A Very Personal Trainer

By: Justine Elyot

Chapter One

* * * *

My life back then was full of someones and somethings— non-specific people and objects who needed my attention in various ways. The trouble was that the someones and somethings appeared to outnumber the units of my attention by a factor of about ten to one. To be frank, things were getting out of hand.

I had let my gym membership slide, my wardrobe was like a rummage sale and any poor dogs needing bones would have been better off canvassing Old Mother Hubbard. My kitchen table was piled high with parking tickets, overdue bill reminders and dog-eared takeaway menus with the phone numbers circled in black marker.

Life was getting away from me, and I didn't like it.

A typical dinner of the period—pasta a la microwave. In other words, some hardened curly things in a blisteringly hot, tasteless sauce. It hardly embodied temptation. Neither did the pile of unironed clothes, the half-finished tax return or the dishes in the kitchen sink. That bottle of Merlot and family-sized tub of Phish Food on the other hand...

No, Lara, no. I would sometimes catch myself off guard in the mirror—pale, pasty, carrying several more pounds than my clothes could handle. My skin was dull and my eyes looked tired. I needed a haircut, but the last time I'd managed to get one I liked was in 2005. The messages on my 8

phone told me that I'd missed a dental check-up and my brother's birthday. The shit was in close proximity to the fan.

I was out of control. I had to do something about it. Quickly.

I opened my handbag and almost shut it again on being confronted with a hundred balled tissues, some capless lipsticks and three metric tonnes of loose change. But I had to brave the shoulder-borne rubbish dump if I was to make any progress, so I let my fingers pluck at the detritus until I unearthed the treasure I sought. The newspaper clipping Shona had given me when we'd met in Starbucks a few days earlier, still intact, not ripped or shredded yet. I'd been ten minutes late for our meeting and she'd been angry—actually really angry, not the kind of eye rolling 'it wouldn't be Lara if she wasn't a bit late' indulgent exasperation. I was hot at the memory of it, and so ashamed of myself.

"Hasn't it ever occurred to you, Lara, that constant lateness is incredibly disrespectful? It says, 'My time is worth more than yours.' Well, guess what? Your time is not worth more than mine. You need to sort yourself out."

"I've tried, Shona, I really have..." I wailed, teary-eyed.

"I know you have." But her face was still grim. Forgiveness was a long way off yet. "You've tried. But your willpower alone isn't enough, is it? Look."

She handed me the clipping.

Special Introductory Offer. Fifty-Percent Off All New-U Life Coaches This Month.

"New-U?" I said, squinting at the advert, which was phrased in that evangelically positive and uplifting type of language I found really irritating.

"Yeah, I know how it looks. I wouldn't have answered that ad either. But I've had an excellent personal recommendation from a friend. She was on the verge of a stress-related illness before she hired one of these people—the change in her is incredible. It's taken ten years off her. And she's given up smoking, too."

"That's...very interesting. I don't smoke, though."

"No, but you are so disorganised it's a wonder you manage to get dressed in the morning."

"Sometimes I don't," I confessed ruefully. "And do you remember that time I forgot to do up the zipper on my—"

"Yes. I remember. And so does every man in that pub."

"I don't mean to be so hopeless..."

"I know. So get help." She softened then, pushing over the rapidly cooling Americano she'd bought in advance of my arrival. "Will you promise me, Lara?"

I mumbled some words that might or might not have been a promise. And, three days down the line, there I was, staring at the clipping, mobile in hand, ready to commit myself to...self-improvement. Ugh. It sounded so goody-goody and smug. I lifted my eyes to the ceiling and noticed that mouldy patch I'd been meaning to get checked out. Right. That's it. I punched in the number, intending to leave a message on their answerphone, but to my consternated surprise, somebody answered the call. Why were they still in the office at seven?

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