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"Grace, can you hear me?"
They say your life is supposed to flash before your eyes right before you die.
But what about when you're spread-eagle at the bottom of a stair-climber at your local gym, wearing an oversized T-shirt and spandex shorts that were designed for women lucky enough to wear single-digit dress sizes? What then? What should flash before your eyes when you're dying of embarrassment?
Four faces knelt over me.
Somehow death seemed less painful.
"Grace, please! Say something!"
Just my luck, only two of the faces showed genuine concern: Kathryn, my older sister, and Kathryn's boyfriend, Eddie Cahill. Kathryn kept stroking my cheek and urging me to speak while Eddie adjusted a towel behind my sweaty head. The third face, the one that belonged to the bleach-blonde, overly Botoxed, ridiculously thin Alexandra Summers, was only concerned that my round torso blocked her ability to use the stair-climber. In Alexandra's defense, there were only three of these sadistic contraptions in Goldie's Gym, and they were popular at six o'clock in the morning.
But only the stunned expression on the fourth face mattered. It was my reason for living. It was the reason I dragged my tired body to the gym each morning before work, and the reason why I'd sworn off onion rings and lattes with whipped cream and starved myself to lose ten whole pounds.
The fourth face belonged to Max Kramer.
His face melted me. Even the hint of his smile made my knees wobble.
Max was also the reason why I had tumbled off the damn machine.
I'd been fantasizing about him as I did every morning whenever I watched him bench-press 250 pounds. Each glorious purple vein and arm muscle bulged magnificently with every lift, and I wondered what it would be like to squeeze his biceps or brush my fingertips across his sculpted chest. His sleeveless, black T-shirts were always the perfect combination of too snug and dreamy. And don't get me started on what I believed existed beneath his shorts. I drank him in each morning, top to glorious bottom. Max Kramer was the best-looking thirtysomething I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, I was a twentysomething with absolutely no nerve and another ten pounds to lose.
Well, better make that fifteen, to be safe.
I even adored Max's faint Philadelphia accent, not that he'd used it much on me, although one morning he did say "excuse me" over my head when he accidentally elbowed my ear as we both reached for a clean towel at the front desk. That single moment lifted me for a whole week. I couldn't stop thinking about it, analyzing it, replaying it in my mind and remembering how the sunlight from the front glass doors had spilled across his golden head like caramel sauce. For one, glorious moment, he'd been all mine. It didn't matter that he'd snatched the last towel and I had to wait ten minutes at the front counter for the next clean batch.
I played this little game with myself each morning, a game I knew I'd win most of the time. If I spotted Max at the gym, I'd reward myself with one of the raspberry scones I made at the Desert Java, a small café in Tempe near the university I owned with Kathryn. And if Max didn't show for his morning workout, I'd force myself to run an extra fifteen minutes on the treadmill. Truth be told, I would much rather enjoy Max and a raspberry scone, in that order. Stat.
Now that I'd fallen off the stair-climber, Max looked at me like someone studying a beached whale. That was why I'd have given anything to curl up and die and pretend my fall didn't just happen in front of his size twelve Nikes.