It's been a few months now, and it seems that things have slowly began to drift back into some semblance of normality. Ink Blots had it rough for a few days- between two of its artists being put oit of commission and one of its work rooms turned into a crime scene, we had to close for a little while. Now we're open once again, and I guess you could be clichéd and say I've climbed back on the horse after falling. But I've never been one for clichés- they leave so little room for raw detail and life.401

As all of us had hoped and scarcely dared to expect, Manuel did survive Gavin's assault- he left the hospital eight days after he arrived with a scar much like mine, stitches and all, and partial nerve damage from Gavin's stabbing him between the shoulder blades. The resulting wound severed nerves that controlled fine motor use in his left arm and hand, and as a result, Manuel can no longer tattoo as a living. His hands simply don't possess the steadiness or agility any longer, and it is too dangerous for the customers and himself.402

Strangely enough- ironically enough, I guess you'd say- he's still with us at Ink Blots, however. He works the same shift he always did, with us- only now Manuel is the counter guy while Blane- believe it or not- is learning to tattoo. Yeah, Blane, the guy who never showed an interest in anything or anyone- apparently Blane has a vested interest in tattooing.403

It was he that suggested it- Manuel had come in personally to talk things over with Ray about leaving, arranging a severance pay and the like, and Blane had been propped up somewhere nearby, the same half dead expression as usual on his face. I guess he must have been listening, because he pippiped up, "Hey, like, could we, like, switch jobs? Me and him- like, he doesn't have to have good hands and all to do this. And I could, like, learn to tattoo. If, you know, you wanted me to."404

It was the most I'd ever heard the kid say. I wasn't even standing with them- it was a slow Monday, and Arden and I were both behind the curtain- and still my jaw dropped. It sounded like such a stupid, silly proposal- Blane tattooing? And Manuel reduced to counter guy?405

But that's exactly what ended up happening. They both agreed- Manuel somewhat more quickly than Ray, who understandably had trepidations about Blane's ability or the seriousness of his offer. I guess Manuel was glad to have a job at all. But it's actually working out better than I would have figured- Blane's undergoing training and seems to take it seriously. Which must mean he enjoys it, I guess. He's preparing for the tests he'll have to pass for his license and frequently observes us when we're with customers who are willing. Manuel, while not exactly what you'd call a dazzling and charismatic personality, is still definitely more personable and responsive to customers than Blane was. He'll actually converse with them occasionally rather than grunting. That's the only thing now that really I think is iffy about Blane being a tattooist- he'll really, REALLY have to work on his customer skills if he wants to even have customers.406

I know Manuel must miss being a tattooist rather than counter guy; it's not exactly the same sort of thrill and satisfaction. He never complains about it though, or shows any resentment or bitterness over his situation. I guess he knows he's lucky to still be alive, still have a job- and he's still around tattoos and tattooing, which I guess he likes. And of course I'm sure it also helps that he's still around Arden.407

To my vicarious, not-so-secret glee, he and Arden are still dating- or "evolving in their relationship" as Arden fumblingly put its. I don't get to see them interact much now, but I still see enough- and pry enough details from Arden- to know that through Manuel and his patient affections, Arden is finally beginning to try and overcome some of her demons- and I can already see just in some her slight behavioral changes her slow successes in this. I am waiting with some anticipation for the day to arrive when a red-faced, tongue-tied Arden tells me she was finally able to make love to Manuel- for when that day arrives, I will know for sure how far she has come along. I have faith in her for now- and even more so in Manuel's gentle pushing.408

As for me, there really has been comparably little change in my life. I'm back at work, as I mentioned, and still terminally single. My ankle has healed, and there really was little lasting damage done to me physically. Of course, there's the scar on my face. Manuel and I are practically twins now; customers who see us both together do double takes, probably thinking we're some S&M couple- typical tattooists, of course. I've teased Arden about needing a scar as well so she won't feel left out of place among us.409

But truthfully, the scar doesn't bother me anymore. I've grown accustomed to it now; it seems part of my face, almost as usual as my nose or mouth. It has come to mean something to me, to redefine me in some way, like another tattoo would. Though I myself would not have chosen it, I now am not certain I would want to get rid of it.410

The police did an investigation of Gavin's assault on us, for a few days after we were first attacked, but did not find him, as I'd expected- even from the one meeting, it was clear to me he would not allow for that kind of carelessness. Plus, I doubted they exactly busted their asses looking- no one was killed, after all, and we were just tattooists- an occupation that practically made us deserve it, they seemed to think. In fact, they treated us with suspicion from the get-go, questioning us closely, as if there was something fishy about my story- which there was, I guess, but it wasn't because there was drugs, fraud, or child molestation involved, as they seemed to think. 411

You'll probably think I'm crazy, but my story to the police- and everyone else- left out a few important details. Such as exactly who Gavin Berwin was, his relationship to Rikarah, and how she fit into the whole crazy situation…412

The way I made it sound was Gavin was just a random customer who got violent and fled- nothing personal or deliberate about his actions. This, as you know, was untrue… but for some reason, when the police came to question me the day after the attack, I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to tell the fully story- because for some inexplicable reason, I didn't want them to get caught.413

Completely insane, I know. Wanting the person who knocked you out, twisted your ankle and scarred your face to get away with it- the person who had permanently damaged Manuel's usage of his hands, taken his job away from him? But I did- and it was not until after I'd already "forgotten" to mention Rikarah and Gavin to the police that I even really understood why, at least partly.414

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that Gavin had never wanted to kill either me or Manuel, but only incacipate us as quickly and efficiently as he could so he could make a getaway with Rikarah. It was the only thing about the entire scenario that would make it make sense…415

For instance, Gavin had moved so quickly, so confidently with the knife- not jerky or overly passionate, like someone who killed from emotion, impulsively. He moved as if he understood the exact potency of the knife, with a calculated skill that must have taken considerable practice to obtain. He had said as much to me, that he had killed many times before. And yet, here was Manuel and I, alive… how could a man with such knowledge of death and killing have left us such enormous odds of surviving?416

Even his attack was weird… if a guy wanted to kill you, especially one who was seemingly as good at it as Gavin, why would they not slit your throat, stab you in the heart, or some equally surefire way to die? Why would you go to the trouble of reaching your arm around behind someone and stabbing them in the back? And the whole face cutting thing- yeah, it scarred, and it bled a lot, but it wasn't deep enough to be fatal. And he had never stabbed me at all- he had deliberately only caused me to pass out.417

Everything about Gavin's methods seemed strange to me, and I found myself thinking about it repeatedly. The only explanation for his chosen ways of injuring us was that he was trying to leave us alive.418

The face cutting, I reasoned, was probably so we would bleed enough to stay unconscious, but not enough to die. And Manuel- he had not knocked him out like he had me, probably because he had doubts about his ability to do such a thing. Manuel was a big guy, with a thick neck- I doubted he could have so effortlessly caused him to black out as he had with me. And though his chosen area to stab had caused Manuel lasting physical damage, it still was placed in such an exact way that he could still lead a nearly completely normal life. Considering that Gavin had been acting in the spur of the moment, the stab was still placed so precisely.419

So what, you're probably thinking. So he didn't want to kill you- give the guy a medal. Why in the world does that give him the right to get off with no punishment?420

And it doesn't- I know that. I still wonder how I had the gall- the stupidity- to look everyone in the eyes and lie to them about who Gavin was- especially considering the difficulty I have in lying successfully. 421

But even so, I still don't regret it. Somehow, I think I understand them, Gavin and Rikarah… in fact, I may have done the same. Had I, like Rikarah, suspected someone- someone I liked and respected, no less- might know of something I'd done illegally, I might be alarmed and troubled enough to tell my boyfriend. Had I been that boyfriend, I might be concerned enough for my girlfriend's freedom and safety to find out for myself if her suspicions were correct… and had they been, I too might be driven to do whatever was necessary to protect the person I loved.422

For I could tell, even in my terrified, half-frantic state at the time, that Gavin truly loved Rikarah. It was evident in the way his cold eyes softened when he said her name, the way he unconsciously stroked its syllables like a much-loved pet. And Rikarah too had struck me as a person who often expressed her love for others- even me, at times.423

I knew there was love in them- and anyone who has love has some good in them, something worthy and pure. I believed him when he told me he only kills the deserving, those wholly devoid of love and goodness. For when he looked at me, the knife in his hands, there seemed true sorrow in those darkened eyes. And after all, both Manuel and I are still alive today.424

So I didn't tell them what I knew- didn't tell anyone, not even Arden. And I have not heard from them since, have not seen them- not that I truly expect them to return.425

But still, I find myself watching strangers with a sharper awareness than before… I find myself becoming a regular news channel viewer. I didn't really know why for a while, but now I think I understand. I think I am in some way searching for Gavin and Rikarah, news of their whereabouts and ongoings.426

Not out of fear- for no longer fear either of them. I think they do not wish me harm- for here I am, still alive today. They're only doing what they can to protect themselves from what they perceive as harm- and if that means injuring people who may, so be it.427

But instead, I look for them, I think, out of curiosity… and a weird, reluctant kind of gratitude. For their interference, painful and disrupting as it was in our lives, has created a shaking-up to change us in a way I think we needed.428

I would never go back and wish that all this would happen, that everything would become as it is now. But then, no one ever likes change- but that doesn't mean it isn't necessary for growth. Life is about change, our personal metamorphosis and redefinement of self. I guess we just have to endure the process, and hopefully the end result will be something we can live with.429

The end