It is early morning when I walk into the local tattoo and piercing parlor. To passersby around me, it looks unusual for a pretty (not bragging, just saying), 16 year old girl to enter a dirty, musty, rundown shop in the bad part of town. But for me it is daily routine.
I, Bree Martz, wrinkle my nose at the smell of sweat in the parlor. It is warm and humid, inside and out, which makes everything sticky and moist. I sigh. Another heck of a day in a ragged, crumbling, shack.
I report to the back room where Annie Budger is waiting.
“7 minutes late.” she glares.
“Sorry,” I answer my boss without emotion, nor an apologizing tone.
Anywhere outside her tattoo parlor, Annie is a person who doesn’t care about anything or what others do, think, or say. But when working at her own place, she’s all business and as tight as skinny jeans 2 sizes too small.
I suppose this is because she has been to jail twice, once for getting multiple warnings for speeding, and once for theft. Neither punishment lasted over a year, but no one wants to hire a person with a criminal record.
I also suppose that at job interviews, people are put off by her appearance. Annie is not fat, but rather husky and very muscular and fills most doorways from top to bottom. She is taller than 6 feet with dull, thick red hair cut at her chin. Her piercing eyes appear almost black. If looks could kill, anyone who even so much as glanced at Annie would be dead.
Annie doesn’t live up to her sweet, adorable name, as you can probably tell.
Annie’s features are sharp and she has a pointy chin. Her lips are colorless and are basically just straight lines that look like someone has drawn them with a thin ball point pen. She has a small nose that’s lost in her huge, slightly pudgy face. Annie has man hands, a straight chest, and size 12 feet. Also, since she owns a tattoo parlor, she has tattoos up and down her big arms and legs.
I describe her as a living giant-(in my own mind, of course.)
Annie grunts in reply to my apology and pushes me aside. Towering over the parlor counter, Annie gets ready for another work day.
I set my purse down on a 3 legged chair propped against the wall in the back room. The room is mostly filled with empty boxes of supplies and the ground is scattered with garbage, mostly boxed lunches and fast food wrappers. Old cigarettes are lying around, along with dirt and caked mud brought in from grimy shoes.
Today I am wearing short, black athletic shorts that hug my figure. I have on a designer t-shirt with the clothing brand name written down its side. It is a scoop neck shirt that swings down loosely across my chest. A small blue necklace is around my neck with tiny, matching earrings.
I wear my dark brown hair pinned back away from my face so that it flows down my back in curly waves streaked with blonde highlights.
I have dark, glossy brown eyes that sparkle in the sunlight. There are traces of different colored speckles to be found that are usually lost in my beautiful, gorgeous, hypnotizing stare. I am told that my smile is genuine and dazzling, even though I don’t have reason to smile much. My cheekbones are high and defined, and my perfect lips are plump and rosy. It would seem to anyone that I am a flawless teenage girl with outstanding features and smooth, pure skin. But oh, they are far from right.
The first visitor of the day is an old man with a cane. He looks like he has stepped out of an old history book during a war. His hair is white, at least the few hairs left on his almost-bald head are white, and his eyes are colorless, sunken back between many wrinkles from age. He moves with a limp and goes at a snail-like pace. I don’t think he can handle the pain and shock of having a needle inject ink into his skin for a tattoo. He looks too fragile.
He takes a seat in the crooked chair by the dust covered window. I force a small smile towards him as my boss has instructed me to do towards customers. Then I turn around and start rearranging the few books that lay in a heap on the antique bookshelf.
I don’t know how the heck this place stays in business. It’s too dirty and run-down for any decent humans in their right mind to step in here. Guess that makes me insane.
Most people, who can afford it, go to the tattoo and piercing parlor in the rich part of town. That parlor has massage chairs, colored walls, modern decorations, modern cleaning and sterilization products, and free refreshments. Their employees are likable and artistic, and the parlor offers free pain medication. They have many more things that the parlor I work in doesn’t have, but the newer parlor costs three times as much as ours does.
I finish pulling the books off the shelves and now I’m cleaning and dusting each one individually. Some of the titles are interesting: Tips for Owning a Tattoo Parlor, All About Tattoos, How to Start Your Own Business, How to Become Rich, How to Succeed in the Work Industry, Tattooing for Dummies: a Beginners Guide, Cheating at Life, All the Secrets about Everything, and Running your Own Shop.
Huh. Weird books. Some of them sound fishy, but whatever. I place the last book on the shelf and turn to sit at the old stool behind the counter.
The door is cracked open and the bell jingles. The man, Bryce, shoves the door forward, which is hanging from one hinge. He stomps in, making himself, his many tattoos and his gigantic work boots known to everyone in the parlor. Bryce is as big as Annie and has most of the same characteristics as her. But instead of her red hair, he has tough, dirty blonde hair and small glaring slits where his eyes are suppose to be. I actually don’t know what color his eyes are because he glares 24/7. Bryce and Annie are married and are the owners of the parlor. He grunts at me and marches toward the backroom.
“Smells in here.” He says in his low, deathly growl when Annie meets him in the backroom doorway.
“Yeah. Bet it’s that darn girl’s perfume.” Annie answers sarcastically nodding her head slightly in my direction.
“Ha, ha, ha. Today I only wore deodorant. But I would doubt that you two did. Maybe it’s you monsters who stink. Or maybe it’s this heck of a place with its moldy walls and cracked ceiling,” I spit back in their faces.
The two adults both look at me, like their ready to lunge at my throat, but then decide I’m not worth it and stalk off into the backroom while slamming the door shut.
Annie and Bryce insult me a lot. I’ve learned to ignore them and brush it off. All this was said in front of the one present customer, the old guy with the cane. He stares back at his copy of US Weekly from 2008 and pretends he hasn’t heard the squabble. Maybe he really hasn’t. He looks like he would need high-tech hearing aids for his age. Instead of starring in fascination at the arguing monster owners, his nose is turned towards Lindsay Lohan and her latest scandal.
Anyone else who has seen, knows, or has anything to do with Annie and Bryce (the living monsters/giants) would think that I’m crazy to insult such large, mean people. But I am not afraid. Not anymore, at least. I was scared of them when I was little, when they yelled and spanked me. You see, Annie and Bryce are my parents.
Five other tattoo-wannabes enter the parlor throughout the day. One woman who’s about 40 years old appears drunk. She wobbles into the front room. Her hair is dyed green and looks like it hasn’t ever been brushed. Her eyes are dead and gray. She wears almost nothing except a skimpy dress that looks like she partied hard last night. There are some wet spots on her dress which I assume are spilled drinks. Her breath reeks of beer. She has tattoos covering every inch of her body, from her armpit to the bottom of her foot to her forehead. I can see this because her arms are wild and she’s obviously not wearing any deodorant. She is only wearing one shoe and her other foot is bare. Most of her tattoos are random designs, and the rest are dirty sayings and pictures. She demands that I give her a cup of fruit.
“Ma’am, thank you for your suggestion. I’ll talk to the owners and see if, uh, we can offer free cups of fruit. Right now though, we don’t have any available. I’m sorry.” I try to be polite and work with her because she has a purse with her that looks like it is loaded with cash. But it’s hard to talk to drunken people. Her eyes are wildly out of control and she soon spins around and faints. Poor lady. Tomorrow she’ll have a terrible hangover.
Meanwhile, the man who had arrived first asks to have his upper arm tattooed with a heart and Jerry plus Cherry written in it. I hope that Cherry is his wife and not some young, gorgeous girl who he’s hitting on. While the tattoo is drawn on his arm, I’m surprised that the man seems unaffected by the pain. He walks out of the parlor with no expression. He is obviously not hurting and not in pain.
The third person is a college boy. He has long, black hair, wears skater clothes and would be described as Goth. Truthfully, the sight of him scares me, but I don’t let it show. Fortunately, he doesn’t say much. Just nods hello, asks for a black bracelet design to be tattooed on his arm, hands over $50, and slumps out of the parlor while admiring the newest artwork on his pale arm.
A little while later two giggling girls run in, probably best friends. They want half a heart tattooed on each other’s ankle with the other one’s name on it. Annie and Bryce have left to go get a pizza, so it is up to me to take the two hyper girls into the tattooing room and start to draw on their bony ankles. I don’t really enjoy tattooing, but it doesn’t bother me that much. When I was younger, I was always fascinated while watching someone get a tattoo. When I drew my first tattoo on some stranger’s leg, it came naturally after observing the action so much. The girl that goes first is so caught up in an inside joke and chatting with her friend that she doesn’t even realize there’s a needle in her ankle that is ripping her skin away to draw smooth lines in her flesh. The girl is surprised when I tell her to move so I can do the next girl.
“I didn’t feel a thing!” The girl laughs and switches places with her friend. Their names are Marsha and Leah. From their conversation, I can tell that their parents don’t know about them getting tattoos and I realize the girls are probably rebelling against their parents by going against their wishes.
“OMG, they are going to be so ticked! LOL!” Marsha laughs and curses her parents. I think it’s weird for people to talk in texting language like actually saying OMG and LOL.
“I know, right?!” Leah responds and throws her head back in a fit of more laughter and start gushing about their crushes. Don’t they know that this parlor is not a place for fooling around and being immature? Seriously. I have just dug the needle in Leah’s leg when Leah’s face drains. She is now pale and colorless.
“Ouch!” she cries in pain. A few seconds later, she falls over, probably dizzy. She doesn’t quite faint, but is close to passing out and is drifting in and out of consciousness.
I’m used to this, as many customers do often faint from pain or shock, but I don’t want to deal with it now. The drunken lady earlier had woken up, confused, whining in pain because of her head hurting, and ran out of the store. One person fainting is enough for the day.
Marsha seems annoyed at Leah.
“Oh, come on. Seriously? Well, Leah’s always been weak. Hey, you, girl, just finish tattooing her ankle and I’ll get her out of here. But she’ll kill me later if I at least don’t get her ankle finished.” She scowls as I shake my head no. It’s the law that you can’t tattoo someone if they don’t personally wish it or aren’t awake and aware of what’s going on.
“Sorry, but I can’t do that. She has to be awake and agree to it.” By now, Leah has dosed off into a deep sleep.
Marsha blows up. “What? We didn’t come here just for you to refuse to tattoo us. Leah was agreeing to get a tattoo before, you know …” She gestures to Leah’s almost-lifeless body on the dirty floor.
I still refuse. Marsha swings Leah over her shoulder, marches out to the counter, slaps some money down, and stomps out of the parlor without so much as a glare at me.
I sink down behind the counter, impatient for Annie and Bryce to return with the pizza. My stomach is growling, when I see him. The boy. Outside the smeared window. He passes the open doorway without seeing my face, but I am in shock. I remember him. You couldn’t forget him. Ever. It was Tony.
Okay, so now you might be confused, lost or intrigued by my story. Let me back up. In every story there’s a part where all the previous history and background is explained. I always skip over those parts because I find them boring. But trust me when I say that my family background is not boring at all.
So when Annie was out of college, young and fresh, she was really beautiful. I mean REALLY gorgeous-(I guess that’s how I got my looks. Right now, you might think how I look pretty compared to Annie, but Annie has chosen to look how she does). She was, uh, normal back then and everyone loved her. Annie was 23 and out of college when her dad was sentenced to jail for 30 years for murder, forgery and assault. She was never the same after that. She rebelled and became a “bad girl”. Instead of wearing cute, stylish clothes, cute makeup and her long, flowing red hair in waves, she changed to motorcycle jeans and jackets, cut and dyed her hair black and her eyes were heavily lined with black liner. She met Bryce and they ran, or rather sped off on their motorcycles and got married. Annie doesn’t keep in touch with her mom, who I think may have switched to drugs to uphold her life when her husband was arrested and her daughter ran away.
Since then, Annie and Bryce had 3 kids, Ricky, Stanley and me, Bree. My brothers and I have the last name Martz, like Bryce, but Annie kept her first last name, Budger. Her original last name was probably the only memory or keepsake that she wanted from her messed up family, or maybe she doesn’t want to switch names because she has lots of pride and can never accept anything from anyone. Annie and Bryce aren’t the typical parents, so it seems weird to refer to them as mom and dad. When Ricky could talk, our parents taught him to call them by their real names. Many other kids find this odd, but to me and my brothers it’s perfectly normal, and we don’t think a second about it.
Ricky dropped out of high school when he was a junior. Annie and Bryce, like always, didn’t care. They never really did care what we did and they still don’t. Anyways, Ricky got a job at the car repair shop and met Hally, a punk-rock girl. They are now living together and their both in their late 20s. Personally, I think they’ve done nothing with their life. That’s what you get when your parents are smoking, tattoo parlor owners and motorcycle obsessed adults. I guess compared to Stanley, Ricky is not all that bad. He’s pretty nice to me and sends me $5 on my birthday. He smokes and has tattoos, but to my family if you don’t cover your body in pictures and look tough, then you’re nothing. But he really is a good person, and at least he has a job. I don’t think Hally really cares about me, just kind of ignores me mostly. She and Annie don’t get along, but I think Bryce secretly admires her for her attitude.
Stanley, on the other hand, didn’t go to high school at all and missed most of junior high by playing hooky. Instead, he’d run off with his gangster friends. They’re probably somewhere smuggling cigarettes out of stores. He was almost caught once for stealing, but Bryce congratulated him on not getting caught. Yeah, our family has good discipline as you can see. Stanley has never and will never be interested at all in girls, but spends his time smoking, cursing, stealing, graffiti-ing, breaking and entering closed shops, and probably trading illegal drugs. No one knows where he is or where he lives either. The police want him for who-knows-what crimes, so he rarely shows up around here. Once in a while he appears and asks for some money and another free tattoo. He always leaves on bad terms since Bryce refuses to hand over any money and tells him to get his own job, because he doesn’t live under the same roof with us anymore.
I guess that even when you’re surrounded by maniacs, someone related to them will turn out good. That someone is me. I realize what my family truly is like and I don’t want to be like them. I have my whole life planned out: go to school, get good grades, pass out of college, fall in love, get married, have kids, live happily ever after. Yeah, the works.
As for Bryce, well, I don’t know what he does. Annie is the main one at the parlor mostly and Bryce can’t keep a job because after a week he’ll get angry with his boss and beat him up for not giving him a raise or having to follow directions. I think Bryce is at bars most of the time and the rest of his time is spent at motorcycle shows with his friends. He has his ear pierced, along with my brothers, and I’ve never liked guys with piercings. Bryce is a quiet guy, doesn’t talk much, but when he does occasionally growl, you had better listen and take him seriously.
So there is my unusual family story. When people see us, their normally scared or feel bad for me. A young girl stuck with tough, loveless parents. Did I mention that there are absolutely NO EMOTIONS in my family? Well, there aren’t. The number 1 rule is never cry. Or you’re dead. Almost literally.
Anyways, Tony has just waltzed past our window when—oh wait, you don’t know him. You see, Tony and I go way back. I grew up next door to him until we moved 2000 miles away ‘cause Bryce was in trouble with the law. Tony was my only real friend back then and he supported me through my family troubles. I poured my heart out to him countless times. I didn’t even get to say a formal goodbye to him, since Annie kept me busy packing up and moving everything we had within 2 days. I never saw him again, until now. Outside the window. Life is too coincidental.
Tony stops and looks across the street. He seems to be searching for someone. He spins around, his eyes frantically swallowing everything in sight. Tony’s eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, but its enough. He looks on and then freezes and slowly turns in my direction again. His face is filled with recognition.
I faintly smile and slightly cock my head. His body unfreezes and he moves in slow motion to the open door frame leading into the parlor.
This one words make me burst out crying. This surprises him. I lose my head, jump over the counter, and sprint into his arms. He folds his muscular arms around me, enclosing me into his chest. He smells like cologne and shaving cream.
“Tony.” I whimper. It’s too good to be true. I can’t believe he’s actually here, in the parlor, hugging me.
After what seems like forever, but is probably 2 minutes, he gently lets me go and I step back. I’m sure my makeup has smeared from tears and loose strands my hair has dried to my wet face.
His lips break into the widest, biggest smile ever. It takes up his face. He is an image of perfection.
“I…I can’t believe it. You’re here. In…my parlor. Here. I, I, just can’t,……” I stumble over my words while wiping the last few tears off my face.
“Bree! It’s really you. After all these years, I end up here. With you. In……A Tattoo Parlor?!” He looks at me waiting for an answer. An explanation for my presence here. Does he think I’ve turned into my brothers? That I’m a rebel who skips school and gets tattoos? That my parents have rubbed off on me? After all the things I confided in him with, does he think it was a waste of time?
“No! No. I work here. Annie and Bryce own it.” I say, hoping he’ll understand.
I don’t think I’ve told him enough, but he lets it go.
“You have some explaining to do later, missy,” he teases. I grin.
Just then, Annie and Bryce walk in. I didn’t see them walk past the front window. Did they come from the other direction? Or did I miss seeing them? How much have they heard?
“Well, look who it is. Nice boy.” Annie sneers.
“Hey. Don’t talk to him like that.” I shoot back, and step up next to Tony.
Annie rolls her eyes and Bryce snorts.
“Whatever.” Bryce says. They brush past us and slam the pizza down on the counter.