Mali was in the hallway when I pushed through the thin curtain to search for towels. "I need water. Or warm towels."
She put her fingers to her lips to tell me to hush. "There's no water. I have towels. Who didn't stock?"
I shrugged. I didn't know and didn't really care; I just wanted a towel. "He's been in my room for five minutes and I haven't started yet."
At that she moved faster, disappearing into the room across the hall and popping back up with two hot towels. I grabbed them from her, shifting the steaming bundles from palm to palm to cool them off.
When I got back into the room I waved the towel through the air one last time and rubbed it across the bottom of his bare feet. His skin was so hot to the touch that I pulled the towel away and touched the back of my hand to the top of his foot to make sure he didn't have a fever or anything. I couldn't afford to be sick.
Literally. The days on my dad's Tricare were coming to an end and I couldn't afford health insurance on my own.
His skin felt so hot. I lifted the blanket a little and realized he was still wearing his pants. This was just . . . strange. I didn't know how I was going to rub his other leg, the one I was supposed to massage.
"Did you want me to avoid your legs altogether?" I quietly asked him.
He nodded his head in the cradle. I ran the hot towel across the bottoms of his feet, something I do to clean off any oil and dirt. The hygiene of clients . . . well, let's just say it varies. Some people come in wearing sandals after walking around all day. Not this guy, though. He must have showered before he came in. I appreciated that. These were the things you think about as a masseuse. I started on the balls of his feet, applying pressure there and moving to the arch of his left foot. There was a soft, bubbly line across the bottom of his left foot but I couldn't see the scar in the dark. I slid my thumb slowly along the arch and he jerked a little.
I was used to timing my hour sessions perfectly, about five minutes per leg, so I took the extra time to work on his shoulders. A lot of people carry tension in their shoulders, but this guy—If these weren't the stiffest shoulders I'd worked on, they sure came close. I had to stop myself from making up a story about his life.
I continued, keeping his legs covered by the blanket and working on his neck, his shoulders, his back. His muscles were defined, but not bulky or hard under my moving fingers. I imagined his young body had been carrying the weight of something for a long time—a rucksack, maybe. Or just life itself. He didn't express enough of himself for me to make up a life for him the way I did with Bradley and most of the other strangers around me. There was something about this guy that kept my imagination at bay.
His scalp was the last part I worked on. The soft pressure release usually makes people moan or at least sigh, but nothing came from his lips. He didn't make a peep. I thought maybe he'd fallen asleep. That happened often and I loved when it did. It meant I did a good job. When the time was up, I felt like it had just started. I usually drifted in and out of thought—my dad, my brother, work, my house. But there was something about working on this guy. I came up with nothing.
"Thank you, was everything okay?" Sometimes I asked, sometimes I didn't. This guy was so quiet that I wasn't sure if he enjoyed it or not.
He kept his face in the cradle so I barely heard him when he said, "yeah,"
Okay . . .
"Okay, well I'm going to step out and let you get dressed, I'll see you in the lobby when you're finished. Take your time."
He nodded and I left the room, pretty sure I wouldn't be getting a tip.