Jesse’s tattoos were more than just pictures. They were stories spread out over his skin. The first night we met one another, I saw the snake that poked out from his bicep and linked around his arm.
“What does it mean?”
He smiled and looked down before he looked back at me. “You know the Chinese horoscopes?”
“The ones that go by years?”
“Yes,” he said with another smile. His eyes were blue with flecks of green. He leaned over the bar counter and lifted up the rest of his sleeve. “I was born in 1977. I’m the year of the snake.”
“What does that mean?”
“A lot of things.” He paused as he hid the tattoo under his sleeve again. “When were you born?”
“Ah.” His eyes lit up. “A tiger.”
“What does that mean?”
“A lot of things.” The same smile appeared again, careful and cunning. “But tigers and snakes get along. We’re both predators – both bold creatures with a lot of plans. And I happen to like a man with a plan.”
I laughed, but Jesse’s face remained placid, serious. “Surely you can’t believe all that about horoscopes? They’re just stories, only used to make people feel better.”
“And what’s so wrong about feeling good?”
Jesse ran one of his large hands through his three-day old beard as he smiled and held my gaze. Eventually, I laughed.
I had been watching him ever since I got to the hotel. My law firm had dinners at night and conferences during the day. But there was always a three hour break from five to eight where I would be free. I started to come to the bar, because Jesse’s eyes drew me in. Though I thought everything he said to me was a pick-up line and nothing but, I stayed. I wanted to know more about the tattoos that I saw peak out from the rest of his skin.
“What are you doing tonight?” Jesse asked.
“I see. Tigers aren’t meant for cages, you know. You should come by and see me.”
He slid me his room number and the key card for his door. “I’m done my shift at eleven. Surely, your meeting will be done by then?”
I nodded. I finished my drink and left, but I could not get the image of his eyes and that snake’s forked tongue out of my mind.
I found him after a few hours had passed. After our first night in his large bedroom that looked out at the beach, we decided we were together. There was no time for first dates. We cut to the chase with one another, since I was only there until my law firm decided they had done enough outside meetings. When Jesse began to tell me the stories behind his tattoos beyond his vague statements and horoscopes, I began to listen.
Three weeks after we first met, I woke to the sound of running water. I found him in the bathroom with shaving cream on one side of his back. He tried to extend his arm behind him just as he spotted me.
“Little help?” he asked. I stepped forward, my toes curling against the cool chill of the bathroom floor. “I can’t reach back here.”
“How much am I shaving?” I asked. “Your whole back?”
His scruffy appearance was what drew me into him and made me pay attention. I was stuck with men in suits all day, men who got their eyebrows waxed, and who plotted out their new diet plans at the water cooler. Jesse had large muscles from moving crates at the bar, and then cleaning the boats at the marina for his side job. His back was covered with thin curls of sandy-red hair, like the kind that marked his face and underarms. The hair on his head was always a darker shade of blonde, almost brown, and almost golden when wet. He was thick and rugged, a complete outsider to my world.
“Just shave one of my shoulder blades. That is all I ask,” Jesse instructed.
I took the razor in my hand and followed his orders. I revealed freckles and moles with each stroke and small stretch marks against his skin. His back was covered in tattoos, like the rest of his body. There was a small boat and anchor on his left side, the sail touching his rib cage. The back of his calves had more animals on them, a constellation, and other sea imagery. Half of his tattoos were traditional flash pieces; the kind of style that I had seen in books. But the other half of his work was deeply personal. He had a stick figure on the side of his other leg, just along the femur, that was drawn by his niece years ago. There were more drawings done by children who had visited the hotel over the years, people’s signatures, and sentimental pieces like a toy he used to play with as a kid and a symbol from his brother’s marine unit.
The piece of his skin that I shaved clean had nothing but his own skin. No tattoos and no stories. At least, not yet.
“Two P.M. today,” Jesse said. “I have a tattoo appointment. I want to shave before I go.”
I nodded. I understood the process, though I was not marked by anything myself. “What are you getting?”
“I’m still thinking, but I hope…” he said, trialing off. He smiled as our eyes met in the mirror. “A tiger.”
I smiled and handed the razor back to him. “I like that.”
“Do you now? You don’t think it’s too sentimental?”
I laughed and felt my cheeks blush. “No, I think it’s perfect.”
“And,” I added, biting my lip. “I was thinking I should come too.”
Jesse smiled and took my hands in his. He kissed each knuckle before raising his eyes to mine. “I do like a man with a plan.”
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Francis Gideon is an editor, writer, and sometimes a poet. He has appeared in Microscenes, Between: A New Anthology of Gay Poetry, and has a novella entitled “Divine Intervention” coming out in 2014 on JMS Books.
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