What had he gotten himself into? John wonders as he averts his gaze from the floor to ceiling mirror covering the opposite wall. Instead, he focuses on the dozen or so black hoops attached to the ceiling. They remind John of an adult sized hula hoop, but much thicker. One hoop sways gently as a female student moves it absentmindedly while taking to another student. In another room attached to the one he is in, he is mesmerized by blue fabric hanging from the ceiling. He is not entirely sure of their purpose or why that room is much taller than the one he is in.
“Can I help you?” says a voice from behind him.
He turns to see a woman in tightfitting green leggings and black tank top. “Yes,” he says. “I called about beginner aerial arts classes.”
“Oh, yes. John Watson was it?”
“Wonderful, your class will start soon.” She shows him where to place his belongings and where to wait for his class to begin.
In the changing room, John strips off his jeans, leaving on the skin-tight leotard and shirt. This somehow feels wrong. The lady he called from the academy suggested that he should wear this to his first lesion. Purchasing the leggings (and dance belt), even with the anonymity of online, still felt awkward. He feels exposed and the urge to cover himself is overwhelming.
John shuts his eyes tights. He breaths in and slowly breathes out, using the technique his therapist had suggested. The ache in his shoulder is minimal and his limp was not as noticeable today. He stretches his arms and shakes out his legs, and breathes out quickly before exiting the room.
Stamford was to blame for this. They had randomly bumped into each other when John first came back to London. After getting coffee and catching up, Stamford had convinced John to come to trivia night at the pub. The topics were 90s pop culture and medicine – two topics he had excellent working knowledge. At the time, John thought it was fortunate that they did not include pop culture from the 2000 because he would have been clueless as he spent most of that time in the library studying away for his medical degree or serving in the army.
Standing in the room before class begins, he notices that most of the students are women. In fact, now that he notices it, most of the people in the studio are women. He spots another guy that seems to be in his class and moves to stand by him.
“First time?” asks the guy.
John rubs the back of his neck, even more uncomfortable now that he has been called out as a newbie. “Yah, that obvious?”
“Nah, we all got that deer in the headlights look.” The man smiles and John laughs. “Names Greg.”
“John,” he says.
“Well, John, I’ve been doing this for about a month now. Why did you decide to start?”
“Didn’t really decide,” says John, tucking his hands behind his back not knowing what else to do with them. “I won free classes from a trivia night.”
Greg whistles. “And you still decided to try it. Good for you mate. I started because the girl I’m interested in works here part-time. You know, it was a way to hang with her more and show her I’m interested in whatever she’s interested in. That sort of stuff.”
“And do you like it?”
“Actually, yah. It takes a lot of strength to do some of the moves and it’s fun to see what your body can do. I’m getting way more flexible even from the short time I’ve been here.”
The instructor welcomes them and Greg whispers, “Good luck! Don’t worry, they’ll go easy on you.”
Some of the tension eases when Greg pulls away, and John starts feeling more relaxed in his new surroundings. The class begins with warming up and stretching. John tries not to smile as Greg groans when trying to stretch.
“Class, now grab onto the bottom of your hoop with your two hands like this,” the instructor says while demonstrating. “When I tell you, lift your legs.”
John grasps onto the cool steel hoop with both hands and lets his body hang long underneath it. Brief flashback appears of him being a child hanging on the monkey bars laughing which morphs into his basic training coach yelling at them to cross the bars faster. John shakes his head to dislodge the memory.
“Now lift,” says the instructor and she begins to count down.
John’s arms begin to burn and his wounded shoulder protests a little more, but this feeling is familiar and good. He listens to the breathing and grunts from the other students.
As the lesson progresses, he becomes better acquainted with the hoop, or lyra as the instructor refers to it. He’s amazed that he has already been allowed to hang from one leg and arm in a pose called Delilah.
Hanging upside down with the hoop tucked behind his knees, John notices a man warming up by the silks. His dark curls are pooled across his leg as he folds himself in half for a stretch. John’s mind goes blank and he blames it on hanging upside down for the first time in over a decade.
“John, are you ok?” asks the instructor.
John’s attention snaps back to the present. He nods and then tries to make his way off the hoop.
Through the entire class, John keeps sneaking glances back to the man to see what he’s doing. He sees the dark-haired man stretching his back and legs. He wonders who the man is. He wonders what he is doing here. He wonders if Greg knows. He wonders if the man is single. He quickly stops his train of thought and returns his attention to his instructor.
As they stretch during the cool down period, the dark-haired man uses his upper body to go from sitting on the floor to half way up the fabric. The blue fabric contrasts with the black shirt and leotard. He performs some complicated move with his legs, tangling his feet in the silks, and performs a split. John can’t help from watching - he has never seen anything like it before. After another movement from the fabric, the man tumbles forward, head over heal. John’s breath catches and words like “amazing” and “brilliant” pop into his head.
John motions for Greg’s attention and points to the dark-haired man. “Who’s he?”
“Sherlock. He’s the instructor for the upper level students. Only works with those he hand-picks. An absolute pain in the ass to work with, but he’s brilliant and his form is perfect. His speciality is aerial silks. He creates these beautiful and complicated routines.” They both watch Sherlock climb the silk in a move that makes him look like he’s climbing upside down as he performs split after split. “My girlfriend says it’s an honour to work with him, if you can stand his personality.”
John hums and continues stretching. Watching Sherlock tumble down the silks only to stop feet above the ground solidifies John’s opinion that he will be coming back to his next class.