It was easy to tell when someone who did not typically belong in a tattoo parlor had walked into one, especially when you’d been working in one for years like Moon Bin had. Bin liked to consider himself an expert on it, in fact. The nervous person tended to either rush in with a great burst of confidence, or they’d hover outside the door, pacing back and forth while they tried to muster up the courage to finally inch themselves inside.
The man that had just managed to get in the door fell into the latter category. Bin had originally noticed him maybe twenty minutes ago, when the man had first walked by the windows. He was startlingly beautiful, and Bin had always had a weakness for beautiful things. So when a tall, well-dressed man with big eyes and shiny hair had walked past the shop when Bin had been sitting behind the counter without any appointments or anything else to do for over an hour, he’d been eager to notice him. The fact that the man had started going through the motions of someone entering the parlor for the first time had simply been a bonus.
Once the bell over the door to the shop had finally rung, Bin called out a friendly greeting, which the poor man jumped at before quietly returning, then decided to give him a couple minutes to look at the artwork hung on the walls before he said, “Can I help you with anything?”
The man jumped again at being addressed the second time. He glanced around the room nervously, but shuffled up to the counter. Up close, he was even prettier, and Bin gave him one of his brightest smiles. I’m putting him at ease, he said to himself.
Clearing his throat, the man finally looked Bin in the eye. “Are you Park Jinwoo?” he asked, and Bin’s smile immediately dropped with his shock. His change in expression seemed to make the man even more nervous, because he started stuttering and fumbling for his pocket of his overcoat. “Or Moon Bin? I, I’ve been doing some research...” He flipped open the small notebook he’d produced.
Half rising out of his seat so that he could peek into it, Bin saw neat handwritten notes. Reading upside down was difficult, but he could make out headers of both his and Jinwoo’s names, with bullet points listed underneath each one.
“I’m Moon Bin,” he said, looking up at the man. “You’re very thorough.”
A blush flooded the man’s cheeks, and he closed the notebook again. He seemed just as nervous as before, but unsure of how to proceed.
Taking pity on him, Bin sat back down and smiled again. “So you’re looking for me or Jinwoo. I’m assuming you’re looking for a tattoo?”
The man nodded. “You two seemed like the best options for what I want,” he said. “Also, you’re closer than any of the other shops. And had some of the best reviews.”
Bin’s smile felt a bit too wide, but the fact that this man had researched and decided to come to him and Jinwoo made a drop of warm pride grow in his chest. “Well,” he said, sitting back down in his chair. “I’m certainly not going to argue with the reviews if they brought you here.” In a moment of confidence, he winked, and was pleased when the man’s blush came back in full force.
Smirking to himself, Bin pulled out his sketchbook and a handful of colored pencils, and grabbed a customer information packet. “I can go ahead and do a consultation now,” he said, standing up and walking out from behind the desk. “What was your name?” he asked over his shoulder as he led the man towards one of the empty rooms off the lobby.
“Lee Dongmin,” the man answered as Bin pushed back the curtain that offered privacy from the lobby.
Together they sat down at the small table tucked into the corner of the room, Dongmin in the chair that stayed there and Bin on a rolling stool. “Alright, Dongmin,” Bin said. He looked up, and noticed the other man’s gaze was stuck on the bench that took up the most space in the room. Bin smiled, and pushed the packet across the table towards him. “This is a lot of basic information about our practice, liabilities, that kind of thing.”
Dongmin nodded. “I looked over this on your website,” he said.
Pleased, Bin straightened a bit on his stool. “Awesome,” he said. “We can talk more about the tattoo in specific then.” He flipped his sketchbook open and picked up a blue colored pencil. “Did you have any ideas?”
“Yes, actually.” Dongmin reached into the inside pocket of his coat this time, and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, handing it to Bin. Curious, Bin unfolded it. The paper had a drawing of plant, a long stem with bunches of flowers growing off of it. “It’s a snapdragon,” Dongmin continued.
Bin hummed. “It’s beautiful,” he said, and kept himself from taking on like you to the sentence. “Any reasons why this particular flower?”
Dongmin hummed thoughtfully, reaching out and playing with the corner of the paper. “It means grace under pressure,” he said. “My mother always told me to live by that.”
Nodding, Bin put the drawing down between them. They discussed sizing (it was going to be relatively large) and placement (Dongmin wanted to put it on his right shoulder blade), and Bin couldn’t help but think that for someone who had never gotten a tattoo (Dongmin had admitted to the fact when he asked), Dongmin was extremely well prepared. He’d obviously thought about it carefully before coming into the shop.
After Bin had made a rough sketch of the drawing, they walked back towards the front counter. “When are you wanting to come in and do it?” he asked, settling down in the chair and pulling the scheduling book towards him.
Dongmin rested both hands on the counter, leaning forward to peer over. “What’s the earliest time you have available?”
Bin hummed as he flipped through the book. “Usually we wait about a week or so after a consultation, just to give you a little more time to think.”
Dongmin wrinkled his nose, and Bin’s heart skipped a beat at how cute it was. “If I wait that long I’m going to chicken out,” he mumbled.
Bin gave a loud laugh, then looked back down at his book. “I’ve got a spot open tomorrow afternoon.”
“I’ll take it.”
With a down payment securing his appointment, Bin waved Dongmin out of the door. He spent the next forty minutes researching snapdragons and refining his sketch. As he was working on coloring, Jinwoo walked into the shop, lugging with him a large box.
“Do you mind?” he said in an exasperated voice, when Bin made no move to get up from behind the desk.
Bin waved a hand. “You’re already nearly to the back room,” he said dismissively, not looking up from his drawing. “You made it that far yourself.”
With some exasperated grumbling, Jinwoo shuffled on towards the back room where they kept extra ink and the stock of sanitized needles. There were some thumps and a muffled curse, and then he reappeared, coming around the counter to peer over Bin’s shoulder. “That’s pretty,” he said. “Is it for you?”
Bin shook his head, picking up the sketchbook and passing it to Jinwoo so he could look closer. “A very pretty man came in today. His name is Dongmin, and he wants to do it as soon as possible.”
Jinwoo snorted, handing the sketchbook back to Bin. “First tattoo?” he asked, and Bin nodded in affirmative. “Where does he want it?”
Bin reached back and patted his shoulder. “About where a tank top ends.”
“Sounds cool. Come help me get the rest of the packages.”
The next afternoon, Dongmin walked into the tattoo shop exactly five minutes before his appointment. He seemed jittery but determined, his leg bouncing as he sat on the padded bench but his face set.
Bin glanced at him as he put a few finishing touches on the transfer paper. The snapdragon done, he straightened up. “Alright, here’s the part where you strip.”
Dongmin’s head snapped up, eyes wide and alarmed, and Bin swallowed a laugh at his expression. “Your shirt, Dongmin-ssi,” he said, plucking at the sleeve of Dongmin’s button up as he walked by to put on gloves and pull out his inks. “I can’t put a tattoo on your shoulder if it’s all covered up.”
“Right,” Dongmin said, his voice floating over Bin’s shoulder. Smiling, Bin pulled his inks and shook them up a bit. Satisfied, he turned around, and quite nearly dropped the ink straight onto the floor.
He was used to naked bodies. People wanted to decorate all over their skin. Being a tattoo artist insured that Bin was not usually thrown by seeing naked skin.
Bin just hadn’t been prepared to turn around to Dongmin pulling off his undershirt, revealing abs and other lean muscle that Bin hadn’t been expecting to see. It was enough of a surprise to make him freeze in his spot, stuck there until Dongmin looked up and caught his gaze. His cheeks immediately turned pink, and Bin’s burned in response as he cleared his throat and then quickly walked to his rolling tray and arranged his inks. Picking up the transfer paper with the snapdragon drawn on it, Bin turned back to Dongmin.
“Here’s my design,” he said, passing the paper over. “If you like it, we can put it on your shoulder and get started.”
Dongmin handed Bin the paper back with a small smile. “It’s beautiful. Exactly what I was imagining.”
“Brilliant,” Bin said. The process of transferring Bin’s design onto Dongmin’s shoulder was quick, and in short order Dongmin was lying face down on the bench and Bin was rolling over on his stool, tattoo gun in hand. “Are you ready?”
Dongmin let out a shaky exhale. “As I’ll ever be,” he said.
Frowning, Bin rolled over so that he was in front of Dongmin’s head. “Hey,” he said, tapping the top of his head. Dongmin lifted his head and rested his chin on his forearm. If he hadn’t needed to address Dongmin’s comment, he very easily could have gotten lost in his beautiful brown eyes. “Are you completely ready? A tattoo isn’t something you can easily change your mind about.”
Eyes twinkling, Dongmin smiled. “I’m ready,” he assured. “Just nervous about the needle bit.”
Bin nodded, rolling back to be next to Dongmin’s right shoulder. “Tell me if you need a break,” he said. “You’re my only appointment for the afternoon, so there’s no rush.”
“Alright,” Dongmin called quietly, and then Bin picked up his gun again. He put a hand on Dongmin’s back, and felt the muscle tense when he turned the machine on.
“I’m starting,” he said, and then began on the first line.
The outline was the quickest part of the tattoo. He finished the outline of the entire flower, without doing the lines of the smaller petals, and lifted up. He watched with a bit of amusement as Dongmin sank into the bench a bit more with a heavy exhale. “Doing alright?” Bin asked, reloading his ink.
Dongmin hummed. “Not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said, turning his head so his cheek pillowed on his arm. Bin grinned in response, and then started his gun back up. The rest of the outline passed quickly. They took a few more breaks during the shading, when he’d switched to a bigger needle. The coloring took the longest, and required the most breaks. Dongmin had stopped responding to Bin’s quiet questions when the shading was nearly done, shaking or nodding his head in response instead. After Bin had paused and assured that he was alright, he’d stopped asking questions entirely, letting the sound of the tattoo gun and the soft rock music Jinwoo had turned on in the shop at some point fill the small room.
About three and a half hours after they’d begun (four, really, if you counted all the breaks), Bin rolled back from the bench with a grand sigh, turning off the machine and ejecting the last needle. “You can sit up now,” he said, standing up and stretching his back before grabbing a mirror off a nearby shelf.
Dongmin groaned a bit as he sat up, spinning his legs so that he faced the mirror mounted on the wall. “That was awful,” he said to Bin.
“But you made it through,” Bin said, walking around the bench so that he was standing behind Dongmin. “You ready to see it?”
A quick intake of breath, and then Dongmin nodded, his eyes bright and excited despite his complaints. Bin grinned at him in the mounted mirror, then turned the one in his hands so that Dongmin could see his shoulder. “Oh my,” Dongmin said, his left hand coming up to his mouth. “Oh. It’s beautiful.”
Bin smiled as he watched Dongmin look at his new tattoo in the mirror. When Dongmin’s gaze lifted to meet Bin’s, his heart skipped a bit in his chest and he ducked his head a bit at Dongmin’s bright grin. To hide the way his cheeks were warming, Bin put the mirror down and crouched down and pulled plastic wrap from under the bench.
Dongmin cringed a little bit as Bin smoothed the wrap over the fresh tattoo. Bin gave him a gentle pat on his upper arm, then passed Dongmin his shirts. “Don’t take that wrap off for four hours, alright?” Bin said, and Dongmin nodded.
Together they walked back out to the front desk, where Bin gave Dongmin a packet on aftercare and some house ointment to put on the tattoo, reminding him that it was essentially a large open wound.
“If you need more ointment don’t be afraid to come back,” Bin said. “Or if you want another tattoo. They’re a bit addicting.”
Dongmin laughed. “Getting stabbed repeatedly with tiny needles is addicting?”
Shrugging, Bin pushed Dongmin’s card and receipt to him over the counter. “You’ve done it once now,” he said, grinning. “If you’re not back in the next four months, I’ll get a matching snapdragon somewhere on my body.”
A bright grin stretched over Dongmin’s face. “If I win, do I get to choose where it goes?” he said, and Bin’s heart skipped a beat.
“We’ll see,” he managed to say. He may have only known Dongmin for a little over twenty four hours, but he could already feel himself falling head over heels. “I’ve been told I’m quite irresistible. You might come back just to see me.”
Dongmin laughed, a loud and pure sound, as he stuck his card in his wallet and started leaving the shop. “We’ll see!”