The instructor calls it as the final seconds of the timer run out, her arms and thighs enviably trim and toned, even in their resting position, her exposed mid-rift the definition of cut. I have to wonder if she actually feels anything when she works out at this point. If there even is a point, figuring she could easily spin circles around the bikes themselves.

 

“That’s it for today,” the lean, energetic blonde announces, a light sheen covering her angular face. “I’ll see everyone next week.”

 

Class is dismissed and the mostly-female assembly disperses, fifty or so active-wear-clad women and two men limping through the exit in hushed grunts that signal what we all just put our bodies through.

Over three and a half hours, mine’s been wrung in and out a freight train of intensive activity, concluding with what has to be the most ruthless spin session in history.

 

I’m going to be so unbelievably sore tomorrow, wearing myself out past the point of no return. But utter physical exhaustion is precisely what I came for.

 

I dismount the spin bike, my thighs both numb and on fire, imbued with a sharp, residual burn. Between a string of curses and groans, I waddle to the closest women’s locker room, my feet practically wiping the floor in short, clipped steps as strain continues to eat away at my legs. Tension pulls at my calves and shins without mercy but I don’t fight it, thankful that the satisfying pain can give me something to focus on.

 

Well…something else.

 

Moisture drenches my attire, my body’s fatigued expulsion seeping amply through the cotton-polyester blend.

 

I think it’s safe to say I’m done for the day.

 

Hell, maybe for the entire damn year.

 

Can’t remember the last time I’ve sweat this much. The last time I was this physically depleted. Spent. Kaput. But it feels good. Even if I look the furthest thing from it.

 

The communal locker room is grander than I expected, walls lined with large cabinets that could pass for mini closets, their outlines like tiles against the grey and white marble. Burnished, yellow separators segment the space into several, spread out compartments with washrooms, changing areas, steam baths, saunas, and whirlpools.

 

I gather up a plush, heated robe and towel from one of several racks, relishing the clean, fresh smell of lavender against the perspiration clinging to me. I swap out my soaked sportswear for the latter, discarding socks and trainers for shower sliders that shuffle me to the washroom. I make my way down a ridiculously long, wide aisle to one of the more isolated shower stalls. Tinted glass slides open at my presence, and I’m both shocked by and wary of the absence of curtain showers; appreciative of the move to use less plastic but unsure of the masking efficiency of this substitute—not to mention, the energy expenditure of automation.

 

A massive, square head floats above me, like a gray cloud in its own right, ready to release a storm. A palm against the touchscreen gauge ensures it does just that, its graduated perforations releasing continuous jets with perfect pressure and precision.

 

My body undulates under the glorious force of water, keenly attuned to the delicious torrent. Hard pellets dissolve against my back, ricocheting off slick skin. Finally, my mind slows as I unwind from sheer physical exhaustion, able to take deep, normal breaths after what feels like forever.

 

Yoga for the win.

 

I brace my hands against the wall, leaning my weight and fatigue into it as the stream continues to pummel me, fat droplets beating against my bones, merging with sweat until the two are indistinguishable.

 

After a few minutes under the intense, relentless downpour, I scan the assortment of shower gels segmenting a transparent dispenser, like a caged rainbow. I sample a few, rubbing tiny dots between my palms and sniffing. Warm Apple. Oatmeal Spice. Coconut Cream. Ocean Salt.

 

Eventually, I settle on an orchid-hibiscus blend, the scent light and sweet, laced with a crisp, refreshing tinge. I douse my loofah with the rich translucence, working it under the running water. My brain pushes me to shut it off but my heart and body weep at the acute loss of heat and pressure.

 

A floral imitation fills the glass box as the pink gel lathers, the viscous glob creating a thick, sudsy layer all over my skin like a second hide. Undercurrents of raspberry intercept my nose, growing more prominent with each scrub. My arms decelerate with the rising fragrance, my heart picking up when it should be slowing down.

 

The image of last night’s dessert flashes in my head; the memory so vivid, so clear and intense that I can still smell the chocolate pastry through steam and soap. Still see its decorative berries waiting patiently on my tongue.

 

And Zane’s

 

I turn the shower back on with demon speed, imploring the endless strings of water to wash away the unwelcome reminder and the luxurious lather that birthed it. The interwoven fatigue of an overactive morning. The restlessness of an unspeakable night. Everything. All of it.

 

Inadvertently, I catch a reflective glint from my peripheral view as I reach for the off switch again, the physical evidence of the last twenty-four hours now spiraling down the centralized drain. My eyes follow it to the slender, metallic extension tucked away into the corner of the adjacent, carved wall.

 

A detachable head.

 

Against my will, my heart comes down like a sonic boom as I regard the smaller, mobile tool, feeling the acute jump not in my chest where it belongs…but between my legs.

 

Like a taunt.

 

A mockery.

 

dare.

 

To reach for it.

 

To pick it up.

 

I swallow, blinking against the startling sensation, exhaling a huff as I promptly tear my gaze away to grab the towel, instead, fiercely wrapping the fibers around me like armor.

 

I practically exit the glass stall in a sprint even though my legs feel like Jell-O, unwilling to credit the cause to anything other than an after-effect of intense exercise.

 

***

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THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME FEEL...
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

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