The neon blue sign is both an invitation and a warning.
It is also the reason I chose this shop for my first tattoo.
That, and the fact that it has great online reviews. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re going to stick a needle in your skin, you want to make sure you’re not going to a butcher.
I peer through the window of the West Village tattoo parlor, scanning the walls for images of its art. They are everywhere, crammed frame to frame. Up, down, across. Tigers, dragons, butterflies, dolphins, hearts, flowers, and oodles of abstract illustrations that look like calligraphy. Some are comical, some are beautiful.
Soon, one of these drawings will brand me. Remind me of who I am.
I’m not the kind of girl who gets inked. My skin is virginal, untouched by needles and piercings. I’m jittery because this is permanent. I’ve only ever been temporary. I’ve never done anything that lasts before.
I’ve never needed to.
Now I do.
My nerves race around the thoroughfares in my body like they’re mapping the route to chaos, and I need to calm down. I can do this – brand myself like cattle so I don’t slide back to the way I was.
A gust of cool November air scurries by, making me shiver and reminding me to get out of the cold, and just f**king do it. This is a defining moment in my life – the line between the past I leave behind, and the new girl that somehow, some way, I have to become.
I pull on the brass handle, open the door, and walk into a tattoo parlor for the first time ever. I’ve entered a zone of coolness, a land of hip artistry, where everyone is badass and bold. It’s eight in the evening on a Wednesday and the shop is open for another hour, so it’s packed inside. There’s a gal lazily blowing bubbles on her chewing gum as she kicks her foot back and forth while waiting on a leather couch in the entryway. Black ink snakes up the small path of exposed skin from her collarbone to her earlobe.
Indistinct metal music plays overhead.
Two artists are working in the back of the shop, set up in little chrome cubicle areas, like at a hair salon, each with their shelves and tools, marking up customers. A large man is spread out on his belly as a guy with dyed black hair gives him a back tattoo. I wonder if the black-haired guy is Trey, the tattoo artist I scheduled with. The other artist is hunched over, working on an ankle of a pretty redhead.
As I wait I check out the portfolios on the counter, flicking through pages of designs. So many designs my eyes feel like they’re swimming in black and blue lines, birds and butterflies. But I don’t need to be looking through the portfolio. I know what I want on my body. I’m just passing the time until Trey is ready.
“Hey. Can I help you with anything?”
I look up from the drawing and into the eyes of the black-haired guy. Swarms of dragons adorn his arms. With his sleeves, jet black dye job, and pierced lip, he clearly belongs here. I don’t. From my Mary Janes to my short plaid skirt, it’s as if I have a blaring sign on my head, “Never been inked.”
But then I remind myself I’ve been in plenty of unusual, weird and potentially awkward situations, and have handled them all with finesse. I was paid top dollar to be confident, to be sweet, to be sophisticated. I channel all my skills into this moment.
“I have an appointment. With Trey,” I say, chin up, voice strong. I am ready to be marked.
“That’s him. Back there.” He nods to the other guy who’s finishing the redhead, covering her ankle in a bandage. “I’m Hector. I’ll walk you through the paperwork,” the black-haired guy tells me.
I show him my ID and then sign the papers. When I cap the pen, Hector’s no longer alone. A young guy in jeans, combat boots and a t-shirt stands next to him. His jawline is stubbled, his body is toned, and his right arm is covered in tattoos, his bicep a canvas for an abstract swirl of ink that looks like three lines wrapped together. I fight the urge to smile stupidly at him, since he’s beautiful and probably the recipient of a lot of stupid smiles. With light brown hair that’s thick and messy, green eyes that remind me of a grassy hillside after a summer rain, and a face that you might see on magazine, he could have model perfect looks. But there’s a scar running across his right cheek and I’m drawn to the imperfection in him amidst all that surface pretty.
The scar looks new. Like he obtained it recently. Maybe in the last few weeks. I wonder how he got that scar and what it says about him. You can’t have a scar on your cheek without it telling a story.
“Hey. I’m Trey. You must be Harley.”
“Yes, I’m Harley.”
He holds out a hand to shake. His firm grip makes me glad I’m going to spend the next hour with his hand on my shoulder.
“Nice to meet you. Come on back.”
I follow him several feet and he gestures to a dentist-style chair. As I sit down, I notice his t-shirt. It’s black with a picture of a white and red sign on it. In the sign are the words “I’m the tattoo artist your mother warned you about.”
I try to suppress a grin, but I have no such luck.
“What’s so funny?”A smile plays on his lips too. Nice lips, full lips. I wonder what it would be like to kiss someone I wanted to kiss. I have no idea. But I don’t even know that I’d want to kiss Trey, so I’m not sure why that thought flashed by.
He glances at his chest as if he needs to jog his memory. “Yeah. This one usually gets some sort of reaction.”