p, up, up, come on, press, four, five, six ...” Georgios shouted, as he wove among his Sunday body-sculpting class on a frigid summer night in San Francisco in 1984. The fifteen of us were flat on our backs with our legs straight up in the air, a hodgepodge of botched letter “L”s. “Give me twenty-five more, come on. Show me what you’re made of!” “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” blared from the speakers.

Thank God Cheryl, the owner of Mirror Image, hadn’t put them on the ceiling, I thought, catching a glimpse of my imperfect body in one of the studio’s wall-to-wall mirrors as a tar-like moisture rose from the sweaty foam mat.

Next thing I knew, the Greek God was towering over me. His handsome head hung down, spinning off piles of corkscrew, shoulder-length flaxen curls. Rapunzel, the hair her lover climbed up. His expansive, androgynous face, pinned together by hazel eyes, was large in proportion to his perfectly-toned medium frame. I thrust my pelvis up toward his loose, sexy lips. Oh, Georgios, take me, loop those lips around me like a lasso, tie and hog — though I knew, throughout my crazed internal rant that he was strictly off limits, being gay.

“Girls, girls! and, oh, guy — sorry — now don’t let up, keep up the pace. Here’s where the rubber meets the road.” Georgios was a talker. I liked it.

A flat plane, his left hand floated an inch above the bottoms of my raised feet. “Push, now, push, higher. Breathe, don’t forget to breathe. Come on up to my hand!” And then, in a soft, downy voice, he leaned closer, “What’s your name?” A wavy snake of pleasure slid up and down my abdomen in response.

“Julie,” I half-grunted, half-whispered as I struggled to reach his hand. No pain, no gain, no pain, no gain.

“Julie,” commanded my master, “come on, lift from your hips, your core strength. Don’t use those hands and arms — don’t cheat! Good, good, there you go.”

But I had cheated. I had done my hip-lifts incorrectly just to get his attention. Selfish girl, I told myself. But then I figured, it doesn’t matter. Georgios made time for everyone — the frail, the fat, the hopelessly unfit. He made you feel as if your abs, your buttocks, your inner thighs were the most important in the whole world. In his gaze, you were queen for a day, and what is better than that?

For a moment, the studio and its kaleidoscope of mirrored images recedes and we are alone together. “You don’t even know me,” I tell him, “yet you care. You are so good to me. Why?”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Georgios answers, smiling, cradling me in his kindness.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me ... These words my father recited from the Bible come to mind.

Our commander-in-chief in this war to rescue our bodies proclaimed, “This is one of the best exercises to build up those upper abs. Do it for me if not for yourself — show me what you can do.”

While Georgios switched the tape, I heard someone say, “I really get depressed seeing all these gorgeous gay guys around the city.” I sat up on my elbows to locate the selfish woman who made this insensitive remark. Georgios deserves better!

“All right, let’s do a second set,” he said as he stalked us, lording over his pride.

“Ugh!” and “Yuk!” and other assorted moans circulated through the room.

“Don’t be a sissy,” I thought I heard someone say.

I copped a look at his lithe, curvaceous legs, laced in baby-fine brown hair, legs that any runway model would die for. I drooled. What a waste — such legs on a man!

“Come on, baby. Give it your all, let it all hang loose.” Georgios, our little tyrant. “Push, push past your pain. Nice, very nice work!”

“Did Georgios quit?” I asked Cheryl, his name absent from the schedule for over a week. His knock-out head shot had been moved from the group of instructors’ pictures to a cameo position behind the desk.

“Georgios,” she said, sitting up and looking pinched, “Georgios, um, he, like, he died,” she told me, her voice trailing off.

“Oh, God! How? In an accident? How?” I hugged the desk as my body went vague beneath me, and I looked up at his breathtaking smile.

“No way was he going to let his body go. He’d worked so hard on it. What a hunk, huh? Couldn’t stand the idea of wasting,” explained Cheryl.

She told me the whole story, how he had been too afraid to get tested, so by the time he found out that he was HIV-positive, he had full-blown AIDS. My heart beat hard against its cage.

“Are you ok?” I heard her say.

“Oh, yes, sorry,” I responded.

“We got him the, ya know, pills we promised. Last Saturday night, we had a candlelit dinner party for him, all his close friends, real intimate. And then, around midnight, he said goodbye, hugged us all, and went to bed.”

“Wasn’t there anything, any, uh ...” I stuttered.

She questioned me with her eyes but went on. “He looked his beautiful self and so peaceful when we tucked him in. What a ..., we all miss him so,” and Cheryl choked up, while I remained inert.

“Did you know Georgios well?” she asked.

“I, uh ...” and she let me off the hook before I could respond that I had only been attending his Sunday night class for six months.

When no one was looking, I walked up to his picture. I don’t get it. Didn’t you understand that you were more than a body? How could you take such good care of all of us and kill yourself? I breathed onto the photo as if to give him breath. Hear me, feel me. Come back.

A few months after hearing about his death, fatigued, I could barely get through my morning spot-exercise routine. I can’t do this, I can’t do this anymore. I stopped in the middle of my hip-lifts on my living-room rug and waited helpless as a baby for its mother.

If Georgios were here, he’d inspire me. But, who was this stranger who troubled with my abs and thighs a month before he died? He lingered in my mind, but I wasn’t sure why.

I imagined him hovering over me. Georgios, oh Georgios! Hi! Hi, it’s me, Julie! He started right in with a wink, not missing a beat: “OK, you’re coming in for the home stretch now, so go for it, Julie, show me your stuff. Let me see those muscles work.” I pushed hard, but was weak, as sweat and tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt ridiculous, as if I were exercising with a ghost. But, Georgios turned “Work Me Down” up full blast, and I did it for both of us.

Copyright © Janice J. Heiss 2003. Title graphic: "Reflex" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2003.