I pulled my phone out of my scrub pocket and read the first line of a text from my dad: See you tonight. It's spaghetti! I could name at least a thousand things I'd rather do, but this is what the three of us—sometimes four—did every single Tuesday. I've missed only one family dinner since moving out a year ago, and that was when my parents drove their RV to the boot camp graduation of some distant relative, so technically I guess wasn't the one who missed it.
I didn't respond to my dad because he knew I'd be there at seven. My "new" mom would be in the bathroom curling her hair and dinner won't be started, but I'd be there on time. Like I always was.
It had been three minutes since I told Elodi's client I'd be back to start his treatment, so I pulled back the curtain and walked into the room. The lights were dimmed so everything was a shade of purple from the hideous wall. The candles had been burning long enough for the air to take on the clean smell of lemongrass. Even after my restless night, this room had the power to calm me.
He was on the table in the center of the room with the white blanket pulled up to his waist. I rubbed my hands together. My fingertips were still too cold to touch someone's skin, so I walked over to the sink to warm them. I turned on the faucet. Nothing. I had already forgotten Bradley's warning and the last hour I managed without water.
I rubbed my hands together and wrapped them around the oil warmer on the edge of the sink. It was a little too hot, but it did the trick. The oil would be warm on his skin and he probably wouldn't notice that the water wasn't working. It wasn't convenient, but it was manageable. I hoped that whoever worked the closing shift put clean towels in the warmer last night before they left.
"Do you have any specific areas of concern or tension that you'd like me to focus on?" I asked.
No answer. Had he already fallen asleep?
I waited a few beats before I asked again.
He shook his shaved head in the face cradle and said, "Don't touch my right leg."
I had requests from people all the time not to touch certain parts of their bodies. They had all kinds of reasons, from medical conditions to insecurities. It wasn't my business to ask. My business was to make the client feel better and provide a healing experience.
"Will do. Would you like light, medium, or intense pressure?" I asked, grabbing the little bottle of oil off the cabinet shelf. The outside of the bottle was still really hot but I knew it would be the perfect temperature when it hit his skin.
Again, no answer. Maybe he was hard of hearing. I was used to this as well, one of the rougher things about Army life.
"Kale?" I said his name, though I didn't know why.
His head popped up so quickly, I thought I frightened him. I jumped a little myself.
"Sorry, I just wanted to know what level of pressure you wanted?"
"Any?" He didn't sound like he knew what he wanted. Probably a first timer. He put his head back into the cradle.
"Okay. Just tell me if the pressure is too light or too firm and I'll adjust my touch," I told him.
I could be a little heavy handed and most of my clients liked that, but I'd never worked on this guy before.
Who knew if he'd ever come back? I'd say only about four of out of ten first timers actually return and only one or two become regulars. We weren't a big salon, but we had a steady clientele.
"This is peppermint oil." I dotted the little bottle against my forefinger." I'm going to rub some into your temples. It helps with—"
He lifted his head up, lightly shaking it. "No," he said. His voice wasn't harsh, but it let me know he absolutely did not want me to use peppermint oil. Okay . . .
"Okay." I screwed the lid back on the bottle and turned the faucet. Damn it. The water. I knelt down and opened the towel warmer. Empty. Of course it was.
"Uhm, just a second," I told him. He lay his head back into the cradle and I shut the warmer door a little too hard. I hoped he didn't hear it over the music. This wasn't turning out to be the smoothest session . . .