Built to Last - Chapter One
I trust myself to get through this. Grunt. Pinching my eyes tight and turning my thoughts inwards allows me to concentrate on my mental and physical strength. Grunt. Just a little longer. Grunt.
“Are you listening to me, Kelsey?” Cassidy, the owner of the small CrossFit gym, asks with one hand waving and another on her hip.
After a last forceful exhale, I finish my set of chin-ups and, exhibiting absolute control, lower the ten-kilo plate from between my knees, issuing the barest thud on the rubberised floor. With my eyes on my reflection in the mirror, I swing forward and let go of the bar in a similar and strikingly graceful manner.
I’m pushing myself extra hard today, although not nearly as hard as Cassidy is pushing my buttons.
“I’m listening.” I lift the bottom of my shirt and mop sweat from my brow. “You know I’m always keen for a night out. It’s what you’re not telling me that has me turning you down.”
I move to the squat rack and replace the weight, with Cassidy trailing behind like a stray puppy looking for a belly rub.
“What am I not telling you?” Her voice is way too high to make her disillusion credible.
“The part where, as we walk into the club, you casually mention that you brought a date for me.” I whip my chin over my shoulder and lock her eyes in a dare to deny it.
“I’d never do that,” she says, cheeks twitching to repress a smile. “Besides, you’re dating that guy. William, right?” Her eyebrows crinkle as her head tilts.
“We broke up.”
We didn’t date in the traditional sense, but it’s the easiest expression to use because explaining my dating philosophy takes a hell of a lot longer, and I need to meet my first client in forty-five minutes.
I grab a set of dumbbells and start doing shoulder raises.
“Aw, why?” The hopeless romantic in her drowns out her three-time national CrossFit champion badass-bitch persona. “I liked him.”
Her gushy feelings about William are less believable than tonight’s no-strings-attached invitation. She met William once—by accident. We found ourselves at the same pub and pre-sex drinks turned into a double date. I still taste bile in my throat every time I think about it.
That night wasn’t the worst thing to happen with the guy, nor was it the reason we stopped seeing each other. My stipulation that I never want to meet his family wasn’t taken seriously. As soon as he asked me to go golfing with his brother- and sister-in-law, I could barely get wet enough to make the sex enjoyable. When ninety percent of a relationship is about sex and the other ten percent is about matching schedules, there’s little room for messing up.
“Meh, he was alright.”
I demonstrate the same enthusiasm for William as for the grocery store customer service survey I filled in yesterday. Given that I went through the self-checkout, it was hard to offer full marks to the closest kid in an apron, who paid more attention to counting the cereal boxes in the promotional display than what I put in my bags.
“Rain check on the night out, though?” I say to soften the blow to her kind heart.
“Deal.” She accepts the small win, even though she won’t rest until I’m happily partnered. Little does she know that I have found my own partner for tonight: Antonio No Last Name from Tinder, who’s only in town for one night.
Cassidy takes two steps away, then spins back to me. Dangerous light shines in her beautiful emerald eyes. My arms stall pressed above my head. That about face happened in record time.
She rolls those suddenly less-alluring eyes at my raised brows. She won’t ask that question again. At least not so soon.
“The annual Remembrance Day charity CrossFit event is looking for sponsors. Is that something you’d be interested in?”
It’s another thing I’ll have to manage in my jammed calendar, but the exposure for my physiotherapy clinic will be great. CrossFit clients make up a large portion of the people I treat. Would-be athletes over-train, they’re sent to me so I can fix them up, and I send them back to keep training safely.
“Sure,” I say, already thinking which of my physios I can delegate this to.
“If only talking to you about boys was as easy as talking about work.” A dramatic exhale precedes her retreat to the front desk.
I resume my workout, staring straight ahead, examining my reflection in the mirror as I roll out my shoulders and shake my arms loose. I’m not vain like Jeff behind me, practically kissing his biceps after each curl. I exercise because I like how it makes me feel and because it’s part of my ethic. Physical strength translates into mental strength, and mental strength reduces everyday burdens. I have to stay on top of my health to make it through all my commitments in a week.
I drop into a straight-arm plank and dive into push-ups. Last set for today. While my face is dipping towards the floor, someone jumps from my left like a monkey swinging from tree-to-tree and latches onto the chin-up bar above me. I rotate on to my right arm, twisting to see who could be so rude, although I don’t know why I bother. Only one person would do that.
“Seriously? You couldn’t wait for me to finish?”
Jeff doesn’t answer, his earbuds must pump music at volume Obnoxious. Every gym has a Jeff. The guy who doesn’t wait his turn patiently, the guy who doesn’t wipe down his equipment after sweating on it, the guy who shaves his pubes in the shower.
Still in my push-up position, I walk myself backward from under his swinging body. The last thing I need to be is a patient in my own clinic when he forgets that I’m beneath him and lets go of the bar.
I finish my set and head to the changeroom before my inner voice sneaks out and I end up in a conversation with Jeff that I’ll never win. Assholes like him never think they’re the asshole. Also, this is a small CrossFit gym. I know most of the regulars here—hell, I treat most of the regulars here—and I’d like to keep my reputation as far away from Jeff’s as possible.
“See you tomorrow.” I tap the front desk twice on the way out, encouraging Cassidy to look up from the video of her favourite fitness influencer.
“If you change your mind about tonight—”
Antonio has promised to do very wicked things to me, and I won’t trade that in for someone who’s looking to be set up for life.
“You will one day,” she sings as if there’s some secret to falling in love that I need to experience for myself.
“Not likely,” I mumble, pushing through the door.
I power walk through the parking lot towards my clinic, hoping to have enough time to go over the information for the charity event before my first client arrives. I glance at my watch. It’ll be tight, so I ignore the don’t walk sign at the crosswalk and jog across the road between the sparse traffic.
Leaning over my laptop before I’ve sat down in my chair, I pull up the website and scan the event material. There’s a lot here and I don’t have time to read it all, but it’s got to be straightforward—give them money and they’ll put my clinic’s name on some promotional materials. All I’ll have to do is represent the clinic.
Or, like I thought earlier, I can delegate this.
A reminder pings that my first appointment is in five minutes, so I fill in the boxes on the registration form and add finding my representative to my to-do list for the end of the day.
“Morning, boss,” Paul says, poking his head into my office.
“Hey, Paul.” I look up from my screen and find him gripping both sides of my doorframe, leaning in.
A lightbulb goes off. He’s the perfect staff member to take on the charity event—he loves talking to people and is the least likely to make a big deal about crossing the line into my private life by meeting my gym friends. A line I guard with highly trained sentries.
While the thought of Paul stepping out of one box and into another makes me nervous, my gut instinct is that I can trust him. I have faith that even though he’ll get to know a side of me that no one else here knows, he’ll be able to compartmentalise the information and keep it away from the clinic.
Maintaining a professional distance between myself and my staff has always been a priority because it’s hard to be a boss to friends. Plus, by keeping work, the gym, my family, and men separate, there’s no possibility of one impacting the other, and my calendar can operate most efficiently.
“What would you say about swapping out a Saturday shift in the clinic to represent us at a CrossFit charity event?” I ask.
“Sure. Will any of my clients be competing?” he asks.
“It’s not a competition, but yes, you’ll probably know some people.”
Cassidy encourages her clientele to sign up for events like this because they’re the perfect avenue to show off in a non-threatening way.
Paul leans on the jamb and crosses his arms over his chest. “Will you be taking part?”
Asking to see my skills is the most common question I get from my staff outside of requesting days off. While everyone in the clinic knows I do CrossFit religiously, no one has seen me in action. I may be asking him to do something out of the ordinary, but if Paul thinks his winning smile will be the way to get me to drop my guard, he’s wrong. His sandy blond hair that curls under his ears, making him look like he was a surfer before moving to our landlocked city, is nothing short of attractive, but it’s not enough to make me abandon my formula. Work is work, even if it’s happening at a CrossFit function.
I tip one side of my mouth in a sly smile. “Nice try.”
“Some day you’ll let an outsider into that sacred gym of yours.” Paul slides out of sight, leaving his thought dangling.
“What’s with everyone predicting my future today?” I say to the empty hallway.
Do I have a sign hanging around my neck saying Lost soul looking for encouragement? If I cared enough to broadcast my feelings, my sign would say I fucking love my life. My business is successful, I have a great relationship with my family, and my sex life is phenomenal. People need to stop messing with my system.
Walking backwards into my line of sight again, Paul casts a curious look my way. “Who else is trying to get you to think outside your strict boxes?”
I slow shake my head at him. “You have no idea how lucky you are. Imagine the chaos if we all brought our personal lives to work. Think about having to deal with not only Blair’s girlfriend, but the gossip at my gym, and the politics from whatever committee Val sits on, and the homework load of all the interns.” I give him a moment to reflect on the mental overload that would bring before saying, “You should thank me for keeping all that shit out of the clinic.”
The day my personal life bleeds into my work life or my family gets involved with a man I’m seeing is the day I check myself into a wellness inpatient centre with no forwarding address.
Paul blows air out his nose in a forced laugh. “We do talk about that stuff. Just not when you’re around.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, focussing on what’s important. I trust the way I live my life and run my business. I woke up today with strength in my heart and clarity in my mind.
The reason I can avoid and overcome obstacles is specifically because of my habits. Neither Cassidy’s fawning over my commitment-lite love philosophy or Paul’s curiosity about the person I am after work hours will entice me to live like they do.
When everything is kept in its own box, cleaning house is as easy to get through as walking to the trash, dumping it out, and starting over.
Get Built to Last, Black Ladder Book 2 here!