The man’s shoulders were slumped and rolled forward, his neck appearing bowed under the heavy weight of his own head. His brown, linen jacket seemed worn and overdue for a wash while his denim jeans looked comfortable, loose enough in the waist at least for him to bend fully forward without stress on his stomach. Brown work boots covered his feet, the thin, black soles heavily scarred from wear.
Master thought if he were passing this man sitting like this at a bus stop, he would have judged him to be in his mid fifties. The streaks of gray through his stylishly cut, light brown hair looked to be the result of age, not stress. There was a difference.
Looking up, the man’s pale, blue eyes skimmed nervously across Master’s dark brown ones and he nodded.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
Not moving from the sofa, the man looked back at the floor and tightened his hands, the laced fingers clinging together almost like he was resisting an invisible force trying to pull them apart.
Master held himself motionless. The information form on the clipboard stated that Mr. Jones was thirty-three. Was it possible? Could he really be that young, or had he simply made a mistake when he was writing? Shifting his vision ever so slightly, he was not surprised to see a murky, brown aura surrounding him.
“Would you like to come with me, Mr. Jones?” Breathing out slowly, Master used his stomach muscles to fill his lungs. The surface of his skin tingled with anticipation.
Slowly pulling his hands apart like they were sticky, Mr. Jones placed his palms on the sofa on either side of his thighs and pressed down, his breath whistling through his sinuses as he strained to stand upright. His right hand came forward in the air, an attempt to balance himself as his legs and feet became burdened with the weight of his torso. For a single heartbeat he was frozen in time, every muscle in his body taut with the stress of being between positions. Then his weight slowly settled forward. His spine relaxed as his feet found their place.
Letting his breath out again Master pressed one hand flat against the frame of the door behind him. He hadn’t realized he had been holding his air. Taking a half-step to the left, he made room for Mr. Jones to slowly pass him by. The man’s presence felt heavy as it brushed against his own.
“Go ahead and have a seat on the table, Mr. Jones.” It was a standard request.
There was a short, mobile step on the floor positioned to assist with the ascent. Moving slowly toward the step, the arch of his neck deepening as the brown, diagonal pattern of the carpet flowed beneath his feet, Mr. Jones made his way to the step.
“Is the lighting too bright for you, sir? I see you are squinting.”
“Um, no, it’s not the light, thank you. The mirrors…” Pausing at the step, Mr. Jones turned his head away from the row of low hung reflectors strung across the three, frosted window panes. His face scrunched uncomfortably.
“The discs?” The back of Master’s neck prickled a warning, his small hairs rising.
“Yes. They hurt my eyes.”
Each octagonal disc was tied securely to an eyelet screwed into the wooden frame of the window. Master could easily snip the strings and remove them, but the rehanging would a project. Every string was measured to a specific length and tied with a unique knot different from its mates. In combination, the strings, knots and reflective surfaces worked together to provide a specific form of protection for the work room.
“If you are pleased with our progress today and wish to return, I can make arrangements to cover them for you in the future.”
Sighing deeply, Mr. Jones seemed to wilt inside his clothing like a discouraged flower realizing its water had completely run out.
“No bother,” he muttered and placed a hand on the table while he carefully lifted his right foot onto the step, using his free hand to help by pulling on his pants. “I get used to things faster than most, I guess.” A groan pushed between his lips as he leaned onto the step. His left foot rose a mere inch off the floor before settling back down.
Watching the man move with all the starts and stops of someone twice the age of what was listed on his form, Master stepped a bit closer and held out his muscular forearm for assistance.
Eyes widening slightly at the offer, Mr. Jones stared at Master for a second, his watery eyes searching into the clear, sharp brown ones. Then he nodded and moved his hand from the table, laying it firmly on Master’s forearm.
Surprise blossomed in Master’s chest at the strength in Mr. Jones’ grip. The narrow hand wrapped all the way around his radius and ulna, the fingers overlapping as they came together on the other side. At five feet and eleven inches, Master knew he wasn’t as large as they came, but he wasn’t small and he worked regularly at developing the strength in his forearms and wrists. Squeezing him tightly, Mr. Jones again leaned onto the step, pushing down hard on his arm as the weight of his body rose onto his right foot.
Stiffening his neck, back and abdominal muscles Master pushed back, forcing his arm upward beneath the choking hand. Mr. Jones’ left foot came off the floor and settled on the step beside his right. The weight on Master’s arm remained the same.
“Yes, you are a strong one.” Giving a powerful squeeze, Mr. Jones released his hold and braced himself against the table with both hands, turning slowly around on the small step. “Quite strong enough,” he breathed.
The impression on his forearm looked deep enough to bruise. Master watched his blood rush to fill the dents while his spine rippled in alarm.