Sunday, September 12, 2010
Massage Therapy, Chapter 3
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I knew I was in trouble the minute I saw her naked back.
It wasn’t so much that she was young and slender--I do have a few clients like that, especially the ones with expendable incomes who like to pamper themselves. No, it was the color of her skin that was remarkable: pale, perfect porcelain…in the middle of July. I thought of you right away, Tanya. You always marched to the beat of your own drummer and never cared about fitting in. At least, it seemed that way on the surface. Maybe I never cared to look any deeper than that. But that free spirit still attracts me, and I felt it immediately, emanating from this girl in nearly-palpable waves.
I looked at my client’s chart, trying in vain to read Emmett’s careless scrawl. He and Dad had filled me in briefly on her history--she had been involved in a car accident six years ago that had given her whiplash and some disc compression. She had recovered well enough, but occasionally a pinched nerve would send her back into painful spasms until prescription meds and a few days’ rest calmed the stressed muscles into a semblance of normalcy. Dad’s X-rays showed several vertebrae and even a couple of ribs out of alignment, and Emmett had just performed some adjustments on her spine. But I knew that her bones were just one part of the entire picture. I suspected that when I touched her, I would feel a cacophony of abnormalities crying for help below the deceptively placid surface of her creamy skin.
I tried not to let my eyes stray to the wicker chair where I knew her clothes would be resting, but I couldn’t help it. You can tell a lot about people by the way they take care of their things. If the clothes are neatly folded and stacked, their wearer is most likely very particular and anal-retentive about life in general. A person like that often has muscles as tight as a drum, hard to manipulate. When people toss their clothes in a careless heap on the chair, they’re usually the spontaneous, head-strong type who probably did something foolish to injure themselves, and a few treatments will get their willing muscles back on track. Habits usually reflect a lot about a person.
Isabella Marie Swan’s clothes were folded, but rather sloppily, perhaps absent-mindedly. A faded concert t-shirt--featuring a band I’d always liked--rested diagonally over a pair of well-worn jeans, and both were crowned by a sensible, yet somehow still sexy, mauve-colored bra. Why are bras always hot? It doesn't matter what color or style or size they are. It's more about their purpose--what they've just been doing, moments ago, before they were either folded carefully or dropped unceremoniously on my wicker chair.
So, apparently Isabella Swan split the difference between fuss budget and slob. Examining her would be the only way to determine what was really going on inside her. My eyes drifted back to the expanse of snow-white skin on the table before me, and several inappropriate thoughts flitted through my head before I squashed them back into my subconscious. It isn’t often--if ever, now that I think about it--that I’m entranced with the mere sight of a client’s backside.
So what did this girl go and do two minutes into our conversation? She made a joke about her back “misbehaving like a naughty schoolgirl.” Do women not know what that sort of imagery can do to even the most mature, adult male? And Lord knows I feel far from that sometimes, even if I did hit the quarter-century mark last month. I even replied with a couple of off-color jokes in return, which couldn’t have been more inappropriate under the circumstances. They seemed to slip from my lips without warning, as though she had somehow pulled them from my subconscious by an invisible string.
Some days this job is definitely more challenging than others.
And unfortunately, in this case, it was challenging for reasons more serious than an unwelcome attraction to my client. I was right about my initial suspicion: the girl’s insides were in turmoil. Knot after knot, twist after twist, met my fingertips when I explored her back. I had never felt anything like this in someone so young. It usually took at least half a lifetime of bad habits, minor injuries and repetitive stresses on the body to escalate into a situation like this. It was no wonder her back kept giving out on her. It was trying so hard to compensate for its shortcomings that it simply gave up every now and then.
I went through my methodical explanations of what myofascial release entailed as I began at the top, working with the tissues around the base of her skull. I didn’t tell her how much work there was to do, or how much time it might take to undo the damage that this long-ago accident had caused. I didn’t want to discourage her right away. The truth was, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. After I loosened her neck sufficiently, I moved down to her shoulder blades; and when I felt how tightly bound she was on one side, I had the feeling that as soon as I loosened that area, a corresponding place elsewhere might only pull more tightly in response.
But then, once I got her talking, her body began to relax more. She admitted the silly thing she’d done to mess up her back this time, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I kept picturing her wrestling with a toilet seat that she had neglected to fully unscrew from its porcelain base, and I could just envision her impatience and frustration. I was dying to know what she looked like. Why hadn’t I said something to make her look up at me? As it was, all I knew of her was her silken ivory flesh and long chestnut hair, draped to one side and hanging in shiny waves over the edge of the table. It felt like satin under my fingertips when I massaged her neck. I imagined that she had freckles and pink cheeks. I was itching to see her face when our hour was up.
As I worked on her back, I knew that I was a goner anyway, no matter what she looked like. The story her body was telling me already had me hooked. I’d had enough experience by now to know that in cases like hers, the emotional component was at least as much of an issue as the physical one. Spiral after spiral of twisted flesh like she possessed was a symptom of much more going on inside her. I became convinced there was something she was hiding…something her body was desperately trying to keep protected deep within. I wanted to be the one to unlock her demons and set her free.
People like her are the reason I became a massage therapist. I love the feeling of making the tension leave someone’s body…gently, persistently forcing the tissues to release their stranglehold and return to the proper function they were made for. Maybe it’s a God complex of some kind; maybe it’s more specific than that. Maybe I want to make up for the things I couldn’t change in the past by changing the ones I can in the present. I’ve always suspected that the therapy I perform on others is really therapy for me. Sometimes I wonder how many people I have to fix to make up for the way I failed you, Tanya. Maybe it’s not about quantity. Maybe it’s about how much my client needs me.
And whether she knows it or not, Isabella Swan needs me. Desperately.
I was beginning to make some progress with her by the time our hour was up. I almost hated to stop, because her body was responding much more readily to my hands now. But I knew that she could only take so much at one time, and she would require a series of treatments to see lasting results. I’ll have to be patient. Normally that’s not such a big deal for me, but for some reason, I am more intrigued with Isabella Swan than I have been with a client in a long time. It feels like she came to me for a reason.
My stomach was actually fluttering with nervousness when I went back into the massage room after she had dressed. I wanted to put a face with the body that I was already beginning to know intimately, and would eventually know better after a few more sessions. I discovered that all my instincts had been right when I sat down opposite her and looked into her eyes. They were like two rich dollops of Hershey’s syrup glistening at me from atop her creamy skin. They were beautiful… and they were haunted.
But then, quite suddenly, they were shocked, confused… maybe even afraid. I soon found out why: she had no idea who the hell I was.
I couldn’t believe that bonehead I call a brother had neglected to inform her that he wouldn’t be performing her massage, and that some stranger was about to walk in the door and rub his hands all over her. I was more appalled at the fact that I hadn’t even thought to introduce myself properly in the first place, regardless of what Emmett had or hadn’t done. What the hell was I thinking? Apparently my gonads were in such a bunch over the curve of her ass under that blanket that I had stopped thinking rationally altogether. I couldn’t keep from cursing the hell out of myself under my breath, adding more fuel to the completely unprofessional fire that burned through my cheeks.
By the time I got myself together and looked back at her lovely face, she was staring at me like I had three heads. Having two was bad enough, especially when the little one started dictating what the big one was doing. It didn’t help that I was now noticing other enticing things about her besides her huge chocolate eyes. Her features were quietly pretty…delicate in a way that didn’t shout, and didn’t need to. That included the faint dusting of freckles across her nose, which made me grin inwardly in satisfaction. But the post-massage flush of improved blood circulation that should have been glowing in her cheeks and lips was conspicuously absent. In fact, her coloring was much more like that of someone who’d just eaten some bad fish. She looked similar to a lot of the drunken girls I’d taken home from college frat parties in hopes of getting some, only to spend the evening holding their hair back while they ralphed repeatedly in the toilet.
I knew I shouldn’t be so forward, but I couldn’t help myself--I put the back of my hand against her forehead, and her cool, damp skin gave her away. She was not well. My fingers ignored this fact, boldly brushing against her cheek and combing through her silky hair before I reined them in and forced my hand back to my lap. God help me, I am playing with fire, I thought. I can’t afford for either of us to get burned.
She finally admitted that she had started to feel queasy during the massage, and I wanted to shake her for not telling me right away. I’d obviously stirred up all sorts of toxins in her body and it was telling her that she had had enough; but she was so unaccustomed to listening to it that she ignored it completely. I see this kind of thing all the time. I was struck again with the desire to help this girl, to make her whole again. I want to see the color back in her cheeks, and feel harmony flowing through her body instead of discord.
If I’m being completely honest, the truth is, I just want to see her again. Period.
I got her some more water and told her all the things she needed to do to help herself before the next treatment. I made an appointment for her in a week, and she seemed eager to come back again. Her face was hesitant but hopeful when I told her that I thought I could help her. Something in her eyes struck a chord deep inside me… I can’t even explain what it was, exactly. But I felt something very profound in that moment. I sensed a quiet desperation lurking deep within her. I don’t want to let her down. I want to keep the promises I made to her.
As soon as she left, I laid into Emmett but good.
“What the hell were you thinking, not telling her that you aren’t the massage therapist?” I demanded. “You should have seen the look on her face when I walked back in there. She went through the whole massage not knowing it was me who performed it. She probably feels completely violated.”
“Dad told me he had filled her in--I thought she knew!” he exclaimed in his usual clueless, what-who-me?-manner. “You’re the moron who just started feeling her up without so much as a how-do-you-do first.”
I bristled at Emmett’s cavalier description of what I do. Sometimes it seems like Emmett and Dad are in cahoots with the continual Rodney Dangerfield treatment of my chosen profession. They have no respect for it, or me. Sympathy, maybe, but not respect. I don’t know which is worse: having them feel sorry for me because of what happened, or having them think I’m a fuck-up because of how I dealt with it. The worst part is when I start blaming you, Tanya. I try like hell not to do that. I try even harder not to blame myself, though that’s not as easily done. Is that why you did it? To punish me? I know that’s not all it was about, but some days it feels like it is.
“Well, no thanks to you, she’s coming back for more work next weekend,” I grumbled to my thoughtless brother. “I think I can help her, a lot more than you or dad can.”
Emmett gave me the requisite eye roll and “Yeah, yeah,” before heading to his office to finish up his paperwork for the day. I went back to the massage room to strip the bedding off the table and throw it in with the week’s laundry. I guiltily raised the flannel sheets to my face, breathing in to see if Isabella Swan’s scent still lingered. I couldn’t be sure if it was anything more than the fragrance of fabric softener, but it smelled lovely, like she was. A strange prickle traveled down my spine at the thought of her. Why, I don’t know. There’s something about that girl that draws me… and I want to figure out what it is.
I gathered up the laundry bag of sheets and towels and headed out for the day without a glance or word to my brother. He still yelled after me, “I’ll see you at Java tonight!” I had to chuckle despite our recent squabble. Nothing would keep my brother and sister from coming to see me perform, and as much as they both irritate me from time to time, deep down I'm grateful for my family. They keep me going during the hard times more than I'll ever admit to them. But I try to return the favor whenever they need me.
I headed back to the loft and decided the laundry could wait until the next day. Instead I settled in with the Les Paul and did a little warming up. I’ve been writing a lot of songs lately. I guess I should be thankful that you gave me so much material. That, right there, is a sick and twisted thought. But those are the kinds of things that pop into my head, unbidden, and send my guilt into overdrive. So I write some more. It’s a vicious, and yet perversely productive, circle. It’s the only therapy I know.
Alice was taking the ferry from Mom and Dad’s place, and I promised I’d pick her up at 7 p.m. I warmed up some Chinese take-out for dinner but refrained from having one of the Heinekens in the ’fridge since I’d be driving. As I ate, I wondered what Isabella Swan did for a living, and how she spent her weekends. I wondered if that idiot Jacob guy ever called her back. And what was so great about him that she’d be hell-bent on making sure he didn’t have to take a crap while sitting on a chipped toilet seat, for chrissakes? Women really don’t get men at all if they think we give two shits--pardon the pun--about something like that.
I was glad for the familiar Hendrix ring of my cell derailing that particular train of thought. It was Jasper, checking to see what time we’d be meeting up at the bar. We were each going to do a few tunes of our own and then a couple together. I’m thankful that he stuck around Seattle after graduation, and he’s one of the few friends who stayed in touch with me after I dropped out of UW. Jasper makes his living working as a high school music teacher by day and playing in clubs by night. He’s putting together a band of sorts, but he still likes to duet with me on occasion, and our voices complement each other’s well. I’ve never wanted to be part of a band. I’ll just stick to me and my acoustic, and sing whatever is in my heart. I never know where any of it comes from when I get up in front of a group of people. I’m always nail-bitingly nervous for an hour beforehand, but once I’m onstage and open my mouth to sing, everything else disappears. That head space is my favorite place to be. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience, and I like taking a vacation from myself.
Though it had been a hot summer day, the air was refreshingly cool down by the bay. I couldn’t help but smile when Alice bounded toward me through the crowd departing from the boat onto the dock. Her energy was even more infectious than usual, probably because she was anxious to see Jasper. As for Jasper, he hasn’t quite made up his mind about my quirky little sister. I didn’t tell him that I suspect she already has herself mentally married to him and is blithely planning their 2.5 children and sprawling suburban home together. Once Alice makes up her mind about something or someone, it’s impossible to sway her. She has an uncanny knack for predicting the outcome of things, and her track record is eerily good. If she senses that Jasper Whitlock is the man for her, the poor guy doesn’t have a prayer.
“Edward!” she exclaimed, vaulting her diminutive body at me in greeting. I obligingly reached down to give her a hug, allowing her to throw her arms around me and squeal deafeningly into my ear. “Are you excited about tonight? I had sooo much fun last time you played at Java Shack!”
“Of course you did. That’s the night you met Jasper,” I laughed.
“Was it?” she gasped in mock innocence.
“Like you don’t have the date written down in your diary,” I grinned, remembering her furious scribbling into volumes of top-secret tomes from adolescence onward.
“Says the guy who won’t let me see that mysterious black journal you always shove under the sofa cushions whenever I come over,” she accused playfully.
“I told you, they’re song lyrics,” I reminded her. “Are you calling me a liar? Do you think I would keep anything from you?”
“Yes, and yes,” she said flatly. “The older you get, the more secretive you become. Honestly, Edward, if you don’t start letting people in, you’re going to die old and alone and let all that beauty go to waste.” She squeezed my face briefly in her hand and gave me a peck on the cheek before releasing me and taking off down the boardwalk.
“I just turned 25, Alice,” I called after her, picking up my pace to match hers. As tiny as she is, she can still beat my long-legged stride by virtue of her sheer boundless energy. “I’m not worried about being an eternal bachelor just yet. Why don’t you work on getting Emmett to settle down instead? Thirty is looming right over his shoulder.”
“Yes, but at least he dates,” Alice argued. “And before you protest, those barflies you pick up, bed once and never see again do not count.”
“What a flattering picture of me you paint,” I groused.
“If the condom fits….” she trailed off with a disapproving quirk of her brow.
“You’ll be happy to know that I hardly ever do one-night stands anymore. It’s not worth the hassle afterward.”
“You mean when they actually start wanting something more from you than just sex?” Alice retorted. “That does not make me happy, Edward…quite the contrary. Because that means you’ve probably given up on women altogether. If you never let any of them stick around long enough to get to know them, then my prediction of permanent hermit bachelorhood will come true before you know it.”
I sighed heavily as we approached my aging silver Volvo. “Alice, as soon as I meet a girl who makes me want to spend more than twenty minutes at a time with her, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Twenty minutes?! Yeah, that sounds about right,” she said with an innuendo-laden snort as I unlocked the car. “Well, you certainly aren’t gonna be reeling in the ladies with this ride. I’m surprised you haven’t splurged on some flashier wheels by now.”
“It’s paid for. It runs. That’s all I care about,” I replied as we climbed in. By the time we were both seat-belted up, I hoped the conversation would take a different turn. No such luck.
“Wow, maybe you have changed,” Alice mused as I started the engine. “I’m just not sure it’s for the better. If you’ve stopped trying to impress girls… I dunno, Edward. I‘m worried about you.”
“For God‘s sake, Alice, I’m fine. You’re worrying for nothing. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I liked it better when you were away at college. If you’re going to spend the rest of the summer studying me under a microscope, then your first semester of med school can’t start soon enough for me.”
“Humph. Med school is exactly where you should be right now,” she said as I pulled out on the Alaskan Way. “You had the best grades of all of us. You could have gone into any field you wanted. You still could, you know.”
“Et tu, Alice?” I shot back. “I like what I do. Western medicine isn’t the end-all, be-all, you know. I’ve been able to help people when traditional methods haven’t done shit for them.”
“No need to be so defensive, Edward. I respect what you do, honestly. It’s just that the old Edward was so… ambitious. I’m afraid that you’ve kind of given up.”
My jaw clenched and I bit my tongue before I said something I’d regret. I made a show of concentrating on driving, weaving in and out of traffic so we could get to the Pike Place Market district, where one of my favorite lounges was located.
“Edward, it’s been three years now,” Alice said softly. “When are you going to let all of it go?”
“I have let it go, Alice,” I said hollowly. “I’m trying to build a different kind of life for myself. It would be nice if I had my family’s support.”
She put her hand reassuringly on my shoulder. “I’ll always have your back, Edward. You know that,” Alice said emphatically. “I just want you to be happy, that’s all. And there’s still so much sadness in your eyes. I miss my devil-may-care brother, you know? You were fearless.”
I realized that I didn’t know what that meant anymore. My carefree days seem so long ago, I no longer remember the feeling. “I miss him too,” I replied quietly, almost under my breath. But Alice’s reassuring squeeze let me know that she heard.
We drove on in silence for a moment, until my baby sister’s inherent bubbly personality frothed up to the surface again. “So, do you and Jasper take requests?” she asked suddenly. “Because there is something I’m dying to hear him sing. I mean, the both of you,” she amended.
“Well, you can ask, but if we don’t know it, you’re SOL,” I said with a grin, glad for the change of topic.
“If he doesn’t know this one, he should,” she replied mysteriously.
“I’m afraid to ask,” I muttered as I miraculously spotted a parking spot not far from our destination.
Java Shack is still one of my favorite watering holes, even after I left UW. I’ve always loved the laid-back atmosphere and that amazing Columbian breakfast blend that they fresh-roast daily. In the evenings the brew pub takes over, and it’s more of a hot spot than it was when you and I used to go there, Tanya. Laurent has developed a die-hard clientele for the pale ale and amber bocks that he brews. The weekend open mic nights have become kind of a staple, and he always has a spot open for me whenever I want to play.
When our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the bar, Alice and I discovered that Emmett had already saved us a table and ordered a pitcher of the house special. Alice was excited to learn that Jasper had arrived, too, and was talking with the bar manager about the schedule. When she caught his eye from across the room, she waved wildly and gave him a huge grin.
“Have you ever heard of playing hard-to-get, Alice?” Emmett suggested with a laugh.
“Not my style,” she replied dismissively. “I like being direct. I don’t see the point in playing games, unlike some people I know.” She gave us both an accusatory look, her gaze settling on me the longest.
I shook my head in denial. “I’m telling you, I’m a changed man, Alice,” I tried to convince her. Emmett’s snort of derision didn’t help my case.
“I dare you to not take home the first girl who hits on you tonight,” she challenged.
“Trust me, that won’t be any hardship on me. Seriously, Alice, a lot of the girls in these places have lost their appeal for me,” I insisted.
Alice put her palm to my forehead as if checking for a fever, while Emmett mused, “You know, it has been awhile since I’ve seen you chatting up the groupies. Are you starting to bat for the other team? Is there something you’re not telling us about you and Jasper?”
Alice gasped and punched our elder sibling in his considerable bicep, hard enough to make him grunt in protest. “Take it back!” she demanded. “Jasper cannot swing the other way. I have plans for him that are of an overtly heterosexual nature.”
“So you’re fine with it if I’ve decided to go gay, as long as Jasper is still eligible? It’s enlightening to know what you really think of me, Alice,” I commented with a half-laugh. “If I pick up girls in bars, I’m a womanizer. If I stop, then I’m gay. Is there no middle ground where I’m safe from attack?”
Alice shooed me away as if I were a pesky fly, her rabid attention focused solely on Jasper as he approached our table.
“I think Jazz is the one who’s unsafe at the moment,” Emmett commented. He held up his mug for a toast, and I raised my glass to his in agreement.
Jasper greeted us with his usual big, lazy grin and casual fist-bump, but Alice was having none of that. She engulfed him in a bear hug that made him laugh, though he did give me kind of an embarrassed look over her shoulder.
“We’re set to go on in about an hour,” he told me as he extricated himself from my sister’s embrace. I noticed that his hand stayed on the small of her back for a bit longer than could be considered platonic. I almost laughed out loud. Alice Cullen always gets her man. Whether or not she decides to keep him is another story entirely.
I was glad to have some time to down a little liquid courage and talk with Jazz about our set beforehand. There was a small area off-stage where musicians could tune their guitars and warm up a little right before going on. But other than that, performers pretty much had to go on “cold turkey” and play. There weren’t a lot of other musicians at Java last night, so it looked like Jasper and I would get to do a decent set. Sometimes it’s one, maybe two songs and you’re through. Some of the performers are serious about making a living at their art, and they hope to catch the eyes and ears of indie label scouts who sometimes frequent these showcases to check out the local talent. Others are more like me, just looking for a momentary outlet or release for their creativity. In fact, the idea of making a living selling my music is almost abhorrent to me. I can’t imagine exposing such personal expression to the masses and turning it into commerce.
Jazz knows how nervous I get, so he let me go on first to “get it over with,” in a manner of speaking. I warmed up with one of my favorite old Van Morrison tunes, then followed up with one of my own, a kind of bluesy ballad, which is predominantly what I seem to write. The songs seemed to go over pretty well with the laid-back but appreciative crowd. Emmett and Alice made enough racket for half a dozen people, which made me grin in spite of myself.
Jasper always looks calm and commanding onstage, like he was born to be there. He has a certain air of authority about him, probably from controlling a class full of unruly kids every day. I try to emulate him but can never pull it off. I always feel like I wear my heart on my sleeve as soon as I strap a guitar around my neck. Maybe that’s because I tend to keep it so carefully guarded every other minute of the day.
He performed one of his original rockabilly-infused songs, and then, with an announcement that the next song was “by request,” he gave Alice a wink and launched into “Bad Things.” I had to laugh at Alice’s audacity, but when I listened to the lyrics, all I could think about was Isabella Swan.
I'm the kind to sit up in his room.
Heart sick an' eyes filled up with blue.
I don't know what you've done to me,
But I know this much is true:
I wanna do bad things with you.*
I was beginning to feel a little annoyance at the niche she had already carved in my brain. After all, I really didn’t know a thing about her, other than she was a girl in pain. I guess I have you to thank for making me so attuned to that now.
By the time Jazz was done, the crowd was getting a little more riled up. I joined him for a driving blues number we’d written together, followed by an old Tom Petty tune that had the patrons cheering. A happy buzz had caught hold of me by the time we left the tiny stage, and as always, I was still somewhat surprised and relieved at the catharsis I felt.
“You were fantastic!” Alice exclaimed when we made our way back to our table. She managed to grab both Jasper and I in a simultaneous hug, while I whispered, “Sneaky,” into her ear. She shushed me quietly and turned her attention to my friend, asking him some mundane question about what kind of strings he uses on his Gibson, as if the answer meant anything at all to her.
Emmett congratulated me with a slap on the back, then poured me a beer out of the nearly-empty pitcher on our table. I motioned to our nearby waitress for a refill, and when I turned back to Emmett, he had his back to me and was talking with a group of guys at the table behind us.
“Hey man, nice job,” one of them said to me, getting up and holding out his hand in greeting. I shook it and thanked him, then looked to Emmett to see if he’d bother to introduce his new acquaintances. For once my brother picked up a hint about social graces, and he went around the table, naming off the guys one by one. They happened to be members of an up-and-coming local band, The Wolf Pack. When Emmett announced the name of the last guy, the one who had complimented me, my ears perked up instantly.
I repeated his name aloud. “Jacob Black?” He nodded in answer. “Edward Cullen,” I introduced myself. I was certain that Jacob Black was the name of the guy Isabella Swan hoped to impress with a pristine crapper. Could this really be the same guy for whom she severely screwed up her back? My eyes narrowed as I gave him a surreptitious once-over. A dark-skinned native American with a blinding, toothy grin, Jacob Black was pretty much the opposite of me in every way, from his deep-set ebony eyes to his overblown gym-rat muscles. Is this the type she’s attracted to? I wondered silently. I felt frustration ripple through me at the thought. At least I was a good half-foot taller than he was, I consoled myself.
“My hat goes off to you, being able to solo like that,” Jacob told me in what sounded like all earnestness. “You’ve got some mad vocal skills. All I’m good for is pounding the skins,” he said with a good-natured laugh, adding a little air-drumming to punctuate his statement. He came across as easy-going, a good guy, not unlike my brother sitting next to us. So why did I already dislike him so much?
I thanked him for the compliment and asked him what kind of music his band played, mostly to make conversation; but also because I was curious as to what type of music my newest massage client liked. And did her preferences extend to the musicians themselves?
“Mostly rock, in kind of a Kings of Leon vein,” Jacob answered. “But we like to check out the folk and blues scene around here too, when we don’t have a gig.”
“So when’s your next show? I’ll have to catch a set sometime,” I offered. I didn’t reveal why. I didn’t even want to admit the reason to myself, though it was obvious where my devious mind was headed. I was already considering this guy my competition, which was ridiculous, because I don’t date clients. Ever. The last thing I need is a sexual misconduct suit filed against me by a disgruntled former customer-turned-paramour. Not getting involved personally with clients is my one ironclad rule.
Rules were made to be broken, a little singsong voice in my warped brain taunted me. I ignored it and tried to concentrate on conversation with the band. The Wolf Pack was comprised of a group of Quileute natives from near the coast, who had moved to Seattle to try their luck at getting signed to a record label. I was itching to ask Jacob if he knew Isabella Swan, and if so, how? But I could think of no offhand way to do it, so I kept my mouth shut. I wished it was as easy to shut off the part of me that was so curious about her.
At least sitting and talking with the guys kept me from getting accosted by any of the girls in the bar, so I wouldn’t have to put up with Alice’s judgmental glares. That's what I thought until I went to the men’s room, anyway. Sure enough, as soon as I came out, a couple of females happened to turn from the bar with their drinks and walk directly in my path. At first I thought it was accidental, but the blonde's exclamation of surprised apology was a little too obvious, as was the brunette’s expression of annoyed embarrassment. Apparently her friend had pulled this stunt before.
“Hey, didn’t you perform earlier?” the blonde asked with feigned nonchalance. I gave a perfunctory nod and curt smile in response, which somehow still encouraged her to continue. “You were fantastic. Really! So… raw and passionate. Do you have a CD or a website with your music? ‘Cause I would totally buy it!”
The curt smile found my lips again. “No, sorry, I just do this for fun. Just a past-time.”
“Wow, that’s a shame. Talent like yours should be heard. Seriously!” she insisted, giving me a pearly smile. She was very pretty, very pert, very blonde. Very not-my-type. The brunette rolled her eyes a bit, and I immediately liked her better than her eager friend. What is it that shrinks are always saying about guys liking a challenge? Maybe that’s true. At least I find myself leaning that direction more and more lately. Plus, the brunette reminded me of….
Shit. No more of this, I told myself. I excused myself from the girls before they had a chance to introduce themselves, then went back to our table. Alice was waiting for me with The Look, just as I expected.
“There!” I told her with satisfaction. “I did not pick up the first girl who came across my path. I believe that calls for another round of drinks, on you.”
“The night is young,” she laughed. “The blonde is an easy mark, but I’ll bet her friend can be had too if you play your cards right.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked. “And why are you suddenly encouraging me in despicable behavior, anyway?”
“The brunette had too much of a look of distaste on her face,” Alice explained. “Not indifferent enough. More like she was trying really hard to resist your pretty face, I’m guessing. She’s probably used to her friend getting all the hot guys, so she automatically convinces herself that she’s not into you from the get-go so that she doesn’t feel bad if you reject her.”
“Geezus, Alice, is that really how women think?” Emmett piped up. “No wonder it’s so fucking hard to figure you out.” He shook his head in bewilderment, and I had to join him. Alice’s words almost made me want to go chat up the brunette, just on principle. But she looked too much like her. And I was not giving that subject any more thought tonight.
I started drinking Cokes so that I could sober up a bit before driving back to the loft. Alice was staying the night at my place so that she didn’t have to take the ferry back late at night. The way she and Jasper were behaving, I was almost surprised that she didn’t go home with him instead. She explained to me later in the car that she has a very strict policy of not sleeping with a guy until after at least three formal dates, preferably more, but it just depends on how the relationship is going. I reminded her that I really don't want to know one single detail about her sex life, and that if she plans on boning any of my friends, that sentiment is at least tripled.
The next morning I had a few clients to see, so I left Alice to sleep in on the couch. She was gone when I came back, though she had left me a couple of pastries from the coffee shop down the street, along with a note saying she planned to come see me tonight at Billy’s Brew Pub, but that this time Emmett would pick her up. I should have known she would come to support me, even if Jasper wouldn’t be there this time. He was rehearsing with his band in the hopes that they’d become tight enough to start playing some local venues. I thought again of The Wolf Pack, and whether or not their Jacob Black was the same one who had caught Isabella’s eye. Maybe I’ll ask her about him next week at our appointment.
Or maybe I should just cut my tongue out before it gets me in trouble. Although, to be fair, it isn’t really my tongue that’s the problem.
I pushed back the unwelcome thoughts again and got dressed for my weekly tennis match with Katrina. I considered telling her about Isabella Swan, but I already knew what advice she’d give me. She has the same “no fraternizing with clients” policy that I have. But she’s the only person in my life who’s completely objective, and she sure helped me get through a lot of my issues with you. I may need to vent to her yet, depending on how the next session with Ms. Swan goes. But the match itself helped me get out some aggressions, and I bested Kate three of five games, even though she’s a better player than I am. I could tell she was dying to ask me what was up with my brutal serves today, but she kept mum. I wish I’d known her when I was involved with you. She may have saved us both a world of heartache.
By the time I got to Billy’s tonight, I was feeling better about things. Focusing on the tennis game for awhile helped put everything into perspective. I was blowing this whole preoccupation with Isabella Swan completely out of proportion. When I saw her again next Saturday, I was sure to have the balloon of my expectations about her deflated by the pinprick of reality. I probably just saw in her what I wanted to: someone I could “fix” this time, before it's too late. It didn't take Freud to figure out what I was doing, and I didn't need a shrink to tell me to stop doing it. Every now and then, common sense does prevail in this muddled brain of mine.
I’ve only been to Billy’s a few times, but I'm already falling in love with the vibe of the place. All kinds of people can be found there, from aging hipsters to young wannabe poets and everything in between. I’ve never heard such an attentive audience as at their open mic nights. There’s a kind of respect permeating the air there, like the patrons want to give performers the benefit of the doubt. No fear of boos or rotten tomatoes ever takes over when I’m at Billy’s.
I was reduced to nothing but a bundle of raw, pulsing nerves by the time I finished. I felt naked; exposed. There was dead silence in the club for a few agonizing seconds, and I thought, No one gets it. No one understands. But then, the applause began… slowly at first, then building to a crescendo that I’d never heard before. Whistles and shouts followed as the loud clapping continued. Dazed, I looked out at the crowd, really seeing them as individuals for the first time. Most were strangers, but many had glistening eyes, as if I had touched them deeply. Emmett looked stricken; Alice had tears running freely down her adorable cheeks.
And then my gaze caught something that sent a nervous thrill from my scalp to my toes. A familiar pale, heart-shaped face jumped out at me from the throng. Her slack mouth was agape, her watery eyes engulfing my soul. I would recognize those drops of Hershey's syrup anywhere.
I felt my heart sink rapidly as my eyes locked with hers. I wasn’t imagining things. There is something between us that I can't define and can't control. It isn't all in my head. It seems to have infected every other part of me as well.
Holy fucking hell. I really am in trouble, and trouble has a name.
Isabella Marie Swan.
*“Bad Things” music and lyrics by Jace Everett, © EMI BLACKWOOD MUSIC INC.; JACKABOY SONGS