(In last week’s blog, Part 1 of this short story, recent high school graduate Kyle steps into the scary, unprotected Adult World by joining a gym. But immediately upon entering that world, he hears mysterious voices, experiences sharp head pains, witnesses people who may or may not be there, and is haunted by ghosts from the past. A Heated Confrontation is a tale about heat and homophobia and what happens when they clash.
If you haven’t read Part 1 or need a refresher course, scroll down to the end of this post and read it before reading the conclusion.)
“Let me ring this up and activate your new club ID,” Ashley said, “and we’re all set. I’ll be right back.” As Ashley walked away, Kyle took a quick survey of the sitting area. He noticed the nutrition-oriented vending machines, the stack of health magazines, and a bulletin board covered in business cards. He also observed the man look over his laptop and follow Ashley with his eyes, look back at Kyle, smile, and get up. His smile was friendly, but mysterious and somewhat threatening.
Dude, Kyle thought, you better not come over here now that I’m alone and try to talk to me. He looked away, hoping to discourage the stranger. But when the man did not appear, Kyle looked back. The man was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Ashley was returning to the table.
“OK, Kyle. Here’s your copy of the contract, receipt, credit card, and, most important, your personal membership card.” Ashley paused.”Welcome to BodyMax. I hope you enjoy your time here.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning,” Kyle announced as he stood.
“Awesome,” Ashley replied as Kyle turned and walked toward the door. “See you then.”
Kyle arrived at BodyMax later than he planned Tuesday. It was mid-afternoon, not the routine seven-in-the-morning-before-school pattern he had established at St. Ignatius. He scanned his card, exchanged greetings with the same nameless young man who had greeted him the day before from behind the counter, and peeked into the large workout area full of machines and weights. There were only a few people in the room. It must be an afternoon lull, he thought as he aimed for the dressing room. Once there, he found himself alone in the locker-lined room. He replaced his beige cargo shorts and navy blue polo shirt with black below-the-knee basketball shorts and a gray Nike T-shirt with its sleeves cut off. His Michael Jordan Nikes, not top-of-the-line Jordans but Jordans nonetheless, and Boston Red Sox baseball cap remained.
When he finished dressing, he walked to the bathroom. As he neared it, the haunting whispered words he had heard the day before returned, mysteriously filling his head. Dave Collier was raped in the BodyMax sauna. Kyle looked toward the heavy wooden sauna door for a moment and then looked away with a mix of fear and repulsion. He stepped toward the urinal.
As he stood facing the porcelain trough and recalled the upsetting story he had heard the summer before his freshman year. It had spread among St. Ignatius’s students faster than an August wildfire in the Sierra Madres. Dave Collier, just days after graduating from the Catholic school, the story went, had been raped in that sauna. Kyle did not know the victim. He did not know details. Neither he nor any of his friends had talked to a witness nor could they verify the shocking tale. Kyle did not, in fact, know if the story was true. But it, plain and simple, had freaked him out as it would most fifteen-year-olds.
Kyle’s high school years passed and he rarely thought about the incident. Consciously. The story, however, imbedded itself in his unconscious and he often wrestled with it, unaware how it pinned him to a dark mat made up of nightmare images.
But, here he was, standing mere feet from the alleged crime scene, peeing, remembering, imagining, and feeling the same fears he had felt at fifteen. Kyle washed his hands. As he passed the sauna door again, he glanced at it. He stepped into the locker room and stopped. Without turning around, he retraced his steps and turned toward the door and stared. It’s just a door, he thought, trying to overcome his fear, and a damn sauna. Kyle stood there a moment and, then, impulsively decided to inspect the room. He’d never been in a sauna and no one appeared to be around. He opened the door. Warm air billowed around him, hugging him seductively. He peeked in. It was empty. He stepped into the room. The heavy door slammed shut. The warm air now blanketed Kyle in soothing pleasure. He looked around at the reddish wood walls and L-shaped, two-tiered bench. He noted two small wall lights that gave the room a soft comforting glow. This, he thought as his tension waned, could be relaxing.
His curiosity satisfied, Kyle stepped out of the sauna and headed for the weight room.
He opened the double door when he arrived and entered. The room was perhaps the size of half a high school gym. The four people in the weight room, focused on their routines, did not appear to notice Kyle’s entrance. A young man in a T-shirt with three Greek letters on it, perhaps a recent college graduate, dangled from a bar doing rapid leg lifts. Two older men, retirees maybe, were stationed at other machines. One wore out-dated gym clothes that failed to hide his paunch. He moved slowly, stiffly. The other was a more slender man, in better shape, wearing a black BodyMax T-shirt and matching baseball cap. Kyle did not look at the man’s face. A middle-aged woman jumped rope in one of the room’s alcoves. Club music filled the air, inspiring and stimulating Kyle to move. He began his workout, first finding the machines with which he was familiar and then experimenting with those new to him.
After several minutes, the slender older man walked toward Kyle, aiming for a row a leg machines. As he passed, he acknowledged Kyle with a nod and a hint of a smile. He’s really old, thought Kyle. Maybe fifty. It was then that Kyle noticed his face, recognized the smile, and realized he was the man who had been sitting near him on Monday morning when he joined the gym. Twenty minutes later, when Kyle passed him, the man nodded again. Five minutes later as Kyle sat on a workout bench tapping his toe and bobbing his head to the rhythmic music dancing in the air, he noticed the man looking in his direction. Startled, Kyle quickly lay down on the bench to avoid the man’s gaze and to do presses. What a perv, he thought. When he sat up, the man was gone. Kyle worked out for another fifteen minutes and then meandered to the locker room.
Kyle opened his locker, took out the bath towel he had put in his gym bag and untied his shoes. I’m gonna try the sauna, he thought. No one’s around. He yanked off his baseball cap, stripped off his shirt, and pulled off his shoes and socks. His gym shorts, however, remained on, conveniently covering him physically, but exposing his modesty, self-consciousness, and underlying fear of that infamous room.
Kyle headed for the shower and hung his towel on a hook. He let cool water cascade over his body for several minutes, rinsing away his sweat and diminishing his body’s heat. The cleansing water even seemed to wash away a layer of Kyle’s lingering fears. Kyle stepped out of the shower, grabbed his towel, and proceeded to the sauna.
This time he noticed the wall-mounted sign next to the door. “Clothing or towel required.” it read. I would hope so, Kyle thought, never imagining nudity was an option.
Kyle stepped into the sauna and was startled to find another man sitting inside. He was at the far end of the lower bench. It was the man from the weight room, the one who had nodded to and acknowledged him, frightening Kyle with his unwanted attention. Shit, Kyle thought. The man had one of the gym’s white towels wrapped around him. He was leaning against the second-row bench, supporting himself on it with his elbows, head tilted back, and legs spread apart. The head of his penis peeked out the loosely secured towel. He sat up when he heard Kyle enter. “Hello,” the man said. He smiled.
Kyle plopped down on the bench in front of the door. He took a deep breath, tilted his head, and peered at his toes. A minute or two passed. The man cleared his throat. “How was your workout?” he asked.
“OK.” Kyle continued staring at his feet.
“First workout?” the man asked.
“But you’ve worked out before, at other places?”
“I can see that. You’re in good shape.”
Why’s this old dude even noticing what shape I’m in? What’s he want? Kyle thought. He flashed on Dave Collier and the rape. He quickly looked in the man’s direction to assess the situation. The man’s towel had spread open a bit more and his testicles were visible alongside his penis. Kyle’s gaze shot up to his face to avoid the vision. The man’s eyes met Kyle’s.
The man smiled. “Well,” he said, “if I can help you with anything here, let me know.”
Dude, you can’t help me with anything, Kyle thought. Not anything. His heart began to pound. Although he had been in the steam room for only a short time, he was becoming over-heated, more so mentally than physically. He sprung up, stepped to the door, and pushed it open with a bang. Then, impulsively, he turned to the man. “I don’t do that. I’m not that guy,” he snapped angrily. “And I don’t appreciate your showing me your junk, like I’d be interested.”
Kyle raced to his locker, dried the remnants of his shower, and dressed as rapidly as he had ever done, hoping to avoid more of the aggressive man’s threatening attention. As he bolted from the locker room, Kyle heard the sauna door shut. When he passed the front counter, Kyle thought to stop and report the incident to Ashley who stood behind the counter, but, because his heart was beating so fast, he chose instead to leave and get some cool, fresh air.
Once outside, Kyle stopped for a moment to gather himself. Whew! he thought loud enough for the cardboard man on the other side of the tinted window to hear. Kyle then bolted down the street to a mini-mart on the corner where he bought a bottled water and stepped out the door where he opened the bottle and took two long soothing swigs. He started to walk home. He stopped again. I really should report that, say something, he thought. He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the gym. No. It isn’t my job. Maybe if it happens again. He began walking again. Fuck. It is my job. Something bad could happen to someone like it did to Dave Collier. I have to go back. He turned around, returning to BodyMax.
Kyle marched into the club and up to the reception counter. “I was just here, Ashley,” he began, “and something happened I think I should report.”
“Yes?” she asked.
“I was in the sauna and this old guy, this perv, hit on me.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
Kyle then noticed a door to a small office behind Ashley. It was ajar. He heard a chair on casters slide on the floor inside the room. He saw a shadow stand up and move across the room. The door opened wider. “You mean me?” asked the man in the doorway. It was the man from the sauna. He was wearing track pants and a red BodyMax hoodie.
“What?” Kyle sputtered in shocked confusion.
“I don’t know what you thought I meant when I offered my help in the sauna, Kyle, but I meant here at the club. Don’t you recognize me?”
“Yeah. From the work out floor,” Kyle answered. “And the sauna.”
“Didn’t you see me yesterday when you joined? Didn’t you see me sitting behind Ashley?”
Kyle thought a moment. “Well, yeah. Sort of.”
“I was sitting there, Kyle, observing my new employee make her presentation and then register a new member. I was eavesdropping, seeing how she was doing. This is my gym. I’m Max Conrad.”
Kyle could feel his face redden. He looked down briefly, processing the awkward situation. “Oh, god, this is so embarrassing,” he mumbled.
“So, I wasn’t hitting on you in there. I was trying to take care of a new club member.” Max laughed. “This is just like that incident three or four years ago.”
“What incident is that?” Ashley asked.
“Well,” Max answered, “this was when we still allowed members to sauna nude. That is, after all, the way they were intended. So, I’m sitting in the sauna naked one day and this kid, about your age, Kyle, comes in. He has basketball shorts and a T-shirt on. He appeared to be nervous and self-conscious and he was clearly uncomfortable with me being there. After several minutes, I try to relax him and make him feel at home by saying something like, “Son, you need to relax. This is a sauna.” And I stand up, stretch my hand out to shake his hand, to welcome him, to introduce myself, and he jumps up with a look of terror in his eyes and bolts for the door. He raced out of here and, as far as I know, never returned.” Max stared off, lost in the memory for a moment. “Who knows what he was thinking.” Max blinked and his gaze returned to Kyle. “So, are we done here? Are we OK?”
‘Yes, of course,” Kyle replied. “But I still am really embarrassed.”
“It’s OK,” Max assured as he reached his hand across the counter. Kyle shook the offered hand, smiling sheepishly. “We’ll see you the next time,” Max added as he turned to return to his office. He stopped and faced Ashley, who looked at him with a bemused expression, and said, “By the way, you passed the observation with flying colors, Ashley. Apparently, I didn’t.”
Kyle turned and headed to the door, a new-found sense of safety and security accompanying him. As he reached the entry, he noticed for the first time the large promotional sign standing to the side of the gym’s entry. It was a life-size cut-out of a man. It was Max. He was saying, “We’ll take care of you, if you take your Body to the Max!”