“Nice place,” Logan looked around the fitness center Meadow worked at. It wasn’t anything like the old sweaty and worn gyms and he was used to. This facility was loaded with shiny mahogany floors, granite countertops and polished nickel accents everywhere. Everyone they passed was toned, groomed and good looking. She fits right in here, he thought to himself, feeling dumpy in his old, worn-out gym clothes. She rolled her eyes and nodded, lowering her voice, “It’s all a big show.” “What do you mean?” Logan asked her. “Do you think anyone builds more muscle or burns more calories because the towels are fluffier or the steam room has special aromatic oils pumped into your lungs?” She smirked. He smiled and relaxed, relieved she was down to earth about it. “But, you do get awesomely talented professional trainers here,” she joked, pointing her thumb to herself with a wink. “And, a brand new TRX set. Check this out,” she led him into the room. “We have just one of these in our gym,” Logan grabbed a suspension strap dangling from the ceiling, “But not filling a whole room like this.” “Do you like it?” Meadow asked him. “I never used it much,” he admitted. “My coaches always sent me to the cardio machines after weights and the usual dryland work.” She felt badly for him, with all the focus on his weight. If he’s good enough to play for an NCAA team and help them win, what did a few extra pounds matter? She had to acknowledge to herself though, that if he had been anywhere close to 300 pounds, that was way too heavy to play as fast as he needed to but it seemed like his coaches had always elevated the number on the scale to even more importance than his actual ability and game performance. A few weeks of doing things ‘the Renate way’ seemed to be doing more for him than anything the team ever dreamed up. Typical hockey fools, she thought, but kept it to herself. “This technique is awesome for the strengthening the internal obliques helps with shifting direction even faster,” she showed him how to turn with it for the most power and stability, and then handed him a strap. As he raised his arm to rotate and extend his body, his shirt rose up a bit and she noticed a bit of his tummy, hanging onto his torso for dear life. That little roll didn’t want to go anywhere, but it seemed his determination would probably make it all go away along with the rest of the sexiest, jiggliest fat that had already disappeared. “Speaking of strengthening, how are your practices going these days?” She asked him while she demonstrated how to lean through a back extension, “Do you feel like what you’re doing in the mornings is helping your game?” “Good, yeah” he answered with a half-smile, following her moves and breathing out. It had been pretty great actually. Coach Mike pulled him aside just the day before and told him how proud he was of Logan for staying committed to the extra work and keeping a positive attitude at practices. He may have been almost half-way to his goal weight, but Logan didn’t want to say too much about it to Meadow, worried he might jinx things. There were months ahead of him with the unrelenting pressure to drop more pounds... plus a whole summer during which he could backslide. He knew all too well how easy it was to lose control of his appetite and his body all over again. “You’re going to be totally ready next year,” Meadow seemed to read his mind by completely contradicting his thoughts. “Maybe you’ll even get a pro contract.” Logan laughed as he breathed through a lunge, “Naw, they fill up from the draft with all the CHL guys, junior leagues, and ringers from all over the world; they only make room for the truly elite players from the college ranks. I’m barely 6’1” so even if I was the hardest guy on ice...” Logan explained. Meadow raised her eyebrow. He seemed to be plenty tall to her, anyway. “Most defensemen in the NHL are a little taller... and I knew I wasn’t naturally pro material, so getting the NCAA scholarship was lucky, and seemed like the smarter way to go,” he explained with a shrug. “Coach says if I get my shit together I have a shot at the minors, but that’s not a great living, considering the bigger beating on the body.” “My family is proof that you can be among the greatest in the world and not get rich,” Meadow shrugged. Logan nodded, remembering Meadow’s background. She was really different than most girls he knew, that was for sure. “A couple of WHL and USHL teams showed some interest before I committed to UMN, but I liked school too much,” he continued to explain, “and playing for the Gophers was a dream come true.” He smiled. “Was?” She questioned his word choice with another raised eyebrow and an encouraging smile. “Is,” he smiled even wider, appreciating her positivity. “Pride on Ice,” he modestly fist pumped. “So you like school a lot,” she grinned back. “You gave yourself an extra year, at least.” He laughed, “Yep, I secretly wanted an extra year of classes, so I ate everything I could get my hands on and piled on a bunch of weight. Everyone thinks I’m a dumb, fat jock, but I’m actually executing a brilliant plan.” He sort of regretted making a joke about his weight problems with Meadow but for whatever reason he was doing it more and more. He knew his weight was just another performance stat to coaches and scouts, but with women it was a more shameful, uncomfortable topic. Meadow had started to surprise him though. She made it not such a big deal; almost insignificant, really. It’s weird, because she’s so athletically perfect, yet I can kind of joke about my worst weakness with her and it’s not that horrible. His fat talk and red-faced sheepish smile was mouthwatering to Meadow. He knows exactly how to turn me on and doesn’t even realize it. She shifted the conversation to a less sexy question to pull herself out of it. “So what are you majoring in?” “I finished my credits for Business Marketing, so I added Econ as a double major,” he explained. “The team usually steers guys to the practical majors, but I decided that I liked the theory side more.” “That’s cool,” she admired him all the more now. He may have struggled with diet discipline, but he was a hard worker in every other area of his life. She felt badly for thinking so little of him before, and for judging him based on superficial things like his choice of sport, or his cocky smile. She had even judged him about his weight gain, while at the same time, finding excitement over it. Guilt began to seep into her complicated feelings, nestling right alongside her unsettling fear of falling for him.