Run. Keep running. Keep running. That's what she keeps repeating to herself. Don't stop, don't turn around, just run. Run through the pain. Run through the memories. Everything she sees is new to her, but she can't stop to look. She must get out of here. She can't go back. She needs to be free. Her lungs hurt, she just can't get a deep enough breath. Her bare feet are bleeding due to the rocks and twigs her feet are running over. Her legs and arms are getting scratched and her shabby clothes are torn. Her face is repeatedly slapped by branches and bushes, but she couldn't care less. She just has to keep running. Keep running.
She's cold, but the sunshine is warming her up slowly. It is so bright that her eyes hurt, but she loves it. It has been so long since she has been outside. She had forgotten what the sun felt like on her skin. She had forgotten what clean air smelled like and how green the leaves on the trees were. She hears twigs snapping beneath her feet, of which the sound frightens her. She remembers some of the other sounds now, she thinks one is of birds chirping. Any other time she would enjoy the sound, but right now she is unable to focus on it. She must get away from here. She doesn't even know where "here" is. She has been hidden from the world for years. So many years in fact, that she has lost count. She doesn't even know how old she is anymore. Knowledge of the date, year, or time is a luxury she hasn't been afforded in quite some time.
The last time she was in the sunlight was when she was on a road trip with her mom. She was five or six at the time. They were traveling to visit her father, who was out of town on business. She thinks it was springtime. Spring makes sense to her. Bluebonnets were in bloom along the road as they drove past them. They were driving from their home in Texas to Oklahoma. Lawton, Oklahoma to be exact. She doesn't know why that detail has remained with her all this time. She cannot remember the name of her hometown, but she remembers Lawton, Oklahoma. The mind works in mysterious ways. She knows that at the time her hair was dark brown. Not black, like everyone would tell her, but dark brown. For some reason, it was very important to her that people knew it was dark brown. It's funny that she thought that was important. In hindsight, she laughs at what she thought was a problem back then. She doesn't know what her hair looks like anymore. She can only see the dark, unkempt ends that hang down to her waist. Her eyes at some point were her distinguishing feature. They were complimented on by many. Large, dark brown set against flawless olive skin. She knows she inherited her father's skin tone, but cannot remember him. She forgot the sound of his voice and his mannerisms. The reminiscences of her mom are fading with time. She has sparks of memories every now and then, but she can't determine if they are real or her imagination. Her own voice startles herself at times, she uses it so rarely. She has no one to talk with and is commanded to only speak when spoken to.
She has been in a poorly lit room with no mirrors or noise for what seems like an eternity. He said that the light was evil. He said that mirrors were the bearers of darkness. He believed everything in the world was a sin. He told her that knowledge would lead to destruction, so she was only allowed a handful of books of which he approved. The fantasy and fairy tale books she was given were missing the last chapter, leaving any positive outcome, any hope for happiness ripped away. She was only allowed a Bible and an old set of encyclopedias to study. He believed that a woman should depend solely upon a man. She was always being watched by him. Her every movement being tracked continuously. He knew when she ate, slept, and used the bathroom. He knew what the page number was of the book she was reading at any given time. He had kept her away from the world all this time. He kept her all for himself, to serve him when she was of an appropriate age. He thought she was weak and feeble. He thought he could control her forever. He was wrong.
"Sawyer, hold up man," a voice calls out. A tall, dark-haired man pauses for a moment from unlocking the door to a tattoo parlor. The man glances up to see a ridiculously lanky, red-head jogging toward him.
"Bryce Hatfield, what now?" the man says to the red-head, exasperatedly.
"Where were you last night? That party was legit! Fine women everywhere with no morals, it was great!" Bryce says excitedly.
"You know that's not my thing anymore. Besides, I have an intricate one to do today for a regular. I have to ask though, did these women mind your penchant for having no filter?" Sawyer asks jokingly.
"Sawyer, you act like an old man. Man, when are you going to realize that you are only in your twenties? And for your information, yes, they did mind. Happy now?"
"Bryce, you have got to get control over your mouth, cuz. Your non-existent filter is a blessing and a curse for you. Since you are incapable of controlling your mouth, you have been unable to hold down any stable jobs. I'm your last resort, but if you have a positive outlook, you can have a new beginning. You are the apprentice of a legendary tattoo artist, and lucky for you, a guy with no filter is not the end of a career in the tattoo business," Sawyer tells him laughing.
"Wow! I'm glad you're not full of yourself. It would make it super awkward when I tell you to kiss my rear." Bryce answers him.
"Watch it, Bryce. When are you going to realize that I own my own successful business? I have bills, a mortgage, and employees to pay, like you for instance. If I show up trashed, my reputation is shot. No one comes here for an ugly stick figure tattooed on their back. They come here for the best of the best. A chance for my work and their vision to be admired by others for a long time. So, speaking of work, are you good today?" Sawyer asks.
"Yeah man, I was low key," Bryce replies.
"Good, I would hate to fire you," Sawyer smirks. Bryce knows it would take a lot to get fired, but since he is out of options he has enough sense not to rock the boat.
Sawyer and Bryce go about getting the parlor ready for the day. They turn their heads when they hear the bell go off, signaling someone has walked in.
"What up, Blackout Ink? Ready for a record-breaking day?" a young, enthusiastic girl asks.
"Hey Elise, get your sexy self to your desk and start doing your job!" Bryce yells at her.
"If I wanted to be hit on by a red-head, I would work for Elmo instead," the petite blonde replies.
"Come on Elise, you know I can't control myself when you bat those emerald green eyes my way," Bryce laughs.
"Now, why would I waste my time doing that? You know it will never happen between us. Keep on dreaming Red," she sighs at him. Elise walks to the reception desk as the phone rings. She takes a seat and answers the phone while another person walks in.
"Good morning beautiful," Beau Campbell says as he winks at Elise. He walks over to his booth and begins getting his materials gathered.
"Beau, you ready for today?" Sawyer asks.
"Yeah, boss. Hey, I need to take off sometime soon to go home for a few days. That cool?"
"Should be. Denver, right?" Sawyer says.
"Yeah, it's been two years since I've been home. I have to scope out the new beauties in the area," Beau answers while wagging his eyebrows. He is a notorious womanizer. He takes pride in shamelessly flirting with any woman, regardless of age or looks to capitalize off them. While Beau is gloating, Elise is staring at him with forlorn adoration. Elise Summers has been pining for Beau for the two years he has been employed with Sawyer. She has told the other staff on more than one occasion that his beach blonde hair and piercing blue eyes are what gets her out of bed every morning. Beau does look more like a surfer than a tattoo artist. Elise, day in and day out, frantically vies for his attention.
The bell chimes again as a rough woman with jet black hair, various piercings, and a bold fashion sense walks in.
"Hey Chelsea, how are you today?" Bryce asks her while saying each word slowly.
"Better than you, idiot," she retorts. Chelsea stands out for her impressive height and for the large, colorful tattoos that cover her body. She does fit the stereotypical look for a tattoo artist. She walks over to Elise at the receptionist desk.
"Hey Chica, when's my first appointment today?"
"Hi, it's at 10:30. Did you see Beau yet? He looks delicious," Elise tells her while licking her lips.
"Elise, when are you going to stop wasting away over him? He is a piece of crap, who treats women like they are objects. You're no angel, but come on! You try too hard to entice him. I love you, but you don't have the money to get his attention. You know that pretty much all the guys that come through here want you," Chelsea says truthfully.
"I know you're right, but I can't help who I like," she replies with a sheepish grin.
Chelsea rolls her eyes and tells her hopeless friend, "Ugh, whatever. Maybe one day you will have a change of heart."
The door rings again as the last employee of Blackout Ink slowly shuffles in.
"How's it going, Scot?" Bryce yells at the man with light brown hair and a long-braided goatee.
"Shut it," the Irishman says as he walks off while still muttering to himself under his breath. Bryce chuckles, pleased with himself that he has already managed to irritate the lazy drunk.
Sawyer watches this exchange with a perturbed scowl. He calls out, "Scot O'Neill, you good today?"
Scot turns and gives him a fake toothy smile and a thumbs up. "Yeah boss, I'm just peachy," he answers with faux enthusiasm.
Sawyer then turns his attention to Elise. "When is my first one today?"
"Bobby is coming at ten for his sleeve," she answers. "Plus, looks like you are pretty full after that with little sorority girls til close," Elise giggles.
"Are you kidding me? Can you start booking those under Bryce? He can handle all the little hearts, butterflies and infinity signs. Hell, he can even handle the flavor of the month name tattoos. You know I hate those. They are a waste of my potential," Sawyer continues moaning.
"Well, if you weren't so tall, dark and handsome maybe you wouldn't be so popular. Your looks are what pays the bills. All these girls want a tattoo by the infamously good-looking Sawyer Monson. They could care less that you are legendary. They want to try to capture the elusive unattainable bachelor of Lawton. They want the bragging rights and you get the money," she says while shrugging her shoulders.
Sawyer eyes her with a look of disdain. "What the hell are you talking about? Unattainable bachelor? Really, is that how I'm known around here?" he asks as he looks around. Everyone nods in agreement at him.
"Whatever, just book those under Bryce, and I will come in occasionally and check the work. Can you handle that Red?" Sawyer asks as he glances at Bryce. Bryce gives him a nod and goofy smile. Sawyer walks to his office in the back of the parlor and closes the door.
"So, are the girls really just coming here to try to land Sawyer?" Bryce asks Elise as he walks over to her desk.
"Well, we are busy because of that, but also since he trained under that guy in Vegas. I would tell him that, but he is already getting too cocky. He needs to be brought back down," she says smiling.
Bryce laughs, "Oh man. Don't tell him what you just told me! He will crap his pants! He is probably cursing to himself in there about his talent being wasted, blah blah."
"Yeah, I figured. He is just getting to be too much to deal with now. He is too arrogant. He needs a woman that will whip him into shape. He's been on his own for too long," Chelsea adds walking over to join the conversation.
Elise laughs, "Sawyer Monson needs a woman? That's rich! He is always going on about how he doesn't do relationships. That his first and only love is this parlor. He's his own person, and he makes his own rules."
The three of them laugh as they recall Sawyer telling the parlor this frequently. Beau and Scot stroll over to see what the commotion is about.
"What are you guys laughing about?" Beau asks.
"We are just talking about how Sawyer needs a woman to help get his ego under control. But, he is always telling us that he doesn't want to be tied down, or that having a relationship wouldn't bring him any satisfaction," Elise responds.
The laughter starts again. Soon they are placing bets as to how long it will be before Sawyer is tied down. The wagers placed range from within the month through five years from now. The pot grows throughout the day with contributions from clients and staff.
"Yo, we gotta keep this pot on the down low. Sawyer will flip if he finds out," Bryce truthfully says. The other staff nod their heads in agreement. "How much is it worth now anyway?" he asks.
"Let's see, it's past eight hundred dollars. That's a pretty good payout. Sorry, you're going to lose suckers," Chelsea smirks.
"What date did you put down, Chelsea?" Elise questions.
"I said within the month. He is due for some love to whoop him into shape!" she giggles.
Sawyer sits on a plush, brown leather office chair at his desk. The door to his office is closed to block out the annoying laughter from his staff. He doesn't even bother to wonder what could be so funny to them. He is more concerned with tomorrow. It is his first scheduled day off since he opened his parlor. Tomorrow he has plans to spend the anniversary of his parent's death at the lake alone with his thoughts. The lake was their place to go as a family. It was their private getaway. He hasn't been back since they have been gone.
A knock on the door interrupts his thoughts. "Sawyer, Bobby is here," Elise calls through the door. Sawyer mutters acknowledging her and stands to leave his sanctuary.
All day long he and the others are busy laboring over numerous tattoos and piercings. Sawyer is also inspecting Bryce's solo work. He notes that Bryce is getting better, but refuses to tell him that. Sawyer doesn't want to add to his arrogance. He nods his head in approval at Bryce and tells him that he still needs to work on his motor control as well as attention span. Bryce smirks and continues tattooing a delicate rose on the hip of a middle-aged blonde.
Sawyer goes through the motions all day long. He endures countless women throwing themselves at him and guys trying to prove just how tough they are. When he finally looks at the clock, he realizes it is closing time. He looks around the parlor, noticing that he is alone. Sawyer walks around the parlor to make sure everything is in order for his absence tomorrow. He slowly turns out all the lights and flips the business sign in the window to closed. He steps outside to lock up when he is met with a cool, welcoming breeze. Sawyer smiles to himself while turning to walk up the stairs to the modest apartment he lives in above the parlor. As he takes his first step up the flight of stairs the air is pierced with a loud, horrifying scream which sounds like that of a girl.