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Ink or Swim
Chapter 1, Scene 1
Echoes of my own footsteps were all I could hear as I made my way down the hall. I took a deep breath and opened the door just wide enough so I could slip through. I was later than I intended to be, but it looked like I had made it to the town hall meeting just in time.
I had only been in town, officially, for two days and I had already been warned, by several people, about Annette. Rumor had it she was crass, the town gossip, and extremely adverse to change. Despite the chill still present in the evenings, I shivered from the icy blast of the air conditioning vent directly above me. The hoodie and jeans I had on was no match for the arctic setting the system had been set to.
Annette was standing in the middle of the room, commanding attention. "All I'm saying is, we have two days left until this... shop... opens and we should be banding together to stop it before our town is overrun by hoodlums and motorcycle gangs. This is a peaceful area and we owe it to our residents and tourists to keep it crime free."
The heavy, wooden door behind me chose the most inopportune time to latch shut. Every attendee turned their head in my direction. All I could think to do was mumble under my breath. "Sorry."
Annette used my presence to her advantage even though the look on her face told me she was annoyed by the disruption. "Well, I don't know who you are but you're a perfect example." She turned toward the front of the room again. "See her? She's tiny. How on earth is she supposed to protect herself from some biker?" She spat the last word out, conveying her disgust. "How are any of us supposed to defend ourselves against an entire gang?"
She spun around, crimson faced, seething at being interrupted for the second time. "Excuse me?"
I stepped forward and raised my voice to ensure the entire room could hear me. "They're motorcycle clubs, not gangs."
Annette rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "You're arguing over my word choice? I'm... I'm sorry, but who are you? And why should I give a rat's tail what you think?"
I squared my shoulders and flashed a comically large smile. "I'm Dakota Maddison, owner of Satin Mystique Tattoo."
She put her hand over her heart and gasped. "You?" She let her mouth fall open for a moment. "You're the one who owns the tattoo shop?"
I smirked and nodded, watching as she tried to sort it out in her head. With my arms and legs covered, people often got the wrong impression when they saw me. I had shoulder length, blonde hair, wore minimal makeup, and didn't have any visible piercings. All my tattoos were on my shoulders and down and my stature was small. No one was ever able to guess what I did for a living.
Annette sat down quietly, embarrassed by her words, and didn't speak again for the remainder of the meeting. Once the meeting ended, I made my way out to my car and had just reached it when I heard someone call out my name. I turned back to see a petite brunette walking briskly toward me.
"Hey. I just wanted to apologize for Annette. She's always quick to judge."
"It's not your job to apologize for her. People are allowed to have their own opinion, even when that opinion is based on bias rather than fact."
"Well, she can come across harshly at times. But she's also not wrong. No one in this town wants you or your criminal friends here."
"Huh. That's so weird because between myself and my guest artists, we have over fifty local residents signed up to come in and get tattooed during our grand opening weekend. Makes me think maybe some people do want me here." I reached forward and opened my car door.
"I'm not done talking to you." She raised her voice loud enough that a small group of people stopped to watch. "I want to know why you're here."
My heart was beginning to race and I could feel the flush crawling across my cheeks. I had to remind myself to keep my temper at bay. "I'm here because I want to be. I moved away from the city because I wanted a quieter life, a slower pace. My parents and I stayed here a number of times during the summers when I was growing up and I liked the town. Now, is that all or would you like to know what I had for breakfast as well?"
She rolled her eyes. "I just want to be clear. We don't want you here. I would recommend looking for another place to open your little shop before you embarrass yourself."
"I have no intention of doing either of those things, but I appreciate your concern." I got in my car and took a quick look around before slamming the door shut. It looked as though everyone from the meeting had formed a crowd around us. I wondered how many of those people felt the same way.