The Last Thing You See
pretended to ponder the idea.
    “Hmm.  No.  Must get changed.  See you out here in a bit,” I wheezed.
    I hobbled to the changing room and shrugged off my jacket.  It was a heavy jacket to begin with and, going by the sloppy thud it made when it hit the floor, I judged it had doubled in weight due to my perspiration.  I emptied my water bottle and then filled it up in the sink before slumping on a bench and getting halfway through it again.
    The changing room had a couple of showers.  I pulled out my shampoo and conditioner and then carefully adjusted the water temperature as cool as I could stand it.  By the time I stepped back into the room with the mats in it, I felt mostly human again.  Nick was waiting for me.
    “So I’ll see you again same time next week?  You’ve booked it all, haven’t you?” he asked.
    “Yeah, I’ve booked it.  But, um, I was wondering…”
    Suddenly I felt tongue-tied, and it took me a second to realize why.  Any guy I’d been remotely interested in had always made the first move.  The first obvious one, anyway.  I was more than a little interested in Nick, but I was breaking new ground for myself here.
    “What is it?” he asked.
    “Um.  I know a place pretty close to here, and they make a mean smoothie.  I was wondering if you’d like to have a smoothie.  With me.  Hot day and all.”  I was thankful I was still flushed from the BJJ session and shower.
    Nick dragged the word out and I felt weighted down with the crushing certainty that he was going to decline.  I remembered when he first woke up in the hospital, the way his eyes shone for a moment, then that clouding over, the shutting down.  Maybe I had imagined that first spark and just saw what I wanted to see.
    “Yeah.  I’d like to have a smoothie with you.  My treat though, OK?” he said.
    The weight came off in an instant and I felt buoyed.  I didn’t know where the energy came from, but I was smiling so wide I thought my cheek muscles would be as sore as any other by the end of the day.

Chapter 9: Nick
    Keep it professional.  That’s what I said I’d do, and I would, but holy hell, every moment with Harper made me wish more than anything that things were different, made me wish I could let myself feel that way again.
    It was like she had no idea about the kind of effect she had on people.  On me, at least.  The image of her lying on the mat, the jacket of her gi hanging loose and showing off her flat, glistening navel as she panted at me with half-closed eyes would stay with me forever.
    Then she came out of the changing room looking fresh as a daisy, if a little on the flushed side, and asked me to have a smoothie with her.  I had to remember she was Harper Bayliss, too good for the likes of me, and this wasn’t what it might look like to the casual observer.
    She was just being nice, being friendly.  She was grateful to me, sure, because I happened to be at the right place at the right time.  It was nothing more than that.
    I could see why Harper would like this place.  In addition to lots of outdoor seating for people to enjoy their smoothies in the sunshine, there were also several surprisingly secluded and private booths inside.
    After telling me the name of the smoothie she wanted, stressing she wanted it large, she made a beeline for the side of one of the booths that gave the fewest people possible an angle to see her.  I brought the smoothies back and slid into the booth opposite her, pushing her cup across the table.
    I could have watched her suck on the straw and say ‘Mmm’ all day, but I made my eyes wander around the smoothie bar a bit instead.  There was only so much a guy could take.
    “So what was it like being in the Marines?” she asked.
    “It had its moments, you know, highs and lows.  I don’t know what to say, most of the time was spent training, keeping fit and waiting, and then short bursts of the shit hitting the fan.  No

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