Avi followed Mitch down the stairs, then disappeared into the kitchen. Puzzled by this. Mitch hung out in the foyer as he waited for Avi; perhaps he’d misheard something. Seconds later, Avi reappeared with a wooden chair and brought it into the living room. He placed it in the middle of the area rug and said, “Come sit here.” Once Mitch complied, he asked, “So, it’s only a partial tear, right?”
“That’s right,” Mitch answered, keeping still as Avi touched his shoulder. “The doctor said it could have been much worse.”
“For sure.” Grazing the buckles of the sling, Avi explained the agenda: a light range of motion exercises and isometric strengthening. “This one’s gonna be the most painful session, but we’ll also be doing the least, so it’ll be disheartening. That said, you’ll get a massage out of it, which is nice.”
“Well shit, all that for the price of an iced coffee?” He nearly made a comment about being more than fine with pain, but elected not to. It was yet to be determined if that kind of humor would fly, and Mitch didn’t want to push his luck.
“Best bang for your buck, huh?” Once the sling was off, Avi gently pressed his fingers into the shoulder’s tendon, and Mitch hissed. “Tell me if it’s too much, though.”
“You’re good,” Mitch urged him on. “I can handle it.”
“It’s not about ‘handling it’,” snorted Avi, his thumb rubbing slow circles against the shoulder. Chuckling, he added, “Besides, anything going in that direction would cost way more than a coffee.”
“Ah. Heh,” Mitch kept his gaze fixed firmly at his feet, mouth dry and unable to come up with a quip in exchange.
“I’m totally kidding,” Avi clarified while he continued to knead away.
“No, I got that.” He tensed up, frustrated that words no longer came along naturally. It was as though all of the progress he made in learning to behave like a normal human being just…vanished. Except this time he did not want it to be that way, those defense mechanisms were no longer necessary. Avi proved that he did not need to be held at arm’s length, but the tide of self-doubt swept in quickly and washed Mitch far from the safety of the shore and back out to sea.
Humming, Avi’s other hand reached under Mitch’s arm, and he announced that they were going to begin the stretches. Despite the promises of being gentle, every bit of movement still burned. “Typical frozen shoulder,” Avi commented. “Remember, say something if this hurts too much.”
“But we didn’t establish a safe word.” Mitch squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to brute force his way back to dry land.
“Ha. My bad.” Avi’s voice was light and nonchalant, and Mitch loosened up when the mood didn’t changed regardless of the innuendo that he unceremoniously dropped. “Anyway, I don’t have any exercise bands, so for now, I want you to lift your arm and push against this.” He held a hand up at about shoulder height in front of Mitch.
“Oh? We locking up?” joked Mitch. At a glacier’s pace he was able to place his hand against Avi’s, lining the palms up as neatly as he could. While his fingers were longer, Avi’s were so much stronger looking, much like the rest of him. A cannonball in human form.
“Well we’re not dancing,” Avi retorted, then pursed his lips. “I mean, sort of. You know what, why not? It’s kind of a back and forth thing. You take the lead.”
“There’s no music.” Mitch looked up, and applied weak pressure to Avi’s palm. It didn’t budge. And even though he didn’t think that Avi was flexed at all, his forearm and bicep were still massive in comparison to his own.
“You want me to sing Backstreet Boys again? Because I will,” offered Avi.
“That’s alright,” Mitch shook his head, and forced himself to look anywhere other than at the arm. He was already self-conscious enough, and the envy that he experienced around Avi was already potent enough. Then, a thought came to him. “Hey, do you think after this is healed, you could help me try to put on some muscle?”
Avi lit up. “Yeah man! Part of my job is personal training. You could actually get started on leg stuff today, if you wanted. Maybe a few core exercises as well. But for now, keep pushing my hand.”
“Right.” He gave another attempt: still weak, still painful.
“Tell you what,” continued Avi. “You let me use you as a pet project, I’ll waive the copay. I’d like to have some concrete evidence to show Victor and Jodie that I’m worth keeping around.”
“Sure, go ahead and use me.” That made Avi crack up; in the same moment, Mitch reached the point that he couldn’t push anymore. “I don’t think you have to worry about them, though. They both really like you.”
“That’s well and good, but I’ve never had an official trainer job at a school. And I really gotta make an effort to keep this one.” His voice dropped slightly, tinged with an actual seriousness to it, then switched back to the usual easy-going disposition. “Anyway, I think we’re done for today. Sit tight,” he pat Mitch’s knee then stood up and hitched a thumb in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m gonna go grab an ice pack for you.”