by Cath, Bard
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. The characters portrayed here may resemble those heroines, but no copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the author.
This story does not depict acts of violence and/or their aftermath.
There's pending friendship here, with a hint of something more, but that's about it.
Many lovers claimed I had a body like sin.
But the sweat-sheened figure gliding beside me silently offered, "Salvation!"
"Oh, hell," I muttered under my breath as I strolled into the cardio room, pausing to scan imposing rows of equipment occupied by sweating, straining fellow masochists.
All of the new elliptical trainers were occupied. Even arriving at the gym by 5:45 (and that's AM, mind you) didn't guarantee a place on one of those popular machines. After all, it was January 3rd and the determined New Years' exercisers were carrying out their resolutions - at least until January 5th.
My eyes wandered to the second row: an imposing line of industrial-strength treadmills. All but one was in use. A movement caught my eye -- a svelte femme in a leotard slinking toward the only remaining LifeFitness 2000 Treadmill. In one lightning motion, I beat her to the machine, tossed my towel over the left safety railing, and secured a spot for this morning's sweatfest.
I stepped onto the apparatus and programmed my workout from habit - 40 minutes at a seven-minute mile pace, plus a five-minute warmup. I was about to press the "Enter" button to start the whole thing when I happened to glance toward the treadmill on my right. What I saw literally made my heart skip a beat.
Now, I'm in great shape, so heart arrythmias are not even a remote possibility. Therefore, the cause must have been the blonde gliding on the treadmill next door. Did I say "gliding"? I watched, mesmerized, as she turned toward me and sidestepped (sidestepped!) like a boxer on the moving belt, then leapt and twisted in midair to continue sidestepping with her back to me, then faced forward and accelerated into a run, neatly increasing her speed with deft touches on the control panel. Impressive.
I tried to remain nonchalant, deliberately reprogramming my routine -- several times. Truth be told, I wanted to study the bundle of energy now hurtling along beside me.
First, she was short, at least by my standards. Then again, at 5'11" some might consider me tall. Second, I noticed her arms. As she pumped them gracefully, solid, sculpted muscles rippled from shoulder to wrist. The wrists led to large, strong hands, with long fingers and short, clean nails -- tough, working hands, with character.
The sheen of sweat gave her light skin a golden, angelic radiance.
My eyes trailed up those shapely arms, past well-defined shoulders, to a toned neck, then down across obvious, but not obtrusive, breasts, covered by a light blue sports bra; a dark patch of dampness marked the cleavage.
Cliché as it sounds, her abdominal muscles tautened and relaxed in rhythm with each graceful stride. And they were flatter than Iowa farmland.
I tried to calm my breathing.
Undulating abs tucked neatly into close-fitting athletic shorts, hitched just below a perfect navel. The firm grip of the shorts accentuated muscular thighs and a pleasingly tight posterior. Chiseled calf muscles flexed in stark relief with each measured stride. Smooth, soundless footfalls ate up the swiftly-moving tread belt.
OK, I'd started this. I needed to finish my research.
Surreptitiously, I inspected her treadmill display for time and speed. She'd been at this for over 34 minutes, currently pacing six-minute miles. Not bad.
I pretended to make some additional adjustments to my machine, using the opportunity to observe her above the neck.
Pale, golden hair, cut short and in need of a trim, framed a charming profile: prominent, proportioned nose, upturned just a tad; lashes long enough to notice from the side; a slightly stubborn chin, now jutting with determination. I couldn't get a good look at her eyes from my current vantage point, but faint lines at one corner indicated that this woman smiled -- a lot. I really wanted to know the color of those eyes, but there was no way to get in front of her yet. I found myself hoping she planned a long workout. Maybe there would be a chance later.
Struggling to regain control, I double-checked the treadmill program and pushed "Enter." The belt started rolling and I began my warmup. I automatically pressed the start button on the wrist receiver for my Polar A2 monitor. The transmitter strapped around my chest would send heart rate data directly to the treadmill's display so I didn't really need the wrist receiver, but it was habit.
I glimpsed the treadmill readout, and my eyes fixed on the number registered there. I checked the device on my wrist. Sure enough, both were flashing 220 -- the maximum reading allowed. I was excited about more than my morning jog, but there was no way that stunning blonde spurred cardiac muscle to full gallop. No way. Was there?
A small gasp, then a very explicit "Whoa!" echoed from the treadmill beside me.
Working to maintain my balance, I jogged along while stealing another glance to my right. The blonde slammed her treadmill's emergency stop control. The belt halted with a screech of protest. She leaned against the handrail farthest from me, studying her wrist monitor, frowning, breathing hard. I noted a hint of panic in the way her eyes darted between receiver and treadmill display. After a moment, she powered up to a slow walk, taking deep breaths. She gripped the handrail at the front of the treadmill, knuckles white with effort.
I slowed my machine to a pace that matched hers. As gently as possible, I asked, "Are you OK?"
Still clutching the rail, she turned her head. I gazed into almond-shaped eyes that could only be described as pale, gleaming emeralds -- now clouded with worry. Something impossibly deep lingered there. I felt breathless, slightly dazed, but managed a smile.
She smiled back, but the panic remained in those beautiful eyes. We simultaneously pressed the "clear workout" buttons on our treadmills and faced each other as the belts rolled to a stop.
"I, uh, just noticed, something about my, ummm, heart rate." She extended her wrist receiver toward me. The flashing digital readout registered 220 -- like mine.
For all the power she exuded in motion, her stillness conveyed endearing vulnerability. She struggled just to maintain eye contact. A protective impulse surged straight to my heart.
"I think our wires got crossed." I grinned at her in what I hoped was reassurance.
"Your heart rate monitor and mine," I held up my wrist, "I think they scrambled together. My heart rate hit the max before I even started my workout."
"Oh, sorry." Relief lit her face. "This stuff is new to me."
"Really? You're in great shape."
The blush that suffused her cheeks traveled down her neck and spread across her chest. And I fell in love.
"Thank you," she responded in a quiet voice. "I exercise, but this is my first time using the monitor. My doctor suggested..." She trailed off and shook her head, then sighed.
I longed to know more, but sensed her reluctance. Maybe later. Right now, I decided an explanation might help.
"Sometimes, two of these things get close and they just go haywire. It happens to me when I run with friends who wear them."
"Maybe I could move to another treadmill," the blonde offered. She surveyed the room, but found the other machines still occupied.
Wanting to keep her near, I thought fast -- not an easy feat given the current state of my heart.
"Tell you what, I don't really need to measure heart rate today. This is a light session for me. Why don't you finish your workout with the monitor?"
"But I couldn't ask you to..."
"Don't worry about it." I flashed another smile. Heck, my heart rate had already exceeded its training zone.
"Thanks again." She glanced down at her monitor. "Hmm...mine's still pretty high."
I seized the opportunity to lean over, ostensibly to check the device on her wrist. I was close enough to detect a faint trace of mint. Her shampoo? It mixed tantalizingly with the scent of hard-earned sweat. I was afraid to observe my own monitor again, knowing it would show me in tachycardia. I must have lingered a bit too long in that enchanted space.
Fingers lightly tapped my forearm, which rested on the railing of her treadmill.
"Are you OK?" Her gentle concern filtered into my addled consciousness.
"Huh? Oh yeah. Sure." Grudgingly, I pulled away.
"Shall we finish our workouts then?" Her eyes sparkled -- a faint, knowing flicker shimmered in those green depths.
The next words out of my mouth were totally unplanned, and I felt like a complete idiot once they escaped. "Only if you'll join me for coffee when we're done."
"What?" She looked stunned, her mouth slightly open and her eyes wide.
Ah well, in for a dime, in for a dollar....
"I'm a personal trainer when I'm not messing up people's workouts. I could explain a little more about the care and feeding of heart rate monitors, since you're a novice and all."
"Nice move, genius," a small voice in my head scolded. "You scared the kid."
"Oh...." She glanced at me uncertainly; her shyness returned.
I scrambled to redeem myself, giving her an easy out. "Only if you have time, of course."
"Time?" She took a sudden interest in her running shoes. For a second, it appeared that she might cry, or maybe jump off the treadmill and flee.
"Geez, it's only coffee," I thought, puzzled that my casual invitation seemed to have stimulated a pivotal decision in her life. (Many happy months later, of course, I understood that life-altering decisions sometimes occur in casual, unsuspecting moments.)
"OK. That would be nice." Her soft voice held a slight tone of disbelief, like this was a new experience for her.
My grin was broad and probably silly, but I couldn't help it. "Great!" Turning to the machine, I reprogrammed that day's workout. "Race ya,," I challenged just before hitting "Enter."
Gentle laughter told me all was well. The belt started to roll and I relaxed into my warmup.
"You're on," she responded as she activated her heart rate monitor.
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