I go over to her. “Did you enjoy your cold shower?”
She shakes her head, and there’s a shimmer of tears in her eyes. “No. I’m… I’m…”
I know what it is. She’s regretting getting into a strop and ending her session with a punishment. A flood of tenderness goes through me. Poor baby. She’s cold, too, from the shower. I wish I could pull her into my arms and warm her up.
“I’m sorry for what I said about the gym,” she whispers, crossing her arms and shivering a little.
I make my voice slow and deep, and as kind as I can. “You did so well today, Amelia. I could see how difficult and new it was for you. You were afraid, but you worked hard. I’m proud of you.”
She looks up at me, her green eyes large and troubled. “But I didn’t finish my workout.”
“And you were punished for it. You took your punishment without complaint, which means you’re forgiven. Daddy’s so proud of you. Now, off you go.”
Amelia swallows, and smiles a little. She says in a small voice, “Okay.” She stares up at me for a moment longer, as if reluctant to leave my side. Then she squeaks, “Thank you, daddy.”
I watch her hurry away, smiling to myself, wondering how long it will be until she’s back.
I hope it’s not too long. I definitely want to see her again.
I walk out of the gym in a daze, my insides feeling like they’re made out of cotton candy, all fluffy, pink and happy.
That was… Okay, that was… What was that? The last hour seems to have passed in a blur. I did things and I didn’t know why I was doing them. I felt things and I didn’t understand why I was feeling them. Good things. Tingly and sparkly things. But sad and penitent things, too, until Dom took those bad feelings away again.
How did he do that with just his voice and his eyes?
I walk back to the office, trying to untangle my complicated feelings. I need to write about what just happened in some sort of professional manner that makes sense, and yet nothing that happened makes sense to me. Maybe it was just some stupid reaction to a gorgeous man saying some strange things?
The feeling doesn’t pass. The warmth and fizziness of my encounter with Dom persists the whole day. Thank goodness Suzanna doesn’t want the piece on Dom Fitness until the health and wellbeing special that we’re running in just over a week, because I need some time to think about it.
The next morning, I wake up and the first thing I do is curse Dom to hell and back.
“My muscles,” I moan, crawling out of bed and hobbling to the bathroom. I’m sore all over. My arms. My abs. My back. My legs. I swallow some painkillers and then get in the shower, blasting the water as hot as I can bear it.
Twenty minutes later, I’m no less sore. I feel absolutely terrible as I haul some pants and a blouse on, and swipe some mascara over my eyelashes. I thought exercise was supposed to make you feel good, not like you’ve been tied up in a sack and beaten with a hammer.
Somehow, I get through the day and collapse onto the sofa in the evening. In the corner of the living room, I glance at my easel and paints, which are gradually gathering dust. I wonder when I’ll feel like painting again. Definitely not tonight.
Maybe not ever.
As I stare at the ruins of something I once loved, tears fill my eyes. I don’t want to paint. My muscles hurt. I really am throwing a one-woman pity-party. I veg out on the sofa with a bag of corn chips and bad TV, willing all my sorrow away.
The next morning my muscles feel a little better, but I’m no closer to tackling the article I need to write about Dom Fitness. How can I write about it when I still don’t understand it?
In the middle of the morning, I’m sitting at my desk working on a listicle called Ten Signs You’ve Watched Too Many Serial Killer Documentaries, when my phone rings. It’s an unknown number.
“Hello, Amelia Tate speaking.”
Every faintly sore muscle in my body tenses. I know that deep voice. It can’t be… can it?
“It’s Dom from Dom Fitness. I’m calling to ask why you haven’t returned to the gym yet. You’re due for your next session. If I don’t see you soon, I’ll be very disappointed in you.”
His voice becomes velvety as he speaks that last sentence. He’ll be disappointed in me. Immediately, I feel… wibbly. I don’t even know what wibbly is. Halfway between wobbly and something else. Something fizzy.
“Oh, um, I’m not… you don’t need to…” I trail off, gulping for air. How does this man set me so off balance?