"God damn it!" she muttered under her breath. Stacey was pissed. It appeared another dirty old man was trying to get into her advanced aerobics class.
Well, she thought to herself, I'll just have to run him off, too. She smirked at the rather accurate pun.
Stacey was serious about her class. The maximum enrollment was 12, and most of her group had been with her a couple of years. They were primarily professional women in their late twenties and early thirties with a couple trophy wives thrown in. All were athletic and toned and turned heads wherever they went. And that was the problem, as far as Stacey was concerned. There were always men trying to get into the class for the wrong reasons - to try to get close to the eye candy and watch them sweat in their lycra and spandex outfits and maybe score some prize nookie.
The answer had turned out to be simple. Stacey just turned it up a notch or two and soon the men decided it wasn't worth it. Only one man had lasted longer than two sessions and he was out after four.
And now this. This guy has to be in his late forties, she thought, taking in his short hair greying at the temples and the wrinkles around his eyes. Missy should know better than to put some old, out of shape miserable cur in here. He won't last out the day! As the class took off their warm-ups and set out the mats she tried to size him up. The loose gym shorts revealed a rather impressive set of thighs, but the tucked in t-shirt appeared to be covering a slight pot-belly. Jeez, she thought, Missy has a lot to answer for on this one!
After sighing to herself, she called her class to order, officially welcomed Mike Richards, and started the stretching exercises.
Forty-five minutes later the man was sweating a lot, but didn't appear to be in too bad a shape, which surprised the hell out of Stacey. What also surprised her was his apparent lack of interest in her ladies. Actually, she admitted to herself, that wasn't quite accurate. He had been showing appreciation for the women surrounding him, but hadn't been drooling or staring. Instead, he'd concentrated on the class.
Once the warm-down was over, he helped put the mats away but without trying to take over like several previous men had tried to do. He worked as an equal with the others, and Stacey noticed a couple of the women had easy smiles for him.
When he was done, he walked over the Stacey and said, "Thank you very much, Ms. Stevenson. You are an excellent instructor and I appreciate the hard work you've obviously put into this class."
For some reason, this ticked Stacey off, and she snorted, "Enjoy it while you can, Mr. Richards. It'll be much harder in the future," and glared at him, hoping to stare him down. The man's pleasant look turned to a very blank one, which he held for quite a while. Finally he sighed and turned away, shaking his head.
"All right!" Stacey muttered. "The bastard won't be back!"
She was wrong. He was back at the next session. True to her word, she stepped it up a notch. This time, he appeared to be breathing quite a bit harder at the end, but still not in pain. And he was back again for the following class.
For the next several classes, she pushed harder and harder. Finally, at the end of a particularly brutal session, he came up front to her again. Staring her straight in the eye, he said, "Ms. Stevenson, I don't care how hard you try to work me." Okay, thought Stacey, here's where he makes some sort of ultimatum. "But shouldn't you be paying attention to the needs of the rest of your class?"
Stacey was stunned. She looked around the room and saw several of her women struggling with the mats, obviously wrung out. She even saw a couple of glares. "Shit," she said. She looked back in the eyes of the man, which were carefully gazing into hers. Funny, she thought, I hadn't noticed they were grey. In fact, she realized she saw what seemed to be a soft, compassionate look in those eyes. It was as if he understood what was going on, yet didn't hate her for it. In that moment, her attitude towards the man changed around completely. God, what a blind fool she had been! "Mike, excuse me a moment, please." He nodded.
"Ladies, I need your attention for a moment." Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards her. "Ladies - and gentleman," she said nodding to Mike, "I wish to apologize for what I put you through today. While I have always tried to push you to do your best, I realize that today I have pushed too hard. There is a point where excercise can become destructive, and we may be near that point. We will be doing much more stretching and bending the next couple of sessions to help ease out any muscle soreness that may be lingering from today. Those of you who know a place where you can get a good massage should do that tonight if you can. Otherwise, a nice soak in a bath or hot tub would help. And, as always, drink plenty of water, even more than usual. Thank you for working so hard, and you will retain good results from what you have done."
She then turned back to Mike. "Thank you for focussing my attention where it should be. Is there anything further you would like to say?"
"I wonder if you could recommend a place where I can get a massage."
"Of course. In fact, I would like to offer that massage myself, as I believe that's the least I can do to make amends."
His grey eyes now seemed to have a little twinkle in them. "You really don't have to make any amends to me, you know."
She blushed, but stared him right in the eye and retorted, "Oh yes indeed I do."
How in the world did I ever think this man wasn't in shape, Stacey thought as she worked over his shoulders. While not massive, the muscles in his back and shoulders were solid, and she had to dig her fingers in harder than usual to work out the knots. While she had noticed his thighs, she was still a bit surprised at how big and solid they were.
When she was finished, Mike sat up, rolled those shoulders and smiled, "Thanks, Stacey. That was one of the best massages I've ever had."
"Thank you," returned Stacey, "It felt good to work on someone that stays in shape like you do."
She saw Mike look at her for a moment, as if he was trying to decide something. "Okay, Mike, what's up?" she asked.
"Well, please don't take this the wrong way, but I'd like to return the favor."
Stacey just looked at him. And looked at him. Stared into those grey eyes, looking for something, something that she wasn't sure she would recognize even if she saw it. And suddenly understood that she wanted to take it the wrong way. And got scared!
"No, no," she said. "There's no need." She was lying, of course. She could use a good massage just as much as anyone else in her class. And she knew he knew it.
"I'm assuming that means you've already lined up a masseuse, then."
Stacey jumped on that life raft with both feet. "Yes, and I'd better get cleaned up and head over there or I'll be late."
Mike nodded. "That's good. I know how hard you work in this class and just wanted to make sure you weren't neglecting yourself."
Stacey thanked him for his concern, then sent him on his way. After spending some time in a whirlpool she finally felt she had relaxed enough to head home to bed. Still, she laid awake for quite a while that night, her thoughts jumping all over the place. She finally dropped off to sleep while thinking about those kind, grey eyes.
"Hey, Missy, can I talk to you for a moment?"
Missy looked up at Stacey with a question in her eyes. "Stace, that sounded almost like a plea. What's up?"
Stacey looked down for a moment, and then sighed and looked back up. "I know we aren't supposed to know anything other than medical history on our students, but I think I need to know a little more than that about one of my current charges."
Missy smirked. "Mr. Richards, I presume?"
Stacey looked shocked. "How in the world... ?"
"Oh, come on, Stace. You've never really cared what was in the file of any of your other students, and if you wanted to know something you just asked them yourself. Mr. Richards is the most recent addition, he's a man and he's not going anywhere, is he?"
"Right on all counts," Stacey admitted. "So, is there anything you can tell me that'll help me make sense of this?"
"You mean that'll help you come to grips with something you never believed could happen?"
Stacey blushed. "I think maybe I need a leave of absence or something. Obviously I'm not doing a good job right now."
Missy immediately objected. "Hell, no, Stace! You're the best instructor I've got! Even Mr. Richards says so. And he thinks you'll handle this fine."
"Mike said what?"
Now it was Missy's turn to blush. "Sorry. You weren't supposed to know that."
Now Stacey was ticked. "Why the hell not?"
Missy sighed. "You got plans for lunch?"
Damn! How wrong could I be, thought Stacey.
It turns out Mr. Richards was an ex-Marine. When he had first talked about signing up he wasn't sure if there was a program that would provide him with the work he needed to keep to the level of fitness he preferred. Apparently the extra work Stacey had been putting him through was just what he was looking for, but now he was worried that it would hurt some of the others in the class. And, yes he had known she was pushing it just to get at him. It had amused him a little, but he'd also been impressed with the solid way she had gone about it.
"You see," Missy explained, "while he understood it was 'personal, ' in that it was an attempt to drive a man out of the class, it wasn't vicious or vindictive. He understood that you were just stepping it up without doing something underhanded or manipulative. As he put it, 'it probably wasn't an honest thing to do, but it was done honestly and ethically.' He actually seemed proud of that and admitted he'd done similar things in his training classes when he thought someone was there that didn't belong."
"Which explains a lot," Stacey mused. "No wonder he didn't get upset. And it also explains why he was willing to come up to me after the one class and calmly let me know that I needed to change my focus."
"He seemed most impressed with how you handled that," nodded Missy. "I could swear he almost had a tear in his eye when he was talking about it."
"Thanks, Missy. I've got a lot to think about."
"You're still doing your class tomorrow, right?"
Stacey smiled, although a bit wanly, "Yeah, I'll be there."
It had been a couple of weeks, now, and Stacey had to admit her class was as good as it ever had been. While she hadn't exactly struck up a friendship with Mike, she had conferred with him from time to time when there was something she wanted to try or when one of her other students had voiced a request on some facet of the exercise. Everyone got along very well, and she decided to add back some paired exercises after making sure no one was concerned about being paired with Mike.