"Take off everything," the massage girl demanded.
Chara obeyed, unfastening and removing her bikini top, her ample, naked breasts springing free as the girl barely bothered to cover her from the beachfront sunbathers' views with a thin, nearly transparent sarong. Chara was puzzled by the first paradox she'd discovered in Thai culture: it was considered rude to sunbathe topless, yet necessary to be topless for a Thai massage... even if it was on the same beach.
"Lie down please," the girl, who wore loose-fitting pants and a faded white T-shirt, commanded. She looked to be in her mid-40s. Her dark skin evidenced plenty of time spent on the beach massaging tourists like Chara.
Chara had stumbled upon a bamboo massage shack while she'd been wandering down the beach. It was delineated by a faded plastic sign that read "Best Beach Massage Number 1," with its various services listed alongside the prices in Baht. The shack was in tatters and stood at a slant in the sand.
Her back still a bit achy from her flight, she'd decided to try her first Thai massage. The fact that the shack seemed to be falling apart made the experience seem all the more authentic...or so she reasoned to herself.
She lowered herself onto the thin matt, and the girl placed the sarong on top of her. She laid the sarong she'd been holding up over Chara's back, and started pressing with her palms down her spinal meridian.
Chara moaned at the pleasant sensation. The woman clearly knew what she was doing, applying pressure that was not too strong, and not too soft either.
The shack was held up by bamboo poles, and squeaked and moved under the weight of the two of them, whenever the girl moved. Chara's head was positioned so that she was looking out to sea. She noticed a man who looked as if he was walking on water in the distance and watched him with curiosity.
After a few minutes, the girl started to increase the intensity, pressing her knuckles deep into the tender tissues that surrounded Chara's spine. Not used to being massaged, Chara felt her back and neck muscles tense at the pressure.
The girl seemed to sense her tension. "Lelax," she reminded her, shaking her shoulders slightly as if to wiggle away her stress.
Chara took a deep breath in, and pushed it back out slowly, to help soften and loosen her body. The girl had now moved up to her shoulder blades, deeply massaging the tissue around them with half-moon circles.
Though Chara was trying to concentrate on the calming sound of the waves rolling in and the warm, soft breeze licking her skin, she couldn't seem to shut off her anxious mind.
Her thoughts swept her back five years, to university. She'd taken a bartending job to help fund her studies at NYU. Mike had been her manager, and they'd promptly started dating.
Mike was a ladies' man. Model-like looks, devilish turquoise eyes, thick, sandy hair, and an eyebrow piercing. It hadn't taken long for Chara to learn that she was just the most recent of the long lineup of young, female servers and bartenders Mike had dated. And she probably should have caught on from the fact that most of his exes had quit promptly after their breakups.
But Chara had been well and truly charmed. Mike had showered her with adoration in the form of flowers and fancy meals and even a flight to Florida for a romantic weekend escape.
His doting never truly stopped until their marriage, which had been as fairytale-esque as their courtship. It had been a palatial affair at a New Jersey Country Club, with white horse-drawn carriages, swans, doves, the works.
She'd never really noticed his wandering eye. Not, that is, until it was too late. A suggestive text message from his female work colleague, which Chara had mistakenly seen pop up on his phone. A conversation that had gotten just a bit too friendly and had gone on just a bit too long with their big-breasted neighbor at her housewarming party. The creepy way he'd leered at the waitress when they'd gone to dinner with her parents.