Nick and Amy have been married for seventeen years and for most of those years Nick has been on the hunt for the perfect gift for his adorably spicy and incredibly picky wife. Amy doesn’t think she’s picky in the slightest, it’s just that her husband tends to buy what he thinks Amy needs rather than what Amy has told him in no uncertain terms that she wants. Hence, over the years there have been silky, see-through negligees wrapped under the Christmas tree when Amy was hoping for a pair of comfortable flannel pajama pants that fit her waist after three kids, or music software that Amy can’t even figure out how to turn on when she really wanted a simple iPod, or the epic birthday blowout of 2015 the neighbors witnessed when Amy hinted that she’d love a piece of jewelry and Nick surprised her with a Fitbit instead.
“Baby, this Christmas I’ve really outdone myself,” Nick says with gusto, blowing in the back door, briefcase and lunchbox in hand, snow swirling all around.
“Oh really?” Amy questions, leaning away from the sink load of dirty plates she’s cramming into the dishwasher to kiss him on the lips. “You say that every year, you know?”
“I will admit, last year’s Christmas gift did not make the impression I thought it was going to make. I’m still disappointed about that,” Nick pouts as he slips off his coat and plops his things on the countertop.
“Nick, you bought me a used ping pong table.” Amy rolls her eyes at her husband and dries her hands on a towel. “We don’t play ping pong.”
“We should play ping pong,” he argues, reaching for her and pinning her against the sink. “Remember how we christened the ping pong table?” he wags his eyebrows at her and leans down to nuzzle her neck, making Amy laugh.
“Yeah and now it’s covered with junk in the basement,” she reminds him as he presses himself against her.
“Gross,” a voice calls from behind them. “You’re gross. There are kids in the house that don’t want to see you guys being so gross.” Their sixteen-year-old daughter Stella yanks open the fridge to retrieve a yogurt. Reluctantly, Nick pushes himself away from his wife to greet his daughter.
“Oh, come on, sweetheart. Aren’t you proud to have parents who still love each other?”
Stella pretends to gag to make her point as she peels back the plastic from her yogurt. But she’s smirking, and he knows deep down she’s proud, so he shifts gears.
“Stella, do you want to play ping pong tonight with your dear old dad?”
“Dad,” she rolls her eyes at him. “No one likes ping pong. Seriously no one.”
“I bet Peter will play,” Nick mutters to himself as his daughter saunters out of the room with a spoon in her mouth. He opens his mouth to call for his teenage son, but Amy interrupts him before he can holler upstairs.
“So, Nick, what’s this great gift you have for me?” Amy hops up on the counter and beckons him toward her.
“For us,” he corrects, walking toward her until he’s standing between her legs.
“Okay, for us. What is it?” Amy bats her eyelashes and peers innocently into her husband’s eyes.
“I booked us for a couple’s massage tonight,” he grins at his wife and then glances at his watch. “And we have to be there in fifteen minutes.”
“What?” Amy balks as her face falls. Pushing Nick’s hands away, she shrieks, “What do you mean fifteen minutes? I can’t be ready in fifteen minutes!”
“Sure you can. Just get your coat on.”
“Nick! I haven’t even showered yet today, and I haven’t shaved my legs in weeks. Oh my God, you have to reschedule it.”
“I can’t reschedule,” Nick admitted sheepishly. “I got a really good deal for today only. Who cares about your legs. No one will care.” Amy yanks up her yoga pant leg and points dramatically to her unshaven leg. Nick looks at the long, dark hair and can’t help but grimace.
“See! That’s exactly how they’re going to look at me, but worse because they don’t know me!” Amy lets her pants leg drop as she stomps into the living room to let the kids know they’re leaving. “Dammit, Nick. Seriously, you couldn’t have called an hour ago and given me a heads up?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” he calls after her. “Just tell them you’re a wild bohemian.”
“And the deal is so important?” Amy fumes as she stomps back into the kitchen and slips her feet into tennis shoes.
“Honey, you know that’s the part of the Christmas present I like best,” he confirms as he hands her a coat. He leans over to kiss her. “Relax, it’s going to be great.”
“We’ll see,” Amy barks as she marches out into the winter evening.
When they pull up to a dark, non-descript building on the far side of town, Amy leans across Nick’s body to peer out his window.
“Is this it? I’ve never even noticed this place before,” Amy says skeptically. “Honey, there’s not even a sign on the building. Are you sure this is it?”
“This is where the GPS says to go,” Nick assures her and gets out the car. Amy sighs, but joins him outside in the frigid night air as he strides toward the building.
“Hello?” Nick calls out as they open the door. The shadowy waiting room, lit with a single dim lamp, reeks of too much incense and there’s no where to sit and wait. “Hello?” Nick calls again, frowning at Amy briefly before he remembers to paste on a false smile. “I’m sure they’re just finishing up with someone else.”
“I don’t know, Nick,” Amy whispers to him. “This place creeps me out a little bit. Can we just get out of here?”
“It’s going to be fine. Besides, I already paid for it,” he whispers back. He’s about to say something else to reassure his wife, but two tiny, dark haired women in matching sarongs appear suddenly from behind a curtain across the room and are motioning for the two of them to follow them. “Here they are,” Nick announces to Amy and points at them.
Amy smiles tersely at her husband, “Yeah, I got that.”
“Let the relaxation begin,” he says and takes Amy’s hand. He practically drags her across the room, toward the curtain where the two women have disappeared. “I should mention, I don’t think they speak English.”
“Okay,” Amy responds warily. “I mean, it’s a massage, so I suppose we’re not going to be talking much, right?”
“Right,” Nick nods and pushes the curtain aside as an even more intense stench of incense wafts past them, not to mention the room is considerably colder. “That is certainly a strong smell,” Nick waves his hand in front of his face and Amy swears she can see ripples in the air move and she shivers.
Though her eyes are stinging, Amy squints and can make out two cots positioned side by side, each with a towel folded at the end of it. Standing behind the cots are the two women who are gesturing impatiently for them to come towards them.
“It’s freezing in here,” Amy hisses at Nick, who is kicking his shoes off and dropping his coat on the floor just as he would do at home. “I can see my breath in here. I don’t want to take my clothes off.” A draft blows through the room and the glass in the windows rattles.
One of the women slaps at the table and grunts at Amy, so she hurriedly slips out of her shoes and reluctantly peels her coat off. Raising his eyebrows at her, Nick shrugs and walks over to the table and hops on the table.
“Um, can you turn up the heat in here?” Amy asks, but the woman just slaps the table again angrily and mutters something in a language Amy doesn’t recognize. Not wanting to offend her, Amy hurries to the table and takes a seat so she’s knees to knees with her husband who’s waiting for her direction.
“Is it weird they’re not leaving so we can take our clothes off?” Amy murmurs to Nick, who at least has the nerve to look uncomfortable at this point.
“Is that usually how this works?”
“Yes. They leave you alone for a few minutes to get undressed and under a warm blanket. It’s usually about fifty degrees warmer too.” Looking helplessly at the woman standing behind her table, Amy points to the curtain. “Are you going to go so we can get undressed?”
The answer is a flurry of words that mean nothing to Amy or Nick, but neither woman goes anywhere.
“Ok, so I guess they’re staying,” decides Nick and stands up to unbuckle his pants, but he’s met with a harsh clucking sound from one of the women and she claps her hands crossly, shaking her head. “What? What’s happening?” Nick puts his hands up and his trousers slouch low on his hips. Again, the woman mutters sharply at him and motions for him to pull his pants up. “Am I getting a massage with my pants on?” he looks to Amy for clarification.
“I have no idea. This is all your plan, remember?” Amy scolds him and begins to lay down on the table, somewhat grateful this massage will be done fully clothed as she shivers again. But another flurry of words erupts at her and the woman standing next to her table is tugging at her pantlegs and motioning at Amy to take them off. With her face aflame, Amy bolts upright, banging into Nick’s knees. “So, pants for you but no pants for me?” Nick laughs and shrugs.
Peeling her yoga pants off, Amy feels ridiculous standing in her sweatshirt and underwear in front of her fully clothed husband and two strangers, especially when she remembers how hairy her legs are. Before she can sit back down, the woman is yanking up the back of her sweatshirt, trying to pull it over her head and Amy turns slowly around to see her gesturing wildly and grabbing out at the fabric.
“Can I leave it on?” Amy asks, pointing at herself. “I’m really cold.” But the woman shakes her head dramatically at her and points to the threadbare towel folded at the end of the table.
Sighing, Amy slips her last layer of clothing and only protection against the icy temperature of the room over her head and drops it onto her pile of clothes. In only a camisole and her least flattering underwear she surely would have changed if her husband would have given her any warning at all this experience was happening tonight, Amy tiptoes to her table and lays down flat on her belly, hoping to hide the humiliation on her face. Narrowing her eyes, she glares at Nick, who is shaking with silent laughter beside her with all his clothes on.
“Is this funny to you?” Amy spits at him, her brow furrowing in anger.
“I mean, yeah,” he admits, gesturing at the room around him. “What’s that now?” Nick jerks his head to the woman beside him tugging on the hem of his shirt and lecturing to him in unfamiliar words.
Now it’s Amy’s turn to laugh as her husband begrudgingly unbuttons his dress shirt and slips his arms out. Stifling a giggle, she can see the goosebumps raise immediately on his bare arms and chest and he crosses his arms and tries to rub them away unsuccessfully.
“Cold, honey?” Amy mocks him as he sits there bare chested in his pants and socks. Covering his nipples with two fingers, Nick wags his eyebrows at his wife.
“How could you tell?” he feigns offense. He moves to lay down on his back, but the woman begins to swat at him with the towel from the end of his table, screeching and whirling her hands around in a circle. “I’m not sure what you’re saying? You don’t have to hit me,” he apologizes and holds his hands up in defense.
“I think she wants you to lay on your belly,” Amy giggles and shakes her head, while Nick obeys, flinching at the snap of the towel.
“Okay, okay, I’m on my belly,” he mutters as the towel is dropped.
“Oh my God,” Amy yelps as her lady quickly leaps onto the table over her and yanks down the straps of her camisole and is trying to pull it down to her waist. “Uh, I’d rather leave that on,” Amy pleads with the woman without looking at her because she’s concentrating on pushing her body down against the ice-cold table so the stranger can’t shimmy her top down any further. A barrage of angry instructions come pouring from the woman’s mouth and Amy shakes her head in desperation.
“I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think I want this,” she says a little louder, but this obviously isn’t the woman’s first rodeo with a tank top and before Amy knows it, her thin undershirt is bunched around her middle and her bare boobs are pressed against the scratchy sheet covering the ice slab beneath her.
She is strongly considering sitting up topless and demanding for this nonsense to be over, but before she can form a plan, there are warm, oiled feet on her back and it doesn’t feel totally terrible. Jerking her head to the side, she can see the second woman standing over Nick’s back, dangling from two parallel wooden bars attached to the ceiling she hadn’t noticed until now. Nick winks at her before he closes his eyes and smiles contentedly.
Oh well, she sighs as she squeezes her eyes shut and tries to get comfortable despite the shivering and indentation she knows her shirt is leaving around her fleshy middle. For at least fifteen, glorious minutes Amy relaxes, enjoying the sensation traveling up and down the tight, tense muscles of her back until she feels unwelcome, bony toes wiggling under the waistband of her underwear. Facedown on the table, Amy rolls her eyes to herself and wonders how she is going to communicate to her masseuse that she didn’t like it when her toddler’s feet wiggled into her butt crack way back when he would share her bed in the night and she certainly doesn’t like it now either when it’s being done by a grown-ass stranger.
Okay, so I don’t mind it when she’s stepping on my butt Amy concedes in her head. In fact, that feels strangely amazing, but dammit NO, now there are toes IN my butt crack and Amy slaps her hand down hard on the table to get the lady’s attention.
“No, thank you! Stay out of there, please!” Amy calls out louder than she means to, but it works because as quickly as they are dipped in, the toes are working their way back to the cheeks again. She can hear Nick chuckling quietly beside her and she can’t help but join him because this is getting so ridiculous.
Amy bangs her head softly a few times against the table and tries to imagine what could possibly make this worse. When the table shakes, Amy looks over to see the woman has hopped down beside her. The stench in the room is getting quite strong again, which Amy realizes is coming from the dark oil the woman is slathering on her hands.
Ok, shoulder massage, sighs Amy with mild relief, though she’s not looking forward to smelling like old moth balls for the rest of the night. The woman’s feet shuffling beside her, but instead of hands sliding onto her shoulders, she reaches between her legs and begins to massage the inside of Amy’s thighs. Instinctively, Amy clamps her legs together to make her stop, trapping the woman’s hands in a most inappropriate place.
“Sorry, but no!” calls Amy and releases her legs for a second so the woman can remove her greasy hands. But she doesn’t remove them and continues to rub. Unable to decide if it tickles or just feels wrong because her brain is firing every neuron in absolute horror, Amy can feel the burn of embarrassment creeping up her body, from her frozen toes, past her naked thighs and butt cheeks on display being rubbed down by a stranger, all the way up to her other cheeks that she’s knows are flaming.
“Ahh, nice,” Nick moans from his cot and Amy whips her head to the side, fist clenched and ready to throat punch him if he’s enjoying this view or taunting her, but his face is purely relaxed, eyes closed tight. His masseuse is still dangling from the ceiling like a gymnast doing a parallel bar routine, dancing on his back with her bare feet while Amy’s got someone down between her legs like she’s about to have a baby.
Again, Amy squeezes her legs together and waves a hand behind her, hoping it will signal to the woman that she wants to be done with this part of the massage.
“No thanks! Something else, please,” Amy demands, while shimmying her underwear up to cover the majority of her backside that is hanging out.
With a cluck and a hiss, the masseuse expresses her displeasure at Amy’s lack of cooperation, but she doesn’t care, this humiliation has gone too far. With a flap of her hand and a scowl, which Amy assumes means she should sit up, the woman holds a towel out for her. Pursing her lips together, Amy wraps her arms tightly around her naked chest and awkwardly swings her legs over the table so she’s sitting up facing Nick’s table with her back to the woman. With one hand holding her breasts to her, she snatches the towel and attempts to cover herself. The only problem is the towel is the size of a washcloth and is so threadbare, a used napkin would cover her more thoroughly. On the verge of exasperated hysteria, Amy clutches the towel to her chest and rubs her legs to bring some warmth to her body.
The woman working on her husband climbs down and pokes his back to wake him up from his peaceful naptime. With a shudder, he blinks his eyes open and grins when he sees Amy mostly naked sitting across from him with a postage-stamp sized towel in covering her not-so-small breasts. The slapping on Nick’s cot and the clapping her hands means for him to hurry and sit up, or so Amy deduces.
“Er, one minute,” Nick hunches awkwardly over his cot, pausing on his hands and knees. When she claps her hands together at him again, he laughs loudly and looks sheepishly at Amy. “I’ve been laying on my stomach for a long time and well, you know what happens when I lay on my stomach.”
Relieved this massage is also humiliating for Nick too, Amy can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of this evening. Finally able to make his way to the end of the table without poking someone in the eye, both women come to sit before them on stools and take their feet in hand. Nick makes a face at Amy, confused at what kind of foot massage he’s going to get with socks on, which only makes her laugh harder. The woman before Amy begins to rub her feet, then ankles and then stops abruptly and squawks loudly and jumps back from Amy.
“What?” Amy cries out and looks frantically down, worried there’s a spider or a bug of some sort near her. The cleanliness of the room does leave much to be desired.
The woman points again, causing Amy to scramble up on the table, letting the tissue-thin towel flutter to the floor as she looks around for the bug that must be nearby. Amy’s masseuse quickly walks over to a desk on the far side of the room and comes back with a pair of yellow rubber gloves like the ones Amy wears to scrub the toilets at home pulled up to her elbows.
Again, the woman points at Amy and beckons for her to let her legs down. Thoroughly confused, Amy slides her legs out while yanking up her camisole over her exposed boobs since her towel has blown across the floor in another arctic breeze blowing through the room. Before the woman takes Amy’s feet in her hands again, she points one last time at Amy’s legs and grimaces and then in one horrifying moment it all makes sense.
“Are you freaking serious?” Amy growls between clenched teeth.
“What?” Nick asks, craning his neck to see what all the fuss is about.
“My legs. She’s grossed out by my goddamn hairy legs,” Amy says curtly, with tears pricking the corners of her eyes because her pride is severely wounded. Nick takes a look at Amy’s legs and makes another face.
“I mean, they are pretty hairy,” he comments honestly, shrugging his shoulders.
“I hate you, you know,” Amy sighs in defeat as a tear of utter embarrassment slips down her cheek. She glances around the bare room stinking of moldy incense and moth balls, Nick with his bare chest and unbuckled pants, getting a foot rub through his dress socks, and she in her granny panties, boobs askew, and getting rubbed down by a woman wearing rubber gloves because she’s afraid of sasquatch legs and she starts to shake with laughter.
“Nick, next year get me a foosball table. Or air hockey. Or one of those little basketball hoops you hang on the door. Literally anything else would be better than this hell,” Amy demands.
“I don’t know,” Nick shrugs again. “I thought this was totally worth the forty bucks.”