He reached for a sheet of paper. “Here, take this, and follow the directions.” She looked disappointed as she took it from him. He took a breath and gathered his thoughts. Sharon had been pretty much an ideal client, and deserved better than this.
“Sorry, it’s been a long day,” he said, and she brightened. “You do want to follow the directions, though. We want the tattoo to look good, but more importantly, we want you to take care and not get any infections.”
“No, I wouldn’t want that.” Sharon smiled again and sat up. “So, do I come back for a follow-up, like a doctor?”
“If you have any questions or problems, please let us know, but no, you shouldn’t need to come back.”
“All right,” she said with a sigh.
Was she pouting? Tony wondered. Jesus, she was pouting.
“If you have any other questions, Karen can help you out.” Tony tried to keep his tone light. “Thanks for choosing Chandler’s.”
He busied himself cleaning up, relieved when he heard the door chime. Sharon had been his last appointment, and he was looking forward to going home.
“You missed a chance,” said Karen as Tony came out front.
“A chance at what?”
“At Sharon. Your client.” Karen shook her head. “You can’t tell me you didn’t notice. She was sending signals like crazy.”
“I don’t think I missed anything,” said Tony. “Dodged a bullet, maybe.”
“Yeah, definitely,” Jackson chimed in. “She looked dangerous.” He paused. “Maybe I should call her.”
Tony barked out a laugh. “Yeah, you do that, man. Best of luck, and don’t come crying to me about it.”
“What do you care? You’ve got Mary,” Jackson said.
“You do?” Karen turned and raised an eyebrow. “That’s news.”
“What? No, I don’t ‘have’ Mary. Christ, guys.”
“Just as well. She could do better,” Karen said.
“Nice. You’re fired,” said Tony, but Karen just laughed.
“You’re still into her,” Jackson said.
“Yes, yes, we’ve been over this,” Tony grumbled. “Leave me alone.”
“It must be serious,” said Karen. “Otherwise you probably would have hooked up with Sharon, or any of the other women who throw themselves at you.”
He gave her a look. “Women do not throw themselves at me.”
“Of course they do,” said Jackson. “They try you, you put them off, then they come to me. It’s a good system and I think we should keep it going.”
“So what, did Sharon just move too fast for you to catch her?” Tony asked drily. “And don’t you have a crush on Lacey?”
“What? No. Don’t be ridiculous.” Jackson leaned against the counter, projecting calm. “Let’s be honest. Lacey’s beautiful. Any guy would have a crush on her, but I know my limits.”
Tony saw through his friend’s laid-back attitude, but didn’t press the issue. But, he thought, it was nice to deflect everyone’s attention from his own feelings about Mary.
“You should just ask her out, Jackson,” said Karen. “She likes you.”
“What? No.” Jackson tried to shrug it off and gave them his easy smile. “She’s too classy for a guy like me.”
Tony chuckled and let it go. It was fun to tease Jackson, but it was hitting a little close to home.
He still wasn’t sure why he was so attracted to Mary, and he’d spent a fair amount of time trying to figure it out. Mary was pretty, and sexy, but he’d found women attractive and sexy before. He’d had relationships, some good, some bad, some long, some short. It had hurt no matter who had initiated the breakup, but no one had affected him in this way.
He wasn’t pining for her, Tony was pretty sure. He didn’t think about her every minute, or even every hour. He wasn’t absent-minded, hadn’t made any mistakes at work, didn’t sit staring off into space and daydreaming about Mary’s long hair, brown eyes, and what he imagined were soft lips.
Not often, he amended. And not where anyone would notice.
It felt like he was biding his time. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was waiting for, or how long he’d wait. He knew Mary needed time and space, and he didn’t want to pressure her. He wished he could help her, but didn’t know how, or if he should.
As if she had read his mind, Karen piped up. “I think Mary’s really doing well. She seems way happier than when we met her.”
“Low bar,” Jackson observed.
“Yeah, but it’s true,” said Karen. “She hasn’t found a job yet, and I know she’s looking, but she’s getting herself together. She seems more relaxed, she jokes around a little more. She’s even being artistic again, she says.”
Tony glanced up. “Artistic?”
“She’s a dressmaker, and does photography on the side. Remember that portfolio she had when she got her stuff? It had some of her work. Pictures of dresses she’s made and some other photographs. She’s been trying to replace and recreate things but she said it’s slow going.”
Tony let out a low whistle. He knew from his own artistic endeavors how frustrating it was when you lost something. He recalled the wet, discolored portfolio from the day they’d helped Mary move out. She had looked both furious and determined when she’d come out with it.
“Have you seen any of her stuff?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah,” said Karen with a nod. “She’s really good, I think, although I don’t know anything about sewing. But the dresses she showed me were gorgeous. It’s a shame the job she came here for fell through, and I guess there aren’t a lot of dressmaking options out there.”
“I guess,” said Tony. “Wonder what that pays.”
“Probably not a lot, or not to start,” Karen said. “Mary said she’ll get a job that pays before she worries much about the dressmaking. She hasn’t said anything, but I know she doesn’t like that she isn’t paying rent.”
“I could move in and not pay rent,” Jackson offered, “if it would make her feel any better.”
Karen laughed. “Nice try, moocher. You know what I mean. She feels like she wants to contribute. No, like she has to.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling,” said Tony.
“But she has been, and we keep telling her that.” Karen shook her head. “She cleans up, and cooks a fair bit. That’s all really helpful. We keep meaning to do something for her, but we don’t know what to do.”
“She did seem like she needed someone to be nice to her,” said Jackson. “Especially after all that crap with what’s-his-name.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe that asshole broke her sewing machine. I mean, Christ, what a toddler move.”
“I thought maybe Lacey and I could get her a sewing machine, but then I thought it might be too much, and I’m betting that’s kind of a personal thing,” said Karen. She sighed. “So I guess I’ll wait until something else comes to mind. Ugh. I’m overthinking it.”
“Yeah, you are,” said Tony, and winked at her. “But that’s why we love you.”
“Oh, stop.” Karen punched him in the shoulder, and he pretended it hurt, but he saw her blush. He always found it funny that his sister, who was tougher than most people he knew, was a softie under it all. She’d always been like that, though. She’d be the first to defend someone, and the first to help them out, as she had with Mary.
Back to Mary, he thought with a sigh. Well, he’d waited this long. He could wait a little longer.