Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5(7)

By: JJ Knight

I nod.

“Come back tomorrow at eight,” he says. “I’ll show you around.”

He walks back over to the workers, and I stand there a minute, dumbfounded.

I have a job.

Chapter Four

Buster’s outside the next morning, sticking the Help Wanted sign back on the window. I guess he’ll be hiring someone else too. This makes me feel better. I won’t be the only new employee.

He nods at me and opens the door. He towers over me, but he’s friendly in a teddy-bear way. “All right, Jo, let’s go over some things.”

We’re back in the lemony front room. I still half expect Grandma to show up with her rag and spray can. I wish she could.

Buster rubs his bald head. “I’ve got equipment coming in daily and no place to put it yet.” He points behind the front counter. “There’s a stack of boxes with sandbag weights in that corner. Open ’em up and organize the bags by size along one of the walls of the main room.”

He leads me to the doorway of the weight room and points. “Over there.”

I peer inside. Colt is in one corner, squatting with a bar on his shoulders. The discs on both ends are enormous and stacked deep. His thighs bulge as he prepares to stand. His eyes are squeezed shut in concentration, or pain. Or both.

Buster clears his throat. “So it’s like that? I reckon you better keep it on the down low in the gym.”

I straighten. “I’m sorry?” I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Buster looks disgusted. “I figured Colt would bring on his girls. But if all you’re doing is mooning over him all day, you’re not going to be much use to me.”

Oh, God. “I’m sorry. I was just —”

“I know what you are just.” He swears under his breath. “Move on and get those weights. Colt wants you beefed up. We’ll get you beefed up.” He stalks through the weight room and past the plastic into the new addition where we met yesterday.

I turn back around and head to the boxes. My face is on fire. He thinks I’m one of “Colt’s girls.” I don’t know what sort of girl Colt normally brings on, but I’m guessing they aren’t just to move weights around.

With a quick jerk I tear open the top box. Soft round discs filled with sand are layered inside. They say eight pounds. I lift one. Not bad, so I take four.

I cross back into the weight room, making sure I don’t look Colt’s way. His girls. Whatever. I’m grateful for the job, but not that grateful.

The wall Buster directed me to is thankfully on the opposite side of the room.

A girl sits on a red padded bench near the wall. Her elbow is propped on her knee, and she’s working a little hand weight like there’s no tomorrow. A half dozen guys are working out on Colt’s side.

I bend down to stack the eights in a nice neat pile. It’s going to be the prettiest, most organized row of sandbags ever made. I’ve spent twenty years not looking at men. I need to get back to my own personal status Jo, as Zero likes to call it. He doesn’t ask why I don’t date, don’t trust men. And I don’t ever say. I left all that behind three years ago, and it hasn’t caught up to me yet.

I head back for a load of ten-pound bags and take three. Not bad. I can do this.

The next box starts with fourteens. My arms are a little shaky, so I just take two. The gym has quieted down. Colt is still somewhere on the other side, lifting with a random guy.

I stagger a little by the time I’m up to the twenties. The two boxes on bottom are bigger. I have a bad feeling about how far up they are going to go. I picture Buster’s snide look. It’s a test. I won’t fail.

I think about all the crap bosses I’ve had over the years. There was Minnie, the head waitress at a diner where I got my first job clearing tables. She used to yell she was going to “box my ears” if I didn’t hustle. I was seventeen and scared to death of her. I was a real mouse in that job, scurrying around, afraid of everything.

That was one of the jobs I had to quit over a hurricane moment. It had been an ordinary shift. I left out the back and a bunch of cook staff was in the alley, smoking. They got to saying things about me. “Girl, I want your ass.” They went on, but I had to block it out so I wouldn’t blow.

When I cut through them, somebody grabbed my shoulders from behind. That’s the trigger. Always has been.

I don’t remember what all I did, but I do know I made two of them bleed out the nose. I never went back, not even for my last paycheck.

My back is screaming. I drop the weight on the floor. The sand doesn’t make much of a sound, just a light thud.