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Weightless(7)
Kandi Steiner

It was the first time in my life that I realized I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

When we pulled up the long drive to Dale’s house, my mind was still replaying the laughter I’d heard. Mason hadn’t joined in on it, but he hadn’t stopped it. Still, he asked me if I was okay, and that was all the hope I needed to think that maybe I did stand a chance of winning him back.

But before I could think of going after him, I had to go after a better life for myself.

“Thanks, Mo,” I whispered quietly, my voice strained. He offered a soft smile and only nodded in return. Again, I was thankful that somehow in this town, he’d lost the interest in finding out every detail of a bad situation.

It wasn’t even midnight yet when I stepped through the door into our massive foyer. I heard mom and Dale talking in the kitchen and I let my feet carry me there without even thinking about what I would say. Dale was mid-bite and Mom was laughing as they stood around the kitchen island, large bowls of ice cream in front of them, when I walked in.

Dale dropped his spoon when he saw me and Mom whipped around, cutting her laugh short. She immediately rushed to me when she saw my face and I let her pull me into her. For a small woman, she had a fierce hug.

“Oh baby, what happened?” Dale asked, moving toward us. I pulled back from Mom’s grip and shook my head, my eyes falling to the wood floor.

“I think I change my mind,” I said softly, not sure if I was really on board with what I was about to say or if I was just acting in the moment. Either way, the words were there. “About the trainer.”

Mom looked back to Dale who crossed his arms over his chest, a worried look on his face. “Are you sure?” I nodded, though my eyes stayed down. He sighed. “Don’t do this for some boy, Natalie.”

“It’s not for him.” Not entirely, anyway. I cleared my throat, lifting my eyes to meet his. “I need this. For me.”

Mom pulled me in for another hug. “Oh sweetheart, it’ll be okay. You’re so strong. I know you can do this. And Mason will kick himself for ever letting you go.”

I shrugged out from under her and pulled my arms over my chest to mimic Dale. It felt safer to stand like that. “Can I start tomorrow?”

Mom smiled softly and nodded. “I’ll call the club first thing in the morning.”

I felt the tears pricking my eyes again, but I somehow managed to hold them in check. “Thanks, Mom. Dale. Really.” I shook my head, my eyes finding the floor again. “I’m sorry.”

Dale frowned. “What on earth are you sorry for, baby?”

I shrugged. “I knocked a girl down tonight. I’m so big I—” a sob finally choked its way through my throat and my hand flew to my mouth. I shook my head as they both moved to comfort me, the tears I’d been holding back breaking free. “I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

Saying the words out loud finally made me realize how far I’d let myself go. No matter how I had played it off in the past, my size had always bothered me — just not enough for me to care to make a change. But that night was the breaking point. I knew the road ahead of me wouldn’t be an easy one, but I didn’t have a choice anymore.

Mason had weakened me. And that night, his girlfriend had finished the job he started, successfully breaking me into pieces. They were scattered on the floor around me and I knew it was time to pick them up and start rebuilding.

I hoped I’d build a better me.

A stronger me.

And definitely — a smaller me.

I walked into the Poxton Beach Country Club just after two in the afternoon the next day. The club sat on the west edge of town, a large, grand building right at the front of our one and only golf course. I’d only been to the club for Dale’s parties and Sunday brunch before, and never once had I been curious enough to ask if there even was a gym, let alone ask to see it. As I followed a club associate through the large hallway toward the back of the building, I was regretting my word vomit to my parents. Yes, I had been upset. Yes, I wanted to start making changes — but was a trainer really the best way to do that? When we walked through the large glass doors and I found myself standing in a room full of slim, ripped, beautiful people, I was sure I’d made a crazy decision in my haste.

I definitely did not belong in that room.

“Your trainer is just finishing up with his last client,” the older woman informed me. She tilted her head toward a small fitness room behind the row of treadmills. “Go ahead and walk back there. He should be done soon.” She paused, her smile still radiant. I guessed she was maybe in her late thirties and her PBCC polo shirt was perked up by a set of what I was sure were very fake assets.

When I only smiled and nodded awkwardly, she turned to excuse herself, but not before adding, “And have fun. He’s the best trainer in this place.” She winked and I felt myself blush, though I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I made my way toward the small room the woman had referred to, crossing my arms over my body as I walked past the various members in their tight workout gear. I was dressed in yoga pants and a Poxton Beach High School t-shirt from homecoming two years ago with my thick hair pulled into a high, messy bun. I looked frumpy and I knew it, but with my body, I didn’t really know how to look otherwise.

When I reached the glass windows that separated the private fitness room from the rest of the gym, I paused, watching the two people inside. There was a man knelt down on the ground, his muscular back showing through the ripped up, wide-sleeved black tank top he wore. From that angle, I could see there was a woman on a spongy black mat in front of him.

She was on all fours, but all I could see was her back right leg extending up toward the ceiling with a flexed foot as the man gently guided her knee. I watched the muscles in his arms flex as he moved, the ripples and ridges changing with each lift and fall. I had never seen muscles like that — not that close, anyway. Just the partial view of his backside had me crossing my arms tighter and wishing I would have at least tried not to look like a bum.

After another minute, the woman dropped her leg and sat back on her heels, giving the man a high five and a smile so big it made my cheeks hurt. Though when he stood and turned around, I completely understood why.

Suddenly, it was hard to breathe.

He threw a small white towel over his dark, damp hair, dragging it down his face slowly to wipe away the sweat he’d worked up. His arm muscles were even more defined from the front, his biceps tightening with every movement of his hand. As he pulled the towel down and around his neck, I noted his strong, tense jaw, covered with just the smallest bit of scruff. His bright green eyes were lasered in on the woman and he continued his slow assault with that damn white towel while she asked him questions. He was scowling, almost as if the towel had greatly offended him or he was contemplating a world issue and for some reason that scowl had my body feeling a heat it had never felt before.

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