Ten thirty came and my client was right on time. I was used to his punctuality, not to mention his soft skin. I could tell he used oil after his showers and that made my job easier, massaging already soft skin. His muscles were always so tight, especially around his shoulders, so I assumed he sat behind a desk all day. He wasn't military. I gathered that by his longer hair, curling at the tips.
Today his shoulders were so tense that my fingers hurt a little when they rubbed the patch of tissue at the top of his shoulders. He was a groaner—a lot of clients were—and he made these deep throaty sounds when I loosened the knots he held in his body. The hour went fast. I had to tap his shoulder to wake him when it was over.
My ten thirty client—his name was Toby, but I liked to call him ten thirty—was a good tipper and kept things simple. Except for that time he asked me out. Elodie freaked when I told her. She wanted me to tell Mali, but I didn't want it to become a thing when it didn't need to be. He was fine with my rejection—unusual with men, I know. Anyway, he hadn't even so much as hinted at any attraction toward me since, so I figured things were okay between us.
Forty-five minutes past eleven and there was still no Elodie. Usually she'd text if she was going to be more than fifteen minutes late. The man in the waiting area must have been new, because I didn't recognize him and I never forgot a face. He seemed patient enough. Not Mali, though. She was two minutes away from calling Elodie.
"I can take him if she's not here in five minutes. My next client can be moved an hour later, it's Tina," I told Mali. She knew most of the patrons who came in and out of her salon; she remembered names like I did faces.
"Fine, fine. But your friend is always late," she scolded. Mali was the nicest woman, but made of pure fire.
"She's pregnant," I said, defending my friend.
Mali rolled her eyes. "I have five children and I worked just fine."
I kept my laughter quiet and texted Tina to see if she could come in at one. She immediately responded with a yes, like I knew she would.
"Sir," I called to the man in the waiting room. "Your therapist is actually running late. I can start you now if you'd like. Or you could wait for Elodie." I didn't know if he was partial to her for some reason, or if he just wanted a massage. Now that we were on Yelp and booking online appointments, I never knew which clients wanted a specific therapist.
He stood up and walked to the desk without saying a word. "Is that okay?" I asked.
He hesitated for a second before he nodded. Okay . . .
"All right—" I looked at the schedule. Kale. What a strange name. "Follow me, please."
We didn't have assigned rooms—not technically—but I had fixed-up the second room on the left to perfectly fit my taste, so that was the one I used the most. No one else took it unless they had to.
I had brought in my own cabinet, my own decorations, and was in the process of convincing Mali to let me paint the walls. Anything would be better than this dark purple color. It wasn't exactly relaxing, plus it was dull and dated the room by about twenty years.
"You can leave your clothes on the hanger or the chair," I told him. "Go ahead and strip down to however you're comfortable. Lie face down on the table, and I'll be back in two minutes."
The client didn't say a word, he just stood next to the chair and lifted his gray T-shirt over his head. He was definitely a soldier in the military. Between his solid build and his nearly-shaved head, he screamed soldier. I grew up inside army posts my entire life, so I knew. He folded his shirt and set it down on the chair. When his fingers tugged at his athletic pants, I left him alone to undress.