[ready for an all-nighter? hope you're drinking your fluids]
Elaine Ferguson blinked at the text that popped up on her phone, trying to make sense of it. She carefully set her paperback copy of Water for Elephants on the counter, picked up her mobile, and read it again. It felt dangerous to get a text like that, even if it was a mistake. She buzzed a little. Nice girls like her weren't supposed to get these kinds of messages.
Then she checked who'd sent it and that buzz turned nauseous. Hayden Carmichael. The Hayden Carmichael who'd been trespassing in her dreams so much. The one sitting at the other end of the counter.
"Really?" Elaine asked, tilting her head enough to feel the brush of her dark blonde ponytail on her shoulder.
Hayden looked over. He had a heavy brow that was currently as furrowed as her own. Of course he'd never send her a text like that. She just wasn't his type. The disappointment crushed her. "What?" he asked. Hayden had a scratchy way of talking that always made Elaine want to clear her own throat or offer him a glass of water. Coupled with his long, unkempt hair and he could have been the lead singer for a grunge band that had formed 20 years too late.
Elaine held up her phone. "We doing a distance run tonight after closing?" She put on the same indifferent face she'd been wearing for the past few months.
Hayden looked confused for a moment. Then his face fell. "Shit." He raked his fingers through his tangled hair, trying to cover his blush. At least he felt bad about it. "That wasn't meant for you."
Ouch. Ego bruised, she stumbled on, briefly considering asking why it wasn't. But she didn't ask questions like that. "Clearly," she said, flattening her tone. "Well, points for knowing the difference between 'your' and 'you're.'"
"Four years of college." He smiled, the blush replaced by that cocky grin that she wanted to hate but couldn't. He had such beautiful eyes--slate blue and fringed with thick lashes. Eyes she could get lost in if he'd stop letting them wander off to the nearest piece of spandex clad ass. Even as she thought it, his gaze trailed away to the front doors of the gym, where a couple of tight-bodied coeds were breezing through the opening. "Hey, Hayd," one of them flirted as she scanned her membership card across the sensor he manned. The other just wiggled her fingers at him, scanning in silence.
Elaine did the quick comparison--there was no stopping it. They were both taller than her. Bustier. There was no getting past that. And they had long hair, whereas hers just kissed her shoulders. But her body was tighter than either of theirs, toned like a cat's. And more flexible too, she knew, from the level two yoga class she taught and they attended. And, she secretly admitted, she had a better ass.
"Hey, Liz. Christie." His eyes followed them until they rounded the corner.
"Hey, Carmichael," Elaine snapped, drawing him back.
He blinked. "Yes?"
"Is it one of them?" She held up her phone when he gave her a blank look.
"Oh. No." He laughed. "Honestly, I don't even know who they are."
"You knew their names?"
He gestured to the computer that sat before him. Their names and faces would have popped up on screen as soon as they scanned their cards. "Wonders of technology."
Elaine rolled her eyes, but there wasn't much conviction behind her annoyance. He didn't even know them and yet they commanded more attention than she did. At the risk of being melodramatic, this was kind of the story of her life. Always the bridesmaid and all that B.S. A good friend had once explained it to her: she had the looks--blonde hair, compact body, peaches and cream complexion--but she lacked the "'tude."
It's not that she minded being seen as the nice girl. She was, in fact, a nice girl. It's just that every once in awhile, she'd wonder what it would be like to be seen differently. To be different. That errant text had her wondering.
"So does she work here?"
"She does," he said slowly. "Ferguson, why do you care?" She hated that he used her last name when talking to her, but didn't have the guts to tell him. It was the latest development in a cascade of events that were solidifying her status in his eyes as BFF.
She'd been working at City Fitness for the past couple months. At first, she'd done it just to have a little extra cash--law school was expensive and her student loans barely covered cost of living. They needed a yoga instructor, she qualified; it was close to campus and was only part-time. Seemed perfect.
She'd thought Hayden was cute the moment she saw him; he had this quiet charm about him that reminded her of a boy she once crushed on in high school. Or maybe it was the way his broad shoulders filled out his electric blue City Fitness polo. He wasn't the typical boy she went for--and in fact kind of hated the cliché of it all--but fuck it, she thought they had some nice chemistry.
So when they went out for some drinks after her first full day at work, she thought it was promising-- until she realized it wasn't just the two of them. No, Hayden spent most of the night flirting with Meredith, the statuesque spin teacher who was pursuing a degree in Sports Medicine. Elaine watched from the sidelines while Hayden chatted her up, making polite conversation with Natalie, her only other friend there.
After that disaster of a night, things only got worse. They did eventually hang out, one-on-one, but it was while they were doing laundry and she was too concerned with her dirty under things to think about flirting. They'd done that a few times, had a standing date to watch Top Chef, and Elaine knew that any day now, she'd have to suffer through the conversation that began: "So, Ferguson, can I ask you something? I need a girl's perspective..."
"Earth to Elaine. You there?"
"Just ... you were looking at me a little funny."
A blush climbed up her pale neck and blossomed in her cheeks. She looked away and cursed herself. "It's Meredith, isn't it?"
Hayden laughed, staring up at the corner of the ceiling. "You think I have a chance with her?"
As if on cue, the brunette swept through the lobby on her way to her spin class, already dressed in tight black shorts and a sports bra. "Hey, Hayd. Elaine," the perky instructor nodded to them.
"Hey, Meredith. We were just talking about you," Elaine said. Hayden looked at her.
Meredith traced his eyes, beaming her oh-so-perfect face at the petite yoga instructor. It really wasn't fair that the spin teacher got that body with that face with that skin. "Oh? Good things, I hope."
Elaine gave her a catty smile that she instantly felt awful about. "Depends on your definition of 'good, '" Hayden answered for her.
The brunette giggled and swept out of the room.
"What?" He could have at least looked guilty about staring at Meredith's butt. "What do you have against her, anyway? You two have never gotten along."
"Bad first impression," she muttered, thinking back to that first happy hour. Truth was, Meredith was nice enough. "She kind of scares me. Anyone who can be that perky while riding a stationary bike for an hour-and-a-half must be a sadomasochist."
Hayden snickered. "Some would say that about your class."
"No..." Really? "Yoga's about relaxation of body and mind. It's about finding inner peace. Not about techno music and sweating like a pig while the taskmistress yells at you."
"Sounds like my kind of night," Hayden grinned.
"Enjoy being a sweaty little pig, do you?"
He shook some hair from his eyes in a way that Elaine secretly thought was cute. "With the right girl." Hayden cracked up as Elaine pulled a face.
"So it was Meredith you meant to text."
Hayden really cracked up, only stopping when he noticed that Elaine wasn't following. "Seriously? You don't know?"
"Don't know what?"
"Ha. OK, well, hm ... You'd have more luck sending her that text than me."
"No way! Really?" Meredith was a lesbian?
"Really. And if you didn't realize that, you probably didn't realize she's been flirting with you for the past month."
Elaine's face warmed when she realized he wasn't just messing with her. "No ... I mean, I didn't but..." She didn't like the way he was looking at her. "I'm not like that, if that's where your mind is going."
He stood and stretched. The man really did have nice shoulders. "Look, I'm sorry about that whole ... fluids thing. I hope you're not too offended."
Why is he apologizing? Was the first thing Elaine thought. She wasn't that sensitive, right? So why did she still feel a little jealous? "Hey, don't worry about it. Just make sure you stop by the Smoothie bar to drink up."
Elaine caught the tiniest flicker of embarrassment before he doused it in bravado. Holding up his squeeze bottle, he puffed, "Already started."
"Did you know Meredith was into girls?"
Natalie, one of City Fitness's managers, was helping her fold towels in the laundry room. The single mom was a year ahead in her law program and had helped her get this job. Elaine admired the woman's strength, but had to laugh at some of the things that came out of her mouth.
"Aren't all women with enough alcohol?" That was the other thing about Natalie: you could never tell when she was serious. Especially when it came to sex.
"So that's a yes?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Hayden says she has her eye on me."
Natalie had a boisterous laugh and unloaded it on Elaine. "Did he?"
"Why are you laughing?"
.... There is more of this story ...