I stepped back and was considering trying the door when it popped open and caught me flush in the face. My hands shot up to my nose and over my eyes as I stepped back, praying I wasn’t bleeding.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” a woman’s voice said.
My nose was throbbing, but I didn’t feel any blood, so I lowered my hands. “It’s okay,” I said. “Not your fault.” She looked to be in her mid forties and had brightly dyed bottle-blonde hair.
“I heard you outside,” she said, eyeing my face. “Are you here to meet someone?”
I rubbed my nose gingerly, but the pain was already going away. “Is this Bigg’s Gym?”
Her eyes brightened. “It is. Are you here to see Hunter?”
How had she guessed? “Yes, actually.”
She smiled wide. “Oh, good! Come in, I’ll go and get him.”
I stepped inside after her and took a seat in what seemed like a waiting area. There was a desk and a computer where I presumed the receptionist—the women who had hit me in the face with the door—did her work. On the wall behind the desk was a sign that read “Bigg’s Gym: Get Bigggg!!!” in red block letters in front of a cartoonishly muscled guy that would make even Popeye the Sailor Man say “Damn, that’s ridiculous!” To the right of the sign was a large black curtain, behind which I heard the sounds of loud music and leather hitting leather. Old black and white pictures of fighters littered the beige walls around the waiting room. Every picture had the same pose: a shirtless guy with big muscles stood with his right hand in a fist just under his chin and a scowl on his face. I looked for a picture of Hunter, but didn’t see one.
Hunter came through the curtain a moment later, followed by the receptionist. They both wore big smiles. He was shirtless and breathing hard, wearing the same small gloves he had worn when I saw him fight at The Bearded Squirrel. When he exhaled, the hard lines of his six pack popped. The way he was sweating made the muscles in his shoulders and chest even more defined as they glistened under the harsh gym light.
Seeing Hunter half-naked, my heart felt like it was bouncing back and forth between my stomach and my throat. “You look happy with yourself,” I said, my voice high.
He nodded and gestured over his shoulder with his head. “Come on, you’re going to love this. Thanks for letting her in, Kristy.”
Kristy beamed. “My pleasure Hunter.” She took her seat at the desk and watched us as we walked into the gym.
I got up and followed him past the curtain. Punching bags were against the wall to my right, and there were several guys practicing wrestling moves on foam mats. In the back was a ring where two guys wearing red foam helmets were sparring with one another.
“Come on over here,” Hunter said as he led the way through the gym. He gestured to the corner of the gym. “Alright, just back there in the corner. There’s Gary, actually.”
Gary was standing over a large cardboard box and grinning like an idiot. We locked eyes as I approached and he gestured me over before pointing to the box.
“Ok, Lorrie,” Hunter said. “This is what I needed you for.”
I peered down into the box and gasped. There were at least six kittens squirming inside, all in different shades of brown with white patches. They were all cuddled up with each other, some awake, some sleeping, and looked as soft as a cloud. I was unwittingly reminded of the black cat that had scared me and made me fall into Lake Teewee. That was when I met Hunter for the first time.
Despite my unluckiness with cats, I broke out in a big smile and squealed at the sight of the cute little creatures. So this was why everyone was grinning like an idiot. Now that I knew, I couldn’t blame them.
“Kittens! Where did these come from?” I said excitedly.
Gary looked at Hunter, who shrugged. “I was on my jog before coming here and they were just sitting along the side of the road in that box. They had a blanket, but it’s really cold outside and I was worried they’d freeze to death before anyone found them, so I picked up the box and brought them here.”
An MMA fighter with tattoos on half his upper body who had such a soft heart he rescued a box of kittens—Hunter was an odd one, I had to give him that.
“Thing is,” Hunter said. “Now I don’t know what to do with them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve never had a pet before, to be honest. Growing up there’s no way my parents were responsible enough for that. Do you know anything about cats?”
My heart sank. “Not really, no. I didn’t have any pets growing up either.”
Hunter’s face fell. “You see imaginary cats but never had one yourself? Odd.”
“Imaginary cats?” Gary asked.
I looked at Gary then glared at Hunter. He was going to let the cat out of the bag—so to speak—about my lake swim.
“Nah, I’m joking,” Hunter said quickly. “It’s nothing. I just thought Lorrie had a bit of cat lady in her, that’s all.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Apparently it’s less than you thought.”
“I mean, how hard could it be?” Gary said. “You feed them and change their litter box, right?”
“Do you want them?” Hunter asked.
“I told you man, I can’t have pets at the frat house. Plus I wouldn’t trust these cute little things around those guys. They’re pretty irresponsible,” Gary said.
“I can’t have them in the dorms,” I said. Even if I was allowed to have them, I wouldn’t want to care for cats with my suitemates. Things were awkward enough with Kate and Petra.
“Okay, fine. I’ll take them,” Hunter said. “But we need to get food and stuff for them because I don’t have anything at my place. Where do I get those?”
“I think there’s a pet store next to the GUESS at the mall,” Gary said.
Hunter and I looked at Gary quizzically. We’d been to the mall that one time when we discovered the theater was closed but it was a big mall and we almost got lost even finding the theater.
“How much time do you spend at the mall?” Hunter asked.
Gary looked between the two of us. “What? I’ve got to look fly for the ladies!”
All three of us laughed.
“Lorrie, want to come with me to the mall?” Hunter asked. “There’s a bus stop like two minutes away. I’m pretty sure that line goes to the mall.”
“It does,” Gary said quickly.
Hunter chuckled. “Okay. Want to come?” he asked me.
Homework could wait when there were kittens that needed care. “Sure, I’ll come.” I said.
“Great.” He turned to Gary. “You can hang out with the kittens for a couple hours, right?”
Gary nodded. “You bet.”
“Okay,” he said, turning to me. “Let’s go.”
We arrived at the mall about a half hour later. Hunter had showered and changed into jeans and a hoodie, his usual nondescript attire. He never failed to look good in anything I’d seen him wear. Neither of us had much of an idea how to get around, so we found a directory kiosk and navigated our way to the pet store from there. The store was as big as a department store and had row after row of supplies for just about any animal you could imagine. We walked over to the aisle labeled CATS and started figuring out what we needed.