Get Stronger
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A week had passed since Ryan asked Dani to go to the gym with him. Her initial response was panic. Being vulnerable in public? She had thought. No thanks, work is already annoying enough. She also remembered her wish to see Ryan mid-workout, and knew she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from getting flustered. Seeing him drenched in sweat, exerting complete control over his muscles, especially his arms-

But I could use some exercise, she admitted. Since starting hormones, she noticed herself getting squishier than usual, and while she didn’t mind that, she also didn’t want it progressing further. Plus, getting out of the house more often could be a good mood booster. And they say that exercise increases brain activity, so...yeah. Lot’s of other reasons to go with him.

 

That’s what she told herself a week ago. Now, however, she sat in the passenger seat of Ryan’s car, staring at the front door of the gym, unable to move.

“Ryan?” She asked.

“Yeah?” He responded while reaching into the back seat to grab his gym bag.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea…”

“What?” He returned his attention to the front seat, bag in hand. “Why? It’s just the gym.”

“I know, but...I’m not strong or anything.”

Ryan laughed, and started reaching into his bag. “Well yeah, you don’t go to the gym, or do any sports. I mean why would you be? But that’s why you’re here: to get stronger, even if it’s just a little bit.”

Nooooo, don’t be all nice and stuff, Dani thought as a grin snuck its way onto her face. Can’t you just relapse into being a douchebag?

“Here,” he held out a plastic card. “Just show this to the guy at the desk and you can get a lock and key to use on a locker.”

She took it from him, careful not to bump his fingers with hers. “Thanks. So I just-Wait!”

Ryan was about to open his door when he turned back around.

“God, the lockers!” Dani lifted up the duffle bag from down by her feet and set it in her lap. She remembered the basic clothes she stuffed in there before they left, completely spacing on how changing worked at a gym. “Which room do I use?”

“Oh. Right. I don’t know what this place’s policy is on...that. But you can use the lock in either room, so it’s not like you’ll have to confront anyone.”

“Yeah, but-”

“Dani, seriously. Nobody is going to care which locker room you use. Everyone just wants to change clothes.”

“But Ryan, some people do care. It’s nice to know you don’t mind, and that most people don’t, but there are some weirdos out there. Bad things can happen if I’m not careful.”

A few seconds of silence passed before Ryan took a deep breath and spoke again. “Well, do you  want to just go home, then?”

Dani sighed. Yes. I think. But I don’t want you to be disappointed in me, either. She looked at Ryan, and saw that the excitement had vanished from his eyes. When she had agreed to go with him to the gym earlier in the week, it was as if a special type of enthusiasm took over. He sent her links to workout tips and routines, tried to talk with her about special diets, and just gave her much more attention than she was used to. He must have been so happy to have someone to talk about all this stuff with. Ughh, I’m going to regret this.

“No,” she finally said. “Let’s go in. I’ll use the women’s room and it won’t be a problem.”

Just as she had hoped, the smile reappeared in Ryan’s eyes. “Great!” He said as he swung open the car door. “You won’t regret this!”

 

Upon entering the gym, everything went as Ryan said it would. They showed their cards at the front desk and each received a pair of locks and keys. Then, the locker rooms. Two doors. Left for men, right for women.

Just walk in. Nobody is going to stop me, or even notice me. Dani went to take her first step, when another woman walked past her and into the door she was about to use. She didn’t look special at all, just a bag slung over her shoulder and her hair in a messy bun. She looks so normal and confident. There’s no way I could go and change in there. She would scream if she saw me. I would get kicked out! As she panicked, Ryan took his steps into the men’s room. Dani witnessed the same normalcy within him as she did in the woman. The same confidence. Maybe I’ll just use the men’s room this time, and next time I’ll use the right one. She spent nearly a minute looking back and forth at the rooms, eventually tucking her head down and heading left.

 

***

 

While the scent of a locker room could never be described as “pleasant,” Ryan did find it familiar, if not welcoming. He had just picked a locker and began to change clothes when he spotted Dani rushing in and toward a stall in the bathroom area. He frowned. I can’t believe I didn’t mention those. She could have just changed in the stalls in the women’s room and not been so worried. After mentally facepalming, he put his focus back on changing.

Soon, he found himself in the actual gym. He took a moment to just look around and return some nods to a few friendly faces. It’s been a while, huh? Between his warehouse job and his relationship with Jess, he had fallen behind on his usual routine. But now Jess and I aren’t together, and I’m hanging with Dani instead...Not that Dani is supposed to replace Jess! Duh. We’re just frie-

“Hey so do you want to show me where those treadmills are?” Dani said, appearing at Ryan’s side.

Ryan jumped. Dani must have seen him standing there after leaving the lockers and had walked up to him without him noticing. He noticed she was wearing some oversized basketball shorts and an old t-shirt, and based on a previous conversation they had, he assumed she wore a sports bra underneath. I should tell her where I buy my gear.

She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Uh, Ryan? Did I scare you?”

“No! Sorry, I was just really focused on remembering my routine. That’s all. Yeah.”

Dani gave him a blank stare. “Um. Alright? So, the treadmills?”

“Right! Let’s get you set up with a routine before I start my own. Follow me!” Ryan led Dani to the wall of various cardio machines on the other side of the gym. She hopped on one of the empty treadmills as Ryan pointed to some of the buttons, explaining what they did and how to get the most out of the machine. “You can even incline it a tiny bit, and...uh, that makes it so…”

Ryan trailed off, distracted by the man on the elliptical next to them. He wasn’t positive, but he thought he caught the guy looking at Dani for longer than he should have. No, wait, was he smirking? Was he-

“Makes it so it does what?” Dani asked, oblivious to Ryan’s concerns.

“Oh uh, it makes it...harder. Just try the incline at 1% after you get the hang of it.” Ryan was starting to walk away as he instructed her. “And then when you’re done, come find me and we’ll figure out the next thing to do. Good luck!”

 

Ryan refused to look back, afraid Dani might see the mix of confusion and anger on his face and ask him about it later. Instead, he headed toward the nearest water fountain and started hydrating. What’s wrong with that guy? He tried to remain angry at what he just saw, but he remembered countless other times he himself had stolen glances at women in the gym. No, what’s wrong with me? Why should I even care? Dani’s asexual and wouldn’t want to be with that guy anyway. And even if she did want to be with someone, it sure as hell wouldn’t be an old creep like that. Not that I...

He paused his drinking and scowled at the mirror above the fountain. That guy has some issues to work out.

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