It was harder to say that than she thought. There was no conversational opening for it, and broaching it out of the blue felt impossible. Still, she knew she had to do it.
“I’ve got an idea,” Dean said as they walked down the street.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“We should get tattoos,” he said with a grin. “I was talking to Pat last night, he and his girlfriend did it. In fact, that’s the shop up there. I figured I’d surprise you.”
“But I don’t—” Mary began.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “It’ll be fun and it won’t take long.”
“Dean, I don’t want a tattoo.” Her heart started racing.
“For god’s sake, Mary.” He rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid. I want to do this, and here we are, so let’s go.”
Apprehensive, she followed him into the store.
“Thanks for coming to Chandler Designs,” said Karen Chandler as she handed the customer a receipt. “We’ll see you again in three weeks? Does that work for you?”
“Sure,” said the guy, a twenty-something named Jake. He was in the second stage of an elaborate tattoo on his back.
Karen gave him a time for his next appointment, reminded him to take care, and he nodded and left the store.
“I booked you a two o’clock tomorrow, Tony,” Karen said as she tapped the keyboard on the front counter.
“It’s a new customer, but they’ve got some ideas. Sounds like they’ve done this before. Might be a consult more than anything.”
“Good.” Tony didn’t mind working with new customers, but preferred it when they did at least a little research and put some thought into the idea. As his sister and co-worker, Karen knew his habits well and rarely gave him a newbie.
Tony stood and stretched. He’d just finished an hour-long session with Jake and needed to move around after so long bent over the chair. He shook out his arms and straightened his work area, then pulled out his painting sketchbook and opened to a blank page. He kept one book for tattoo design ideas, and another for the paintings he did at home. He hadn’t had a ton of inspiration for the latter lately, but he kept at it, never knowing when he might find an idea.
At the sound of the door chime, Tony looked up as a couple entered the store. Karen moved to greet them. She was a far better fit for that part of the job than he was.
Karen had a routine: the door would chime, she’d look up and smile at whoever it was, say hello and how are you today, establishing a rapport before moving on to discussing tattoos. She treated everyone the same whether they were a timid first-timer, a person looking for more information, or a senior citizen with a bucket list. Given that the shop was located near a college campus, it paid to have someone who was good with people.
This time, Karen made no effort to be chatty. As the couple approached, with the woman hanging back, Karen withheld her customary smile and crossed her arms over her chest. Not a great sign, but Tony had learned to trust his sister’s instincts when it came to people.
Tony sized up the newcomers. The guy was around five-ten, with a stocky but soft build and an arrogant air. The woman with him was maybe five foot three, with dark hair and big eyes that looked apprehensive. Tony didn’t know what the situation was, but he didn’t like it.
He liked her, though. He liked the way her jeans hugged her legs, and the way her shirt fit over her chest, the way her long jacket brushed her hips. Even more, he’d like to see what her body was like under all of that.
Mostly, he thought, it was her eyes. They were a soft brown and he wanted to see the fear gone from them. Jesus, he scolded himself, what is wrong with you? You don’t even know her name.
“Can I help you?” Karen asked, bypassing any small talk.
The guy smiled. “Hi. I’m Dean Chalfont, and this is my girlfriend.” He gestured at the woman next to him. “We’re here for tattoos. Something matching, for the two of us.”
“Not me,” said the woman.
“What are you talking about?” The guy’s head snapped around and his good nature evaporated. “I told you I wanted to do this, Mary.”
“I don’t care. I’m not getting one.” Mary met his glare and didn’t back down, even though it looked like it was an effort.
The guy flushed and darted his eyes to Karen and then back to his girlfriend. His expression was dark, and Tony didn’t like it.
“Don’t embarrass me here, Mary. I said we’re doing it, and we are.” He turned to Karen, smile back in place as though he’d glued it on. “I’d like to see some designs.”
“No,” Karen said.
“No?” Dean looked confused. “Excuse me, I am a customer. You have to serve me.”
Tony came over to stand near his sister, although he didn’t say anything. She was more than capable of handling this herself, and Tony wanted a front-row seat while she did. But he also wanted to back her up.
Mary darted a glance at him, then Karen, then her boyfriend, and seemed to shrink in on herself.
Tony felt guilty; he knew he had an imposing presence, with his height at six-foot-three and his arms full of ink, but he didn’t aim to intimidate people. He certainly didn’t want to intimidate the lovely woman in front of him. Lovely? When had she become lovely? He made himself focus on the situation at hand.
“We have the right to refuse service,” Karen said. She tapped a sign they kept taped to the counter. “And I am definitely refusing service here.”
“Do you know who I am?” the guy asked, and Tony noted that even Mary rolled her eyes at that.
“I don’t care,” said Karen. “We don’t work with assholes, so you will need to go somewhere else.”
“Look, I don’t think you get it.” The man leaned over the counter, but Karen didn’t move back. “I work for the mayor’s office. I know people, important people. My girlfriend and I want tattoos, and your place was recommended, and I want to see some designs.”
Karen leaned into his personal space, startling the man into leaning back. “No,” she said.
“Dean, come on.” Tony saw that Mary was embarrassed. She shifted her weight and nodded towards the door. “There are other places you can go.”
“Shut the fuck up, Mary. You know better than to make me mad.”
Mary paled but then drew herself up. “That’s it. We’re done, and I’m leaving.” She spun on her heel and walked out.
Tony wanted to applaud.
Dean slammed his hand on the counter and pointed a finger at Karen, and for a minute Tony feared his sister might bite it off.
“I am going to get her, and then I am coming back, and you will do my fucking tattoo.” He glared. “Bitch.”
“Enough.” Tony pushed off the wall and came over to stand next to his sister. “I don’t care who you are, Dean, or who you know. Get out of our shop. Don’t come back.”
“You will both be very sorry.” Dean wanted a mic-drop moment, Tony was sure, but didn’t get it and settled for a vague threat. They watched while he stormed out.