" ... really handsome..."
"I know. What did..."
Shashi frowned and shampooed her hair slowly, wishing the women showering in the nearby stalls would speak up. There had been an odd undercurrent in the gym today. Some news was circulating just below the surface and she didn't know what it was. The sensation of being just out of the loop was maddening.
She considered turning off the shower head to be able to hear better, but decided that would cross the line between overhearing and eavesdropping. Instead, she lathered up and wished people would have the basic decency to speak up.
After a minute more of straining to hear what the two women were talking about, she instead heard footsteps coming towards her and held her breath for a moment before letting it out. After all, she wasn't doing anything wrong. She pulled back the curtain between the shower stall and the changing stall to peek out at who was coming towards her. Emily must have spotted her peeking out because she gave a little wave, "Hey, Shashi."
Shashi managed a weak smile, relieved and annoyed at the same time. She and Emily were kind of friends. They talked every day and were even discussing becoming roommates. Her current roommate, the third in four years, had been perfect. She'd spent most of her time at her boyfriend's place for most of the time she'd been paying rent. But, she was moving in with him for real now and there were no more stops on the gravy train. Just as she'd announced she was leaving, Emily had started talking about how much she disliked her own roommate.
She was annoyed because she thought Emily must be looking for her. Otherwise, why would she have come all the way to the back of the shower room? Still, Shashi had promised herself to be extra nice to Emily. She couldn't afford to pay all the rent for very long.
"Heya, Em," she said. "What's happening?"
"Not much," Emily stepped into the changing stall next to hers. Shashi reflected that not much was ever up with Emily. She was a sweet, corn-fed Midwestern girl with proportions like a violin, but she seemed to lead the most boring of lives. That was just fine with Shashi, though. A roommate who was pretty and interesting would have been too much.
"You ready to meet with the new boss?" Emily asked.
"Yeah. The guy who bought the gym a few years back is going to start running it. Chase something."
"Chance," Shashi corrected her.
"That's it." Emily didn't say anything until her shower was running, "People are saying you used to know him pretty well."
"I was his trainer ... for a few months." Shashi continued to lather up her hair mechanically, not really noticing it, "I wouldn't say I knew him well."
"Oh," Emily sounded confused. "Clea said she thought you two had been an item."
Shashi's laugh sounded unconvincing in her own ears, "Clea says a lot of things. Supposedly, some of them are even true."
"But not this one. Huh?"
"No." The lie was out of Shashi's mouth before she'd even considered telling the truth. When she thought back to how her relationship with Chance had ended, it stung. Even now, she could feel the deep-down embarrassment she'd carried around for months later.
"Too bad," said Emily. "I hear he's loaded."
"Yeah. He was one of those Internet geniuses," said Shashi. Relieved, she remembered to rinse her hair, "He sold his company to Disney just before the stock prices started dropping. You should see his apartment up by Union..."
"His apartment?" Emily interrupted, "I thought you were just his trainer."
Shashi froze, unable to think of a convincing lie. To stall, she asked Emily to repeat herself.
"When did you see his apartment if you were only his trainer?"
"Oh," said Shashi. "Well, when your boss wants to move a workout to his apartment, you go to his apartment."
"Sure," said Shashi. "Besides, he's hardly a new boss. He's owned this place for like five years."
"I suppose not," said Emily, seemingly willing to go along with the abrupt topic change, "Where's his apartment?"
"A few blocks from here, on Broadway," said Shashi. "He's got most of a floor, forty stories up with a huge balcony that overlooks Union Square Park."
"That sounds nice," offered Emily. "I'd like to see that."
There was something in Emily's tone that set off an alarm bell in Shashi's head. If the receptionist set her sights on Chance, he might fall for her. Then, she would be out a roommate and she would have to see Chance with another big-breasted blond. Worse, she was afraid that Emily was prettier than she was, although it was hard to say. The milky white Iowa farm girl was about as different looking from Shashi as two women could be. It was like trying to compare apples and ... whatever kind of fruit grew in India.
"You probably don't want to get involved with Chance," she offered.
"Well..." Shashi considered her words carefully. She needed a room mate, but she needed a paycheck even more, "He's ... kind of socially awkward and a bit doughy. And, you know, it's never a good idea to sleep with people from work."
"Oh," said Emily a shade too quickly. "Right. Of course."
Shashi considered the two blouses on the bed in front of her. Both were red. Both would hug her curves and show a tasteful amount of cleavage. The one lying on the left side was embroidered in a blue and green paisley pattern and had a Nehru collar. The other was silk and would be appropriate in an office environment ... well, maybe an office Christmas party ... or to work if the office had "trampy Fridays."
She knew that Chance would like the more traditional-looking blouse better. The more she looked like she'd stepped out of a Bollywood extravaganza, the more likely he was to compliment her. But, she'd favored more mainstream clothes at work. Being a yoga instructor was bad enough without being a yoga instructor in a sari. She looked at the blouses again and smirked. Either way, she would probably look better than anyone else at the meeting. They would be all sweaty and dressed to work out.
Her smirk turned to a frown. Chance hadn't minded her being all sweaty. He might have even liked it better than when she worked hard to dress nicely. Either way, once they'd started sleeping together, it made a challenge of getting all the way through a workout.
She shook her head and picked up the plainer blouse. She didn't know why she was bothering to put much thought into the decision. She'd broken up with Chance more than four years ago. She didn't want him back. She did want him to want her back, though. Nearly all of her break-ups before and since had been messy. Men didn't get over Shashi Radivary easily.
She hadn't heard a word from Chance since the break-up. The closest he'd come he'd come had been a check for training sessions they'd agreed to, but never had. It had been generous, so much so that she would have torn it up and sent it back if it weren't almost exactly the same amount as her Visa bill.
She had buttoned the blouse up half-way when someone knocked at her door, "Miss Radivary?"
She sighed and finished the last few buttons, not rushing. She'd know that voice anywhere. With Chance working out of an office in the gym, Lin Bao couldn't be far behind. Shashi was pretty sure her dislike of Chance's efficient, Chinese, pretty-like-a-well-honed-knife assistant was mutual, but she could never be sure. She plastered a fake smile on her face before opening the door, "Yes?"
"Mr. Colby is hoping you can join him in his office." Lin was a head shorter than Shashi, but somehow managed to appear to be looking down her nose. It must be a trick with the delicate, gold wire-frame glasses she wore. Today, she was wearing a red blouse with gold embroidery and a Nehru collar. Shashi wondered if she should change or if she'd dodged a bullet.
"I know. I have like another hour," said Shashi, glancing at the clock to make sure time hadn't gotten away from her. Lin stood, looking at her, seemingly not even blinking. Shashi heard herself go on, "I wanted to get changed first. I know I'm supposed to be out on the floor, but I wanted to get changed. The buildings are even connected. And, it's slow. So..."
"Chance was hoping that you could come by a few minutes early. He'd like to talk to you privately first." Lin gave the first name a hint of extra emphasis as if her use of it was significant. She looked Shashi over, "But, if you're not dressed..."
Shashi knew that she was fully dressed and ready to go, but a moment passed as she wondered if the other woman had seen something she'd missed. She shook her head, "I'm fine. Just ... let me get my purse."
The sound of Lin's heels clacking across the empty lobby of her apartment building made Shashi realize that the two of them were nearly the same height at the moment. Shashi hadn't even considered wearing high heels to the meeting. She'd never had an office job, but she was pretty sure that the three-inch Jimmy Choos Lin wore weren't appropriate, even if she wore them like they were a natural extension of her own legs.
Being Chance's assistant wasn't really an office job, though. When Shashi had been a regular at Chance's apartment, Lin had been a nearly-constant fixture, as ubiquitous as furniture. Prim and professional, it had been hard to imagine her as having a libido, much less unwinding that tight bun, letting her hair down, and getting sweaty. But, Shashi's imagination had been up to the task.
Chance had laughed at her when she'd accused him of wanting to sleep with Lin. He'd laughed until Shashi got mad and accused him of having no respect for her. That fight had lasted into the wee hours. The sex afterward had been some hybrid of grudge fucking and make-up sex and had left Shashi...
"Miss Radivary, the gym is this way."
Shashi realized she'd started to wander towards the front door of her building, the one leading to the street rather than the one connecting it to the gym. "I know," she snapped. Lin gave her a smile that might have been apologetic, but could just as easily have been smug.
As they crossed the gym floor, Lin fell into step behind Shashi. It felt like the Chinese woman's eyes were burning holes in her back. Shashi forced herself to stay calm and not walk faster. She might have a hard time forgetting Chance, but she'd completely forgotten Lin.
Now, she wouldn't put it past the ice bitch to tell everyone about Shashi's past relationship with Chance. It would be humiliating enough for people to find out the details of their past relationship, but worse for everyone to know she'd lied. She wanted to turn and demand that Lin keep her secret. But, she couldn't. Lin would probably give her some withering gaze as if the idea that she would sully her hands with such things was contemptible, yet somehow word would get out.
Chance would save her from the embarrassment. Chance had always been discreet. Lin listened to Chance. If he told Lin to be discreet too, she would. Wouldn't she?
Shashi was trotting by the time she reached the stairs leading up to Chance's office, not caring if the half dozen people working out on the rows of machines on the main floor stopped to watch her ascend the exposed stairway. The office was a box on stilts, built into the back wall with windows on the three exposed sides. When the blinds were up, it commanded a view of most of the gym's main floor. Seeing the blinds down usually meant bad news. At least it had with the previous manager.
When she burst through the door, Chance looked up, a characteristically sardonic grin on his face, one eyebrow cocked. Shashi could never tell if he was mocking her with that grin or not.
"I don't want you to tell anyone that we slept together," she demanded. "And I want you to tell Lin to keep her mouth shut, too."
Chance stared at her, not speaking. The stare still unnerved her. The intervening years had made his face more angular, even rugged. That just made it worse. She looked around the office for something else to focus on. The battered, gunmetal gray desk with the chipped faux-marble top was still there, but it was no longer covered with papers. Instead, a pair of sleek, new computer monitors sat to one side. Sam, the previous manager, had refused to use the gym's computers. But, wherever Chance went, technology seemed to spring up like new buds in spring.
"I don't believe I've ever discussed our relationship with anyone," he said evenly. "And I'm sure my assistant hasn't."
Shashi opened her mouth to demand assurances, but Chance's eyes slid past her so that he was looking at a space a few feet behind her at waist level. Shashi turned to look just as he said, "Clea, Jerome, could you excuse us, please?"
The two dance instructors rose as one. Shashi looked away, heat rising in her face, but not before Jerome caught her eye, a clear moue of disapproval on his lips.
Chance sat down and titled his head back to look Shashi in the eye. He smirked, "Well, if that's settled..."
Shashi's anger flared up, "You enjoyed that! Don't deny it."
"I enjoyed that immensely," acknowledged Chance, sighing wistfully, "But, that's not why I called you in here."
Shashi heard something in Chance's voice that made her breath catch in her throat and her heart start pounding like a triphammer. Her back suddenly felt cold and she realized she'd backed into the door. Even so, she felt a wash of triumph, "I knew it! You're still not over me."
Chance looked puzzled and, in that moment, the spell was broken. He waved a hand dismissively, "What? No. Water under the bridge. We had some really good times together, but it was pretty clear that it had to end."
Anger flowed back into Shashi like a rip-tide. She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward, "Why would you say that?"
Chance's puzzled look deepened, "I thought you just..." He stopped and threw his hands up, "Let's not get into that now. We need to talk business before the regular meeting."
"You can't..." Shashi started, then thought better of pushing her luck and flounced backwards into the chair Clea had vacated. "Okay, fine. What do we need to talk about?"
Chance glanced at something on the computer monitors, "I'm sure you know that World Class Fitness has been losing a lot of money lately. I've decided that it's time to..."
"Losing money?" Shashi was shocked, "But, every time I turn around, there's some new piece of equipment being put in or a room renovated or something."
Chance got a look that suggested indigestion, "You might also have noticed that those rooms are staying stubbornly empty and the equipment unused. I expect all the improvements to pay off eventually ... In the meantime, I need to get this place to at least break even."
Chance seemed perplexed by the question, "Why ... does a business need to not lose money month after month?"
Shashi rolled her eyes, "No. Why does this gym need to make money? That's not why you bought it and ... aren't you a bazillionaire?"
That got a faint chuckle, "I might have a few bazillion less than before, I'm afraid." He rose, coming to lean on the front of the desk. Shashi realized he was wearing a suit. It came as a small shock. When they'd been together, Chance had rarely worn suits. He referred to them as "businessman drag" and moved in them like they always itched. He must have found a better tailor. This suit moved like a second skin and somehow still made him look trim.
Shashi felt an odd flutter in her chest. She knew that flutter. Somehow, she'd assumed she would never feel it again once she and Chance broke up. But, there was something about the grace and speed with which Chance moved. One moment, he seemed glacial, the next he'd launched himself across the room like a cat. Remembering that brought back the flutter.
"I'm sorry. What?" Shashi realized that Chance had said something and she'd been daydreaming.
Chance made a gesture of apology, "I know you have other plans, but it would only be for four years."
"Four years?" Shashi frowned. What would be for four years? She strained to remember what Chance had been saying while her mind had been on ... other things and remembered the word "contract."
"You want me to sign a contract for four years?" she guessed.
"I might be willing to negotiate down to three," Chance admitted. "If you say no, I don't even know who I would go to next. You're already a huge draw." He glanced over his shoulder at one of the computer screens, "Consistently at maximum billing hours and you've got three times as many people on a waiting list as you can see. I can't figure out why Sam didn't take advantage of that."
"I didn't either," improvised Shashi. Actually, she'd barely known that the gym had waiting lists, let alone that she'd accumulated an impressive one. Still, she knew how to get Chance on her side, "His record keeping left something to be desired."
That got an amused snort, "You don't know the half of it. Between you and me, I don't think Sam was really cut out to run a gym."
That didn't begin to describe Sam. Shashi knew better than to go into that. Sam kept his job the way everyone here seemed to—by relying on an informal network of mutual assured destruction. No one was ever sure how much Sam remembered, considering how heavily he drank. But, he certainly had known enough about Shashi at one time to get her fired. Those inefficient, paper-based files of his had contained enough dirt to plant a garden. Sam had a file on everybody. Everyone who worked at World Class knew that and, for some reason, pretended they didn't. Some of the nervous energy she'd been sensing today had probably been fueled by an awareness that, if Sam had given Chance his files, today's meeting might well be in order to fire them all.
Apparently, that wasn't the case, at least not for Shashi. She glanced around the office, wondering where the files had gone. Sam couldn't have taken all his files with him very easily. There had been hundred if not thousands of manila folders stuffed with papers in this room and they were all gone. Shashi wouldn't put it past Chance to have thrown them all out in favor of the computer under his desk.
She considered just not talking about it, assuming Chance had gotten rid of the files or that they were packed up in a warehouse somewhere, never again to see the light of day. But, she knew the question would drive her nuts if she did that. So, she ventured, "It's nice to see this place getting put into order, anyway. I don't think anybody could make sense of Sam's files, maybe not even Sam himself."
Chance rolled his eyes, "That sounds about right. It'll probably take us years to go through all that stuff."
Now, Shashi's heart was pounding in her ears for an entirely different reason. Not only had Chance said he was going to go through the files, he'd said it like someone would be helping him. And that meant Lin. Shashi was sure of it.
"You probably shouldn't even bother," Shashi said, hoping her voice didn't quiver. "It's all just duplicates of what's in the database anyway."
Chance frowned and sighed, "Can I take it by the change of subject that you're not interested in the contract? I know you must be pretty close to med school by now."
Shashi nodded. Actually, she was probably farther from med school than she'd ever been. Not only hadn't she saved any money since she saw Chance last, she had far more bills than money to pay them.
Still, Chance had made it clear that he really needed her. And, whatever he was offering, she doubted he'd put all his cards on the table. With a sigh she hoped sounded properly regretful, she said, "I don't know, Chance. In four years, I'll be thirty. I need to do this before I'm too old to survive my residency.