Men Who Box: A Love Story?

Yesterday I watched him box. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw how he bounced on the floor, sparring with one of the other personal trainers who works at the gym. The personal trainers wear black T-shirts. Rees wears a green one, lime green. Seems like his job is to work the floor, chat to people, see how they’re doing, suggest exercises, rather than being one of the personal trainers who works one-to-one with gym-goers. “Clients,” I heard one guy refer to them, to us.

Rees could be Rhys. A lime-green T-shirt.

He was the first guy who came to talk to me at the gym when I joined about a month ago. I could talk about his T-shirt for a bit, the way he leaves it on the chair by the computers when he changes into his black vest, the vest he wears when he does the GRIT class. Or, like yesterday, when he changed into a grey tracksuit top to box. The green T-shirt is one of those thin running tops, that fabric that is onion-skin thin, weightless, not see-through, but showing the curve of flesh, the points of nipples. It would be so easy to scoop up the T-shirt and put it in my bag. I think about that every time I see it draped over the chair.

Rees likes to talk. It’s unsettling. It makes me think that I don’t chat very much in social settings with straight men. Hardly ever, unless it’s in a shop and the guy’s behind a counter, or my brother, but with him we talk about the faggy stuff: feelings and fucking and family. With Rees I don’t talk about those things. None of the “f” words. Though it’s all I think about when we talk.

“No boxing today?” I said to him this afternoon, on my way to the cross-trainers.

He was standing nearby, waiting for people to turn up for his GRIT class. His boom box ready. His shoulders smooth and soft, his vest sitting lightly against his skin. The way he moves is like gliding, his steps small and unhurried.

“That was pretty intense yesterday,” I said.

There’s a boxing match coming up in the next few weeks; he wants to be ready for it. He’s not very disciplined. He works hard for a month, then lets it slide for a month. He’s 24, worried that he’ll be too old for the Rio Olympics.

“That doesn’t sound old to me,” I say. “I’m forty.”

“Forty?” he says. “You don’t look forty.”

I feel like something out of Gods and Monsters. He is so beautiful, so open, so unguarded, it’s disarming. I’d wanted to stare at him boxing yesterday, the way he moved nimbly, like one second he was on this side of the floor, then the next, in a couple of steps, he was five metres across the mat on the other side of the floor. He bounced. He weaved in and out of shadows. He danced. He was there and then not there, somewhere else. His feet were trampolines, something to bounce off, to propel, not to land, never to land.

We stand and talk and I want to kiss him, to taste him, to hold him. We are the same height, and he is the kind of man I like: young and enthusiastic, funny, slim, smooth, agile, passionate about what he does. And what does he see when he looks at me? Souls speak to each other; he must know who I am, what I want. He smiles without fear, without caution. He jokes with me, enjoys the role of some army nutter when he helps me with my weight exercises, my chin-ups. You can do it! Come on, one more. He stops to chat whenever I’m there, smiles when we pass, asks how I’m doing. It’s weird. If I let myself, I could become quite infatuated, obsessed.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to box, to learn how to fight, to defend myself. I’m not sure where all this is going. It feels like a story, like there’s something there to explore, a lead to follow, a scent to pursue. Ah, if only you’d pick up that T-shirt, you would smell him, you would know what he tasted like in the vulnerable softness of his armpit. Rees.

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