"Last chance," the burly man said, staring at me stoically, "These things are permanent."
I nodded, closing my eyes as his pen sunk into the skin of my shoulder. The pain wasn't unbearable, but it sent sharp numbing vibrations through my arm. Blood trickled down my skin, burning a trail of deep red that he cleaned it up swiftly, refusing to let it interfere with his art. The bare flesh of my arm began to burn. The ink scolded and oozed from the tip of the burning pen, decorating my arm in a cascade of well detailed lines.
Before I knew it, 4 hours had already passed. My body became numb, succumb to the comfort of the cushioned seat. I peered around the room again, taking in the vivid drab of my surroundings. The walls were decorated with a velvet pattern made from cheap cut out magazine covers. For a downscale tattoo shop, it had done far too well for itself. There were only about three artists, and all seemed to barely work, all except the man whose chair I was currently occupying - the man who had been feverishly focused on ripping my arm apart: Greg.
He was a big man in all sense of the word big. His presence was demeaning, scaring away every kid who had attempted to book an appointment with a fake ID. He had looked me over in condescending way when I first came through the door - struggling to believe my age. Not because I had seemed to be younger than eighteen, but because of the past week I had seemed to age to my twenties.
"You'll have to come back for another appointment," he insisted, pulling his pen away.
"No," I replied, pulling a neatly folded $100 bill from my pocket. "You'll finish it tonight."
"Your skin is gonna' rip to shreds kid," he continued, eyeing the generous tip.
"Thanks for the care," I replied, laying the money on the table besides him. "But I don't remember asking for it."
He shrugged and stabbed the pen back into my arm, continuing the work. He was already about halfway done covering my shoulder in patterns when my phone began to vibrate in my pocket.
It was Mr. Green. I had been ignoring his calls for some time now. In fact, I had been ignoring everyone's calls. Malena had been calling me several times a day, and even the doctors had been leaving voicemail updates of my father's condition, but I never picked up. I didn't even know why I carried my phone around.
I hadn't seen Alexandra for a week after what happened. She had disappeared the day after, leaving her apartment empty and the door unlocked. The pictures that cascaded across the walls of her storage room remained, but the camera that accompanied them was gone. She had left - taking all that mattered along with her. The chair began to warp my back, sending uncomfortable blunt pains through my spine.
I wanted to finish the tattoo now. I never wanted to come back again. Not because I felt uncomfortable, but because the cascading magazine covers reminded me of Alexandra. And honestly I didn't want to be reminded of anything at all. My eyes scanned over Greg, analyzing the gold watch that decorated his wrist, and gleamed in friendship with his matching rings. I smirked.
"Ok," he groaned almost 3 hours later. "It's all finished." He pulled a towel from his pocket and wiped the sweat along his brow. The tattoo was finished. My skin glowed hot with irritation, but the ink stood strong and bold. It was a tribal tattoo - the most hated of any tattoo. Or so Greg had constantly reminded me. It decorated my shoulder in sharp complicated lines. Stretching down my left arm and stopping just over my elbow. He pulled a small container of jelly from under the desk, and glazed it over the wound. I cringed. The pain from the pressure of his hand was far worse than the tattoo itself. He wrapped it up and gave me a rough pat on the back.
"You're good to go," he continued, rising to stretch his legs.
"Not yet," I answered, "there's something else I need to."
"No, I can't give you another tattoo today. That's ridicu-"
"Not a tattoo. I'm talking about what you have for sale under that table."
The table besides him had stood out to me since I entered. It was the only well kempt thing in the whole place. No scratches or out of place stickers. It had been kept in tip top condition.
"There's nothing for sale," he snapped. "Your appointment is over, it's time for you to-"
"Don't make this difficult," I interrupted, pulling money from my pocket. "I'm a buyer, you're a supplier. Just do your job."
He stood silently, eyeing the other workers at the shop. They sneered and chuckled at my attitude, surprised that someone would even talk to the monster besides me like such. He quickly joined them, laughing and shaking his head.
"It's not under the table kid," he admitted. "But I do have something you'd probably want to buy. Come on."
I followed him towards the back - walking down a flight of rickety stairs that screamed beneath the weight of our steps. Before I knew it I was in an under lit basement with one of those lights that jittered and swayed back and forth. The room was barren. Nothing in it except for one large metal locker in that stood eerily in the corner. The entire room seemed like one big hole that had been dug and lined with cement. He could have killed me and hid my body here with absolutely no problem.
He opened the locker and the shelves were lined with packed plastic containers, all filled with an assortment of pills.
"You're not afraid of me robbing you?" I added, watching as his massive stash was placed on display before me.
"You think those guys upstairs are for show?" he smirked. "Plus you paid in debit. We know more about you then you do."
I smiled and leaned against the wall, waiting for him to finish adjusting his supplies.
"I have everything from LSD to good ol' Mary Jane. Ex, mushrooms, everything you want."
I pulled a small black plastic bag from my pocket and walked up to the display. He had sized clearly separated and even labeled them with prices. Which I must admit was a bit much for a drug dealer.
But this is his business, so who was I to knock it.
I placed my hand at the top shelf and took a $50 bag of weed and placed it lightly in my bag.
"You know you could've gone just about anywhere for that much weed," he sighed, getting ready to kick me out. I ignored him and began pulling out $50 sizes of everything he had there, even pills and vials I had never even heard of. His face lit up as if he found a new customer. I reached for a small plastic bag filled with brown powder. He reached out and grabbed my wrist roughly, stopping it before I did.
"No matter how much money you might eventually bring me. I don't sell H or coke to kids," he barked sternly. "Not happening." I pulled my hand away and handed him $300 for the things that I did take. He gave me his number, and just like that I was out of there.
But not before he gave me a 2 minute lecture on what not to do with my tattoo.
I started to walk - holding the bag in my hand as if I had just left a convenience store. My arm burned with pain, but I didn't really care. Before I knew it I found myself by the Chicago River. The summer breeze carried the smell of the water across my face in a refreshing way. I sat down on a bench by the water and started to roll a joint. I hadn't smoked weed in ages. Hell it felt like years. Ever since I dated Malena, those sorts of things had become scarce.
I already had started using phrases like used to, and dated. All were past tense. As if everything we had together just disappeared.
I pulled a lighter from my pocket and lit the joint against my lips, breathing it in as wholly as I could. I coughed and wheezed, gasping as my throat burned as much as my arm did.
"You ok there?" I heard a voice question from over my shoulder. I turned around as Claire pulled a water bottle from her purse and handed it to me. "Here, this'll make you - Kyle?"
"I'm fine," I refused, looking away from the bottle. She took a seat next to me, looking towards the water as I smoked. It had been my first time seeing her apart from her sister Cassie. I waved my hand over, gesturing her to take the joint.
"I-I've never smoked before," she muttered nervously.
"Whatever," I replied, placing it back between my lips.
"What're you doing out so late anyway" she continued.
"I didn't feel like being inside."
Which was kind of the truth
The buzz started to hit me. My head lightened and the breeze from over the water intensified. I could feel myself losing it.
Claire still sat there, quietly letting her eyes dart back and forth from me to the water. I gestured again for her to take the joint. It was almost done, and she seemed as if she needed it more than I did.
She looked at it skeptically, eyeing me for reassurance.
"Just take it," I continued, giving the only words I could muster. She picked it gently from my hand as if it was delicate and soft. She placed it along her lips and harshly breathed in the first night of many.