His hands always drove her crazy. The way his palms slid smoothly across the inside of her arches sent shockwaves through her brain, every single time. The oils he massaged into the soles of her feet lulled her into a state not unlike sleep, where everything was balloons and cotton candy, a veritable smorgasbord of heavenly proportions. His ministrations tricked her mind into thinking only the two of them existed in the whole wide world, that none came before and none would come after. It was just them, in the moment, forever. Or at least until the half hour was up and she paid him the $50 bucks she owed.
Valerie almost never went into the mall by herself, preferring to do most of her shopping online, like most people her age. It took about two seconds for her to buy a few entire outfits, while still in her underwear, and all she had to do was use her credit card like it was going out of style. That turned out to be her problem, though, when every month the credit card bills would fall into her mailbox and put her into a mood. And of course when she was in a mood over money the only thing that could soothe her was another visit to Nails & More in the mall. It was the only reason she ever went.
Then there was Thad too, the man she was sort of seeing. He reminded Valerie of a hitchhiker who was always thumbing a ride to somewhere new because being stagnant was not in his vocabulary. It always surprised her that she could even call him her boyfriend, but he had allowed it just a few weeks before, and she even changed her Facebook status to mirror the sentiment. But she hardly ever actually saw him — he was always on the road with his band — which made it difficult to rely on Thad for support, moral or otherwise. And she needed him desperately right then.
It had hit her like a sack of potatoes when her boss called Valerie into the office to deliver the news, a surreal experience if there ever was one. Twenty minutes later she found herself wandering the small mall like one of those zombies she liked to watch so much on TV, aimless until she found the one place that felt to her like home.
She always went to Chin Ho, the man with the magic hands. It was all very ironic to her, when she thought about it, because Chin Ho was the last person in the shop she would have thought could do such amazing things. He looked rather plain, actually, probably in his mid-50s, with a slight paunch and large glasses that obscured his eyes. But his hands — his hands were soft and gentle, like a baby’s bottom. Their touch made her feel loved and appreciated in a way that Thad couldn’t compare with, even if he had been around 24/7.
They had never talked, either, their dalliances always silent save for the extraneous other conversations in the shop, which was fine with Valerie. It meant nothing would break the mystique of their connection. She knew it was vaguely kinky, what she required and received from Chin Ho, especially in her own mind, but it was the only way she could truly release the demons that often plagued her fragile and brittle mind in the midst of her sordid world. It was how she coped, and she never wanted to imagine a world in which Chin Ho didn’t exist.
For his part, he understood what she needed without making her give voice to it. It was his job to soothe the physical aches and pains of his customers, but she way she looked at him — he knew there was more to it. He only touched her feet, though, in all the times she had been there, the ankles and lower calves too. She had well-defined arches, he had noticed from the start, ones that curved luxuriously from heel to foot pad. Her feet were extremely sensitive, too, so he always applied a lot of pressure to keep her from moving around to avoid mirth.
Chin Ho often felt Valerie’s heartbeat in her feet as well, making the contact even more intimate than it already was. And her voice was melodious, he also thought, having heard it several times, even though they didn’t speak to each other. On occasion she would take a phone call while lying prostrate in the reclining chair, and he would revel in her smooth tone, even if most of the time she was arguing with whomever was on the other end of the line. Soon, though, she would relax again, when the call was over, and her heartbeat would return to its normal pace.
Valerie knew it would have to end at some point, that it was unnatural to expect more from the relationship than what existed, and also that she would have to end things with Thad. While it was amazing to be able to say she was his girlfriend, she realized she wasn’t getting what she needed from him, and that she probably never would. A man like that didn’t settle down, even for someone like her. He would never treat her like the delicate flower she was, giving her the reassurance she constantly needed. It was plain to her right then, on the day she was let go, while Chin Ho was tending to her real needs — with her eyes closed the thought of letting go descended on her like an epiphany.
As she emerged from the warmth of her cocoon and looked into Chin Ho’s eyes, she knew all this and more. Reaching into her purse, she took out her credit card and handed it over, letting their hands momentarily brush in the exchange, and she thought about her next move. The world was wide open.