Who She Is:
Giulietta Spiritu, Physical Trainer
I looked up from the spreadsheet and rubbed the back of my neck. I’ve added these columns four times and could add them forty more but I’m never going to get them to come out even. The effort made me cross-eyed and gave me a headache. The only thing that added up was my mother’s total lack of business sense. Things are so much worse than I’d thought. But after Dad’s death she needed something to keep her occupied.
But seriously, a physical fitness center in a town the size of Reno City? What had she been thinking? When I asked that question and she said, “Well, it will be the only upscale place like this around. People will drive in from surrounding towns.”
Seriously, she said that. Surrounding towns.
“Really, Mom,” I said, “have you seen the surrounding towns? The women in those towns drive wheat trucks.” Not that driving a wheat truck is a bad thing. But those women don’t have time to join a spin class. They’re too busy and too tired to care if they can wiggle into a pair of size-two Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. They carry hay bales. They don’t need to work out in a gym.
That’s not the only reason for my cynicism. I lived in New York City. There’s a fitness center on every block. People join but never work out. My friends think cardio is driving by a gym with the car radio on. Nobody would drive fifteen or twenty miles to a fitness center.
But Mom’s been a bit ditzy since Dad died. She’d actually been a bit ditzy before, too. But now she listens to nobody. She revamped the building that had housed Dad’s hardware store for years. In the back where the lumber had been sold she replaced the big over-head door thingy with French doors. She made that whole area into a spa complete with a “lounging pool” with an enormous gold fish spewing water into the air. She’d painted the whole interior shades of lavender and mauve and hung gold framed mirrors. Everywhere. Why she thought over-weight women would want to see themselves naked is beyond me.
She installed fitness equipment that looked like medieval torture devices.
She’d said, “Giulietta, things are going fine, just fine.” And I believed that because I had comfortably settled into New York City life.
But when I came back to Reno City, I realized my mother hadn’t just been in the “lounging pool,” she’d been swimming in a financial mess. I’d also been a bit confused about an aunt once-removed. How do you once remove an aunt? A dead one at that. Like, she’s either an aunt or she isn’t, right? Mom tried to explain it all to me, but neither the finances nor the aunt-once-removed thing made sense.
She named the fitness center Eve’s Garden because she thought it sounded “trendy”. She had a big red apple with a bite out of it painted on the front sign. The name confused me. The fitness center is neither a garden nor is my mother’s name Eve. But, as I learned, Mom loves the name Eve and made everyone call her Evie—which makes no sense. Her name is Elvira. I refuse to call her Evie. I’m still haven’t forgiven her for the spelling of my name. Giulietta. What is up with that? I couldn’t spell my own name until I was in the second grade.
Reno City is a far cry from New York City where I gave up a promising acting career. Okay, it wasn’t all that promising, but there was that deal that might have come through if I’d stayed. My agent had all but nailed down a series of Spam commercials which would have made me the face of Spam. Seeing me on billboards would remind people all across the country to add Spam to their shopping cart. As tempting as that sounded I decided to give up fame to come home.
So I studied to become a physical trainer, which accomplished a couple of things. I now have a new career and I have arms like Angelina Jolie. Not her body, just her arms. Unfortunately, to be in high demand as a personal trainer, you have to develop a reputation which can only be accomplished by winning cross-fit competitions. Cross-fit is sort of like speed dating. People compete to see who can kill themselves in the shortest amount of time. I’d rather do something less strenuous—like read a good book.
Surprisingly, Eve’s Garden has actually done quite well. But there hasn’t been a stampede of people into Reno City wanting to acquire the services of a physical trainer. I’ve spent most of my time trying to untangle the finances. The IRS would have been all over this and would never have been able to straighten it out. They would have given up and thrown Mom in the slammer. Thank goodness I came home when I did. Evie looks hideous in orange. On the bright side, she would have organized Pilates classes and had inmates in shape in no time. I can hear her now. “No, no, no! That pent-up anger is not good for you. Breathe in-two-three. Out-three-four. Let’s all just try to get along….”
“Giulietta?” Mandy said, interrupting my thoughts.
“What?” I grumped, rubbing between my eyes with two fingers. Headaches tend to make me cranky.
“Uh, there’s a man out here,” Mandy said.
I looked up. She was right. A man stood on the other side of the counter backlit by the plate-glass window behind him. I couldn’t see his face. “This establishment is for women only. We don’t do men,” I snapped.
“Well now,” he said, in a slow drawl, “I remember quite clearly that you do.”
I would know that voice anywhere. I hadn’t heard it in over ten years, but I hear it often in my dreams. It belongs to the reason I left Reno City going ninety miles an hour. My stomach leaped into my throat and had a choke hold on my tonsils.
Brently Harrison is the reason I have never married. I’ve had my share of serious relationships but when it came right down to it, it would be unfair to marry anyone when I’m still in love with Brent. He’s the yardstick to which all other men would have to measure up. Which, of course, is impossible.
He walked around the counter and lounged against the doorframe of my office, which is technically my mom’s office, looking absolutely awesome in those Levis and that—that shirt.
“Hello, July,” he said, in that way that used to cause me to forget to breathe. I choked. Evidently, it still does. Friends called me Julie, or Jules. Brent called me July like the month. Other things he used to say crashed over me in a wave of memories. He also called me his Spirit Girl which was a play on my last name, Spiritu. He always said ‘adios’ when either of us left because he couldn’t stand to say ‘goodbye’. But he didn’t say anything when I left for New York City because I couldn’t look him in the eye. I slunk off into the night like the wounded animal I was.
“Nice arms,” he said. He looked around the lavender office. “Where’s Evie?”
I must be the only one having a hard time calling her that. I shrugged. Because I didn’t know. And because I still couldn’t talk.
He just leaned in the doorway and looked at me, which was frustrating because I still couldn’t see his face.
“Hi, Brent, long time, huh?” I said when I could finally speak. I’d practiced dissertations dazzling in their brilliance of what I might say in the unlikely event that I happened to run into him in Time Square or if I hailed a taxi in Central Park and opened the door and there he was. I couldn’t remember any of my speeches now, but I’m pretty sure that “long time, huh” hadn’t been in any of them.
Without being asked, he came in and lowered himself into a chair near my desk. I studied his face because I seemed unable to speak or do anything else. And because I evidently couldn’t stop staring at him. He looked exactly the same. Time had etched a few laugh lines around those sky-blue eyes. His blond hair had a smattering of silver around the temples. But those things, along with that amazing tan, only enhanced his good looks.
“It isn’t fair that age looks so much better on men than it does on women.” I hadn’t meant to say that out loud but evidently I did because he chuckled.
“I heard you were back,” he said. “I thought you might look me up.”
“I didn’t know if you were still around. I figured you were married.” I looked at his left hand. No wedding ring. “Wives tend to frown on old girlfriends looking up their husband.” Especially a girlfriend like me. Brent and I had been prom queen and king, homecoming king and queen, Mr. and Mrs. Congeniality. Pretty much Mr. and Mrs. everything except Mr. and Mrs. Brently Harrison.
“I was married,” he said.
“Melinda Green?” I guessed. Melinda had always lurked in the background just waiting for me to goof up so that she could dash in like a hyena and drag away the spoils. Melinda would definitely not be happy about me looking up her husband.
He nodded. “She died two years ago. Cancer.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I always liked Melinda.”
He laughed. “No, you didn’t. But at least she didn’t run off to New York City without telling me goodbye.”
“You don’t do goodbyes.”
“I could have used an explanation.”
“You don’t do goodbyes.”
“I could have used an explanation.”
Ouch. “I had a reason, Brent, I couldn’t tell you why.”
“You broke my heart,” he said.
I nodded. “It broke mine, too.”
“Can you tell me now? I’d sure like to know the reason.”
Tears flooded my eyes and streamed down my face. I shook my head.
“Can we start over?” he asked.
I shook my head again.
“Okay,” he said. He stood up abruptly. “See ya around.” And without a backward glance, he was gone.
I was still crying when Evie came in. She wore a velour purple running suit with her lavender Nikes. She looks my age and people always ask for proof when she asks for a senior discount. She sat in the chair Brent had just vacated. “Giulietta Ann Spiritu, why are you crying? You’re scaring me. Are my finances that bad?”
Why would she give me a name like Giulietta and a middle name like Ann? See, nothing she does makes sense. It’s Ann, not even Anne. Really, Mom?
“Brent was just here. It was hard seeing him again.”
“He broke your heart when he broke up with you, didn’t he?”
“Actually, I broke up with him, Mom.”
She stared at me. “Why would you do that? You were crazy about that boy!”
I debated, still not sure how she would take the news. Daddy is gone now, but she should know. I wouldn’t want her to idolize someone who did what Daddy had done. Although, now that I think about it, idolizing Daddy is not something I remember her ever doing. I took a long deep breath. “Daddy said I could never marry Brent because he is my half-brother. Daddy had an affair with Brent’s mother. He made me promise never to tell you.” My words came out in a rush, like ripping off a bandaid. Breaking my mother’s heart all at once.
To my surprise, she didn’t bat an eye. She reached over and patted my hand. “Well, good grief, I wish you had told me this before you went running off to New York and wasted ten years of your life. Honey, he had affairs with half the women in the county. He probably has kids all over the place. But, Giulietta, I was already pregnant with you when I met your daddy. He never knew it. You’re not related to him. Now, you go find Brent.”
As it turned out, the only one shocked was me. But I would sort out all those feelings later. First I had to find Brent, which turned out to be easier than I thought.
I raced out the front door. My car was parked right in front of Eve’s Garden. Brent leaned against it, arms crossed.
“How did you know this is my car?” I asked.
He grinned and pointed to the front vanity plate. It says Spirit Girl. “When I saw that,” he said, “I knew you still cared. Whatever your reason for leaving, we can work through this. Right?”
“Right,” I said. I leaned into his arms. Reno City never felt more like home.
A writing experiment