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Rock and Water - Chapter 2

Who is watching whom at the gym?
As promised to Robert, I put myself "out there" again. Over the next few months I joined two dating sites. The first was one of the more mainstream sites many of my friends had used over the years; the other was a site aimed at introducing adults who were into more alternative lifestyles and kink. I had a few nice, bland dates with some men from the first site but no sparks developed from any of them.

The second site was filled with men looking for either one night stands, or men who wanted to "own" me despite the fact that my profile indicated I preferred independence outside of the bedroom. Most of all, at 42, I was discouraged by the lack of men my own age who were interested in dating women above the age of 30.

Ah well, I mused, it was worth the try but perhaps it was time to shut down my profiles and take a break from dating for a while. It was leaving me frustrated and feeling more alone than ever.

I also needed to start planning my summer. My twelve-year-old daughter would be leaving in a few weeks to stay with her father in London for two months. Frank had moved back to his native country after the divorce, and Addie stayed with him over the summer and winter breaks.

He's a good father, and moving so far from his daughter has been very difficult for him, but his family business needed him. He visits Addie a few times through the year in addition to seeing her when she travels to him. Our fire died long ago, but Frank and I had parted as friends and continue to co-parent together amicably.

I'd used the time apart from Addie the previous summer for an investigative journalism project I had wanted to do for years. It had taken me to southern Sudan to interview an international team of midwives striving to establish improved prenatal care and help lower the staggering birth mortality rates. The experience had been difficult but inspiring.

I'd hoped this summer to begin a new project, but decreased funding for public radio had limited any new stories. In fact, I'd been encouraged to take some time off for myself while they aired a few weeks of my "best of" clips.

It was just as well. My three bedroom bungalow was in dire need of a makeover. For years I've dreamed of a gourmet kitchen, complete with stained concrete counters, Mexican tiled backsplash, Viking range, and new cabinetry. I'd taken a class years prior on tiling, but the rest I'd need to contract out. In the end, I decided to take a "stay-cation."

***

My radio show airs in the late afternoon. This gives me time in the morning to walk Griffin, read the paper over coffee (I still prefer the crinkle and smell of newsprint over the glare of a screen), then go to the gym which is where I find myself now.

I try to make it here at least four to five days a week, unless I have time to work in a hike instead on one of my days off. It's a large gym that gets crowded in the early morning, but by 10am the crowd starts to thin and there's no waiting for equipment. Today is no exception.

As I walk in, I realize how much I appreciate the crowd that prefers to come here rather than some of the other flashier gyms. Although there are a few women that dress as if ready to go to a dance club, most of us prefer good old gym clothes and practical ponytails.

Today, I'm wearing spandex capris that just go below the knee, a sports bra, and an old, comfy t-shirt with a picture of Lou Reed on the front. Its neck is cut out to help keep me cool, but I also know it attracts a little attention as it tends to slip off my shoulder during workouts. I've got my hair up in a sloppy ponytail, although other days I'll wear it down.

Occasionally I run into a friend and socialize a little, but mostly I go in, work out, then hit the showers. It wasn't until the past year that I started to open my eyes and notice the men, and more to the point, notice them noticing me. It startled me at first, but if I have to be honest to myself, I enjoy the attention.

More and more I find myself discreetly looking. There are many attractive men here, and seeing them taking care of their bodies and health is a turn on for me. My ex-husband is an attractive man, but took little interest in working out or taking care of his appearance during our marriage.

After stretching, I head over to bench to use some hand weights. The wall in front of me is mirrored, allowing me to watch what's going on in the gym behind me. As I start some bicep reps, my sight locks on the one man here I can't seem to keep my eyes off of. Sadly, he's also the one man whom I'm apparently invisible to.

I've been timidly watching him for months now, but he's never spoken to me, let alone even looked at me. Today would seem to be no exception as he takes a seat on the weight bench next to me and immediately begins to do his own bicep curls with hand weights that look ten times bigger than mine. I think about what else those strong, lean arms could do.

I try my best to stare forward and complete my set, but as if with minds of their own my eyes keep gazing at his reflection while he stares straight ahead. As always, I can't get over how my body reacts to seeing him. I've never been attracted to "pretty boys." I like men looking like men, with character in their eyes and callous on their hands.

He's tall, at least 6'2", with a lean, toned body. Despite no overt bulk, he exudes strength and quiet confidence. As usual, he's wearing long track pants and a long athletic shirt. His sleeve is rolled up a little and I can clearly see the border of a tattoo on his left forearm just below his rolled shirt cuff, although I can't quite make out what the design is.

His short, disheveled hair at one time may have been a light chestnut brown, but it's now nicely peppered with grey. He has a strong, angular nose and soft lips perfectly framed by a well-trimmed beard, also dappled with grey. All that aside, it's his piercing ice-blue eyes under thick, expressive brows that catch my breath every time. Definitely not a "pretty boy."

At this point I've lost count of how many reps I've done and I realize my arms are feeling like jello. In my head I coach myself, "Talk to him, say something... Anything!" Instead, I put my weights back on the rack and sulk off to the cardio equipment feeling a bit embarrassed for myself. I take my frustrations out on the spinner bike for the next 40 minutes until I'm breathing heavily and my t-shirt is drenched in sweat.

Since I have the time to shower at home today, I left my car keys and wallet in one of the convenient smaller lockers that are along one wall of the gym. The lockers are the size of small cubbies, and stacked in columns of five. Of course, the only one available when I'd arrived was up top, so I find myself on tiptoes attempting to retrieve my keys and wallet when I feel someone kneel below me to get to their locker.

A little annoyed that they couldn't wait until I'm done, I look down only to see those ice-blue eyes staring back at me intently. I open my mouth ready to say something but his gaze renders me mute and I clamp it shut abruptly. His lips twitch upwards a bit with my action, or inaction as it is. He continues to look at me in silence, almost questioningly. I feel a flush begin in my cheeks and work down my entire body until my head feels light and my legs become weak.

Staying on the ground looking up at me, he finally speaks, "I enjoy the days you wear your hair up."

For a woman who uses her voice for a living, I can't remember how to speak but I also can't look away.

He continues, his eyes looking straight in to mine, "We have been watching each other, haven't we?" I think to myself, "We have? You have?"

Somehow I find my voice again, and quietly say, "I've never seen you looking at me."

He grins a little and his eyes brighten. He teases, "So you admit then that you've been watching me?" I feel myself blush. Kindly, he continues, sparing me from admitting that what I thought was well concealed ogling was in fact blatant gawking.

"I've enjoyed watching you over the months. " His smile drops a little. "Although it took a while for you to notice me." He pauses, perhaps to see if I'm ready to speak but I'm back to staring mutely down at him. His gaze slowly moves down my body until it rests on the waterfall tattoo spilling down the side of my right leg. "I especially enjoyed when you first came in with your new tattoo. It's a large piece; it couldn't have been easy for you."

Gently he reaches out his hand and with his knuckle caresses the outline of my ankle bone where the waterfall crashes down on to some rocks. A deep shiver travels down my spine.

"This area is very, very sensitive. It had to have been incredibly painful for you."

Without thought to what I'm saying, I reply, "I can take pain."

His smile drops altogether and his eyes widen. He looks up at me pensively. Slowly his tongue wets his bottom lip before he speaks again. "I like that."

Once again my mouth opens but I can't speak. What is wrong with me? I feel my flush deepen and I hear him slowly let out his breath. He stands, just inches from me, and is now looking down at me. His voice lowers just bit as he leans in even closer, quietly adding, "The color on your cheeks is incredibly sexy." He pauses, then adds, "I may have to find other ways to bring it out."

We continue to stand there, our eyes locked on each other's before he shakes his head a little and his warm smile returns. This small action puts me at ease and I feel my body relax and brain kick in again. I can't believe the effect this odd conversation is having on me.

He reaches for his wallet and pulls out a card and hands it to me. On it reads, "Patrick Eberstark -- Master Carpenter," along with his bonding license number, phone number and email address. The card is warm, grainy off-white with deep brown lettering. The writing is centered between a picture of an axe and an old oak tree.

He reaches out his hand and introduces himself. His hand is warm on mine, with a gentle pressure that while soothing is also stirring something deep inside of me. Something that no date I've been on for the past few months has even come close to. It's almost like a current is running from his hand to my body, causing all of my senses to be heightened.

I hesitate before answering. "Corrine Spiros... It's nice to meet you."

His hand still on mine, he turns his head slightly and looks at me first in question, then in recognition. "I knew I recognized that voice. You're Corrine Spiros of 'Northwest News and Beyond.' I listen to you every day while I'm working." This time it's his turn to appear a little flustered. "I appreciate the care you took to represent both sides of the Oregon logging industry. It's rare to find balance in the media anymore. "

"Thank you, Patrick, I..." as I start to speak I realize his hand is still holding mine. In truth, I'm so hyper-aware of his touch that I can't seem to form a sentence! Never has a man affected me like this, not even my husband when we first met. I'm usually so self-assured and confident. With my pause, he looks down and appears surprised to see his hand still on mine. He releases it and takes a step back.

I instantly miss the contact, but his hold on me was becoming distractingly warm and I was having difficulty forming any clear thoughts. I think, "Come on Corrine, you can do this..." Finally I find the words,"I truly appreciate that. It's a tender topic for most Oregonians, on both sides of the debate. Both sides were so passionate about the land, and it became clear to me that they shared more common ground than not. I'd hoped to impart that to my listeners." I'm a bit embarrassed now for rambling on, but realize he seems in no hurry and is listening attentively to everything I say.

"You did Corrine, if only speaking for myself." I enjoy hearing him say me name. He pauses briefly, then continues, "It looks like you're wrapping up too. Can I walk you to your car?" I feel like I've just been asked to the prom.

"That would be great," I reply, trying to tamp down my eagerness in my voice.

In an attempt to calm my jitters, I fumble in my locker for my keys and wallet, only to push them farther back beyond my reach. Quickly he's behind me, his body pressed against mine as he easily reaches past me into my locker for my things. I hold still, as his warm breath tickles my ear and his hard body contacts my own. I feel my cunt clench involuntarily and my breath catch. Time is standing still as neither of us moves for far longer than this small gesture of help is warranted. Slowly he steps back and I turn around. At first I look down, trying to compose myself, only to look up and see his eyes locked on me, looking darker than I've ever seen them. The black of his pupils is just barely ringed by that bright icy-blue iris. His scrutiny is both unsettling and exciting at the same time. Eventually Patrick closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and when they open they are once again bright and warm.

Neither of us need to stop in the locker rooms so we walk together quietly to the garage. It's a bit awkward, and I feel the need to escape into the safety of my car as quickly as possible. My heart is racing and my brain is spinning from just this brief interaction. My job often puts me in contact with attractive and powerful men, but none have ever had this effect on me. We are almost to my car and I so wish I could think of something to say. Even with my recent dates, I feel so out of practice at this, so hopeless. He, too, appears lost in thought.

As we approach my car I turn to say goodbye, but before I can he continues on and leans against the driver side door, effectively keeping me from my planned escape. I can tell he knows this too by the smile playing on his lips.

"Please don't take off and pretend this didn't happen, Corrine." My mouth opens to speak but I just can't form the words. I'm so afraid of making myself vulnerable again that I feel paralyzed. Thankfully he goes on, "For myself, I can say I've wanted to approach you for months. Much of that time I had my own personal reasons for not doing so, but there was something about you, too, that held me back. You seemed closed off to everyone around you. I figured you must have a husband or boyfriend, but you had no ring and you were always here alone, including weekends. During those months I could feel you watching me. I'm not saying that to sound arrogant, only that it's felt really good and it finally gave me the courage to approach you today, despite not knowing if you were taken. Was I wrong to?"

He stays where he is and appears to be waiting for an answer. Words and emotions are tumbling in my brain, but somehow I come out with a few coherent thoughts, "No Patrick, I don't think you were. I'm just so lost here. I'm newly divorced last year, and aside from a few isolated dates it's been so long since I've felt attracted to anyone."

He smiles at that. "I'm attracted to you too, Corrine." A warm rush cascades down my body with those words. He continues, "I'd like to see you again. As soon as possible, really." His gaze travels to the Northwest Forest Pass on my window. "Tomorrow's Saturday, how about a hike in the Gorge, then dinner?" After the effect he's had on me today, I can hardly imagine spending an entire day and evening with him.

It's obvious he picked an activity he knew I'd be comfortable with, and I appreciate it immensely. I enthusiastically reply, "A hike sounds great! One of my favorites is..."

He cuts me off before I finish. "Corrine, I'd like to plan the day tomorrow if you don't mind. Just dress in some good hiking clothes, but if you could, pack along your clothes for dinner. Nothing fancy, a sundress will do." I'm stunned. In all of my relationships, and especially my marriage, I've always been the one who had to plan everything, including every trip and anniversary.

His taking charge hits me deep in my core. Before I can speak he adds, "And bring your dog. There's plenty of room in my old Bronco." My confusion is apparent. How did he know? Without a word, he gestures to the back of my Volvo at the dog blanket covered in Griffin's hair. "But he'll have to put up with my mutt Guinness. He's small but a bit of a car hog."

As excited as I was to show him my favorite hike with all of its beautiful waterfalls and rock formations along the way, I feel myself accepting his plans and letting him take the lead. This is new for me. His confidence and command are both solid yet gentle. I can't help but wonder how it would feel to give myself over to him. Just the thought alone sends a flush through my body and I can feel my nipples harden and my cunt begin to swell.

As if sensing this, his body straightens and he moves with intent towards me. Gently he takes my left hand in his and begins to rub his thumb over my knuckles. As he does, I notice there is a small groove at the base of his fourth finger, where a ring must have been present at one time, not too long ago. My gut clenches and my eyes widen at this. It's unmistakable that he had a ring on in the not too distant past. One that had likely been there for a long time. I know it took my ring finger a few months to lose its tell-tale groove, but eventually it did.

I go to pull my hand back, but he quickly clasps it in his own, causing me to gasp and look up at him. He knows what I was looking at.

"Corrine, trust me. I'll tell you more tomorrow, but know there is no one else in my heart at this time. That's just not who I am."

I put on a slight smile, square my shoulders, and try to sound confident. "It's okay... You don't owe me any explanations." I try to sound casual, but I can't explain even to myself the conflicting feelings swirling inside of me. Is it jealousy over a man I barely know, fear that I could fall for someone who may not be ready for more than casual dating, or is it excitement that this man could really be as great as he seems? I remind myself, "Breathe... Just breathe. He's only asking you for a hike and dinner."

This time he lets me pull away from him. I reach in to my wallet and get a card out. I unlock my car to grab a pen, and write down my home number and address on the card before silently giving it to him. He takes it and smiles as he reads it. "I just can't get over the fact that the hot, sexy woman I've been watching at the gym is the same woman I listen to and admire every day on the radio." He laughs. "I knew this city was small, but I feel like I just won the lottery!"

"Okay, now you're just trying to make me blush," I say with a giggle.

His voice lowers and he becomes deadly serious. "Oh there will be no mistaking when I make you blush Corrine, and I hope to very soon." With that, he gives me a quick wink and begins to walk towards the stairs in the garage leading to the next level. He turns back and adds on, "Pick you up at nine am. Eat a good breakfast but don't worry about bringing anything, except maybe food for your dog. I've got it covered." I love that he seems to have thought of everything.

I get in my car and try to look busy until he's out of view before I wiggle in my seat with excitement. Once again I feel like I've just been asked on my first date ever. I try not to dwell on why he was wearing a ring so recently. I'm tempted to "google" him and his business, but decide it's time to just let go and accept things as they come; to flow with the current. Perhaps it's time to let someone else take control...

*

Thank you for the nice comments and support for R&W chapter 1! Sparks begin to fly in this chapter, but nothing too heavy yet. I promise chapter 3 will bring it on...
This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.


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