Last Gift(8)

By: Jessica Clare, Jen Frederick


He warns me the tattoo will hurt, but the feel of the needle on my skin is more irritating than anything else. The black lines he draws sting and drag on my skin like a pencil is jabbing me at high speed, but I don’t mind; I think of Nick’s face when he sees how I have stamped him on my body forever.

“So, can I ask what this writing is?”

I smile dreamily. “It’s a name: Nikolai.”

“Husband?”

“Boyfriend,” I admit, and again, that word tastes wrong on my lips. Nick has never asked me to marry him. I know he won’t, either, because I told him that I would ask him when I was ready. I like to be in control of things, and Nick gives me control.

Maybe I’m ready now. I consider this as the man swipes at my stinging skin, then bends over the tattoo some more. “How long do you think this will take?” I ask him. “I have one more place to go today.”

~~ * ~~

HOURS LATER, MY CHEST IS throbbing, I carry a bottle of disinfectant in my purse, and my new tattoo is bandaged under my sweater. My skin feels scraped raw, but the picture is vivid and dark and gorgeous and I can’t stop staring at it. Even now, I want to rip off the bandages and touch Nick’s name branded over my heart. I love it.

But I head to a jewelry store instead. I pick out a man’s ring and a matching, dainty one for a woman. It feels weird to be the one picking out the rings, but these are simply bands. I will let Nick pick me out an engagement ring to go with the band later, if he likes.

It’s simply important that I claim him for myself, for good.

~~ * ~~

I GO TO THE GROCERY store and pick up a few things on the way home, then begin to make Christmas dinner. We have a ham already cooked, and I am making mashed potatoes and a pie. We will be going to my father’s and bringing food for Christmas dinner, but I can’t wait for Nick to come home. I’m practically brimming with excitement. I can’t wait to give him my gifts.

I already have the rings wrapped in a tiny box in my pocket. Under the tree, I have small things, like a set of art pencils and a new leather sketchbook that he will love.

And as I wait for Nick to come home, I touch my chest over and over. I took off the bandage, but the skin underneath is red and blotchy, and I’m a little dismayed that it’s not perfect for its unveiling. The man at the tattoo parlor told me it would take time, but I have waited until the last minute to get my tattoo. There is no way I could have kept a tattoo secret from my Nick; he likes to kiss every inch of my skin on a daily basis.

The door opens and I rush into the living room to greet Nick, all smiles. He’s unwrapping his scarf and grinning at me, looking pleased with himself.

“You’re home,” I exclaim, and head forward to wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him.

“You miss your Nick?” he teases, and his cool eyes light up with genuine warmth, just for me.

“Always,” I murmur, and drag his face down to mine for a passionate kiss. His tongue sweeps over my mouth possessively, and for a moment, I’m entirely distracted by him. Then, I bat at his jacket and pull away. “I have your presents.”

“You do?” For a moment, he looks so boyishly pleased that I’m giddy, and I can’t help the excited giggle that escapes me.

“You get them early if you’re nice to me,” I tease, and saunter back into the kitchen, making sure to sway my hips.

He gives a soft groan and in the next moment, he grabs me from behind and drags my body against his. “Do you tease me, Daisy?” he murmurs in my ear, and I shiver with delight as he nips at my earlobe.

“I do,” I murmur. “Can I show you your gift?”

“Will I like?”

“I think so,” I tell him, and turn around in his arms. I am wearing a red cardigan, the neck buttoned up to my throat, and as I smile at him, I slowly undo the buttons. His eyes light up, anticipating a strip show, but I don’t correct him.

Instead, I bare the tattoo I have had painted over my heart, and wait for his reaction.

~~ * ~~

Nikolai

I STARE AT DAISY AND the red angry welts on her skin that rise around the dark outline of a heart and the letters of my name etched into her body. My bones have liquefied and I stagger to the wall and press my arm against it so that I do not fall on my face.