Summary: Ximena says goodbye to her life in New York before moving to LA, although she’s wary of what she’s leaving behind.
Notes: This is my entry for Day 5 of Ride or Die Appreciation Week! This piece also ties into my Boxer AU series as a prequel (which I swear I’m going to finish one of these days).
The sun was obnoxiously bright as Ximena made her way through the streets of New York to Marionette Tattoos. She knew she was running a little late, but what was Thomas going to do, fire her on her last day? Besides, it was his fault she was currently late and cursing the sun. Ximena wasn’t entirely sure how many shots she and the rest of the crew from Marionette had done the night before, but she knew she’d stopped counting after the fourth one. Frankie had tried to warn her to slow down, but Ximena hadn’t listened.
Frankie. Shit, the night before was coming back to her now. Through a tequila-fueled haze, Ximena remembered seeing Frankie and Thomas looking cozy at the bar. She sighed. It was never a good idea for an apprentice to get involved with her teacher, but Frankie had never struck Ximena as someone who gave a shit about “supposed to’s.” Ximena knew Frankie was going to make her own decisions one way or another, but maybe she could talk to her today before she left for California, give her a little bit of advice about Thomas. Not that Ximena didn’t understand the appeal; Thomas was gorgeous and brilliant, but he was also…difficult.
It’s not your problem, Ximena reminded herself as she approached the door to the shop. People have to make their own mistakes. Lord knew she’d made a few.
“Hey, X!” Frankie said from behind the desk, her smile wide at the sight of Ximena. “How are you feeling?”
“Only a little sorry,” Ximena said as Frankie stood up to give her a hug. “How are you so chipper?”
“I quit drinking several rounds before the rest of you,” Frankie explained. “I don’t know if you remember, but my friend, Alice, was working last night and she was under strict instructions to cut me off after five drinks.”
“And she listened?”
“Despite my best efforts, yes.”
“You’re a smart cookie,” Ximena said as she pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head. “Where’s the boss man?”
“Back in the office aggressively pretending like he doesn’t have a hangover,” Frankie said.
“Do I have any appointments today?” Ximena asked, leaning over to look at the appointment book.
“Nope, Thomas said to put you on walk-ins today since it’s your last day.”
Ximena smirked. “Figures he’d try to punish me for leaving by making me tattoo flash all day.”
“Well, you are moving to the other side of the country,” Frankie said. “Can you blame us for being a little bitter?”
Us. Ximena knew Frankie was likely talking about the entire crew at the shop, but the casual use of the word sent up a small warning spark in her brain.
“Hey, since no one else is here, do you want a tattoo?” Ximena offered.
“Seriously?” Frankie asked, a pleased grin blooming across her face.
“Seriously,” Ximena said, returning the smile. “How else are you going to remember me when I go?”
“I mean, I do have several other pieces from you to keep your memory alive when you abandon us, but I’ll never say no to another one,” Frankie said happily as she grabbed the cordless phone from the front desk.
“What do you want?” Ximena asked as she led Frankie back to her station and began to set up her supplies.
“I’ve been thinking about getting a woman’s face,” Frankie said. “Maybe something that’ll remind me of you? Something…California-ish?”
“I’m not going to tattoo my own face on you, Frankie,” Ximena said. Frankie rolled her eyes and laughed. “However…I think I do have an idea.” As soon as the station was ready, Ximena grabbed a notebook and began to quickly sketch out a loose design. She held it up for Frankie to see. “What do you think? I’ll flesh it out a bit once I get the basics on there, but this is the gist of it.”
“Love it,” Frankie said as she sat in the chair and held out her arm. “Let’s do it.”
Ximena sketched an outline on Frankie’s arm with a sharpie and, once she was satisfied, she put on her gloves and prepped her machine. “Ready?”
As Ximena started to tattoo her friend’s skin, she was struck once again by how much she loved the sound of a tattoo machine. There was something intoxicating about the buzz that made her almost feel like she was high. She worked quietly for a while, neither of them saying anything as Ximena made her idea take shape on Frankie’s skin.
“Can I ask you something?” Ximena finally asked.
“I’m fine, I don’t need a break,” Frankie said.
“No, I know,” Ximena said, smiling. Frankie had a higher pain tolerance than all of them, which never failed to impress Ximena. Even Thomas tapped out long before Frankie ever did, and the man prided himself on never showing as banal as pain or emotion. “I wanted to talk to you about something else.”
“You have a needle in my arm–do I have a choice?” Frankie asked, raising an eyebrow at her. Ximena laughed.
“Technically, yes, but let’s say no,” Ximena said. “Is there something going on between you and Thomas?” She felt Frankie stiffen slightly under her hands, but Ximena said nothing, letting the question hang in the air between them. Finally, Frankie spoke.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “You wouldn’t be asking if you didn’t know something.”
“I don’t know anything for sure, although you kind of just confirmed it for me,” Ximena said. “But I saw you two at the bar last night and I can see the way you two look at each other.”
“Does everyone know?” Frankie asked. Ximena shook her head.
“No, the guys are all idiots,” Ximena said. “I’m not even sure Thomas is entirely aware of what’s going on.”
“Nothing happened,” Frankie said quickly.
“May I remind you that I have a needle in your arm?”
“I mean, we kissed, but it hasn’t gone any further than that,” Frankie admitted.
“Yet,” Frankie agreed. “Fuck, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“I know,” Ximena said gently.
“You think I should stop it now?”
Ximena shrugged. “Does my opinion really matter?”
Ximena considered this as she switched to a shading needle. “I think you need to decide what’s more important to you, your career or a relationship with Thomas.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be modern women who can ‘have it all’ or some bullshit?”
“Hypothetically, yes, but Thomas Hunt is another monster altogether,” Ximena said. “If you’re serious about being a tattoo artist and you have feelings for Thomas, I think you need to find another artist to apprentice under.”
“But there’s no one better than him,” Frankie said. “I’ve been admiring his work since I lived in Iowa. I moved to New York for him.” She sighed. “I know this sounds stupid and I hate myself for sounding like…well, like such a girl about this, but I’m just going to ask: why can’t I have both?”
“Because you’ll always come second to his work and you deserve more than that,” Ximena said. “Look, Frankie, you’re a badass. I’ve seen you go toe to toe with drunk assholes twice your size when you bartend without flinching. But I think that sometimes you use that as a shell to protect yourself from getting hurt. You deserve to be with someone who puts you first, and vice versa. With Thomas, I can already tell you’ll put him first but to him, you’ll always be second. Third, actually, because I don’t think Thomas is capable of loving anyone as much as he loves himself.”
Frankie stared at the wall as she considered Ximena’s words. She was quiet for such a long time that Ximena thought the conversation was over.
“Will you think less of me if I try anyway?” Frankie asked.
“Like I said, I don’t think my opinion really matters. But no, sweetie, I won’t think less of you,” Ximena said. “And maybe I’m wrong.”
“You’re never wrong about people.”
“I could be.”
The front door opened and a young guy in his twenties entered wearing a Columbia University hat.
“Hi, can I help you?” Ximena asked.
“Yeah, I have an appointment with…” the guy pulled an appointment card out of his pocket. “Tom?”
“I can go get him,” Frankie said, but Ximena stopped her before she could get out of the chair.
“Thomas! Your appointment is here!” Ximena called. A few moments later, Thomas emerged from the hallway that led down to this office. He was dressed neatly as always, but last night’s antics were clearly splayed across his face.
“Good lord, is yelling really necessary?” he asked, annoyed. “This is why we have an apprentice–ah,” he said when he saw Frankie sitting in Ximena’s chair. “I see.”
“Sorry, I can–” Frankie started to say but Thomas stopped her with a wave of his hand.
“I’ve got it,” he said. He paused by the chair, glancing at the guy in the waiting area who was studying the flash on the walls. “What are you getting?” He leaned over to study the tattoo taking shape on Frankie’s arm before nodding approvingly. “Frankie, be sure to pay attention to the way she’s shading it. Yours was a little clunky the last time; it should blend smoothly.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Frankie said, saluting him with her free hand. Thomas didn’t smile, but Ximena did notice the way his fingers brushed Frankie’s arm. Everything Thomas did was completely premeditated, so there’s no way it was a mistake. Maybe she really was wrong about him.
“So, tell me more about LA,” Frankie said when Thomas walked away to talk to his client. “Do you know where you’re staying?”
Ximena nodded. “I’m from there originally, but I don’t have any family there anymore so a friend of mine offered me his couch while I figure out something more permanent.”
“A friend, huh?” Frankie asked. Ximena flicked her eyes up at her and noticed the shit-eating grin on Frankie’s face.
“Trust me, it’s not like that,” Ximena said, shaking her head as she grinned. “Toby’s a total gear head like me, but we’re just friends.”
“For now…” Frankie teased.
“For always,” Ximena corrected. “He’s primarily into dudes and anyway, he’s too short for me.”
“Everyone is too short for you.”
Ximena sat back. “What part of ‘I have a needle in your arm’ do you not get?”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Frankie said.
“Besides,” Ximena said as she resumed tattooing and lowered her voice. “You have enough drama for the both of us.”
“So, what do you think?” Ximena asked as she led Frankie over to the mirror.
“Oh my god, X…this is incredible,” Frankie said, awestruck. Her bicep was now adorned with the gorgeous face of a woman decorated with Day of the Dead embellishments, her hair seemingly floating around her. “Thank you so much.”
“You said you wanted a face, so I added some Day of the Dead to remind you of me,” Ximena said as she hugged her, careful not to touch the fresh tattoo.
“X…are you sure you have to go?” Frankie asked, her voice quiet.
“Something needs to change for me,” she said. “Things have gotten too stagnant and I have to get out.”
Frankie nodded. “I get it. I’m just going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you, too. And I’m sorry to leave you as the lone woman in this shop,” Ximena said.
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Frankie said, rolling her eyes.
“I can hear both of you!” Thomas called from his chair, not looking up from his client who was having difficulty staying still.
“You were supposed to!” Frankie called back. “What time are you leaving tomorrow?” she asked Ximena.
“Pretty much as soon as the sun is up,” Ximena said. “I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in a few days.”
“If you want, you can take the rest of the day off,” Thomas said.
“No, I can stay,” Ximena said.
“Go on, take the rest of the day off to finishing packing or sleep or whatever it is you want to do,” Thomas said. “Blue will be here in a few minutes and now that I have my receptionist back to cover the desk, we’ll be fine.”
“As long as you’re sure…” Ximena said. She did have some last minute packing to do, but she didn’t want to leave the shop shorthanded.
“Frankie, go grab that envelope for her off my desk,” Thomas said, not looking up from his work.
“Oh, right!” Frankie said before she quickly turned and headed down the hall. She returned momentarily with a thick envelope and handed it to Ximena.
“What’s this?” Ximena asked.
“Don’t open it here,” Thomas said, but she ignored him. Her jaw nearly dropped when she rifled through what looked like two thousand dollars in cash.
“Oh my god, would you leave already?” he asked gruffly but not without affection. “Go. Say goodbye to New York or whatever.”
“Thank you,” she said, touched.
“You’re welcome,” he said, eyes still focused on the tattoo in front of him. “If you ever come back, you always have a spot here.”
Frankie waited until Ximena cleaned up her station and retrieved her bag before she walked Ximena to the front door.
“I guess this goodbye,” Ximena said, surprised by the depths of sadness she felt opening in her chest.
“Guess so,” Frankie said.
Ximena pulled Frankie into a tight hug, careful to avoid her arm. “Take care of yourself, sweetie. I’m only a phone call away if you need me.”
Ximena gave her an extra squeeze before she finally let go of her. She pushed her sunglasses onto her face and gave Frankie a small wave before she stepped back out onto the street. Despite the sun shifting into a more abrasive position in the hours since she’d entered the shop, it didn’t feel quite as aggressive as it had before. Ximena glanced back at Marionette Tattoos, wondering what sort of mess she was leaving behind, before she turned and left.
As she walked down the street, she checked her phone and found a text from Toby.
I have a movie marathon all planned for when you get here! Can’t wait to see you in a couple days, roomie!
She smiled. For a car thief, he was pretty endearing.
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