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Of Flowers and Needles

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Luciano’s life had become, if he had to be honest with himself, rather boring.

Not that he was complaining - not entirely at least. Luciano likes his town, likes the people in it, likes working on Dona Délia’s little flower shop. He even likes Dona Délia, who happens to be a small old woman with a hell of a character who doesn’t like anybody .

But things had been a little dull for the last months. Years, even.

That was, until the bakery next door closed and only a few months later three guys moved in and opened a tattoo parlour.

Luciano would be lying if he said he has not checked out the guys that have opened a tattoo parlour next door just a week ago. Out of honest curiosity, at first. It’s a small town after all, old and traditional, and the new guys covered in tattoos and piercing certainly stand out like a sore thumb.

They’re a novelty in Luciano’s boring life, so who can blame him if out of nothing better to do when there are no customers to entrain him, Luciano watches them through the shop’s window?

He has not talked to them; not strictly. He has shared polites ‘good morning’s and ‘awful weather, uh’s and ‘goodnight’s, but those are not proper conversations perse. Luciano doesn’t take it personal, though. He’s working, and so are they. And, hey, they don’t seem like the kind to bother much about flowers anyways.

So he is rather surprised when one morning he recognises one of them enter the flower shop.

He is the tall and blond one. His arms are completely covered in tattoos, as far as Luciano can see. He follows the inked trail until it disappears under his short - tight - sleeves, and his eyes shoot up to the beginning of another tattoo peeking out on the neck of his shirt. It makes Luciano’s throat go tight wondering how much further do the tattoos sketch across his body.

But Luciano is nothing but professional, so he shakes himself off wondering what’s underneath a client 's clothes and give him his best smile.

“Hello,” Luciano greets him. “How can I help you?”

“I’m doing some research,” tattoo guy says, and rest his elbows on the counter in such a flirty way that Luciano can’t hold back an equally shameless smile. “Will be doing a nice flowery tattoo real soon, thought I might as well pass by and ask an expert.”

Luciano can spot an excuse when he sees one, and boy does that sound like one.

He’s not bothered in the least by it.

“You’ve come to the right place,” Luciano smiles widely at him and spreads him palms to gesture around. “What are you looking for?”

“Not sure yet, really,” tattoo guy says, squinting to himself like he’s giving it a real thought. “Tell you what,” he says, taps his fingers on the counter. He’s got tattoos there too - like his long slim fingers weren’t distracting enough without them -, horizontal and vertical little lines and crosses that could mean anything or nothing all together. “I’ll buy a bouquet of whatever you think it’s best.”

“Well, that depends the occasion,” Luciano says, cocks his head slightly. “What did you had in mind?”

Tattoo guy squints and purses his lips as he thinks. He takes a moment that Luciano can’t help to use to let his eyes roam down and appreciate inked skin again before answers.

“Something romantic. But not cheesy. Fun and cheeky. Charming. Warm ,” tattoo guy mumbles. He gives Luciano a sidelong glance, and finally decides; “How about you take a pick? Just give me your favourite.”

Luciano laughs good naturedly, and works on it. He goes for something colourful and bright, a personal preference. He arranges plenty of pink and yellow gerberas sprayed with little white primroses. He crowns the bouquet with purple and yellow gladiolus, and as a final touch - to spice things up a little -, he add a couple of red carnations here and there.

Once he is done, he hands the bouquet over. Tattoo guy studies thoroughly it with a pleased smile.

Luciano would lie if he said the sight of him with a bouquet between his hands isn’t charming.

“This a really nice,” he comments, and shoots Luciano an honest smile that beats all the shameless flirting from before by far . “Thanks, uh…”

Luciano can’t help the smile that curves his lips.

“Luciano,” he introduces himself.

“Martín,” tattoo guy - Martín - answers back.

After paying and shooting him a shameless wink and a ‘See you around’, Martín leaves the shop with his bouquet carefully cradled against his chest. Luciano can’t help to lean half his body out of the counter and watch him stride back to the tattoo parlour through the shop’s window.

Dona Délia comes from the back of the shop with a broom between her bony hands, huffs and clicks her tongue impatiently at Luciano.

“I didn’t have you for the tattoo guy type,” she scoffs with a disapproving scold, and Luciano has to brush it off with a laugh and burning cheeks.

 

Next time Luciano meets Martín, it’s just a couple of days later, and this time he’s the one going to his store. It takes him a moment of hesitation before the parlour’s door before he pushes it open, and glances around curiously as he makes his way to the front desk.

“Hi.”

The kid behind the counter barely spares him a quick - rather judgeful - glance before looking back down to his phone.

“Hey,” he says curtly.

Luciano can’t help to frown. He opens his mouth, and closes it again the moment he hears Martín’s booming voice from across the room.

“Thank you, Julio, for that exemplary demonstration of customer service ,” Martín calls with a tight smile as he paces to them with long quick strides. He places a firm hand on Luciano’s lower back, and gently guides him away. “I’ll take it from here, please stay seated, don’t trouble yourself.”

The kid - Julio - flips Martín off without even raising his eyes from his phone.

“Sorry about Julio, we’re still working on his manners,” Martín explains. He offers him a softer smile. “So, Luciano. How can I help you?”

Luciano can’t help to return the smile and lean back against Martín’s firm hand on his back.

“I, uh, wanted a piercing,” he says, hoping to sound a little more certain than he actually feels.

“Oh,” Martín’s eyebrows shoot up, and he looks a little disappointed at that. “Ok, wrong department then. Here, let me take you to Dani.”

Daniel is the parlour’s body piercer. He’s got brown curls pulled back with a headband, bright green eyes, and an easy smile. He also has more piercings Luciano can count. Martín guides Luciano to Daniel’s station, and much to Luciano’s pleasure he does not leave after he introduces them.

“First time getting pierced?” Daniel asks kindly as Martín leans against a wall with his arms crossed over his chest and a relaxed smiles on his lips.

“Yeah,” Luciano sits on the station’s chair and nods, even if Daniel really need to look at him to know the answer.

“I tried one once,” Martín comments to Luciano as Daniel prepares his stuff. He flicks the black coconut earning on his right ear. “Wasn’t quite fond of it.”

“That’s ‘cause you’re a wuss,” Daniel replies with a snort as he puts some rubber gloves on.

“You calling me a wuss, baby skin boy?” Martín asks, and Daniel sticks a pierced tongue at him that Luciano can’t help to eye with interest.

Martín opens his mouth to answer such an insult, but before he can even make a sound, a calm firm voice calls for him from the other side of the parlour.

“Martín, go back to your station and stop harassing my clients, please,” a blond young man with glasses stares at them with cool brown eyes.

“That’s Sebastián,” Martín informs Luciano under his breath before raising his voice. “Your customers love me, Sebas!”

But he does obey Sebastián, and goes back to his station under Sebastián watchful eye and Daniel’s mocking glance.

“Ok, back to our deal here,” Daniel clears his throat and tries to hide his amused smile. “Tilt your head a bit for me, that’s right, now take a deep breathe,” he instructs, and the moment Luciano does, he feels a sharp quick sting on his earlobe. “Perfect, now let’s try the other side…”

Luciano turns his head, takes another deep breathe when Daniel instructs him to, and doesn’t even flinch when he feels the sting again on his other earlobe.

“And we’re done here,” Daniel smiles.

It’s surprisingly fast and clean. Luciano finds himself leaving the parlour sooner that he expects or, truth be told, actually wants .

As he pays and listens to Daniel’s instructions to care and clean his new piercings, Luciano catches Martín smiling at him from the corner of his eye from across the room. He’s not the only one to catch that smile, though.

“Don’t worry, this is a one-way ticket ride,” Daniel whispers and gives him a knowing shameless smile. “You’ll be back before you know it.”

 

Daniel ends up being right, and Luciano does come back. He gets more ear piercings, an eyebrow piercing, and a couple of stretchers that will keep him coming by regularly. Martín always comes by and hangs with them if he’s free, or peeps out from his work to smile at him.

With each visit, Luciano learns a little more about the parlour. They’re three cousins, Martín, Sebastián and Daniel - Julio is, exactly in Martín’s words, ‘a favour to a close friend’. They have moved from place to place around Brazil for some time before settling in town, hopefully for good. Daniel is in charge of piercings, Martín and Sebastián specialize in tattoos. Sebastián owns the place, which technically makes him the boss Luciano thinks no matter how much Martín argues that. He also happens to very rarely leave his workshop at the back of the parlous, and getting an appointment with him costs a small fortune.

“He’s one of those artist,” Martín wiggles his fingers in the air vaguely and wrinkles his nose. “You know. Only works when the store is closed, can’t be interrupted, hears music on his headphones. Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t breathe. He needs to be in ‘the zone’ to work. That kind of stuff, you know.”

“And you?” Luciano asks.

“Me?” Martín smiles at him, and bats his eyes innocently. “Why, I’m just a humble little artist doing his job.”

Humble little artist is an understatement. Not only Martín happens to lack any humility, but his work is really good. Luciano has only caught him working on someone once, but Martín proudly displays his works on a wall full of drawings and photos by his station, and they are nothing but amazing.

If he has to be honest, Martíns little wall of triumphant has done nothing to make Luciano even more curious.

 

Luciano has been frequenting the tattoo parlour for three weeks when he arrives and finds Martín sitting backwards on a chair with his arms crossed over the chair’s backrest and his shirt bunched on his lap. Sebastián sits behind him with headphones on his ears, quietly working as he traces the buzzing tattoo machine over the naked skin of Martín’s back.

Luciano watches quietly - can’t help to notice that while his arms are covered in tattoos, half of Martín’s back and even more of his chest is free from ink.

“Does it hurt?” he asks as he watches the needles trail over his skin, even if he knows the answer.

“Why, you interested?” Martín chips back at him.

“I might be,” Luciano teases, but he is not lying.

He watches Sebastián’s work, and cocks his head with a slight frown. He doesn’t know much about tattooes, but he does know before inking they usually wear stencils as reference. Sebastián is working on clean skin like some empty canvas.

“So,” he shots Martín a sidelong glance. “What are you getting?”

Martín shrugs; makes a poor mimic at least, standing still under Sebastián’s hands.

“I don’t know,” he admits. He looks at Sebastián over his shoulder. “What you working on back there?”

Luciano blinks in disbelief.

“Wait a minute,” he mumbles. “You telling me you don’t know what he’s drawing?”

“Haven’t heard of the Whole Glory?” Sebastián asks as he slips his headphones off.

Luciano can’t say he has. So Martín explains.

“... So you’re telling me people blindly let some guy just tattoo whatever he wants? No restriction, no peeking, no nothing?” Luciano waits for someone to correct him, and when no one does, he frowns. “That’s insane!”

“I know, right?” Daniel agrees, pleased to finally have someone share what apparently is an unpopular opinion here in the parlour.

“He could be tattooing a dick across your back for all you know!” Luciano adds bewildered.

Martín can’t help a loud bark of a laugh.

“I hope it’s a nice one,” he says with an amused smile, and Daniel muffles chuckle. “I have faith in you, Sebas, you know just what I like.”

“Yes. I do,” Sebastián hums and gives Luciano a very pointed sidelong glance. He wipes the remains of ink from Martín’s reddened skin, and carefully leaves his tattoo machine on the trail besides him without a word.

Martín looks back, tries to twist around to get a glimpse of Sebastián’s work.

“You done already?” he asks, a little surprised.

“No,” Sebastián says as he pulls his rubber gloves off loudly. “But there’s only so much of your chatter I can take.”

This time Daniel laughs openly and Martín takes a hand to his naked chest in mocked pain. Luciano joins Daniel’s laughter, but can’t help to eye with interest Sebastián’s work before Martín covers it pulling his shirt over his head.

 

Luciano’s been visiting the parlour for a month and has got himself six piercings when he finally comes for a tattoo.

Now, saying Martín is happy to finally have him in his station is an understatement.

“Welcome to my sanctuary,” Martín greets him with open arms. He makes a show to remain in pose for a moment, and then smiles at Luciano. “So, what did you had in mind?”

“I didn’t really think of anything,” Luciano admits. He hesitates for a moment, before adding; “I’ve been thinking about that thing you did with Sebastián… the ‘glory hole’ tattoo?”

Martín’s lips curve with amusement, and his eye light with quiet laughter.

“The ‘glory hole’, uh?” he says. He raises a blond eyebrow at him. “Really? Are you sure?”

Luciano shrugs it off like it’s no big deal.

“What?” he challenges nonchalantly. “You don’t trust your skills?”

Please , you’ve seen my work,” Martín snorts, unfazed. “But since it’s your first tattoo I thought… you know what, don’t mind me, I’m in. So, where will I be working?”

Luciano’s only answer is to extend his arm and offer the inside of his forearm. Martín nods slowly in quiet approval, and gets to work.

Luciano can’t help to grimace when he feels the pain of the needles trailing over his skin, but after the firsts minutes it’s easy to get distracted with Martín’s enthusiastic chatter. Martín’s has been working and listening for half an hour when Luciano realizes that must be part of his work too. Martín’s not just drawing on his skin, he’s also distracting him from the pain and killing time with his talk.

An artist and an entertainer, Luciano thinks.

The tattoo takes a little longer than Luciano anticipated, and would have liked. He’s about to ask how much longer is it going to take, when Martín turns his tattoo machine off and wipes the ink from Luciano’s skin with slow parsimony.

He pulls his rubber gloves off, and gives Luciano a triumphant smile.

Voilá .”

Luciano flexes his arm in what seems forever, and rotates his elbow to examine his forearm. The tattoo is no bigger than Luciano’s palm, but the complexity and work on it is obvious even at first glimpse.

A bunch of flowers curl around each other in perfect harmony in a small explosion of bright colours. It’s not entirely a bouquet, Luciano thinks as he examines Martín’s work - more like a corsage. No lines trace the drawing, just shapes and shades of colours bring to life each flower, and Luciano wonders whether it was harder for Martín to work this way. Either way, the tattoo is beautiful, simple and austere yet warm and bright. There’s so much mindful work in each flower that Luciano can recognise and name them with ease.

A carnations in the centre - the heart of the tattoo -, some gerberas and primroses delicately blooming around it, and just two gladiolus crossed below and around them in an elegant arch.

It takes him a moment to realize they strike as a rather familiar choice.

“Wait a second,” Luciano looks up to Martín with wide eyes. “Are those-”

He does not end his questions, but he doesn’t need to. Martín tilts his chin up proudly, and gives him a winning smile.

“I told you I had an important floral tattoo coming up soon,” he says.

Luciano stares at him with his mouth hanging open, and can’t help the slow smile spreading across his face. He feels his face warm up, and lets out a loud laugh when he hears a yell from the other side of the shop;

“Say, Martín,” Sebastián calls without raising his eyes from the magazine he’s reading. “Are you finally done with your stupid overcomplicated 5 step plan to woo the cute florist next door?”