Hideaway

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(Continued from Shadows)

More often than not Lori would walk or bike to up to Hideaway, where she worked as a massage therapist. It was a job she had gotten almost by default. Melon, her best friend from high school, managed the spa and recommended the classes and certifications when Lori was struggling with Uncle Red late in his metamorphosis.  Which was how she took to viewing it at the time; he wasn’t dying-but changing. His rugged good looks softening-his strong arms and hands melting away…

The massage studio became her refuge. Warm stone walls, subtle sounds of tumbling water, classical music or white noise of her choosing. She took to the unencumbered physicality of massage; the intimacy with consequence. Windowless and perpetually dusk or dawn, the timelessness of the space gave her a measure of peace – the feeling that she could control the uncontrollable.  In the studio the clatter and clutter in her brain could be dulled. At least for a while.

Of course, this morning being late again added to her noise. A walk would feel good, maybe clear her head, but there was no time for that.  Melon was always there at six to open and prep for the day. Lori was supposed to be there at six thirty to set up for early appointments, but here is was, six thirty-five and she we still standing in her kitchen. Had she been on time at all this week? She headed for the car.

Melanie Patterson let her green tea sit-cooling enough that she’d have to heat it before drinking it. She was small, her hair a strawberry halo of tight ringlets surrounding a face smattered with freckles and a wide smile. To all the clients who came through the spa, Melanie’s personality was like merry go rounds and bubble gum-all fun and laughter. Those who knew her well enough to call her by her nickname, “Melon” knew there were other sides to the charming sprite.

This morning, one of those other sides was bubbling to the surface. She fairly seethed looking at the clock move languidly toward seven. It was the sixth day IN A ROW that Lori had been late. Melanie had worked hard to cover her anger in their day-to-day contacts but away from work, especially at night when she journaled and set up her checklist for the next day, the thought that Lori-one of her best friends-would be late to her job upset her. She covered for her, moved appointments, never let on that her tardiness-as well as her growing lackadaisical attitude-was becoming a chronic problem.

It was six fifty-five when the heavy stained-glass door swung open and Lori strode into the lobby to find Melanie standing in front of the reception desk.

“Finally!” Melanie spat, unable to maintain her cool façade but stopped short when seeing her friend’s face. “Holy shit girl. You OK?” She had dropped her well-lacquered spa voice and sounded like the girl from Rake Ridge Road that she was.

“Do I look that bad?” Lori asked bringing the backs of her fingers to her cheek as if feeling for a fever.

“Not if you made up your eyes to look like a racoon on purpose. If that was your intention, I gotta tell you, it works.” The anger was gone, replaced by concern. Melanie stepped toward her friend and took her hands, pausing to look at her nails. “Girl, you gnawed these down to nubs!”

“I haven’t been sleeping too well”, Lori shrugged.

“I guess not”, Melanie answered and reached up to stroke Lori’s head. “You need to tighten up the pony tail. Looks all like a squirrel’s nest.” Lori face split into a wan smile that Melanie took as a bit of a victory. She wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close. “You OK to work today? I can call Shelley in…”

“No, I’m fine”, Lori said just shy of a sniffle. She returned the hug, happy for the contact. “Just let me get back into the studio-I’ll work this out.”

Melanie stepped back slightly and grasped Lori’s arms at the biceps. “Sometimes you make me just want to shake you.”  She yanked her gently once, then back again, until pulling her close, Melanie leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “Maybe I’ll try the Uncle Red method on you”, she said quietly.

Lori recoiled slightly and felt the heat rise in her cheeks. Of course, Melon knew about Uncle Red; they’d been friends for a decade and had talked about a lot of things. She didn’t know everything of course. Lori kept some secrets-but she knew enough. Still, hearing his name coming out of Melon’s mouth set her back. And Melanie saw it-saw her friend’s eyes widen then narrow as she took a sliding step backward. Melanie settled back herself saying nothing, letting her last words echo.

On her heels, cheeks flushed a hot pink, Lori peeled the tongue from the roof of her mouth and croaked almost under her breath, “Maybe you should.”

Now it was Melon’s turn to let the silence bloom between them. But Lori wouldn’t make eye contact. They were interrupted by the phone, humming softly on the desk between them. “Duty calls”, said Melon clearing her throat. “Go, check your schedule for the morning. I moved your seven to seven-thirty.  You’re welcome. Go start the day.”

Still not making eye contact, Lori turned and walked out of her friend’s office shaken by the exchange but somehow slightly relieved. If the weight pressing her down was not completely lifted it seemed to have lessened-a bit. As she watched Lori leave the room Melanie felt a slight quiver in her chest. She picked up the phone, “Good Morning-River’s Spa…” her voice sang.

To be continued…

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