“Coming!” she shouted to the doorbell. Amber shoved her feet into sneakers and yanked open the door. Lou stood dripping on the mat. He folded his umbrella and set it against the wall in the hallway.
“You got an extra towel? It’s coming down in sheets out there!” He shucked off his jacket and set it down next to the umbrella.
Lou was a godsend and more than just a trainer. He charged an arm and a leg, but the man was Amber’s personal savior. Guidance counselor, nutritionist, and life coach all rolled into one. He’d picked her up off the ground and turned her self-pity into determination. She went from feeling like the divorce was the end of her life to feeling like she’d been given a second chance and a new beginning.
Around Lou, Amber was completely herself. He was at her house every morning at six thirty and she greeted him in sweats, hair shoved into a messy ponytail and her signature thick glasses. Lou was probably the only non-family member to have ever seen Amber in glasses. There were no power suits, heels, or fancy lingerie for Lou, just Amber in the raw. Honest, vulnerable and willing to put in the work he asked of her. He drove her into the ground physically and never apologized for kicking her ass. When she complained of soreness, he said, “congratulations,” or “lucky you,” or “you earned it.” The times he totally broke her, had her in tears and shaking, Amber would scream “I can’t!” and Lou would scream back, “You can! You deserve this!” The confidence she gained in her body translated to every aspect of her life. She felt safe walking the streets alone at night. She owned it in a boardroom full of all male coworkers, and apparently now, she was comfortable taking provocative pictures of her body. Not that Lou knew that, but he had given her all those gifts.
“How’d you sleep? Did you get your protein in?” Lou was always on top of her. Amber knew he had other clients but he always made her feel like she was the only one. Lou was a confident, friend and yet, enough of a ball buster that she was terrified of disappointing him. He was ex-Marine Corp, a former professional boxer and a fitness pioneer. Lou was also an Italian immigrant raised in the South Bronx and had a personality and accent as strong as they came. He was Chase’s trainer first, but when they split up, Lou stayed with her. His loyalty meant the world to her. Lou gave her some diatribe about how total body fitness wasn’t about attracting the opposite sex and anyone who was into that could find someone else to rip their abs. Lou was spiritual and he believed physical health was a journey to well-being and self-acceptance. Amber never asked him directly, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Chase had been using their gym sessions as an excuse to hit on or pick up other women. When Amber first told Lou, he dropped Chase as a client immediately. She’d only said something once and Lou replied with a dismissive, “Amber, you get it. He didn’t.”
Daily she thanked the universe for putting them together. Lou had helped her survive the darkest days of her life and she felt indebted to him.
“Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?” she asked him. The squats with the kettle bells already had her winded.
“It was good. We went to see my mother-in-law in Jersey. You?”
“Worked. Ate pudding and pie,” her thighs were burning and she could barely get the words out.
“Sugars, wildcat. You need to watch them. Give me another twenty.”
“It was a holiday,” Amber grunted her face going red with exertion.
“Yeah, and so’s Christmas and New Years and too many other excuses to indulge. Strong body, strong mind. Say it on the exhale.”
“I’m gonna die,” she complained. Lou just smiled at her and shook his head lightly.
He stayed for a cup of coffee and made Amber’s protein shake himself. The man reminded her of Clint Eastwood, rough on the exterior, but loyal and loving on the interior. She imagined he must have been a looker in his day. The guy was nearing seventy, but his eyes were bright and his body was stronger than hers would ever be. He had two grown children and had been married for thirty-five years, longer than she’d been alive.
“Meet me at the gym after work. We’ll get in your cardio and do a quick round of circuit training.”
Amber wondered what Lou did all day and how many other clients he had. She worried that he would retire and she’d have to find someone new who would never be able to match his sensei status and ability to motivate and guide her.
She was exhausted after work but gave him one hundred and ten percent because he wouldn’t settle for less. She was drenched in sweat and her muscles burned with exertion. The goddamned Stairmaster, steep incline, forty-five minutes, it was killing her. When she hopped off and dragged a towel across her face and chest, she noticed Lou lying on the bench pressing hundred pound weights. He turned his head to the side and winked at her. The man was like zombie movie, always getting up for more after he’d gone down for the count. He worked out all day, every day. His body was sinew and he was blood and guts personified. She was happy to be on his good side. Chase was probably terrified of him.
Amber grabbed her phone out of her pocket to see if she had any messages. There was still shit she had to do for work tonight so she needed to hit the showers.
“Keep going,” she shouted to Lou, putting her hand up to keep him from cutting off his flow. He pressed again and she watched his whole chest quake with the effort. Amber spontaneously took a knee to be closer to his level and started taking pictures of Lou on her iPhone. Just because she wanted to capture the beauty in his grit, the essence of perseverance and mind over matter. She cropped the picture, changed it from color to black and white, then she uploaded it to Instagram to immortalize the moment.