“YES, Mom, just come to the neighbors’. You know, the ones with the cute dog,” Holton explained as he juggled the phone while he cut vegetables.
“But why are we having the party there instead of your house?”
She was seventy-five, and Holton found he had to explain things to her multiple times. He tried to be patient, he really did, and he kept telling himself it wasn’t her fault. She was getting old and forgetful—although he was beginning to suspect it was more than that. The doctors hadn’t diagnosed Alzheimer’s yet, but he figured that was coming anytime.
“They have a pool and a shaded deck, Mom. They volunteered to let me have the party in their backyard. It’ll be nice for you and Dad to sit in the shade, and the kids can have fun in the pool. Are you and Dad about ready to leave?” Holton asked, trying to keep her on track. She could only do one thing at a time anymore, and if she got off track, it took her a while to get caught up again.
“Yes, I have my coat on, and your father is yelling at me to get a move on,” she told him. “I’ll be there in a minute, you old goat!” she yelled at her husband before returning her voice to a normal tone. “I’ll hang up now and get in the car.”
The line went quiet, and Holton waited to see if she’d hung up or was just being quiet, but the phone disconnected, so Holton set it on the counter, going back to work. He still had food to prepare and take over to the neighbors’ for his father’s seventieth birthday party.
The doorbell rang as he was finishing up the vegetable tray. “Come on in, it’s open,” he called, and he heard the front door open.
“Hey, Brian, I’m in the kitchen,” Holton said as he started what he hoped was his last task.
“Is there anything you’d like me to bring over? Heather has the tables out and set.”
“You guys didn’t have to do all that,” Holton said, warmed by his friend’s helpfulness. His Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania neighbors were some of the nicest people he’d ever met.
“You know Heather—she loves playing hostess,” Brian said, and Holton opened the refrigerator, setting some of the food on the counter. Brian picked up two bowls and began walking toward the door. “Leave the others on the counter, and I’ll make another trip,” Brian said, his voice carrying through the house.
Holton finished up the cold-cut tray he’d been making before picking up two bowls of his own to carry over to the party. Leaving the house, he walked through his yard and around to the neighbors’ gate. Brian met him there, taking the bowls from him, and Holton returned to his house to get more. By the time he’d made three trips, he was sweating profusely, and once he’d taken over the last of the food, Holton went to his bedroom to change his sweat-soaked clothes.
Fifteen minutes later, feeling fresh and clean again, Holton walked next door, entering the fenced-in backyard. Tables with bright tablecloths decorated with flowers had been set up on the deck. “I took the dishes inside. I figured in this heat it would be easier to keep things cool if we served the food in the kitchen,” Heather explained as she surveyed her handiwork for a second before giving Holton a hug.
“Thank you for doing this.”
“Oh, you’re welcome. You do so much for us all the time. We’re just happy to help, and it’s going to be so hot today that everyone is going to be happy we have the pool. Did you bring your suit?” Holton nodded, but doubted he’d go into the water until late in the afternoon or he’d burn in two seconds. The sound of a car horn out front drew their attention, and Brian stuck his head out the door.
“I think your parents are here,” Brian told him before pushing the door open, and Holton followed him through the house, meeting his mom and dad on the sidewalk.
“There you are,” his mother said when she saw him, looking thinner than she had the weekend before. “I couldn’t remember where we were supposed to go.”
“Susan, I told you it was this one,” his father explained to her, pointing to Holton’s house.
“We’re good, Dad. Heather and Brian are hosting the party at their house.” He led them inside and through the house as his mother talked the entire time.
“This is lovely. I didn’t know your house looked like this. Oh, right, we’re at the neighbors with the cute dog. Where is he? I don’t see a dog.” The litany went on and on and only stopped once Holton got her seated in the shade on the deck with a cool drink. She sipped it and put the glass on the table next to her before looking around. Holton knew she’d probably fall asleep soon. She always seemed to do that now.
“Dad, I’m going to help get things ready. I’ll be right back. There are drinks in the coolers, and the other guests should start arriving soon. Okay?”
“Sure,” he answered. “I’ll keep an eye on your mother.” Holton saw his dad head for the cooler, fishing out a diet soda before sitting in the chair next to his mother. So maybe they yelled at one another occasionally, but they also looked out for each other without even thinking about it. Holton made sure they were okay before joining Brian and Heather in the house.
“Holton, honey,” Heather said when he got inside, “I’ve got this.” The doorbell rang. “Why don’t you make sure your guests make it to the backyard? We’re almost done here, and then we can get this party started.”
Holton spent the next little while directing aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and assorted former colleagues of his father’s to the backyard. Once he was sure all the guests had arrived, Holton joined the party himself.
“You look just like your father,” Holton’s Aunt Clare told him as soon as he emerged onto the deck, just before giving him a gentle hug. “Doesn’t he look like his father?” she asked everyone gathered around, and Holton tried to keep himself from rolling his eyes. Gleeful squeals and yells floated up from the pool where the youngsters were already splashing away, having a very happy time. “This is so cool,” one of the kids yelled, just before diving from the side of the pool.
Holton smiled, very pleased that everyone was having a good time. Stepping to the food table, Holton filled a plate with munchies before sitting in an empty chair to talk for a few minutes with some of the relatives, reminding himself to look for Heather and Brian if they didn’t join the party soon. Holton didn’t want them doing all the work, even though he knew Heather was in her element. They joined the party a few minutes later, and Holton relaxed, mouthing another thank-you to the couple, who smiled. Holton made introductions, explaining how all the myriad relatives were related to one another. Most everyone knew each another, anyway, and the level of conversation ratcheted up. Holton didn’t mind at all. He sat on the deck, near the edge of most conversations, listening to snippets, but not generally taking part.
“My son just graduated from Dickinson Law with….”
“She mustn’t have been very good at it. They caught her with the money, and she got twenty years….”
“He really looks like his father. But Holton is so quiet,” one of his older relatives said. Holton couldn’t determine quite who it was, but he knew they were talking about him. Holton heard parts of many conversations, especially his father, once he got going. George Hillman loved to tell jokes.
“Did you hear the one about the toothbrush salesman?” his father would ask someone he’d just met before launching into one of his classic jokes, complete with funny voices. He’d pull everyone around him into the story, spellbound, until the punch line. “This stuff tastes like crap—what is it? It is crap. Wanna buy a toothbrush!” Everyone laughed, and Holton found himself laughing along. He’d heard the joke so many times, but he still laughed, mainly because it made his dad happy.
“The food is ready!” Heather called from the doorway, and everyone lined up, circling the island in the big kitchen, filling plates while the conversation continued to flow along with the guests, outside, inside, and back outside. Holton helped his mother with her plate, getting her settled at one of the tables next to friends she’d known for years before filling a plate for himself. Taking an empty chair off to the side in the shade, he ate and watched the kids playing in the pool. They were having too much fun to even bother with food.
After cleaning his plate, Holton got a refill, resuming his place in the shade as he finished eating. Throwing away the trash, Holton made his way through the house and out the front door, hurrying to his house, where he pulled a professional-looking chocolate cake, his father’s favorite, from the refrigerator, placing candles on the top before carrying it to the neighbors’. Holton climbed onto the deck, presenting his creation for everyone to admire. His baking was one of the things he was most proud of.
Heather lit the candles, and everyone gathered around, even the kids, taking a break from the pool, to sing happy birthday. Once the off-key but happy singing was done, Holton set the cake on the table near the plates and began to cut, handing out pieces to everyone, with a small slice to his diabetic father. Holton’s dad loved cake, but he couldn’t eat much without it wreaking havoc with his blood sugar, so Holton was very careful how much he got.
After the entire cake had been divided and devoured, people continued sitting and chatting until the sun began to go down. Then, one by one, couples said their good-byes with hugs and handshakes. Holton helped his parents to their car, watching as they pulled away, before returning to the house to help with the cleanup. It was just Brian, Heather, and himself when he returned. They sat on the deck talking softly for a while, relaxing. “Your dad is a real hoot,” Heather told him as Brian refilled her wine glass. “He tells the best stories, and you really do look a lot like him.”
“He always did tell a great story,” Holton said softly. “When I was a kid, we used to belong to a camping club. Mom worked nights for a while, and I can remember Dad sitting around the fire, telling stories. One time Mom had to work, so Dad kissed her good-bye and told her he loved her. It was really sweet. He even waved to her as the car pulled out of the campground. Then he rubbed his hands together with unabashed glee and said, ‘Now for the Sue stories.’ Dad’s storytelling subject was Mom. Every one of her foibles got broadcast to everyone.” Holton took a gulp from his glass before reaching for the wine bottle. “I always wondered what stories he told about me when I wasn’t around.” Holton sat silently, trying to keep a lid on his resentment. He loved the man, but he’d hated being the butt of his jokes. Draining his glass again, Holton stood up and began throwing away the trash to have something to do. He’d let a little more of himself out than he’d intended, and he needed something to cover his discomfort.
Brian and Heather began to clean up as well, all of them working quietly. Holton gathered his things before helping with the rest of the cleanup. After thanking Brian and Heather once again, Holton carried his dishes home. Placing them in his kitchen sink, Holton decided to leave them until morning, and walked down the hallway to his bedroom.
After spending all day outside, Holton decided to shower before bed. Pulling off his clothes, he threw them in the hamper before going into the bathroom. Closing the bathroom door, he turned on the water, shutting the shower door again. He turned around and stopped dead in his tracks. In the mirror that had been behind the bathroom door since he’d bought the house, Holton got a good look at himself. Reaching into the shower, he turned off the water and stared. He did look like his father. Almost exactly like his father. Same face, eyes, and damned near the same body. He had nearly the same body as his seventy-year-old, diabetic father. Standing in his bathroom, Holton blinked as he stared at himself, wondering what had happened. He was over forty years old, alone, with no prospects. Hell, he hadn’t been on a date in… God, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been out with anyone. Turning away from the mirror, he started the water again and got under the spray, washing quickly before getting out of the shower and drying himself off, making a point not to look in the mirror.
Pulling on light clothes, Holton wandered into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, scanning the contents before closing the door. Opening the freezer, he pulled out a half gallon of mint chocolate chip. Pulling up the top of the container, Holton grabbed a spoon from the drawer and scooped out a good-sized dollop of his favorite flavor.
The spoon stopped halfway to his mouth, and Holton held it there, wondering just what he was doing. All his life he’d turned to food whenever he was unhappy or upset, and today was no exception. Ice cream, cake, chocolate, you name it. Dropping the spoon into the sink, Holton closed the ice cream container and put it back into the freezer before walking back down the hall to his bedroom. Stripping down, Holton climbed into bed and went to sleep, trying not to think of the image that had stared back at him from his own mirror.
Holton woke the next morning, Sunday, thankful he had one more day before having to go to work… although he had no idea what he was going to do with it. Getting up, Holton wandered through the house, settling in the living room and turning on the television. After half watching whatever was on, Holton got up to get cleaned up. In the bathroom, he tried to avoid the offending mirror, but he couldn’t turn away. He knew he was looking at himself, but he kept seeing his father. Brushing his teeth and shaving, Holton decided enough was enough. Leaving the room, he hurried into the kitchen, grabbing the phone book. Thumbing through the yellow pages, Holton found a listing that fit what he was looking for and dialed the number.
HOLTON parked his car outside the flashy, new-looking health club, wondering just what in the hell he was doing here. He’d called on impulse and made an appointment, so Holton got out of the car, wondering if he should carry in his small bag of clothes. He didn’t really have anything to work out in, but he’d found a pair of shorts and an old T-shirt along with some of the other things he’d thought he’d need. Getting out of the car, Holton looked up at the façade of the building. It was a temple dedicated to the thin, healthy, beautiful, and young, and Holton knew he was none of those things and hadn’t been in quite some time. Walking toward the building, ignoring the impulse to turn around and head for the nearest grocery-store freezer case, Holton pulled open the doors to the club and walked inside.
“Can I help you?” the young woman behind the desk inquired with a smile as the phone began to ring. She answered it, directing the call somewhere else before looking at Holton again.
“I called this morning and spoke with Marcus,” Holton answered in a tone barely above a whisper, feeling more nervous all the time as people entered the club around him, scanning their cards before moving on. To Holton’s eye, they all looked so thin and young. The women were goddesses and the men, Jesus, the men looked like the catalog models he’d lusted over since he was sixteen. He so didn’t belong here.
“Are you Holton?” a deep voice asked from beside him. Turning, he saw a tall, tanned man with short black hair and the most striking deep blue eyes Holton had ever seen. When Holton nodded, the man held out his hand. “I’m Marcus. It’s great to meet you,” Marcus added with a lot of enthusiasm as he shook Holton’s hand with a firm grip. “My desk is over here,” he said, motioning toward a row of low workstations. “We’ll talk a bit, and then I’ll give you a tour of the club. I see you brought workout clothes. That’s good. It’s slow today, so once business is taken care of, I can show you how to use some of the equipment and help get you off to a good start.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Holton said with a little less trepidation before following Marcus to his area. Holton sat in one of the chairs while Marcus looked at his computer.
“The price of membership includes all club facilities, and gets you access to any of our clubs throughout the country with the exception of New York City and Venice Beach,” Marcus began, and Holton nodded, barely paying attention to what the demigod sitting just across the desk from him was saying. Dang, he had to get his act together, or he’d look like a complete idiot. “What are your goals?”
“Huh?” Holton hadn’t been expecting those kinds of questions.
“What is it you’re hoping to get out of your membership? What kind of changes do you want to make?”
“I want to lose weight,” Holton answered quickly. “And I want to turn all this fat into muscle.”
“Well, that we can’t do,” Marcus said plainly. “It’s not possible to turn fat into muscle. What we can do is help you work off the excess fat and build new, lean muscle. Do you know how much you want to lose?” Holton shrugged. He hadn’t been on a scale in years. “Okay, then, how about after we go through the business stuff and you decide what you’d like to do, we’ll do a body mass calculation to tell you just how much excess body fat you have, and then we can start working it off.”
“Okay,” Holton agreed cautiously. If nothing else, he’d get to spend some time with this guy. Marcus really was handsome, and that voice, God, it reminded him of smooth, dark chocolate.
They talked for a while, and Holton was surprised just how little it cost to join. He’d been expecting a new place like this to be really expensive, but they were running a special, so Holton figured he didn’t have much to lose, except inches, so fifteen minutes later, he found himself handing over his credit card and signing papers to join his very first gym.
The magnitude of what he’d done hit him once he got up and followed Marcus on the tour of the club. Then the intimidation factor kicked in big-time, and Holton wanted to find a place to hide. He wasn’t particularly tall or broad, and some of these guys looked absolutely huge. And some of them were wearing next to nothing—flimsy little string tanks and shorts that left very little to the imagination. Not that Holton needed much help in that department. He’d been using his imagination all his life.
“That’s the free weights area. The cardio equipment is upstairs, and the weight machines are in the center. We also have racquetball, basketball, volleyball, an aerobics studio, and a spinning classroom. You can use all of these with your membership,” Marcus explained before leading him through to the locker room and finally the shower, sauna, whirlpool, and pool areas. “If you’d like to change, I’ll meet you out front, and we’ll get you started.”
Holton nodded blankly, watching Marcus walk away before finding an empty locker in a corner and quickly changing his clothes before more people came in. Locking his locker, Holton walked out of the locker room and found Marcus chatting with another guy. Waiting off to the side, he watched Marcus finish his conversation, studying the man so he could resurrect his image later when he was alone.
“Are you ready?”
Holton nodded his response and followed Marcus to another desk in the back. “Let’s weigh you,” Marcus said, and Holton very reluctantly got on the scale. “Two ten,” he commented before handing Holton a small device and getting it set up. “This will measure your body composition.”
Holton did as Marcus asked and waited. He was surprised when Marcus told him that he was twenty-nine percent. “Does that mean one-quarter of me is fat?”
“Yes and no. What it does mean is that you’re carrying a lot more fat than you need. But that’s okay. You’re here to change that, and we’re here to help,” Marcus said with a smile that made Holton feel like he could do anything. Or at least he’d want to in order to get Marcus to smile like that again. “Let’s go upstairs and we’ll get you started with some cardio. That’s what you’ll need to start with in order to burn the excess fat. Then you can start to lift and build new, lean muscle.”
Like a rat following the pied piper, Holton followed Marcus upstairs. “What do you suggest?” Holton asked at the top of the stairs as he took in the array of different equipment.
“Let’s start you on a treadmill. We’ll just have you walk at a pace slightly faster than normal. That will get your heart moving and will start to signal to your body to burn fat.” Marcus made it sound so easy, and for a second, Holton almost believed it could be that simple. Holton stepped on, and Marcus showed him how to use the machine, and he began to walk.
“How long should I go?”
“Since you’re just starting out, try for twenty minutes. You can work up to more, but that should give you an idea of how you feel. Once you’re done, come downstairs and we’ll demonstrate some of the basic machines.” Marcus gave him another smile before turning away and descending the stairs. Holton continued walking, looking at the floor below as he watched other people go through their workouts. He’d never seen so many beautiful people in one place before in his life. There were people who actually looked good in spandex and tank tops that showed off huge, sculpted chests, and for the first time in his life, Holton wondered if it was possible for him to look like that.
The timer on the treadmill beeped and the belt stopped. Holton stepped off the machine feeling winded but strangely invigorated. He didn’t really know where that came from, but it didn’t matter. Walking down the stairs, he made it to the bottom before the stiffness settled into his legs. Walking stiffly toward the locker room, Holton started to wonder what was wrong with him when he saw Marcus waiting for him. “Are you feeling it a little?”
“In my legs,” Holton explained, wondering how he could make it stop and trying to figure out what he’d gotten himself in for. Crap, he’d even paid good money for this torture.
“Don’t sit down and rest. It’ll make it worse,” Marcus explained, and Holton thought he was full of shit, but didn’t say anything. “Come on, let me show you some of the other machines. You need to keep moving for a while, and the stiffness will dissipate on its own. Trust me.” Holton took a deep breath and forced his legs to move as he followed Marcus across the gym, his legs screaming at him. “Let’s stretch out the muscles,” Marcus said, and he showed him how to do it. As soon as Holton did what Marcus showed him to stretch out the muscles in his legs, the pain began to slip away, and a warmth he’d never felt before blossomed in his legs. “Is that better?”
“Yeah,” Holton responded, testing his leg before standing back up and following Marcus to the first machine. God, what a show that was. Marcus would demonstrate each exercise and Holton would watch him, trying to pay attention, but all he saw was the strong, tight body flexing and bending. Then it was his turn, and Marcus would stand in front of him to make sure he did the exercise correctly. Sometimes he got close enough that Holton would get a whiff of his skin. A few times Holton had to check to make sure he wasn’t visibly excited.
The man was hot; there was no doubt about that. He was also nice and patient, which made Holton like him all the more. But Holton had no illusions that he was anything more than just another client. Guys like Marcus never looked twice at guys like Holton. Even if the man was gay, Holton would never catch the eye of guys like that. The best he could hope for was some eye candy, and he was getting plenty of that. “How does that feel?” Marcus asked him, that deep rich voice pulling him out of his thoughts.
“It feels okay,” Holton answered as he finished the exercise.
“You don’t want to start lifting heavy, or you’ll really be sore, and you could hurt yourself. Take your time and ease into it. You’ll be surprised how fast your body responds.” Marcus held out his hand, and Holton shook it, trying not to look disappointed. For the last twenty minutes, he’d had Marcus’s attention, and he hated to see it end because he doubted he’d ever get it again for any reason. Holton saw Marcus walk away, watching the man’s pants as they clung to a butt that dreams were made of, and in, for that matter. Getting up from the machine, Holton walked toward the locker rooms, his legs still slightly stiff. He wished he’d thought to bring a bathing suit, but he’d have to remember one for next time.
Unlocking his locker, Holton pulled out his bag and began stripping down, conscious the entire time of everyone around him. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he padded to the shower area, getting into a stall and pulling the curtain closed before taking off his towel and hanging it on the hook outside. Then he started the water and began to wash. Holton took his time—after all, there were muscles aching that he never knew he had, but it wasn’t painful, just… there. Letting the hot water course over him, he felt his body relax.
Once he was finished, Holton shut off the water and reached out for his towel. After drying himself, he wrapped the terrycloth around his waist and pushed the shower curtain aside just in time to see a very naked Marcus stepping into the shower across from his.
Holton froze, totally surprised and enthralled. There was nothing wrong with Holton’s imagination, nothing at all, but all the things he’d imagined about Marcus earlier flew out the window in the face of the real deal: long legs, dusted with black hair that ended at the world’s most perfectly dimpled butt. Holton let his eyes slide upward, taking in Marcus’s narrow waist and the dark planes of his back that rippled as Marcus reached into the shower to turn on the water. Every inch of the man was tanned, toned, and completely tasty. Holton continued watching Marcus move for just a few seconds, but to Holton it seemed the world had suddenly switched into slow motion with only Marcus and him at the center.
Marcus stepped into the shower, and Holton lowered his eyes before hurrying out of the shower area and back to his locker. Mortified that he’d been staring and that Marcus might have caught him, Holton moved as fast as he could. He dressed quickly to get out of the locker area before Marcus finished his shower.
Holton pulled on his underwear and pants before tugging on his shirt and sitting down to put on his shoes and socks. He didn’t really look around him or talk to anyone, even though lots of guys were talking around him. Making sure he had everything, Holton grabbed his bag and stepped out of the bay of lockers as the door to the shower area opened. Pretending he hadn’t seen Marcus, Holton walked out of the locker room and into the club area, making his way toward the front door. Only then did he let himself slow down.
Leaving the club, Holton walked to his car, unlocking it along the way with the buttons on his key. After stowing his bag, Holton climbed inside and started his car, heading home. He was very pleased with himself. He’d actually joined a gym and completed his first workout. Part of himself said he deserved a treat, and his stomach wanted him to make a stop at McDonald’s on the way home, but Holton ignored it and drove straight to his house.
Dropping his gym bag in the hallway, Holton went right into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator for something to eat. Digging through the food, he found an apple and an orange, but that was after shuffling around the tubs of sour cream, pudding cups, and God knew what else. Grabbing the fruit, he closed the door and leaned back against the counter. He had to stop this. Holton had just spent good money to join a gym, and he’d seen that maybe it was possible for him to look better and feel better. Cutting the apple with a knife, he ate a slice before setting the rest on the counter. It was time to make a change.
Rummaging under the sink for a garbage bag, Holton pulled open the refrigerator door and began pitching. The pudding went into the bag, along with leftover pizza and Chinese food, and cans of sugary soda. Closing the door, Holton opened the freezer, sending the ice cream, frozen pizza pockets, and God knew what other crap into the trash. Once he was done there, he opened the pantry cupboard, dumping in potato chips, cheese curls, bars of chocolate, and jars of caramel sauce, as well as more candy than any one person should ever eat. Shutting the pantry door, he closed the bag and carried it outside to the trash can, dropping it inside with a satisfying clang before slamming on the lid.
Returning to the kitchen, Holton washed his hands and picked up another apple slice, breathing heavily as his resolve continued to build. It was time to change his life. He’d joined a gym, he’d thrown out the junk food, and now he had to figure out how to learn to eat properly. Opening the door to his now nearly empty refrigerator, Holton realized that he needed to go grocery shopping. Taking his apple and orange with him, Holton sat at the kitchen table and began to make a grocery list.
THREE months. That’s how long he’d been watching everything he’d eaten. Three whole months monitoring every bite, eating healthy and light, spending time at the gym six days a week. Gradually, his twenty minutes on the treadmill had turned to thirty, and then forty-five. After two weeks, Holton was spending an hour a day working out, bringing a book with him to help pass the time. The amazing thing was that the weight he’d carried around for years came off.
The first thing he noticed was that he had more stamina—things that used to tire him breezed by now. Then, about two weeks into his new program, he got dressed one morning and his pants felt loose, which was nice. But the really good part was when he pulled on his belt and the prong slipped into a hole that he’d never used before. That made Holton smile, really smile. Now, after three months, he’d dropped almost forty pounds. Last week he’d gone shopping for some new clothes, and when he bought new pants, he’d tried on a pair with a thirty-four waist and they were too big. He ended up buying pants with a thirty-two waist, walking out of the store grinning from ear to ear. He hadn’t worn a thirty-two waist since he was in college, not since…. Holton had stopped mid-stride, shivering slightly at the memory he’d long tried to forget and never seemed to be able to for very long.
Holton rarely missed a day at the gym, and today was no exception. Pulling into the parking lot, he popped the trunk before getting out and retrieving his gym bag, which sat next to the bag for his computer. Holton had found out very early that if he went to the gym right after work, he was fine. If he went home first, he was more likely to skip the gym.
Walking inside the club, Holton scanned his card, saying hello to the girl behind the counter before striding toward the locker room. He changed his clothes and grabbed his book and water bottle before heading upstairs to the treadmills. Programming the machine, he started the belt and began to walk.