Betty Brookstone and her ladies had been crowing about their new trainer, and their cult-like adulation of this man irritated me. Like many in our exclusive beachside haven, they had too much money and time to spend it. Fit enough to keep up, I had been badgered into one of their sessions. At first, I declined. The second time, I feigned concern about the expense. The third time Betty asked, she offered to pay. Weary, I agreed. “You’re going to love Jesse’s workouts,” Betty assured me. She leaned in, sultry, and whispered, “He’s dreamy.”
Despite my annoyance, Betty had a point. Jesse was alluring, with his carved shape and dark hair pulled into a glossy, thickly-wound knot. He was young—twenties, for sure—his age betrayed by his name and man bun. Leave it to Betty to hire the next Calvin Klein model to tone her thighs, another notch in her belt of vapid triumphs.
For an hour, Jesse made us lift, lunge, push, crunch, and squat with all manner of weights and bands. The workout was grueling, but I found myself striving to impress. He circled our mats, adjusting postures with gentle touches to backs, shoulders, and hips.
“Looking good, ladies!” he sang out as I lifted into a side plank, rivulets of sweat rolling down my cleavage. Jesse kneeled and, with a feathery touch to my ribs, raised my abdomen an inch or so. “There you go.” His eyes caught me off guard, rich green and jungle wild, and I wasn’t sure if it was entirely physical exertion that caused my cheeks to flush.
Afterward, we stretched. Jesse sat in a wide straddle, quads bursting, glutes hard mounds at the base of his hips, abdomen flat against the ground. “Who’s hiking tomorrow, ladies?” he wanted to know.
The silent response from the rest of the room struck me as odd, as did the subtle, knowing glances the ladies exchanged. I looked to Betty for a cue.
She met my gaze and raised an eyebrow, smug. “Annie loves to hike.” What was she playing at?
Jesse sat up and flashed me a wide, warm smile. “See you tomorrow.”
Stirred, I looked away and concentrated on reaching my toes, though I could barely clear my knees.
That evening, I gingerly lowered myself into bed. My husband, Daniel, had already tucked himself in with a book. “Sore? Must have been quite the workout.” He reached over and massaged my back. “How was Betty’s amazing trainer? Justin?” Daniel chuckled.
I ignored him. My discontent with our privileged—but stuck—life had always amused him. I was on a constant quest to flee the mundane. “Remember when we used to hike?”
He kept reading. “Mmm.”
I continued. “I was thinking…there are so many trails here.”
He looked up, bemused. “Is that right?”
“Maybe we should go sometime. Something new?”
He smiled, brown eyes twinkling. “You mean Betty’s trainer isn’t doing it for you?”
As it turned out, Betty and her ladies begged off the hike with a variety of last-minute excuses and, ignoring my better instincts, I found myself alone with Jesse on the woodland trail. Sunlight dappled the path, enchanting at turns.
The trail peaked at a clearing, punctuated by rock formations and a view that swept our entire seaside town. Jesse scrambled up a boulder, then offered his hand, green eyes blazing. “Coming?” Our palms pressed together, and he pulled me up, superhero strong. Our bodies skimmed, precariously balanced atop the giant rock. Jesse guided me by the hips, two people in a space for one. “Look.”
Shading my face with my hand, I was struck by the minuteness of our lives from this perspective. Thousands of red tile roofs and towering palms washed against a cerulean sky, stretching all the way to the ocean.
“This view never gets old,” Jesse murmured. His chest dusted my back with each breath, his hands still resting on my hips.
“It’s beautiful,” I agreed, yearning to fly away as heat rose within my body.
“Just like you.” Jesse whispered. In a serpentine moment of temptation, quick enough to seal fate and slow enough to reconsider, his fingers traced my jaw, tipping my face toward his own. His emerald eyes captivated me.
A tinny racket shattered the spell, the vibration insistent. Jesse dropped his hand, rummaging for his phone. “Right now, bro?” His voice lost its seductive caress. “Sure, I can be there in an hour.”
Maybe it was that he said “bro,” or that he couldn’t afford to decline an extra shift at his second job. It could have been that he lifted me down like a child, hands under my armpits, or that I was old enough to be his mother. When he asked if I minded running down the trail because he couldn’t be late, I let him go and walked at my own pace.
Back home, I showered, scrubbing away sunscreen and sweat, but shame lingered. I dressed quietly and found Daniel in the kitchen, making a sandwich. I made for the kettle, setting it to boil. What to say?
He looked at me, eyebrows creased in concern. “I’m sorry. I should have asked if you had eaten.”
His thoughtfulness pierced me. “I’m not hungry, but thank you.”
Daniel took a bite and his eyes lit, memory sparked. He chewed faster, swallowing with intention. “Remember Phil from my office? We were talking about getting together, and… you’ll never guess.”
I raised my eyebrows, waiting.
“He and his wife hike! They choose a new trail every weekend, sometimes bring a picnic. They invited us to join them on Saturday. I couldn’t wait to tell you.”
The kettle screamed, and I poured. The teabag tumbled in the scalding stream, caramel-colored ribbons bleeding from the black leaves into the clear water. Daniel’s eyes locked on mine, eager for approval. A solid, deep, dependable brown. Not stuck. Steady. I smiled, flooded with hope and love for this man who adored me. “Is that right?”
Maria Hanley is a new writer, inspired by the fine details of day-to-day living and the layered experiences of being human. Her piece “Holy” was awarded second place in the 2021 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition for Memoir Vignettes. She lives in Santa Barbara, California with her husband and three sons. When she’s not writing, she’s likely sinking into a story, relearning how to play piano, trying to do more yoga, corralling her three boys, and chasing her dreams. You can find Maria on Twitter and Instagram @MHanleyWriter