Trent looked up from behind the computer screen and at the parade of tired but energized yoga students from the last session of the evening as they made their way toward the exit. His clientele base was still small enough that he knew most by name, a fact that he intended to preserve as long as he could manage. He bade several good night, nodding politely and offering tidbits of encouragement to those who were prone to attending only occasionally.
When the last of the class had filed out of the studio and exited the building, Sasha, his gem of a part time instructor joined him in the lobby. He couldn't help but steal a glance at her -- a petite cutie in blue spandex shorts and sports bra. She walked with the smooth grace of a trained dancer and her smile could light up the Vegas strip. Short black hair, almost always just a little messy, complimented her caramel complexion that came by way of some mixed ethnicity he was never able to place. And for more than the hundredth time, Trent lamented the fact that she was scarcely half his forty years of age, barely a handful of years older than his own teenage daughters.
Casually, Sasha slid around to his side of the desk, hopped up on top, and sat cross legged. She seemed blissfully ignorant of the effect she could have on men, so innocent and incurably cheerful as she overstepped the boundaries of decorum.
"'Bout done with the books?" she said.
"Yup," Trent said, closing up his spreadsheet application and powering down the computer. "Class go well?"
"Yeah," Sasha said. "It's great to see so many people coming now."
"I think you've proven to be something of a hit," Trent said, somewhat wistfully. The class attendance and retention numbers, among both men and women, had steadily improved since he'd taken her on six months earlier. Business acumen acquired from years in the corporate world made him appreciate that from a financial perspective, she was a valuable asset, and yet he couldn't help but feel a little jealous at how naturally she took to teaching.
"Nah," she said, politely brushing aside the compliment. "I think your studio is just finally coming into its own."
"Well, either way, I'm glad to have you on board."
"Say, you have any plans for the weekend after this?" she said. Trent raised an eyebrow at that. While their working relationship was excellent, they rarely talked much about anything outside it. This sounded like a leading question that made him just slightly uncomfortable.
"Aside from teaching the usual couple classes, no," he said.
"Well, you see, there's this yogi coming to Indianapolis, Anne Ventner, and she's hosting a weekend retreat targeted at other yoga instructors. You know, new techniques and ideas, suggestions for ways to make classes more interesting, that sort of thing. I was thinking about going and thought you might be interested as well."
Trent, in spite of his recent interest in yoga and subsequent fast track through the training necessary to teach and open a small town studio of his own, had never had a lot of interest in pursuing the full breadth of what the yoga community had to offer. His practice, for lack of a better term, was pretty vanilla.
"Me?" he said.
"Yeah, you," she said, playfully poking him square in the chest with a delectable unpainted big toe. "I noticed you don't get out to many of these sorts of clinics or classes, and I don't want you to stagnate only a couple years after opening."
"Mmm," Trent said, suspecting there was still something more in her motives. "Weekend retreat, sounds like it might be kinda pricey."
"It's only a hundred fifty each," she said quickly, as if having expected that argument from him. "Which, considering it includes room and board, is really cheap for this sort of thing. Well, it's only that much if we go double occupancy. Otherwise it's two hundred bucks each."
Trent's heart fluttered uneasily for a moment at the thought of sharing a room with Sasha for a night or two. There was no way she would be interested in him that way, and nothing in her demeanor even hinted at it, but that didn't mean it couldn't be difficult on him. His inclination was to just decline, to retreat back into the quiet privacy and predictability his life had become, but there remained that deeply buried part of him that wanted to say yes -- and not for the class, but for her.
She smiled wryly, as if somehow able to read his mind. "You haven't said no, which from you is as good as a yes," she said. "I already asked Greg if he could cover your classes that weekend and he said he could. So, can I sign you up?"
She had already asked his other part timer? How long had she been thinking about this? He felt a little deflated, like a father being taught by his daughter how to function in the real world.
"Sure, I guess," he said.
"Great!" she said, leaping off the desk and swinging herself around behind his chair. She gave him a good squeeze on both shoulders and leaned in next to his ear. "I think you'll have a great time. It'll be good for you."
* * * * *
Just over halfway through the two hour drive to Indianapolis, Trent finally found himself able to relax and enjoy Sasha's company as he would that of a friend. She was just as sweet and friendly with him as she was with her classes and likely within her own social circles, utterly heedless of their age gap. He learned that he was right about her dancing background, though she had quit early on in high school after suffer chronic injuries. Rehabilitation from those is what led her into yoga and subsequently her physical therapy major now in college. He found her to be well grounded in common sense while balancing it with a whimsical and free spirited approach to life.
"So, enough about me," Sasha said, kicking her bare feet up onto his dash from where she rode shotgun, an act that caused the hemline of her sundress to creep distractingly high up her leg in his peripheral vision. "We've worked together for half a year and I scarcely know anything about you aside from what you do for a living and that you live alone in that small little house behind the studio. What's your story?"
Trent had indeed been closed off about his background, as it was both painful and a source of shame for him. Sasha, in being so open and honest about her own life, had put him in a position where it would be difficult to refuse. Now, though, he believed that she would keep anything he said in confidence, and it was that which allowed him to open up for the first time in years.
"Well, the short version is that I was married until about two years ago," he said, keeping his eyes squarely on the highway ahead of him. "Got married straight out of college, had a couple daughters, and worked my way into upper management at a fairly large insurance company. But, being a blind fool, I focused so much on pressing my career that my family life suffered. More than I realized at the time. That led to my wife having an affair, for which I'll take my fair share of the blame, and then divorce. The girls left with her when she remarried six months later."
"Wow, I'm sorry," Sasha said, sounding very sincere.
"Yeah, it's been rough," Trent said. "By the time the divorce was final, I had already quit my job. It was too late to save my marriage, but at least I got the wake up call I needed to reorganize some of my priorities. I only see my daughters occasionally due to distance, but our relationship has improved considerably. I had taken and enjoyed a couple yoga classes a few years back, so on a whim I threw myself fully into that. Once I was comfortable enough to teach, I moved out to Arland and opened up my little studio. I'm barely scratching out a living, but I'm happier and have the time to pay attention to life around me."
"Well, good for you," Sasha said. "It can't be easy to make such big changes in your life. I take it you're still not where you want to be yet, though."
"What do you mean by that?" Trent said, glancing over at her.
"I could always tell there was something dragging you down," she said. "I think I noticed it first while watching you demonstrate to a class a week or so after I started working with you. There's a tension about you that shouldn't be there, especially if you're fully in the proper state of relaxation."
"In a way, yeah," she said. "I can't articulate just what it is, but it's definitely there. Now I think I understand why. Hopefully we'll be able to find a way to get you past it."
We? He didn't say it aloud, but he wondered if she seriously meant to take on the unenviable task of helping him overcome his personal failings and self doubt. It was a personal journey for him, not one he had intended to drag others into. And yet, in spite of his reservations, he found the simple act of talking to her about it therapeutic.
For the remainder of the drive, their conversation turned to lighter topics. She did politely inquire about his daughters and their interests and challenges of being teens, but otherwise she deftly steered him away from what was a long standing sore spot in his life. By the time they pulled onto the nearly unmarked dirt road to the retreat somewhere outside the suburbs of Indianapolis, they were laughing out loud about some of his stranger experiences in studying as a middle aged man to become a yoga teacher.
The site of the yoga retreat appeared to be an old ranch house, which he might have called a small mansion for its size was it not for a rather rustic and weathered appearance. He suspected it had been built for size out of necessity rather than opulence. There were several other buildings, including a barn, that harkened back to its original roots, though aside from a large garden off to the side of the main structure there was little to suggest it was still being used for agriculture or ranching. Still, Trent found himself enjoying the rustic ambiance and the scenic rolling hills broken with lines of trees.
They parked alongside a number of other cars and carried their small weekend bags and mats into the main building where they were eagerly greeted by a young woman from the local yoga studio hosting the retreat. She checked their names off the list and led them up the grand staircase, itself polished smooth under the feet of generations, and down a hall to their shared room. As the place had become something of a new age retreat in recent years, the accommodations were appropriately eclectic to Trent's mind -- two thin mats on the floor covered in simple linens, each with a heavy wool blanket neatly folded on the end, along with a single dresser and lamp. On the walls were a couple paintings, having no common theme other than a sort of enthusiastically amateurish vibe to them. He found the entire set up, including the communal bathrooms down the hall in either direction, to be amusing and yet somehow just right for the weekend ahead.
The rest of the evening passed quickly, with a home cooked dinner and introduction session for all fourteen students to meet one another as well as the teacher. For one who taught yoga for a living, Trent had always felt awkward and undereducated when associating with what he considered to be hard core new-agers, which was the source for much of his trepidation about joining Sasha on this trip. He was relieved, however, to find that most of the others were very friendly and easy to get along with, and with all being in the same profession there was no shortage of common ground. The teacher for the weekend, Anne, turned out to be around his age and nearly Sasha's match for easy charm. By the time they returned to their room to get an early jump on sleep before their crack of dawn first yoga session, Trent was feeling very upbeat about the weekend.
While Sasha was finishing up in the bathroom, Trent changed into his sleeping shorts and sprawled out on his surprisingly comfortable sleeping mat. He started flipping through the material they had been given upon arrival, including a brochure about the instructor's biography and experience. It was an impressive resume, so to speak, especially for someone who was married with kids.
"So, it sounds like our teacher runs two week long yoga retreats at a beach resort down in the Bahamas ever year," Trent said when Sasha returned to their room.
"Nice," she said, setting her toiletries bag down.
"Now that sounds like the direction I need to be taking my practice in the future," he said, setting aside the brochure to take a look at the agenda for the weekend.
"If you do, then you'd damn well better be bringing me along at company expense," she said.
Trent's good humor lasted only a moment before taking a sudden detour upon seeing the subject of the second morning session on the next day's agenda -- The Practice of Nude Yoga. Nude yoga? He'd heard of the odd place here and there where it was occasionally done in a formal setting, but those were usually in big cities with rather liberal or eclectic cores. He felt a flush of nerves when he read in the description that as participants they were expected to "participate."
"Did you know about this nude yoga session tomorrow?" He glanced across the room at her and was stunned to find that while he had been distracted reading, she had shed her sundress was stood wearing only a yellow thong. She was facing away from him, but he was still shocked that she so casually undress like that in his presence. He tried and failed to avert his eyes, mesmerized by her cute butt and the way her muscles moved up and down her back.
"Yeah, I think I remember reading that somewhere," she said as if it was hardly any more exciting than learning what the lunch menu would be. "Sounds like fun, eh?"
Fun? For whom? He couldn't imagine getting naked in a room full of near strangers, let alone in front of Sasha, could be in any way fun.
"Uncomfortable might be more the word I was looking for," he said. "Or awkward, distracting, terrifying." As he started mumbling distractedly, Sasha bent over to place the folded dress into her bag. In doing so, he was able to see the side of one of her modest sized breasts hanging in an adrenaline inducing moment. He forced his eyes back to the agenda just as he struggled to beat down the quick rising arousal. It was that, more than anything, that worried him about the nude session tomorrow -- not that others would see him, but how would he react to seeing Sasha?
"Haven't you ever gone skinny dipping or something before?" she said. Mercifully, he could tell from his peripheral vision that she was putting on a tank top.
"Bah, don't worry about it," she said, taking a seat on the floor next to him, sitting cross-legged in nothing more than her thin top and almost non-existent underwear. Were all of today's youth so open and casual? As a father with teen daughters, the prospect worried him.
"Anne did say that all sessions were optional, right?" he said, daring to look Sasha in the eye while studiously avoiding looking at any other part of her. "Maybe I'll just bow out of that one."
"What, and make me spend the rest of the weekend as the girl who's here with the prude? Gee, thanks." She said it all with sarcastic humor, but he could tell that there was a grain of challenge in her voice, that she would be a little hurt if he didn't join her.
"I'll think about it," he said. "Honest."
"Okay," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "You'll love it, trust me."
"Is this the voice of experience?"
"Well, I do practice around my apartment sans clothes quite a bit," she admitted. "But never in a group session before. So, see, we'll be in it together."
"Why do I think you'll never cease to surprise me," Trent said, setting aside the stack of papers.
"Wouldn't want your life to get boring now, would we?" She gave him a wink and then rose smoothly from the floor to turn off the lamp. Within minutes, her breathing had fallen into the smooth, slow pattern of slumber. Trent, however, found sleep difficult to come by as his mind raced through one scenario after another, each ending with him embarrassing himself in front of a yoga class and Sasha.
* * * * *
A rough night sleeping followed by waking to the sight of Sasha stretching out in her night attire brought Trent's anxiety level back up to where it had been the previous night. Over the next few hours, however, he was able to calm back down. Anne's first session with the group, held out in what used to be the barn and was now a spacious wood-floored studio, did more to clear his mind than anything he could do himself. She ran a very interactive combination of yoga exercise and instructional clinic full of anecdotal stories, pointers, and ideas for the participants to consider incorporating in their own classes. While he was used to yoga being a generally quiet and relaxed affair, she was able to bring talk and enthusiasm without sacrificing the entire mental focus component.
Following the first session and breakfast, Trent spent a good bit of the rest of the morning trying to relax and find distractions. For a while, he and Sasha walked around the grounds, enjoying the warmth of the early autumn sun and fresh air. When it was her turn to have a private session with the teacher, he returned indoors to the quiet sanctuary of the estate's small library where he browsed absentmindedly through some magazines and books. He couldn't help thinking about the nude session as the clock ticked inexorably closer to the time he would be forced to make a decision. He briefly entertained the idea of hiding out in the library or elsewhere and then claiming he'd lost track of time, only he knew that Sasha would probably be far more disappointed in him for that than if he simply said that it wasn't for him.
Still undecided, he returned to their room with only ten minutes until the start of the session. Sasha was inside, laying on her bedroll and listening to her iPod. She cracked her eyes when he closed the door and sat up, pulling the headphones out.
"There you are," she said. "Is it time?"
"Almost," he said. Would he even be able to make a decision? His mind waffled between difficult options.
She put her music away and looked at her own watch where it sat among her baggage. "Ack, ten minutes. Yeah, guess we'd better get moving."
Sasha grabbed her towel, blanket and mat, while effectively telling him that he was coming along. Trent found himself collecting his own items and swallowing down his last lingering doubts and anxiety. He just kept telling himself to keep and open mind and everything would end up alright.
When they arrived back at the barn studio, they found that about half of the other students were already present. Of those, all but a couple had already removed their clothing and were stretching out or quietly chatting on their mats. The instructor was also ready and waiting at the front of the room, nude and completely relaxed. Trent couldn't help but admire her confidence, being able and willing to teach a class such as this while effectively "walking the walk." And along with her confidence, it was no surprise that she kept her body in exceptional shape. He couldn't help but feel a bit jealous of her husband.
Taking care not to let his eyes linger on any other student, Trent followed Sasha's lead across the room to a clear spot where they could lay their mats down and leave their other belongings against the wall. She didn't hesitate for a moment to start shedding her clothing -- the usual sports bra and spandex shorts that she favored when teaching. Trent took a deep breath and pulled off his own shirt and carefully folded it. Then, like quickly ripping off a bandage, he pulled his shorts and underwear off in one motion, laying them on top of the shirt. And just like that, he was naked.