The man catches Stacker’s eye during his first session.
The personal trainer smiles encouragingly at him as he grips the sides the treadmill and fights his way up step after step. It’s humiliating, that this is now such a struggle, and Stacker glances around to try and take his mind off his exhausted body, aand sees the other man.
He’s on the cycling machine, and he has a trainer too. He’s in better shape than Stacker, lean and rangy but with a puff face that suggests alcohol.
His eyes meet Stackers and for a moment Stacker imagines what he sees, a thin, harrowed man with his hair only just growing back from the chemotherapy, wasted and sweating heavily even at the slight incline. It’s a fight not to look away in shame.
Then the man smiles. There’s not pity there, just a sort of- ‘we’re both in this together’ sympathy. Stacker smiles back.
They leave at the same time, after the weekly torture of his physical therapy, and Stacker gets changed in relief for his reward for surviving it- the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi.
The man is in the sauna. Stacker sits a polite few seats away. Looks, wonders if he should say anything.
“I swear they want to kill us.” The man breaks in first, in a heavy Australian accent.
Stacker smiles. “I don’t think they would make it that easy.”
He chuckles, deep and rich and warming. “No, they want us to suffer.” He smiles. “Any of them i should be warned about? It’s my first session.”
“They seem to like putting you on the rowing machine,” Stacker stretches, his thin muscles groaning in the thick, heavy heat. “And seeing how fast you can go.” His trainer had done it once and taqken Stacker on it after he had collapsed after two pulls. It had been hideously humiliating.
“Bloody lunatics.” The man leans back, “Thanks for the warning. Bad enough they stick us in this hot-box.”
Stacker nods, although he can’t agree. Ever since chemo, he cannot seem to ever get warm enough. The sauna is a relief. “Not used to the heat?”
The man looks at him, and laughs, “Yeah, okay. But that’s why we’ve got air-con.”
“What brings you to England?”
He realises it’s a mistake when the man suddenly seems to- fall in on himself. His shoulders goes up, his knees together. he stares at the ground. “Needed a change of air.” He says flatly.
“Have you been here long?” Stacker continues, hoping to turn the conversation away from this awkward point.
“A couple of weeks?” He sighs. “I should be here three times a week. You?”
“The same.” There’s something in his bearing that suggests military too. The sweat beans on solid shoulders and muscles and Stacker tries not to stare- as much in desire as envy. “There’s a good coffee house around the corner, would you like me to show it to you?”
The man looks at him, a little sharply, then sighs. “Fuck yes,” he sighs. “I have a kid, he’s eight. You have no idea how good it is to get away sometimes.”
“I have a daughter.” Stacker smiles, “I know.”
“Then it’s a date.” He smiles, it’s tired, his face a little worn, but handsome. “Herc Hansen.”
Stacker smiles back, “Stacker Pentecost.”