“You are afraid of needles?”
“Yes.” Maggie squirmed under the tattoo artist’s steady gaze, but did not turn away. “I need to do this.”
“I do not understand.”
“I… I haven’t been happy with my life for some time.” There was something about Takumi that made it easy to tell him things she wouldn’t normally tell a stranger. Perhaps it was his eyes. Ancient eyes in a youthful face, full of a wisdom beyond his years.
Or perhaps the stories she had heard from her friends, about the magic his work could produce — life changing magic — made confession easy. “By facing my fear, I hope to take my first step in the right direction. I need the change.”
“Ahh.” Takumi nodded. He pushed open the inner door of the studio and gestured her forward. “This way, Maggie-san.”
Everything inside the main room was white. Sparkling and pure and clean. It smelled like a hospital.
A large metal sink dominated one wall. Sitting on the counter beside it was a device that looked like an oversized toaster oven. Her internet research identified it as an autoclave. Used for sterilizing needles.
There were only two chairs. That was all that was needed, since Takumi worked the studio alone.
One of the chairs was the ordinary sort one would find in any office, complete with wheels on the bottom and a lever under the seat to adjust its height. The other chair looked like a cross between a doctor’s examining table and a dentist’s chair.
“Please, sit down.”
Once seated, Maggie caught a glimpse of the device that resurrected all her old fears in an instant: the electric tattoo machine. Designed to regulate the flow of ink while driving the needles into her flesh, over and over again, faster than could be done by hand.
Dizziness threatened, then took root.
Her skin grew cold. A red haze covered her vision, and Maggie crumpled back against the chair. She wanted to pretend fear wasn’t taking control of her body, but her lips felt numb, and her words slurred. “I’m ready.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes.” A couple of deep, quick breaths, and she willed the dizziness to fade. It took longer than she would have liked, but Takumi said nothing. Just waited. Finally, her vision cleared, and she felt somewhat steady again. Maggie drew a folded sheet of paper from the pocket of her denim shorts. “I’d like to get this kanji.”
A small flicker of surprise. The slightest raising of a single brow. “I am not certain that it suits you.”
“Of course it does.” She’d put a lot of thought into her choice. Paying special attention not just to pronunciation, but also the number of calligraphy strokes needed to write it. There were several versions, and this was the one with the least number of lines. The less intricate the design, the less excruciating the tattoo. Or so she hoped. “It’s my middle name.”
“I see. And this is the way you were taught to write it?”
She explained the reasons for her choice, finishing off with: “Atsuko was my great-grandmother’s name. That’s all I know. My parents are san-sei.” It was one of the few Japanese words she knew, and meant ‘third generation.’ A reference to how long her family had been Americans. “They don’t speak or write Japanese.”
“In my research, I didn’t see anything horrible. Did I miss something?”
Takumi smiled, but the expression in his ancient eyes was a little too close to sorrow for Maggie’s peace of mind. “No. It’s not bad. Not bad.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“When written this way, it can be translated to ‘docile.’” He hesitated, but his gaze never wavered. “Perhaps this is what you have been, but I think, no longer wish to be. That is why it does not suit.”
“That does make sense.” It made far too much sense, actually.
“What do you want from life, Maggie-san? What is your greatest wish?”
What did she want?
Maggie closed her eyes.
She wanted excitement. Variety. Every relationship she’d had with men had followed a predictable pattern to failure, all while drowning in a boredom that made it unworthy of being discussed. With anyone.
She wanted a man and a relationship worth talking about. It didn’t matter if the talk was good or bad.
“It is a good wish.” Takumi said, and she opened her eyes. Stared at him. How had he known? She didn’t say anything out loud, and he couldn’t have read her mind. Right? “I must ask, one last time. Are you certain this is what you want?”
Takumi rolled his chair away, then returned with a sketchbook in his lap. His graceful fingers turned into a blur as he sketched out a new kanji. It seemed to be made of two, or maybe three, characters combined, and at least twice the number of strokes compared to the one she had chosen.
He turned the page to her. “This. I think this is much better for you. For what you want.”
“What does it mean?”
“I cannot tell you.” A niggling memory surfaced. Her friends had mentioned this about Takumi, about this odd quirk of his.
They had also told her that he was never wrong. Not in this. That was the key to his magic, if she chose to believe that what he did could have magic.
Trust him. Maggie let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “All right. Let’s do this.”
A new kind of restlessness took root in her soul, in the days following her session. The lines of ink scribed into her inner thigh had flipped some sort of inner switch. Her view of the world changed, and it seemed to look at her differently in return.
Especially the men.
The sort of men who had never noticed her before.
Yes, that was his real name. She’d laughed when they first met, refusing to believe him until he’d shown her his driver’s license as proof.
His appearance was not extraordinary. He was not particularly tall, and was extremely lanky, with sharply angled features that rendered his face only passably plain at best.
But he had ways of making a woman forget about those physical shortcomings. His rich voice held all the beauty that his face and form lacked. He knew just how to talk, to compliment, and to flatter shamelessly. He had a way of locking those intense, dark eyes on the object of his attentions so she felt that she was the only one in the world for him.
Even when she knew it wasn’t true.
In short, in spite of his name, he was decidedly more Lothario than Romeo. Maggie understood that about him from the very beginning, yet she chose to go home with him.
It should have been nothing more than a one-night stand. But it didn’t turn out to be that simple.
Nothing about Romeo was that simple.
One night, well past midnight, as Maggie was getting ready for bed, he knocked on her apartment door. Such a late night visit wasn’t unusual, but as soon as she let him in, the scent clinging to his skin caught her attention.
Normally, he came to her fresh out of the shower, smelling only of soap and shampoo and just the right amount of cologne. Tonight, he was covered in the thick musk of sex and another woman.
Maggie recoiled. “I changed my mind. You should leave now.”
Romeo caught her hand before she could reach the doorknob, and twisted her around so she was trapped against the door with one arm pinned behind her back. He angled his hips against hers. “You don’t really want me to go.”
“Stop it.” She was breathing hard, her body responding to his with a need that seemed immune to every rational thought. “Haven’t you had enough for one night?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Romeo shook his head, his breath hot and fast against her neck. “No need to be so suspicious.”
“I can smell you. I can smell her.” Maggie squirmed again. No good. She couldn’t get free, and the attempt twisted the hem of her t-shirt, raising it. Exposing her only other shield — her panties. Flimsy and inadequate protection.
Romeo pressed his knee between hers, then slid his hand along the inside of her thigh, brushing over her tattoo.
The mark, though fully healed, had remained exquisitely sensitive to touch, sending hot need racing through every vein.
Romeo’s smile was closer to a smirk. “I remember what you like.” He touched her again, his fingers like electric against her flesh. “Tell me you want this.”
She was such a fool. “Yes.”
He was gone again immediately. That was nothing new. He never spent the night. Not once.
It was all about what he could get, and nothing more.
Maggie wasn’t sorry that he was gone. She was only sorry she had given in.
It was inexplicable, this hold he seemed to have over her. She had never knowingly shared a man with others before.
She didn’t like it.
Even if she wasn’t sure if she actually liked him.
Maggie sat up, and tucked the sheet up around her body in the same motion. The soft cotton whispered across her skin, flitting over the tattoo.
The same overwhelming need flooded her system — and made her wonder. She pulled her laptop from her nightstand, and in moments, thanks to her favorite search engine, had her answer.
The kanji in her skin was “Jou-netsu.”
Talk about needing to be careful what you wished for! Passion was the one thing she had always felt was lacking in her life, and relationships, and now it threatened to overwhelm her.
First thing in the morning, she called Takumi, and explained the situation. He agreed to see her that same afternoon.
This time, he suggested a pair of kanji. One simple, one complex. “Chikara” and “Yu-ki.” Interestingly, the former appeared to be repeated as part of the latter.
She did not ask for the translation, and just as before, allowed him to choose the location. On the back of her neck, just below the base of her skull.
A few hours later, it was put to the test. Romeo returned, full of his usual expectations and arrogance.
The sound of his voice ignited the same spark in the tattoo on her thigh, and the irresistible fire of passion raced through her body.
And slammed to an abrupt halt when it reached her neck.
This, then, was the power of the new marks. Will power. Right when she needed it the most. Desire still simmered, but no longer overwhelmed her mind.
Maggie did not open the door.
Did not answer his repeated attempts to ‘reason’ with her by phone. After listening to the first such message on her voicemail, she deleted every subsequent recording without playing it.
She never saw Romeo again.
Strength and courage.
Those were the true definitions of these tattoos. Perfectly suited to her current needs, and could be applied to other parts of her life, outside of relationships.
Six weeks later, she was back in Takumi’s studio, ready for one final session.
This time, she chose the kanji, and its location.
For the left side of her chest, over her heart, she chose the character “Ai.”
BIO: Jaymi is a Hawaii-born writer currently living in the Southern US.