell it is she’s doing there, when she realizes. It’s Alex. He’s wearing her embroidered top and shorts. And he’s changed his makeup. Which makes her laugh a little. She walks up behind him and grabs him. “Aaagh,” he screams, in a girlish voice. He turns around, “You scared me!”. She kisses him full on the mouth. He frowns a little then smiles. “I can taste the beer.”
She sticks her hands in his back pockets. The pockets are so small that only her fingers fit. She looks in his eyes. “You’ve changed your makeup.”
He pulls back a little. “Jen did it for me at the gym. You like?” She wonders if he realizes how girly that ‘you like’ sounded.
She takes him in. All of him. From the tips of his cute toes to the shorts that barely skim his thighs to the cute little top. She knows that she used to look that cute. “You look very cute, baby. Very young.”
He blushes. “That’s what they said”. She pictures Sarah giving him the once over more than once. Sarah’s attractive but doesn’t take care of her skin. By 50, she’ll look like an alligator bag if she’s not careful. She’ll remind Alex to moisturize tonight.
“How did it happen? I mean the makeup.”
“Well, we were in the locker room and I was taking out my makeup…”
“Which locker room?” She pictures him in the men’s and pictures him getting attacked. It makes her angry and she clenches her fists.
Alex looks at her, worried, his eyes looking bigger and bluer, especially the way Jen did them. She hopes he paid attention. “Is everything ok, Trace?”
“Which locker room?”
She didn’t mean to sound angry but clearly did, because Alex looks at her. “The women’s”. He upspeaks a little, sounding annoyed.
“You went in the women’s?”
He looks mortified. “I had no choice”. He looks down, disconsolate.
She hugs him. “It’s ok, baby. No one said anything, did they”? She’ll hurt anyone who did but makes sure to keep her tone even and her hands open.
He looks at her. “No. No one said a word.” Then he changes tone. “So, anyway, I was putting on my makeup, the stuff I bought yesterday,” and he’s enacting putting it on, his hands fluttering, and he’s her pretty little Alex again, finishing with,”and so you like it, right?”
She smiles. She pictures him in a formal dress, legs in the air in the back of a car. “How was class? How was hip hop?”
He sighs and pouts, and she wants to take him, here and now. “Hard! It works totally different muscles.”
“Did everyone make it through”? She remembers a high intensity Zumba class, where people kept falling out. Not her though.
He smiles. “I did. Me and a couple of other people.”
There’s something in the way he says that. “What other people?”
“A couple of other people. Nicole and some other people you don’t know.” His tone is defensive.
“So, who were they?”
Alex is irritated. And scared. There’s a look in Tracy’s eyes he doesn’t like. He’s seen it too much lately. Couple that with the phone this morning and he’s afraid. “Nicole, Brooke – you’ve seen her, tall brunette, big ass, Ticia and,” he debates the next one. If he says it, she’ll grab onto like a shark and who knows what then. If he doesn’t and they run into him, it’ll be much worse, “Marco.”
“A guy? There was a guy in your class? What happened?”
He looks at her and his most condescending tone. “We all danced.”
Her eyes narrow. “That’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it! What do you think happened?”
“Did you talk to him”? He’s watching her hands. She’s not clenching them but clearly wants to.
“Yes. I said, ‘tough class.’ He said, ‘yeah.’ And that’s it.” He pictures Marco’s abs and then stops himself. “How was basketball?”
“Good. 6 points. 8 rebounds.”
He adopts a mock-proud tone and squeals, “That’s great,” and then he kisses her, full on the mouth.
Which has its intended effect. “Oh yeah. And Dave’s a pussy.”
You always think that, Alex thinks. “What happened this time?”
“We were playing hard”. You were fouling him. He’s watched her. She has no technique. She just bangs people around. “And he kept whining. But we’re cool now,” she says dismissively.
He’s not really interested. “Well, that’s good. How was the bar?”
“Eh, fine. How was lunch?”
“Good. Nicole and I hung around a little while after”.
“What did you do?” The question feels like an inquisition.
“We just walked around. And talked.” He leaves out ‘shopped.’ He knows where that will lead and isn’t interested. He thinks about the dress he bought. And hidden. He debated where to put it. He started it next to the jeans but then figured if she looked over, it would stick out like a sore thumb. He kept moving it around but everywhere it was obvious. So it’s in the closet with the winter coats. By the time it’s time for those, he’ll have an answer.
“What did you talk about?”
He looks at her, suspicious. Which makes her suspicious. “Her job mostly. She doesn’t like it.”
Tracy laughs, to defuse the situation. “Who does?” Nicole’s a second year lawyer. She remembers her first job two years out. A big public accounting firm. The way that they’d work you to death and make you feel two inches tall. Oh well, that’s life.
“Yeah, well, anyway I feel bad for her. She’s lucky she could take the afternoon. Said that she’d have to go in tomorrow instead.” She watches him go into the kitchen. The shorts barely cover his ass cheeks, which is shaking like a Polaroid picture, to quote the Outkast song. She wonders if he knows. “What happened at the bar?”
She wasn’t expecting the question. “I told you. Nothing.”
His eyes narrow. She wants to tell him he’s going to get lines if he keeps doing that. “Nothing? Nothing happened?” His tone is incredulous and nasty.
She thinks back to the bar. To the waitress. The black girl with the bubble ass and those beautiful hazel eyes. How Dennis busted her…whatever…about how she could take her coffee light or dark. Which is racist, as she thinks about it. But not wrong. She smiles. “Nothing important. We had a couple of beers. Watched the Cardinals game. They lost. Sorry.”
Alex is from St. Louis. Somewhere, in her drawer, is a t shirt that he bought her when they went back to visit. Maybe he’ll dig it out now.
“Oh. Oh well. It’s May. It’s early in the year.” He’s emptying the dishwasher now, her eyes following him from leaning to take things out (is he wearing a thong?) to reaching up to put them away. His top pulling away from the top of the shorts, showing off his stomach. “So what do you want to do tonight?”
Her eyes never leave his legs and ass. “I dunno. Dinner at Valencia?” A tapas place in town. Good wine. OK food. Dimly lit with booths.
“K?” He’s upspeaking. He finishes up and kisses her. She pulls him onto her lap and notices how he doesn’t protest.
Valencia is in town, along the main street so parking is a real pain in the ass. They’re four blocks from the restaurant. Alex’s legs are sore from class today. He didn’t realize what a workout it was until he woke up from his nap and his legs felt like lead. Not that he’s complaining about class.
Tracy looks at him, “You OK, honey?”
He smiles, “Fine. It’s just that my legs are sore.”
She looks at him. “I could have dropped you off.” It’s funny, he thinks. Unless it was raining, Tracy would have dragged herself from wherever he parked rather than get dropped off. He keeps smiling. She’s been in a bad mood lately. “It’s fine. I’m not an invalid.” Tracy looks at him. “I’m better off walking anyway. Stretches the muscles.”
Tracy takes his hand. Hers is rough, “Sure.” Then she laughs, “So, how bad was this class?”
He thinks of Marco and then banishes the thought. “It wasn’t any rougher than regular class. The moves were just…different. Like how if you suddenly started playing tennis instead of basketball, you’d work different muscles.” She nods.
They pass another couple on the street. The man smiles at him. By rote, he smiles back. A terrible idea. Tracy tightens her grip on his hand. It hurts. Which hurts him even more. “Ow!” He tries to pull his hand away and can’t. Eventually, she lets go. He goes to say something but there’s a look in her eye that stops him.
They walk the rest of the way in silence. Well, he’s silent. She keeps talking. About herself. Something to do with Dennis sending her work. Eventually, it becomes white noise.
They get to the restaurant and the hostess asks her, ‘Table or booth?’ Alex wants a booth, he’s never cared for tables, feeling like he’s being watched and is about to say something, when Tracy says, smiling, “we’ll take a table, please.” Then, she looks the hostess up and down.
The hostess leads them to a table in the middle of the restaurant, Tracy’s arm ostentatiously around his waist. She’s wearing a button down, shirt and jeans. With her new haircut, she screams ‘butch.’ Which leaves him feeling nauseous in his new jeans and cotton top. They get to the table – in the center of the restaurant, of course – and the hostess leads him to the seat with its back to the door. She hands them both menus, giving Tracy the wine list, explaining what’s by the glass and by the bottle, telling them that their waitress will be by shortly. Tracy’s eyes follow her as she walks away.
Alex looks at her. “Um, did you switch sides and not tell me?”
Tracy, confused. “What?”
He smiles. “You have been checking out the hostess since we got here.” Admittedly, she’s cute. Dark hair, dark eyes, about 5’3”, if that. “I mean, if that’s what you’re into…” He’s teasing.
“No!” Tracy snaps. “No!”
Now, he’s annoyed but still he smiles nervously. “I was teasing you.”
“Were you into that guy?” Her eyes are angry.
He thinks of Marco and gets nervous. She couldn’t know. “What guy?”
Her hands are on the table, flat. “That guy. On the street.”
He has no idea what she’s talking about. “What guy? On what street?”
She drums the table with one hand. “The one. That you smiled at.”
He doesn’t remember any guy. Or smiling for that matter. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” His stomach churns, and he feels acid. She keeps staring. “Seriously, what?” He takes a sip of his water.
“When we were walking here. The guy.”
He vaguely remembers someone. “The guy? With his wife?” He noticed the ring on her finger. He can’t even picture either of their faces. Tracy looks at him, expectantly. “Uh, no. He smiled. I smiled. That’s it.” She still looks pissed. Which is fine, because so is he. Each retreats to the menu, studying intently.
She watches as he picks at the cuticle on his ring finger with his thumb, as he reads the menu. He’s being ridiculous. She can’t believe that he doesn’t realize why she’s annoyed. “Are we going to do this all night?”
He looks at her, his blue eyes angry and then, when she keeps his gaze, nervous, darting from side to side. “Do what?”
She puts her hands on the table, flat. “Not talk to each other?”
She watches as his eyes flick from her hands to her face, back and forth. “I’m not not talking.” Then, he sighs. She watches his chest go up and down. “It’s just…why did you get so upset?”
Take a deep breath, she thinks. Think before you speak. “It’s just…I don’t like other guys checking you out.”
He smiles, which makes him look even prettier. “He wasn’t checking me out.”
She laughs. “He was.”
He starts to say something about being with his wife, but stops himself. She knows he knows that’s bullshit. She used to say that his eyes bulged out like ‘The Mask’. “Well, I wasn’t,” he laughs. I have you. He smiles softly, and puts his hand on hers. “Ok?”. Then, he looks at her, “But you were totally checking the hostess out. Want me to see if she’s available?”
She’s pissed then takes another breath. The hostess is cute, she thinks, then stops herself. “OK. Fine. Whatever.”
They study the menus, picking out what to eat, Alex focusing mostly on vegetables and fish. Good, she thinks. Those jeans don’t leave room for croquetas. And summer will be here soon enough.
The waitress comes over, asking for drink orders first. “I’ll have an Estrella Galicia,” she says. As the waitress turns to Alex, she says, “And she’ll have a glass of Rioja.” She doesn’t notice the waitress roll her eyes at Alex. She just sees Alex smile and then she continues, ordering everything. When the waitress asks if there’s anything else, she says ‘no thank you.’
Alex starts waving his hands in the air. “What are you doing?”
He looks at her. “If I’m a mute, I should probably learn sign language.”
He’s being a bitch, which is not making her happy. “What?”
“I can order my own drink, thanks,” and he takes a sip of water, leaving a lipstick stain on the glass. Pink. Alex is pink. “And my own food.”
It’s not that big a deal, she thinks. The waitress has other tables to cover and this just made the order go faster. “What’s the big deal? She asked about drinks. And it’s tapas. We share. I mean, I got what you wanted.”
He softens. “It’s not a big deal. But, in the future, please don’t. K?” She finds ‘k’ annoying all of a sudden.
She sighs, “Fine.” He goes to take a piece of bread, looking around, as if someone was going to stop him. His sister told her once, in front of him, how his dad used to stop him if he took more than one piece. His sister laughed as she told it. He didn’t. And now she feels bad.
“So what happened with Dave exactly?”
“He’s a whiny asshole.” She’s not sure why he’s asking again.
He smiles softly. “That’s not an answer. If I asked him, what would he say?”
Why would you ask him anything, she thinks. What she says is, “I fouled him hard, he says.”
“Did you?” He folds and unfolds his napkin, eventually delicately placing it back in his lap. She wonders if he knows how that looks. Not that she’d tell him.
“I already told you. No.” She says that last part a little too loudly, as people at the next table turn and look at her.
Alex hisses. “People are looking…”
“So?” Now she’s really annoyed. “I told you no and you kept going.”
“I didn’t keep going. Dave is your friend. I was just asking. Besides I’ve seen you play…”
She doesn’t realize that she’s raised her hands, until Alex looks at them. She doesn’t put them down but doesn’t move them from in front of her face either. “What does that mean?”
Alex’s eyes move around nervously. He’s lying. Or scared.
Alex is suddenly afraid, in a way he’s never been. “I’ve watched you…at the gym and…you play…very…aggressively…sometimes.” He doesn’t think she’d do anything. But he doesn’t know. And not knowing is worse, he thinks.
Tracy smiles. “You don’t seem to mind aggressive.”
She’s flirting with him? Now? Really? But he smiles back. He hopes he doesn’t look sick. “Um, that’s different.” He almost says something about Dave and heels, and stops himself. Again, not knowing. “You’re a very good player. So, I don’t think you need to be…so…aggressive at times.” Tracy looks at him and he smiles. “Show them what you can do without that.”
Tracy smiles, appeased, and he relaxes. “Tell me about your class.”
“Oh, it was amazing…I mean I have not sweated like that since that first class with Amy…” He smiles, thinking of how great a workout it was. Tracy nods like she’s paying attention, until he says. “I mean it got so bad that I had to take my shirt off.”
Her eyes light up. “You took your shirt off?”
He rolls his eyes. He was talking about how tough the workout was, how good he felt. “Yes, yes I did. It was that hard.”
“Did anyone notice?”
He thinks about what to say here. There’s no right answer, at least not one that involves the truth. “Everybody was really into it. I mean the class.”
Tracy offers an ‘oh.’ “What did Marco say?” The question surprises him. She doesn’t care about the class.
Do not smile, he thinks, looking at her hands, which are on the table normally. “Nothing. I mean it’s a really intense class. Other than Amy, you really don’t talk. You can’t.”
“Did you talk to him after”?
“He’s a college kid, Tracy.” A true statement. Mostly.
“That’s not what I asked.”
He measures his words carefully. “Yes. I said good class. He said yeah”. He looks for the waitress, willing their food to the table.
He thinks of Marco and the party. He’s remembering crowded rooms, people crammed against each other, sweat and hormones and the potential for sex. He’s picturing Marco’s hands around his waist while they dance. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Oh, OK.” She seems convinced. Then, “I don’t want you taking classes with him anymore.”
“Excuse me?” Now his hands are on the table.
Tracy doesn’t look impressed.
Tracy looks into his eyes, smiling. Except hers aren’t. “I don’t like you taking classes with guys. So don’t. Please.”
As if the please makes a difference. “With guys,” he hisses. “What am I?”
She looks at him and tries not to smile or roll her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t like the idea of you half naked around guys”. She’s getting annoyed.
“I was not half naked,” he huffs. “I was working out and getting hot. And I just took my shirt off. I doubt he even noticed.”
She looks at him. At his lined eyes. And his pink lips. At the tits that draw attention from every guy as he walks around. “Is he gay?”
He’s caught by surprise. He looks around nervously, unable to keep her gaze. “What? I don’t know. I didn’t ask him.”
“Then he noticed. Why is why you can’t take classes with guys, with him anymore.”
Now, he looks angry, very angry. He’s crumpling his napkin into a ball. “Excuse me?”
She looks at him, smiles and then stops. “I don’t like it. So I’m asking. Nicely.”
Before he can respond, the waitress comes over with their food. “Here we go,” she smiles, before she looks at the two of them. She quickly lists the various plates and then, with a pro forma ‘can I get you anything else,’ makes a quick retreat.
Without looking at her, Alex takes a shrimp off a plate and begins cutting it into small pieces. She takes a lamb skewer. “These are really good. Try one.” She holds one out.
Still looking at his plate. “No, thank you.”
“Seriously, they’re really good. I know you’re watching what you eat but…”
He looks up quickly and then down. “It’s not that I’m watching what I eat. I don’t want one. That’s all. Stop trying to force it on me.”
“Jesus, Alex. What is your problem?” Why is he being such a bitch over a piece of lamb? You don’t want it? Fine. More for me.
He looks like he’s about to say something and then he stops. “I have no problem.”
“Then, why are you acting this way?” If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was on the rag.
Now, he looks up. “Why am I acting what way, Tracy?”
“Like a total bee-yotch.” She takes a croqueta off the plate. She waits to see if he takes one.
His eyes widen. “I am acting like a bitch? Really?” He takes a croqueta.
“I thought Amy wanted you to avoid fried foods and dairy.” Yes, it’s only one croqueta. But one leads to two and two leads to ten. Pounds. Which is not good.
“It’s fine,” and he cuts off a piece, putting it in his mouth.
“I’m just trying to help you.”
“Thank you. It’s fine”. His eyes don’t leave his plate. His mascara is evident. He reaches over to take another shrimp.
“Hey, leave some for the rest of us,” she jokes.
Alex theatrically drops it back on the plate. “Excuse me,” and he puts his napkin on the table. He pushes his chair back. As he gets up, he smooths his pants. She wonders if he realizes he’s doing it.
“Where are you going?”
When he gets up, he’s not sure where he’s going or what he’s going to do. He just knows that he needs to be somewhere else. “The bathroom.” He picks up his purse, a clutch and walks off.
He heads towards the bathroom. Without thinking about it, he heads into the women’s room. He sits down in a stall to pee and it hits him. He starts to cry, softly at first, then sobs. He hears a voice, concerned, “Are you ok?”
He wipes himself and opens the door. The woman is by the sink. She’s in her early 40s, 5’5”, brown shoulder length hair. He smiles, “I’m fine.” He looks in the mirror, at his red rimmed eyes and runny eyeliner. “I know I don’t look fine but I am”. He starts wiping his eyes and then reapplying his eyeliner. He wants to go without it, but knows he can’t.
The woman puts her arm on his. “What’s wrong, honey?”
He starts to cry a little. “It’s my…girlfriend.” The woman doesn’t flinch, and he continues, “I am just… She is just…” And he starts to cry again. The woman holds him, patting his back. This is weird, he thinks. And nice. Nice and weird. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
The woman puts her hands on his shoulders. “There is nothing wrong with you…?”
“Alex,” he smiles.
The woman looks at him. “There is nothing wrong with you, Alex. What did she do to you?”
He pauses, not sure what to say. “I don’t know, she’s just…”
The woman laughs, “I know what you mean. Don’t let her.”
Alex feels a little better. “Thank you…?”
“Rosie. Thank you for indulging me. I mean this is embarrassing.”
Rosie smiles, a smile with sympathy and an edge all in one. “We have all been there. Don’t let her do it to you. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
He finishes touching up his makeup. It looks like it did earlier and he’s proud of himself. “Thank you, Rosie. I won’t.”
He walks back to the table, aware that he’s being watched. And he likes it. He sits back down at the table, smoothing his jeans under him. He puts his napkin in his lap and takes the last croqueta. He’s proving a point.
Tracy looks at him. “What took you so long?”
He starts cutting the croqueta into small pieces. “I told you, the bathroom.” He puts it in his mouth.
“Oh. I thought we said you weren’t eating that.”
He’s annoyed now. We didn’t say anything. You did. “It’s one. Stop it.”
“I’m trying to help you.” God, she’s condescending.
“You’re trying to help me. How?” He takes another bite.
She looks at him, the way he brings each small bite to his mouth. The way he opens his mouth, halfway and showing his perfect white teeth. Against his perfect pink lips. She’d still rather red, but pink works for Alex. But it’s still fried cheese. “I don’t want you to gain weight.” She doesn’t and he needs to understand that.
His fork clatters to the plate, loud enough that people turn around. “Excuse me?”
What’s so hard to understand? “I said that I don’t want you to gain weight. And fried cheese is not going to help you achieve that goal”. Alex looks at him. He opens his mouth and closes it several times, saying nothing. She thinks about his response. “I mean I don’t care if you have that one. But just be careful, ok? Maybe next plate have some of the veggies.”
Now, sound comes out. “I’m not hungry.”
She smiles. “I told you. It’s fine if you finish that.” He looks like he’s going to cry. There’s no reason to cry. We both want the same thing. Instead, he picks up his purse. “Where are you going now?” He looks at her and she makes a joke, “if you have to go again, you need to see a doctor.”
He looks at her. “I’m done.”
That’s rude. There’s still a little of everything left. Except the croquetas. “Well, I’m not finished.”
“So stay and finish. But I’m leaving.”
“Sit down. You’re being ridiculous.” She feels people staring at her and wants to say that Alex is the irrational one, not her. But then she looks at her hands. And unclenches them. “Alex, just sit down.”
Alex looks at her. “No. I’m done. I think I would like to go home.”
“Well, that’s not happening,” she smirks. “I have the keys and I’m not going yet. So, you have two choices – sit and we have a civilized meal. Or walk. Your choice.” He already said his legs were killing him, so he has no choice really. She looks at him standing there. He looks like he’s going to cry. There’s no reason to cry. Maybe he needs to see someone about his hormone levels.
Except he doesn’t cry. He walks out the door, leaving her sitting in the middle of the restaurant. Alone. While everyone watches. Yeah, well fuck all of you. And she takes a piece of salted beef.
Alex, four blocks away, in the opposite direction from the car, checks his phone and turns off location services. An Uber pulls up. He looks in and smiles, “Jonathan?”
The driver smiles. “Alex? 3754 Warren Street?” Alex looks around one more time and gets in. “So, you go to State? What year?”