Chapter 1 – Faith
Wincing against the morning light, I turn on my side and cover my face with a pillow. It’s the intercom, and whoever is at the door just won’t give up. A delivery guy, maybe? That’s unlikely on New Year’s Day. Anything can wait; my head hurts and I feel nauseous. Squeezing my eyes tight shut, I try to ignore the noise, but the buzzer is too loud. Desperate to make it stop, I stumble out of bed and head for the hallway, cursing under my breath as I see a woman on the screen with a smile way too chirpy for this time of the day. She’s wearing a beanie and she’s carrying a gym bag over her shoulder.
“Who is this? Do you have any idea what time it is? I’m trying to sleep.”
“Miss Astor? It’s Silva. We have an appointment at eight.” The woman frowns when I don’t answer, wracking my brain over who she could be. “Personal training?”
“Oh, fuck.” It all comes back to me then. The party, the afterparty, champagne, more champagne, dancing, drunk conversations with my friend Roy about how we’d like to get in shape and look fabulous in the new year and booking a PT at an extortionate last-minute price to kickstart 2022 with a “bang,” as it said on the website. They’re only vague flashes but I remember last night’s mantra clearly. Everything will be better next year. “Sorry, I forgot. It was a mistake.” I hesitate, then continue in a croaky voice, “I assume it’s too late to cancel?”
Silva shrugs. “Yes, it’s too late for a refund. Can I at least come in for a minute? It’s kind of cold out here.”
“Sorry, of course.” In my groggy state I barely registered it was still snowing hard, so I buzz her in and fetch my robe. I barely have the chance to tie it before she’s made it upstairs and knocks on the door.
“Good morning and a happy new year,” she says, her beaming smile almost making me laugh. She’s the epitome of health, her cheeks rosy and her eyes sparkling with energy. The opposite of me I suspect, although I haven’t looked in the mirror yet and I have no intention to do so.
“Yes, good morning and the same to you.” I clear my throat and take a step back to let her in. “Please call me Faith. Would you like a coffee?”
“Yes, please. And why don’t you make yourself one too?” She takes off her beanie and her coat and hangs them on one of the wall hooks by the door.
“I think I’ll hold off on the coffee. I intend to go back to bed,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint. She’s welcome to warm up; it’s my fault that she came all the way out here for nothing, but then again, I’ve already paid her, so if I want to sleep in her time, that’s my prerogative.
Silva shakes her head and ruffles a hand through her shaggy, blonde hair. “Hey, let’s not start off like this. You wanted to feel good about yourself again, so why not get the ball rolling right now? You’ve got me for three whole hours, so it’s not too late to wake up and kickstart the new year with a fresh and positive mindset.”
“Feel good about myself?” I walk to the kitchen, and she follows me and drops her bag on the floor.
“Yes, you filled in the questionnaire on my website. It said you wanted to feel good about yourself.” Silva hesitates and arches a brow at me. “Actually, your exact words were that you longed to feel desired again.”
“Oh.” I chuckle uncomfortably and blush. “That was drunk me talking. Drunk Faith tends to say dumb things sometimes. I feel just fine about myself.” Focusing on the coffeemaker, I avoid her gaze. I wonder what she thinks of me. “Milk?”
“No, thank you, I like it black.” Silva takes a seat at my kitchen table, and as I fill two cups and add a shot of soy milk to mine, I feel her eyes on me. She’s judging me, for sure. Silly, impulsive woman. No self-control and no respect for her body. Isn’t that what all health freaks think about people who like to have fun? Looking down at the two mugs, I realize I’ve done exactly the opposite of what I intended. I’ve made myself a coffee and I’m about to sit down and talk to her.
“So, how much did I pay for your visit?” I ask, reaching for the box of aspirin in the fruit bowl. I pop out two pills and wince as I swallow them with the hot coffee. “And how on earth did I manage to get an appointment on January first?”
“You paid fivehundred dollars,” Silva says as if it’s nothing. “Purely because of the date. I’m normally only a hundred an hour.”
“It’s a small price to pay for feeling great,” she says, glancing around my modern, open-plan apartment as she sips her coffee, undoubtedly thinking I can easily afford it.
She’s not wrong; I can afford it, but whether I want to work out or not is up to me, not her
“And to answer your second question,” she continues, not in the least fazed by my look of offense, “the reason I had a free spot is the same reason you’re about to send me away. Someone got drunk and canceled late last night, giving up before they’d even started.”
“And that was not refundable either, I assume?”
“No. I have a forty-eight-hour cancellation policy.”
“Right.” I nod and rub my temple. The throbbing has started now, and it’s radiating toward my eye sockets. “So you’ve just made a thousand dollars? Smart.”
Silva sits back and crosses her arms. “Hey, don’t insult me. You’re making it sound like this is some sort of scam but I’m actually not doing it for the money. It’s not my fault someone canceled, and it’s not my fault you booked me while you were drunk.”
“I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I don’t think you’re a scammer.” I let out a long sigh and shoot her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” She leans in to look me in the eyes. “I like helping people and you need help, so please give it a try. Let’s at least talk about what you want to achieve. I see you’re in no state to start the heavy work right away, but we can make a plan together.”
I’m quiet as I consider this. I’m not awake enough to make a decision, so I leave it with her. What’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s only three hours, and when she leaves, I’ll go back to bed where I’ll spend the rest of my day watching Netflix. “Okay.”
“Great.” Silva points to my robe. “Before we start, take ten minutes for a shower while I make you a smoothie. I promise it will make you feel a little better. Now, do you have any fruit or vegetables in the house?”
“I may have some,” I say, my eyes flicking from the sad selection of wilted fruits in the bowl to the fridge, then to the juicer I’ve never used, and back. I quickly get up and open it just far enough to check the contents without giving her a view of the vodka bottles. It annoys me that we haven’t even had a conversation and I feel judged already. Relieved to find half a bag of spinach and two avocados, I place them on the kitchen counter. At least the kitchen is tidy, apart from the empty champagne bottle Roy and I polished off before we went out last night. The living room, on the other hand, is littered with clothes, as I couldn’t decide what to wear, and I cringe as I spot a pile of lingerie on my sofa. “Will this do?” I ask, gesturing to the greens.
“That’s perfect.” Silva gets up and pats me on the arm. “Leave it with me.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll go and have a shower.” Her bouncy energy is annoying me already, but maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all. I really do want to get in shape and it’s not like I’ve made plans for today.
Chapter 2 – Silva
I look away and try not to laugh when Faith hastily clears a bunch of lingerie from the sofa on her way to the bathroom. The apartment is beautiful; spacious, open-plan and all white with luxurious fittings and furniture. She must pay a fortune on rent, or perhaps she owns it? As I throw the spinach into the juicer and scoop out the flesh from the avocados, I wonder what she does for a living. Faith Astor. The name rings a bell, and her face looks familiar. It’s a typical rich girl’s name, and I can’t deny that I was prepared for my morning to go exactly like this. People don’t make rash decisions that involve fivehundred dollars in the middle of the night unless they’re wealthy and can afford to pull off a stunt like that. I’ve seen this many times and although it’s easy money for me, I don’t like it. Still, her answers to the questionnaire seemed brutally honest, and they told me she needs a change in her life. Maybe I can help her.
The juicer still has a sticker on the inside, so I peel it off and throw in the ingredients, then add a shriveled apple and the juice from half an old lemon in the fruit bowl that holds more hangover cures than actual fruits. Aspirin, vitamin C tablets, and Tylenol—I suspect Faith parties a lot. Despite her sorry state this morning, she’s very pretty. No older than thirty-five for sure, she looks like the kind of woman who is used to being pampered. Her nails are pristine, her hair—although a little messy—looks well taken care of, and her skin is flawless. She’s curvy with a figure most people would be envious of, but I’ve learned from my years of experience that self-esteem is sadly often linked to weight, especially in New York.
I pour the smoothie into a tall glass I find in her cupboard, then open my bag and take out my iPad. I like to get an idea of people before we start, but her apartment is devoid of any trinkets or personal pictures, at least as far I can see. She does like art; that much is clear. A huge painting of a woman and a baby is hanging on the wall above the fireplace in her seating area, and she has numerous photographs and sculptures on display. Art dealer, maybe?
Before I have the chance to contemplate any further, Faith appears dressed in yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Her dark hair is wet and brushed back, the mascara stains are gone from underneath her eyes, and her skin is shimmering from the cream she’s just applied. She looks innocent; nothing like the sexy vixen in the red, silk robe who opened the door to me twenty minutes ago.
“Okay, I’m ready.” She eyes the big, green smoothie on the table. “As long as it doesn’t involve anything too strenuous because my head is seriously killing me.”
“Let’s talk for now,” I say, not wanting to put her off the program on her first day. I gesture to the smoothie, and she picks it up and starts sipping it. “So, your primary goal is to lose weight, it says here.” Flicking through her questionnaire on my iPad, I skip past her personal details and get right into the motivational section. “Your secondary goal is to feel des—”
“Forget the desire bullshit,” she interrupts me, clearly embarrassed. “As I said, I was drunk. But I wouldn’t mind losing weight. I’ve gained a couple pounds over Christmas, and it’s all piled on here.” She pats her thighs and behind and sighs. “I want to be back in shape before New York Fashion Week. It’s a big deal and I need to look my best.”
“Okay. So how long do we have? Four, five weeks?”
“It starts on February nineteenth.”
I nod and make a note of the timeline. “Forty days. That’s good. Are you a model?”
Faith throws her head back and laughs as if that’s a ridiculous question. “No way. I could never get away with being in front of the camera. I’m a fashion photographer.”
“Oh.” My first thought is that she’d look beautiful in front of the camera, but it’s too early for conversations like that, so I smile and glance at a picture on the kitchen wall instead. It’s a photograph of a woman who looks a lot like Faith, except she’s younger, taller, and slimmer. She’s dressed in black, standing in a desert with a crow perched on her arm. It’s dark and a little unsettling but beautiful nevertheless. “Is that your work?”
“Yes. That’s my sister.” Faith picks at her fingernails. “She’s the pretty one. I’m the creative.”
“Well, I have to disagree on the looks,” I say, then continue when she doesn’t answer, “You must be pretty successful. You have an amazing apartment.”
“I do all right, but my mother bought this apartment for me. She’s a celebrated artist. Mary Astor-Goldstein—you might have heard of her. I carry her last name. I don’t like my stepfather’s last name.” Faith peels off the tip of her thumbnail and flicks it in the ashtray on top of a dozen or so cigarette butts.
“Yes, I’ve heard of her. Well, it’s a beautiful place. You’re lucky.” Faith doesn’t answer and avoids my gaze. She seems uncomfortable talking about her family, so I change the subject. “Tell me about your lifestyle. If you want fast results, we’re going to have to make some changes.”
“My lifestyle…” She shrugs and sits back, then finally meets my eyes again. Hers are big and dark, almost feline. The way she bites her lip while in thought is incredibly sensual, but I don’t think she knows that. “I ehm…” She pauses. “I go out a lot. I’m what some people might call a socialite and I get invited to a lot of parties and networking events. And because I go out a lot, I probably drink too much. Too much in your opinion, anyway.”
“I don’t judge,” I say, making a note. “How many drinks would you say a week?”
“I’m not sure. Three to four a day, maybe? I rarely get drunk. It just helps me cope with all the socializing. Well, apart from last night. I was definitely drunk then,” she adds with an uncomfortable chuckle. “But it was New Year’s Eve, so I’m not going to beat myself up about that.”
I laugh along and shake my head. “So, in a normal week, would you say you drink every day?”
Faith is quiet for a long moment before she answers. “Six days a week, probably. I have social commitments most days.”
“And you find it hard to be social without drinking?”
“Yes.” Faith crosses her arms in a defensive manner, as if she’s expecting me to tell her off. “I don’t see how anyone can be social without a drink. It’s just awkward.”
I’m not going to argue with her. If she takes a disliking to me, we’ll never get anywhere. “Do you smoke?” I ask, glancing at the ashtray.
“Not much. Only when I’m alone.”
“Not anymore.” She purses her lips and shrugs. “I used to, but I managed to break that habit. It was getting out of hand.”
“Well done,” I say. “That’s something you should be proud of. It’s not easy.”
“How do you know?” Faith shoots me a skeptical look, and I know she’s thinking I can’t possibly relate.
“Because I used to have an addiction problem too,” I say honestly.
“Oh.” Her expression softens. “So you weren’t always a shining beacon of health, huh?”
“No, I was quite the opposite.” I refocus on the questionnaire because this is not about me. I have no problem being open about my past, but she’s paying for my time, and I want to get to know her so I can help her achieve her goals. “Do you exercise? Walking counts too.”
“Not really. I’ve tried the gym, but I wasn’t motivated enough to actually go there, even though there’s one in the building. It bored me. And no, I don’t walk much either I usually take a taxi.” Faith winces as if, again, she’s expecting me to tell her off.
“When was the last time you went for a walk by yourself?”
At that, she laughs. “Just a walk for no reason?” She glances at the ceiling like she’ll find an answer there, then shakes her head. “Never, I guess. That’s terrible, isn’t it?”
“Nothing is terrible,” I assure her. “The good thing about bad habits is that you can change them. Do you eat healthy, regular meals? What do you eat in a day?”
“Hmm…” Faith picks up her green juice and finishes it. “Nothing like this, that’s for sure. I only eat real meals when I’m out for lunch or dinner, which I don’t do very often because I don’t really care for food. If I’m home alone, I’ll get a takeout, and sometimes I’ll throw together a salad.”
“You never have breakfast?”
“When I’m off work, I rarely get out of bed before midday, and on the days I work, I usually have to leave so early that I’m not hungry, so I bring protein bars with me.”
“Okay.” I write everything down and notice she’s eyeing my notepad. “Would you like to read what I’ve written? I’m not analyzing you. I’m just jotting down the facts.” The latter isn’t entirely true; I always analyze my clients, but that process takes place in my head, not on my iPad.
“No, it’s fine. You have a lot of questions.”
“And I have many more.” I look outside to check on the weather. It’s not snowing as hard anymore, but I still expect resistance to my next question. “How about we discuss the rest over a walk?”
Faith’s eyes widen as she follows my gaze to the window. “A walk?”
“Yes. The act of physically moving from A to B while putting one foot in front of the other,” I joke. “Do you have walking shoes and a warm coat?”
“But… it’s cold,” she protests.
“We’ll warm up once we start moving.” I get up and wait for her to follow. Miraculously, she agrees and peels herself off her stool. “Come on, and drink a glass of water too. You need to hydrate.”
Chapter 3 – Faith
Walking and talking is an alien concept to me. I always have somewhere to go, somewhere to be, and I never saw the point of walking just for the sake of it. I’d expected to be too hungover to walk, but the fresh air is making me feel better. New York on New Year’s Day makes for a surreal experience. It’s quiet; even most coffee shops are still closed. Last night’s celebrations turned the sidewalks brown and slushy, but now the streets are covered in a beautiful, fresh layer of snow. The city looks so innocent in its virginal white and dormant state, like it’s still waiting for the new year to kick off.
“So, you think you can get me in shape by February nineteenth?” I ask, burying my hands deep in my pockets.
“That depends on you, of course,” Silva says. “But I think you can do it if you’re open and ready for change. You see, this is not just about losing weight or getting fit. That’s only a small part of the work I do. My aim is to make you feel good about yourself. And if you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to make healthy choices. It’s a vicious circle—a positive one.”
“You sound more like a life coach than a personal trainer.”
Silva shrugs. “It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned since I started working as a personal trainer. It may sound cliché, but in the end it’s about how you feel inside, not about how you look.” She picks up her pace a little, and I’m struggling to keep up as my feet keep sinking into the snow. I found a pair of snow boots I’d never used, and my big, fake-fur coat is keeping me warm.
“What other lessons have you learned?” I try not to sound skeptical because to be honest, everything she’s said so far does sound like a total cliché.
“That drastic temporary actions may give direct results, but that small, permanent lifestyle changes have a much bigger effect.” She pauses. “And that the process needs to be fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to stick with it.”
“Sure. That’s what everyone says.” More clichés.
“That’s because it’s true.” Silva looks over her shoulder when I fall behind. “Are we going too fast?”
“Yes,” I say, stopping to catch my breath. “But I have to give it to you. You’re smart. I had no intention of leaving my bed before you arrived, and here I am, plowing through the fucking snow at stupid o’clock.”
Silva laughs. “It’s good to get your heart rate up. You’ll feel the difference when you get home, and you’ll be thankful we did this.” She stops and turns to me. “Are you in a relationship?”
“No,” I say and leave it with that. The last thing I want to talk about is the string of useless men I’ve dated in the past years, or the last one who dumped me just before Christmas.
“Are you recently single?”
I’m not sure why, but the question irritates me. Perhaps because I’ve been trying so hard not to think about that. “Why are you so interested in my love life? I don’t understand what it has to do with getting in shape.”
Silva holds up a hand. “Hey, I’m not hitting on you. I’m just trying to get an idea of your life.”
“I know you weren’t hitting on me.” I frown. “Why would I think that? That’s just—” I swallow my words. Of course. She’s gay. “Oh. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“That’s okay. The reason I asked is because all of this has to do with mindset. If you’ve recently gone through a breakup, your subconscious revenge system may give you an extra kick of motivation. Simultaneously, it’s important to remember that you’re doing this for you and not for someone else.” She beckons me to start walking again. “But you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
I nod and look away, embarrassed that I raised my voice at her. We turn into Maddison Square Park and follow the outer path that circles around it. “My last relationship ended ten days ago,” I finally say after a long silence.
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s very recent.”
“We hadn’t been together for very long,” I say with a sigh. “It wasn’t that serious, so I’m not heartbroken, but I won’t deny that yet another breakup has dented my confidence. I can’t stop wondering what’s wrong with me because I’ve never been in a long-term relationship. It’s New York men, I suppose. They’re all the same, always looking out for someone younger, prettier, richer, and more successful.”
“You sound like my sister. She always complains about New York men. But there are nice men out there. You’re probably just attracted to the wrong kind.”
“It must be a lot easier dating women,” I say.
“I can assure you that dating women is not much different from dating men. Not that I’ve ever tried and tested it with men,” she jokes. “But I believe in faith. Finding a real connection isn’t a given, and it will happen when it happens. I’m not looking or waiting for anything.”
“So you’re single?” I ask.
“Yes. I’ve been single for years.” She winks. “Doesn’t mean I don’t have fun.”
“Oh.” I blush as a vision of Silva kissing another woman flashes before me. She’s very attractive, and I imagine she’s quite popular with the ladies. “I’ve never been into one-night stands.”
“Well, I don’t make a habit of them either, but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional fling.” She speeds up again, and I rush after her. “Now, let’s talk about what you enjoy doing. Because as I said, this has to be fun. Running, yoga, dancing, weightlifting, swimming—it can be anything.”
I take my time to think about that, but nothing comes to mind. “I have no idea. I haven’t tried much, to be honest. Apart from swimming in the ocean, which I love, but that’s kind of challenging in New York.”
Silva laughs and shakes her head. “Wild swimming is about the only thing we can’t do here, but let’s try some different things so you can figure it out as you go along.” She locks her eyes with mine and gives me a beaming smile. “How does that sound?”
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