Author’s Note: Pardon the delay with this chapter, kids! My next couple episodes will be on an every-other-week schedule.
I am a firm believer that things will turn out the way you need them to. So when my coworker Kelly, who I stayed with after my parents kicked me out, told me I could no longer sleep on her couch because reasons, I smiled and thanked her for lending me a place to lay my head for the past couple weeks and went on my merry way. It would work out. It always did.
After that, I stayed about a week at my work. The massage tables are plenty comfy and pretty much every staff member has taken a nap in one of the empty treatment rooms at some point or another. It seemed fair that since I had a key to the building, and since I worked there 20 hours a week in the evenings, it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to spend the night. It seemed like a totally reasonable landing spot until I found more permanent digs. I always left before the first clients arrived. I even brought my sleeping bag and pillow, so I didn’t dirty any of the linens we used for massages. It was like I was never there.
Then, one night, while I puttered around with my nightly bedtime ritual– listening to some Sigur Rós on my headphones while I brewed a mug of chamomile tea in the kitchenette– I failed to hear the faint chime as the office door opened. Nor did I hear the chime a second time when the person who’d opened the door– my boss– left a moment later. I took my tea and settled down on one of the couches in the waiting room to read a bit before going to bed.
A little while later (I don’t know exactly how long, since I didn’t hear the first chimes, just learned about them later), I was breathing in the steam from my tea, letting it clear my head of thoughts… when someone POUNDED on the door.
I basically levitated off the couch. My scalding hot tea poured across my lap and I yelped with pain.
The door swung open and a man stepped in, gun pointed at me. A GUN.
His gun stayed trained on me, but his eyes wilted from fury to general weariness. He looked to be only a few years younger than my parents, hair moving from silver to white, skin like a worn paper bag… but terrifying nonetheless. “Ma’am. What are you doing here?”
“I work here!” I yelled. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have yelled at a police office, but he had a gun! Pointing at me!
Thankfully, he holstered his gun at that point. He turned to the door and called out, “Ms. Foy?”
The studio owner. Shit. As my heart pounded in my throat, I reminded myself that she was generally a chill person. Married with two kids and decidedly mainstream, but the only time I’d seen her angry was when one of the therapists– not me– didn’t show up for the third time and then gave some lame excuse about not feeling well when it was clear she was just hungover.
This had to be okay, though, right? She knew about the change in my living situation. My heart didn’t seem to be appeased by my logic, though, and continued to tapdance in my chest.
He beckoned, and she entered a moment later, her face entirely drained of color. He nodded at me. “She an employee?”
She closed her eyes and exhaled loudly through her nose. “Yes. Dawn Schafer. Thank you.”
“Can we be of any further assistance?”
She kept her eyes closed and gave a tiny shake of her head. “No. Thank you. Sorry for the trouble.”
“Any time,” he replied.
She didn’t say anything until the cop had left, at which point, she said, “Dawn. What are you doing here?”
Of course, without the fear of getting shot, I now became aware of the pain radiating across my thighs from the tea. “I’m sorry, can I do something about this?” I motioned at my soaking wet lap.
She hesitated a moment, then shook her head, sighed. “Yes, fine. I’ll be in my office.”
I escaped to the kitchenette, stripped my pants off and ran a towel soaked in cold water over my thighs. The pain lessened, but my hand holding the towel continued to shake. I dropped the towel into a laundry bin and found a pair of loose bottoms to throw on before going to my boss’s office.
When I found her, she stood over her desk, fingers pinching the bridge of her nose, eyes squinched shut. I cleared my throat. “Sorry about that,” I said, even though calling the cops seemed like a bit of an overreaction. People called the cops too much. I didn’t think she was the type, honestly. But I realized I was wrong.
Turned out, I was wrong about a few things.
“What are you doing here, Dawn?”
I squeezed my hands together and took a deep breath to steady myself. “I just needed a place to stay tonight. Sorry for the scare.”
“Were you staying here before tonight?”
I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t like lying, but I also wanted to minimize whatever reaction that she might have.
“Look, I came in the other day, and noticed the chamomile tea in the crisper in the fridge. Then it was in the silverware drawer the next morning, even though I remember putting it on the shelf when I left the night before. And there have been mugs in treatment room three every morning this week. Which are decidedly Dawn places to leave things, since Natalie tends to be a bit more…” She paused, to search for a word. “Fastidious. I wanted to believe it was just from your shifts, but…” She shook her head. “So. I guess my question isn’t whether you’ve been staying here, but how long you’ve been.”
I looked at my feet. “A week.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Sorry. I’ve just been in a bind with housing.”
“I know. And I feel for you. But, it’s like they say. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
Except that I had no home, that was the problem.
“Look, I’m sorry. You’re a really great massage therapist. But if I find you in here after hours again, I’m going to have to let you go.”
I nodded. “No. Totally. I get it. I’ll grab my stuff.”
* * *
That was why, a few days later, I was sleeping in my car when Mary Anne called. I hadn’t heard from her since dinner with our folks. I wondered if Kristy had actually moved in with her, or if it was all a convenient ploy. I considered not answering, but, once again, I was sleeping in my car, and I knew it couldn’t hurt to try to get back on my stepsister’s good side.
“Dawn. Hey. I’m glad I got you. I have a huge favor to ask.”
I cleared the sleep from my throat and said in my most charming tone, “Oh yeah? What’s up?”
“You don’t happen to have any, uh, pot, do you?”
“Pot?” She’d stuttered, so for a few seconds I thought I’d missed an “a,” and that she meant a Dutch oven or something. I was 100% certain my stepsister had never done any illicit substances. In fact, I don’t think she’d even touched a cigarette.
So it wasn’t until she replied, “Weed. Ur. Marijuana?” that I realized that no, she did not mean a Dutch oven.
It took me a beat to come up with a response, so she added quickly, “It’s for Kristy. She hurt her back moving and ibuprofen isn’t touching it.”
“Oh, wow. Shit.”
“Yeah. She was trying to lift that stupid sectional from her apartment. Do you know the one I’m talking about?”
I didn’t, because I’d never actually been in Kristy’s apartment, because I was on less good terms with Kristy than I was with Mary Anne. But now probably wasn’t the time to bring that up. “Yeah, well. I have a couple different strains right now. Mostly flower, though, I think?”
When she didn’t answer, I realized she probably had no clue what I meant, so I just said, “I should have something that’s good for pain management. Want me to bring it over?”
“That would be great! We’re around all day. I need to run some errands at some point, but Kristy’s pretty incapacitated. Sooner would be better than later, if possible. Oh.” She paused. “I have kind of a silly question. Do you have any that doesn’t smell as much? Like, maybe a gummy bear or something like that?”
Good lord, Mary Anne. Did I look like a dispensary? “Let me check. No edibles, but I’ll see what I have. I can be over in 15.”
“Oh, great! Wow. Thanks, Dawn.”
* * *
On the drive over, I hatched my brilliant plan. “What’s this?” Mary Anne asked when she opened her front door. Her brows drew together and she scratched the back of her head, clearly trying to figure out what part of “We want weed,” I’d confused with, “Please bring a large piece of furniture to my home.”
“Massage table,” I explained. I kept it in my trunk for private clients.
“Oh,” she replied, though I could tell she was still confused.
“Well,” I held up the baggy in one hand. “This is a vape pen, with a strain that’s pretty good for pain management. Not totally scentless, but not like a joint. And this,” I patted the table, “I figured if Kristy’s in as much pain as you say she is, some of her muscles probably got tight and threw everything in her back out of balance. So, you know, maybe work on getting rid of the cause of the pain, not just the pain itself.”
“Oh. Um. Okay. I think she’s actually going to the doctor for that, but we can see what she says.” I felt a prick of annoyance, but mentally waved it away. I knew I could help more than some opioid-pushing MD, and most people won’t turn down a massage.
I followed her into the house, which hadn’t changed much since I’d last visited: still a pile of tiny shoes by the door, generic TJ Maxx artwork on the walls, the vague scent of chicken.
“Where are the kids?” I asked. Usually they trampled me the moment I stepped in the front door.
“Logan took them for the weekend.” She shrugged and rolled her eyes.
“I thought he let you have full custody?”
“Yeah, but he suddenly decided it would be ‘fun to see them.’” She made air quotes. “I don’t know. We’ll see. I want them to have him in their lives.”
I nodded, giving a small, sympathetic frown.
I followed her into the living room, where Kristy lay flat on her back on the couch, neck turned so she could watch some cooking show on TV. She looked up at me, unmoving. “Heyyy…”
“I brought a vape pen,” I explained, handing the cartridge and a battery to Kristy. “The battery should probably last as long as you need it, but here’s the charger just in case. This one’s pretty high in both CBD and THC, because that combo tends to work best for pain relief. It won’t be completely scentless, but it’s not as bad as a joint or, like, making brownies.”
She groaned. “Awesome. Thanks so much.” She immediately opened the bag, screwed the cartridge onto the battery, and took a long drag, closing her eyes.
“And I was telling Mary Anne, I’m happy to give you a massage to see if that would help.”
Mary Anne, who hovered a few feet away, quickly said, “But I told her you’re seeing the doctor on Monday.”
Kristy opened her eyes again. “I mean, that’s really nice of you. Are you sure?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mary Anne shifting from foot to foot. She interjected, “Do you think it’s a good idea to do anything so invasive when you don’t know what’s wrong?”
Thankfully, Kristy responded before I snapped with the same answer, “I mean, a massage isn’t really invasive.” I would have thought it weird that Mary Anne cared more about the massage than the weed, but I knew her real problem was that she could trust Kristy’s suggestions, but not mine. Whatever. I’d remind her that I was an asset to her life.
“Up to you,” I said, trying to keep my tone light. “I really think it could help.”
“Yeah, I’m game for anything at this point.” She took another drag from the e-cig and smiled. “I like this. You get this in Boston?”
“Yup. Wish Connecticut would get it’s shit together.” Normally I didn’t mind making small talk, but it always seemed strange when you were doing it with someone you’d known almost two-thirds of your life. Just a reminder of how far south the relationships have gone.
“Right?” She grimaced as she sat up. “So, where do you want to do this thing?”
We hemmed and hawed about where to put my table– as it turned out, it didn’t fit into any of the bedrooms, and the basement was filled with Kristy’s crap. Our only option was the middle of the living room, which we decided would be fine, since the kids weren’t around and Kristy would be covered in a sheet anyway.
“I guess I’ll… get groceries?” Mary Anne said as Kristy started stripping her shirt off. She looked far too concerned, when the worst thing that could possibly happen is we’d both get high and pass out on her couch after the massage. Maybe gorge ourselves on some of her snacks.
“Sounds good,” Kristy replied as she dropped trou. (You can always tell the former athletes about how little they care about stripping in front of other people, from years in the locker room. Meanwhile, Mary Anne had abruptly turned away, her face bright red.)
Anyway, Mary Anne left after a few sidelong glances, and I proceeded to massage Kristy, working my way around the regions I suspected would be particularly angry. Typically a chatterbox, Kristy stayed remarkably quiet for the duration of the massage (although that’s pretty normal, which is why I always put on music while I massage), just telling me yea or nay when I applied pressure to different areas or giving the occasional sigh, or, a few times, yelps.
I was working on a particularly nasty knot in her left glute when I heard the front door creak open– a little weird, given Mary Anne had left through the garage. Had we been on better terms, I might have called out something like, “You just got back in time for the good part!”
Kristy did give a particularly happy groan, though, as one muscle finally released. “Ho. Ly. Shit. Dawn. This is amazing.”
“Glad it’s helping,” I murmured in the soothing tone I used during sessions.
“Uh. What the fuck?” a voice I didn’t recognize interjected. I glanced up to see a tiny twenty-something dressed in designer workout clothes glowering in the entryway.
Kristy lifted herself up on her elbows and looked over with a sleepy smile. “Oh, hey, Mon. Mon, this is Dawn.” She dropped back down to the table, snickering as she murmured, “Mon. Dawn. Mon. Dawn.”
“What’s going on here?”
“I’m giving Kristy a massage?” I wasn’t entirely sure what the question was. Even if she’d never had a massage herself, most people had seen a massage table on TV. “I’m Mary Anne’s sister?” It came out as a question not because I had any uncertainty about my identity, but because I still didn’t quite know who this person was, why she had a key to Mary Anne’s house, or why she looked so pissed.
“I’m sorry.” (She didn’t sound sorry.) “I was just under the impression you were just bringing her some stuff to help with her pain?”
Kristy waved a hand (well, flapped an arm) at the woman. “Dawn’s a massage therapist. She’s giving me a massage. Isn’t that nice?”
“But why don’t you have clothes on?”
“Because it’s a massage?” Kristy cocked her head to one side, squinting with confusion. Ah, good. So we were on the same page (even if she was clearly stoned and maybe a little less quick on the uptake at the moment).
Mon sighed and gave me a withering glance. “Do you mind giving us a few minutes?”
“She can stay!” Kristy said. “Dawn, stay. It’s fine.”
“You sure? I can go to the kitchen.” Which wouldn’t really result in more privacy for them because of this whole open-floor-plan situation going on in Mary Anne’s house. But it really did seem like I shouldn’t be involved in whatever was happening here.
“Stay.” Kristy flipped onto her back and sat up, sheet sliding down to show a boob a few moments before she lazily grabbed at the sheet to cover herself. God. She was not helping whatever was happening here. “Monica. What’s the deal? It’s just a massage. See? I can sit up on my own!”
“Where’s Mary Anne?”
“Why does that matter?”
“I’m not really comfortable with you being alone, naked, with a woman I don’t know.”
“It’s a massage! She’s straight!”
Monica rolled her eyes. “Like that means anything.”
I held my hands up. “Really. I promise. This is just business. I’m a massage therapist. She’s my client. Nothing going on.”
“So she’s paying you?”
“Well, it’s a favor, really. So no.”
“So you’re her straight friend just helping out.” When I hesitated (look, “straight” isn’t a word I’d use to describe myself), she threw here hands up in the air and stormed over, unhooking my cell phone from the speaker, so the ambient music I had playing stopped. “Okay. This is over.” She glared at me and held out my phone. “Please leave.”
“This is her sister’s house, Monica. She’s allowed to be here.”
“Oh, please. You’ve told me about her.” She said this in a tone that gave me the feeling I should be a bit offended.
“So it should be clear this is just a massage.”
Okay, yeah. I should be offended.
“Monica. I swear. Nothing is happening,” Kristy pleaded. “It’s just a massage.”
“I mean, look at her. It’s not like Kristy can get up to anything anyway,” I added, trying to lighten the mood, despite whatever the fuck they were implying about me.
As one would expect, Monica did not find this funny. Kristy cracked a smile, though, which made me smile.
Which made Monica reach for my basically brand-new bottle of massage oil, unscrew the top–
“Uh, what are you doing?” I asked, my voice lurching upward.
She tipped the bottle over and proceeded to empty the contents all over Mary Anne’s living room couch, a golden waterfall of oil that she swung from end to end of the couch, so it got on all the cushions.
I lunged for her, but she jumped away, letting the bottle continue to empty over Mary Anne’s carpet as she dashed out of my reach. My leg hit an end table and I felt it wobble, then heard the crash as something not terribly sturdy hit the ground. I looked over my shoulder and saw the decimation of a lamp.
At this point, Monica dropped the bottle and ran out the door, yelling, “This is over, Kristy!” while Kristy scrambled to put on her clothes and ran out the door behind her.
When Mary Anne arrived home a few minutes later, the two of them were yelling on the lawn and I huddled down in the middle of the resulting chaos, trying fruitlessly to absorb some of the oil with paper towels. Which didn’t work, of course, so now I was helping both destroy Mary Anne’s couch AND the rainforest by wasting so many paper products.
Mary Anne pressed her palms against her temples, mouth agape. “What. Happened.”
“So, good news:” I said. “I think I helped Kristy’s back?”
© 2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original stock photos © 2019 Drobot Dean and torwaiphoto from Adobe Stock Images.