As requested, here are the first four chapters of my newest novel, book one of a series of stand alone erotic romances that focus on a tattoo shop and the artists who work there.
The first follows the owner, Blake. He’s a very eccentric individual with his own set of problems in his personal life, and he has a very strong personality.
Covered in tattoos, gorgeous, and attempting to recover from the mistakes of his past, he lives a simple life attempting to fly under the radar.
That is until he meets Riley.
Prepare for the unexpected. This book is part mystery, part suspense, part intrigue, TOTALLY HOT, and not at all what you’re expecting.
A strong tie-in to the Selected Sinners series (which is far from over), you’ll love this book, and love the premise of the series.
Here are the first four chapters, and the book is to be released the 21st of September.
I pulled my car to the curb and stopped a hundred yards from the entrance, being careful to park in a location where no one inside could see what I was driving. I wasn’t ashamed of my car, and in fact, quite the opposite was true; but it wasn’t every twenty-one year old girl who drove an eighty thousand dollar car. It seemed as soon as someone realized what I drove, I was quickly labeled as a gold digger or a spoiled little rich girl, neither of which were true.
My former boyfriend gave me the car as a gift, and as much as he probably expected me to return it after we broke up, I didn’t even consider it as an option. Putting a price on his abusive behavior would be impossible, but if I did, the car was a small price for him to pay for what he did to me over the four year period we were together.
Each time he touched me he later swore it would be his last, and for whatever reason any woman believes what her abusive boyfriend promises, I believed him. At first, I suspect it was because I was young, immature, and filled with false hope regarding what he would offer me long-term. At the time he was protective of me – sometimes overly so – but it was comforting to have someone care enough to be conscious of where I was going and who I was seeing. Over the next few years, I matured slowly, and his abusive behavior continued. When my level of maturity rose to a level which allowed me to question his behavior as abusive, I quickly did so.
Mentally, I drew a line in the sand on my twenty-first birthday, saying if the abuse continued, I would leave. He gave me the car as a birthday gift, and six months later slapped me so hard he knocked me to the floor.
The next morning I was gone.
The car did remind me of him, but forgetting Stephen entirely was close to impossible, as his face was plastered all over billboards throughout the city. My best option for forgetting him was changing where I spent my time, who I spent it with, and getting a much needed tattoo depicting my newfound intention of flying solo for a long, long while. My first six months of single life was easy, and I hoped the future remained just as simple.
There was very little risk in encountering anyone meaningful at ten o’clock in the morning at a tattoo parlor other than the overweight former sailor who I expected would tattoo the Latin phrase on my shoulder. As far as I was concerned, I should be able to go get a tattoo without exposing myself to anyone who would tempt me to be in another relationship.
I glanced in the rearview mirror. Although my preference was to wear contact lenses, a severe scratch on my right eye – the result of his most recent slap – prevented me from doing so for at least another month. I removed my glasses, placed them on the passenger seat, and gazed into the mirror as I tossed my hair into a cute little mess.
Not knowing for sure how long the tattoo might take, I chose my most comfortable jeans, an open neck tee, sports bra, and my Chuck’s. From what I had read on the internet, being comfortable was the most important thing about getting my first tattoo.
I walked along the rows of shops, peering curiously into the windows of each one as I passed. Living under Stephen’s thumb for the last four years prevented me from seeing certain parts of the city; he preferred the more glamorous and glitzy east side to the artistic regions of down town.
With the early morning sun shining directly into my face, I walked along the sidewalk and toward the tattoo shop. As the warmth of the sun combined with my nervous stomach began to make me feel slightly uncomfortable, the flashing neon sign in the window to my immediate right caught my attention.
Bodies, Ink, and Steel.
A quick glance through the window and into the shop revealed the back of someone’s head who was seemingly preoccupied with whatever he was studying. Having made my appointment over the phone and not knowing for sure what Blake looked like, I leaned into the door with little expectation of him being anything but a talented tattoo artist.
As I pushed the door open he spoke over his shoulder without turning around.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
I nodded my head as I glanced around the eclectically decorated shop.
The interior brick walls differed from the exterior brick in that they were covered with various pieces of painted canvas, framed watercolor paintings, and sketches on transparent paper. Dragons, winged serpents, snakes, flowers, and colorful fish surrounded me. As I seemed to lose myself in the colorful display of artwork, someone stepped between me and the wall I was ogling – well into my personal bubble.
As I began to step rearward and separate myself from the invasion, I realized in a matter of minutes he would probably be piercing my skin with a mechanized needle, and although it was nothing more than a tattoo, the experience would probably be an intimate one, bonding us together in what I hoped to be a long-term client-artist relationship.
And he meant no harm.
“Riley, my ten o’clock?” he asked.
I stood firm and shifted my focus from the dagger filled skull nestled in a bed of roses to the man standing at my side.
Covered in brightly colored tattoos from his neck to his fingertips, he stood before me rubbing his hands together. As our eyes met, he extended his right hand and smiled, revealing much whiter teeth than I was prepared for.
He was far from the overweight sailor I had expected.
“Blake, I’ll be doing your piece,” he said.
I shook his hand, stared at his teeth, and smiled, “Riley.”
He was tall and appeared thin at first, but as I studied him it became apparent his upper body was proportioned very nicely. The Vans tee shirt he wore – apparently one of his favorites – clung to his well-defined chest. Where the waist of the shirt met his belt, a few dozen holes adorned the faded black garment, clearly showing its age and his preference to wear it. Although I told myself not to stare, refraining from doing so was becoming increasingly difficult. He seemed to be, at least from what I was able to see, everything Stephen wasn’t. He was attractive, yet cute in a boyish sense where Stephen was demandingly handsome. Instead of an expensive suit, he wore a tee shirt, sneakers and jeans. His hair wasn’t cut perfectly, it was more perfectly un-cut. Instead of barking out orders, he stood and nervously rubbed his hands together. As I began reconsidering my recently adopted “single forever” mantra, I released his hand and shifted my eyes upward.
“So, what have you got in mind?” he asked.
Not knowing whether the slight growth of facial hair was the result of having hurried out of his house in the morning, or something he had done intentionally didn’t really mater, it was the perfect complement to his lean strong jawline and made him even more attractive. He was the exact opposite of what I expected.
I reached over my shoulder and patted my upper right back with my left hand as I nervously cleared my throat.
“She flies with her own wings, but in Latin,” I said.
He nodded his head and grinned.
“What?” I asked, feeling as if he knew something I didn’t.
He cocked an eyebrow slightly. “You sure?”
“Uh huh,” I responded.
He coughed a laugh and pointed upward. “Pull your shirt down over your shoulder and turn around.”
“What?” I asked as I pulled the neck of my shirt past my shoulder.
He shook his head lightly as he twirled his index finger in a circle.
I turned away from him and glanced over my shoulder.
“What?” I asked as he stepped within a few feet of me.
I continued to peer toward Blake as he raised his tattooed hand toward my shoulder. As I studied his tattooed knuckles he reached for my shoulder.
He traced along the skin of my upper back with the tip of his index finger.
“Here?” he asked.
Goosebumps rose along my arm. I closed my eyes and inhaled a choppy shallow breath. A simple trip to the tattoo parlor was quickly becoming a difficult walk down sensuality lane. I attempted to swallow, opened my mouth, and murmured a response.
“Uhhm, yeah. Sure,” I responded.
I wasn’t necessarily prepared for him to touch me when he did so. I really don’t know what I could have done to prepare myself, but whatever it was, I hadn’t done it. He leaned forward, and although I suspected it was innocent, breathed into my right ear as he spoke.
“What I do to you is going to last forever, you need to be sure this is what you want before we go one further,” he breathed.
You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?
His warm breath against my neck caused me to shudder. I opened my eyes, gazed out the window, and did my best to respond.
“Ah-lees Vo-lat Proh-pee-us,” I said.
And the brief sensual moment I believed we were sharing was instantly severed as he began to laugh out loud.
Everyone has their own set of problems, and for me to claim I was anything short of normal would be a damned lie. Although I may not admit the extent of my concerns or issues with attempting to live a normal life to everyone, being honest with myself wasn’t difficult.
I was an addict.
Anything that made me feel good had the potential of being a problem, and even realizing how broad of a swath the anything paintbrush covered, it was an accurate statement. Admitting my deficiencies allowed me to look at life through realistic eyes, identify possible threats, potentially bite my respective lip, and turn away before I allowed myself to get into any more trouble.
The last few years of my life had been difficult, but not impossible.
One day at a time was my new motto, and although living it proved difficult at times, I did my best. My profession didn’t help matters, but as far as I was concerned, it would be impossible to find something I enjoyed more than owning my own tattoo shop. There was something about leaving a permanent mark on another person’s skin that selling cars or landscaping yards just couldn’t compete with.
Tall, well-proportioned, and cute in an odd “I don’t give a fuck what I look like” way, she stood facing away from me with the neck of her tee shirt pulled down over her upper arm. I glanced down at her ass. Prying my eyes away from it and attempting to keep from looking like a pervert wasn’t easy, but I was doing my best.
Although I was laughing, I couldn’t seem to force my eyes away from her perfectly shaped body.
“Alis volat propriis,” I coughed as I eventually tore my eyes from her lower half.
“Proh-pee-us,” she said, mispronouncing the overused Latin phrase once again.
I stepped around her and shook my head. “I’ve done a few of these. Ah-lis woh-lat proh-pree-is is the proper pronunciation. The ‘v’ is pronounced like a ‘w’, and there’s an ‘r’ in there. Believe me, it’s not proh-pee-us.”
She scrunched her nose and stared. “Are you sure?”
“I didn’t mean to laugh, it’s just that I’ve done like a hundred of these fuckers, and I’m quite sure, but let’s have a look,” I said as I motioned toward the monitor.
I reached for the keyboard and typed “She flies with her own wings in Latin” into Google’s search window. The entire page filled with responses to my search, all spelling the phrase properly, and including an “r” as I had indicated.
“Well, there it is,” I said as I pointed toward the screen.
She leaned over the counter, squinted, and stared at the screen. The crack of her ass and a very attractive torso exposed themselves as her shirt climbed up her waist. Guessing her age at mid-twenties, I was surprised she had waited as long as she did to get her first tattoo. It seemed most girls attempted to pop their tattoo cherry at roughly 16 years old, using their parent’s consent as confirmation of their need to have their skin marked with whatever their adolescent mind dreamed up as necessary.
“Sorry, I didn’t bring my glasses in,” she said as she turned away from the monitor.
You wear glasses?
I glanced at Tyler and grinned. He pointed toward the street and nodded his head eagerly.
I shifted my eyes upward until my gaze met hers. “You wear glasses?”
Girls who wore bold thick-framed black glasses had been a weakness of mine since eighth grade when I was introduced to Mrs. Reisling, my well-endowed and very nearsighted home room teacher. She didn’t wear low-cut tops as often as I wanted her to, but when she did, every boy in class tried to catch a glimpse of one of her three pound gravity defying tits. In hindsight, I was sure they were fake, the product of a very talented plastic surgeon. At the time, however, I viewed her as defined perfection, her bold school girl glasses included.
I stood, staring blankly at my new client, trying to imagine her wearing a bold black-framed Prada or maybe something from Cartier’s newest “fuck me senseless collection”. Three or four seconds later I was fighting with my subconscious self, trying to regain control over my rather eager – and always one step ahead of my brain – male anatomy.
I gazed beyond her and at the monitor as I desperately tried to think of something else to occupy my mind. Standing in front of her during her first session with a full blown hard on wouldn’t be the welcome I expected she was prepared for.
Maybe during her second or third session I could rock a stiffy, but certainly not on the first.
“I can’t see without them, but I hate to wear ‘em,” she said.
Hearing her voice caused me to shift my focus away from the monitor. Standing there studying her, she seemed incomplete, half-dressed, and out of place. Something was clearly missing. She really needed to get those glasses.
“In your car?” I asked, still trying not to focus on her face.
She nodded her head as she brushed her dishwater blonde hair over her shoulder.
“You should probably get ‘em so you can see what I’m doing,” I shrugged as I turned toward my work station.
It was ten o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday, not typically a time of day when we were swamped with clients. I had owned the shop for two years, and even though business was slowly on the increase, we were far from steady with customers early in the morning on a Wednesday.
“Yeah, go get your glasses. Grab a little plaid skirt and a fucking lollipop while you’re out there,” Tyler said playfully as he continued to mess with one of his tattoo machines.
Luckily, it appeared she didn’t hear him.
“I’ll be right back,” she said as she tugged her shirt over the waist of her jeans.
I watched her every step as she walked toward the door without seeming to care if I paid attention to her or not. As she pushed the door open, she glanced over her shoulder. I attempted unsuccessfully to seem uninterested.
“Dude…” Tyler said as the door closed behind her.
I turned toward him and grinned, well aware of where his comments were going to be directed.
“Who is she again?” I asked as I sauntered toward my work station.
“Friend of a friend,” he paused, turned his stool half way around, and continued to taunt me over his shoulder.
“I wonder if she’s got the skirt and the lollipop in her car. That’s a bad little bitch, Blake. Be pretty tough to fight the urge to get in her pants, huh?” he shrugged.
“Stop it. Friend of a friend, huh? Be a little more specific?” I asked as I pulled the drawer of my box open.
He shook his head, “Not really.”
I looked up from the collection of tattoo machines and glanced over my left shoulder. Tyler was my first employee, and had quickly become the brother I never had growing up. He was in his late twenties, obtained half of an engineering degree at the local college, and dropped out primarily because he was bored. A few months later, he began serving an apprenticeship under another local tattoo artist, and became licensed immediately prior to me opening my shop. As soon as the lights were on and the door was open, he offered his services along with paying a healthy booth rent, stating the shop he was working for was a drama-filled distraction to his otherwise simple way of living life. In my shop, from what he shared with me, he was able to relax and enjoy being an artist.
“What the…you’re seriously not going to tell me who she is or where she came from?”
“Listen. It’s simple, but complicated. You know those deals where sometimes it’s best just to keep your mouth shut? Well, this is one of those deals. And, you’ll get her name when you make a copy of her ID. Don’t forget that, you simple minded fuck,” he chuckled.
“And you’re trying to quit, anyway,” he continued.
“Huh?” I shrugged.
He narrowed his gaze and stared. “You’re trying to quit fucking the customers, remember?”
“Tell me,” I said as I glanced toward the door, “But make it quick, she’ll be back in a minute.”
“Not gonna happen, bro,” he said as he turned away.
“Jesus, Tyler…” I said.
“You said you’re going to stop fucking the chicks that come in here. I’m just trying to help you out, bro,” he said flatly as he continued to fuck with the tattoo machine he held in his hand.
“Listen, fucker. You need to tell me whatever you…”
The sound of the buzzer from the front door caused me to stop talking and look away. All recollections of Mrs. Reisling soon faded as Riley whoever she was walked into the shop wearing the biggest, boldest, hottest pair of old school frames I had ever seen. I swallowed heavily and patted the cushion of the seat in front of me.
“Grab a seat right here,” I said as I slapped the leather surface with the palm of my hand.
She now looked five years older and ten times more attractive. I realized a good portion – if not all – of my attraction to women in glasses was a result of an unfulfilled childhood fantasy of boning my large breasted glasses donning school teacher, but it didn’t matter. Right now Riley was causing me to all but forget my entire eighth grade year of middle school.
“So, you said you’ve done quite a few like this?” she asked as she sat down.
I nodded my head as I reached for my book of fonts. “Yeah, quite a few.”
“How many?” she asked.
“Two fucking hundred,” Tyler said over his shoulder.
“I don’t know and exact amount, but it’s probably over a hundred,” I said.
Tyler glanced over his shoulder and shook his head in apparent disgust.
“No, he’s fucking serious,” Tyler responded with his typical sarcastic tone.
I glared at him and shook my head. The last thing I needed was him trying to talk her out of getting the tattoo and having her leave before I got a chance to know more about her.
“Every fucking high school girl up at East High has come in here for one of those as soon as she’s eighteen. Get something original, Jesus,” he mumbled as he spun his stool around.
I shook my head at Tyler’s off hand remarks, relieved that Riley was paying no attention to him.
Tyler wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and if anything, he was a little too eager to do so at times. Often his remarks toward women in the shop got me into trouble. It seemed he was always trying to push me beyond a limit I was comfortable with, coercing me to do something I would normally shy away from if he was away from the shop. Recently, after much pleading for him to do so, he had begun to act as my conscience, and was attempting to assist me in my recovery from screwing the patrons.
I glanced at Riley, attempted to see beyond her glasses, and shrugged.
“It seems like every high school girl up at East High has been in here to get one of those as soon as she’s eighteen. It’s almost like an epidemic,” I said.
“Are you serious?” she asked.
I glanced beyond her and toward Tyler, who was behind her and well out of her field of vision. He widened his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and gave one more snide remark.
“Put some little black birds flying out of the last letter, and have ‘em flying up her back and onto her fucking neck, that’d be original. What a stupid bitch,” he mumbled.
I glared at him until he turned around.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty common piece,” I sighed.
“I don’t want what everyone else has,” she said.
“Well? What do you want to do?” I asked.
“Seriously, have you done a hundred of these? Like this exact phrase?”
I nodded my head, “Yeah, probably.”
“I don’t want it, then.”
Tyler raised his hands over his head and began to clap. I tossed the book of fonts to the side and reached for the neck of her shirt, attempting the entire time not to stare at her glasses.
“Get a jalapeno pepper wearing sunglasses. It’s the free tattoo of the week,” Tyler said over his shoulder.
“We’re all about originality at my shop. It’s kind of what tattoos are about. You know, expressing yourself. Would you consider yourself to be a common person?” I asked as I studied her shoulder.
She shook her head, “No.”
“Don’t get something so common. Get something original,” I said.
“Like?” she asked.
“Go big or go bigger,” Tyler shouted.
I shook my head, frustrated that he wouldn’t stop making snide remarks.
Tyler stood and walked toward my work station. As he twisted a rubber band around the needle of his tattoo machine, he stood behind us and studied Riley. After a long moment, he turned to face me and shrugged.
“What’s her story?” he whispered.
I shrugged my shoulders and leaned toward Riley.
“What’s your story?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she responded.
“Well…” I paused, not certain of how to proceed.
Tyler stood behind her with his arms crossed, studying her. After a moment, he turned away and shook his head in frustration.
“Simple question. What’s your fucking story? Everybody’s got one. You know, why you here? Why’d you decide all of a sudden to get a tattoo? Someone die? Have a kid? Break up with some dick? Meet someone and fall in love? Have a fucking epiphany last night at midnight? It’s got to be something,” Tyler mumbled as he walked away.
I waved my hand in his direction, all but forcing him to go to the other side of the shop and hopefully be quiet.
“You know, your story. What brought you here? Why’d you decide all of a sudden to get a tattoo? Did someone close to you die? Did you have a kid? Did you just end a shitty relationship, you know, break up with some dick? Did you meet someone and fall in love?” I asked.
“The third one. Broke up with some dick,” she said.
I really didn’t need the temptation. I almost wished she would have said she had met someone and fallen in love. It was difficult enough for me to fight my addictions of picking up a bottle of beer, having a drink, or smoking a joint with Tyler. Above all, my addiction to women was the worse, and Riley was easily the best looking specimen I had seen in a long, long time.
Knowing she was single made matters much worse.
“Talk her into getting a Koi Fish or a fucking snake. A Koi depicts courage, and a snake represents rebirth, a transformation, and healing. Get a fucking snake and a Koi,” Tyler said.
“What do you think of a Koi Fish or a snake or something? They’re representations of courage, rebirth, healing…”
“You think that’s better than the Latin?” she interrupted as she turned to face me.
She looked innocent, young, and gorgeous. It was quite possible my six weeks of abstaining from sex had hindered my vision slightly, but in anyone’s eyes, Riley would have been beyond what one could describe as attractive. She was beautiful. The more I looked at her, the less faults I found. In five more minutes, she’d be perfect.
I needed to quit admiring her before something bad happened.
“Are you fucking serious? Having a snake tattooed on you says “I’m a bad ass”. But tattooing a statement on you that says “Hey, I’m a bad ass” says you’re nothing but a douchebag. Getting that Latin phrase, in my opinion, is fucking stupid. Get something that symbolizes your thoughts and feelings. Or, I guess Blake could tattoo something on your back that says ‘I met a guy and fell in love, we broke up, now I feel strong and empowered, and I think I’m headed down the path of living a new courageous life’, and he could do it in Greek or Spanish or some shit,” Tyler paused and shook his head.
Riley sat and gazed at me as if waiting on direction.
“Well, I believe saying something with words is the easy way out. What if Leonardo da Vinci would have written a paragraph depicting his thoughts instead of painting the Mona Lisa? Can you imagine that? I think a picture is worth a thousand words,” I said.
“Well, I’ll trust your judgement,” she said with a smile, “I just don’t want to be like everyone else.”
“I’ve got a bad ass Koi already drawn up over here,” I said as I reached toward my cabinet.
After rifling through the many drawings on top of my cabinet, I produced the Koi Fish. I flattened the paper and held it in the air for her to see.
“I like it. What color would you do?” she asked as she studied the drawing.
“Orange on the fish. It’s pretty traditional. It stands for good fortune. We could surround it with blues, pinks, or purples,” I said, “It’d really pop.”
“Sounds great. Let’s do that,” she responded, “I really don’t want something two hundred other girls have tattooed on them.”
“It’s going to be a little more expensive than the phrase,” I said.
She shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll pay whatever it costs.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” I said.
“Problem fucking solved,” Tyler snapped.
“So, you want to go with this?” I asked as I stood from my seat.
She nodded her head and grinned.
“Let me make a stencil and we’ll get started. It’s going to take about six hours, so probably two three hour sessions. Is that alright?” I asked.
I stood and gazed down at her, admiring her simplicity.
“Oh, and I’ll need to make a copy of your ID. And I’ll have a form for you to sign.” I said.
“Okay,” she said as she reached for her purse.
“Here,” she said as she handed me her ID.
I glanced down at her driver’s license as I walked away. Riley C. Pearce, D.O.B. September 24, 1993. She wasn’t even twenty-two yet, and looked every bit of twenty-five or twenty-six.
“You haven’t got time to finish it today?” she asked as I walked away.
I turned around as I shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve got time, but it’ll be pretty painful to sit there and get pounded on for six hours.”
“Six hours of that needle will be a lot better than the poundings I’m used to,” she responded.
“We’ll try and finish it today then,” I said as I turned toward the copy machine.
Tyler’s secrecy regarding who she was and her comment about being pounded on raised my level of interest in her considerably. If I didn’t offer to exchange a tattoo for sex, and spent the next six hours trying to get to know her, in my mind I’d still be recovering from my addictions, and not succumbing to temptation.
In theory, it sounded good.
I knew all she would really need to do to cause me to grovel at her feet would be to have her hair in a ponytail. Something about a girl with a strong jawline and a ponytail always appealed to me. Riley had a great jaw, high cheeks, and when combined with her glasses, a ponytail would without a doubt put me over the edge.
After making a copy of the drawing and her license, I turned to face her.
“Hope you’re ready,” I said as I raised the stencil in the air.
She reached for her wrist and then over her shoulders with both hands.
“I’ll just get this mop out of your way,” she said as she twisted her hair into a ponytail, “And then you can get to work.”
I did my best to look beyond her. As my eyes came into focus along the far wall, Tyler held both fists to his side and extended his thumbs upward. As his mouth curled into a huge grin he nodded his head in Riley’s direction.
Damn you, Tyler, stop it.
I shifted my focus to her.
She glanced upward, grinned, and peered through her bold black fuck me frames, knowing nothing of what she was doing to me.
Or, maybe she knew everything of what she was doing to me.
I returned her gaze, smiled, and sat down. As I spun my stool away from her and grabbed a pair of rubber gloves, I closed my eyes.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
I opened my eyes, pulled the gloves over my sweaty hands, and turned to face her.
Sitting in the chair smiling, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and her black glasses perched high on her nose, she stared innocently in my direction.
They told me the recovery process was going to be an easy one.
I expected the process to be painful, but the pain I felt during the procedure was more of a hypnotic feeling, something I not only quickly became used to, but actually had developed a fondness for. My glances over my shoulder and into the mirror, the amount of time that had passed, and Blake’s updates let me know he was close to being finished; something I really wasn’t prepared for.
I wanted him to continue. The sharp needle caused a dull predictable pain; something I felt much deeper than my skin. It seemed to be pounding into my very soul. Although I couldn’t speak for anyone else, it became apparent why so many people were covered with tattoos. The feeling, in itself, was addictive.
I realized as sure as I was sitting there having him grind the needle into my flesh that not only was this my first tattoo, but it was far from the last I would ever receive. The five and a half hours which had passed had done so rather quickly, and as I considered having him continue with another tattoo on my opposite shoulder, the buzzing stopped as he dipped the needle into the ink again.
“You’re a fucking trooper,” he said as he the machine began to buzz again.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Been sitting here for six fucking hours letting me drill on ya without saying a word, that’s what I mean. Most people would have thrown in the towel. You’re a trooper. Looks pretty damned good, too,” he said.
I nodded my head and bit my lip as he continued to work toward completion.
“About fifteen minutes,” he said as he paused to dip the needle in the ink well again.
I wet my lips and peered over my shoulder. “Have time to get started on the snake?”
“Not today,” he responded, “Six hours is about the limit. You’ll go into shock if we continue.”
“I’m good,” I assured him.
“You might think you are, but you’re not,” he said.
“No really…” I began.
“We can make an appointment for this weekend, or here in a few days, but not today, believe me, you’ll need to recover from this,” he said.
“Okay,” I sighed.
During the final minutes of the tattoo, I somehow found a peaceful place for my mind to reside. Visions of a new me, one who was carefree, living an uncomplicated life free to make choices filled my mind. Within what seemed like a matter of minutes, the dull drone of the machine stopped.
Blake lifted the needle from my skin.
“I’m going to wipe this, it’ll be tender,” he said.
“Okay,” I responded.
As he wiped across the freshly tattooed area, I winced. The predictable pain from the needle piercing my skin turned to a dull throb covering my entire right shoulder. Again he wiped the cold paper towel across my shoulder, causing me to close my eyes and shrug my shoulders from the pain.
“Take a look at that,” he said as he slid his stool in front of me.
I stood from my seat and immediately felt lightheaded. Blake was right, although I was mentally eager to continue with another tattoo, I was far from being physically ready for another session. I walked to the mirror, turned around, and pulled the neck of my shirt down.
My shoulder was swollen, but the detail, color, and quality of his artistry were apparent. The orange Koi was highlighted with a few white and black specs, surrounded with blue water, deeper blue and waves that faded into purple, and the entire tattooed area was speckled with a few pink cherry blossoms. As a symbol of my rebirth or simply as a tattoo of an orange fish, it was beautiful.
“I love it. Can I uhhm. Can I take off my shirt? I have a sports bra on. I mean, people jog in them and stuff,” I asked as I continued to admire the tattoo in the mirror.
“Sure,” Blake responded, “Let me help you.”
He stood from his seat, removed his gloves, and stepped in front of me. As he reached for the waist of my shirt, he nodded his head toward the other side of the shop.
“Grab the back of her shirt and help me out,” Blake said.
“Okay,” I said.
Blake shook his head, “No, you stand still. You stretch that tattoo out and it’ll be painful. Sorry, I was thinking Tyler was still here. I’ll get it.”
He turned his head to the side and leaned forward, almost touching his chest to mine. As he shifted his hands to the sides of my shirt, he lifted carefully, pulling it rearward, and away from the tattoo. I closed my eyes and inhaled a shallow breath through my nose, hoping to catch a hint of something memorable about his scent. All I got was a faint smell of my own perfume.
“Raise your arms,” he said.
Once again, his breath against my neck caused goosebumps to rise along my upper arms. As I felt the shirt being pulled over my head, I opened my eyes and turned toward the mirror.
“Much better,” I said.
“I agree,” he responded.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“I didn’t say anything,” he shrugged as he hung my shirt over the back of the chair I had been sitting in.
After stretching plastic wrap over the tattooed area, taping it into place, and going over the required aftercare with me, I realized it was time for me to pay for the tattoo and leave. I didn’t mind paying, but the leaving wasn’t something I was really prepared to do, at least not just yet.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked.
“Six hours at one-thirty an hour would normally be seven-eighty. Let’s call it six hundred,” he responded.
“Are tips customary?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders, “If you’re pleased.”
I was pleased. Even though I realized he needed to concentrate on his work, I did talk to him quite a bit during the beginning of the session. He reluctantly responded to each question, offering quick explanations to my tattoo related ignorance, and was rather polite throughout the entire procedure.
The last few hours of the tattoo had been rather quiet, my having obviously fallen into a state of semi-hypnosis attributing to at least a portion of my silence. I did, however, learn a little about Blake during the first few hours.
He was single, he didn’t drink alcohol, and he rode a motorcycle even when it was raining outside.
In short, I was interested in knowing much more about him.
“Here’s my card for the six hundred, and here’s two hundred for a tip,” I said as I handed him two one hundred dollar bills and my debit card.
“Damn, you sure?” he said as he accepted the money.
“I’m very happy with it,” I said, “And I’m glad you didn’t let me get the other one.”
“I’m glad you didn’t get it,” he said as he ran the card through the reader.
“Make me an appointment for my other shoulder, too. While we’re up here,” I said.
“Snake?” he asked.
“Mmhhmm,” I responded.
“Saturday’s full, let’s see…” he said as he fumbled with the mouse and stared at the screen of his computer.
“Tomorrow?” I asked.
“You off work tomorrow?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I chuckled.
“How about Friday? That’ll give you a day to recover,” he said, “We can at least do the outline and see how you feel.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Same time?” he asked as he rubbed his hands together.
Something I was sure he didn’t even realize he did, but was somewhat of a nervous tick, his rubbing his hands together was enjoyable to watch. He did it with such ferocity; it was almost as if he was attempting to start a fire. And, as he did it, the muscles on his upper arms and chest flared, making the entire process even more enjoyable to me. As I studied his chest and admired the tattoo of a dragon which covered his forearm, the credit card machine spit out my receipt.
As he reached for the receipt, a pin-up girl on his bicep crept from underneath the sleeve of his tee shirt. I wondered as he glanced down at the piece of paper just what he had tattooed on the parts of his body that weren’t exposed. Some things, I guessed, were best left to the imagination.
I shrugged my shoulders as he handed me the card and my receipt. I considered the benefits of having the tattoo last until closing time, and potentially finishing it late or after hours. If nothing else, maybe we could sit and talk, getting to know each other a little bit more. It was nice to talk to someone and not have them constantly forcing themselves upon me or beating the shit out of me.
The fact he was smoking hot made being in his presence that much more enjoyable.
“Same time really doesn’t work. I forgot, I’ve got a lunch date with a girlfriend on Friday,” I lied.
“When do you close?” I asked.
“Nine,” he said.
Assuming the snake tattoo would take the same amount of time as the Koi, I counted backward from the time he closed.
“How’s three o’clock sound? Three or four?” I asked.
He glanced at the computer screen.
“Sounds good,” he shrugged.
“Let’s make it four,” I said, “Just to be safe.”
“Done,” he said as he leaned away from the monitor.
I signed the receipt and handed it to him.
“Thank you,” I said, “I love it.”
“You look good as fuck,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Your tattoo looks good as fuck,” he said as he turned away.
I wanted more. Maybe all tattoo artists were slightly pretentious and kind of skittish. I had no idea and no experience to make comparisons. As I made my way toward the door, I realized my shoulder was in severe pain, and it was only a little after three in the afternoon. Although Blake didn’t drink, I did, and I needed a margarita.
As I stepped through the door, I glanced over my shoulder and into the shop. Blake stood in front of his work area rubbing his hands together and talking to himself. I paused, watched him for a moment, and became even more intrigued by his oddly interesting nature. Eventually I turned toward the car, realized it was half a mile away, and wished I had parked it closer.
As the afternoon sun beat down on my bare stomach, I realized I was walking down the street in my bra. And, although I hadn’t intended to do so, I left my shirt draped over the back of Blake’s chair.
I considered going back to get it for about half a second. If nothing else, it would give me a reason to go and see him the next day.
And that was exactly what I intended to do.
Trying to decide which direction to take my life wasn’t easy, but I had finally reached a point where it was necessary. Three stints in jail for driving under the influence of alcohol, losing my license for almost a decade, and dealing drugs to pay my legal fees weren’t the best decisions I ever made, but they were part of who I was, regardless. In being honest, they were all the proof I needed to convince myself I had a problem that needed to be addressed, but addressing it was still difficult.
Finally, an intervention of sorts convinced me.
More like a revelation.
Or an awakening.
Whatever it was, the cab fare associated with it was expensive, and I viewed the event, in its entirety, as the last straw.
I had somehow ended up in a bathtub in someone’s home I didn’t know. I had no recollection of going there, or even considering it, but nonetheless, I was there, naked, and confused. I came out of my unconscious state of being blacked out – something I normally did after a few dozen drinks – and looked around the bathroom. Covered in soap suds and as naked as the day I was born, I was shocked, scared, and for some reason, sexually aroused beyond compare.
As I sat in the warm tub with a raging hard on, trying to figure out how I got there and what I was doing, an unfamiliar voice from the other room caused me to wonder even more. I should have been relieved that I was in a stranger’s tub and a woman was involved, but I wasn’t.
After all, matters could have been much worse.
She walked into the bathroom carrying two flutes of champagne, humming an unfamiliar and rather annoying off-key tune. I glanced over the edge of the tub and around the bathroom, hoping to catch a glimpse of where I had dropped my clothes, but the room was void of any of my attire.
Frustrated with myself, disgusted with her, and ready to leave, I stood from the tub and grabbed one of the flutes of champagne. After downing it in one gulp, I proudly walked past her, placed the empty glass on the vanity, and stepped into the adjoining room.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
I gazed out the window and into the driveway.
My car wasn’t anywhere to be found, and the neighborhood didn’t look at all familiar.
With no clothes, no cellphone, no car, and no recollection of where I had been prior to arriving in the tub, I sat naked on her couch and searched my mind for even the vaguest of answers.
And I drew a blank.
“Where am I?” I asked as she walked into the room.
I was in my late twenties at the time. She appeared to be in her mid-sixties.
And she was still naked.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I must have blacked out. What happened? Where am I?” I asked as I looked around the room.
“Well, you left the bar with me, we came here, and we ended up in the tub. After a while I decided to get us some champagne. You said it sounded like a good idea. You don’t remember any of it?” she asked.
I shook my head. I didn’t even want to know why my cock was hard or what transpired between our having arrived in the tub and “after a while”. Completely disgusted with her, my drunken behavior, and the fact I still had no idea of what city I was in, I took inventory of the room one more time in hopes of seeing my jeans, phone, wallet, or shoes.
“Are we in Wichita?” I asked after my search produced nothing.
She shook her head. “Hutchinson. You really don’t remember?”
Hutchison was sixty miles from my home, and not a place I had ever been short of one drunken trip to the state fair to see lobster boy and the man with snake scales for skin.
I shook my head.
“Where are my clothes?” I asked.
“In my bedroom? You don’t remember that either?”
“I don’t remember anything. Can you point me in that direction?” I asked.
After getting dressed, finding my wallet, phone, and shoes, I called a cab. I told the cab driver after paying a $300 fare that I was never going to take another drink.
And I had yet to break my promise.
“Hi, my name’s Blake, and I’m addicted to everything,” I said.
“Hi Blake,” a handful of people said in response.
“What is sobriety? Was that it? The topic?” I asked.
Several people nodded their heads.
I nodded mine in confirmation and began speaking.
“Well, I think it’s much more than abstaining from taking the first drink. It’s a state of mind as well. Sobriety, at least to me, is the art of being sober, not the act. I think it comes over the course of time, roughly at the time when we become comfortable that what it is we’re doing is exactly what we should be doing when we should be doing it. In the beginning I was abstaining, and as a matter of definition I suppose I was sober, but I wasn’t living a life of sobriety. I was a drunken idiot without a bottle in my hand. ”
I paused and thought for a moment.
“Now, I really think I am sober. But, to be honest, I’m a sober idiot. You know, I hoped sobering up would cause me to make more intelligent decisions, but it didn’t. Now, I’m sober, but I’m still a fucking idiot. Blake the sober idiot. And, like I said, I’m addicted to everything, so I’m struggling with trying not to bone this gorgeous chick that came in for a tattoo the other day. For right now, I’m pretty sure I’ll keep away from my first drink, but I’m not making any promises about staying out of her pants. That’s all I’ve got,” I said.
“Thanks Blake, glad you’re here,” a woman from across the table said.
I nodded my head in her direction.
I glanced away from her, stood, and got a cup of coffee. As I turned away from the pot, I almost ran into her.
“Oh shit. Sorry, I didn’t even see you,” I said.
“I was sneaking up on you,” she said.
“You did a good job,” I said as I attempted to step around her.
“So, want to get a cup of coffee after the meeting?” she asked.
She was in her early forties and attractive in her own way, but not someone I would ever be interested in. Although she was probably someone I needed to be hanging out with, and also a person I could spend plenty of time with without trying to fuck her, I shook my head.
“Sorry, I’ve got to get back to work,” I lied.
“Well, anytime you want to, just say the word,” she said.
“Bet on it,” I said as I stepped past her.
Truth be known, I’d sign up for a keg stand contest before I’d have a cup of coffee with her.
If I was going to be talking to anyone, it was going to be Riley, and for some damned reason getting her off of my mind was impossible. I’d only done one tattoo on her, and in the grand scheme of things, it was nothing. I’d done three times as many on hundreds of women.
Riley seemed to be searching for something, but I had my doubts she even knew what it was she was trying to find. I glanced at my watch. Less than twenty-four hours and I’d see her again.
If Tyler wasn’t going to tell me anything about her, I intended to press her hard for answers during her session. Not fucking her was the key to maintaining my peace of mind, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get to know her.
I sat in my seat and sipped my cup of coffee while some old timer explained what sobriety meant to him. As I listened to him make absolutely no sense whatsoever, I wished I could live a normal life.
But anyone who survived what I had survived would never live a normal life.
I simply needed to find a way to accept my parent’s death as being something completely out of reach for me to resolve.
Doing so, however, was a different story.