Chapter 69: 7 years - Lukas Graham
I didn’t particularly care for birthdays. No emotional trauma; simply didn’t care. My eighteenth birthday was no different. My new age helped me with a plan. That is what makes it worth mentioning. Sami and I made appointments to get tattoos on that day. We had discussed them in passing for years. Our ages were the only things stopping us. Eighteen was the magic number.
I had a sketchbook solely dedicated to tattoo ideas; I filled each page with different designs in different styles, but neither of us ended up using any of them. Completing my senior project is what allowed me to produce the image we wanted to look at permanently. The Naughty Nine logo was a winking skull wearing a black military beret that bared a red number nine patch. The logo was one-dimensional, all logos are. The skull was solid white; the sockets and beret were black; and the number was red. I pushed things much further when it came to the tattoo design.
It was drawn American traditional tattoo-style, based on bold, clean black outlines and a minimal, well-saturated color palette consisting mainly of primary colors. The skull and beret benefited from black line work. I incorporated one of each member’s hero traits into the design. The white cheekbone beneath the winking eye had an imprint of ruby red lips. They were for Elle. Her main skill was telepathy, but her looks kept enemies from realizing she was reading their minds. The skull was turned to the side ever so slightly to expose an ear. I was forced to take creative liberties to include Nick. The ear is composed of cartilage, but I made it a bone for the sake of the image. His hero didn’t say much, but he heard everything. He relayed it to other members of the team. The teeth were biting the end of a playing card. Ryan was a master of illusion to magician-like proportions. The card’s placement allowed me to work in an ode to my tongue in cheek way of speaking and acting. There were claw scratches coming in at an angle on the forehead. They were courtesy of Izzie’s animal transformative abilities. Sami and I agreed on that representation because the overall image was looking too happy. The skull wasn’t drawn harsh enough to look scary and the surrounding colors were bright. The scratches gave it edge. The background belonged to Sami. Saturated blue water occupied the bottom half of the oval. Golden yellow radiated behind the upper half.
She controlled the weather. The waters were calm and the sun was bright when we were assembled. A nautical rope outlined the oval. Boats and water were Milo’s fortes. A wrench and a paintbrush crossing to create an ‘x’ was behind it all, only the tips and ends of the objects were visible. They were Morgan and Adam’s tools of choice.
It wasn’t a couple’s tattoos. We wanted them for different reasons. My senior project was my first major artistic breakthrough. She wanted her team assembled and with her at all times. And they were in different places, hers on the top of her thigh and mine on my shoulder blade. They were large enough in size to be legible from afar despite all the details, but small enough not to occupy the entire area of its placement. We were told at our consultations that they would take at least five hours to complete. We ditched school for the day to get them before nightfall.
“I have been waiting for this day a very long time.” Sami whizzed through her paperwork without reading it.
“Did you end up telling Morgan?”
“She’ll see it soon enough. I’d hate to ruin the surprise for her.”
“She has been busy altering my prom dress. She might not even notice.”
The administration sent out a memo regarding prom attire. Most of it was about dresses that left little to the imagination. The rest of it emphasized the importance of dressing nicely; acceptable and unacceptable outfits were described and shown in pictures. Sams and I felt pretty targeted as two people who didn’t wear dressy clothes the years prior. We were willing to comply to be with our friends for the night, but we wanted to do it on our terms. She was to wear the tux and I was to wear the dress.
“Thanks for being down for that. Not a lot of guys would be.”
“I’m very secure. I hated the tank top dare because the size was too small and the color was horrible.” I signed my name on the bottom line after reading the contract thoroughly.
“Hot pink’s not your color.”
“It’s not. Black is. Luckily, it’s Rory’s too and she let me have the dress she wore to hers.”
“My grandparents sent me money for a dress. I sprung for all the bells and whistles for my tux. I even have a top hat, monocle, and cane.”
“I’ll be keeping it very classy as I mock gender norms.”
“I can’t dress as risqué as I would like, but I’ll show some ankle afterward if you play your cards right.”
“Scandalous.” She took my clipboard. She put both of ours on the reception counter.
We had different artists, but they tattooed in the same room.
I took my shirt off and lied on my stomach. My head rested on my folded arms. I was able to see Sami from this position. She had worn shorts to the venue, which allowed her artist to start almost immediately. I watched as her thigh was wiped down with disinfectant.
“This is a large tattoo and your first one. I can simplify it and shrink it down if you think there is a chance you might tap out.” Her artist asked her before pressing the paper stencil to her skin.
“I’ve got this. Let’s go.” She was chilling comfortably in her chair, fear completely absent.
He recognized her confidence and started without further question. She didn’t cringe when the needle was touched to her skin. She stared as the gun glided around, occasionally flinching when certain muscles were hit.
I would not describe the tattoo process as painful. It was repetitive stinging sensation that could be called uncomfortable at its worst.
We had occasional breaks during our eight hours of sitting. She was able to watch her leg transform, but I was left in the dark.
“You did a nice job.” I checked it out in the mirror.
The elements were very legible. The colors were saturated nicely. There was enough skin left uncolored to allow the tattoo to breathe and keep from looking too murky. The lines were crisp and clean. It was all I could have asked for.
“It was a fun drawing to bring to life. Are you an artist at Sella Moora Academy?” My artist asked as she cleaned up.
“Not for much longer. I’m graduating in two weeks.”
“What are you doing afterward?”
“I’m going to RISD and Brown.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised they accepted you. I was going to recommend that you look into a tattoo artist apprenticeship. You’d be a natural.”
“Digital is my medium, but it’s not something I’d rule out exploring later.”
She had me sit down to tape medical gauze over my fresh tattoo. I paid and tipped her at the front counter.
“Good luck and happy birthday.” She shook my hand.
“Thanks for not screwing up my back.”
It was late afternoon when we left the shop.
“I’m flooded with adrenaline. What are we doing? We should do something.” Sami was practically bouncing in the passenger seat.
“I didn’t have anything planned. Are you hungry?”
“Starving and I just realized it. Place of your choice, of course, Birthday Boy.”
I changed the direction in which I was driving when I determined which restaurant I wanted to go to. “How did your tattoo turn out?”
“It’s sick. Dave killed it. How did Duffy do?”
“She brought it to life. She recommended that I think about tattooing.”
“You’d be a boss, Dude, totally dominate the scene.”
“It is an option, one of many. I have been leaning more in the direction of animation lately.”
“That’s new. You’ve had your mind set on web design for a long time.”
“My senior project didn’t feel like work. I like the idea of my job feeling that way.”
“You know I’m all about following your heart.”
“It’ll be something I explore further at RISD. Do you have any leads on where you’ll hold up in California?”
“No, but Elle being there presents more options for Nicky and me. They have jobs. I have money saved. We’ll be fine.”
We went to a sport’s bar restaurant we visited regularly. Our meal was interrupted by a swarm of employees singing Happy Birthday. Sami grinned as I endured the agonizing song and attention that accompanied it. An ice cream sundae with a candle on top was put down in front of me.
I blew out the flame when the singing ceased. They clapped. I half-heartedly interacted with them, hoping they would go away as soon as possible.
“You can’t eat ice cream.” I said as soon as they left.
“It’s yours. I had my fun watching them sing at you.” She folded her arms on the table.
“This is surprising.” I picked up my spoon.
“Happy birthday, Watson. You’re an asshole and a slacker.”
“Not a gentleman and a scholar?”
“That would be too much effort. We have shit to do.” She moved the ice in her cup around with her straw.
“We’re going to go hard until the end.”
“This won’t be the end.”
She lifted her head to meet my eyes. “It won’t be the same. I don’t want to push it by pretending it will be. But we’ll be something.”
“With benefits. Our dislike of others invading our personal space is something that needs to be accommodated. Openness will be added. Options can be explored, but I don’t want to know enough about them to think of them as a person. A number declared before we hookup again.”
I broke up the lumps of ice cream with my spoon.
She had many valid points. She was being honest with me, acknowledging her impulsivity and tendency to wander. The idea of exploration appealed to me as well. I loved her, but we opened a door that contained a lot of possibilities. I wasn’t ready to shut it.
We went to Morgan’s room when we returned to campus. I had a dress fitting.
“What happened to your leg?” Morgan was in mom mode the moment she saw Sami’s leg.
“I got my first tattoo. It’s ballin.” She peeled back the tape and slowly pulled off the gauze. She propped her leg up on the bed.
“The design is gorgeous, Finn.” She studied it closely.
“How do you know it is mine?”
“It is intricate but simple and the color palette is perfect.” She tilted her head to the side to get a different angle.
“It’s a Naughty Nine collage.”
She smiled and looked over at me. “Is the paintbrush mine?”
“I’d hug you if you didn’t hate them.”
“I appreciate the restraint. Your brush is on me too.”
“My back.” I pulled my shirt over my head and turned around.
Sami climbed on top of the bed to reach my shoulder blade. She handled the gauze’s removal with care.
“Did you have the same artist?” Morgan looked at it once she was done.
“No, we’d still be there if that was the case. It took all day.”
“They’re almost mirror images. They both look really good.”
“I’m pleased with them. My artist said she had fun.”
“Do you want to reschedule your fitting? I don’t want the strap to hurt your shoulder. It’s essentially an open wound.”
“The straps are really thin. I’ll be fine.”
“He can handle a lot.” Sami patted my blank shoulder blade before hopping off the bed.
“If you insist.” She walked to her closet. “The boning in the bodice and the light padding in the breast cups has been taken out. It’s going to fit much differently than last time.”
“You’re chugging along quite nicely.” I examined it as I held the hanger curvature with my fingers.
Rory’s old prom dress was a black floor length gown. It was form fitting until the ribcage and fell to the ground from there.
“There is not much time left. Put it on. I need to pin it.”
I slipped it on over my jeans. Sami zipped it up, once again using Morgan’s bed as a stool.
“Looking good, Watson.” She checked me out once she was once again on solid ground.
”Black is my color.” I put my hands on my hips to get my arms out of Morgan’s way.
“Stay as still as you can. I don’t want to stick you. You’ve had enough pricks today.”
“I understand if it happens.” I adjusted the strap that was falling.
Morgan had a decent amount of pinning to do. The removal of structure significantly altered the fit of the garment. Sams wandered over to her room once she got bored. I met her over there once I was done. She played her guitar, seated cross-legged on her bed.
“Are you ready to go to mine?”
“Yeah.” She worked herself off of the bed. “Start thinking of ways it’d be possible for us to get together. Our tattoo locations complicate things.”
“We should be able to manage with me on top of you if we watch our hands.”
“That is difficult to do.” She placed her guitar on her stand. “Things tend to get pretty intense and crazy.”
“We’ll figure it out, most likely wing it.”
“I look forward to the challenge.” She put her hand on my chest and leaned up to kiss me.
The walk across campus to my dorm was a quiet one, but it was an enjoyable one.
“There’s cake in the kitchen.” Ryan was challenging Milo in a video game.
Neither of them turned around and respected my desire to keep things casual.
“Thanks.” I grabbed a slice before going into my room.
An unwrapped pile of gifts was waiting for me on my futon -- gourmet coffee grounds, chocolate covered espresso beans, a set of color pencils, a comic book themed computer mouse, a French press, a travel mug with a graffiti design, and a coffee shop gift card.
A letter was placed on top of it.
“How did they get in here?” I tore open the envelope.
I always locked my door.
“Izzie’s key.” She removed her satchel from her body.
You like your space. We don’t mind celebrating your existence from a far. Happy Birthday, Finn
Elle – French Press
Milo – coffee
Izzie – chocolate espresso beans
Morgan – mouse
Adam – color pencils
Ryan – mug
Nick – gift card
I read the card to myself.
They confirmed every reason I was willing to adorn subject matter that pertained to them on my body forever. They understood and respected me.
“Did you organize this?” I put the letter on my desk.
“No, Mom and Dad concocted it.” She locked the bedroom door. “Does that make me a shitty girlfriend?”
“Opposite, I was making sure you weren’t going to start demanding more from me.” I dug into my cake.
She locked the bathroom door. “Never.” She pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it aside. “Hurry up and finish eating. We have a puzzle to solve.”
“Looking forward to it.” I was perched on my desk. I kept up my leisurely pace to watch her strip.
“You can pick up the pace, Watson. I’m not going lower than this.” She put her hands on her hips once she was down to her bra and underwear.
“I’m done.” I lowered my plate to the tabletop.
We were somehow compatible intimately despite our height difference. We practiced the fundamentals over spring break. We had grown good at hitting all the right notes.
We mutually decided to take showers afterward. I went across the hall to Milo and Ryan’s bathroom. She took mine. She was lying down on the futon with her eyes closed when I returned to my room. I was sure to remain quiet enough as to not wake her as I got dressed and brushed my teeth.
I stooped down to kiss her forehead on my way to my computer. She smiled in her sleep. I sat down in my chair and swiveled around to face my desktop. I connected Morgan’s mouse and used it to open my animation application. I selected the main Naughty Nine file.