The shop was lit with the warm glow of patent leather shoes. Stilettos the colour of fresh bruises, tip to heel with black knee-high boots and mossy court shoes. The rich scent of polish washed across my skin and I almost forgot, for a moment, that I needed to be back at the office by 1:15.
Over by the counter, the sales assistant chatted to some fashion victim with less dress sense than money, oblivious to my presence. With no shoes or credit card anywhere in sight it was obviously a social chat and I paced as the door behind me slowly closed out the grey street. I needed to get back to the office. This was a shop, not a café, didn't they realise that?
I coughed loudly, finally prompting the two women to say their goodbyes and as the fashion victim left, the assistant touched her on the arm, a simple enough act of affection, but there was a longing in the assistant's eyes that unsettled me and which the other woman plainly ignored. The bell rang and the assistant and I were alone.
The assistant's smile was warm enough as she came out from behind her counter to help me. She wore a simple black dress, more Lycra than length, but somehow its simplicity was in keeping with the sophistication of the shop. Her arm moved to touch me in the same way it had touched the other woman, forcing me to retreat, stumbling over one of the low chairs that littered the centre of the shop.
'I'd like to see the manager please.' I told her. Suddenly I didn't want to be served by this girl. I needed someone more ... more ... more attuned to my needs. I didn't care that a quick glance at my watch told me that in thirty five minutes I had to be gone.
'I'm sorry.' The assistant said in a soft northern brogue. 'It is only me today. Is there a problem?' Her smile was as simple as her dress, only longer, but still, she made me tense, standing so close, that's what I thought, too close.
'I need some work shoes.' I said, stepping backwards again. 'For work.'
'Did you see anything in particular?'
'No. I need square toed, flat heeled.'
'Or navy. In a six.'
She left to retrieve the appropriate shoes and in her absence I sat, trying to relax. She appeared again, too soon, and as she knelt before me, her dress rode up her legs to create a dark shadow between her thighs. The tension ground into my stomach.
I shifted to a more comfortable position on the seat, tugging the hem of my dress down towards my knees, but my skirt lacked any Lycra and refused to move, pinching at my waist.
She removed my old work shoes and her skin was warm against mine as she cradled my ankle. But then she didn't even get the shoes out of the box.
'I think we'll need the next size up.' She said.
'Those will be fine' I told her. 'I'm always a six.'
'They're too small. They'll hurt your feet.' She replied, disappearing again to the back of the shop.
She returned holding a dark green pair with a two inch heel and rounded toe.
'I think they'll look nice on you.' She said when I pointed out that they weren't what I asked for. She slipped one of the shoes on and then adjusted the strap, placing the warmth of her hands above my ankle now.
My watch told me I had only twenty five minutes and it would take five of those minutes to walk back.
'You're very tense.' Her words were light, but concerned.
'I'm in a hurry.'
'Have you ever had reflexology?' She asked, easing a thumb into the outside muscles of my foot, her other hand sliding up my thigh to support my leg as she did so.
'I'm not sure this is entirely appropriate.' I began. 'I need to get back to work.'
'Each part of the foot is connected to a different part of the body, ' she said. 'The outside of the foot to the outside of the body and the inside to the centreline.'
I needed to check my watch, time was clicking on, but I didn't. I needed to tell her to hurry, but I didn't. I was uncomfortable in this chair, I needed to take my foot away from her and get comfortable, but I didn't ... I watched her intensely as her thumb wove across the bridge of my foot and began to rub on the inside edge.
There was a crash of the bell above the door and a man barged in, dragging the blare of the street with him. Without thinking I snatched my foot away. The assistant rose demurely and swept over to him as I jerked to a more upright position in the chair and dragged at the hem of my skirt.
I watched them as they talked, or rather I watched her. She nodded often, leaning towards him and smiling, just as she had done with me, and I felt a pang of loss.
When he finally left, she locked the door and lowered the blinds.
'What are you doing?' I asked.
'Interruptions won't help you relax.' She replied, kneeling before me once again. She removed the shoe and her thumb worked across the sole, the pressure easily passing into my flesh.
'I need to be back at work.'
'You can leave whenever you want.' She said, with a smile. 'Or you can relax. Five minutes out of your day won't hurt, will it?'
Easy for you to say, I thought and I think it was easy for her, she really did have no problem with this, with being close to another woman, her body was loose and free and I was not a little jealous.
'Who was that woman?' I asked, remembering the fashion victim who'd ignored her.
She looked at me quizzically, her hands flowing into a position that allowed the massage to wash to and fro up my calf.
'When I first came in there was a woman, you touched her on the arm.'
'Did I?' She is an ex-girlfriend, that's all. I've just moved down here and she came to say hello.' She gave me that smile again. 'All quite innocent.'
'Oh.' I said, my voice drifting off as I closed my eyes and tried to give myself up to the stream of tension pouring out of me through her fingers. The massage reached my knee and, without any discernable break, she started again on my other foot. My body was limp, as if the only thing that had been keeping me upright was the tight interlock of my muscles that this girl was eroding.
Oh why, I thought, couldn't any of my boyfriends have done this for me? I could barely summon the energy to breath as my calf muscles crumpled under the gentle strength of her hand. Her hands reached the top of my calf and, as smoothly as she had changed over legs, she gently eased my knees apart.
There was something so natural about the action that it didn't even register at first. I ought to be heading back to work, I thought even as I slid down the chair, my skirt riding up as I did so. I began to think of what I needed to do that afternoon, relaxing might be a good idea, but I didn't need to switch off completely. Then I felt a kiss.