Episode Ten: Twisted

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:: Travis ::

I twisted the cold metal of my wedding ring around my finger as I stared into the Iron E gym from the parking lot. Spring was making its presence known, the rain clouds above pissing all over my car, the raindrops bouncing off the pavement in a hundred thousand tiny splashes. I turned off the ignition and grabbed the wheel, pressing my head against the headrest.

Perkins Plaza nearly surrounded me with boutiques, a golf equipment store, a small supermarket, a nail salon, a coffee shop, and in the center, Iron E gym. The thick, gray clouds made it easy to see the people walking around inside under the fluorescent lights. They were lifting, spotting, or running on one of the fifteen treadmills. Brandon was behind the front desk, flirting with the receptionist.

I clenched my teeth.

Eakins had plenty of flexible jobs for college students. The problem was that it was April, and most of the jobs that were still somehow available were only meant to support a weekend partying habit, not a married couple. I had scoured the classifieds. Three dozen people had held my application in their hands and had either told me to come back at the end of the year for the Christmas rush, or that they had already hired several college kids and didn't need more. The jobs on campus paid nine dollars an hour or less--nothing that could pay rent and bills with the hours I would work around my classes.

Working for Brandon and letting local cougars paw at me while they pretended to work out was the last thing I wanted to do, but the bills had to get paid somehow. Abby was on her second week of tutoring, but that barely covered the groceries and gas money.

I took a deep breath, pulled the keys out of the ignition, and slammed the door behind me, feeling the pooling rain water slosh under my feet. I knocked on the glass door and waited. There was a code box outside, and each member had their own four digit pin. It had been a long time since I could get in with mine. A man whose neck was twice as big as his head set down his bar bell and, with the telltale stick-up-the-ass-and-arm-swing walk of a weightlifter, he opened the door and greeted me with a nod.

"Brandon," the meat head called with a gruff voice.

Brandon was mid-nuzzle behind the receptionist's ear when he looked up. A wide grin spread across his face.

"Maddox!" he exclaimed, holding out his arms. "The fuck, man? What took you so long?" He grabbed my right hand in a tight handshake, and then pulled me in, tapping his shoulder to mine, patting my back with his free hand. The douche bags always went for the bro hug. "Are you filling out an app or what?"

I nodded.

Brandon turned, reaching out toward his receptionist and snapping his fingers. "An application, Steph. Now."

Steph turned her back to us and bent over, pulling open a filing cabinet and fingering every file.

Brandon back-handed my shoulder, chuckling and nodding toward Steph's ass like a twelve-year-old. I didn't smile, or frown; I just concentrated on appearing indifferent.

Steph found what she was looking for, and trotted over to Brandon with pen and paper in hand.

"Found it," she said, waiting for praise from her boss.

"You're great," he said. "Isn't she great?"

If fucking a married man with a pregnant wife is an admirable accomplishment. "Yeah," I said, clearing my throat. "Filing is hard."

Steph dipped her chin a few times in dramatic nods, appreciative that I understood her plight.

"You wanna fill that out in my office?" Brandon asked.

"You got an office?" I said, only half joking.

Brandon puffed out his chest. "Right this way. Steph," he said, snapping at her again. "Water."

She nodded, rushing away to fetch us waters.

As predicted, his walls were covered in posters with ripped, half-naked fitness models. I was hesitant to sit down in the chair opposite his desk, sure he'd jerked off there every night. A corner of my mouth turned up, remembering Abby's similar disgust over my old couch the first time she'd visited the apartment. I'd come a long, long way since that night.

Steph brought in two glasses, and then nodded when I thanked her. She kept her eye on Brandon as she turned around, as if he didn't already know she was dying to be bent over his desk. Again.

"Married," Brandon said, shaking his head, staring at Steph's ass until she closed the door behind her.

I sat down and placed the application on his desk, clicking one end of the pen with my thumb and filling out the information as quickly as possible.

"What made you do that?" he asked. "She must be hot."

"How long have you owned this place now?" I asked without looking up. I didn't want to punch Brandon in the mouth for talking about my wife, so I chose to change the subject.

"Four years," he said. "Three years with Joan." His chair creaked as he leaned back and folded his hands behind his head. "She signed it over to me in the divorce."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot. You inherited it."

"Kids inherit things from their parents, Maddox. Joan opened this place with her ex-husband, but then I fucked her brains out and she gave me anything I wanted. This place was a shit hole--for old bags and fatties. I married that geriatric, made this place into what it is. Now it's mine. I bring in triple what Joan ever did."

I scribbled down the little legitimate prior work history I had and then signed my name, sliding the paper toward him. Brandon rambled on forever about the history of the gym, still having to deal with Joan, and how pissed she was that he'd gotten one of his girlfriend's pregnant. Now Jaci was his wife, and Brandon made her--at seven months pregnant--deal with Joan so he didn't have to.

He was an all-around piece of shit, and he was now my boss.

I gripped the arms of my chair and listened, trying to think of Abby, the wedding, our new life together, anything that reminded me that having to be in the same room with Brandon every day would be worth it. I glanced at my watch, feeling exhausted just by resisting the urge to snatch his tongue out of his punk mouth. Brandon had been describing how awesome he was for nearly two hours.

Steph knocked on the door and peeked in. "I've closed out. I'm going to head home."

Brandon waved her off. "I'm going to take Travis out for a drink."

"That sounds fun," Steph said with a hopeful smile.

I stood. "I hate to cut you off, man, but I've gotta get home."

"Oh right," Brandon said, his voice thick with condescension. "Married life. When can you start? It won't take you long to build a clientele."

"Next week," I said. "Monday."

Brandon stood and held out his hand. I took it, feeling like I'd just sold my soul to Satan.

"I'll start you off with the Betties," he said.

"The who?"

"Betty Rogan and Betty Lindor. They smell like moth balls and have more wrinkles than a starved elephant, but they pay double so they can work out together and ogle the guys. They'll love you. Start you off decent money-wise, too. They'll ask you to lunch your first day. Go with them. They'll pay your rent for May. Here," he said, holding out a small booklet and another piece of paper. "This is our policy handbook and the contract. The handbook talks about your pay and commission. Don't tell me about your tips. I don't want to know how much you made or how you got them. A perk of working at Iron E."

So that's how he keeps his employees. He's a fucking pimp.

"Thanks," I said, rolling the papers and stuffing them in my back pocket. "See you Monday."

I shouldered past Steph and walked across the empty gym, pushing out of the glass door. The sky was dark, and small lakes had formed in the parking lot, reflecting the tall lights that peppered the plaza. The Camry sat in the center of one of the larger pools.

"Fuck," I said under my breath, pulling my keys out of my pocket. I fished out my phone from the other pocket, and looked at the display. I'd missed eleven calls. "Fuck!" I growled, dialing and holding the phone to my ear.

"Travis?!" Abby said, sounding panicked.

"I'm sorry, Pidge. Brandon talked forever and I couldn't find a good place to tell him to shut the fuck up, and--"

"Trent's been in an accident," she blurted out.

"Another one?" I said, shocked. "Is he okay?"

"They were hit by a drunk driver. They're in the hospital. Thomas is on a plane home."

"So it must be bad," I said.

"He's in bad shape. Cami's worse."

"I'm coming home. I'm coming now."

"Okay. Be careful. Don't drive too fast in the rain."

"I'll be careful. See you in a sec. I love you."

I pressed the red End button and ran to the Camry. My hands shook as I twisted the key in the ignition. "Goddammit, Trent," I said, racing home.