Ivy steps out of the building, glancing up at the overcast sky and flipping her hood onto her already damp head. She looks in both directions before quickly walking across the street, trying not to step in puddles and drench her socks. It is a rather dreary day for such an important occasion, with light rain splattering across the sidewalk and the low rumble of thunder vibrating through the air. She touches the nape of her neck, feeling the rawness beneath her fingertips, and smiles to herself. Shoving her hands into her sweatshirt pockets, she dashes through the rain to her apartment.
Ivy has always had a certain fascination with tattoos. If someone is willing to permanently ink their bodies, it obviously means something to them; there’s clearly a story behind it. You can’t help but look at a tattoo and wonder why they chose that specific one, and Ivy has no problem vocalizing this curiosity. But most of the time you’ll just never know.
* * *
“What does that mean?” She asked as she took her steaming hot coffee from the barista. The cup was warm to the touch and Ivy shivered from delight.
“Excuse me?” The woman asked with her eyebrows knit in confusion. Ivy pointed to her wrist, where a black symbol was peeking out from beneath her sleeve. The barista pushed up the cotton fabric a little more and lightly stroked her arm.
“Oh. It’s my zodiac sign.” She chuckled and shook her head, a few strands of her sleek black hair slipping from her ponytail. “I impulsively got it with my friends when I was 19. I’ll probably regret in a few years, but whatever.”
Ivy nodded and blew on her coffee through the small sipping hole. “You could’ve gotten anything, why that?”
The woman smiled a little uncertainly, amused at her questions. “I’m stubborn, over-sensitive, and rather lazy; typical qualities of a Pisces. The tattoo is just a reminder, a scapegoat really, of why I act the way that I do.”
The bell on the front door of the café jingled, and a customer shuffled up to the counter. Ivy plumped down in a nearby booth and took a sip of her coffee, watching as the barista pulled her sleeve back down over her wrist.
* * *
The rain is coming down in huge droplets and Ivy has to keep her head down to avoid getting splashed in the face. She can feel her phone vibrating in her back pocket, and seeks temporary shelter under the awning of a hotel.
“Hello?” She answers, wiping mascara from under her eyes.
“Ivy? Are you almost home?” Her mom asks.
“Yeah, I’ll be there soon.” She can hear pans clinking in the background. Her mother is probably starting to prepare dinner for them.
“OK. What’d you end up getting?” Ivy envisions her mom with her phone balanced between her shoulder and ear, stirring whatever concoction she’d decided to make this time.
“You’ll see. I’ll be there in a minute.” She hangs up and braces herself to endure more rain.
* * *
“Next stop is Back Bay Station.”
Ivy strained to hear the conductor through the crackly static of the loudspeaker and constant murmur of the people on the train. Gathering her things, she gripped the metal pole and stood up. She stood there for a while, gently rocking back and forth as the train swayed, and glanced around the car.
“What do the patterns on your arms mean?” Ivy tipped her head in the direction of a nearby passenger directly across from her.
He either didn’t hear her, or chose to ignore her question. Ivy stepped forward without letting go of the pole and tapped him on his knee. He jerked his head up and glared at her.
“What?” He spat. She motioned to his arms, unaffected by his hostility. His right arm was covered in a complex design of lines and shapes, appearing somewhat tribal. On his left was a very similar design, except it covered a larger portion of his arm.
“Your tattoos, what do they mean?”
“It’s not polite to ask strangers personal questions young lady.” He shook his head and went back to furiously typing on his Blackberry.
Ivy pursed her lips, but stayed quiet.
At that time the train had reached it’s destination and passengers were shuffling off the car.
“Don’t mind my father, he’s not a morning person.”
Ivy whipped her head around, coming face to face with a young man with striking resemblance to the man with the tattoos, who was currently pushing his way through the crowd.
“Oh, it’s okay. I didn’t mean to pry.” She stepped off the train and started walking in the direction of her school, the boy falling into step next to her.
“It was my idea, the tattoos.” He shoved his hands into his jean pockets and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “He has OCD. Do you know what that is?”
“Obsessive compulsive disorder, right?” Ivy looked straight and kept walking.
“Yeah. He has this compelling tendency to always have things symmetrical and organized. So, I thought he should get the asymmetrical tattoos on his arms so he could try to break the habit, not be so trapped by his disorder.”
Ivy nodded and shook her head so her hair would fall and shield her blush.
“And what about you?” She asked.
“What about me?” He echoed with a small smirk.
“Your tattoo. What’s the story?” She responded. The boy stopped and looked at her.
“How do you know I have a tattoo?” He seemed flustered.
Ivy stopped walking and pushed her hair behind her ear again on impulse.
“While you were talking about your dad’s tattoos, you were touching your own arm.” She pointed to his left arm, which was covered by his sleeve. “I just assumed there’s something under there.”
“You’re very observant,” he chuckled. “What’s your name?”
“Ivy.” She answered.
“Like the plant?” He asked. Ivy smiled.
* * *
“Hold the elevator please!”
Ivy runs through the lobby of her apartment.
“Thanks Evelyn.” She huffs out a sigh of relief and shakes water from her hair as the elevator doors close.
“No problem love. Forgot your umbrella again?” The elderly lady looks at her with concern. “If you keep doing that, you’ll catch cold.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll remember next time.” Ivy smiles tenderly and Evelyn purses her lips.
“Spent the day watching that tattoo artist again I presume?” Ivy instinctively touches the back of her neck.
“Something like that, yeah.”
They watch the numbers change as the elevator ascends. When they reach the sixth floor, the elevator comes to a halt and they wait for the doors to open. Evelyn hikes up her purse onto her shoulder, causing the bottom of her blouse to rise and expose a small bit of skin, and something else, on her lower back. The doors open.
“Evelyn do you know what a tramp stamp is?” Ivy asks as the woman steps out into the corridor.
“No, what in heaven’s name is that?” Evelyn’s eyebrows knit together.
Ivy just shakes her head and smiles to herself as the elevator doors close.
She drops her keys onto the table and shimmies off her sweatshirt.
“Mom I’m back!” She shouts to the quiet apartment. Her mom comes shuffling into the room, with her apron covered in flour, her hair in tangles and knots, and holding a very peculiar looking substance in a large plastic bowl.
“Hi sweetheart.” She gives her a kiss on the cheek and goes back to stirring, well, whatever that is. “You smell like a wet dog.”
“Woof.” Ivy smiles and looks in the hallway mirror. Her mom comes up behind her and looks at her in anticipation.
“Well? Let me see the tattoo!” She says impatiently.
“OK jeez.” Ivy laughs. She swipes her damp hair to the side and bends her head a little so her mom can get a good view of the back of her neck. Peering up at her mom through the mirror Ivy asks, “So? What do you think?”
They lock eyes and she smiles.
Most of the time you’ll just never know.