Disclaimer: This story is total fiction and has nothing to do with any people and/or events in real life. Any similarity is a coincidence.
I’m sorry in advance for any mistakes as I’m not an English native speaker.
“Okay Kayla! Take a deep breath! You’ve done a lot of research. It’s not gonna hurt. It’s gonna be alright.” After mumbling enough pep-talk, I push the door in front of me open.
Greeting me is a soft instrument only melody that adds a friendliness vibe to the place. The room itself is spacious, bright, and clean with white furniture and neatly arranged decorations. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
See, Kayla! It’s bright and clean, not intimidating at all.
(My chain of thought is cut through by a man covered in tattoos emergeing from under the counter.)
. . .
Ha- Have I just run into a... heavily tattooed man?
“I- I think I’m about to....”
“Thud!” My body gives in before I had the chance to finish my obvious prediction (or warning, to be exact).
After God knows how long, I regain consciousness on a couch, a very uncomfortable couch. My eyes flutter open as I scan through the surrounding.
Nope! Not couch! I find myself half lying, half sitting on some kind of chair, a tattoo chair, I guess.
The surrounding looks opposite to the lounge. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still neat, just... not quite welcoming. It looks dark with black walls and very little decoration, mostly tools and equipment. I must be in the tattoo studio, a modern and sleek one.
“Ugh! Where am I?”
“B&B tattoo parlor, miss! How are you doing?”
I turn to find a man sitting nearby. He grabs a glass of water and comes closer while I’m sitting up.
“H- Hi! I’m good... I think.”
He’s totally opposite to the man I saw earlier (before I embarrassingly fainted, of course). This one looks like a nice, warm and gentle man who you could easily talk to if you happen to meet during a run in the park or when you are lost and need help with directions. Actually, if meet elsewhere, he could be easily taken as a lean and extremely attractive intellectual, to be honest.
“I’m Clint, Clint Burton.”
“Kayla, and I rather not saying my surname.”
“Nice to meet you, Kayla! May I ask what you are doing here?”
Of course, he has to ask that. You couldn’t just come into a shop without any purpose... and fainted. Here’s the moment of truth, Kayla. Woman up and speak!⸺ Mentally prepared, I take in a deep breath and blurt it out really quick.
“I want to get a tattoo.”
The man nods casually and takes off to grab an album from a shelf.
“I thought so. Have you got anything in mind, or you want to look at some samples? Here’s an album of results taken from our previous customers if you are wondering about how they actually look like.”
“Please don’t!” I close my eyes and shout out loud to stop him right before he opens the album in front of my eyes.
Being here is terrifying enough, I can’t take any other look at ‘samples’, not a glance. I peek one eye to see Clint has taken back his album. He is also taken aback a little by surprise.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. I just-” The salesman has furrowed his eyebrows already, so drop it, Kayla. You are only confusing him deeper. “Can you do soundwave tattoos?”
“Yeah, sure! We’ll need the exact sound wave stencil first.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t prepare anything.”
“That’s okay. I’ll show you what you need to do, then you can come back tomorrow.”
“T-to-tomorrow?” The fact that I have to return here hit me hard as a lightning strike.
“Yeah. It’s almost 7pm now. We’re closing.”
My breath is quickly broken into short pants. My heart is thumping crazily in my chest. Sweats begin to bead out.
“Miss, are you alright?”
My palms go numb. All I can feel is the tingling sensation. I am dizzy and weak as if all the strength has left me.
“It’s... okay... I’m gonna be... fine.” I manage to say between the pants. I hold my hands together as they start shaking.
“You don’t look or sound okay.” Clint’s eyebrows furrow. There’s concern on his face. He stands up abruptly. “Let me get you to the hospital.”
“NO!” I use almost all my strength left to say out loud. ⸺ “Please!” Great, now my voice is barely a whisper.
“Are you in a panic attack?” He sits down and grabs my shaking ice-cold hands. “Let me guess. You have a phobia of tattoos or something?”
“Right. You’ll be better outside.”
Clint holds me up in bridal style like I weight nothing. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I don’t have the energy to go against it.
“Brad!” he calls out to someone, “Can you grab me a chair and put it at our backyards?”
“Just a minute!” someone at the lounge answers.
From the corner of my eyes, the intimidating guy emerges into the room. As soon as I get a glimpse of him, I immediately hide my face into the nearest place, Clint’s chest. I can stop seeing but cannot stop the sound from coming.
“Hey! What is that for?”
He definitely saw my action and I can tell he is not happy about it. Could it be that I’m in his partner’s arms? Nowadays, it is common that a guy, intimidating as he may look, is homosexual. I know I’m being irrelevant, but the appearance has nothing to do with one’s sexuality. I want to turn away but with him being right there I can’t. This is not good, not good at all.
“You scare her, Brad!”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Put a Goddamn shirt on! She has needle phobia and your tattoos are making her panic attack worse.”
“OK! OK! I’m on it.”
After I am put down on a chair in the backyard porch, calmness finally seeps in slowly. I look at Clint apologetically.
“Are you two together? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make your partner mad.”
“Ha ha ha ha ha!”
A loud laugh hit me from behind and I almost jump off the chair. The intimidating man is stepping out. Thank God, most of his tattoos are hidden by a long-sleeve hoodie this time.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you or scare you earlier. But... Bwah ha ha ha…” The guy bursts out laughing again.
Clint doesn’t look... pleased to say the least, if I don’t want to point out that he is fuming.
“My bro here is Asexual. He’s not capable of having a partner.”
“Bro? You two are brother?”
“Oh! Not blood-related, but we’re as close as brothers.”
“As you may have heard from him, the name is Brad, Brad Langsley. We run this place together.”
He reaches his hand out for a handshake and I hesitantly take it.
“I’m Kayla. I don’t mean to be rude, but your... artwork triggers my phobia. Hope you don’t mind.”
“It’s OK. I didn’t catch your last name, though.”
“I... rather not....”
“Oh, don’t be shy.”
“Brad!” Clint let out a low nagging growl.
“Come on, girl. Nothing hurts out of saying your surname.”
“Stepford? As in... ‘The Stepford Wives’?” ask Brad.
“Huh…. I guess it’s fair you don’t want to brag about it.”
Clint smacks his friend’s head from behind.
“Next time, when our customer says no, it’s a no. Don’t push it.”
“You don’t need to hit me like that, though.”
“It won’t get into your thick skull if I don’t.”
“I’m not that bad.”
“Wait, did you say ‘customer’, Clint?” Not waiting for a reply, he turns to me. “Baby girl, with your phobia, are you sure you can handle that?”
“I can and I will. Even if I faint every time I catch a glimpse of a needle, I need to do this.”
At my statement, both men look at me with wide-eyed. After a while, Brad breaks off the silence.
“Care to explain why?”
“Brad! Stop it!”
“No, if you’re doing it because of a dare from your sorority or a challenge from any of your stupid friends, you should leave.”
Now that is offending.
“No, I’m turning 25 already and fully aware of my actions. And don’t call my friends stupid, you don’t even know them.”
As if the annoyance in my voice is not clear enough for him to recognize, Brad continues interrogating me.
“Oh, is it that you heard of Clint here and decide to give it a try. I know he is good looking, but you should know better than believing in rumor.”
He shoots me a skeptical look. This time, Clint also join in the force.
“NO!” This is frustrating. “Can a girl do something without being judged?”
“Sorry! Sorry! I overstepped the line.”
I roll my eyes and let out an audible sigh. Doubt is still written in capital letters on his face. There’s no way that apology is sincere.
“Look, my mother passed away a month ago. As I discovered about soundwave tattoo, I decided to get one to be able to listen to her again. Is that reason good enough for you?”
Both men nod in reply instead of answer verbally. I swear I can still see a strand of doubt coiling around their assumption as they are nowhere near ready to give it up yet. Intentionally, I heave out a sigh again.
“Gosh! Artist and their... art conscience!”
“I’m not the tattoo artist.”
This time, I’m the dumbfounded one.
“Clint is.” Brad continues, “His only job here is tattooing and taking care of his tools while I do the rest to keep the place running. Oh, I am Clint’s canvas also, or lab mouse to say it frankly.”
This is unexpected, a tattoo artist without any tattoo on him and a salesman covered in them... Life is full of surprise sometimes.
As I’m still processing the truth, Clint jumps in and cuts the conversation short.
“OK! Have you got the audio recording of what you want to turn into a tattoo?”
“Good. How about the app?”
“Take out your phone, please. I’ll show what you need to prepare.”
Out of the corner of my eyes, I see Clint gives Brad a cue to retreat in silence. Men! Too proud to say sorry.
My appointments are always booked at the end of the day. Appointments, you may ask? Well, most of the time, I am nearly passing out on the tattoo chair. It’s dangerous if I do because I could hurt myself falling onto the equipment, so we have to break my process into many small appointments.
Today is my last appointment. This torture is finally over!
Clint is doing a final touch up. He really immerses himself in the work. As for me, I am always busy controlling my phobia. That’s why we never talk to each other during the sessions.
“There we go!”
I almost jump when Clint breaks the silence. I know, I’m such a scaredy-cat, but can you blame me for being jittery when facing my fear?
“Phew! Wow! OK! So it’s done.”
“Do you want to try it out?”
“Yes, yes! That would be lovely.”
I get my phone with my still-slightly-shaking hands. The new tattoo is scanned and a soft voice flows out in no time.
'I love you. Be strong, honey!'
That was one of the very few times she says her love out loud. She said this when she was first in the hospital three years ago, knowing she had little time left and felt bad about leaving my 17-year-old brother in my care, a 22-year-old girl then, as my father passed away a few years ago. She told me to be strong for my brother, that’s the original saying. For something to stay on my skin for the rest of my life, I have a different idea. I want to be selfish and have it about me and to myself only.
Clint gently wipes something away from my cheek. I didn’t know I was in tears. However, I’m not the only one surprised by the act, Clint too. It is out of pattern as this man care for nothing aside tattooing. Don’t let him fool you. He may look friendly, but he is actually cold and distant. Clint clears his throat.
“You know about the aftercare already, but I have to say it. Please treat your tattoo with delicacy, or else it would be ruined. Your skin would be ruined.”
“I’ll be careful with it.”
“Just being careful is not enough. You have to...”
“I know.” I cut him off as his overprotective mode towards his art-child is on. “I’ll make sure it will be treated properly.”
Clint is scratching the back of his head as he realized that he may have overreacted. However, he stays silent.
“I guess this is it. Thank you for being very patient with me. Oh, please send my appreciation to Brad also. I know he has to leave early because of me.”
I pause a bit to wait for a reply, but Clint seems to be thinking hard about something else. I guess that’s my cue to leave him alone.
“Goodbye, Clint! Have a nice weekend.”
I am about to turn and head out when, suddenly, Clint grabs my elbow. He then immediately let go as if he has got an electric shock.
“Kayla! I... I thought that...”
I look at him, but he averts his eyes. I stand there, wait for him to continue.
“I never thought I could be interested in someone, but...”
He pulls me into his arms. That’s when I feel his hard-on poking my tummy. I look up at him.
“Do you have any plans after this?”
Still stunned, I shake my head slightly.
“Good. Let’s go out for dinner, shall we? My treat.”
Did... did he just make a move on me?
Clint turns out to be a sweet guy when you get to know him. No, ‘when he allows you to get to know him’ more like it. He still keeps a certain distance even though it looks like he is trying to pursue me.
“Let’s be honest, Clint! It’s not me you are interested in, right?”
He smiles at me, calm, soft, and still. “What makes you say that?”
“And I thought something I did gave it away.”
“You are sharp.”
I see a glint in his eyes. At this point, saying I’m not attracted to him is telling a lie. It’s mild until I see that flash. It triggers my curiosity as I don’t know what it indicates.
“Thank you,” I answer with a smile.
“Now you’ve really got my attention.”
Clint downs his drink.
“I don’t know how to name this yet, but I do feel some kind of attraction towards you. Say, Kayla, are you willing to give it a go with me?”