Chapter 4

It's not that Bryce wanted to leave Karina's place - but he knew he'd better in order not to ruin any chance of a future with her (as slim as that was).

They'd meet in the morning at Panther's Gym for their workouts and occasionally they'd walk across the street to Johnny C's for coffee (well, water and a banana for him) before work. On snowy or other inclement days, Bryce gave Karina rides to the gym or work.

Karina hadn't been skiing in years and Bryce, of course, had never been to the slopes, so he agreed to drive her to Mt. Snow on a semi-dare where they rented equipment and took to the beginner's trail with mostly eight years old novices but after a few hours when Bryce realized he could actually stay standing and keep his balance and stop at the bottom of the little hill, he joined Karina on the intermediate trail and he didn't kill himself on that level either.

"You can't image how freeing this feels," Bryce said after one particular run. "As a fat person, I could barely even stand up and now here I am, another Jean-Claude Killy!"

"We can do anything now," Karina said proudly.

When the weather got better, Karina took her workouts outside and Bryce started jogging with her but he had to take it slow while she was already running at five mile clips. He'd drop out after the first mile or so and walk until Karina returned but in time he was able to increase his distance.

"Another milestone success," he said happily.

Three months after first bumping into each other at Panther's Gym, the former fat guy and the recovering alcoholic had proven that they could maintain their progress while getting to know each other.

Karina started dropping by Bryce's house during her runs and she was the one who urged him to redecorate the place so it didn't look quite so much like his parent's home. She's also the one who broached the idea of perhaps giving up her apartment and moving in with him.

"But we haven't even been intimate," Bryce said with surprise.

"Yes, why is that?" Karina inquired with interest as they sat in his living room drinking ice water after a Saturday morning run.

"I've been waiting all my life for someone who could bring hope into my life," he said.

"Is that me?" She asked nervously.

"I fear you still see me as a fat person," Bryce admitted. "That I'm always going to be trapped by my past."

"Do you still see me as a drunk?" Karina wanted to know.

"Of course not," he stated.

"I never saw you as a fat person even when you were a fat person," Karina revealed.

"I find that hard to believe," Bryce countered.

"You were the best boss I ever had," Karina told him. "You're one of the nicest guys I've ever known. You're no different now then you were then."

Bryce was left speechless by her revelation.

"I never saw myself as likable or decent as a fat person," he said quietly after some silence went by.

"That's because you were hiding behind it just like I was hiding in the bottle," Karina said knowingly.

"For the first time in my life, I feel like the person who was always inside of me is now on the outside of me too."

"How does that make you feel?" Karina asked.

"Afraid," he admitted.

"You know, I haven't had a lot of sober sex the past twenty years," Karina let him know. "So I'm pretty nervous too."

"I learned to live without it," Bryce confessed.

"I've been in a mild panic about this," Karina remarked. "Trying to muster up the courage to put the moves on you when I realized you were timid about it."

"I wanted to make sure it was real," he told her.

"I realize I'm not longer the sensual sexual person I was when I was younger," Karina replied. "But I am in touch with my emotions and my desires."

"You never forget how to have sex," Bryce said.

"Or what it feels like when it's real," she smiled.

"Have we been dating all along?" Bryce wondered "Has this been a romance of sorts?"

"I wanted to jump in bed with you that first night you came over for dinner," Karina confessed. "But I'm glad we didn't. It's been a nice romance."

"So what do we do now?" Bryce asked. "Go upstairs and take off our clothes?"

"How 'bout the bathroom and take off our clothes to take a shower first?" She smiled. "We just ran three miles."

She got off the couch and started for the stairs and Bryce followed, feeling lighter than air – as if all the weight had been lifted from his shoulders – and the rest of his body.

As for Karina, who was enticing him by stripping her clothes off as she headed up the stairs, she felt like a sober happy woman who had found love in the most obvious place she could have imagined.

"I'll trade half of me for all of naked you," Bryce quipped as they finished undressing in the bathroom.

"Deal," Karina giggled as she nakedly leaned in to turn the shower spray on.