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Marcus felt old.
His shoulders hunched and there were knots in between his shoulder blades that had been there so long that he had forgotten what life was like without them. His hips ached, most days, and it took a good hour and a hot shower for him to get properly moving in the morning. Even though he walked to the office every day, part way there his shins inevitably started to feel like the muscles were tearing from the bone and his calves were rock by the time he finally sat down at his desk. He remembered, vaguely, telling himself a couple of years ago that the pain would go away if he kept doing it. If anything, it had gotten worse.
Thirty-four going on eighty, he thought to himself as he settled back into his chair, stretching back against the spring in the backrest and willing his body to relax. No matter what he did, he just lessened the tension. It was never really gone. With a sigh, he gulped at his coffee and realized that it was cold, left over in the carafe from the day before. Shit. What a start to the day. No matter now, he thought, and hauled out the latest report on water quality in the tailing ponds. He knew what it would contain, that the liners had decayed and that the near lethal mix of chemicals that were the byproduct of their process was leaching into the water table in microscopic amounts. He’d known it for nigh on a decade, but no matter how many times he tabled this report past the board, they simply refused to listen. This was version seven and the PhDs out in the field kept running it up the flag pole, hoping it would stick. I guess they think of me as their point man, he chuckled. If they only knew.
By noon, he was lost in the details of the report and could feel the beginnings of a real doozy of a headache coming on, the type that sent him home for the day and made him lie in the bath with the lights off, his head nearly completely submerged. Sometimes he could head it off by drinking enough water, so he heaved himself out of his chair and stumbled off to the lunch room to fill up his mug from the water cooler.
“My God, you look like shit.”
It was Maureen Dowd, up from four pulling microfilm from the library. She glanced over her shoulder at him, looking concerned. Maureen was a tall, expatriate American with a blond bob and a healthy dose of common sense. She had a decent body and beautiful eyes, certainly enough to warrant some flirting at the least on most days, but today, flirting was the last thing on Marcus’ mind. From Maureen’s perch at the microfilm machine, she could see right into the kitchenette.
“I feel like it. Headache.” Even speaking was a chore, now. Just getting out of the chair and walking to the kitchenette had started his headache in earnest and fifteen feet later it was downright throbbing. His vision was watery and the pain in his sinuses was excruciating. With one hand he deftly filled his mug while the other circled on his temple, pressing hard.
“Are you sure you’re OK? You really do look terrible.” She swiveled in the chair, to face him.
At that moment, he suddenly knew that he wasn’t, not really.
“I think … I think I’m going to be sick.”
He could feel his gorge rising and then suddenly there it was. He bolted to the sink in a rush, spilling water from his mug onto the floor in a stream, barely making it to the sink before he threw up in heaves. With his head buried, he could smell the acid and the stainless steel of the sink. By the time he was done, his throat burned and so he rinsed out the sink and drank directly from the tap, rinsing his mouth as best he could. He felt better, a little, now that he had vomited, but it was only a few seconds before the agony in his head started up again. With his head hanging in the sink, he felt like crying out of frustration. This happened four or five times a month and he was well and truly tired of it.
“Good God … I’m sending you home. I’ll call Duncan and let him know for you.”, Maureen tutted.
Duncan was Marcus’ boss and Duncan had just reamed out Marcus for his string of recent sick days. Duncan had counted them off right in front of Marcus, an act that made Marcus think of Jesus being whipped by the Romans, because they always counted the strokes. Duncan had implied that Marcus’ position with the company was in jeopardy, despite the fact Marcus had twice the seniority of his supervisor, twice the education and twice the work ethic. Duncan hated people with degrees, especially those with more of them than he himself had, like Marcus. In fact, he had told Marcus to his face that he hated people with degrees, knowing full well that Marcus had three of them. Duncan was a dick.
“No.”, Marcus managed to croak from within the sink, his voice sounding harsh and deep from the belly of the sink.
“Give me a break, you just puked!” He could hear Maureen get up and come over.
“Too many sick days.”
“You are going home and that is that. You leave Duncan to me.”
Marcus vaguely noticed that Maureen’s hand was on his back, making tiny circles there. It was comforting and so he let her do it for a while. She even helped wiped Adana Escort up the spilled water for him while he hung there in the sink, nearly scalding water running over his head for relief as he worked up the courage to walk home.
The walk itself was a few minutes of hell that he barely remembered, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other in the snow. Just one more foot. Just one more foot. When he got home, he was well and truly prepared to vanish to the tub for a couple of hours with some ibuprofen and a two hour bath, but he noticed that he had an email from Maureen, the first time she had ever written him privately, and so he clicked on his email program in passing. The message was short and in it, she gave the number of a masseuse, Rubina, that she highly recommended. She had taken the liberty of booking him an appointment for the next morning at 10 a.m., tomorrow, which was Saturday. She reminded Marcus in the email that the work benefit plan paid for the entire thing and had included as an attachment the form he needed to claim it.
He printed both off because he was a little old school and still liked paper lying around and then went to the tub for relief, thinking that a massage might just be the ticket these days.
He rode to the holistic health centre on the bus the next morning, disconcerted a bit when he saw that the “centre” was in an industrial area, in a strip mall, with a store selling truck accessories as a neighbour. The sign was small enough that he almost missed it, hesitating at the side door of the bus before finally stepping off when he caught the irritated look from the driver in the mirror. His headache was back, but as a dull ache rather than as stabbing agony. Thank God. This was at least tolerable.
Inside the centre, however, he could see that the illusion was complete. Vaguely ethnic music, barely audible and largely inoffensive, wafted through the waiting room through hidden speakers. The room itself contained a faux fireplace, some leather couches and several metal shelves for the various products they sold. Everything was very tastefully appointed, with glass and steel being the central motif. The colours were neutral and muted, but again, tastefully chosen, and so the appearance of the whole was peaceful and calm, a stark contrast to the hectic thoroughfare just out front.
The girl behind the counter was young, 18 at most, and had a couple of tattoos just poking through by her ears, over the top of her white, buttoned up mandarin jacket she wore. She had nearly perfect teeth, luminescent white skin and hair black as jet, clearly dyed. It was pulled back into a neat pony tail and Marcus got the impression that this was just her day job and that things got decidedly darker when she was allowed her own free will again.
“I’m here to see Rubina. I’m her 10 o’clock.”
“Do you know which Rubina?”
“You have more than one?”
“I have no idea. I was just told it was booked for me at 10. My co-worker Maureen Dowd booked it for me.”
“Are you Marcus Tennant?”
“That’s the one.”
“Ms. Mawji will be with you in a moment.”
He started to walk away, but then realized that he had heard that name before. He turned back to the receptionist.
“Did you say Ms. Mawji?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“You don’t know if she happened to work for Nascent Engineering at one point, do you?”
“I really couldn’t say, but she’ll be out in a couple of minutes and you can ask her yourself if you want.”
Her tone was perturbed, as if he was bothering her, so Marcus slipped into one of the couches, the only client in the reception area for the moment. He thumbed idly through the holistic magazines he found there, knowing tha the would disagree with just about every article. He chuckled, thinking that there wasn’t a lick of hard science behind the entire industry, but it had devotees upon devotees. Clearly, people will find what they are looking for, even if they have to invent it.
“Marcus Tennant. Is that you?”
Marcus looked up from the article about wheat gluten and saw Rubina standing there, three years older and looking very different than the last time he had laid eyes on her. For one, she had glasses on that made her look vastly more intelligent and, dare he say it, even attractive. She was the type of East Indian woman that lent herself to being larger: average height, slightly thicker of frame and large boned, but he could see that she had lost some weight since her days at Nascent. She looked very fit, but also very professional in her purple scrubs, as if she was a doctor or nurse. She had a largish nose and a square face, but wide, accepting eyes and somehow it all seemed to come together with the glasses as a frame. She looked, well, good.
He grinned at her and she grinned back, her face opening up like a flower with her wide-mouthed grin. That was the best part about Rubina, she wore every emotion clearly on her face. She also didn’t pull any punches, but that was part of her charm.
“It sure is! I was wondering if it was you Adana Escort Bayan when I heard your last name. I can’t believe Maureen didn’t tell me.”
“I don’t keep in touch with many people from Nascent any more. As you can guess, this is a bit of a departure from an engineering firm. I’m a bit of a pariah in this business, to be honest, among the scientific crowd.”
“No kidding.” Suddenly, he was embarrassed at having said it, so he caught her eye and mouthed an apology. She nodded.
She mimed with her hands that he should follow her to the back, and so he stepped in beside her, letting himself be guided. As they walked through the oddly disjointed hallway to the back rooms, they made small talk about work, tossing around names they both knew from her old days at the firm. Within fifteen feet, that topic was all but exhausted and Marcus could clearly see that she didn’t want to reminisce at all. He tried to remember why she had left, but he found that he couldn’t place it.
“In here, Marcus. I’ll give you a couple of minutes to get undressed and then I’ll come in. You can put your clothes over there on the chair.”
In the darkened room, he could smell a variety of scents, old and mingled, and as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, he could see that there was a shelf running the width of the room, with dozens of bottles and jars on it, as well as a small stereo system for background music. One wall was completely covered by a thick velvet curtain the colour of a deep Merlot. Typical massage parlour, he thought. It was warm and comfortable, so he hung his clothes on the rack he found, leaving the chair Rubina had mentioned free. He climbed onto the table, covered himself, and placed his face down through the hole in the addition at the end of the table. Below him, he could see a small bucket, clearly for catching saliva. Well, they must be good if they need that, he thought to himself.
He heard a gentle knock and he muttered that he was ready through the hole. Rubina clearly understood him and slipped in nearly silently. She got some music started, adjusted the volume to her satisfaction and then he could feel her, looming over him. She stood there for a second, saying nothing, but eventually spoke.
“Marcus, you’ve let yourself go.”
“Good old Rubina. Thanks for noticing.” He was mildly offended.
“Oh, I don’t mean anything by it, but you’re heavier than I’ve ever seen you and I can feel the tension coming off of you in waves. I’m going to put some patchouli on because I remember that you like it. Normally, I would put something soothing in the air to calm you, but I’ll make an exception.”
“I like patchouli?”
“You did when I had some patchouli scented oil in my hair on our date.”
“Oh, then I guess I like patchouli.”
Date. Date. Date. He wracked his brain trying to think of when they had spent any social time together. He had been with Audrey for most of his time at Nascent and Rubina had been with, well, no one. The rumours around the office was that she was gay, or at least that’s what many of the women had thought from her comments about their bodies. The only time he could think of was when he had fixed her computer and she took him for lunch, afterwards. She was four years his senior, so he certainly hadn’t thought of it as a date, especially since he was with someone at the time. It had been a pleasant lunch, but he didn’t remember thinking of patchouli at all.
“When we went to lunch?”
There was an uncomfortable silence and he could hear her pour some oil and rub it together in her hands to get it warm. As she touched his back, kneading softly to get a measure of his tension before going harder and deeper, she continued, “Well, I know you didn’t think of it as a date, but I did. You still with Audrey?”
“No, she cheated on me with someone from her book club about a year back and I dumped her.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No, I’m OK with it, honestly. I’m back in my little bachelor pad, re-buying everything. I kind of like the fresh start.”
“Like a phoenix.”
“Yeah. That’s a really nice way to put it.”
For the next ten minutes, she kneaded his back, softly, humming along with the nondescript music, then, abruptly, Rubina left the room. She hadn’t said a word, so Marcus was completely at a loss as to what had happened. He felt sorry for her about the date, but surely that was old news, having happened at least a couple of years back, and as just a miscommunication of intent. He was just starting to worry when she came back in.
“Sorry about that. I just cleared the rest of my schedule until the early afternoon. Now that I’ve seen what you have going on, I think you and I will need more than the hour. I’ll have to take a break partway through to rest my hands, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone this tense.”
“Am I going to live, doc?”
She laughed. “Yes, with my help, you’ll pull through, eventually.”
“It’s been a hard year, I guess.”
“It’s that job, Marcus, it really is. Life as a hamster on a wheel. Escort Adana Leaving was the best thing I’ve ever done. Mind you, I did get divorced right about then, so that was at least part of my issue.”
He hadn’t even known she was married. He suddenly realized that he didn’t know much about her at all, her likes, her dislikes, her history, even though she had worked only a few cubicles down for the better part of three years. He couldn’t even remember having lunch with her clearly, even though she obviously had memories of the day. He was ashamed at how oblivious he had been.
She laughed again, her laugh like a child’s, without guile. “Why are you sorry?”
“I didn’t know you were even married. I should have.”
“Oh, it isn’t that big of a deal. He was from my community and I thought that he was the one for a while, but we really didn’t get along in the big ways, just in the little superficial ways. Going to the same mosque doesn’t cut it sometimes.”
“I thought you were Hindu.”
She stepped up to the table again, having re-oiled her hands.
“Mr. Tennant, you and I talked all about the origins of the Ismaili sect of Islam over lunch. You told me about how it gained power pre-Crusades in the Fatamid dynasty of the Berbers and spread out from there to Europe through Sicily and then into India as the Aga Khan. I remember being very, very impressed that you knew the history of my religion better than I did myself.”
“You honestly don’t remember telling me that you kept your mind sharp by studying a different topic each year? Photography? Medieval History? Native religion? You don’t remember any of that?
“Vaguely. That seems like a complete lifetime ago.”
“Well, that year you studied the various iterations of the medieval Islamic Caliphate.”
“I remember the topic, but not actually doing it.”
“Marcus, as your friend, you really have to wake up.”
“Now be quiet and let me work.”
She dug in, harder this time, and it was frankly painful. She worked her way around him, one muscle group at a time, unwinding him like a ball of string left too long in a drawer, some knots needing to be all but cut out to free the whole. He could hear her grunting with the effort, clearly putting her all into the work. Partway through, he noticed that she was rubbing up against his hand as it lay inert on the table, brushing against the backs of his fingers with her hip as she worked her way into his back. He tried to concentrate through the discomfort, but he found it difficult.
Difficult, that is, until Rubina shifted over that slight bit and he felt the back of his fingers brush against something wiry through her scrubs. She was rotating around his right shoulder, circling it with her hands held like sword blades and it was honestly working. He could feel the muscles scream in torment, but they were also loosening, ever so slightly, as she worked. All of that, though, was on some unconscious level because all he could think of was the fact that her pubic bone was brushing, repeatedly, against his hand. It was warm and slightly sweaty from her exertion, but he didn’t mind. In his head, he was picturing what she would be like naked, what would happen if he just opened his hand to cup her, what she would be like kissing, what she would look like down there, dark and moist and with flashes of pink in the brown. The harder she worked, the harder she pushed against him, and as she finished up working on that shoulder, he could clearly feel the outline of her outer lips and the space between them with every push. He could feel the rasp of her pubic hair as it slid against the fabric of her scrubs, too.
Eventually, though, she shifted to the other shoulder, moving around the head of the table, never taking her hands off of his back. He could feel her breasts brush the back of his head, conscious of every bit of her movement, following it like a hawk. As she started to repeat her work on the other arm, he prayed inwardly that she would rub up against his hand again, even moved his hand to the edge of the table with what he thought was a subtle shrug of his shoulder, but the angle wasn’t right and all he could feel was her hip.
She repeated everything on that shoulder and by the time she was done, he could honestly feel the difference. As tense as he was, she was winning the war, humming her way and kneading him like dough until his body finally gave in. She shifted back around to the head of the table, this time leaning way over as she slid her hands down either side of his spine, driving into that area with the meat of her palms. As she did so, her breasts rubbed against his head and then his upper back, sliding back and forth on him. He felt enclosed, like he was in some sort of tent, as he stared down at her feet straddling the saliva bucket. She was grinding her pubic bone on the ring his head was sitting in, too, and he could feel the rock of the entire table as she shifted forward. As she reached down his spine, she could just brush the lower part of his back, not quite reaching all of it. She shifted forward even more, rising up on her toes, and then he felt the tip of a finger slide to his tailbone. He tried to hold back, but he exhaled a bit and she caught herself, pulling back and with subsequent passes down his back, she stopped short of it.
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