Nicole fiddled with the locket dangling from her neck as she sat anxiously in the waiting room. It was a far cry from the coffee shops and libraries she usually hung out at; blackout curtains hid the light of day, harsh neon and fluorescents giving everything a slightly sickly glow. The walls were covered with graffiti, “so-and-so was here” and random song lyrics and the like. She wondered whether Mason would scrawl something like that while she was being worked on. She normally would’ve thought a gesture like that would be romantic, like carving “M + N” into a tree with a big heart around it. But in this place, it would be mortifying.
Mason put his arm around her shoulder and gave her that dashing, endlessly charismatic smile she loved so dearly. Nicole replied with a sheepish grin of her own. You’re doing this for him, she told herself. Besides, it’s not gonna be anything too crazy. She still wasn’t quite sure where she wanted her tattoo; frankly, she didn’t want a tattoo in the first place, but if she was going to get one she might as well get it in a spot that looked cute. Definitely not a tramp stamp. Maybe ankle? Wait, that’s going over bone, would that hurt more or less?
Before long, a woman stepped into the room from behind a “door” of beads. She looked pretty much exactly like the kind of woman one would expect to see working in a tattoo parlor: tall, dressed in black from head to toe, light pink hair with dark roots poking though. Her arms were toned and muscular, and tattoos scrawled all across them and up her neck. Probably other places, too… But on top of the standard look, she also wore a pair of round glasses, with what looked like pretty thick lenses.
The woman smiled. “I assume the pretty young thing with the long red hair is Nicole?” she asked in a low stoner’s fry.
Nicole nodded. “Yep.” That’s a little forward, but… I dunno, maybe she’s just friendly?
The woman reached out and shook Nicole’s hand. “Blake. You didn’t specify an artist when you signed in, so you get me today.”
“Nice to meet you, Blake.” Nicole took a deep breath and stood up. “Right, well, let’s… get it over with, I guess.”
“Loving the enthusiasm,” Blake smirked. Her eyes flicked over to Mason. “And you are?”
“Mason,” he replied. “Nicole’s my girl, and we’ve been going steady for a while now, so we figured, why not mark the occasion?”
“And are you getting a tattoo today too?” Blake asked. “Your name’s not on the sheet.”
“Not today, but, y’know. Soon.”
Blake looked back at Nicole. “Uh huh. Well, uh, if you were hoping to watch in, I don’t do that. Can’t focus if someone’s watching, I’m sure you understand.”
Mason blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You got a problem with that?” Blake snapped. She glared at him, and his confidence withered under her gaze. He sank down in the chair silently. “We’ll be out in a few hours,” Blake continued. “Hope you brought your phone charger.”
She grabbed Nicole’s arm and led her behind the wall of beads. Nicole looked back at Mason, slightly alarmed at Blake’s behavior. Jeez, she’s mean! But… I mean, Mason kinda deserved that. As Blake led her to a black leather chair, Nicole felt a rush of mixed emotions; anxiety, a slight twinge of fear, and… excitement? It reminded her of when Mason brought her to see a horror movie early in their relationship. She knew she’d end up screaming and peeking through her hands half the time, but she was looking forward to it.
Nicole sat down in the chair and gripped the armrests tightly. “S-So, um, you said this would be a few hours?”
“Could be. Could be less. Depends on the complexity of the design.” Blake handed her a binder full of example designs. “Anything you had in mind?”
“Gosh, I don’t even know,” Nicole sighed. She flipped through page after page, nothing grabbing her. The designs were all edgy and bizarre: hearts wrapped with barbed wire, corporate mascots twisted into something twisted and surreal, and a lot of stuff so risqué she couldn’t imagine anyone walking around with it scrawled on their arm or neck. “I guess just, like, Mason’s name?”
Blake chuckled bitterly. “Oh, honey, trust me, getting your partner’s name tattooed on your body is not a good idea. Not unless you’re absolutely, 100%, no-doubt-and-not-the-band levels of certain.”
“Certain of what?”
“That you’re not gonna look at that name in the mirror five years from now and cringe at your younger self for being so stupid.”
Nicole opened, then closed, then opened her mouth. “I…” She closed it again. Well, Mason’s a good guy. But… are we really gonna last?
Blake smiled. It was a different kind of smile than Mason’s; it felt warmer, more genuine. “Well, I think our usual options aren’t quite your style. Why don’t I come up with something else for you?” She turned to a small medical cart and grabbed a pencil and a post-it note.
She quickly jotted something down and showed it to Nicole. “How’s this?” It was a stylized interpretation of a rose, with detailed thorns, leaves, and petals. “Don’t think we’ll need to color it, unless you want to. That’ll take longer, of course.”
“Oh, that looks so pretty!” Nicole gasped. “How’d you come up with it so fast?”
“‘Cuz I’m fucking good,” Blake laughed. Nicole felt something stir inside her. Gosh, that laugh is beautiful… “So, are you good with this?”
Nicole blinked. “U-Um, yeah! Let’s, let’s go with that.” She felt her cheeks turn red. What the hell was that? Why did I get so flustered?
“And where would you like it?” Blake asked, seemingly oblivious to Nicole’s embarrassment. “Lotta girls get their first tat on the ankle, or…” She gently touched Nicole’s hand and turned it so the palm faced the ceiling. “…sometimes the wrist.”
Nicole looked down at her hand, and the hand holding it. That feeling from earlier came back, the excitement and anxiety growing louder and louder with each passing second. “Um… would the, uh, wrist hurt? More, I mean?”
Blake shrugged. “Not really. Gotta be mindful of the vein, but I’m real careful.”
Nicole pictured the rose tattoo in her mind, imagined how it would look on her wrist. The thought of looking down at her hands and seeing a permanent work of art, a reminder of this day, filled her with anticipation. “Let’s do it!”
“Hell yeah,” Blake chuckled. She grabbed an alcohol wipe from her cart and thoroughly cleaned the area, before grabbing the post-it note and sticking it on Nicole’s forearm. Finally, she picked up the needle and looked into Nicole’s eyes. “Ok, so I’m about to begin. It’s gonna hurt; some people describe it as a burning or prickling sensation, kinda like a bee sting. I’ll count to three.”
She closed her eyes.
She took a deep breath.
The needle made contact with Nicole’s skin. It didn’t feel anything like how Blake said it would. Not entirely, at least. The burning sensation was certainly there, she could definitely feel it, but it was just a small fraction of the wider whole. There was also a dull, low vibration, which spread from the needle and through what seemed like every bone in her body. It wasn’t concentrated in her wrist, like she might’ve expected; instead, it made her skull buzz more than anything.
But it was a pleasant buzz, like leaning her head back on a car headrest and feeling the tires glide along the pavement. She blinked and felt an eternity pass before her eyes opened even halfway. She felt her body release a breath she didn’t know she was holding, and her muscles relaxed along with her mind.
The feeling lingered even after the needle pulled away and Blake started applying a thin layer of ointment to Nicole’s wrist. Nicole felt her body slowly wake up, like she’d just taken a long nap, as Blake wrapped up the tattoo in plastic wrap and tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey there,” Blake cooed. “So, how’d I do?”
Nicole looked down at her wrist and blinked a few times, forcing her eyes to focus. The design was even better than the sketch Blake showed her; it was stylized and angular, yet also somehow soft. It wasn’t quite “Nicole,” but… she could see how it might be. “I love it,” she whispered.
“Knew you would,” Blake smiled. Nicole felt her heart skip a beat. “I’ll get you some water, on the house.” She stepped out into the waiting room and returned a few seconds later, tossing Nicole a bottle dripping with condensation. “Um, so, this is kinda awkward, but… do you have a ride?”
“Huh?” Nicole asked. “What do you mean? Mason’s gonna drive me back.”
“Mason’s not here,” Blake sighed. “I dunno, guess he didn’t feel like sticking around for the full three hours?”
“He didn’t wait for me?” Nicole frowned. That’s rude. But… well, three hours is a pretty long time. Wait, three hours? Gosh, it barely felt like any time had passed at all. “I guess I’ll text him.”
“Nah, save it. I’ll get you an Uber.” Blake pulled out her phone and scratched her forehead.
“Seriously, Nicole, it’s fine,” Blake said. “It’s the least I can do.”
Nicole closed her mouth. Wow, she’d really do that for me? That’s so nice! “I’ll pay you back for it.”
Blake pushed up her glasses and smirked. “Honestly? I think getting to work on that tattoo of yours is payment enough.”
Mason scrolled through his phone and whistled. “You hear about this stuff going down in Prism City? Can’t believe those guys are disbanding.”
Nicole shrugged. “I guess it’s a big deal. But it’s not like we’re gonna see anyone like that around here.”
“That’s true. No self-respecting superhero outfit would bother to hang around some backwater town like this.” Mason tapped his foot like a jackhammer. “What the hell’s taking them so long? This place isn’t even busy.”
“Be patient,” Nicole replied. “I’m sure they’ll be out soon.”
“Wouldn’t even be here if you’d gotten what I asked you to,” he muttered.
Nicole sighed. “Well, I mean… ugh, I dunno, I guess I chickened out.”
“Is this about Rachel?” Mason asked. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with her.”
What? Where is this coming from? “I… can spend time with whoever I want,” Nicole said. “And I told you, I don’t even like girls.”
“Mhm.” Mason didn’t look like he believed her.
But before things could progress to a full argument, Blake stepped out into the waiting room. “You’re back!”
“Yeah, we’re back,” Mason said bitterly, “because you didn’t do what I wanted.”
“Oh?” Blake narrowed her eyes. “Don’t remember giving you a tattoo.”
“You talked my girlfriend into getting some dumb flower. I’m not paying for a removal, but you’re gonna give her another one. My name, on… let’s go with her ankle.”
Blake turned to Nicole. “And you’re okay with this?”
Let’s just get this over with. I hate it when he’s mad… “Sure, yeah,” Nicole sighed.
“…Okay.” Blake pushed up her glasses. “Nicole, follow me.” She turned back to Mason. “You gonna stick around this time?”
“Only to make sure you did it right,” he sneered. “The second you’re done, let me know.”
“Uh huh.” Blake rolled her eyes and escorted Nicole back behind the wall of beads. “Real nice guy, huh?” she muttered once they were out of earshot.
“He’s…” Nicole rubbed her temples. “He’s good to me. He just doesn’t like it when things don’t go his way.”
“Like I said, a nice guy.” Blake motioned towards the chair and Nicole sat down. “So, what do you want me to do with you?”
Nicole shrugged. “Just write ‘Mason’ on my ankle, I guess.”
“No, that’s what Mason wants,” Blake replied. “I’m asking about you.”
“I want that too! I mean, when he saw the rose, he got really mad, and he’s been bugging me about it ever since.”
“You want him to stop being mad.” Blake leaned forward, her eyes startlingly clear. “Did he hit you?”
“What?” Nicole’s jaw dropped. “N-No, of course not!”
“Nicole, you can be honest with me.” Blake held Nicole’s hand tightly. “I want you to be safe.”
“He didn’t hit me!” Nicole said. “He’s not that kind of guy, he’d never do that!”
Blake stayed silent for a moment. “Okay,” she said at last. She let go of Nicole’s hand. “Okay, sorry. That was… waaaaay too personal. I just hate the thought of someone like you getting hurt by a crappy guy.”
Nicole blinked. “No, it’s okay. Um… thank you. For looking out for me.”
“Hey, gals gotta stick together,” Blake smiled. Her eyes met Nicole’s, and for a brief instant Nicole felt her breath hitch in her throat. Blake blinked and turned her face away, her cheeks turning pink. “Right. So, uh, ‘Mason’ on the ankle?”
“Yeah, that’s…” Nicole frowned. She looked down at her wrist, and the tattoo Blake had given her last time. “Well, actually, didn’t you mention something about coloring it?”
“Huh?” Blake looked back at Nicole and scratched her chin. “Oh, yeah, I totally can do that. Any particular way you want it shaded?”
“Surprise me,” Nicole smiled. “After how well the linework turned out, I trust your judgement.”
Blake grinned. “Alright! Let’s fucking do it!” She got the needle ready, and Nicole braced herself.
When the needle touched her skin, Nicole felt that same buzz as before. Strangely, she hadn’t consciously remembered what it felt like before, but now that it was happening again it was instantly familiar. She sank into it, letting it envelop her like a warm blanket.
“How’re you feeling, hun?” a voice said through water. Nicole took a second to recognize that the voice belonged to Blake. When she finally did, she let out a low, happy gurgle from her throat.
“Good girl,” Blake said, and Nicole felt a rush of pleasure flow through her. She smiled, a dazed, dreamy, blissed-out smile that made Blake chuckle and smile back, which only made Nicole smile even more. Seeing Blake happy made Nicole happy, a feedback loop that echoed over and over and over.
Nicole felt like she should say something, but try as she might she couldn’t make the talky part of her brain do anything. Words were beyond her, but she felt great and there was a pretty girl looking at her, and that was enough. Dimly, she realized that being comforted by the presence of Blake was a little odd for her, but the discontinuity fizzled out, smoothed over by the ever-present buzz. After a while, she stopped noticing it entirely, perfectly content to float on the cloud that Blake was giving her.
As she slowly woke up, she heard voices talking. No, not talking. Shouting.
“I’m not fucking paying for this!” a male voice said. “I gave you simple instructions, and you couldn’t even do that!”
“What else can I say?” Blake replied. “Nicole changed her mind, I did what she asked me to.”
“You changed her mind!” the male voice – Sounds… familiar… M-something… – snapped. “Same as last time, you… you talked her out of it!”
“Or maybe she’s not ready to get some shitty guy’s name permanently inked on her body! Did you think of that?”
Nicole opened her eyes and saw Blake and Mason standing in front of her. They looked angry. “Oh, so I’m shitty now?” Mason scoffed. He noticed Nicole stirring and clasped her hand. “Hey, baby girl. Never known anyone who dozed off while getting a tattoo, but there’s a first time for everything, huh? Sorry, but you’re gonna have to stay here for a while longer. ‘Cuz we’re not leaving till this chick does what we asked her to!”
Blake groaned and rubbed her temples. “Dude, if you’re gonna keep causing a scene, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”
“Yeah? What’re you gonna do, call the cops? I’d love to see you try. You’re the one who should be arrested here, for scamming me!”
“Wow, really?” Blake scoffed. “Fucking really, man? We didn’t scam you, Nicole just chose something different from what you wanted.”
“You think I don’t see what’s going on here?” Mason glared at Blake. “You think I’m an idiot or–”
“Shut up!” Nicole shouted, startling even herself with her intensity. “I chose this, Mason. I wasn’t tricked or anything. I wanted Blake to color in my tattoo.”
Mason blinked, then swallowed, trying to regain his indignation. “W-Well, I’m not paying for it.”
“Fine. It’s my tattoo anyway, I’ll pay for it.” Nicole pulled her phone out of her pocket and slid her credit card out of the holder on the back of the case.
When she handed it to Blake, however, the other woman just held her hand up. “No, this one’s on the house. But I don’t ever want to see you–” she jabbed her finger into Mason’s chest “–in this place ever again. You want someone to brand your girlfriend? You’re gonna have to go somewhere else.”
“Fine. Wouldn’t wanna come back to a shithole like this anyway.” Mason grabbed Nicole’s hand roughly and yanked her out of the chair. “We’re leaving.”
Nicole pulled her hand away, but followed him out. She gave one last look at Blake before they stepped out the front door.
Blake checked the clipboard twice just to make sure she was reading it right. She walked out into the waiting room, and sure enough, there she was. “Nicole?”
“H-Hey!” Nicole beamed. She stood up and nervously fiddled with her hands. “I, um, I know you said you didn’t want Mason around here again, but, well… you didn’t say anything about me!”
“Yeah, because you weren’t the one shouting,” Blake replied. “So, uh, what can I get you for? Finally getting his name done, or something else?”
“Something else, yeah.” Nicole scratched the back of her head and looked down at the floor. She was blushing. “But I’m not really sure exactly what I want. I was thinking, maybe you could help me come up with something? Like you did with the rose?”
“I could do that, sure.” Blake had a strange look on her face, but Nicole didn’t pay it any mind. She followed the tattoo artist back to the leather chair; it almost felt like an old friend now that she’d spent a few hours in it. She sat down and settled into a comfortable position.
“So, did you have anything in mind?” Blake asked.
“Well, I was thinking instead of Mason’s name, I could get my own?”
“In case the coroner needs to identify your corpse, right.” Blake smirked at Nicole’s creeped-out expression. “Gallows humor, sorry. Not exactly everyone’s thing. Where would you want it?”
Nicole’s cheeks turned red. “Um, well… I was thinking, uh…”
Blake smiled knowingly. “Oh, lemme guess.” She hooked her thumb under her waistband and pulled slightly. “Down below?”
“N-No way!” Nicole squeaked. “I mean, um… like, that’d be weird, right?”
“Eh, not really,” Blake shrugged. “I get at least a couple of those every week. After a while, you kinda get used to it.”
“Oh.” Nicole furrowed her brow. “Well… n-no, definitely not. Not today, anyway.”
“So where do you want it?”
Nicole tapped her chin. “Um… maybe my back? Like right below the neck?” She pointed to the spot in question, and felt goosebumps when Blake touched it.
“Hm,” Blake said. “Yeah, that’ll work. Lemme sketch something up real quick.” She grabbed her pencil and her post-it notes, and after a few failed attempts she came up with something they both liked. It was a heart, similar to some of the designs Nicole saw in the book, but instead of being wrapped in barbed wire or anything unpleasant like that, it had vines. It would fit perfectly with the rose on her wrist.
“Yeah, that looks great!” Nicole smiled.
“Alright!” Blake said. “Now take off your shirt.”
Nicole blinked. “…I’m sorry?”
Blake rolled her eyes. “Well, if I’m gonna draw this on your back, I won’t wanna keep pulling back your sweater, will I?”
“Um, I… I guess that makes sense…” Nicole felt her cheeks go bright crimson. “Like, right now?”
“Well, sometime this week, hopefully.”
“Okay…” Nicole took a deep breath and lifted her sweater up and over her head, clutching it in front of her like a security blanket. “So, uh… how do you want me to sit?”
Blake responded by pulling a lever on the bottom of the chair, and it went flat like a massage table. “Just lay down.”
Nicole nodded silently. She laid face-down on the chair – straddled, really, since her legs were hanging off the sides – and awkwardly bunched up her sweater into a makeshift pillow.
“Okay,” Blake said, “needle’s coming in three, two…”
When the needle touched her skin, Nicole felt like something was off. Did it… hurt this much before? She could’ve sworn that the other times felt a lot more pleasant, but couldn’t put her finger on why exactly.
“So, how’d you and Mason meet?” Blake asked.
“At a party,” Nicole replied, “junior year. Well, that was the first time we talked; the first time I ever saw him was about a month before that. He was super drunk, probably hanging out at the frat, and we were both walking back to our dorms, which were on opposite sides of the street. I guess he was feeling good, because he tried to do a cartwheel.”
“And how did that go?”
Nicole chuckled. “He fell over and groaned in pain. When we first… um… did it, he had a scab on his knee, so he probably scraped it too.”
“You two must’ve gotten to second base pretty soon, then.” Blake paused. “Uh, sorry, that’s probably–”
“N-No, it’s okay!” Nicole said quickly. “And you’re right, we, uh, we went pretty quickly. Like, after our second date, I was back in his room, and on his bed, and– ow!” Nicole winced as the needle passed over bone.
“Sorry,” Blake said. “How was it? The date, I mean?”
“He took me to see this scary movie. I think his plan was that I’d get scared and like cling to his arm or something. But it wound up where I was totally fine, and he was freaking out, the whole time. Poor thing was shaking by the time the credits rolled.”
“Right?” Nicole smiled wistfully. “And then we got back to his place, and we cuddled, and… y’know. One thing leads to another.”
“Good song, but I was always more partial to ‘Saved by Zero.’”
“It’s a joke, ‘cause… The Fixx…” Blake blushed. “N-Never mind. I always forget that most people aren’t as much into older music as I am.”
“I’d probably recognize it if I heard it.” Nicole tried to shrug, but felt the needle start to slip and decided against it. “But yeah, he was pretty embarrassed by the whole thing. I could tell that he wasn’t very happy, so I kinda jumped to second base.”
“Really?” Blake seemed stunned. “Just like that? For a guy you barely even knew?”
“Well, I felt bad, y’know? He was in such a grumpy mood, I felt like it was… I dunno, like I should do something for him.”
“You shouldn’t be pressured to have sex with someone,” Blake said sternly. “Ever.”
Nicole sighed. “I know…” She winced again. “Um, could you maybe be a little gentler?”
“It’s gonna sting no matter what,” Blake replied.
“I swear it wasn’t this bad before…”
“Well, you didn’t get it on your back before, did you?”
“I guess that explains it.” Nicole laid her head down. Guess I’ll just have to wait it out…
Eventually, Blake set the needle down and handed Nicole a mirror. “What do you think?” She held up her own mirror so Nicole could see the tattoo.
Nicole sat up and smiled. Just like with the rose, the design had translated perfectly from the post-it note to her skin. “Blake, you’re amazing! This is great! But…” She looked closer, squinting. “Where’s my name?”
“Yeah, about that. See, since you’re still new to all this, I wanted to wait and see if you’re up to that today, or if you’d rather wait. You did say it hurt a bit more, so…”
“I think I can handle it.”
“Suit yourself.” Blake handed Nicole a post-it note and a pen. “Usually I ask people to sign so that I can replicate their signatures.”
Nicole smirked. “Are you a professional… uh, forgery-er? Forger? Whatever it’s called?”
“No, that’s just a side gig,” Blake chuckled.
“I don’t really like my handwriting very much. Maybe you could just sign it in your own?”
Blake paused. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, totally.” Nicole looked back at Blake and grinned. “I mean, you’ve been leading the way on all my other tattoos, right?”
“Guess that makes sense,” Blake muttered. She picked up the needle and gently pushed Nicole back down.
Nicole let out a soft gasp; she wasn’t quite expecting Blake to do that, but more than that, she wasn’t expecting it to feel quite so… good. Gosh, I almost want her to be a little rougher with me… Wait, what am I–
Then the needle touched her skin, and she finally felt that sense of relaxation and pleasure buzz through her. She smiled dreamily and let herself sink into it, purring like a kitten.
“What are you doing out here?” Blake asked. “You know we’re closed, right?”
Nicole nodded, looking down at the ground. “Yeah, yeah I know. I just, uh, wanted to talk. To you.”
Blake turned the key in the lock and stepped up to Nicole. “What’s up?”
“Can we go somewhere?” Nicole said. “It’s cold, and I could really go for some coffee or cocoa or something.” Even though the neon sign on the front of the store was off, Blake could tell Nicole’s cheeks were wet with tears.
“Uh, sure. I know a place a few blocks from here. Everything okay?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there,” Nicole muttered. Blake led her down to the diner, unnerved by her downbeat demeanor. She’d grown accustomed to Nicole being charmingly flustered; whatever had gotten her so upset, it must have been serious.
When they got to the diner, they sat down across from each other in a booth. Blake ordered coffee, Nicole ordered a hot chocolate, and once their drinks arrived Blake asked what happened.
Nicole sighed deeply. “…Mason broke up with me.”
“Oh, no,” Blake replied. “Nicole, I’m so sorry.”
“Bound to happen eventually,” Nicole said bitterly. “We’ve been on thin ice ever since I got the tattoo. He just… he gets so angry with me! Just because I don’t always wanna do what he says! It’s like he thinks he owns me, that I can’t have anything for myself.”
“God, I know the feeling,” Blake sighed. “Shitty partners are a dime a dozen. It sounds like it might’ve been for the best, though.”
“It was, but…” Nicole sniffled, tears welling up anew. “I loved him, y’know? And I can’t stop thinking about all the good times we’ve had, like… what changed? Where did that guy go?”
Blake furrowed her brow. She never knew what to say in these situations, especially when… “I think he’s still there. But the person who broke up with you is also the same one who gave you all those good memories. Sometimes the cracks in a relationship don’t go noticed until they become chasms, and by then it’s too late to mend them.
“I dunno,” Nicole sighed. She took a sip of her cocoa and drummed her fingers on the table. “I think it might be me. I feel… different.”
“Different?” Blake swallowed. “How so?”
“Like… like I feel more confident, I guess?” Nicole shrugged. “I hadn’t really noticed before how meek I was with Mason. I always just kinda deferred to him on stuff. Where we went to get dinner, what we watched on TV, that kinda thing. And sometimes – well, a lot of the time – it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but, y’know, you grin and bear it, right?”
She gripped her cup more tightly. “But lately, I’ve been pushing back on him with that. ‘No, I wanna get Chinese, not pizza.’ ‘I don’t care if the game’s on, I wanna watch my show.’ And…” Her expression turned sour. “Sorry, I’m probably making you uncomfortable, I just need to vent right now.”
“No, go on,” Blake said.
“So, whenever he wanted sex, I’d just… let him have me.” Nicole almost seemed disgusted by that. “He never seemed to care if I was feeling good. He’d just use me. That’s always how it felt, like I was being used, like a… big fleshlight or something.”
Blake nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
“I just wanted to cuddle! What’s wrong with that?”
“Cuddling’s awesome.” Nicole smiled for the first time that night. “But he always got bored with it, and next thing you know, I’m closing my eyes and thinking of England or something.”
“That’s how it is with a lot of guys, honestly.” Blake took a sip of her coffee and looked out the window. “I mean, I’ve met plenty of guys who aren’t like that, but they’re kinda rare. It seems like so many of them want to skip right past intimacy and just get their rocks off as fast as possible.”
“Exactly!” Nicole exclaimed. “See, you get it! When I told my other friends about this, they looked at me like I’m a crazy person.”
“No offense,” Blake chuckled, “but it sounds like you’ve got some shitty friends.”
“Maybe…” Nicole looked down, staring through her cup it more than at it. “I’ve known a lot of them since college, but they almost seem like strangers now. Or maybe I’m the stranger.”
Blake opened her mouth, as if to say something, but then closed it. “Well, it’s getting late. And I have to open tomorrow, so…”
“…Yeah.” Nicole sighed. “Well, I’ll get the waiter to split the bill.”
“No, it’s my treat,” Blake said. “You needed a pick-me-up, right?”
“Oh! Well, thank you,” Nicole replied. She reached out and clasped Blake’s hands in her own. “I’m glad I met you.”
“I…” Blake’s cheeks were red. Her eyes refused to meet Nicole’s. “I have to go.” She pulled her hands away and rose out of the booth.
Nicole blinked. Her body move on autopilot, standing and stepping towards Blake. Her hand grabbed Blake’s wrist and pulled the other woman in closer.
Their lips met.
Time slowed to a crawl, a few seconds stretching into a near-eternity. Nicole’s eyes slipped shut. This felt right. Better, even. It felt perfect.
But it didn’t last. Blake pulled away, her eyes wide with shock. Nicole felt a pang of ice-cold fear stab her in the stomach. She stepped back, her hands shaking, tears threatening to spill forth from her eyes.
Blake grabbed Nicole by the shoulder and sat her back down in the booth. “Listen,” she said, sitting down next to her. “I can’t be with you.”
Nicole’s mind raced with questions. The first one that came out was a meek, quiet “Why?”
“I don’t know if you’d believe me if I told you,” Blake sighed. She held her face in her hands and ran her fingers back through her hair. “The truth is, I have an… an ability. Or a power, or gift, or whatever you wanna call it. And I’ve been using it, on you.”
“You’ve…” Nicole blinked. “What?”
“When I write on someone, I can give them a… I don’t know, like a suggestion or a command or something. I can change them, at least a little. Maybe a lot. And I’ve been changing you.” Blake turned her face away. “A little bit of confidence, some extra sense of self-worth… I thought it would help you stand up for yourself.”
Nicole didn’t know what to say. It sounded completely insane; there was no way anything like that should have been possible. But she also couldn’t deny how different she’d felt ever since Blake started giving her tattoos. And it wasn’t like people with unusual abilities were unheard of; even weeks later, the Team Rainbow breakup was still all over the news. “Why would you do something like that?”
“I knew you deserved better than Mason,” Blake responded. “I know you like him, but that guy just screamed ‘scumbag’ from the second I saw him.” She paused. “…Sorry, that’s mean, you just broke up and all…”
“You’re right,” Nicole said quietly. “You’re totally right. God, I wanna grab my past self and scream at her. He never respected me, never listened, never gave a single fuck about–” She stopped. “…I’m getting too loud, aren’t I?”
Blake laughed. “Honestly? You deserve it. There’s no one here anyway, so let loose!”
“I’m so tired of that asshole!” Nicole said, smirking a little. “Never making time for me, always off with his stupid frat bro friends and then turning around and getting on my case for wanting to hang out with my friends?”
“Fuck that guy!” Blake shouted.
“Yeah, you’re right! Fuck that guy!” Nicole couldn’t help herself from giggling. She felt so silly, letting her emotions spill out like this, but she couldn’t deny how cathartic it felt.
“Don’t stop,” Blake cheered, “keep going! Throw shit!”
“The hell did you just say?” said a gruff voice behind them. They turned around and saw the owner of the diner glaring at them.
“…Um… c-could we get the check, please?” Nicole stammered, her cheeks turning bright red.
The owner squinted. “That’s what I thought.” He walked over and slammed the slip of paper down on the table. “And remember: you break it, you buy it.”
Nicole nodded silently.
Blake picked up the check and pulled out her wallet. “Feeling any better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Nicole said. “Thanks.” She slowly reached over and touched Blake’s hand. “Can we…?”
“…I can’t,” Blake sighed. “My power, it’s… messy. I need to focus, be specific with what I want to give someone. And when I was working on you…” She looked into Nicole’s eyes and smiled sadly. “I think I might’ve made you love me.”
Nicole squeezed gently. “Trust me, you didn’t need any power to make that happen.”
“But I don’t know for sure–”
“And I don’t care.” Nicole wrapped her arms around Blake and hugged her close. “I’m happy with the way I am now. I’m happy that I’m done with Mason, and I’m so, so happy that I love you. And I want to make this work.”
Blake opened her mouth to speak, but Nicole silenced her with a kiss. They held like that, until the waiter came by to collect the check. Blake pulled away, a her cheeks burning red. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“No shit,” Nicole giggled. “So, how about it?”
Blake stayed silent. She looked deep into Nicole’s eyes, searching for any doubt, any sign that this wouldn’t work, any excuse to let her say “no” without regretting it later.
She couldn’t find any.
She led Nicole out of the booth and, once they were outside the diner, pushed her up against the wall. “You’ve kissed me twice,” she purred. “That means I’m owed two of my own.”
“I don’t…” Nicole tilted her head. “Is that how that–”
Blake didn’t wait for Nicole to finish asking before giving her the answer. A moment later, she broke the kiss and smirked. “Now, let’s say we even the score back at my place?”
Nicole stared into Blake’s eyes. Blake could almost see the steam coming out of her ears. “I-I– um–”
Blake ran her fingers through Nicole’s hair and gently scratched the back of her head, delighting in the way Nicole seemed to melt. “On second thought, I don’t think I can wait until we get home. Guess we’ll just have to keep going back and forth until then, won’t we?”
“Good girl.” Blake wrapped her arm around Nicole’s shoulders and kissed Nicole on the forehead. “Your turn.”