Rattled - the first book in the Baxter Boys Series.
She enters the tattoo shop with an envelope full of memories and a heart filled with longing. What she leaves with is more than she dreamed of, and it just might be the first step to healing the wounds of the past.
Rattled is a short story and was originally published in the anthology "Forget Me Not: Charity Anthology Supporting Alzheimers and Brain Health"
*** Recommended for adult readers only due to adult language.
*** Recommended for adult readers only due to adult language.
I shake out my hands, take a deep breath, but continue pacing in the green room. Why am I so nervous? This is all I’ve thought about for over a year. I’ve saved every penny and existed on ramen noodles just so I could get this done. And it has to be today. And it has to be here. The Reeds are and have some of the best tattoo artists around and I can’t just trust this to anyone.
I’m not alone in here. There are others, all waiting to see a tattoo artist, but I’m not really paying attention to them. I’m too anxious to just sit and make idle chitchat with a stranger.
I planned ahead and made the appointment weeks ago, but instead of getting on the schedule, I was asked if I’d be interested in letting one of the artists being auditioned for the show do my tat. At first, I rejected the option. This was an important tattoo and I didn’t want it fucked up by an amateur. But then I went back and watched the previous shows. The Reeds don’t just let anyone walk in off the streets and start tattooing, or even audition. The artists are vetted way before they are trusted to apply ink. So after thinking about it further, and knowing the price is half of what I’d saved for the occasion, I called back and asked if I could still participate.
It’s probably better that I didn’t get one of the Reed brothers anyway. I’ve watched since their show first aired and if I came face to face with any one of them I’d probably go all fan girl and humiliate myself. Today is going to be hard enough.
It’s already hard.
I clutch the worn manila envelope close to my chest. Everything that’s important to me is in here. It’s with me always. If it’s not in my big purse, it’s in my backpack. It goes everywhere I go, and what I want is in there.
My stomach churns and I take a deep breath. I just hope to hell that whoever I get assigned to doesn’t fuck this up.
I’ve checked my station five times. I have everything I could possibly need for a tat. All I can do now is wait for the skin to get here.
I just hope she’s clear in what she wants, and that she’s not difficult to please. I’ve done tats that are perfect, yet sometimes customers are just never happy, and others have remorse. But for the most part, everyone has been happy with my work, often returning and referring customers. I need one of those today. This is too important and I don’t need a bitch or an asshat showing up, being a pain in the ass.
I need to land a spot on the show. I need to work for the Reeds.
I’m good at what I do. Damn good. But they’re better. Nobody is as good as they are, and anyone who gets an opportunity to work with the Reeds will only get better.
Once I’m on the show, I’ll have a regular paying job and I’ll be creating art. In time, I’ll have name recognition and will be able to do what I really want.
The door starts to open and I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. “Your skin is here, Mr. Dosek,” says one of the producers.
A young woman steps through the door. Her dark head is down and she’s clutching a wrinkled and stained manila envelope to her chest. The door closes and she slowly looks up.
Her brown eyes meet mine and widen. “What the fuck?” she says by way of greeting.
I glance around. There is a cameraman watching my every move and recording everything I say. Is this some kind of joke? Are the Reeds really auditioning me or is this about to turn into a bad episode of “What Would You Do?”
I shake the stupid thought from my head. How could the Reeds, their producers, or anyone know of my connection to Kelsey Fry? I haven’t seen her in five years. Not since I graduated from Baxter Academy of Arts.
“Hi Kelsey, how have you been?”
“Are you really the artist?”
I hold out my hands palms up and smile. “Yep.”
She turns to the door. “Well, I want someone else.”
If she walks out now, it’s a fail. Immediate crash and burn. Besides being a great tattoo artist, people skills and customer service are also at the top of the list to get hired. I won’t get another chance if she leaves. I’ll be shown the door. “Please?” I hate to beg, but I will. “Don’t go. This is too important to me.”
Kelsey slowly turns, her mouth open and dark eyes wide. “Too important to you?” she asks with indignation. “This,” she thrusts out the envelope, “is too important to me, and you are the last person I want doing my ink.”
I can’t really blame her. I was a fucking dick to her back then. I hated her for what she’d done and a part of me still holds a lot of resentment for her actions. But I have to set it all aside. Make it right, at least until the tat is done. My future depends on it.
“Sorry?” she yells.
I take a deep breath. “Listen, I was seventeen. I had a chip on my shoulder. I was an ass and I treated you like shit.”
“You got that right.”
“It was also a long time ago.”
“Not that long.” She snorts and then narrows her eyes on me. “And I’m supposed to believe you’ve changed? That you’re no longer a dickwad?”
I chuckle. “I’m pretty sure I can still be that, but not in here. Not with you, and never, ever when I’m doing a tat.”
“I still don’t want you touching me.” She takes a step back and I rush forward.
“Listen, I swear that it will be the best tat you’ve ever had. It will be perfect and exactly what you want. Please, don’t walk out. You won’t get another artist and I’ll get booted.”
She frowns, biting her bottom lip. “I can’t just switch with someone? Others are waiting in the room. I’ll just ask one of them to trade.”
“If I lose a customer, I’m out.”
“I can explain—”
“It won’t matter.” I step closer. “Please, Kelsey, I need this. It’s a chance for a break and I could really use one.”
Her brown eyes study me as she bites her bottom lip again. It seems like forever before she says anything. “Do you promise not to give me any shit for what I want, or why?”
I hold up my hands like I’m surrendering. “I swear I won’t.”
“I mean it, because you aren’t going to like what I want, and I’ll be damned if I have to listen to your opinions on the matter again.”
My gut tightens. What the hell does she want? We’ve only disagreed once, when I yelled at her for being a selfish stupid bitch. We never talked again after that. Just glares in classrooms and on campus. Thankfully, we didn’t have that many classes together because I was a year older and our art concentration was different. “I swear. I have no opinions or thoughts in this room except for what the customer wants. There are some things I’m morally against, but it isn’t my skin.”
“Would you turn someone away if they wanted something you are morally against?”
“I have twice before.”
“Then I might as well head for the door now because you’ve made your opinions of my choices very clear.”
“Wait!” I have to stop her before she’s gone. “I’m sure whatever you want doesn’t come close to my moral compass code.”
She snorts. “Really? I’m not so sure.”
“Unless you want a swastika, I’m sure there is nothing you can suggest that I’d find offensive.”
She turns, a look of disgust on her face. “God no! Do people really get those?”
I shrug. “I’ve seen them. I just don’t do them.”
She tilts her head and studies me. “Anything else on your list I should know about?”
“Nope, that’s pretty much it—or any hate symbol, for that matter.”
She’s nodding, studying me, back to biting her bottom lip. “Are you any good?”
“Would I be here if I wasn’t?” I grin.
She doesn’t return it. “Your ego has never been in question. Are you any good? Because this is important.”
I’m not going to win her over with apologies. “I am good. One of the best. And trust me, this is just as important to me.”
Again she studies me, and it’s almost like I can see her battling with a decision behind those dark brown eyes. Slowly she holds the envelope out to me. “You better not fuck it up, and you better not give me any shit.”
I assume there’s a picture of whatever she wants on her body in the envelope. I reach out for it. Her hands are shaking and if I’m honest, so are mine. Seeing her for the first time since high school, and remembering how much I resented her and made her life hell, has me unsettled. I’m afraid karma is about to bite me on the ass.
She lets go before I can grab the envelope and it falls to the ground. A small pink rattle rolls out onto the floor.
She may be anxious about all this, but seeing what just came out of that envelope has me a bit rattled too.
The old anger at what she did surges, but I force it away. She’s a client. I won’t judge her for her decisions or actions. I may have then, but I won’t today. Not in this room. And not when I have so much to lose.
When the tat is done, and I’ve made the show, then I can go back to resenting Kelsey Fry once again.