“You don’t have to say anything. Listen, I’m going to call the shop and check in. You look beat, you should take a nap or something.” He winced. “Sorry, that probably sounded kind of bossy.”
Mary chuckled. “It’s fine. You’re right, I am tired. I’ll deal with the trash here. Go on and call the store and tell them thanks again. And I’m grateful to you, too.”
“For going with me of course, but also, you helped keep me steady after I saw the sewing machine.” She swallowed back the fear that rose up at the memory. “Just knowing someone was there and on my side was—really helpful.”
“Sure. You know,” Tony said as he pulled out his phone, “I did want to ask you one thing.”
“Why didn’t you want a tattoo? Although not getting one with him is reason enough.”
She bit her lip as she collected the sandwich wrappings. “That was part of it, but really, I can’t handle needles. It’s a phobia. I’ve all but passed out getting shots at the doctor’s. I tried to donate blood once, and let’s say it didn’t go well.”
“Sure, I get that.” He nodded. “Look, for what it’s worth, a tattoo gun isn’t like that. Not like that kind of needle.”
She laughed. “I’m not sure ‘gun’ makes it any better.”
“I guess not.” He paused. “Listen, if you want some time, I can show you how it all works. Not that you have to get a tattoo. But I could show you the equipment, and if you ever wanted to see one done, we have a lot of customers who wouldn’t mind if you watched. Might make it a little less scary.”
“Oh.” She stopped and considered. “I hadn’t thought about anything like that. Maybe one day I’ll do that.” She gave him a small, tired smile. “But not today. I think I’ve had enough.”
“Sure. I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to add any more pressure.”
“I know, and you’re not. I appreciate it.” It was sweet, she thought, that he’d offer like that. He didn’t know how bad the phobia was, but she could deal with that later.
Tony nodded, apparently not sure what to say next, but she saved him the trouble.
“Go on, call the store. I’ll finish here and then I think I will go take a nap or something. I didn’t sleep well, and it’s catching up with me.”
“Good idea. I’ll be around, let me know if you need anything.”
“Hey, man. You ready to lose?” Jackson asked as he stretched. “I’ve got new moves.”
Tony laughed as he secured his shoelace. “Every time you get new moves, you fall down.”
It had been three days since Tony had met Mary and had his emotions thrown into a blender. He and Jackson had come to a local basketball court to shoot some hoops and relax.
They were both fans of the game, but neither had ever been too interested in playing seriously. Tony had played in high school—recruited mostly because of his height, which he’d hit around age fifteen—did well and had enjoyed it, but when the coach began to make noises about a basketball scholarship, Tony had known it was time to quit. He didn’t like it that much, and at the time wasn’t sure a four-year college was the way he wanted to go.
But that was years ago, and now he and Jackson would toss the ball, shoot some baskets and talk a few times a week. Tony liked the physical activity, and as Karen noted, it got him out of the house.
“You’re either at the store or at home,” she’d said. “You’ll turn into a mole-person if you don’t get some sunlight.”
What could he say? He wasn’t the most extroverted person.
Tony got up and stretched himself, enjoying the sunlight and the pleasant fall weather. Karen was right, he needed to get out. He’d been feeling tense ever since meeting Mary, and hoped that running around on the court with Jackson would give him an outlet.
“All right, man,” said Jackson as he bounced the ball. “Here we go.” He dribbled, feinted to one side and darted to the other, threw the ball and missed the basket.
“What move was that?” Tony asked, grinning. “You don’t get points for faking me out.”
“Just warming up,” said Jackson. “I’m giving you a false sense of security.”
“Give me the ball, Steph Curry,” said Tony.
Jackson passed it to him and Tony dribbled, deciding what to do. Jackson bounced on his feet, waiting to block. Tony went forward, dodged Jackson’s block, and lobbed it through the rim.
“There,” said Tony. “Moves.”
Jackson waved a hand. “You’re taller. You have an unfair advantage.” He took the ball from Tony and bounced it.
“I’m not that much taller than you are,” said Tony.
“Yeah, well, you’re skinny, too. Hey, look, there’s Mary.”
Tony spun around and Jackson zipped past him and scored. Tony scowled at his friend. “That’s cheating.”
“All’s fair in love and basketball,” said Jackson as he passed Tony the ball. “Not my fault you’re easily distracted.”
“Fine. That’s how it is? You got it.” Tony powered through Jackson’s block and shot the ball, getting the rebound when it bounced off the backboard.
“Foul! Foul!” cried Jackson.
“Yeah, yeah, cry me a river.” Tony passed the ball back. “Come on, LeBron, let’s see these new moves.”
“Okay. Play to fifty?”
“If you last that long.”
Jackson grinned and got down to business. When he wanted to, Tony knew, Jackson could be good at just about anything. Also sneaky, so Tony kept his guard up.
The two of them played, trading trash talk and insults and jokes, until Jackson got to the fiftieth point.
“Whoooo!” Jackson punched the air. “Ha! Take that!”
“Sit down,” said Tony. He grinned and tossed his friend a bottle of water. “I’ll alert the media for your victory parade later.” He drained half a bottle himself. “Also, I would have won if you hadn’t cheated.”
“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” Jackson kidded. He took the water and sat on a bench.
“I’ll remember that next time.” Tony sat down and leaned back, soaking up the sun.
“Up for a rematch?” asked Jackson. “I’ll give you a chance. You can cheat, too.”
Tony laughed. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”
“Yeah, I need a break, too.” Jackson drank the rest of his water. “Not as young as I used to be.”
“None of us are,” Tony agreed.
“Hey, listen, you mind if I come in late tomorrow? I don’t have any appointments until about three.”
“Sure. Karen and I can handle any walk-ins. Everything okay?” Tony asked.