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Chapter Nine

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"Aren't we going to have music?" Marietta tilted her head back as though peering over glasses, head-librarian-like, at Michelle. "Usually we have music to listen to."

"I know." Michelle held herself against fidgeting, nervous under the gaze of the dozen or so waiting people. "But Bryan can't make it today so I'm going to lead the class."

"What's this got to do with music?" Marietta, though trying to be patient, had a way of barking even simple questions that made Michelle want to flinch.

"I don't..." She twisted the edge of her exercise top, trying to figure out how to say: her phone only held incredibly dorky music. The last time she'd let someone play her collection of personal favourites over speakers was at a college house-party. Her cheeks burned just remembering. Marietta, still waiting, squinted at her, confused. "I don't know that what I have on my phone is good enough for working out." It came out as a confession; she let her hands drop.

"Really?" One of the younger women—a friend of Lucy's, apparently, new and eager—crouched over Michelle's phone where it was plugged into the wall, flipping through the music app with reckless abandon for personal space issues. "There's a playlist here called 'peppy work music'."

"Oh, no, that's—" Michelle's hasty defense was cut off by Marietta's hairy eyeball and dismissing wave.

"See? It'll be fine. It can't be anything worse than what my monkeys listen to."

The crouching woman pressed shuffle. The music blasted out of the tinny speakers.

All eyes rested on Marietta for judgement; she tentatively bopped her henna'd head to the music, awaiting the lyrics. Then: "—what the hell is this?"

"It's... from the soundtrack to Macross Plus," Michelle answered, her head low, cradled in her hands.

"It's the what? What the hell is that?"

"Omigod, I remember Macross Plus!" Another one of Lucy's friends piped up with an excited squeal. "My brother used to rent it from Blockbuster sometimes!"

"What's...?" Marietta pleaded across the floor to Dolores, who was stretching. "What are they saying?"

"They're singing in Japanese," the anime fan retorted, with rolled eyes. "Come on, you said you wanted to get moving—so let's do the work-out already!" A chorus of "yeahs!" followed her and Marietta shrugged.

Michelle shook herself loose. Class was only a half-hour. And the point of her "peppy work" playlist was that it was full of music with a good beat that she put on when she needed to work late and keep herself awake. "Okay, let's do this—we'll start with jumping jacks for two minutes... and... go!"

Macross Plus; Neon Genesis Evangelion; Love Hina; a lot of Cowboy Bebop. Marietta, by far the oldest in the group, seemed the most confused, but conceded it was at least effective music to exercise to. Lucy and her friends—all young, clearly familiar with anime if not outright fans—took turns guessing at what they considered "vintage" soundtracks, and one or two even sang along with a lot of wheezy laughter.

For Michelle, the residual feelings of embarrassment from that college party started to fade, overwritten by a growing sense of camaraderie. She grinned, announcing the next round, and then noticed someone standing by the desk.


He must have come in while she was turned around, demonstrating the last move set, and there was no one at the desk. He gave a little wave.

"You okay, hon?" Marietta called to Michelle over the music. "You're supposed to be in better shape than all of us!" Much good-natured laughter. Michelle forced a grin, determinedly focused on leading the routine, and not on the cute barista who was—oh god—listening to a gym class doing jumping jacks to the Sailor Moon theme song.

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