(not the hero of this story)
I’m sitting in my spacious office at Get Fit with Danny!—the premier chain of functional fitness gyms in North America (as I’m sure you’ve heard)—going over revenue numbers with my CFO. Sales of new memberships are up! Renewals are up! We’ve been featured in the media fifty-six times in the past six months! We now have franchisees in all fifty states, plus Canada! I’ve just inked a deal to produce a line of workout videos!
Well, okay, so I’m not. But that’s the point! I’m thirty-one years old and I’m sitting in my cramped office at the original location of Get Fit with Danny!—the premier chain of functional fitness gyms in the Avondale metro area (okay, Avondale is a town of twenty thousand so “metro” is stretching it)—with my parents, begging them to invest more money in my business. And if they just would, the sky’s the limit! Functional fitness is hot!
“The return on investment will be major. Just think of the retirement you’ll have. Golfing every day, dad. That boat you’ve always wanted.” (My mother rolls her eyes at the mention of the boat.) “And mom, you’ll have the kitchen of your dreams. Plus unlimited privileges with the masseuse.” (Take that, dad.)
“You know what I want in my retirement?” My mother pins me with a hard look. “Grandchildren.”
“And you will, mom. I promise. All in due time.”
“Danny, will you excuse us for a moment? I’d like to speak with your mother in private.” My father cocks his head toward the door.
I go out into the hall and stroll down to the smoothie bar.
“Hey, Alicia. Give me a Power Kale Chia. Large.” Alicia is wearing a pink Get Fit with Danny! cropped fitness top. Alicia has six-pack abs beneath that top. Don’t ask me how I know. “And a small Strawberry-Banana.” My mother loves those. My father, on the other hand, despises smoothies with a passion normally reserved for a certain professional football team based in Washington, DC.
I carry the smoothies back to my office and my mother’s face lights up.
“Son, we’ll give you the money.” My father’s face is still dark.
I fist pump in victory. In my mind, of course. I’m not an idiot.
“On one condition.”
What? I hope they don’t want a controlling share. My father’s idea of fitness is eighteen holes of golf.
“You find yourself a nice girl to settle down with and get married. It’s high time.”
“And by nice girl, we don’t mean one of those cheap floozies you’re always running around with,” my mother clarifies.
“Cheap floozies are the only kind of women in this town. Except you, of course.”
“There are plenty of nice girls in Avondale if you open your eyes, Daniel.” Dad stands. Apparently this meeting is over.
“And how long do I have to find one of these mythical nice girls?” How long does it take to procure a mail-order bride? Anyone know?
“We’ll give you the money in installments,” my father says.
Damn, they’ve really thought this through. In the time it took me to walk to the smoothie bar and back.
“One third when you bring us an acceptable woman to meet. One third upon your engagement. The final third on your wedding day.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“That’s our final offer, Danny.”
I escort my parents off the premises—I mean, to the front door. I watch them get into their car and drive off.
That didn’t go as planned. Understatement of the year.
Get married? I’ve never been a one woman kind of man. What’s the point of having a body like mine—honed and chiseled through thousands of hours of sweat and reps—if you’re going to limit yourself to one woman? I’m a sky’s the limit guy—in business, in coaching, in life.
I pass the smoothie bar. Just ask Alicia here. How many orgasms did I give her last night? More than her husband has given her in the past month, no doubt. To calm myself, I stroll around the building and survey all I’ve built. It’s a lot. But it could be so much more. My goal is to be a star in the fitness industry.
No, scratch that.
My goal is to be the star in the fitness industry. I want Get Fit with Danny! to be a household name. Like yoga. Or Richard Simmons. I just need more capital.
I stop at the long glass window outside one of the fitness classrooms. There’s a barre class happening right now. All those gorgeous women in skintight leggings and sports bras, bending and twisting, their faces flushed like they’ve just had a lovely orgasm. I count the number of “cheap floozies” in the class. And by “cheap floozies,” I mean “women who have slept with me.” I stop counting when I get to half the class.
Is it my fault that I am god’s gift to women? I’m practically god’s only gift in Avondale! Women throw themselves at my feet!
The class turns en masse toward me and the women begin pulsing their thighs, their pretty heads bobbing, their faces the very picture of exercise concentration. My gaze stops on a woman near the back. Amy is her name? She works at the high school, I think. Teacher, maybe? Social studies? Home ec? I coach the state championship football team at the school, but I can’t be expected to keep track of who teaches what there. She catches my eye and I give her a little smile.
No, she is not one of the cheap floozies I’ve slept with. Amy puts the mouse in mousy. The nerd in nerdy. But her body’s not bad these days. She was definitely a little chubby when she started coming here. That’s the power of Get Fit with Danny!
She’s probably a virgin still. That would send my mother over the moon. Grandchildren born of a virgin womb?
But I shudder at the thought of sleeping with her. My taste does not run to the good girls. It just doesn’t. What can I say?
I watch her for a few minutes more. The class moves from pulsing to flushing it out and then down to the floor for planks. She’s pretty good at barre. I’ll give her that. Maybe she’s interested in becoming an instructor. I could use another one, especially with my plans for growth. Sky’s the limit, baby!
18 months later
“All right, ladies and gentlemen. What’s a class reunion without a few embarrassing party games?”
A bouquet of cheers and groans blooms inside the banquet room of the Avondale Country Club.
“Come on, guys, your parents love this first game at their reunions,” the deejay adds.
The cheers wilt.
I look around the room. It’s all decked out with gaudy streamers and twinkling disco balls. Has it really been fifteen years since we all graduated from high school? The signs emblazoned “Welcome Class of 2006!!!” seem to think so. On the one hand—surrounded as I am by friends, not-quite-friends, and not-friends-anymore—it does all feel like yesterday.
There’s Angela Alessi, still skirting the bounds of propriety—and the dress code—in an outfit that will surely flash her underwear when she sits down. If she’s wearing any, that is. The day Angela Alessi came to school with no underwear on has long since been incorporated into Avondale High School’s collective mythology.
And there’s George Noonan, who spent his teen driving years in a used hearse—and apparently rented one for tonight, as well. When I got to college, I discovered George wasn’t half as unique as he fancied himself to be. Practically every high school in America has that one kid who drives a used hearse.
On the other hand, of course, high school feels like eons ago. Sometimes the books I teach at the high school feel newer and fresher to me. Jane Eyre? Didn’t she graduate last year? Danny and I debated not even coming. Danny Walker is my fiancé, the former quarterback of the Avondale state championship football team, current coach of the Avondale state championship football team, and owner of the Get Fit with Danny chain of functional fitness gyms.
“Here’s the first game, folks!” The deejay’s voice brings me back to the present. Apparently the Class of 2006 has been downgraded from “ladies and gentlemen” to “folks.”
No argument there.
“So think back to fifteen years ago,” the deejay continues. “Who was that guy or gal you always wanted to kiss but never had the opportunity to? Who were you dreaming of while you were supposed to be paying attention to Mr. Mannheim in biology? Who was the pillow you practiced on?”
God, the deejay is milking the buildup for all it’s worth. My eye roll mirrors everyone else’s.
“Well, tonight’s your big chance. Look around this room, find the person you never got to kiss in high school, and lay one on ’em. Spouses and partners? Step aside. This is all just in good fun.”
Good grief. I know who came up with this game. The reunion steering committee was composed solely of members of The Sass Pack, those girls who knew from kindergarten on that they were innately better than everyone else.
A breeze of nervous laughter floats up to the party streamers hanging from the ceiling like Spanish moss. Couples split apart and begin the hunt. I watch in horror as Angela Alessi leads The Sass Pack straight toward me and Danny.
Oh, come on. You can’t tell me none of you ever kissed Danny in high school. In fact, I’m pretty certain that the only girl Danny didn’t kiss in high school was me.
“Spouses …” the deejay warns.
I take a deep breath and then three giant steps backward, secure in the knowledge that Danny loves me. The wedding date is even finally set—July 16th. I take another giant step, just for good measure, and back into someone standing behind me.
“Oh! Sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was going … oh, Ethan. Hi.”
Ethan McNamara pulls me closer, so close I can smell the laundry detergent he washed his blue dress shirt in. Tide. Same brand Danny insists on. Only the best for me, babe, he always says.
“What are you doing?” I try to insert an inch or two of daylight between his Tide-scented chest and my blouse.
“Kissing the girl I never got to in high school.”
I roll my eyes. “Like you ever wanted to—”
Ethan’s lips are warm and soft, and taste faintly of the cheap beer the cash bar is serving. (Danny has a twelve-pack of better stuff in the car.) Ethan never wanted to kiss me in high school. I spent plenty of time at his house, so if he had wanted to kiss me, he had ample opportunity. Hell, I used to sleep in Ethan’s bed at least two or three times a month. Ethan had been so not into me, his parents didn’t even mind.
My friendship with Ethan was platonic with a capital P.
“So was that everything you imagined it would be?” I say sassily when he lets the kiss gently end.
I’m about to take a step away when Ethan pulls me back into his chest, and cups my head in his palm. “Sweetheart, that wasn’t even close to everything I imagined.”
Then his lips are on mine again, and not in a tentative I-wish-we’d-kissed-when-we-were-sixteen sort of way. No, this kiss is bold and ballsy, his mouth taking what he wants, our tongues tangling together … and it’s glorious. Choir of angels singing in the heavens glorious, and for an instant I never want it to stop. Why didn’t Ethan and I kiss when we were teenagers? If I’d known he knew how to kiss like this …
Slowly, I become aware of the dead silence around us.
“Ethan,” I mumble into his lips.
I can feel Danny’s presence in the split second before it all happens. When Danny is angry, it’s like his body sucks in all the energy in a room, the way the ocean retreats before a tsunami, then releases it all in one devastating blast.
Ethan McNamara, the boy whose family had been my refuge during the darkest days of my father’s losing battle with heart disease, is about to get blasted.
Danny claps a heavy hand on Ethan’s shoulder and yanks him away from me.
“What. The. Fuck. Are you doing.” Danny’s voice trembles with rage, the way it does when one of his players fumbles a ball at the five-yard line.
If Ethan knows what’s good for him, he’ll back away, respect his position in the Avondale Class of 2006 ecosystem.
But he doesn’t. Because he’s Ethan. Instead, he opens his mouth and says, “Kissing your girlfriend. What does it look like?”
Danny’s fist hits Ethan’s face with such force, I’m certain his cheekbone just shattered. I throw my arms around Danny and do what I can to hold him back. Not that I can hold him back for long, but if I’m lucky—and that’s a very big if—I can buy Ethan enough time to get the hell out of here.
Danny tries to shake me off, but I hang on like a puppy to a chew toy. “Baby, baby,” I coo. “Calm down. It was just a kiss. Just a stupid game.”
Leave, Ethan. Please just leave. I try to communicate telepathically with him, not that this style of communication has ever been in my wheelhouse.
Ethan stands his ground though, even as his cheek and eye are bruising into a lovely shade of demonic pea green.
“Okay, fellas.” The deejay jumps in. “This is what I meant when I said spouses need to step back.”
Danny flips off the deejay without even turning around. He’s gearing up for round two on Ethan’s face when Angela Alessi sidles up to him.
“Danny,” she coos.
She’s better at cooing than I am. Of course she is.
She strokes her manicured hand down his tensed forearm, managing to “accidentally” scratch my wrist in the process. “He is so not worth it. He’s just a bug on the ass-crack of life.”
Danny relaxes in my arms and I let go, even as I’m one part puzzling over the “bug on the ass-crack of life” metaphor and two parts irritated that Angela’s simpering is working. I hurry to the bar to get Danny a beer, remembering when I get there that all they have is cheap swill. I ask for water, instead. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Adam Boyer shepherding Ethan into the hallway. I hope he’s leaving for good. Ethan and I go way back as friends but I am, for the first time in my life, well and truly angry with him.
When I return to Danny with the water, he’s seated on a banquet chair with Angela and her friends hovering around him like hummingbirds. He tosses back the water in one shot, then stands up.
“We’re leaving, Amy.” He grabs my hand tightly and pulls me toward the exit. “I told you we shouldn’t have come.”
He punches open the door to the parking lot. Behind us, the reunion starts to settle back into itself. The tidal wave has receded and people are cautiously returning to the beach.
“Okay then, kiddos. I think we’ll skip over Spin the Bottle and go straight to Telephone.” I hear the deejay’s forced laugh. “Though I guess today it should be called Text, huh? Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?”
Well, there’s one thing I can agree with Danny on. We shouldn’t have come to this stupid reunion.
On the drive home from the reunion, Danny seethes. Which is better than Danny going ballistic. But worse than Danny merely fuming.
“I want my money back,” he says eventually. “That was the worst reunion I’ve ever been to. If I ever see that punk again, I’m gonna snap him right in two. Damn nerd. Probably didn’t kiss any girls in high school. Or any since. He’s probably gay.”
I sit there silently, staring straight ahead as Danny rolls through one stop sign after another. Ethan hadn’t kissed like he was gay. Not that I’ve ever kissed a gay guy. That I know of.
“I don’t even remember him being in our class.” Danny is not letting this go.
Ethan had kissed quite well, actually. Like a man who’s had some practice. I sneak a quick glance sideways toward the driver’s seat. Better than Danny, if I were going to tell the truth, which of course I’m not. Not in present company, anyway. But I’m perfectly happy to spend the rest of the drive home silently turning that inconvenient truth around and around in my mind, examining it from every possible angle, and enjoying the way it makes my spine positively tingle from neck to coccyx.
I’ve never had a kiss that made my tailbone tingle.