Chapter One of Holding Her Hand

Holding Her Hand

Young casual couple isolated on white

by Tammy Falkner

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Ryan

Some days are just shit, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I look down at my phone. My recent ex-girlfriend Samantha—as recently as two weeks ago, in fact—has texted me yet again with a list of vile places she’d love for me to shove certain parts of my anatomy. I see a new one come in and raise my brows. That one actually sounds interesting. But it would be more fun for me than for her.

My phone vibrates again. Fuck you, the newest text says.

Yeah, she already did that. Then she fucked my best friend and I had to break things off with her.

She’s still angry.

Our on-again/off-again relationship has to be over. It just does.

I shove my phone into my pocket, despite the fact that it’s still vibrating like crazy. The lights at the back of the tattoo shop flash, letting me know the front door opened. There’s a bell over the door for people who can hear, but the Reeds, the people who own the shop where I work as a tattoo artist, installed flashing lights for me.

My phone vibrates again and I pull it out with a sigh.

Jeff’s dick doesn’t hook to the left like yours does.

Well, she would know.

Jeff used to be my best friend. Now he’s that guy who slept with my girlfriend.

His hooks to the right, I text back. Know how I know? Because the other girl he screwed last night told me.

I shake my head and toss my phone onto the counter.

What’s bad about this whole situation is that she’s going to get hurt, and it makes me angry that she’s being used the way she is.

I pull the curtain and walk out into the shop area. My mind is on Samantha, though, so I’m not paying attention. A whiff of subtle, mouthwatering lilac perfume hits me—right before a woman does. She looks up, startled when I catch her by the shoulders to steady her.

Damn, she’s pretty. She has long dark hair that tumbles in a curly, wild mess over her shoulders. And she has brown eyes that look like they might hold a world of hurt. Or fear. I’m not sure which. Maybe both.

I lift my brows to ask her without words if she’s okay. She nods, and takes in a deep breath. She’s standing so close to me that I can feel her boobs lift ever so slightly with each breath. I look down at her. Hell, she has an awesome rack. I can’t help but notice. Her face flushes when she catches me ogling, and her cheeks grow rosy. I bite my lips together to keep from grinning. Busted.

Paul and Friday, the owners of the tattoo shop, walk out of the back room and Friday is still hooking her garter belt to the top of her stockings. Then she looks up and grins. Somebody just got lucky in the back room. Paul palms her ass and she points a finger at him in warning.

Look who’s here!” Friday signs dramatically while she talks. I love that all the Reeds can sign, and that they do it whenever I’m in the room. Being a deaf guy in a hearing world is a challenge, but they make it so much better here. They sign English, which means they sign in the same word order a hearing person would speak, rather than American Sign Language, my first language. But it’s better than trying to read lips, which—despite the way it’s depicted on TV—is nearly impossible. “What can we do for you?” Friday asks them.

That’s when I notice that two customers had come into the shop. The one who bumped into me looks down at her feet and says something I can’t make out. Then she whispers into Friday’s ear, and Friday scowls a little.

Friday motions for me to look at her. I guess I was still watching the girl. Whoops.

Lark wants to consult with you about a tattoo,” she says, both in my language and hers.

“Why me?” I ask in sign language.

Why you?” she repeats. “Because you’re fucking awesome at what she wants, Ryan.”

Sweat sheens on the forehead of the girl they called Lark, and she says something to Friday. Has she changed her mind about a tattoo? She looks like she’s thinking of leaving.

For some reason, I want to keep her here. “What does she want?” I ask Friday.

How the fuck am I supposed to know?” she asks me. She points at Lark. “Ask her!” Friday shoots me a death glare. I’d be quivering in my boots if I had never been the victim of her temper before. I have been here for two weeks already, and she let me know who’s in charge on Day One. I had made a mental note to myself right then and there: Never piss off Friday Reed.

I throw up my hands, though. How the fuck am I supposed to talk to Lark? I don’t speak. And she probably doesn’t sign.

Friday grabs my hands and holds them at a ready position in front of me. Then she points to Lark. “Talk to her. She might even talk back.”

You can sign?” I ask her in sign language.

Yes, she can sign, dumbass,” Friday tosses in. I have a sudden urge to give her a noogie, but she’d go for my balls if I did.

You can sign?” I ask Lark again.

She holds her finger and thumb an inch apart and nods hesitantly.

Great. She can probably fingerspell. Finding out what she wants will be like pulling water from a rock. But I motion for her to follow me toward the back of the shop and I pull the dark curtain around us. I motion for her to sit down in a chair. She perches her bottom on the edge of the seat and folds her fingers in her lap. That’s when I realize that she’s wearing elbow-length gloves with the fingers cut out. What does she have to hide?

“Youre here for a tattoo?” I ask her. I make sure to move my mouth with my words, so she has a chance of understanding me.

She nods. “I have some scars Id like to cover up.”

“What kind of scars?”

She runs her hands up and down her gloved arms, like she’s soothing herself. “On my arms. I have scars from grease burns.”

I reach for the top edge of her glove, but she pulls back. Her pulse starts to beat solidly in her neck. I can see it jumping. “May I see?” I ask. I wait for her to give me permission to look. I look at bodies all day, and I touch every single one, but I’ve never touched anyone who first didn’t want me to touch her.

She shakes her head. “Just tell me if you can cover scars, first, okay?” she signs. Her signs are a little slow, but accurate, and I can tell she’s translating in her head.

I wont know until I see them.” Some scars can be covered. It depends on the extent of the damage. “Scars that are puckered and bumpy are more difficult, and require more sittings for the tattoos so the ink can be applied heavily.”

“The ones on my arms arent too bad. Just spatters from the grease, really.”

I reach for her glove again and she closes her eyes, but she doesn’t pull away. I roll the glove down ever so slightly, taking care to go slow.

She sits stiff as a board and she takes in a breath as I roll the glove past her elbow. When I get halfway down her forearm, her eyes fly open and she stops me, grabbing frantically for my hand, and I know immediately that I have gone too far. I sit back and raise my hands like I’m surrendering to the cops. She forces her body to relax.

The scars she has on her arms aren’t too bad. “What happened?” I ask her.

She looks down at her arms and traces a finger around one of the circular patches of skin. “It was my parents anniversary and I wanted to make them a funnel cake, so I heated up some oil in a big pot on the stove. They were still asleep, and I had it all set up. But suddenly the grease started popping. It burned my arms and made these marks.”

I nod.

Her burns are more like discolored spots. They’re not puckered or terribly scarred, and they should be easy to cover over. “I can do it.”

The curtain starts to shimmy, and I recognize Friday’s way of knocking. She jerks on the curtain until she gets my attention. I pull the curtain back to let her in, and she closes it behind her.

“Just wanted to be sure you’re okay,” she says. She looks at Lark and then at me. And I see that Lark’s face is wet because a tear has rolled down her cheek. “What the fuck did you do to her?” Friday asks, gesturing wildly.

I hold up my hands in surrender mode.

Stop,” Lark says. “He didn’t do anything. He was very nice. It’s just not easy to talk about.” She sniffles. “The burns on my legs and stomach are much worse, but I can cover those easily with clothes.”

“You have more?” I ask her. I point to her stomach.

She stands up and lifts the edge of her shirt. Friday covers her mouth and I suppose she’s hiding a gasp. But Lark must hear it because she drops her shirt really quickly.

I’m so sorry,” Friday says.

The fire spread to the curtains over the kitchen window, and then to the rest of the house. I ran upstairs to wake my parents, but by the time I got there, the fire was too far out of control. My clothes had caught on fire, and my dad put the flames out. Then he lowered me from a second-story window and went back for my mother. I never saw them again.”

Now it’s Friday who is blinking back tears.

Lark doesn’t look like she wants sympathy. She wants a tattoo. I motion for Friday to leave us, and she does. I didn’t think she’d go away that easily.

“The ones on your arms, I can cover those easily. Your stomach would be harder. It would take more applications and heavier ink.

She nods. I think she likes that I didn’t make a big deal over her parents dying or her burns. She seems relieved.

She points to the two largest burns on her left arm. “I was thinking we could cover these two big ones with some seagulls, and maybe a beach scene.” She quirks her brow at me.

I nod. “We could. I could do those today, and then go back and draw the rest of it for you for next time. What do you think?”

She smiles at me, and damn if my heart doesn’t skip a beat. I point to her folded glove, which is now resting just over her wrist. “Can you take that off?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Why not?” I already saw her burns. How much worse can it get?

“No,” she says again, slapping her first two fingers together against the pad of her thumb in the sign for “no.”

“Okay. Let me doodle up some birds for you.” I get her a bottle of water and go to the light table on the other side of the curtain.

Friday bumps my hip with hers so I’ll look at her.

“Is she okay?” she asks me.

I nod. “Shes fine.”

“Can you help her?

“Yes.

I bend over so I can draw, but Friday walks around the table so she can get in my face. “Be nice to her, Ryan,” she says.

I throw up my hands. “Im always nice.”

She snorts. I can tell because her nose flexes and her throat twitches. She stares at me for a minute. “Shes not your type, is she?”

“Shes not deaf, if that’s what you mean.”

Friday nods. “She’s not your type, her hearing status notwithstanding.”

“Whats that supposed to mean?

“You have a tendency to pick crazy chicks.

“God, Friday, do you have a filter at all?” And I don’t pick crazy chicks.

She grins. “Nope. Never needed a filter.”

I bend down to get back to work and she lays a hand on my arm. “Give her a kick-ass tattoo, okay?” she says.

I nod. I already have ideas for it. But I need to get to know a little more abut her before I know exactly what to put on her.

She’s not my type because she can hear. So Friday doesn’t have to worry about me trying to get in her pants. Although her pants are pretty fucking awesome.

I finish my drawing and go back into the curtained area where she’s waiting.

“Ready?” I ask.

She nods and smiles at me, and I swear it steals my breath for a second, because there’s a lot hiding behind that smile and I want to find out all about it.

Chapter One of Yes, You

This short story can be found in the anthology 12 CHRISTMAS ROMANCES TO MELT YOUR HEART.

100% of the proceeds from sales of this anthology go to the Autism Society of America and straight into support groups for families touched by autism.

My contribution to this anthology is called YES, YOU, and it’s the story of how Reagan’s parents met.  (You remember Reagan from CCC, right?)

Keep reading for a sneak peek at chapter one!

Madison

 

He leans against the side of the building with a cigarette dangling from his lips. His boots are crossed at the ankles as he leans against the brick wall. Scrunching up one eye to keep the smoke out, he looks almost unapproachable, and the thought of actually going up to talk to him scares me to death. Yet, I’m going to do it anyway.

He comes out here every day and sneaks a cigarette, glancing furtively left and right like he’s afraid someone will see him.

I see him.

I see him everywhere I go, it seems.

He doesn’t really fit in here, with his tattoos and his perpetual bad attitude. I know from class that he would rather grunt than speak in full sentences. And people let him, mostly because they’re afraid of him. But the only thing I’m afraid of…

Well. The only thing I’m afraid of is that I won’t get to meet him. That he’ll turn away and refuse to talk to me.

I take a deep breath and start in his direction, but just as I do, he drops his cigarette butt to the ground, grinds it under the heel of his boot, and then he throws his backpack over his shoulder and starts walking in the other direction.

He’s walking away. Seriously?

“Excuse me,” I call to his retreating back. I sound like I swallowed Kermit, so I clear my throat. “Excuse me,” I call again. I run to catch up with him and tug on his backpack. He looks back over his shoulder, but then he keeps right on walking. “Wait!” I say, trying to keep up. “Damn it, would you stop?”

He stops very quickly and I slam into his back. He rocks forward and I grab onto his pack to stay upright, feeling like I have two left feet. I am usually more graceful than this. My mother would kill me if she saw me right now, making a public spectacle of myself in the quad.

He turns, grabs me by the shoulders and steadies me, then he bends down to look into my eyes. His are bright blue and full of questions. “Are you all right?” he asks, his voice gruff. I’ve never heard him do more than grunt in class, so hearing him make a full sentence, albeit a short one, is startling.

“I’m fine,” I gasp, a little winded from chasing him. “You’re really fast.”

He grins. “Sweetheart, you haven’t seen fast.”

My heart skips a beat. I am in such big trouble. I don’t know why I thought I could approach a man like this, but I did, and now I don’t know how to ask for what I want.

“Cat got your tongue?” he asks. A grin tips one corner of his lips. He’s pretty enough to take my breath away. His blond hair flops across his forehead and he shakes his head to swing it back from his eyes.

I open my mouth to speak, but only a squeak comes out. He looks around the quad, looking behind me like he’s trying to figure out where the hell I came from.

When he sees that no one is chasing me, he takes my shoulders in his hands and gives me a gentle squeeze, bending so he can stare into my eyes. “Hey,” he says softly, like I’m a stray dog he’s trying to trap. “Are you okay?”

I thrust out my hand. “Madison Wentworth,” I say. “I just wanted to introduce myself.”

His eyes narrow and he stares at me, but he doesn’t stick his hand out to shake mine. I let mine hang there in the air between us until it becomes so heavy with disappointment that I have to tuck it into the pocket of my jeans.

“Guess not.” I sigh. “I’m very sorry for taking up your time.”

“Which one of those fuckers put you up to this?” he asks. He grinds his teeth as he waits for my response.

“What?”

“Those frat boys you hang out with, the ones with more money than sense. Which one put you up to this?” He glares at me.

“No one put me up to this,” I say.

“Listen, sweetheart,” he says, his face very close to mine. I can smell the cigarette he just smoked and the coffee he must have had before it. “You don’t want to mess with a man like me.”

“Okay,” I whisper. I clear my throat. “Fine. Have a nice day.”

I am one hundred percent ashamed of myself. I had imagined that going so differently. I had imagined him being devastated by my…well, by me. But he isn’t. He just looks at me like I’ve gone off my rocker. And maybe I have.

I turn to walk away, my feet heavy as leaden weights. Trudging across campus never took me this long before. I walk toward my car and pop the trunk, tossing my backpack inside. I stand there staring down.

All my life, I have gotten everything I ever wanted. I have a mother and father who are incredibly successful. We live in a big house in upstate New York where my parents own a horse farm. I’m attending this prestigious college and I don’t have to worry about anything. To everyone looking on, I have it all.

But no one knows how very lonely I am. No one knows that my parents work every minute of every day. No one knows that I’m having trouble fitting in at school. I work really hard to hide my need for more. More what? I have no idea. But I need more.

I don’t know why I thought I’d find it by befriending Bob Caster. Bob Caster, the bad boy. Bob Caster, the dreamy man who makes me want to ask him a thousand questions and just sit back and listen to the answers. Bob Caster, who, although he is incredibly poor—you can tell by the quality of his clothes and shoes—probably has more than I do. He probably even has friends. Real ones. Not just the ones who want to be around me because I can buy the shots.

The rev of a motorcycle behind me jars me out of my pity party. The pavement rumbles under my feet.

“Hey, you,” a voice calls out.

I turn to look, and find Bob Caster perched on a gleaming motorcycle with wide, shiny handlebars. I point to myself and ask, “Who? Me?”

“Yes, you,” he says. He squints at me like he’s trying to look inside me. I cross my arms under my breasts to block his piercing gaze, and his eyes drop down to my boobs. He licks his lips ever so slowly, and then his eyes travel back up. Heat creeps up my cheeks, but I refuse to fidget on my feet. I stare straight at him. “You want to take a ride with me?” he asks. He revs the bike.

I point a finger. “On that?

He grins that sideways grin again. “Well, I wasn’t offering my personal services.” He glances down at his button fly, and then he laughs. He runs a hand lovingly down the shiny chrome handlebar, his touch reverent and respectful. “Of course on this.”

I point to the center of my chest and then at the bike. “You want to take me for a ride on that?”

He stares at me.

I finally let that feet fidget thing happen and want to kick myself. “Is it safe?”

He shakes a cigarette out of a pack and takes his time lighting it. He inhales deeply and holds it for a moment. Then he blows it out and says, “I won’t let you get hurt.”

I look at my car and then at him. He revs the engine again.

“Where are we going?”

“For a ride,” he says with a shrug.

“When will we be back?” I step closer to him and his eyes light up a little. And I like it.

“When we get done.”

Be still my heart.

He flicks his cigarette into the grass. “Are you coming or what?”

“Okay,” I say.

He looks surprised. “Yeah?”

“Yes.”

He takes the helmet off his head and holds it out to me. I pull my ponytail free and tug the helmet on. He reaches out to buckle the strap for me, his fingers gentle. “How old are you?” he asks, his voice strong but quiet.

“Nineteen.”

“Good.” He grins.

He motions for me to climb on behind him and I do, my thighs spread around his hips. He lifts my feet and shows me where to put them.

“Why is that good?” I ask close to his ear.

He looks back over his shoulder. “Because I don’t want to go back to jail.”