The morning light inched over the fence line, nudging Travis awake from his fitful sleep. The icy cement could be felt through his thin sleeping bag, causing Travis’s teeth to chatter with uncontrollable shivers.
Groaning, Travis pulled himself up into a sitting position. His bones ached and his stomach growled, angrily urging him to eat something, anything. Hands trembling, Travis reached into his backpack and pulled out an energy bar and a bottle of water. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. For now.
It didn’t take long to clean up his camp. Travis had learned a long time ago to pack light. One day, he dreamed of owning a beautiful home where he could enjoy the luxury of space and storage, but for now, he packed only the essentials.
Travis yawned, stretched, and shouldered his backpack. Day labor was closed today, so it was time to go to his favorite place in the world: the gym.
Arriving, Travis allowed the gym’s ambience to embrace him. It was always loud inside, but he loved it. The sounds of music, gym machines, and people energized him. The gym’s manager, Rob, greeted Travis with a warm smile. Smiling back, Travis scanned his gym ID and entered through the turnstiles, walking tall for the first time in days. He was human here. Just another gym-goer.
In the locker room, Travis showered before changing into his gym clothes. The hot water felt good running down his back, washing away the dirt and sweat from the last few days. After brushing his teeth, he packed his belongings back into his backpack and locked everything in one of the free lockers. Seeing himself in the mirror, he smiled. His dark hair was clean and combed over to one side, and his tan skin glowed after being freshly bathed.
To Travis’s disappointment, the weight room was packed. The only machine open was the rowing machine. It would have to do for now. Anyhow, anything was better than the cold sidewalk outside. Hand towel thrown over one shoulder, Travis began strolling towards the rowing machine. Without thought, he began happily whistling a tune his father used to whistle when he was a small child.
Shoulders tight, Travis turned towards the call and came face to face with a tall, muscular man in a black tank top that boldly stated “Beast” in red across the chest and a blood red fanny pack around his waist.
“I know you,” the beast said, dark eyes glaring down on Travis.
The patrons nearest the two glanced in their direction, curious at the sudden tension that was building.
“Sorry?” Travis replied. He kept his face neutral, but his hands pulled into small, sweaty fists at his side. Perspiration sprouted along his neck and spine.
“I know you. You’re the guy that sits near the overpass with that sign, asking for money.”
Travis took a small step back. Truth was, he made most of his money from day labor, but it wasn’t always available. Sometimes you could wait for hours in the lobby and still not get any work. There were times when Travis had been forced to eat his pride and beg, but he always preferred work over handouts.
“I don’t mean anybody harm. I’m just here to exercise, like everybody else.”
The beast cocked his head to one side, squinting hard at Travis now.
“You know, people like you make me sick. You’re out there begging for money, but you have a gym membership? I bet you aren’t even homeless, are you?”
Travis’s mouth widened at the accusation. His heart pounded against his chest, urging him to leave. Just run. But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He was tired of running.
“I don’t need to explain myself to you. I have as much of a right to be here as anybody.”
Travis turned away, resolved, ignoring the stares of the other members that had stopped to watch the interaction. He took a shaky step in the direction of the rowing machine, but before he could take another a shot of pain on the right side of his head knocked him to the ground.
Blackness engulfed him, but for a few seconds, he could still hear the commotion. Scraping metal as people rushed to exit the machines, the scurry of footfalls, and a clamor of yelling and cursing. Then nothing.
Travis’s head throbbed as he slowly opened his eyes to the bright fluorescent lights. Somebody had moved him after he’d lost consciousness, and he was now lying in the manager’s office on a makeshift cot. Rob was sitting nearby, watching him.
“You took quite a hit there,” he said, handing Travis an icepack.
Travis didn’t respond. He had a feeling he was about to lose his gym membership. A pain worse than the one in his head began to build in his chest, but he wouldn’t cry. Not in front of this man.
“You may need to go to the hospital, have that checked out for a concussion.”
Travis gave a slight nod, jaw tight.
“If you want, I can call the paramedics.”
“No thank you.” Travis stared hard at the floor. He should never have joined the gym. He didn’t belong here anyhow. He didn’t belong anywhere anymore.
“Hey. Travis, right? I heard a little about what happened up there. I want you to know that we have banned the other member.”
Eyebrows raised, Travis glanced at Rob. That was unexpected.
“Also, another member told me about your situation.”
This was it, Travis thought. It’s all over.
“I see you come and go, and you seem like a good guy. I want to help you. We’ve been looking for a new front desk clerk. I think you’d be just right for the job. If you’re interested, that is…”
Tears began forming like little riverbeds in Travis’s eyes, but he wiped them away hastily.
Looking up, Travis met Rob’s eyes.
“Yes sir, I would like that very much,” Travis said, smiling.