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Cruising down the I-163 freeway at 15 miles per hour was not an efficient use of Jan’s time. Although no one was there to hear it, she began a full-scale rant on the absurdity of traffic on a Sunday afternoon when she was interrupted by her phone. She eagerly grabbed for it, thankful for an escape from the monotony of stop-go, stop-go, stop-go. She checked her caller ID; it was Nichole.
“Hello,” Jan answered coldly.
“Hey,” said Nichole stiffly. Jan imagined her stretching her arms overhead before proceeding to neck rolls. “What’s up?”
“Nothing, just stuck in traffic on my way to the country club.”
“Oh, right. I forgot about that.”
“Apparently,” Jan hissed.
Nichole matched her tone. “Come on. You didn’t need me to take you shopping. Everything obvious worked out.”
“Not exactly. I waited around for nearly two hours before I finally gave up on you.”
Nichole laughed. “It’s only two. You’re overreacting.”
Jan fumed. She particularly did not like being told she was overreacting when she knew she was overreacting. “The point is we made plans and I waited for you. If I hadn’t waited I’d have been two hours earlier and may have avoided traffic.”
“Calm down, Jan. There’s always traffic in Diego, so don’t put that on me. And no one told you to wait for me.”
Jan muted her cell and screamed. She hit the un-mute button and said, “Nichole, when you make plans with someone you wait for them. That’s common courtesy. It’s also expected that if you are running late you call someone to let them know.” Jan knew this was the point where she should shut up and make Nichole address her behavior. Her emotions won out over logic.
“What were you doing anyway?”
“Something came up. Sorry.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t you mean someone? Whatever happened to chicks before dicks, huh?”
Nichole snickered. “Okay, it was a who. I ran into that bartender from Mick O’Donald’s last night. The one I met the weekend Mike dumped you.”
“And you just went home with him?” Jan asked incredulously.
“Jan, you always give me shit about sleeping around. I know you call me a slut and a whore behind my back. But I don’t care what you think because I’m not the slut. You are. You’ll sleep with anybody who’s willing to put up with you twenty-four seven and cater to all your neuroses. But you think it’s okay because you’re ‘in love.’ Well news flash, Jan, you can’t possibly love every guy you date. And if any of those boys you dated had loved you they wouldn’t have treated you with indifference and disrespect.”
What does she know about respect?
“At least I’m honest about what I want. I don’t lie to guys or myself. No one gets hurt, especially me. I don’t try to manipulate men and push them into relationships. And unlike you, I don’t expect anything from the people I date. Come to think of it, you’re the whore, Jan. You just solicit commitment instead of cash.”
The Jeep stopped moving. Jan was too stunned to maintain pressure on her gas pedal. She had never stepped outside of the situation and really looked at her actions before. She had pleasantly continued feeding her relationship addiction and excused her methods as means to an end. She didn’t know exactly what the end was but it seemed justifiable.
Jan meekly pulled over onto the shoulder and resumed her catatonic state.
“Are you still there?” said Nichole. Jan jumped a little, having forgotten Nichole was still on the phone. “Look I’m sorry if I was kind of harsh but everything I said was true. Frankly, it’s about time someone said something. You need to grow up. Life is not so terrible that you need a guy to fix it for you. Just stop being so needy all the time and maybe people will want to hang out with you instead of feeling like they have to babysit you.”
Jan hung up. She felt like she’d been punched in the stomach, then had her insides ripped out. She’d often suspected people laughed at her behind her back. Hearing Nichole confirm it was a thousand times worse. It was a long time before she stopped imagining fictional conversations between her friends and got back into the flow of traffic.
That morning, Jan had promised herself that she was going to work out. And the last thing she wanted was to dwell on the feelings of shock and betrayal the conversation with Nichole had brought up.
Jan’s determination got her all the way to the country club, out of her car, and in through the front door. She marched up to the receptionist with borrowed confidence and asked for help.
The receptionist gave her directions impatiently and Jan scurried off like the rabbit at a dog track.
Jan stared at the elliptical machine for a few seconds before it clicked. Aw, I have to move the pedals to turn it on.
She happily began pedaling and the display illuminated again. A couple of minutes went by. Soon, she was so exhausted she didn’t have the energy to get off the machine. She started huffing and puffing from the exertion and pushed frantically on the down arrow that was supposed to lower the resistance level. She didn’t feel like her efforts were having an effect. The screen just kept flashing words at her that she was too dizzy to read.
Next thing she knew, some guy in a staff shirt was pulling her off the machine and practically carrying her to the chair at the desk.
“Are you okay?” asked the teenage attendant. Jan’s nose scrunched up in disgust. He reeked of cigarette smoke.
“I was only gone ten minutes,” he protested. “I don’t know what could have happened. I know I wasn’t supposed to take a break, but no one ever comes in on Sunday afternoons. You’re not having a heart attack, are you?”
Normally, Jan would laugh at the hilarity of the boy’s nervousness. She figured he must be overreacting until she turned around to look for water and saw her purple face in the mirror.
“Eek,” she squeaked and considered hiding under the desk.
“I’ll get you some water,” he said as if reading her mind and dashed to the far corner where there was a cooler of Arrowhead Mountain water.
“Here you go.” A small white cup was placed in Jan’s hand. She meekly put it to her lips and drank gratefully.
“I’m Bob,” he said. Jan whispered her name.
“I’m really confused. I swear I was only gone for ten minutes, but you look like you’ve been on there for hours.”
He stopped at looked at her closely. “Were you swimming laps before you came in here? I guess that would explain why you’re all wet.”
Jan had finally gotten her breath back and was beginning to notice how sweaty she was. Gross.
Jan considered. Her hair was relatively dry so she decided on saying, “Actually, no. I, uh, went for a run first.”
Bob looked skeptical. “Well, that could be it. Is this your first time here?”
“Welcome,” Bob said with a practiced smile slipping into the role of country club professional. “I’m not qualified to do much more than tell you the names of the machines, but if you’d like, I’d be happy to set you up with a free orientation with our head personal trainer and he could explain how everything works. He’ll also assess your overall level of fitness and suggest a workout routine for you.”
“There’s a slot at 2 p.m. Is that okay?”
Jan considered protesting, but it was a free service and she really was too tired to argue. From the look on his face, Bob clearly expected her to go along with his suggestion.
“Sure,” she said while crossing her fingers. She had every intention of calling and canceling later.
“Good.” Bob smiled and visibly relaxed. “Why don’t you just sit there for a few more minutes and relax?”
“Okay,” Jan agreed and put her head down on the desk.
Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a second.
A second later she was asleep.