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Stories Beneath Our Skin

Author(s): Veronica Sloane

 Tattooing might have once been Liam’s passion, but he left it all behind along with ugly memories when he went to college. When his uncle’s health fails, Liam must come home at last to say his goodbyes. His days are spent at the hospice, leaving his nights to rake over the past. To fill those empty hours, he takes a job at Great Sin Ink. The close knit friendship of the workers there both intrigues and shakes Liam, who has spent the last four years keeping everyone at arm’s length. Neither Deb, the no-nonsense piercer, nor Goose, a manic tattoo artist, will let Liam get away with his isolationist ways for long.
If it were just those two, Liam might have stood a chance -- but there’s also Ace, the owner of Great Sin. He hires Liam despite a thin resume, and that is a kindness Liam can’t forget. The two start up a tentative friendship, learning about each other as the summer days melt into each other. Slowly, Liam reveals a tender heart underneath the wall of quotes he uses to keep everyone out. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stand still, and both Liam and Ace have hard struggles before them that might break them up before they can even get together.

Excerpt


 For the first time, when Liam got to the shop, Deb wasn't already at her desk. Someone had been in, leaving the front door unlocked, but there wasn't any sign of them. On impulse, Liam went into the only door in the hallway that didn't lead to an artist's room. Deb had pointed him down here for the bathroom once when she realized Goose had indeed left it off the tour. The bathroom only took up one corner of the storage space that ran across the entire back of the building. There wasn't anyone among the boxes and file cabinets, but there was a ladder. It led up to the roof, the hole normally covered by a heavy steel plate. Today, sunshine streamed down.

Liam turned his face up to the light. He should probably leave whoever it was alone and go back to his workspace. There were things he should be doing. Sweeping maybe or taking out the garbage. Chores seemed to get done by whoever had the time, usually Deb, though she frequently complained through it. She'd appreciate someone else taking a turn. Liam rested his hands on the bottom rung of the ladder. The broom sat in the corner only a foot away from him, in easy reach. The metal was warm under his hands, and, faintly, he felt the first hint of a breeze.

He climbed upward. A gritty sand greeted his hands as he hauled himself through the hole.

The roof was flat, gated in by four feet of cement on all sides. A few sad potted plants huddled together on one side, and a mismatched collection of folding chairs were gathered in a loose circle. Ace sprawled out on one, dark sunglasses over his eyes and a can of beer between his feet.

"I thought we weren't supposed to drink in the shop." Liam edged in, grit crunching under his shoes.

"In being the important word there. We are currently on the shop. Huge difference." The sunglasses slipped a little. "What are you doing here so early?"

"Had the time, here I am." He chose one of the safer looking chairs and sank into it. "View from here is kind of nice."

"It's awful." Reaching for his beer, Ace took a long drink then offered it to Liam. "Americana as far as the eye can see. Suburban wasteland."

"Thanks." It was a weird gesture, but Liam couldn't see a way to refuse politely. He took a sip, rolling the wheat of it over his tongue then handed it back over. Beer had never been his favorite, and drinking it warm made it worse. "You're not from here, right?"

"Depends what you mean by here. Mom's American. Dad's Welsh. Spent most of my childhood in Wales. When they got divorced, Mom took us back here. I've got dual citizenship."

"I don't know anything about Wales." Something tugged at the edges of his memory. "Wait, wasn't Dylan Thomas Welsh?"

"Yeah." Ace pushed his sunglasses back up his nose, kicking his feet up onto the ledge. "Rage rage against the dying of the light, blah blah blah."

"Well sure, but also," Liam licked his lips, summoning the long ago memorized phrases, "Fear not the waking world, my mortal, fear not the flat, synthetic blood, nor the heart in the ribbing metal. Fear not the tread, the seeded milling, the trigger and scythe, the bridal blade, nor the flint in the lover's mauling."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"A lot of things if you read all the critiques, but I think it means you're not supposed to worry about earthly concerns or the pain that can be inflicted on flesh." He ran his nail over the arm of the chair. "I always liked it."

"Guessing that's got something to do with that wicked thing on your chest?"

"Yeah." Liam blinked in surprise. "Yeah, it does. The heart in ribbing metal. I mean, it's a little literal."

"Literal seems to be your thing, Lamplighter." Unreadable behind the glasses, Ace didn't add inflection to his voice. Liam couldn't tell if it was an observation or a poke. "So to remember not to be worried about pain, you got a tattoo? Guess that makes sense."

"It reminds me that what feels important is usually only something passing." A line of cars rambled by, the noise of their engines creasing the air. "Even when it feels like your heart might burst."

"There's a story there."

"Maybe." He leaned back, the chair creaking in protest.

Ace smiled then, a slow lazy thing, and he stretched upwards, the hem of his t-shirt riding over a lightly furred belly. Liam looked away, then glanced back. The tip of a tattoo, a vicious slash of red and orange, appeared and then winked out again as Ace dropped his arms. Guilt and pleasure went to war under Liam's skin, raising up a flush that Ace could probably see through his sunglasses.

"For someone who says so much," Ace said gently, "you don't really talk, do you?"

"I say what needs saying."

"And not one word more." Ace shrugged, holding the beer again. "I get it."

The sun baked down, the can passing between them over and over until it was drained dry. Though they were quiet together, Liam didn't fear the intrusion of unwanted thoughts. Ace was too present even in his silence.


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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-61040-677-2
Genre: GLBT
Date Published: 04/09/2014
Publisher: Torquere Press

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