Timothy and I got matching tattoos of a buck and a doe in a heart—him on the back of his neck, and me, buried deep in the flesh of my hip. He didn’t want to, but I insisted, since it was our anniversary. He moaned and complained the whole time.
I examined the red skin peeking over the lip of my jeans. “It looks nice.”
He grunted and rubbed his skin. “For fifty bucks a pop, 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, even if his hands were still sticky from gripping hers in a fit of sweat. His fingers found the length of my arms and back of my neck, pawing at me like some plot of land he was turning over for gold. When I turned around, the tattoo artist was ogling me.
Oh. Here I was thinking this was something sweet.
Timothy’s eyes stayed haggard on 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, anyways. We’d see how long that would last.
The front door gave way to my small push and I called him. He came without argument. Once back outside, he peeled the plastic guard from the ink.
“You’re supposed to keep it on for a few hours.”
He shrugged in that sloppy way of his, like he didn’t mind invading nature’s air just to express indifference towards something. I looked up at the horizon—a caramel mix of smokey mountain and sun. I used my thumb to stroke the outside of my new marks, imagining it was Timothy soothing my wounds. He would do no such thing, instead, gruffly grabbing my arm. At the wrist, not the hand. He never held my hand. Or bought me flowers or took me on real dates, but still, I could hope for something like that.
My teeth sunk into my lip like a rabbit’s feet into a soft mud patch. Timothy scolded me quickly; it was a dirty, gross habit, that made me look demented. We walked down the street like that, dodging bodies dragging our feet like heavy barrels. Every so often, he reached up to brush his hair down, little tendrils of shame to cover the artwork of us that now went across his skin.
“What do you want to do now?” I said.
“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, and like always, Timothy got his way.
The Library was a small barn 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 floor was broken and wooden, and 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 bibles on the wall between the bottles. No one knows how they got there, but we learned not to ask questions. It wasn’t that kind of bar—we only came here to drink and forget.
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, and 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, baby, I don’t like tequila.”
He took the shot from me, and slugged it for himself. Chelsey came back with refills and asked, “What’s your poison, sugar?”
I looked at my boyfriend, the muscles in his arms loosening as the drink made 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 and act antisocial. I took to cracking open nutshells, pretending they were his skull, watching flakes of salt dance across the tabletops.
Finally, he asked, “What are you mad about?” I told him, “nothing,” to which he called, “bullshit.” I replied with, “You’re ruining our anniversary.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” He slammed his glass upside down. “I would know if I did something wrong.”
“You don’t even know what color pants you’re wearing.”
My lame attempt at a comeback didn’t phase him one bit. “We got the stupid tattoos, didn’t we?”
“Only ‘cause I begged!”
Chelsey was listening from the sidelines, pretending to wipe her curiosity away with a rag. Timothy sulked away from me, going to find some guys by the billiards table, leaving me alone at the counter. I pressed my head into my folded arms, only jarring when a nail tapped my crown. Chelsey stood there, nervous, clearly not knowing how to talk to me. She slammed her cleaning cloth down, and poured us a couple of drinks. “So...wanna play a card game? Since the pool table’s occupied.”
I sat up and told her I didn’t know any card games.
“Me either.” She pulled a deck out anyways. “Go fish?”
She dealt me in then 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 stumbling through a kiddy game while enjoying the good drink. 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.”
I felt defensive, for no good reason. “He can be a good guy.”
She set down four jokers. “Yeah. I can tell.”
We played in silence, music swelling in the background. My boyfriend was lost in the crowd, with the game and probably another bartender girl. I tried not to think about it, but I knew what he did when I wasn’t looking, sometimes, when I was.
“Why do you put up with that?” Chelsey asked, before telling me to go fish. “Granted, I don’t know you, and it’s not my place to say, but you deserve better than that.”
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, at one point of time. 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. He said I have no rhythm.
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 but she said, “I’m nervous too. I haven’t line danced since I was fifteen.”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on! It’s a line dance, not a mechanical bull.”
The buzz of the liquor hit me like a shotgun and I agreed, letting her pull me onto the floor. My apprehension was for nothing; we were two people in a large mass of flesh cells moving to a violin serenade, and having a good time doing it.
By the end of the song, the pair of us were worn out. We made our way to the bar and she set me in her lap. The Cuervo clouded my better judgement, and I allowed it to happen. She held me close like a teddy bear, manicured fingers falling to my pant hem. The tattoo was poking out, and I told her it 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.”
I couldn’t help but argue. I had a lot of arguing stored up in me.
“Maybe that’s for a reason. The buck has authority over the doe.”
“I think someone bonked you in the head with one of these here bibles.” She reached over and plucked one that had been taken from the bar and flipped through the words of 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. Why would she want a fish from the pond when she can have the whole ocean?” She pinched the skin on my side, slid her hand down to my pocket. “You go on and remember that, Little Doe.”
Timothy spotted the pair of us after all this time. His brows rose together and he made a beeline for our spot, but only when he saw Chelsey’s hand on my hip.
“What’s this about?” he shouted over the music.
“Keeping her company.” She rose to her feet and crossed her arms. “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 at me with big, sad, Bambi eyes. “You haven’t paid your tab.”
Timothy threw a twenty dollar bill her way and dragged me to the door. Once we were outside, I saw the sweat plastered to his neck, pushing the hair out of the way to reveal his tattoo. “Why were you talking to her?” he snapped.
I peeled myself 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.”
“Well, clearly, I didn’t. And what does it matter? She was being nice.”
“I can be nice.”
“It’s our anniversary, and you were playing billiards with the boys.”
When he shifted again, his hair fell over his neck. In the dark of night, I couldn’t see the tattoo, even if I was searching. He left me on the corner, alone, while he went to search for the car. My hand fell to my pocket, the thin band of fabric between the world and my tattoo. A small piece of paper had been ripped from the Bible and tucked inside when I wasn’t looking.
Inside was a phone number and a red lipstick kiss. Chelsey hadn’t signed it, but underneath the digits she'd written: “Go fish?”