ONE NIGHT: DENIED
I know I look out of place as I stand near the gym entrance, clearly hesitant, and looking a little overwhelmed. All the machines look like spaceships, hundreds of buttons or levers on each one, and I haven’t the first idea how to operate them. My one-hour induction last week did a great job of distracting me, but the information and instructions fell straight from my memory the second I left the exclusive fitness center. I scan the area, fiddling with my ring, seeing masses of men and women pounding the treadmills, going hell for leather on the bikes and pumping weights on huge lifting devices. They all look like they know exactly what they’re doing.
In an attempt to blend in, I make my way over to the water machine and gulp down a cup of ice water. I’m wasting time being hesitant when I could be releasing some stress and anger. I spot a punching bag hanging in the far corner with no one within ten meters of it, so I decide to give it a try. There are no buttons or levers on that.
I help myself to the boxing gloves hanging on the wall nearby. After securing the Velcro, I give the bag a little poke. I’m surprised at how heavy it is. I inject some power into my weak arm and throw some effort into my next hit. I grunt too, and the bag shifts significantly this time, moving away from me and seeming to pause in midair before it’s on its way back toward me. Fast. I panic and quickly pull back my fist, then extend my arm to prevent being knocked to the ground. Shockwaves fly up my arm when my glove connects with the bag, but it’s moving away from me again. I smile and spread my legs a little, bracing myself for its return, then smack it hard again, sending it sailing away from me.
My arm is aching already and I suddenly realize I have two gloved hands so I pummel it with my left this time, smiling wider, the impact of the bag on my fists feeling good. I’m breaking out in a sweat, my feet are beginning to shift and my arms getting into a rhythm. My shouts of satisfaction spur me on and the bag morphs into more than a bag. I’m beating the shit out of it and loving every moment.
I don’t know how long I’m there, but when I finally let up and take a moment to think, I’m drenched, my knuckles are sore and my breathing erratic. I catch the bag and let it settle, then take a cautious glance around the gym. No one is staring. I’ve gone totally unnoticed, everyone focused on their own workout. I smile to myself and collect a cup of water and a towel from the nearby shelf, wiping my brow as I make my way from the huge room. For the first time in weeks, I feel prepared to take the day on.
I head toward the changing rooms, feeling like a lifetime of stress and woes have just been knocked out of me. The urge to go back in and pound for another hour is hard to resist, but I’m already at risk of being late for work so I push on, thinking this could get addictive. I’ll be back tomorrow morning, maybe even after work today, and I’ll thrash that bag until there are no more traces of Miller Hart and the pain he’s caused me.
I pass door after door, all with glass panes, and peek into each class that’s in session—yoga, spinning, kickboxing. I might try one or two. Or I could give them all a go.
As I’m passing the final door before the women’s changing rooms, something catches my eye. It’s a punching bag swinging from the ceiling hook, but no one’s in sight. I step closer to the door, then gasp and jump back as someone comes into view, bare chested and barefoot. I feel dizzy.
He has those shorts on, the ones he wore when he was trying to make me comfortable. I’m shaking, but my shock doesn’t stop me from peering back through the glass, just to check I wasn’t hallucinating. I wasn’t. He’s here, his ripped physique mesmerizing. He looks violent as he attacks the hanging bag like it’s a threat to his life, punishing it with powerful punches and even more powerful kicks. His body weaves and dodges the bag when it comes back at him. He looks like a pro. He looks like a fighter.
I’m frozen on the spot as I watch Miller move around the hanging bag with ease, his fists wrapped in some kind of bandages, his limbs delivering controlled, punishing blows time and time again. Who does he see before him?
My mind spins, questions mounting, as I quietly observe the refined, well-mannered, part-time gentleman become a man possessed, that temper he has warned me about clear and present. But then I retreat a pace when he suddenly grabs the bag with both hands and rests his forehead on the leather, his body falling into the now subtle sway of the punching bag. His back is dripping and heaving, and I see his solid shoulders rise suddenly. Then he begins to turn toward the door. It happens in slow motion. I’m rooted in place as his chest, slicked with a sheen of sweat, comes into view and my eyes slowly crawl up his torso until I see his side profile. He knows he’s being watched.