“Does it hurt?” I ask, glancing at the tray of miscellaneous tools, the tattoo gun in particular looking extremely daunting.
Kit had one last stop to make before we hit the road, which was the first session of covering up his tiger eyes tattoo. His regular tattoo artist had an open spot, so he wanted to get started with the process since it could take multiple sessions to get everything finished. And no, my brother has yet to find out about this.
The tattoo shop is quaint in size, yet extravagant in decor, with a maximalist interior design that includes checkered tiling, a neon sign that blares INK ABOUT IT, and various prints slapped to mahogany-colored walls. Each print ranges from realism to abstract, with multiple designs being fully grayscale.
I cower away from anything that involves pain. And that includes tattoos. But I wanted to support Kit, especially considering that he’s getting a tattoo of me.
Kit’s laid out on the reclined bed, his forearm propped on the cushiony arm of the chair, flaunting his previous ink on a golden canvas of rippling muscle. The artist—Rhen—cleans the area with an antiseptic wipe. He’s covered in even more tattoos than Kit, accompanied by multiple face piercings and giant gauges that stretch out his ears.
Kit shrugs. “It kind of feels like a bunch of pinpricks.”
I shudder at the sight of the sharp needle attached to what looks like a medieval torture device. “Yeah, but a pinprick to you is like a stab wound to me.”
He tilts his head at me, a curled tress of onyx hair flopping over his forehead. “Princess, you’re a lot better with pain than you think.”
It takes me a second to understand what he’s referring to, and when realization sets in, blood immediately warms my cheeks. My body begins to overheat, and there’s a twang in my lower belly that no number of kisses could remedy. I discreetly cross my legs, praying that the pulse down below eventually peters out.
I can’t believe he just said that. In public. Directly next to somebody. Yes, I was surprised that Kit’s dick didn’t tear my hymen for the second time, but I like Kit’s dick. I don’t like needles.
All I do is scoff and roll my eyes, but I’m sure he’s already descried my blush.
With a blown-up picture of my eyes for reference, Rhen gets started on Kit’s forearm, sketching a rough outline around the already-drawn eyes, the buzz of the gun resonating in the open-plan layout.
Kit doesn’t even wince as his dermis layer reddens over. He looks peaceful, all chiseled edges airbrushed with golden rays of sunlight. So gorgeous that my heartstrings strum out a tune of love just for him.
His other hand rests palm-side up. “Hold my hand,” he says.
I raise my brow. “I thought you said it didn’t hurt?”
“It doesn’t. I just want to hold your hand.”
Arrgh. He’s so irritatingly perfect. So charismatic and pretty and cheesy. So…mine.
My fingers find his, falling into the slats with ease, and he brings the back of my hand up to his mouth, peppering a kiss to my knuckles.
Rhen dabs the gun into the glob of ink on his tray, smiling at the both of us. “When Kit told me he wanted to cover up his tattoo, I almost didn’t believe him. Those eyes are famous in the hockey world. Got his name from them and everything. But after seeing y’all together, I get it.”
“Hey, I can make good decisions sometimes,” Kit grumbles, throwing a sideways glance at me.
A lovesick smile skips across my lips as the cavorting of my heart heightens in my ears. He’s talking about me. I’m his good decision. I squeeze his hand to silently communicate that I got his message, and he squeezes it back with a benign softness.
I still remember the feel of his pinky around mine when he promised to keep my secret. So much has changed since then—for the better. I never thought that I’d recover after hitting the lowest point in my life, but here I am, unscarred as I climb out from the rubble, even stronger than I was before. And it’s all thanks to Kit.
Rhen looks at me. “You’d ever want to get a tattoo, Hollings?”
“Oh, me? Oh, no. I don’t know,” I prattle with poorly crafted words, panic beginning to set in. “It’s not that I don’t like tattoos. What you do is super cool. I just—well—it’s permanent. Very permanent. And painful…from what I’ve heard.”
“Hey, no offense taken,” Rhen chuckles, lifting his arms up in mock surrender. “But if you ever do decide to get one, there are such things as small tattoos. Take up to an hour and are nowhere near as painful as people say.”
A small tattoo. I never really thought about it, but that doesn’t sound bad at all. Something small that maybe only I can see; something that holds significance that I’d want to have branded on me for the rest of my life. I’ve always liked the look of tattoos—how they hold stories from people’s pasts. I like how they’re glances into people’s souls.
I’ve spent countless hours staring at Kit’s tattoos, wondering what each one represents, tracing the colored and noncolored ink, as if touch alone could unearth the answer for me. Some are simply aesthetic, but the bolder, bigger ones—such as the tiger eyes—hold heavier significance.
He told me that the tiger itself represents strength, determination, and courage. He told me that he could only hope to exude that out on the ice, to inspire those around him with a passionate, prideful heart. Or…that’s what he believes now. I think in the beginning, it was a sign of power. But even the most powerful predators of the jungle have a softness to them—a softness reflected in their eyes.
You can tell so much from a person’s eyes. If they bear grief and sorrow from indomitable trauma, if they flicker with waning dregs of life, if they darken with internalized contempt, or if they lighten with warming happiness.
My eyes tell everything. You could experience every one of my emotions through them. But most importantly, they showcase my vulnerability. And vulnerability is the strongest thing any individual can possess.
“You’d be so hot with a tattoo, Princess,” Kit goads.
“I thought I was already hot.”
“You are, but you’d be even hotter. Like break-the-laws-of-physics hot.”
I laugh, giving him a small head shake. “I don’t even know what I’d get.”
Rhen wipes down his work before spinning over in his swivel chair, grabbing a thick binder in one of his gloved hands. He hands it to me, and I set it in my lap, the thought becoming much more real in my mind.
I begin to flip through the clear sleeves, brushing my fingers over geometric, nature-esque, and cartoonish designs, in awe of all of the different possibilities. I like the look of some of the small hearts and flowers, but they don’t feel very personal to me. I could always get some scripture in cursive, or an important date. My brother has a tattoo of the date our mother died.
For the rest of the hour, Kit and Rhen make idle chatter, and I lose myself in a world of ink and unspoken stories waiting to be brought into this world upon corporeal flesh.
A book because I like to read?
No, too on the nose.
A fairy to reference my name?
A butterfly to represent rebirth?
No, too sappy.
I’m not sure why I feel pressured to choose something now. I know I don’t have to. I think I might want to, though. My new life is all about changes and taking risks. This is a change. This is a risk. I want to start this new chapter on a fresh note.
The only thing I know for certain is where I’d probably want the tattoo—a toss-up between the inside of my wrist and behind my ear. Two places that I’m aware are bonier than other places on my body but can be hidden quite easily from plain view.
Kit’s nearing the end of his session, and I’m still stuck at square one. I’m about to call it a day when my eyes lock onto a simple, tiny design that immediately calls out to my heart, wanting to etch its permanence into my skin, wanting to serve as a constant reminder of what’s kept me going after all this time.
I don’t have to think twice. I don’t have to contemplate the consequences. I turn the binder toward Rhen and point at it.
“This. I want this.”
Kit inclines his head to look at the picture I chose, and it entices a smirk from him. “It’s perfect,” he approves, rubbing his thumb over the curve of my index finger.
And yes, we’re still holding hands. Probably will until we get in the car, only for us to retwine them once we get settled.
“Since it’s so small—and Kit’s one of my favorite clients—it’s on the house,” Rhen says, winking at me.
Hot cinders whirl to life in my chest, the love inside me reaching altitudes and distances that I could never fully imagine. It’s a spectrum of multiple kinds of love, all fused into one, and it always takes me by surprise at how febrile the feeling is. Body-squirming and mind-altering. It’s everlasting—just as permanent as a tattoo.
And when it’s my turn in the chair, I don’t worry about the pain. I don’t even focus on it because Kit’s holding my hand the entire way through.