“How many calories do you think are in a chocolate shake?” Luz asks, resting his head on the bars of the shoulder press machine.
“A lot,” is Lipton’s distracted response. “C’mon, George, three more.”
Luz sighs and pushes his arms up slowly, trying to remember how to breathe and do anything else. For some reason, exercise is the only thing that makes him forget how to multitask with his breathing.
“Okay, good, two more,” Lipton smiles at him, clearly enjoying the torture he’s been putting George through.
George’s arms shake slightly bringing them up over his head for what feels like the hundredth time.
“One more, George, you can do it,” Lip tries to encourage, but Luz is already glaring daggers at him.
“This is too many reps, I’ve done too many,” he whines, resting his forehead on the bars again.
“George, this is only your second set. Normally I’d be making you do at least three of these.”
Luz’s eyes shoot open at the claim and Lipton holds his hands up before George can complain again.
“I’m not gonna make you today, this is just about getting you back into working out. Nice and easy today, I promise.”
George wouldn’t call any of the things they’ve done already today “easy”, but he is the one who asked Lipton to be his workout coach. So, now he has to pay the price for that mistake.
He takes a deep breath and pushes again, just wanting these to be over. Lipton encourages him the whole way through.
“Knew you could do it,” Lipton says as George brings the arms back down and then immediately stands up, just in case they machine tries to keep him there.
“Yeah, I’m a regular meathead now,” George says, rolling his eyes.
He wipes down the machine before Lipton leads him over to the treadmills, claiming they’ll just do some cardio, and then stretch and then they’ll be done. George feels like they’ve been here all day, so he doesn’t really believe him. But Lipton is his best friend, so he follows him anyway.
“How’s Lenny liking that day camp she’s been going to?” Lipton asks as he jogs alongside of George, who has chosen to stick with a brisk walking pace.
“She loves it. She’s already made ‘ten thousand friends’, her words.”
Lipton grins. “Well, I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. How’s she behaving?”
“I haven’t gotten a call from the camp, so she hasn’t challenged anyone’s authority just yet,” Luz says, then adds, “though this is only her third day, so,” he crosses his fingers on both hands and holds them up to the sky, begging whatever power there is that Helena doesn’t just decide that she doesn’t want to follow the rules anymore.
“That’s great. So, you think she’s ready for Kindergarten? I know you’ve been worried about that.”
George nods, already feeling his breathing becoming a little more labored as he continues to walk.
“These past few weeks she’s really been doing better with following directions and sitting still…when she needs to.”
“And you think it’s those Taekwondo lessons?”
“Oh for sure. She’s constantly talking about how responsible she needs to be now. It’s all ‘Master Toye says this, and Master Toye says that.’ I swear, I think I’ve got a year round Santa Claus with this, if she’s ever misbehaving I can just say ‘what would Master Toye think if he knew?’ and she’ll go right back to being the innocent little angel we all know she’s not.”
Lipton laughs, slightly breathless. “Right, and she’s the only one who’s just a little enamored with the guy?”
George groans at his friend’s teasing, Lip already knows all about George’s giant crush on Helena’s instructor. He’s heard all the mortifying stories of George’s inability to stop saying something mildly dirty to the man every week even in a room full of children, his own daughter being one of them.
Lipton’s breathing is only slightly more winded than Luz’s as he jogs, and this is why George had asked for help. He’s just turned thirty and found that while he’s never been in perfect shape at any point in his life, he’s never been more out of shape than he has been over these past five years. It turns out that while raising a child does involve some heavy lifting and cardio of its own, it doesn’t do nearly as much for stamina or weight loss as George thinks it should.
As George looks around the gym, to keep his mind off of what he’s doing, his eyes catch on someone in one of the classrooms. For a moment, he thinks it’s his mind playing tricks on him. He’d just been thinking of Joe, so it makes sense that he might see someone similar looking and think that it’s him. Only, after a couple of seconds of staring, he realizes that the man really is Joe. He just looks a little different than George is used to.
He’s wearing a tight black tank top that reveals his broad shoulders and strong arms. There’s a tattoo on his right shoulder that George can’t make out from this distance but he finds himself staring at it anyway. Joe is moving back and forth around a hanging punching bag, his hits fast and hard.
The look of concentration that he can see on Joe’s face – when he circles the bag enough for George to see his face – makes him look intense and aggressive. That, mixed with the way he’s attacking the bag, makes Joe look pretty intimidating.
If George had never met him before – seen the way he smiles at Helena when she does something well – he’d probably just write him off as some scary guy who he wouldn’t want to mess with. Though still a hot scary guy. In fact, George will admit he’s probably a little hotter like this, which is probably why George is having such a hard time tearing his eyes away.
“Earth to Luz,” he hears somewhere to the side.
He finally pulls his gaze away, back to Lipton, who is smirking.
“Sorry, what’s up?”
“Well, I was going to say that we were almost done, but it looks like you can keep going, what with your new show to entertain you,” Lipton says, then raises his eyebrows and motions his head over to where Joe is.
“Do you think he saw me?”
Lipton shakes his head. “No, I think he was pretty busy. I gotta say, I never really thought someone like that would be your type.”
“He’s not…he’s different,” Luz explains lamely.
“Wait, do you know that guy?”
“That’s-“ Luz starts, but as he speaks he also looks back over and notices that Joe is leaving the room, and it looks like he’s going to take the path toward the locker rooms, which will lead him right past the treadmills and Luz.
“Oh god, no,” he says ducking down for a second, but then realizes he can’t easily do that and keep walking. He briefly contemplates rolling onto the floor and army crawling his way to the other side of the gym, because having Joe see him in a large shirt and sweatpants, ready to pass out at the easiest of workouts, is almost mortifying enough to be worth it.
But, he reminds himself that he is an adult, so he rights himself on the treadmill and quickly cranks up the speed to start running. If he’s going to look exhausted he may as well look like he’s earned it.
“What are you doing?” Lip asks, after watching Luz’s quick fit.
He doesn’t have time to answer before Joe is walking up on them. He’s nearly past, and Luz thinks that maybe Joe won’t even notice him. But Joe’s eyes meet his for a spilt second and Joe stops, looking at him for a moment – probably trying to place him out of context of where he usually sees him – then grins.
“Mr. Luz,” Joe says, in his low, gravelly voice, which sounds just a little out of breath still from his workout.
“Joe!” Luz exclaims, then closes his eyes to lament the volume he just used. He had been trying for happily surprised, but he’s pretty sure he just sounds manic, due mostly to already being out of breath from just the few seconds he’s been running.
He fumbles with the controls to make the machine stop for a few moments, then brings his feet to the edges and rests his arms along the side.
“Oh, sorry, don’t stop your workout for me,” Joe says, taking a step back.
“No, no, I was…I was done,” Luz gasps out.
Joe grins and steps back up to the machine.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before, did you just join?” Joe asks.
“Yep, Lip here is trying to show me the ropes,” George explains, motioning toward his friend who at least has the decency to pretend like he hasn’t been watching their exchange so far.
Joe looks a little startled, like maybe he hadn’t noticed Lipton was even there until just now, but then nods and sends him a tight smile.
“Joe was it?” Lipton says, in a voice that tells Luz that he knows exactly who this Joe is.
“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you.”
“So, do you work here too? Or just workout here?” Luz asks, because Joe looks like he’s about to step back again.
“I teach a few boxing and kickboxing classes, and a self-defense class on Mondays,” Joe tells him.
“Wow, so you just like all kinds of fighting,” Luz says, and can almost feel Lipton’s eye roll.
But Joe laughs, or at least lets out a small half-chuckle. “Yeah, gotta keep it interesting, ya know.”
Luz just smiles and nods, he’s never had a problem with keeping a conversation going, but he’s trying not to embarrass himself, and unfortunately that means staying quiet.
“So…how’s Helena?” Joe’s question is stilted and awkward, but he’s trying and Luz's smile widens just for the effort.
“She’s good, can’t wait for tomorrow.”
“I’m sure,” Joe says, clearly thinking Luz is just being polite.
“No, I’m serious, she talks about you constantly. It’s all ‘Master Toye says-, and Master Toye is-, and Master Toye always-, and Master Toye can do everything.’” George tells him, mimicking his daughter’s voice.
Joe chuckles and ducks his head, he’s got an almost shy smile on his face and George feels his heart beat pick back up a little.
“She’s a good kid,” Joe says, and George wants to roll his eyes and say he only thinks that because he sees her for an hour a week and for some reason can do no wrong in her eyes. But he prefers to let people believe that she’s as sweet as she sometimes appears to be.
“Well, I should get going, but I’ll see you tomorrow,” Joe tells him, stepping back again.
Luz nods. “Absolutely. Tomorrow. Great.”
With a nod toward Lipton and another small grin directed at Luz, Joe continues on his way toward the locker rooms.
As soon as he’s out of sight Luz groans and leans forward against the top of the treadmill.
“So, that was Master Toye then,” Lipton says, sounding amused.
“Did I say anything inappropriate?” Luz asks seriously, keeping his head on the machine but turning it toward Lipton.
“I mean, the whole thing was pretty uncomfortable, but no you didn’t come off like you wanted to strip him down and take him on the rowing machine, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Jesus, Lip. Yeah, thanks.”
“Are you gonna ask him out?” Lipton asks, as they finally leave the treadmills and head to an open area where they can stretch.
“I’m not crazy.”
“Luz, I don’t know the guy, but from what I can tell he seemed pretty interested. And, he already knows you have a kid, that’s a plus. I say go for it.”
Luz has only tried dating twice since Helena was born. What he found is that guys in their late twenties and early thirties aren’t usually looking to date a single dad. Knowing he could be with someone who already liked Helena, and who Helena adored right back, really would be ideal. Only, things aren’t often that simple.
“I couldn’t do that to Len. If things didn’t work out…she’s doing really well right now going to his classes, and I don’t want to mess that up because I think some guy is cute.”
Lipton frowns, then purses his lips like he wants to say something. Instead he just nods and begins stretching, and George follows suit.
There’s nothing wrong with having a crush that doesn’t lead to anything else, George reminds himself. He and Helena are doing just fine right now, there’s no reason to mess any of that up.
When they finally leave the gym, after what feels like hours, Lipton offers to buy him that chocolate shake.