The bell above the door jingles, signaling someone entering the shop. I look up from the sketches I’m working on and size up the man walking towards me.
He’s not our typical clientele. I know tattoos are pretty mainstream at this point and I know better than most never to judge someone by basic appearances but this guy is totally out of place here. Twisted Ink is in a rough middle class neighborhood in Chicago. We don’t usually get business types in fancy suits popping in over their lunch break. Christ, this guy looks like he got his shoes shined this morning.
Although, we are starting to get some folks sniffing around as rumors leak I’ve made the list of contestants for next season of Top Ink. Most come to check out my designs, see if the rumors are true (I can neither confirm nor deny for another month) and if they can get time on my chair before I’m on TV and my schedule gets tighter and my fees higher. At least that’s what I hope happens. Assuming I do well in the competition.
This chance could change everything for me. The prize money, the name recognition, I could finally start my own shop, take Jax and Macy with me. Do it the way we want. The way Jax and I have always talked about.
But this guys still isn’t the type we usually see. I’ll be shocked if he’s here for some ink.
“Can I help you?”
A referral? Maybe I’m wrong. I can think of no other reason this guy would be looking for me.
I stand, stretching to my full height. An asshole tactic? Maybe. Honestly, this guy is no physical threat to me but I am well aware that isn’t the only way to wound someone. I take the advantages I have. “Yeah? I’m Luke.”
When he doesn’t say anything else I fill the silence. “You looking for a tattoo?”
That seems to shake him loose and he holds out his hand introducing himself. “I’m Ethan Abbott.”
Curious, I shake his hand still waiting for an explanation.
“I have some personal business to discuss with you. Is there somewhere we could speak privately?”
What the hell is this guys deal?
Another thought occurs to me. “Are you from the network?”
The confusion on his face gives me my answer before he responds. “No. I’m just – I’m here on personal business.”
What kind of business could this guy possibly have with me? Let alone anything he needed privacy for.
“Hey Mace?” I yell back without taking my eyes off the stranger in front of me.
“Can you cover the front for a few minutes?”
A moment later Macy appears from the break room. I’m a big guy but Mace is a hulk. I give the suit credit. He looks at us warily but doesn’t back down. Mace looks between us and cocks his head, silently asking me if I need back up. We don’t have the history Jax and I do, but I trust him to have my back when things go to shit. He’s loyal and he never feels the need to prove anything to anyone. It’s a level of chill I have yet to achieve.
I have a fuck ton to prove to literally everyone.
“I’ll be back in a bit. You good?”
“My next appointment is at 2. I’m good until then.” He nods at me.
That gives the suit just over 30 minutes to explain his ‘personal business’. “I’ll be back by then. Thanks man.”
I head to the back room, one of the few with an actual door for privacy and not just a curtain, assuming the suit will follow.
It only takes twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to give me answers that explain absolutely nothing. He tells me his family has been looking for me. He tells me they’re my family too. He tells me a lot of things I can’t hear right now. He hands me a fat envelope and tells me he’ll be in touch. Twenty minutes after he enters he leaves.
My head is swimming and everything feels muffled and far away. My chest tightens until I feel like roaring is the only way to relieve the building tension. So I do, hardly recognizing the sound escaping. I need to hit something. I’d like to hit my cousin Ethan but he’s gone leaving me with unanswered fury and countless questions. I throw open the door exploding through the shop. I stop cold seeing Jax reclining back on one of the battered couches for waiting clients, casually watching videos on his phone.
“What are you doing here? You’re not on the schedule.”
I shoot him a look. Unapologetic he just shrugs, “Didn’t look good, brother.”
This tiny show of support soothes my beast just a little. My throat tightens with emotion and I clear it aggressively away. I don’t like how I feel right now. Like I’m on the verge of losing control. I’ll admit the anger inside me is terrifying and knowing these two are here to help me deal with it but also keep me from destroying with it is the security I need right now.
Jax slowly unfolds from the couch tucking his cell in his back pocket. “Want to head up to the Attic?”
I exhale roughly. That’s exactly what I want to do. My shoulders already feel less tense. I nod.
The Attic is what we call the third floor of the building housing the tattoo shop. It’s mostly used for storage and has a ton of crap from previous tenants but we’ve set up a make shift gym in the corner with free weights and a punching bag. That punching bag is going to help me process the information overload I’ve just received.
I strip off my shirt and wrap my hands while Jax pulls up one of the camping chairs we have stashed up there. He listens while I repeat everything I’ve just been told between jabs. I have no idea how long I work out my aggression, longer than the story I have to tell, and by the time I’m done I’m drenched in sweat and my arms are humming in exhausted protest. Jax throws me a bottle of water and kicks another chair so it skids across the floor towards me. Gratefully I fall in to it and gulp the water down.
“These Abbott’s are kind of a big deal, man. Did this Ethan guy mention that?”
“What do you mean?”
Jax glances at his phone again and informs me about my family. “Well, they’re fucking loaded for one. Like inherited money for generations. And one of them – it looks like Ethan’s dad, is a Congressman running for Senate next fall.” He shows me the articles he’s found while I’ve been exercising.
“No. He mentioned something about an estate and possible trust but I couldn’t process what the fuck he was talking about.”
“They think his sister, the politician guy, is your mother?”
I shrug. After all these years finding out who my parents were had stopped being a possibility in my mind. Even with someone right in front of me telling me he might have answers I was still having trouble rewiring my brain.
“I couldn’t find much about her online.”
“He said she ran away when she got pregnant.”
Jax nods. “You said he left you with some papers?”
“Yeah. They’re still downstairs.”
Jax is silent, letting me work things out in my head for a minute.
“What do you want to do?”
It’s different with Jax. He knows who his parents were, knows they were pieces of shit that had no business making a kid. Our foster homes were pretty ugly at times but he knew home would just be a different kind of hell. I had nothing. No information. No ties. No context. Only questions and constant uncertainty.
“You want to take the DNA test?”
Ethan seemed to think it was a formality. They were sure he told me. Used ‘every resource at their disposal’ to find me.
“I don’t know man. It feels pretty fucking convenient.”
“What do you mean?”
“That he comes walking through the door now after all this time. Right before his dad starts campaigning for office and I’m about to be on national television?”
“You think they were sitting on it?”
I shrug. I have no idea what I’m thinking.
The DNA comes back a match. I’m an Abbott. Biologically anyway.
I feel that same wave of rage I experienced the first day Ethan dropped all this on me as I read the terms of my trust.
It’s contingent on me withdrawing from Top Ink. There’s a lot of legal words all strung together that I basically interpret as I can do whatever I want with the money as long as I don’t appear on television this year or any other. I look at the dollar amount, literally counting the zeros to clarify what I’m seeing. It’s far more than I’d make winning Top Ink a dozen times.
But I have a fuck ton to prove to literally everyone. And now, especially one person.
Uncle Theo. You dick.
I’ll take your name. Let you explain to all your country club friends and political donors who I am and what your family did to your too-young pregnant sister thirty years ago.
But I’m not signing anything. Keep your bribe you fucking asshole.
I rip up the papers and open a beer.
I need a drink.
And when I win Top Ink we’ll let the skeletons come tumbling out.
I’m an Abbott.
Meet Lucas after his Top Ink win here.
Curious about Uncle Theo?