New Year, New You
Steve Pacer © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“New Year, New You!”
Abram rolled his eyes and let out a brief but exasperated grunt as those words on the sign stuck to the front of Vitality Fitness became visible through the wind-whipped flurries.
The welcomed warm weather of December had faded away with the start of the new year, and knowing this was likely the last time he could make the two-mile run to work, Abram kicked it up a notch and reached a full-on sprint as he hit the parking lot. He quickly and carefully skipped across the winter-soaked pavement, catching a reflection in the window of the light snowfall caking his perfectly parted hair. Abram always thought he’d look good with a little bit more salt mixed into his pepper hair, a belief that only solidified on this brutally cold morning.
The jangle of his keys opening the door and the quiet hum of the gym’s lights comforted him. At 4:00 a.m., he knew the next hour would signal his final moments of solitude for the day. Because it was January 2, a day Abram coined January Fools Day, when the impostors began their infiltration complete with unrealistic timelines and unattainable wishes for their bodies. He hated this day.
Maybe it was an Upstate New York thing. Everyone there wanted everything so quickly, tossing aside the notion that the only way to achieve washboard abs or rock-hard pecs was actual work and commitment. In Buffalo, football was more important than fitness, eating more important than exercise. At no point was that more evident than the start of the year. Abram suspected this wasn’t the case in San Francisco or Chicago or Brooklyn.
He couldn’t remember when the thought of a busy gym full of people with healthy aspirations turned from a thrilling challenge worth tackling to an annoyance he’d rather avoid. Maybe it was because Vitality would be marking its seventh anniversary this summer, and for seven Januarys in a row, it was the same shit: a full house the first week of the year, followed by fewer people the next week, and even less the week after that. The purge continued until only the regulars were standing at the end of the month.
“New Year, Same Shit!”
He wondered if that slogan could be printed for next year.
Correcting the annual January attrition was one of the things Abe had worked on over the years by setting up programs designed to turn the slightly interested and motivated individual into someone wholeheartedly dedicated to fitness. But he knew that goal was futile. He had learned personal trainers and fitness programs could only do so much. A person only had the ability to change when they actually wanted to change, and there was nothing any outsider or any The Wealth of Health! class could do to change their mind. Being healthy was a lifelong obligation that very few people chose.
Abe glanced at his watch: 4:37 a.m.
It was way too early to be so philosophically negative.
He really had no reason to be bitter. The energy inside the gym that day would be electric. And the stability of owning Vitality was oddly comforting. No surprises meant no new disappointments. And at this point in Abe’s life, no fresh disappointment equaled happiness.
Where had the morning bitchiness come from? He blamed it on his lack of caffeine. Eliminating caffeine—one of his three New Year’s resolutions—had not been as easy an undertaking as Abe had envisioned. But he was determined to make this year the one he would become entirely independent of addiction. For as long as he could remember, coffee was the only thing Abe physically needed.
Sugar? He’d been ten years without it this spring—having none since the weekend of his twenty-third birthday.
Television? Down to about two hours a week, usually while squeezing in an ab workout.
Alcohol? Two and a half years without a drop and going strong.
Sex? Abram winced at the thought. He didn’t feel like counting the months.
Wait, has it been years?
A quick headshake followed by a sudden slap to his face and Abram successfully dug out of that wormhole. The thoughts of the previous years would not continue to creep into his daily life and slowly gnaw away at the positive future. That was New Year’s Resolution number two: don’t let the past dictate your future.
Besides, today wasn’t the day to be irritated. It was the day he finally got to meet Jared, Cassandra Montgomery’s new boyfriend. Cassie had been Abram’s best friend through and through since the first grade and the amount of love he felt for her wasn’t quantifiable. From the age of eight to the time Cassie left Buffalo at twenty-three, they had lived life parallel with each other. No one in town had talked about the two without referring to them as a pair. “Cass and Abe” had become local legends during their high school years. It’d started after saving Olivia Davidson’s life outside the local Dairy Queen when the six-year-old choked on a piece of bubblegum as they were working. When it happened, Cass and Abe looked at each other and sprang into action without even speaking. Abe hopped over the counter, ran out the front door, and began the Heimlich maneuver while Cassie called 911. By the time he forced the gum out, Olivia was powder blue. Abe would never forget the hue Olivia’s face turned, or the color of the burns Cass suffered from kneeling on the scorching blacktop while administering CPR.
Every now and then, he popped in the VHS tape of their interview on the local news, chuckling to himself at Cass’s ridiculously large scrunchie and the way his uniform hung on his gawky body.
That event only started their list of accomplishments as teens: the two were New York State Champions in their age group for Science Olympiad every year of high school; they became the first—and to this day, the only—couple at Kenmore East High School to be crowned Homecoming King and Queen and Prom King and Queen in the same year; and they even were valedictorian and salutatorian, with Cass beating Abe by a mere .013 in their final GPAs. That fact didn’t even sting for Abe; he was happy to once again be linked with Cassie on a grand scale.
Everyone thought they’d end up married, but destiny had other plans.
It was Cassie who had encouraged Abe to come out to his family freshman year of college. She told Abram she “always knew” he was gay, but he suspected that wasn’t entirely accurate. Deep down, Cassie had thought they would end up married, living the highly sought-after picture-perfect existence arising from innocent daydreams. And despite his sexuality, Abram had felt the same way. The two were inseparable and entirely on the same page in every aspect of life, from the type of house they wanted (a redbrick Colonial) to the number and the sex of potential children (three kids: two boys and a girl).
If life was about finding your soul mate, Abe had found his in Cassie.
Abe had never let being gay define him as a person, but he often thought about how much it changed his path. And every time he saw Cassie, he recognized if that one thing was different, the two of them would’ve achieved Happily Ever After.
Like most friends growing older in separate cities, Cass and Abe had slowly grown apart as time progressed. She’d moved to Charlotte after getting a teaching job, and, naturally, their relationship in the decade since wasn’t the same. Abe still loved her like a sister. Hell, he loved her more than Susanna, his actual sister. Cassie was perfect.
Her only flaw? She had a penchant for picking the wrong guys. Six years ago, she had been engaged to Edward Shanahan, defense lawyer extraordinaire. Ed was fourteen years Cassie’s senior, and if he had one memorable or noteworthy quality, Abe had never seen it. Ed was rude, dull, arrogant, a slob, and quite frankly, not in Cassie’s league in the looks department. Thank God, that hadn’t lasted.
Then there had been Brock Blount, another dud who had no business ever dating Cassie. She’d met him at a bar shortly after she and Ed split, and though Abe assumed he’d be a rebound guy, Cassie had floored everyone when she proposed to Brock a year into their relationship. Their engagement ended seven weeks later, when she’d found him in bed with her twenty-one-year-old student teacher, Jessica Herbert.
So, when Cass texted last week asking to stop into Vitality so Abe could meet her new man, Jared Pfeiffer, he hadn’t been able to help but be skeptical. They had been dating since the spring and would have just enough time to stop in and say hi during a layover on their return home from a New Year’s Eve trip to Vegas. It wasn’t exactly the ideal reunion for Abe, but he would gladly take any opportunity to see her.
He sat stationary in his office, only snapping out of his Cassie coma after the hollow echo of a knock on the door filled the empty gym.
Abe sprang from his office, jogged to the front of the gym, and unlocked the door. As expected, Maureen Jacobs and Deirdre Schermeyer stood eagerly outside, water bottles and duffel bags in tow.
“Happy New Year, ladies,” Abe said.
“Happy New Year!” they said in unison, making their way to the locker room.
Holding the door open, Abe lost himself in the winter wonderland before him. The snow had picked up a bit, leaving a heavy coating on the nearly empty parking lot, save for a few cars, a moving truck, and a boat. As much as he hated the cold, he had to admit the presence of a fresh snowfall was a pristine sight he had grown to love. Abe was so busy intently watching a snowplow disrupt the white blanket on Niagara Falls Boulevard, he almost shut the door on another gymgoer.
Without even looking, he knew this was one of the interlopers. Maureen and Deirdre were the only two to ever be there at five o’clock on the dot.
“Oh! So sorry about that. Happy New Year,” Abe said. “Welcome to Vitality, I’m Abe.”
Abe extended his arm for a handshake as the man made his way inside, unzipping his puffy platinum-silver jacket and lowering his hood.
“Hi,” the interloper said, flashing an impeccable, megawatt Tom-Cruise-before-he-went-crazy smile.
Having never perfected his poker face, Abe could feel his eyes widening and his jaw dropping. The man before him looked like he was ripped straight from the pages of GQ. Flawless skin, high cheekbones, perfectly coiffed hair, deep-blue eyes, the right amount of stubble. Time stood still as the two locked gazes. Prior to this moment, Abe hadn’t been a believer in love at first sight, but there was something about the aura radiating from this man that made him question everything he’d ever known about love.
Once again, Abe knew it was way too early to be so philosophical. At least this time, it was positive.
He has to be gay. He’s definitely gay. Please be gay.
The pitch of Cassie’s voice interrupted Abe’s desires and rang in his ears. He spun around to see his best friend standing before him, tucking her auburn hair behind her ears. She stood, a grin as eager as a kid on Christmas, looking every bit as beautiful as he remembered.
Abe’s bear hug lifted Cassie off her feet until she squealed with laughter. The sound immediately brought him back to childhood, sitting with Cass on her parents’ deck, as the two giggled while tossing old tennis balls to the Montgomerys’ clumsy black lab, Cocoa.
“I see you’ve met Jared,” Cass said, pointing to the Adonis.
“Oh my God,” Abe said. “Jared!”
Abe inexplicably went in for a hug as big as the one that enveloped Cassie. Before he caught himself, he felt the strong arms of Jared squeezing him back.
“It’s nice to finally meet you!” Jared exclaimed, still holding onto Abe. “Cass won’t stop talking about you.”
It was a bit of an awkward hug for two guys who’d known each other for less than a minute. When Jared finally let go—after what seemed like an eternity—Abe tried to stealthily examine Cass’s newfound love.
“So, how are you? How was Vegas?” Abe asked, determined to steer his mind to a more suitable location. “Happy New Year!”
“Well, we actually have some news,” Cass said, her wide smile curling at the edges. “That U-Haul out there? It’s ours. I got a job as a literacy specialist at Niagara Falls Middle School. I start Monday!”
A half laugh escaped Abe’s mouth as he began to process the news. A fully caffeinated brain would have shouted “Congratulations!” followed by a line of proper questioning. Instead, he stood motionless, darting his eyes back and forth between Cass and Jared. All he could mutter was a breathy “What?”
Cassie and Jared both moved forward, arms stretching out wide, going in for another hug.
“I’m moving home, Abe!” Cassie whispered as she nuzzled into the side of his face. Abe could feel her breath changing and knew she was sobbing the tears of joy that inevitably come when you finally reach a goal you’ve had for years.
A set of tears formed in the corner of his eyes, too, drying ever so slightly as Jared’s bicep pressed on his shoulder blades. He didn’t care if Cassie saw him cry, but he didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of Jared. When the three finally parted, Abe could sense Jared’s eyes intently focused on him.
In any other instance, Abe would have been flattered and, perhaps embarrassingly, maybe even a little aroused. Jared was an impressive specimen, the kind of guy the Cassandra Montgomerys and Abram Hoffmans of the world dreamed about. And there he was, standing in front of Abe, just…staring and smiling and staring and looking remarkably sexy.
Abe stopped the metaphorical drooling and reminded himself of New Year’s Resolution number three: don’t judge a book by its cover.
More precisely: don’t assume every attractive man is gay.
“New Year, New Abram!”