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His first warning should have been the location.

Sandwiched between a gun shop and a mailbox rental service, the Relax Massage didn’t seem like a creditable place to get a massage from a licensed massage therapist. But he’d had a gift card. Or rather, he had what Polnareff called a gift card. As far as Jotaro knew, gift cards were official things that came in the form of plastic, or confirmation pages printed from computers. He’d never seen a handwritten gift card before.

That should have been his second warning.

But he was already there, standing in front of the building like a statue surrounded by a sea of rundown cars and broken liquor bottles. The gift card said: Use our front entrance from 10am-9pm, or for more privacy use our alley entrance from 10am to 5pm.

Being a massage therapist was a certified, reputable profession. Why would he need extra privacy just to enter a building, and through an alley at that?

That should have been his third and final warning.

The building looked as much on the inside as it did on the outside. Like a giant, he made his way toward the front desk, his steps large and slow. The front desk was a table that either belonged in a landfill, or had been taken from one. The receptionist was a tiny woman with a birthmark on her cheek that reminded him of a crocodile. She performed an impressive task of painting her nails, eating noodles, and watching a sitcom on a small television in a language that he didn’t understand.

She slurped up a noodle, cheeks hollowed, lips pursed as if she’d just taken a bite out of a lemon. The noodle wiggled like a worm before disappearing into her mouth.

“Yes,” she said, without looking up.

Jotaro, a man of few words, only replied with five of them. “I have a gift card.”

Chipped paint followed him down the hall like a stalker. This didn’t look like a place to get a massage. A place to get drugs, maybe. A place to die, certainly.

But a massage, no.

There was no tranquility here. No paintings on the wall. No bright lights, or running fountains. No soft, instrumental music that poured from hidden speakers. Just chipped paint and closed doors. Mathematically speaking, he had the same probability of opening one of the doors and finding a dead body as he did opening one and finding a massage table.

The woman, whose name he never bothered to get and silently referred to as, noodle woman, showed him to his room. She turned the knob, the rusty metal creaking beneath her grip, before pushing the door open.

To his surprise, it looked like a typical massage room. Massage table. A chair near the door. A small CD player resting atop a wooden chest. Nothing that screamed that he was going to get the best massage of his life. But also nothing that shouted, someone was going to stab him and steal his shoes while he bled out.

“You get undressed and lie down,” noodle woman said.

She said it in a way that made him feel like he was a six-year-old whose mother was fed up with him.

“Okay.”

“Mm.”

She stood there, her dark eyebrows drawn high and together, as if she were expecting him to undress while she stood there in the doorway.

The seconds stretched, long and awkward, with Jotaro standing by the chair staring at the noodle woman, and her staring back. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally left, closing the door behind her with a soft, click.

He undressed swiftly, afraid that she would come back while he was in a state of undress. She was a tiny woman. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t a strong–and possibly crazy–woman.

A dolphin could kill a shark if it played its cards right.

Jotaro climbed on the table and waited for whoever was supposed to be massaging him. Noodle woman hadn’t given him a name, and no one had come to introduce themselves to him. He waited for a few minutes, glancing around the room, eyes catching sight of a section of gray carpet that was unraveling in the corner.

The door opened, and he pushed himself up on his hands, craning his head over his shoulder to see who had entered. It wasn’t noodle woman.

It wasn’t a woman at all.

“Sorry for the wait. We share the lot with the gun shop, and parking can get a bit crazy. Wouldn’t want to anger someone carrying a gun, you know?”

Jotaro didn’t reply. It didn’t seem like the type of question he would be expected to reply to.

Or for more privacy use our alley entrance from 10am to 5pm.

Why was privacy only offered between 10am to 5pm? What happened after 5pm? It was a stupid question. He knew the answer.

Nothing good ever happened in an alley after 5pm.

“I’m Noriaki, by the way. Your friend came in here a few days ago, and asked for a gift card. We don’t actually have gift cards here, so I had to write everything down on a sheet of printer paper.” Noriaki laughed.

Jotaro liked the sound. It was soft and breathy, genuine. The opposite of the laugh you’d make when a professor you hated told a joke, but you still needed to pass his class.

“Anyway, ready to get started?”

Jotaro wanted to say something. Something charming, something that someone who wasn’t a robot pretending to be a human being would say. But all that came out was, “Yes.”

Noriaki had strength in his hands that surpassed every other massage Jotaro had ever received. Jotaro wouldn’t take credit away from the others. They had tightly balled fist that dug superficially into muscles that were almost always tense. One woman–who was around the same height and weight as noodle woman–had stood on his back, digging her heels into his traps while telling him about her delinquent son who would never amount to anything.

He’d remember how painful that massage had been. Not because a person was standing on him, but because he’d been forced to engage in a conversation with a stranger while naked, while said stranger walked on his back.

Noriaki didn’t talk, which Jotaro appreciated. But he did hum. It wasn’t unpleasant, and thus didn’t irk Jotaro. He seemed to be in his own little world. Oily hands dug into the muscles of his lower back and continued south, one slow path of rubbing and manipulating until strong fingers worked the bottom of his feet. He thought about his former self, his teenage self. Back when he smoked cigarettes and didn’t wear socks with his school shoes. Noriaki probably wouldn’t have been humming if Jotaro’s seventeen-year-old self had been lying on that table.

Then again, the only type of massage a seventeen-year-old Jotaro needed was one that he performed himself in the comfort of his own bedroom with a bottle of Lubriderm by his side.

“Okay, flip over for me,” Noriaki said.

Jotaro continued to lie on his stomach, pondering the request. It should have been simple. It was simple. But it was also complex. Something that needed to be handled with equal amounts of precise delicacy and caution.

He was as hard as a rock.

He could decline Noriaki’s request and choose to stay on his stomach. But that would suggest that he had something to hide. He could also honor the request and flip over, but there would be no hiding that. But stuff like this probably happened to men all the time. Not just him. It was a massage. Massages felt good. Things that felt good led to arousal. It wasn’t rocket science.

He flipped over.

Yep, definitely no hiding that.

He’d seen smaller tents at the Grand Canyon.

Noriaki said, “Oh.”

Jotaro said, “Sorry.”

“It’s nothing to be sorry about. I mean, that is an option if you’re interested. If the location of this building hadn’t given you any indication. We aren’t opposed to…”

Jotaro stayed quiet.

“Would that be something you’re interested in?”

Suave Jotaro said something charming. Something about dates and dinners, and how Noriaki’s hair reminded him of eating snow cones during a baseball game. Of course, suave Jotaro was only ever capable of saying these things in his head. Socially anxious Jotaro usually did the speaking for him. And after mentally wrestling with him to prevent him from saying how Noriaki’s hair reminded him of a Fromia milleporella, commonly named, Red Star Fish, he settled on a simple,

“Yes.”  

Noriaki’s hands were just as effective as they’d been during the less obscene part of his massage. Again, he didn’t talk. And again, he did hum. Softly, sweetly while pumping Jotaro’s cock. Was it appropriate to look?  Should he keep his eyes closed? He wished he’d kept on his hat. At least then he could pull it over his face while sneaking the occasional glance.

Is this what Polnareff did with his free time?

He needed to stop thinking. But that was easier to say than do. He thought about everything. That was the problem with being socially awkward. You thought too much about everything. How much should he tip? How long would he last? Would Noriaki mind if it got on his hand? What if it got on his face? Which oil was he using, which both felt and smelled better than Lubriderm? So many questions that weren’t really important. But needed answers all the same. 

“You should relax,” Noriaki said.

“I am relaxed.”

“Not yet. But soon.”

Noriaki sped up, his hand rising and falling along the length of Jotaro’s cock. He’d stopped humming and opted for simply staring down at Jotaro, watching him with curious, amused eyes. Jotaro tried to look anywhere else. But he couldn’t. It was as if he was hypnotized, his gaze frozen in place at the man leaning over him.

Toes curled, he gripped at the sheets. His breathing was labored, bottom lip sore from where he bit into it to keep from crying out. Noriaki was a surgeon, smooth and precise, his hand working Jotaro over until he felt that either he would explode, or that the table would collapse from how hard he dug his heels into it.

He came with a cry, muffled by his own fist. Teeth marks on his hand. Noodle woman probably knew what they were doing. No need to give her auditory proof.

“There. How’d that feel?” Noriaki asked.

And Jotaro had a hundred things to say. A hundred ways to answer that question. A hundred questions to ask of his own. Would it be okay if he came back? Would it be inappropriate to ask for Noriaki’s number? Was this something he did to all his clients? Did he do this to Polnareff? No, he wouldn’t ask that one. It was better not knowing the answer to that question.

But instead, always and forever a man of few words, of social anxiety, of too much to say, and an inability of knowing how to say it, simply said, “Yes.”

It wasn’t even a yes or no question.