Gaara leaned against the back counter, arms crossed over his apron as he surveyed the various spandex clad people coming and going through the tiled reception area. The constant clinking of weights and whirr of treadmills drowned out most of the upbeat, top-20 music coming through the speakers at the campus gym (for which Gaara was extremely thankful), the ever-present smell of feet wafting through the warm air.
The in-house smoothie bar where Gaara had been placed for his work-study program was generally pretty slow, which gave him plenty of people-watching opportunity when he needed a break from his Ethnobotany textbook. Looking past the front desk to the sea of spin bikes and weight machines always felt like peeking into a completely different world, and his main thought most days was simply, why?
Sure, maybe if he worked out a bit, his back wouldn’t crack whenever he stood up, but at what cost? From the grunts he heard echoing through the facility, weightlifting was some sort of torture (the machines looked suspiciously medieval), and the sweat-drenched zombies that stumbled off the ellipticals did not make cardio look like something that would bring joy to his life.
Plus, there was no way Gaara would ever be caught dead in stretchy pants. From his observations over the past week, spandex was somehow an integral component of workouts. There was so much lightweight, sweat wicking, anti-friction fabric in the building that Gaara worried one errant spark would light the place up.
“’Sup, Smoothie Wench!”
And then there was his brother.
Kankurou strode up to the bar in what had once been a black hoodie before he’d hacked the arms off of it, a pair of black, similarly cut-off sweatpants that displayed his, frankly impressive amount of leg hair, and a pair of purple Crocks.
“You’re not seriously here to work out, are you?” Gaara asked, raising a non-existent brow.
“Not with this many hotties roamin’ around,” Kankurou said, openly ogling a girl’s backside as she walked by. “I mean, a man’s gotta have his priorities straight.”
Gaara rolled his eyes.
“If you get kicked out, I don’t know you.”
“But if I don’t, you’re gonna sling me one of those chocolate peanut butter thingys on the ‘family tab’, right?” Kankuro said, giving Gaara a pointed look.
“Depends on how charitable I’m feeling. And how spectacularly you fail.”
“You’re the best!” Kankuro called, raising a hand in farewell as he headed for the gym floor. “Extra chocolate!”
Gaara sighed as he watched his older brother sidle up to one of the treadmills, trying to engage the obviously uninterested occupant in conversation. As predicted, all he got was a glare and some harsh-looking response before he decided to move on, undeterred.
Gaara’s gaze continued to wander over the many other energetic, moist gym occupants. He had no idea what Kankurou saw in these people. True, most of them were attractive in a tanned, healthy sort of way, but from the interactions he’d had with customers so far, most of them were obnoxious frat boys or Instagram-obsessed girls who agonized over their smoothie ingredients and didn’t tip.
Gaara’s eyes fell on a particularly buff guy at the leg press machine, sweat slicking black bangs to his forehead as his face contorted with exertion. The pin was set at the bottom plate, which must have been at least 500 lbs, and Gaara watched with morbid fascination as the muscles in the man’s thighs bulged beneath his shorts with each rep, his abdominals tight where they were revealed by his crop top. Gaara had to admit that his job did occasionally have its benefits.
The man appeared to finish his set, slumping his head back and breathing heavily for a moment. Gaara let his eyes roam over the golden column of his taut neck, idly thinking that he wouldn’t mind licking the light sheen of sweat off of it. As the man finally stood up and wiped his brow, Gaara’s daydream was shattered when he got a good look at the words on the front of his top:
Make Them 💦
Gaara grimaced at the allusion. Of course, a guy that ripped would wear such a disgusting shirt. His theory confirmed once again, Gaara sighed, pushing off the counter as a group of chattering girls approached, and he pulled out the nutritional facts binder in preparation to detail the calorie counts in mango versus kiwi.
An hour later, Gaara was nose deep in the traditional uses of opuntia for diabetes, highlighter in hand, when he heard someone clear their throat.
“Excuse me, are you open?”
Gaara glanced up from his textbook to see the same black-haired guy from the leg press machine at the counter, towel slung around his neck and a gym bag over his shoulder.
“Sorry, yeah,” Gaara said, closing his texstbook. “What can I get you?”
“I am not sure actually,” The man said, looking at the menu with his chin in his hand. “I forgot to pack a post-workout snack and have to head to class, do you have anything healthy with some protein?”
“Most of the stuff is pretty healthy as long as you don’t go overboard with the add-ons. And you can add protein powder to any of the smoothies if you want.”
The guy had thrown a green, unzipped hoodie on over his crop top, but the explicit phrase was still clearly visible, and Gaara couldn’t help his nose scrunching in distaste. Oblivious, the man continued to scan the smoothie options, thick eyebrows furrowed in contemplation.
“A lot of guys get the Oh Kale, Yeah,” Gaara suggested flatly, trying to move the transaction along
“Oh, I do not like to curse.”
Gaara blinked. That seemed…contradictory coming from someone whose workout gear suggested he wanted to bring people to orgasm.
“Or the Extreme Green?” Gaara offered tentatively. “It’s not as sweet but it’s got, like, six different fruits and vegetables in it.”
“That sounds excellent!” The man’s round eyes lit up as a wide grin split his face. “A large one of those with extra protein powder please!”
Slightly taken aback by the man’s demeanor, Gaara went about making the smoothie, dumping a bag of frozen produce into the blender along with almond milk and two scoops of protein powder. Gaara glanced over his shoulder as the blender whirred, seeing the man waiting patiently at the counter and giving Gaara a smile when their eyes met. It was a bit unnerving.
“Here you go,” Gaara said, placing a large cup of green liquid with a straw down on the counter. “That’ll be $8.25.”
The man rummaged around in his gym bag before placing a ten-dollar bill in Gaara’s outstretched hand.
“Do you have a stamp card?” Gaara asked out of habit.
“No, what does that do?”
“Buy ten large smoothies and you get one free,” Gaara said, plucking a blank card out from beside the till and stamping one of the empty boxes with an image of a banana.
“Wonderful! I will have to come back then!” The man said, taking the card from Gaara’s hand but leaving the coins there. “Keep the change!”
“Uh, thanks,” Gaara said, dropping the coins into the tip jar with a loud clink.
“Thank you for your help!” The guy said, grabbing his smoothie and taking a sip. “Mmm! Delicious!” He exclaimed.
Gaara gave an awkward nod, a bit disoriented by the entire interaction as the surprisingly polite man with the offensive wardrobe headed out the door.
Gaara noticed the strange man again two days later in the free weight area, and couldn’t help but keep glancing back at him throughout his shift. The guy was wearing a loose tank top this time, which showed off his toned arms as he did long sets of exercises, curling huge dumbbells towards his chest or pushing them up over his head. He didn’t grunt or drop the weights when he was done like many of the other guys, which was a nice change, and Gaara was especially appreciative when the man knelt a leg on one of the benches and bent over for one exercise, giving Gaara an excellent view of his perfect posterior.
Unfortunately, once again the top the guy was wearing had a not-so-subtle crude phrase on it:
🍌 🍆 🌽
Why did all the hot guys have to be so gross! And why did they have to broadcast their sexual urges to the world? Couldn’t they just repress them like Gaara had for his entire post-pubescent life? Sure, daydreaming and creepily staring wasn’t quite as fulfilling, but at least he wasn’t wearing clothing about sucking dicks! It wasn’t like that guy would need any help getting someone into bed, Gaara thought, thinking about how those strong arms would feel wrapped around his waist.
Gaara shook his head to rid himself of the pointless thought, and set about scrubbing the counter with renewed dedication.
Deciding to take his frustrations out in a more productive manner, Gaara had finished deep cleaning the sinks and was working on wiping out the fridge when he heard a familiar voice.
Gaara turned, sponge in hand, to meet the guy he had so recently been daydreaming about.
“Oh, hey. Did you forget a snack again?”
“You remembered!” The guy exclaimed, his thick lower lashes sweeping against his cheek as he smiled. “Actually, the smoothie you made me last time was so delicious I thought I would try another! What do you recommend?”
“The Legend-berry is pretty popular, or the Tropic Like It’s Hot.”
Gaara winced at having to say such horrible puns in front of such an attractive man, vulgar shirts or not.
“What is your favourite?”
“Mine? I uh, like the Matcha Peachu.”
“I will try that one then! With extra protein powder please!”
Gaara once again collected the ingredients for the smoothie, feeling the man’s eyes watching him as he worked.
“$8.25,” Gaara said, placing the drink down when it was finished. “Do you have your stamp card?”
“Oh, yes!” The man said, placing the card down for Gaara to stamp, along with two bills. “Keep the change!”
The man took a sip of the smoothie, round eyes lighting up. “Mmm! Excellent!” He gave Gaara an enthusiastic thumbs up. “I am Lee by the way,” He said, holding out a hand.
Gaara shook it tentatively.
“Well, I hope to see you again soon, Gaara! Have a great day!”
Gaara and Lee fell into a bit of a routine after that, Lee coming in every other day to workout, Gaara covertly watching him as he did, and then the two of them exchanging small-talk when Lee stopped by for his post-workout smoothie.
Gaara learned that Lee was on the track team, at the university on a full-ride scholarship and studying kinesiology. He was a bit of a health nut (obviously), lived with two roommates who he had been friends with since high school, and despite trying anything that Gaara suggested his favourite smoothie was still the Extreme Green.
Gaara also got to experience Lee’s repertoire of workout tops. The majority of them had some sort of saying on them, and while a few were fairly tame (Suns out Guns Out, Quad Goals), Gaara was still shocked by some of the innuendos on some of them.
Despite the gross sayings, Gaara still found himself looking forward to his chats with Lee. In person, Lee was polite and happy, always complimenting Gaara on his smoothie-making abilities and tipping generously. Once, when Gaara was handing back Lee’s stamp card, their fingers had connected for just a second too long, and Gaara’s stomach had done a little flip until he focused again on Lee’s shirt, which that day simply had 👉👌 on it.
It was all very confusing. He couldn’t tell if Lee was genuinely nice and just had horrible taste in clothing, or if he was one of those guys who acted nice at first and deep down was really a disgusting caveman.
Gaara was once again trying to figure Lee out as he watched him warm up on the treadmill (even if he did turn out to be a douche, there was no harm in looking) when Kankurou stepped off the gym floor and slumped his head into his arms on the counter.
“Man, chicks really don’t recognize quality when they see it!”
“Shocking. And get your head off the counter, I just cleaned it.”
“I think the only thing that will soothe my soul right now is the sweet, sweet taste of chocolate and peanut butter swirling in a passionate orgy of deliciousness in my mouth.”
“Ugh, if you put it like that there’s no way I’m making you one.”
“Please!” Kankurou pleaded, reaching over the counter and pinching Gaara’s cheek between his fingers. “My heart is broken and you’re the only one who can fix it!”
Gaara swatted his brother’s hand away. “Get off!”
“Come oooonnn!” Kankurou whined, grabbing Gaara’s apron to keep him from moving away.
“Gaara, is this gentleman bothering you?”
Gaara and Kankurou looked up to find Lee standing nearby, still flushed from obviously just getting off the treadmill, his eyebrows furrowed in a glare at Kankurou.
“Who the hell are you?” Kankurou asked.
“Let go of him right now or you and I are going to have a problem,” Lee said sternly, taking a step towards Kankurou and towering over him.
“Lee, it’s okay, he’s my brother,” Gaara said, as Kankurou let go of his apron and took a step back.
Lee’s eyebrows shot up.
“Your brother? Oh, I am so sorry, I thought he was harassing you!”
“He was. I’m used to it though.”
“Sorry about that,” Lee apologised, reaching a hand out for Kankurou to shake. “Rock Lee.”
“Kankurou. And no worries, not the first time someone wanted to kick my ass and doubt it’ll be the last!”
The three men stood there for an awkward beat, Gaara secretly flattered that Lee had come to his defense, but trying to avoid the curious look Kankurou was obviously trying to give him.
“Welp,” Kankurou announced, finally giving up. “I’d better dip, this place is tapped out today. Nice to meet ya Lee, love the shirt by the way.”
“Oh thank you!” Lee said, puffing his chest out to proudly display his Eat More 🍑 tank top. “It was nice to meet you too.”
“Us ass-men gotta stick together, amirite?”
“Pardon?” Lee said incredulously, his face flushing.
“I’m just sayin’ you have good taste. Anyway, later Blender Boy,” Kankurou said to Gaara, “I’ll expect an apology smoothie when you get home.”
He sauntered out the door, leaving an annoyed Gaara and an extremely confused Lee behind.
“W-what was he saying about my shirt?” Lee asked.
“Oh, he loves stuff like that,” Gaara said, gesturing to Lee’s shirt. “I have no idea how we’re related most of the time.”
“Stuff like this? You mean fruit?” Lee’s brows were scrunched so closely together in confusion it looked like they were about to merge into one ultimate eyebrow.
“No, the innuendo,” Gaara said flatly. “That you like ass?”
“I beg your pardon?” Lee exclaimed, his face going beet red.
“The peach emoji,” Gaara continued. “It’s a euphemism for butt.”
“What!?!” Lee yelped. “So, so I’ve been walking around all day suggesting that I like – oh NO!!!”
Gaara tried to supress the chuckle that was trying to escape his throat. Was Lee really that oblivious? If so it was incredibly adorable and Gaara was definitely in trouble.
“I just thought it meant ‘Eat More Peaches’! They’re full of vitamins!” Lee cried. “Oh god,” he said quietly, eyes growing wide. “Do all emojis have hidden meanings?”
“Some of them, yeah. Like that one you wore the other day,” Gaara said making an okay symbol with one hand and gesturing at it with his other index finger.
“Does it not mean 'You Are Perfect'?”
“Uh, no. It’s a gesture for intercourse.”
“Oh my god!” Lee covered his extremely red face with his hands.
“Or that one with the eggplant, and the banana, and the cob of corn. Those are all symbols for penis.”
Lee let out a high-pitched moan from between his fingers.
“I wanted to encourage others to eat a variety of produce!”
“And the one you had on the first time you came here? It meant you wanted to make people, you know…finish.”
“I thought it was sweat and would inspire others to physical activity! Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!”
Lee was crouched down at the edge of the counter, hanging onto the edge partly from embarrassment and partly to hide the shirt that he now realized meant something completely different from what he’d originally thought.
Gaara patted his shoulder, unable to keep the amused grin from his face at Lee’s incredibly endearing response. “It’s okay, I’m sure it happens to lots of people.”
“But why would someone even MAKE a shirt like that?” Lee asked, his head popping up. “Who would actually buy it?”
“My brother, for one,” Gaara said with a roll of his eyes. “Where did you get them?”
“They were gifts! My roommates always get me workout shirts with sayings on them! I am going to kill Neji and Tenten!”
“Well they weren’t ALL bad,” Gaara said sympathetically. “Quad Goals was funny.”
“But how will I know the difference now? Ahh, I am going to have to go through my whole wardrobe!”
“I could help,” Gaara said tentatively. “If you’d like.”
“Really?” Lee exclaimed, grabbing Gaara’s hands in his. “That would be wonderful!”
Gaara flushed as they both looked down at their joined hands.
“I hope-,” Lee started. “I hope you did not think I was the type of person who would actually wear things like that.”
“I wasn’t sure at first, but after talking to you I don’t think anyone could think that of you.”
Lee flushed up to his ears and finally stood up, keeping his arms crossed over his shirt.
“I am very glad you do not think poorly of me. Perhaps I could make you dinner as a thank you for reviewing my wardrobe?”
Gaara flushed but couldn’t help a smile from curling the corners of his lips.
“Anything but eggplant.”