Roger Sterling’s used to being sized up. That appraising glance, the sly little smile that plays on people’s lips as they pass judgment on you—he gets it from his father’s business associates, he gets it from women. Right now he’s getting it from a guy in a sweaty undershirt.
“Do you run?” the trainer asks. It’s become clear by this point that he’s not conducting the traditional once-over—he eyes Roger as if probing for points of weakness, studies the set of his shoulders, the way his feet are planted.
He is, Roger belatedly realizes, considering how he’d go about knocking Roger flat, were he in the position to do so.
“Not the way you mean,” Roger says, once he remembers there was a question. “Not regularly.”
The trainer—he goes by the deceptively jovial name of Roland—nods as if this confirms some grim suspicion of his. “You’ll need to start. Three, four times a week to begin with, then work yourself up to every day. Nothing too strenuous—routine is the goal. You can’t bully your body into fighting form.”
His mouth thins into a smile. Maybe there was a joke buried in there somewhere, but Roger’d lay odds it wasn’t the part about the running. “Sure. You’re the boss.” Tired of the scrutiny—already mourning the loss of woozy evenings spent in the sway of alcohol and early mornings in the warm embrace of his sheets or some silk-skinned girl—he wanders to the row of gloves. They’re strung over brass hooks, dangling like overripe fruit. Roger takes one, turns it over in his hands. “So. When can I expect to start punching people?”
“Heh. It’s not so simple,” Roland says, gently prying the glove from his fingers. “Here, your first lesson: everyone thinks boxing is all about punching, but they’re wrong. It’s about movement. A punch”—he throws a quick jab into the air—“is merely a form of movement.”
“That’s all very profound, but if I wanted to philosophize I’d go to a bar. Look, I certainly don’t mean to be rude, but I am paying you top dollar, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want something more for my money than the suggestion that I take up jogging.”
“Well.” Again, a spark of what might be amusement animates Roland’s features. “I was going to save this for next time, but seeing how you’re so eager—“ He strides briskly across the room to the section reserved for racks of dumbbells, medicine balls, weight benches. There he opens a cabinet and, after the briefest of hesitations, removes something small enough and light enough to clutch in one hand.
“Here you are,” he says. In his paw of a hand rest two cylinders of smooth wood linked by a long, thin strip of leather.
“A jump rope." Roger lets out a sharp laugh. "That’s what it is, isn’t it—or does it go by a different name when it’s a boxer doing the jumping instead of a schoolgirl?”
"Mr. Sterling," Roland says, "this is a serious sport."
"Yeah, I can see that. When do we get to the hopscotch?"
“Boxing is about pain.”
“Are you sure?”
“Am I sure?” Roger taps his cigarette smartly on the rim of the ashtray. “Two guys in a ring, each trying to knock the other’s block off? ‘Course I’m sure.”
“It’s just”—Annabelle arches her eyebrows, puckers her lips in that way she has when she’s desperately trying not to find him entertaining—“last week, boxing was about footwork.”
Roger shrugs off the contradiction, if it is one. “Last week I was trying to convince you to dance with me.”
She looks stunning tonight, breathtaking—the swoop of her cheekbones, the glint of her diamond earrings, her unruly hair, black in the dim light of the bar. “And this week you’re inviting me to cause you pain?”
He takes a drag of his cigarette, streams smoke off into the haze of people nursing drinks at the counter. “Some people like that,” he says with calculated offhandedness, knowing it’ll shock her. “The Marquis de Sade and so forth.”
“Roger.” She says his name like it’s an accusation in itself, like some women shriek…well, maybe not murder, but “he stole my purse.” “Let’s return to the subject of boxing.”
“Why? You hate it. And don’t even bother trying to deny it—whenever I bring it up you get this look on your face like you just swallowed a lemon.”
“Yet you persist in bringing it up.”
“I think we’re about due for another round, don’t you?” Without waiting for a response, he gathers their glasses—a trace of liquor swirling at the bottom of hers, his full practically to the brim. He downs it en route, and with the vodka comes a feeling of well-being, a sense of accomplishment. The night is young, he is young, and he’s sharing a table with a beautiful woman.
He sets the glasses down and the bartender refills them with a degree of promptness that borders on the prescient. Roger’s a generous tipper.
“Miss me?” he asks, distributing the drinks and then resuming his seat.
“Not as much as I missed the liquor.” She lifts her glass to her lips; it almost masks her smile. Sometimes he gets the feeling that everything she likes about him, she likes in spite of herself.
“Where was I?” He raises his glass, sips meditatively. “Ah, right. Pain. Was I talking about it or being one?”
“I think pain is vital—to life, to who we are. Some people can take it—in boxing they call it having a good chin—and some people shy away from it.”
Silently she sips her drink.
“That’s it,” he says. “I’m done. Comment at your leisure.”
“It’s so absurd.” Annabelle makes a point of catching his eye before she laughs. “Boxing. You’re not an athlete, Roger, you’re…”
“Yes, please. Speaking of pain, please tell me what I am.”
She leans over and kisses him. “No,” she says. “Don’t you know? I don’t like to see you hurt.”