Beta'd by Jack the Amazing. Any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Flashing her his best thousand watt smile, he went straight on to introductions. “Hi! I’m Casey Hughes and this is Luke Snyder, we have appointments for getting tattooed.” Casey turned on his heels and eyed an uneasy Luke. “Stop squirming, man. You’re so not backing out on me now! I’m gonna make you honour our bet.” Bringing out his pearly whites again he redirected himself at the young woman behind the counter. “He didn’t think his book would get accepted by a publisher, so I made him promise that if it did, he’d have to get a tattoo with me.” The flirtatious smile became a broad beam as he once again spun round to face his friend. “And as it turns out, Random House didn’t just want to publish your manuscript, they even gave you an advance to write your second novel. That’s like, a book deal!” Casey’s enthusiasm wrapped around Luke like a large quilt, every patch representing a precious moment in their decades long friendship. “All things considered, I should make you get two tattoos, really.”
The girl behind the reception desk laughed, infected by Casey’s zest, and moved to check the datebook on her computer. As she did, Luke noticed her left upper arm was covered by an elaborate black-and-white tattoo of six roses in different stages of bloom. The depiction of the flowers was nearly photographic, and so vivid Luke could almost catch their scent. He stepped closer to the counter. “I love your tattoo!” he said. “I saw it on the website but it looks even better in real life.” Luke’s smile radiated at the young woman who had pulled up her sleeve to accommodate a better look. “That’s actually how I picked the artist,” he said. “I knew I wanted to get a tattoo by whoever did those. They’re so detailed they look like they’re in 3D.”
Giving out another rendition of the patented Casey Hughes smile, Casey rested his arm on the counter, rolled up his own sleeve and casually flexed his biceps for the benefit of the beauty whose attention he was trying to commandeer. “I’m getting an old-school tattoo of a cartoon bulldog. You know, like the one in Tom and Jerry. What do you think? Is that gonna look good on my arm?” Luke stifled an unmanly giggle. Since his relationship with Ali was in its most recent ‘off-again’ stage, Casey had been relentlessly flirting with every fine-looking woman he encountered, with varying success. Today didn’t promise to be a good day, because the girl gave him only a reserved nod and focussed her attention on the computer, returning Casey’s hopeful countenance with nothing other than polite friendliness on her face.
“You’re booked over there,” she said, pointing to a workstation in view of the reception desk that was being readied by a guy sporting a heavily tattooed neck and arms. She spoke to Luke next, still checking the schedule. “Your spot is around the corner.” Then she abandoned her screen, and her smile returned. “Have a seat, gentlemen, and help yourself to some coffee. The artists will be with you once they’ve readied their workplaces.”
The waiting area was in full view of two workstations—one of which was unoccupied—and Luke took some time to study the artist Casey had been assigned to, as he readied the space for his client. All the available areas, including the chair, were wiped down with an antiseptic, before they were covered in disposable surgical cloth which was taped down. He poured separate colours of ink into single use thimble-like cups. Throwaway plastic sleeves and plastic wrapping were used to cover cabling and light fixtures, and the tattoo gun was fitted with needles retrieved from sterile packaging. Luke noticed that after each different action the artist replaced his latex gloves with new ones. Watching the guy work calmed Luke’s nerves a bit. Whatever happened today, he wouldn’t be leaving here with a brand new case of tetanus. Or worse.
Bouncing up and down on the couch, Casey was still trying to make eye contact with the woman behind the counter. “Will you sit down, Case? You’re making me seasick,” Luke quipped. He was met with a sheepish look, and instantly felt guilty. Chiding Casey always felt a lot like kicking a puppy. Two minutes later, he was left in peace after his friend was picked up by the tattoo artist who—in a heavy Russian accent—had introduced himself as Alexander. Luke was looking through the artist portfolios he found on the side table in the waiting room when he heard a soft-spoken voice say his name. “Uhm. Luke Snyder?”
Luke was, he’d be the first to admit it, a spontaneous guy. He tended to wear his heart on his sleeve and shared his feelings readily. And so it took him a lot of conscious effort not to gulp, do a double take, and let his jaw drop to the floor when he looked up—for quite a while—and saw the tattoo artist that had come to meet him. Holey moley. The guy was gorgeous. Luke stood and shook the tall man’s outstretched hand, feeling a tingle that made him reluctant to let go. “Hi, I’m Noah Mayer,” the owner of the hand said to him. “Follow me.”
Walking in front of him to a third workstation tucked away in a nook of the room—and giving him ample time to admire the play of back muscles beneath the shirt he wore—Noah lead Luke to a chair between a desk and what looked a lot like a doctor’s examination table, already covered in the same disposable material he had seen earlier. Following his gaze, the other man (Luke noticed they must be about the same age) asked: “You want a tattoo on your left hip, right?” Luke’s nod prompted further explanation. “That’s a pretty good spot if you don’t want the whole world to know, but it does mean you’re going to have to take some of your clothes off to get it done. So once we get started it’s probably easiest if you lower your jeans down to your knees or step out of the left leg, and lay down on your right side on this table, facing me. You can keep your underwear on, but we may have to shift the fabric up a bit and use some tape to keep it out of the way.”
Suddenly Luke’s nerves were no longer about a fear of pain or of regretting this tattoo, but about lying stretched out on a treatment table, partly undressed, and vulnerable, and very close to the guy in front of him. This was going to be more intimate than he had anticipated. Although in preparation of today’s activities Luke had forgone going commando, he now wished he’d not worn boxer briefs, but boxers. Nice, wide, accommodating boxers, with lots of fabric to hide his treacherous groin which was already responding to the proximity of the dark haired, dark voiced, Greek statue of a tattoo artist the gods had clearly decided to punish him with for his good fortune in the publishing world.
Thankfully, the man himself seemed oblivious of the effect he was having on Luke. He looked at him with warm blue eyes and said, “I printed the picture you emailed me. If you let me know if this is the size you had in mind for your tattoo, I can make a transfer to put on your skin.” Noah reached for a sheet of paper on the desk next to his workstation. He had just handed it to his client for inspection when they were distracted by the soft drone of a tattoo gun, followed almost immediately by a loud crash.
Both Luke and Noah’s head snapped towards the direction the sounds had come from, but before either of them could react, Alexander’s voice called out to the young woman behind the counter: “Stacey! We’ve got a fainter!” Luke didn’t even try to conceal his hilarity and he and Noah looked at each other. “Don’t worry about your friend,” Noah said, meeting Luke’s grin with a chuckle of his own. “Stacey will take good care of him. This happens more often that you’d think.” And sure enough, when he peeked around the corner from his chair between the desk and the table, Luke saw Casey regaining consciousness as he was tended to by the woman he’d so eagerly been flirting with earlier. “Case? You okay?” he asked for good measure. He was met with a grunt and an embarrassed Casey-smile. “Yeah, I… uh, I slipped,” Casey said, fruitlessly trying to save face.
“Do you want to go check on him?” Noah asked. In a split second Luke considered the not quite yet shrunken bulge in his pants and how on earth to explain it, and shook his head. He took another look around the corner, glad for the opportunity to briefly turn his body away from the object of his disconcerting desires, and when he saw his friend surreptitiously trying to snuggle up to Stacey as she handed him some dextrose tablets and checked his pulse, he knew Casey was none the worse for wear.
Relieved, Luke directed his attention to the picture Noah had printed. It showed the head of a beautiful chestnut horse with a vivid red mane. “Yeah, that looks right,” he said, eying the three by two inch image and handing it back to Noah. He watched with interest as the other man took out a leaf of transfer paper and placed it under the picture, picking up a pen to trace the main outlines of the photograph.
“Beautiful horse,” Noah remarked as he went about his work. “Is it yours?” Luke responded eagerly. “It was,” he said. “I had him for fifteen years.” Luke’s eyes became a little glassy as he shared his memories with the man at work in front of him. “When I was about four, my grandmother brought me back my first real book from a business trip to Amsterdam. It was called Tow-Truck Pluck, and it was about a ginger-haired boy who drove a little tow truck and was somewhat of a rebel. He spent his days helping others, his best friend was a cockroach, and he lived in a top floor apartment he had basically squatted.” He interpreted Noah’s passing sideways glance at him as encouragement to continue chattering. “I loved that book. After grandmother finished reading it to me, I felt like I could be anything I wanted. I must have read it a hundred times throughout my childhood. It made me fall in love with reading and with writing and even left me with a short-lived penchant for redheads I have since gotten out of my system.” Again his eyes were met with a sideways glance, and this time Luke saw the sparkle of amusement in them.
Righting himself in his chair, Noah motioned for Luke to stand up. “Transfer’s done. Could you stand in front of me with your left hip towards me, and take down your jeans please? You need to show me exactly where you want the tattoo.” The words were delivered in a starkly neutral tone. Noah was clearly doing his best to reduce any awkwardness, and his efforts worked; right up to the moment he gingerly lifted the fabric at the side of Luke’s boxer briefs up a bit and secured it with some tape. Luke felt himself blush as he indicated the spot he had picked, and he appreciated that the brunet once again clearly tried to lessen his discomfort, only nodding in approval at his choice.
His relief was short lived. When Noah took the photograph and placed the transfer side against his skin, gently pushing down on it to pass on the ink outlines to his flesh, Luke found himself desperately thinking of mucking out stalls to keep his blood from flowing in an unsuitable direction. In an effort to distract himself from the press of those warm hands on his skin (apparently latex gloves did nothing to diminish the feeling), he nervously continued his story.
“I sorta grew up on a farm. My dad breeds horses, and a few years after I got the book from my grandmother I got my first horse when I was almost seven.” Thankfully, his strategy seemed to work. He could no longer hear his heart pounding in his ears, although his knees were still feeling deceptively weak. Luke continued with as unwobbly a voice as he could manage. “It was a sorrel horse with a red mane, so I named him Pluck after my hero. The book is what made me want to be a writer, and I loved the horse with a vengeance. So when Casey bet me my novel would find a publisher and I would have to get a tattoo if it did, getting a tattoo of Pluck made sense. Both Plucks meant so much to me.”
Noah carefully peeled back the piece of paper from Luke’s hip and studied the purple outlines of the image that now came with a story attached. “Okay, let me know if you think it’s in the right place,” he said, passing Luke a hand mirror so he could check. Luke angled the mirror and tried not to feel too weird about studying his own bare hip in the presence of a bewildering stranger in a nearby chair. Fighting both his jitters and the urge to throw caution to the wind and crawl into the man’s lap, he stated, “Looks good to me,” and handed the mirror back to Noah. The tattoo artist bowed his head towards the covered examination table and replied, “We’re ready then. You’d better lie down.”