Charley couldn’t stop checking her phone. Yes, she knew she had told Ryan to give her some space, but after three days without even a text she was in full-on self-pity mode. She imagined him getting beers with his friends or watching Lost on the couch with the cats, having completely forgotten about her. While part of her knew she was being a bit dramatic, it didn’t stop her stomach from twisting into a tight ball of discomfort and nausea until she couldn’t handle it anymore. She determinedly plunked in numbers from memory and pressed the dial button.
“Hey you’ve reached Ryan’s cell. Sorry I’m not here right now, but leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you soon.”
Charley hung up and leaned back in her seat, sighing. She was on her lunch break, eating alone at the Rio Grande Cafe, supposedly taking a break from her busy work day. She flexed her wrist, which was a little sore. She had just finished tattooing a back piece that had taken three hours and featured a pair of dragons intertwining along the man’s spine, wings spread across his shoulder blades. One dragon was white, and the other was black, a variation on the yin and yang theme that was so popular. He had told Charley that the tattoo represented him and his wife, who, even though they were incredibly different, were also very in love. His wife had come with him as emotional support, and stayed quietly by his side for the whole three hours, which was even more impressive due to the fact that she was also very pregnant.
Charley wanted to be happy for the couple, but the whole time she was working on the tattoo, listening to the couple tell the story of how they met, she had been getting gradually more annoyed. It was stupid that someone else’s happiness should bother her so much, and totally unfair, but it didn’t change the way she felt. She remembered the first tattoo she ever got, and how Ryan held her hand the whole time, even when she squeezed it so hard that his knuckles were white. For the millionth time, she thought to herself that maybe leaving had been a mistake, even if it was just for a few days.
Suddenly the sound of a chair scraping across pavement alerted Charley to the fact that Matt was currently in the process of sitting across from her at the table. She blinked at him.
“Hey little sis. You look ready to murder the first person that calls you short.”
“Do I? I’m not surprised. How did you know I was here?”
“Todd told me.” Todd was her coworker at Pandemonium tattoos, a burly bald man who had a soft spot for his much younger co worker. Charley rolled her eyes.
“Of course he did.” Matt took a sip of the water that the waitress had just brought him.
“Okay, so, I hung out with Ryan a few days ago. He seemed upset.”
“Yeah well, he started it.” Matt gave Charley a pointed look.
“And how old are you?”
“Only 11 months younger than you are!”
“Then act like it. So…anything you want to talk about?”
“Maybe how frustrating Ryan is, or how he never takes me seriously and always overreacts-” Charley continued on a rant about her absent boyfriend that probably was only a few minutes, but judging from Matt’s reaction must have seemed like an eternity.
“See what I’m hearing is, I miss that bastard like hell. Tell me, am I off base here?”
Charley half smiled. “That seeing right through me thing that you do? It’s really cramping my style.”
They both chuckled a little. Then Matt looked intently at his sister.
“Go home, Charley. You can’t just run away from the one person you care about the most as soon as something goes wrong.”
Keeping her mouth shut right then was probably the hardest thing Charley had done that day, including the three hour tattoo. In the space of a minute she thought up twelve indignant excuses for her behavior, three of which were even plausible. But she gave her brother a rare hug, and, as she walked back to work, she muttered to herself, “I’ll do it, if only to make sure he’s feeding the damned cats.”