Timothy and I got matching tattoos of a buck and a doe in a heart—him on the back of his neck, and me across the flesh of my hip. He didn’t want to, but I insisted, since it was our anniversary.
I examined the red skin peeking over the lip of my jeans. “It looks nice.”
He grunted and rubbed the bandages on his skin. “For a couple hundred bucks, it better be.” He pressed his frontside into my back, affording me a few moments of intimacy. His mouth found my ear, flanking my face in the scent of his pearberry shampoo.
I giggled. “People are watching.”
“So? Let them watch.”
There was no argument. Timothy wanted what he wanted, and since he agreed to the tattoos, he was owed something from my sweaty, naked body. His fingers found the length of my arms, a possessive grip claiming my back, my neck. When I turned around, the tattoo artist was ogling me.
Here I was thinking this was something sweet.
I told her the tattoo under her fingers was for Timothy and me. It symbolized our love and eternal bond.
Timothy’s eyes stayed drawn to the other man while I went to pay our bill and get the hell out. He was prone to jealous spells and we were having a good night. Supposed to be, anyway.
The front door gave way to my small push and I called him. He came without argument. Once back outside, he peeled the plastic wrap from the ink.
“You’re supposed to keep it on for a few hours.”
He shrugged in that sloppy way of his. I looked up at the horizon—a caramel mix of smoky mountain and sun. I used my thumb to stroke the outside of my new marks, imagining it was Timothy. He would do no such thing. Instead, he gruffly grabbed my arm. At the wrist, not the hand. He never held my hand anymore. In fact, it’d been a while since he’d bought me flowers or took me on a real date. We’d been together since high school, and he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. There was no need to be friendly when I was so goddamn complacent.
My teeth sunk into my lip like a rabbit’s foot into a soft mud patch. Timothy scolded me: it was a dirty, gross habit that made me look demented. We walked down the street like that, dodging bodies and dragging our feet. Every so often, he reached up to brush his hair down, little tendrils of shame to cover the artwork of us.
“What are you doing that for?” I said.
“I told you I didn’t want to get this tattoo.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s just skin. I can hide it.”
“What do you want to do now?” I asked.
“I dunno. Why don’t we go to the bar?”
“We always go to the bar. Why don’t we go somewhere fancy like Olive Garden?”
One look shut me up.
The Library was a small barn on the outskirts of Langley that’d been converted to a tavern, complete with Dixie girls in neon lights and old license plates on the wall. The pool table required quarters, and the parts of the wooden floor were broken. In the back, there was a tunnel that led to a restaurant that hadn’t been open in years. We only called it The Library ironically because there were several books on the wall: a few tawdry romances, a couple of classics, and many bibles hitched between the bottles.
Timothy led me to the barside where he finally dropped my arm, and I rubbed the sore spot the same way he rubbed the tattoo. He raised two fingers to the bartender, a girl with hair the color of coffee. I didn’t miss the way he glared hard in her face. I caught her name tag—Chelsey—just as she set down our drinks. Two shots of Petron.
“Tim, I don’t like tequila.”
He took the shot from me and slugged it for himself. Chelsey came back with another round. “What’s your poison, sugar?”
I looked at my boyfriend, the drink making him lax. Soon, he would be laughing, and someone had to get the truck home.
“Nothing for me.”
She gave a shrug. “Suit yourself.”
Timothy kept drinking and I sat there, sulking, waiting for him to take the hint that I was unhappy. I nodded at people who said hello to us, but Tim did nothing but drink. I took to cracking open nutshells, pretending they were his skull, watching flakes of salt dance across the bar.
Finally, he asked, “What are you mad about?”
“You’re ruining our anniversary.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” He slammed his glass upside down. “We got the stupid tattoos, didn’t we?”
“Only ‘cause I begged!”
Chelsey was listening from the sidelines, pretending to wipe down the bar. Timothy sulked away, going to find some guys by the pool table. I pressed my head into my folded arms until a nail tapped my crown.
Chelsey stood there. She slapped her cleaning cloth down and poured us a couple of drinks. “So. Wanna play a card game? Since the pool table’s occupied?”
“I don’t know too many card games.”
“Me either.” She pulled a deck out anyway. “Go Fish?”
She dealt after she made us her specialty: Jose Cuervo and Sunny D-lite with two cubes of ice. We drank and played a few rounds, both of us getting tipsier as the night wore on. A hoot and holler came from the corner. Timothy, no doubt. He was great at pool. Chelsey leaned closer to me, raising a brow at the boys. “He looks like a winner.”
“He can be a good guy.”
She set down four jokers. “Yeah, honey. I can tell. Why do you put up with him? I don’t know you, and it’s not my place to say, but you deserve better than that. Go fish.
I put my last set of cards on the counter, ignoring her. “I win.”
“Good Time” by Alan Jackson came on the stereo. My favorite song. A small group of people got in formation to dance, and I wanted to join them but was afraid. Timothy would make fun of me again.
I hadn’t realized I told Chelsey all of this before she was taking off her apron and coming around to the front. “Come on,” she said. I tried to protest, but she wasn’t having it. “I can tell you want to.”
My nerves kept me back. “I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on! It’s a line dance, not a mechanical bull.”
The buzz of the liquor hit me and I agreed, letting her pull me onto the floor. My apprehension was unfounded; we were just two people in a large crowd moving to a violin serenade and having a good time doing it.
By the end of the song, we were worn out. We made our way to the bar and she set me on her lap. The Cuervo clouded my judgement, and I allowed it to happen. She held me close, her fingers falling to my pant hem. I told her the tattoo under her fingers was for Timothy and me. It symbolized our love and eternal bond.
She snickered and eased me off her lap. “The buck is way bigger than the doe.”
“Maybe that’s for a reason. The buck has authority over the doe.”
“Is that so?”
“Isn’t that how nature works?” I took another shot. “Man is the head, woman is the body.”
“You’re thinking of the church. And I’d be inclined to agree.”
“That the man is the head?”
“That a woman is a church.”
The flush crept up my forehead, across my cheeks, a sign of the cross in red facial heat. “That wasn’t what I meant. Tim is a man. I’m a woman. I was raised in the church and I know what I believe.”
“I think someone bonked you in the head with one of these here bibles.” She reached over, plucked one from the wall, and flipped through the to the New Testament. “You know what a doe stands for, right?”
I shook my head.
“Wisdom and grace. She may not be the hunter, but she is still royalty.”
Timothy spotted us and came our way. “What’s this about?” He shouted over the music.
Chelsey rose to her feet and crossed her arms. “Keeping her company, which is more than I can say for you.”
Timothy grabbed me by the wrist again. “We were just going. It’s close to midnight anyways and we gotta get home.”
Chelsey looked over at me. “You haven’t paid your tab.”
Timothy threw a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and dragged me to the door. Once we were outside, I saw that sweat had separated his hair, revealing the tattoo behind it. “Why were you talking to her?”
I pulled away from him. “You’re hurting me and you’re drunk.”
“You know she was hitting on you, right? Everyone knows that girl is a lezzie.”
“What does it matter? She was being nice.”
“I can be nice.”
“It’s our anniversary, and you were playing pool with the boys.”
When he shifted again, his hair fell over his neck. In the dark of night, I couldn’t see the tattoo. He left me on the corner, alone, while he went to search for the car. I put my hand in my pocket. Chelsey had ripped a small piece of paper from the Bible and tucked in my pocket when I wasn’t looking.
She’d written down her phone number with a red lipstick kiss.
Underneath it she wrote: “Go fish?”
Anastasia Jill is a queer writer living in the South. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fiction Anthology and has been featured with Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, apt, Anomaly Literary Journal, 2River, Minola Review, and more.