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Her, Him, and the Receptionist MAG
Our daily jog together. At least I like to think of it as our jog. It’s not like we actually run together, but in close proximity in separate universes.
It is hard to remember the days when we did not run together. My elliptical jogs right behind his treadmill and always keeps up. It would have been so easy to say hi the first time. But with each passing day, it has gotten harder and harder, and now impossible. We have had occasional looks back and forth, but those were probably coincidences. Of course I always look at him. As for the times his glance met mine, perhaps something else called his gaze. And I’m way too shy to budge from my routine to approach confirmed rejection. Why can’t he just make the move? I know, that’s a funny one. Look at him and then look at me – especially without makeup!
I don’t turn red from exercising, but I do blush when I’m nervous or embarrassed. So my cover story would be that my redness is from my heavy-duty workouts. After all, I am at the gym. I’m struggling to keep up with myself. My mind is going faster than the elliptical. My fervent fears, my neurotic nerves, my taxing trepidations, my angry anxieties whirling through my brain. Now I’m really dizzy.
Even he has flaws. It’s not like I think he’s perfect or anything. How could he be perfect with shoes that smell like that? He comes close to perfection. And his feet come close to me as he lifts them on the treadmill upwind of my elliptical. Just as my iPod advances to the next song, a wave of toxic air permeates my nostrils. “Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air? Can’t live, can’t breathe with no air … If you ain’t here I just can’t breathe. There’s no air, no air,” sings Jordin Sparks. Whew, how can I breathe in this air? Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Ahh. How can toxic air be refreshing? But amid these toxins, there is some sweetness. I can just sense it; I have that tingling feeling in my nostrils.
It’s hard for me to hold back a little smile. I can’t get away from it this time. It draws me closer. The occasional silent connection I have with him is worth the foul air I endure. I must be high on either the stench or endorphins, because I don’t believe in drugs. I am exercising longer than usual. I am pumped. I am not getting tired. Exercise is a healthy form of procrastination for what I might do next.
The elliptical bars are sandwiched between my palms and my fingers. I am pushing on them with all my strength. Just as I alternately push and pull on the levers – left, right, left, right – my strength to contact him alternates with my fear of rejection. Our closeness has been on a metaphorical treadmill – no matter how hard I try, no matter how fast I run, we don’t get any closer. The counteracting forces of acceptance and rejection are pulling on me equally. I am in equilibrium. I am moving at a constant velocity on the elliptical, but I can’t get myself to move toward him. Physics. Echhh!
I try to look cute in my gym clothes, but it’s hard. The mirror tells me I look fat and ugly. Those are the only things the mirror ever tells me, besides red hair, freckles, Raggedy Anne.
My pink good-luck sweatband hasn’t brought me any luck. I’m going to go buy some new colored ones. I’m getting kind of sick of pink. People must think I wear the same sweaty headband every day, but I have dozens of them from that sale at Costco. I know that’s what he’s thinking when he turns around: freak, loser.
Droplets of sweat drip down my face, ravaging my pores and burning the roots of my confidence. But he gives me a feeling all over my body just by looking at him. So I know it’s worth it.
The odor burns my nostrils, but I can’t resist. I tiptoe into the hallway outside the men’s locker room; one hand holding the heart-shaped Post-It, the other plugging my nose. I see them resting on the wooden bench, right where he left them after “our” jog, laces untied and tongues forming obtuse angles. Why are they here? My hands are shaking and my legs are trembling, but I bite the corner of my lip and stick the note face up in the heel of his right shoe.
I am leaving the gym and I can’t stop thinking about him. Still. I hope he feels the same. But he won’t. I hope he will call. But he won’t. It’s been seven minutes since I put my note in his shoe and put my heart on the waiting list for rejection.
I enter my apartment and begin pacing. It’s been an hour and three minutes. I shouldn’t have done it. He doesn’t like me. It’s going to be awkward. No way. I’m not giving in. I’m not going to change my workout routine. But it will be hard to look at him tomorrow. I hope he saw the note before he put his shoes on. If not, I hope the ink doesn’t smear.
There she is. I could set my watch by her if I had one. Same gym. Same time. Same workout. Same as me. She never misses a day. I don’t think I ever will either. My mom and dad are both kind of, I don’t want to say chubby, but yeah, they are. I can’t let that happen to me. But I have another reason too.
Crack. Crack. My neck always cracks when I turn my head swiftly to check the clock behind me. At first this was a pain, but then I saw her. When I realized I got to look at her every time I turned to check the time, my neck strain didn’t bother me. I must be discreet. I love looking at her, but I don’t want her to know that her beauty keeps me staring. At least not quite yet. I’m not a stalker, just shy. I want to talk to her. I want to go up to her. But what if she thinks I’m just hitting on her? I’m really interested in knowing her. How is she supposed to tell the difference?
What a cutie. She’s just my type: tall, slender, and I can tell her skin is smooth. The cutest freckles. Milk chocolate eyes. Her gorgeous, wavy red hair is tied is back in a ponytail and she wears a pink headband. She must love pink. She should, it’s her color. Her hair sways with every step. Thank you, pink headband – not a hair is blocking my view of her face.
What I like most is that she doesn’t act like she is beautiful. She doesn’t know how nervous she makes me. She doesn’t know the grace she exudes. She has a story to tell. I want to hear it. But I’m afraid to ask her. Wimpy, maybe. Intimidated, definitely. I feel like I’ve watched the same Candid Camera episode 5,500 times. My failed attempt keeps replaying in my head. With every day that I say nothing, she’s more and more likely to think I’m either gay or I need a watch.
I want to know her name. Seeing her every day for weeks, I refer to her as Pink Headband. How pathetic. I have to know her name. At least for now, it would be easier to ask the receptionist for Pink Headband’s name than to ask her. At least if she refuses, it won’t be as humiliating as a no from Pink Headband.
So I make my way to the desk. I say excuse me to the nerdy girl behind the counter. I have caught her staring at me in the past, but the one time I actually want her attention, she’s preoccupied. I’m the only person here. The phone is resting comfortably on its hook. But she is talking to someone or something nonetheless. I sigh. I’m getting impatient. I feel like I’m hailing a taxi. Waving and waving, and they just drive by. Same with her. I’m waving and that freak seems to be talking to her stapler. Finally I get her attention. I ask. She answers. I write “Molly” on the envelope containing my note to the woman I used to know as Pink Headband. I ask the receptionist to please give it to her.
As I sit on the bench outside the men’s locker room, I fight my urge to chicken out and retrieve the envelope. I bolt into the locker room to take a shower. The hot water is soothing. Shoot! I left my shoes on the bench. Not to worry. Who would want to steal those smelly old things?
Realizing I must have left my cell phone in my car, I get dressed quickly, jump into my shoes, and leave. I don’t want to miss her call.
I hate working at this place. Why do I work here? I need out. I need a work out. I’m so funny. I always laugh at my own jokes. Ha ha ha, snort, snort.
All day I inhale air tainted with the smell of sweat. And no, it’s not me doing the sweating. Oh, here comes Mr. “I’m so much better than you that I won’t respond when you greet me.” I scrunch my nose to push up my glasses, the way I always do when my hands are busy. He’s headed right toward me. It seems like he needs to ask me something. This will be a first. How will he do this and still keep his perfect record of never saying a word to me? Of course, it must be so hard to say “good evening” to someone who has just said it to you.
I can feel my nervous twitch starting up again. My top lip is moving diagonally; my invisible enemy has strung a thread through my lip with his needle. I try to yank it in the other direction, back into place, but it won’t budge.
The name of the girl in the pink headband? Uhhh. The girl in the pink headband! If she’s wearing her pink one today, it must be either Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Gross. But apparently he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. How sweet. For once he is nice and it is hard to hate him. He writes “Molly” on the envelope and hands it to me. Sure I’ll give it to Molly, all right.
He heads for the locker room; he is out of sight, but he sure isn’t out of my mind. Neither is the favor he asked of me. He wants me to give the envelope to Molly. Sure I will. I’ll be as good at giving this to Molly as he is at responding when I say hello. Actually, better because now my paper shredder’s name is Molly. Molly loves envelopes. She’ll fall bin over wheels!
Is there something in my shoe?