Ache—sat dull and constant in Elise’s body.
The sun came through her car window, making the interior feel like a kitchen warmed by a wood stove.
The warmth helped ease the slight resident ache she always carried in her from the six to seven
massages she did on the four days a week she worked at the Wellness Center. Elise gripped a
coffee cup. She pressed her fingers flat as they would go to the sides of the cup so the heat of the coffee sank into each sore finger. She breathed in the dark aroma, closed her eyes, and leaned her cheek against the car window, letting the sun usher pain and stiffness from her body. She tried to avoid taking an over the counter pain reliever, but knew later an aspirin was in her future.
Twenty minutes remained before she had step out of her truck for work and she intended to take advantage of every minute, enjoying warm sips of coffee and a short nap. She had nodded off into a comfortable sleep when the loud ping from her cell phone went off. Elise reached into her purse, irritated that Nicholai was probably calling. He had most likely spied her truck on the overlook and wanted her to come in a few minutes early. The sheets from last night’s shift were probably a big white jumbled knot that needed sorting and folding. Why couldn’t he ever give her some peace? Why couldn’t the last shift just do their fricking job? Who was working last night anyways? Edward? Darla? Iggy? Probably Darla and Iggy, they hated folding sheets. Why did Nicholai buy that stupid washer and dryer anyways? He got enough free work out of them. They were not only the massage therapists but also the cleaning crew for the spa—dusting, vacuuming, and bathroom cleaning between massages. All these thoughts flew off like fire crackers as she groped for her phone in her bottomless pit purse.
“Nicholai! I am not coming in until it’s time! I still have fifteen minutes until my shift starts!” Elise snapped into the phone.
“Oh, he still interrupts your morning love affair with coffee. I have always told you to park behind the Rite Aid so he can’t see the truck,” a familiar voice came back through the phone.
Mary heaved a wet load of white sheets from the dryer with a grunt. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of mildew wafting into the air. She looked almost spider like, long arms pulling and tugging at the web of tangled linens.
“Damn!” She dropped the load onto the floor.
“Who forgot to turn the dryer on?’’ Elise’s voice came from behind.
“Don’t know. I haven’t had time to look at the schedule. When I find out though, it won’t be pretty,”
Elise put her tote bag into her locker and then came around the break room table to assist Mary.
“I thought this whole washer/dryer set up was supposed to make things easier,” she said while stooping to help a red faced Mary push the laundry into the washer.
“Since when does anything around here get easier.” Mary rolled her eyes.
“Where is Nicholai? He wasn’t up front when I came in,”
“He took his family down state to visit the grandparents for Thanks Giving,”
“That’s great! He won’t be running around here with his yellow pad barking orders at everyone,”
“No, he won’t. He will be calling me every five minutes, to make sure we won’t burn the place down,”
“C’mon, we’re not that bad. Are we?”
“Well, so far somebody left a lump of white sheets in the dryer over-night. Thank goodness they didn’t mold. Nicholai would have blown a gasket. So far Nicholai one, massage therapists zero,”
Just then the bell connected to a wire in the reception area rang indicating someone was in the lobby. Mary shoved an arm load of sheets at Elise.
“That, I believe is your first appointment of the day. Take care of these. I will call you up as soon as she is done filling out the health history form,”
Mary took the intake form from the young woman standing at the reception desk. She scanned the information written down.
“Okay, Brynn everything looks good. Your Massage therapist is Elise Brady. She should be out in a few minutes. Is there anything I can get for you while you wait? Water? We have coffee, would you like some. There is also tea,” Mary offered.
Brynn surveyed a small table set up with a variety of tea boxes, water bottles, and a coffee maker, the glass pot filled to the brim with freshly brewed coffee.
“Oh, the coffee looks so good. I do need a nice warm up. I guess fall is finally here I woke up with a chill,” she said.
“Well, a fresh cup coming up,” Mary came around the reception desk, ready to pour coffee in one of the white mugs set next to the coffee maker.
“Well, no. Wait…the doctor said no,” Brynn’s hand went to her stomach.
“Well, have water,” she handed Brynn a water bottle.
“We aim to please here at Serenity Spa,” Mary gestured to the large black cursive letters that spelled out ‘Health and Wellness’ on the wall behind her desk.
Brynn sat down on one of the faux black leather chairs. She put the bottle of water between her knees, and tapped on the bottle cap with a forefinger.
“This massage is a gift from my boyfriend. I have never had one,”
“Oh, then Elise is the right therapist for you. Soft hands, motherly,” Mary reassured.
Elise stood at the breakroom sink letting warm water run over her forearms and hands. The arthritis stubbornly refused to leave this morning. Her fingers were stiff and still swelled slightly.
“We have an issue,” Mary said.
“Give me another minute. My hands and fingers are stiff. I’ll give the client a few extra minutes. Now that Nicholai’s not here none of us have to work like clocks today,”
Mary waved her hand.
“No, no, no, not that,”
“This girl is pregnant,”
“I do pre-natal. You know that. As long as she’s past her first trimester,”
“That’s not the problem. She’s having an abortion on Friday.
A few months earlier
Numbers never lie. The numbers on the spread sheets made Nicholai Bernini a happy man. He looked over his crew of massage therapists and at the trinity of Marys, his receptionists. The therapists sat around him in a circle of chairs in the Serenity Spa Lobby. They munched on chips or dug into a sagging paper plate piled with spaghetti and meat balls. The Bistro, which specialized in authentic Italian cuisine, and Spa were a favorite in the small town of Harbor Springs.
“Well, well, well, you all have been busy as bees. The Spa did splendid over the holidays. A 15 percent increase over last year’s season, and a ten percent increase over all. Thank all of you for such hard work,” Nicholai opened the meeting with rare commendation.
He passed a spread sheet with all the year’s figures to his head therapist, Elise, so she could pass the proof of their hard work onto her co-workers.
“Well, Nicholai we all have the sore fingers and injuries to show for it,” Darla said.
“As well as the generous tips from our loyal Serenity Spa patrons. Without their patronage this spa and Bistro would not be successful. We can offer all of our employees a competitive wage,”
“Oh yeah, the eighty dollars for an hour massage, our cut is twen-,” Darla countered. Elise shot her a look that froze her on the spot. Darla pushed a forkful of salad into her mouth.
“All of you will be rewarded for such hard work,” Nicholai said.
“Can we actually have a monetary bonus this year, instead of the old Christmas decorations off the spa Christmas tree, like last year,” Iggy asked.
“I have a surprise for all of you. First, though, let’s discuss Spa business. There is a lot to cover,” Nicholai replied.
“What kind of surprise?” Iggy asked. All the therapists, except Darla, looked up. They sat forward on their seats.
“The surprise is something everyone will like,”
“A Bonus?” Iggy pressed. The spread sheet with all the figures was in her hands. She scanned the paper and passed it on to Edward, who was shoving a meatball into his sauce stained mouth. He immediately passed the sheet to Loralai, the therapist by his side. Loralai frowned at the paper and gave the figures to Darla, who studied each line carefully.
“An increase in the dollar amount per massage,” Iggy continued.
“No,” Nicholai said.
“Oh, I know, we got a new vacuum cleaner. That old one doesn’t pick up anything off the carpets in the massage area,” Darla said as she passed the paper onto one of the three Marys behind the reception desk.
Nicholai pulled his yellow legal pad out and began going down his list of concerns. Most items dealt with smaller issues such as not getting behind on* SOAP notes, noise in the breakroom during client sessions, retrieving clients and ending massages on time. Three items, though, merited heavy discussion.
Item number one: No loud conversation. More importantly, no loud conversation about Iggy’s sex life. That particular discussion boomed through walls of Elise’s massage room, located next to the break room.
“Nothing! No love life for the past three weeks. Have you ever heard of a guy like that? Before, I couldn’t keep his hands off of me!” Iggy complained.
“I know of an Herbal place that can help with that. From what I hear, this lady can make a mix that will get his fire going! You won’t know what to do with yourself. Here, wait, let me see if I have the number…,” Darla advised.
“I’m even considering some ‘landscaping’ if you know what I mean …”
“I thought he didn’t care about that stuff,”
“He doesn’t, but at this point I got try something. I mean nothin’ is happening, and I do mean a big fat ‘O’! Nada,” No matter how loud Elise turned up the music in her room—the conversation only increased in volume. Iggy’s raucous laugh carried through every wall in the center once the two began looking for help on the internet and reading information out loud to each other.
Item number two: Signing out massage rooms. Edward walked into a room he signed out. He’d left his client to undress. The client decided to take a quick trip to the rest room after Edward left. Meanwhile, Darla, who forgot to put her initials in the box on the sign out sheet for that particular room, put her regular client in the same room. This woman preferred only female therapists. A shriek pierced the tranquility of the spa as Darla’s client ran from the treatment room wrapped in sheets when Edward’s client returned from the rest room and began undressing in the dim room.
Item number three: No discussion about clients. He referred specifically to the incident when Darla finished with a client only to find tiny red bumps breaking out all over her forearms once she was washing up in the breakroom sink.
“Look at that!” she held out her wet arms for Elise to inspect.
Elise took hold of one of her arms and pulled it closer to her line of view.
“This guy has horrible stinky feet he always wants done. I have to put peppermint under my nose so I can handle it. I have been trying to get rid of him,”
“Work over the sheet then,” Elise suggested.
“I’ve tried. He hates that!”
“Oh, he’s a gross one. He doesn’t have toe nail fungus, does he?”
“Who the hell knows! I can’t touch anyone now. I don’t know what these red bumps are,”
“Put tea tree oil, and lavender oil on your arms. And don’t refer him to me!”
Elise and Darla were informed by Mary-who-rides-horses soon after that the client had heard the whole
conversation. He’d left in a huff stating firmly he would not return.
“Did he at least leave a tip?” Darla asked.
three: No talking in the hall while escorting clients to the massage rooms. Nobody needs to hear
about the rash on Lapinsky’s back.
“Don’t worry dear, I went to the doctor, everything is okay… No, he doesn’t know what the rash is, but I
am sure I am not contagious. The doctor didn’t seem to concerned…No, I don’t have a doctor’s
note…Well, why do you think you need to glove…”
By the time Nicolai closed the meeting with his therapists satisfied with spaghetti, chips, and pops.
Mary-who-rides-horses passed around the baklava for desert, and Mary-Nicholai’s-third-cousin- once-
removed followed behind with coffee.
“And now for the surprise for all of you,” Nicholai smiled and rubbed his hands together.
A current of whispers ran through the therapists.
“Maybe we finally get a bonus. Business has been so good,”
“If we don’t get a new vacuum, maybe a new coffee maker, that’s going too,” Darla said and took a bite
of her baklava.
‘The Bernini family is so happy with the work of all the therapists. We realize the labor you do is physical
and can be hard on your bodies,”
“You’re offering us free massages. We don’t have to pay half price anymore!” Loralai blurted out.
“Wait, I haven’t finished-,”
“No, I think he hired a maid service. We don’t have to clean,” Darla said.
“Maid service? Why are you always so pessimistic? It could be a bonus,” Elise said.
“I am not! I just know him. In five years we have worked here when have we ever gotten a bonus?”
“I hope it’s a bonus. I could really use the m-,” Edward said.
“A washer and dryer,” Nicholai cut in.
Eight hands turned toward him like swivel chairs. The three Marys behind the reception desk groaned
and threw their hands up.
“A what?” the manila folder in Elise’s lap fell. The paper with all the business sums fell out. She dropped
her arms and shook her head at Nicholai.
“Not a bonus,” Darla sang under her breath.
“Oh, be quiet,” Elise told her.
“The family felt that the dry cleaning service that we were using is not reliable. Especially after the last
episode,” Nicholai said.
The sheets had been delivered after business hours and left outside at the door on the coldest winter day.
They had frozen hard as rocks. The three Marys had to take stacks of sheets and thaw them out in the
towel warmers or take turns zapping them in the micro-wave.
“So no bonus? We had the business. The numbers were there,” Iggy asked.
“Well. A washer and dryer proved to be more cost effective. Perhaps next year. If we have the numbers.
Work hard for the next few months and let’s see what happens,”
Nicholai had taken a pin to their enthusiasm. The giddiness from a few moments ago sputtered out of
his workers the way air blows out of a deflating balloon. The lobby grew quiet. Mary-Who-Rides-Horses
walked around with a hefty bag so the therapists could throw their red stained paper plates in. The
other two Marys began clearing the reception desk of pop bottles.
“Well, I have to say, I am impressed. I honestly thought our reward would be a coffee maker,” Darla
took a sip of coffee.
Nicholai got up. He tucked his yellow legal pad, manila folders, meeting notes and the spreadsheets
with the figures on them, under his arm. He pushed his glasses off the tip of his nose.
“Does anyone have any questions or comments before we bring the meeting to a conclusion?”
There was only a shaking of heads. Nicholai began to take leave of them when Loralai’s hand shot up.
“I do! I have something to say,”
“Yes, Loralai what do you have to say,” Nicholai looked at the girl through the spectacles at the tip of his
Young Loralai, with a cherubic face and large blue eyes, put her hand over her mouth. She kicked her
feet out in front of her. Nicholai had hired her six months ago fresh out of massage school.
“Yes, Loralai?” Elise looked at her.
Loralai crossed her arms over her stomach and looked at all the curious faces around her.
Dark blond hair smelling slightly of grease hair clung dull and damp around Loralai’s round pallid face.
Her watery eyes puffed out, and her chin shined with a vomit smear. She had just wretched up the
content of her stomach.
“What am I going to tell my parents,” she wailed.
Elise, Mary, and Darla stood around her in the employee bathroom. Darla dabbed her chin with a warm
wash cloth, Mary flushed morning sickness down the toilet, while Elise waved a small bottle of essential
peppermint oil under her nose.
“Oh, honey, been there done that. Trust me, you’ll live. Of course your parents won’t be too happy
about it at first. I survived. My baby is twenty years old now,” Darla said.
Loralai sank to the toilet seat and put her head in her hands. She rocked back and forth.
“God, I feel so bad right now. Nicholai is going to write me up for being late, again. I’m already on
probation. I can’t lose my job. Not now, especially!”
“Don’t worry. I told him your car broke down. But you have to somehow, get yourself through five
massages today,” Mary said.
Loralai groaned. Her hands went to her stomach.
“Has your ‘baby daddy’ returned any of your phone calls?” Elise asked.
Loralai shook her head. Darla rolled her eyes.
“Of course not. Typical,” she said.
Nicholai frowned as he looked down at the paperwork on his desk. Elise sat in the chair in front of his desk. They were finishing their weekly morning meeting. Darla’s coffee/Expresso maker and Edward’s hour reduction had been the main topics of their discussion.
“One last thing we need to talk about Elise. Loralai is not doing well. She had three complaints the other day, and one client said she left in the middle of the massage to throw up. I am afraid we will have to let her go,”
“Nicholai, couldn’t you just wait on that. She’s still in the first trimester, things will settle down soon,”
“This is the problem, she is slowing down always tired, always sick. There are too many times when other therapists have to take on her client load,”
“We can cut down on the amount of massages she is doing and switch her shift, maybe afternoon/evening shift instead of mornings for a while,”
“No, no, no, this messes up everyone’s schedule. We are heading into fall; Harbor Springs will be busy with the biggest food and wine festival in the region, our business will pick up. There will be no time for this. Loralai can’t keep up. I need a therapist who can handle the rigors of the job,”
Elise sighed. She gazed at Nicholai in his black leather high backed swivel chair behind his desk. He looked back at her, glasses on the tip of his nose, spread sheets in front of him on the desk top, his yellow legal pad to his right with the minutes from their morning meeting jotted down in his quick efficient block writing. Elise crossed her legs and cupped her top knee. Her eyes went to the yellow pad—he’d written down ‘bring in coffee maker’.
“Tell him we want the coffee/expresso machine,” Darla had told her the day before. She had circled the picture of the brand she wanted in red, “this kind is on sale.”
“Oh, I have an extra coffee maker at home. It was a wedding gift to me and my wife. We never opened the box. I’ll bring that in. No sense spending so much money. If you want expresso just go to the Bistro to get it. We give you all a discount,” he’d told Elise when she presented him with the picture.
“Nicholai, she is trying. I really think if you can wait a couple more weeks—even give her that couple weeks off, she’ll be able to rest and come back stronger. You don’t pay for time off anyways, so what would you lose?”
Nicholai sat back in his seat. He stroked his chin. Hope rose like a river in Elise’s chest. He threw his hands up.
“Okay, we’ll try it, but if this doesn’t work, she has to go,“ he said
Copyright (c) 2016 Leticia Jerguson. All Rights Reserved