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Before: Twenty

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Jared eyes the big guy and his sketch. “That’s it?”

The big guy nods once. “Yeah. Just that.”

“You’re sure you don’t want color? Team colors, maybe?” Jared offers, but the big guy just shakes his head.

“No, just that.”

“You got it,” Jared says.

The big guy doesn’t say much while Jared preps his arm and transfers the design. He does respond to the first touch of the tattoo gun with a slight flinch, but then he relaxes, staring off into the distance as Jared works. Jared can even hear him starting to hum to himself quietly, not the same song playing over the shop radio.

Once the first number is finished, Jared asks, “Doing okay, big guy?”

The big guy hesitates for a moment before he responds, “Isaac.”

“Doing okay, Isaac?”

“Yeah,” the big guy says. “I’m good.”

Jared nods and continues working on the second number. “This your college number or something?”

“No,” Isaac says.

“High school?” Jared guesses.

Isaac tilts his head to the side, not exactly a nod and not quite a shake, as he seems to mull the question over. “It wasn’t mine,” he finally says, his face taking on a hard look that dissuades any further questioning.

“Well, I think it’s turning out good,” Jared says. “I think you’ll be happy with it.”

“Never really got to be happy,” Isaac says. “This is as close as it gets.”

“I hear you, man,” Jared agrees. Isaac doesn’t say anything else, and Jared finishes the work while Isaac hums softly to himself. Jared recognizes the tune this time: ‘Only the Good Die Young’.