Megan’s trip to the gym isn’t as relaxing as she hoped.

I could do most of my workouts at home with dumbbells or I could go for a run but for sparring or a punchbag I needed the gym. It wasn’t my natural home, it was full of sweaty people doing sweaty things in public, some of whom insisted on making sure the public knew they were there getting sweaty doing sweaty things in public.

I was minding my own busy beating the shit out of a punchbag that had never done me any harm when a guy said, ‘Your form’s off.’

I stopped and caught the punchbag mid-swing. ‘Nah, mate.’ I could’ve ignored him but it would’ve taken longer to get rid of him.

He was about average size but heavy on top, he’d been skipping leg day. ‘Maybe you’re right, everything else about you is perfect.’ He leaned against the wall and grinned.

‘Oh, aye, I didn’t realise this gym was run by Tinder.’

He frowned as if it was somehow unexpected I wouldn’t be impressed.

‘Sorry, I’m swiping left.’ I turn back to the punchbag.

He circled round and got in front of me. ‘You’re too pretty to be doing this.’

I raised my fists. ‘I’m not interested, I have a boyfriend.’ I started my punches again.

‘Where?’ He stopped a little too far away I could ‘accidentally’ hit him with the punch bag.

‘I don’t know.’ I kept up my volley of blows. ‘I didn’t put a tracking app on his phone.’

‘You’re not being very polite.’

I punched the bag so hard it narrowly missed him and I left it swinging. ‘How many variations of “no” does it take to get you to fuck off?’

He stepped closer crowding my space, an average sized man was much bigger than me. ‘There’s no need to get aggressive, lady.’

I shifted my feet into position and flexed my fingers. ‘Sweetheart, you don’t want to see how aggressive I can be.’

‘Leave the lady alone,’ Rick said.

The man looked over at him, then up at him.

Rick had his shirt off and a towel over his shoulder, you could’ve counted his muscles.

The man stepped away from me. ‘I was trying to have a polite conversation.’

‘Didn’t look that way to me, fella,’ Rick stepped further into the room, squaring off with his opponent. ‘Trust me, if you harass any ladies round here and that one’ll have you pissing blood for a week.’

The man snorted. ‘Funny.’

I glanced between them, not sure which was worse.

Rick got right up close to the man, so close to me I could smell his sweat and my skin prickled.

‘Shall we see if you’re laughing when you’re choking on your teeth?’ Rick whispered.

I stepped away, putting the bag between us. The man held Rick’s gaze a moment then snorted and walked out, circling wide of him.

‘Am I supposed to say, “thank you”?’ I asked and took a few practice shots at the bag to distract myself.

‘You’re not supposed to say anything.’ He grinned, I used to find that grin irresistible, now it made me feel a bit sick. ‘I was probably doing that guy a favour.’

I punched the bag hard and it swung back and forth, the metal chain protesting. ‘What are you doing here?’

He caught the bag. ‘New job. Changed my days.’

I nodded. I might need a new gym then, I hadn’t realised we went to the same one. One of the things we’d agreed on was a preference for smaller places rather than big shiny ones; I always felt out of place in big shiny gyms, like they were for Hollywood beautiful people, not average people like me.

I swallowed and caught the swinging bag. There was the possibility it wasn’t a coincidence but I was sure if I suggested that to the police they’d tell me I was being hysterical.

‘Did I hear you have a boyfriend?’ he asked.

I went back to punching the bag but kept him in my sight. ‘Listening, were you?’

He shrugged his shoulders and his muscles rippled like waves, I had an impression he’d gained more since we broke up.

‘Look, you’re really channelling the creepy stalker vibes.’ I picked up my towel. ‘My business is none of your business.’

‘I know, I’m sorry. It’s difficult to have a polite conversation without it coming off wrong.’

‘Then don’t have any conversation.’

He caught my arm as I passed, his grip was tight. The look in his eyes made my stomach lurch. I used to make excuses for that look, he had a temper, I’d been particularly annoying, it didn’t really mean anything it was just a look. Sometimes Jimmy and I argued, he’d never looked at me like that.

I put my hand around Rick’s wrist and applied pressure. ‘I’d let go if I were you.’

‘I’m sorry.’ He didn’t let go until pain made his jaw twitch.

I wanted to rubbed my arm with my towel but if I gave in to the temptation he’d know he’d got to me. ‘Instead of being sorry maybe you should do less to be sorry about.’

‘That’s harsh.’

‘It’s harsh because it’s true.’ I strode off.

He was never sorry, I reminded myself, I’d learnt that the hard way.

Feature image by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

For more episodes of Take a Bite Cafe click here.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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