Payson walked into The Rock bright and early the morning after the rocky awards. It felt nice entering the gym at such an early hour when she could have it to herself. Looking up at the office, Payson smiled at the sight of Sasha's blond hair hunched over his desk. The door was slightly open to warn him when someone arrived, and Payson called out a brief good morning. She got a groggy grunt in turn.
Payson dropped her gym bag to the side and quickly stripped down to her leo and sweatpants. Walking the mats, Payson started warming up as the door to the gym opened again. Payson didn't need to turn to know who it was. For all his posturing, Austin Tucker was a dedicated athlete. At least in her eyes, nowadays.
"Tucker, I thought you weren't coming today." Payson stated as she bent forward to touch her toes.
A deep chuckle sounded, and suddenly the tall imposing figure of Austin Tucker was beside her. "I considered it, but then I heard a rumour that a great female athlete was coming in early today. I thought I would come check her out… see if she's open to a date."
"Tucker!" A sharp yell echoed through the gym.
Austin flinched at the loud shout, and cowered slightly afterwards. "Does he have super hearing or something?" Austin whispered to her as he warily eyed the office. Sasha's head was still bent over his desk, but his ear was directed more towards the floor.
"If he does I don't think he will tell us." Payson whispered back, smiling slightly.
"True…" Austin trailed off, still sending questioning looks towards Sasha. "But I have something to tell you anyways. Today, after lunch, we are going on a field trip."
"A field trip?"
"Yes. I am calling in my winnings from our bet, and your full 24 hours of service to me starts at noon." Austin announced.
"Winnings? You didn't win the bet." Payson protested.
Austin smirked, completely satisfied with himself. "Oh but I did. Oi! Sasha! You agreed to go to my party right?" Austin yelled.
"Yes." Sasha responded without missing a beat.
Payson floundered for a bit. "Sasha! You do know that means I have to go to this party too, right?"
Sasha calmly walked out of his office and stood on his balcony. "I know… but Austin made me a deal I couldn't refuse."
Payson glared at Austin. "You can't make deals."
"You never said I couldn't." Austin countered.
"Shut it both of you. You will not get into a 'yes and no' fight. Austin said that if I went to his party he would attend ballet." Sasha gleefully informed Payson. He was getting too much perverse pleasure out of that statement.
"Ballet?" Payson laughed. "You're going to take ballet?"
Austin smirked again. "I am, and so are you."
"What?" Payson turned towards Sasha, hoping the man would deny it.
"It's true. To bring out the grace I know that is in you, ballet is in order. Your first class is at one today." Sasha said bluntly with no remorse.
Payson looked between Sasha and Austin and narrowed her eyes. They had plotted this. Knowing it was pointless to fight; Payson held her chin high and walked towards the balance beam. "Fine, but Austin is buying me lunch. Somewhere nice."
"One and two and three and four. One and two and three and four." The ballet instructor intoned as she rhythmically beat her cane on the floor to the timing.
Payson scowled, she was entirely sick with those five words. One and two and three and she was going crazy. One and two and three and she wanted out of here. One and two and three and what was Austin doing? Payson stopped moving and stared as Austin was doing something weird by lifting one leg in the air and trying to spin.
"Tucker…" Payson whispered, not wanting to attract the cane wielding demon while her back was turned.
"I think I'm going crazy Keeler. One class of this and I can feel my balls about to fall off." The gold medalist responded. He dropped his leg at least but in turn he moved to slowly hit his head off the bar.
"The bar is for working, not for beatings Mr. Tucker." Madam Violet snapped as she approached them. "You can act like uncivilized creatures in your little gymnastics gym, but here you will train seriously. Back to the starting position. One and two and three and four." Madam hit them both about the knees to get them working again.
"One and two and three and four." She crisply chanted from beside them, using her cane to poke them in trouble areas. "You are not squatting in a forest Mr. Tucker, tuck that rear in. Miss. Keeler, graceful arm movements now, you're not trying to clobber someone in a bar fight."
"There is someone I wish I could clobber." Payson muttered.
Austin snickered, but Payson sent him a dark look. "I meant you."
"No chit-chatting now. Concentrate!" Violet scolded.
Sasha looked at the clock for the fifth time that afternoon, and drummed his fingers on his desk. Perhaps his clock was broken? Time was going by very slowly, and he swore that the second hand was going at a slower pace than normal. Did he need to change the battery?
"Sasha would you stop that?" Kim asked in exasperation. "I don't know what has you agitated, but maybe you need to get out of the office and walk the floor."
Sasha sighed. "Payson and Austin had their first ballet class today and I'm anxious to know how it went." He admitted to the woman. Kim Keeler gave off such a motherly feeling that it was hard to deny her anything. It would be like saying 'no' to his own mother.
"I'm sure it went fine. Payson said she was going to fully commit to this plan of yours, and since you haven't got a call from the dance school, we can assume Austin didn't break anything or run out." Kim reassured him.
"I know, but… I'm still worried."
Kim laughed at him. She gave such a hearty laugh that she needed to lean back in her chair and place a hand on the desk to stabilize herself. "Oh Sasha… you sound just like a parent. When Payson first started school, I sat at home all day worried about her. I think I must have called Mark every ten minutes asking if he thought Payson was alright, if she would make any friends, if she would behave and not try to jump desk to desk. It's only natural to feel worried when your child goes to experience something new. When Becca started school, I was more prepared but I still fretted around the house, cleaned everywhere, and watched the clock until it was time to go get her."
Sasha smiled at the little insight Kim gave him. "Did Payson jump desk to desk?"
Kim laughed again and she looked off into space. "I remember going to pick her up, and the teacher stopped me and went on and on about how during recess Payson had been doing handstands on top of the jungle gym. The poor woman nearly had a heart-attack when one of the other students told her. Payson refused to come down, saying she wanted to see if she could hold it until it was time to go back in."
It was Sasha's turn to laugh. "She was strong-willed even at a young age."
"Oh yes she was. When she set her mind to it was nearly impossible to change it. Only Mark seemed to be able to convince her out of her more dangerous pursuits. It was his idea to sign her up for tumbling class, hoping to curb some of her desires. It worked, but then she started during flips down the street, so we signed her up for figure skating as well. Something she can't do on concrete. Then one day she came home and proudly proclaimed she was going to go to the Olympics and win gold in gymnastics.
"I tried talking to her about it, but she firmly stated each time that she was going to do it. I looked to Mark for help, but he didn't do anything. Instead he encouraged her, and decided we needed to go buy her a new practice leo, one with more sparkle to showcase his little gymnastics star. Who knew that day would change everything… but here we are…" Kim choked a little as her eyes filled with water.
"I really need to thank you Sasha." Kim stated softly.
"For what?" Sasha was confused. Kim had been telling a very warm story and had suddenly switched gears on him.
"For saving that little girl. The little girl that shot down all my concerns about being a pro athlete and told me with so much conviction that she would win gold. She was almost gone, but you brought her back, and I don't know if I can thank you enough."
Sasha shifted, a little uncomfortable with the attention and praise. "I was just doing what any coach would do…" He protested.
Kim laughed again. "No, you went further than any coach would have. I think most would have written her off after that back injury but you kept pushing until she was healed and back on the floor performing."
Thinking back to Summer, Sasha decided to ask Kim a question that was bothering him. "Does it worry you… or anything that I went so far to help Payson?"
Kim smiled softly and shook her head. "I admit Mark and I talked about it, but everything you've done has only helped her. I guess I would really be concerned if you two ever ended up kissing though…" Kim teased. "You're much too old for my daughter."
Sasha chuckled. "I don't think you need to worry about that, especially with Austin Tucker in the scene."
Kim's smile grew. "Oh yes… Austin. What a charming boy. I'm not one to gossip, but I think it's so cute how he comes over for dinner every night and helps clean up. He's even started doing chores, and makes Payson a protein shake in the mornings."
Sasha's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Really? They are spending that much time together?"
"I don't think you need to worry though. Payson is pretty blind when it comes to dating and boys. She probably just sees Austin as some muscular girl that hangs around." Kim said with a small wave of her hand. She had a fond smile on her face though.
"And he goes over every night?" Sasha asked. He had been wondering why the Tales of Austin Tucker weren't so prominent lately. He had assumed that once the bad boy arrived he would have party after party, and maybe crawl into practice on time some days. It was how Sasha had been at first. When Austin had been punctual and well behaved, he wondered.
Kim laughed again. "Every night without fail. Becca loves it. She calls her friends all the time to brag. You should join us too Sasha. Come over tonight for dinner and then you can talk to Payson and Austin about how ballet went. I know you want to." Kim needled.
Sasha smiled at her. "I would love to. What time should I arrive?"
"Just come over as soon as you close the gym. I'm sure you three will need more than a 45 minute supper to talk shop."
Sasha laughed. He felt more relaxed talking to Kim, and the woman managed to put some of his nerves to rest, and distract him from the rest.
"Oh anything practically funny going on?" Summer asked as she breezed into the office, folders in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
"Just Kim pointing out my flaws." Sasha answered.
"I can't imagine you have many." Summer said, her eyes lighting up as she looked at him. "Oh Sasha, I was wondering what time you would like to have dinner tonight? You asked, but you never told me when you would pick me up."
Sasha's smile fell a little. He had forgotten that he asked Summer out. Things had been a little … stale between them and he had wanted to make an attempt to fix it. Maybe find where he stood with the woman. "I'm sorry Summer, but something came up and I won't be able to make it tonight." Sasha answered.
"Oh but-" Kim started. Sasha could tell she was going to apologize and tell Sasha he could have dinner with them another night, but truthfully, Sasha wanted to eat with the Keeler family more, and was sad to cancel.
"Don't worry about it Kim. What's done is done." He shot her a look, hoping to silently tell her to drop it. His silent looks worked with Payson, so he hoped it worked for her mother too.
Kim backed down, a small frown on her face.
"What's going on?" Summer asked, looking between the two.
"Kim was going to offer to fill in for me tonight, but I told her she should go home and spend time with her daughters. She's in the same building with them every day but they can barely talk. It's a sad thing really." Sasha smoothly lied. He briefly wondered if he should feel bad for lying to someone who visited the house of God weekly. Was it different lying to them than it was to lie to someone else?
"Oh, I see…" Summer trailed off. "Well we can reschedule." Summer moved on.
"Yes, we can go out another time." Sasha agreed, but he didn't look her in the eye. Instead, he looked at his desk, and kept staring at it, not wanting to meet either woman's eyes at the moment.
The office descended into an awkward silence and none of the three adults knew what to talk about. Kim busied herself with her work, while Summer sat on the couch and sorted through her files. Sasha idly played with a pen, and went back to watching the clock.
"The gym seems more peaceful without Austin around, did you notice?" Summer spoke up.
Kim shifted in her seat. "The girls are calmer now that they aren't trying to impress him, but it seems more muted, like they're depressed he isn't here."
"It's just nice to walk down to the floor and not hear giggling all the time." Summer added.
"I think it's good training for them. They will need to learn how to train and perform without distractions. With Austin, they are being tested and in the long run it can only help their focus." Sasha spoke up.
"Sasha! I think you're just trying to justify having him train here. The girls focus was fine before, you just added another level of temptation and I think it's harming them more than helping." Summer preached to him. It seemed she had been waiting for the chance to discuss this if her eagerness to respond was anything to go off of.
Sasha frowned. "Austin's not encouraging them is he?"
Summer glared at him. "He is." She stated firmly.
"I don't know Summer. Austin comes to the gym, trains, and then leaves. If he's not doing that then he's picking on Payson. It's not like he's setting up a kissing booth or something." Kim pointed out, defending the young man that was working his way into her heart.
"Kim aren't you worried about Payson at all? The kind of attention Austin Tucker is giving her could slow down her recovery, and she's already so far behind the others. Don't you want Payson to get to the Olympics?" Summer asked.
Sasha sat back, putting any small amount of distance between himself and Summer. He did not like the look in Kim's eye. He has seen that look plenty of times from her daughter. It was a prelude to Payson firmly defending herself and everything she believed in.
"Do I not want my daughter to go to the Olympics?" Kim asked slowly, her voice quite hard. "I have worked endlessly these last four years to ensure that my daughter can achieve her dream. Mark and I are so far in debt from paying for Payson's experimental back surgery, just so she can do gymnastics again and not be permanently paralyzed. I have given up so much to help her achieve her dream, and you have the nerve to ask me if I want her to achieve it?" Kim glared down the god loving blonde in front of her.
"Austin, if anything, is helping Payson. They train together, and when Payson hesitates he is right there helping her along. Austin has been a large part in Payson's comeback, so no I'm not worried about the effect he will have on my daughter. I rather go home every night and see them playing video games or making dinner together, then go home and see a beat day Payson after a hard day of practice. Because with Austin around, she is loving life, without him she will be closed off and suffering her come back alone. I think the real issue here is that you are too blinded by your views and opinions to see the situation from my point of view, from a mother's point of view."
"Go Mrs. Keeler!" Austin cheered from the doorway. The young male gymnast fluttered his eyelashes and shot Kim a charming smile. "It's nice to know I'm appreciated."
Kim blushed, but composed herself remarkably well. "Austin, what are you doing back here?"
"Pay and I were driving back home when I remembered I forgot my cell here. She told me to ask what you want for dinner, while I was in here. She's waiting in the parking lot." Austin answered the unspoken question. Sasha had seen Kim searching for her daughter, probably hoping Payson didn't hear her outburst as well.
"Well, I pulled some chicken from the freezer this morning to make chicken burgers. It's in the fridge. You two can decide on the sides when you get home." Kim responded.
Sasha smiled at the word 'home'. Both were so comfortable saying that the Keeler house was Austin's home.
Austin developed a Cheshire like grin. "Can I barbeque the chicken?"
Kim studied him a moment. "Just don't burn down my backyard." She warned.
"No problem. Do you want us to drive Becca back?" Austin asked, his focus clearly on Kim and ignoring Summer and Sasha. The Romanian didn't mind since he knew he would talk to the young man tonight.
"Would you? I need to finish some things here still. Oh, and there will be five people for dinner tonight. Can you put a bottle of wine to chill?"
Austin grinned. "Sure. I'll make Payson stop at the bakery to pick something up for dessert too."
"Thanks Austin dear."
"See you later!" Austin called as he turned around and left. He had a slight bounce in his step.
As soon as he was out of sight, Kim turned back on Summer. "Does that look like a bad influence to you?" She asked. The woman wasn't done as she turned her attention to Sasha. "And does that prove my point from earlier?"
Sasha grinned. "I never doubted you."
Summed huffed and fussed with the papers in front of her. "That's just how he is with Payson, and you. I've seen him talking with the other girls and while Lauren isn't fawning over him like them, Kaylie seems pretty distracted when he's around. And I've seen Emily talk to him a few times."
"I think they'll give up soon. Once the celebrity mist clears they will see that he is a serious athlete and back off." Sasha announced.
"Summer, I think you should give it up. Neither of us will agree with you on Austin Tucker." Kim's voice had lost its steely quality from before, be she still wasn't the most pleased person in the world.
Summer wisely stayed quiet after that.
The Keeler house was full of mirth as Austin entertained them with an after dinner show. He had taken full advantage of his winnings, and was making Payson demonstrate what happened during their ballet class. So far Payson had to show them how Madam Violet would hover over them and poke them with her cane.
"Now show them that jet thing she tried to make us learn." Austin instructed. The young man really didn't have any remorse in making Payson his slave. He had the poor girl refill his glass, make his burger, even complained of a hand cramp and had Payson feed him for a bit. Sasha's glared put an end to that though.
"The Jeté?" Payson asked.
"Yeah, that." Austin grinned.
Payson sighed, but readied herself. "I fall on this every time." She stated before leaping in the air, one foot to the other. She got in three leaps before her feet got crossed and she went tumbling to the ground. Austin was quick, and had been at her side ready to catch her the moment she fell.
"Ha ha… we're still learning if you couldn't tell." Austin laughed to cover Payson's fall.
"One class isn't going to make you masters." Sasha agreed. "but enough torturing Payson, I remember you saying something about dessert earlier." Sasha steered the conversation away.
Austin and Payson both perked up, while Becca excitedly ran from the room and into the kitchen. "Oh you will never guess what they bought." The younger girl yelled from the kitchen.
Payson blushed a little. "They were having a sale on strawberry creampuffs when we arrived."
Austin laughed. "Yeah and as soon as the girls saw them they practically bought out the store."
"Tucker!" Payson hissed as she smacked him on the chest. "We did not."
"There was like two left." Austin pointed out.
"And how many did you buy?" Kim asked.
Payson blushed again. "I only bought 10." Payson protested.
Austin sighed heavily and slung an arm around her shoulder. "Yes , and made me buy 10 more because you didn't have enough cash on you."
"You bought those on your own because you said that two creampuffs wouldn't be enough to satisfy you." Payson argued.
"Well they wouldn't." Austin answered honestly. "But that beside the point, it's dessert time."
Sasha watched as his two gymnast walked into the kitchen together. They looked good together, and they already acted like a couple. They just needed to breach that barrier between friends and more first, but that event was coming soon, he thought. "How long do you think?" Sasha didn't need to elaborate; he could see the gleam in Kim's eye.
"Not until World's I think. Austin may want it, but I don't see him getting over his fear of Mark before then." Kim answered with a soft smile.
"I give it a month." Sasha countered. He had been in Austin's position before and he knew that when a young man like that wanted something or someone they didn't stay afraid for long.
"Wanna bet?" Kim asked showing her small competitive side.
Sasha eyed her. He was a man and could hardly refuse a bet. He knew Kim was sneaky, but so was he. He spent more time with the pair during the day, had Austin's party coming up to help them a long, and two ballet tickets that were sitting at home. Sasha was about to holdout his hand and agree, but stopped himself.
"Wait no. I have a no-dating rule!" He stated.
Kim snorted. "Like any one follows that."
Sasha couldn't argue. The woman had a point. Resigning himself, like he did most often around the Keeler women, Sasha held out his hand to bet with the woman.