Tattoo Thief is available for KindleNookKobo, iBooks (link to come) and in print. If you haven’t already read the short prologue, do it now. A link at the end of the prologue brings you right back here.

TATTOO THIEF: CHAPTER ONE

When failure rubs its stinky butt in your face, it smells like coffee.

I know this.

It’s the smell that assaults me each morning when I unlock the doors of the Mug Shot Café.

It’s the smell that rules my day.

And it’s the smell that clings to me each afternoon when I give the till to the assistant manager, pull my bike from its hiding place behind a Dumpster, and pedal home to the apartment I share with my mother.

I’m twenty-two. If living with your mother after you graduate college doesn’t reek of failure, I don’t know what does.

First customer today: an extra-hot, half-caf, sugar-free, non-fat latte with whipped cream.

I consider telling her we charge extra for whipped cream—we don’t—just because her order is so annoying.

Or, I could charge a service fee for taking her order while she furiously texts with dagger-like fingernails. I consider slipping real sugar into her latte, but settle for the Awkward Pause.

She takes the hint, puts down the phone and pays.

Next batter up: Isaac. One of my favorites. He’s always in a suit, orders the same three-dollar drink, drops the same two-dollar tip, smiles and says thank you. I have a little crush on him. Our friendship started when I thanked him for thanking me.

You have no idea how often service workers don’t get thanked. One customer told her daughter that she didn’t have to thank me because I was just doing my job.

TT_FAUXSome job.

Next?

Yoga pants lady (who is not en route to yoga): soy chai latte.

Next?

Bike messenger: extra-dry cappuccino.

Next?

“Berry?”

I look up, surprised to hear my childhood nickname. The nametag on my apron just says Manager.

“Uncle Dan?”

I squint like an idiot, fumbling to greet the man I last saw nearly a decade ago. He’s not my real uncle. But he was my dad’s best friend.

“Berry, you’re all grown up!”

I cringe with the same embarrassment I felt as a child. Each time he visited Eugene, Oregon—his hometown and mine—he’d remark on how tall I’d grown.

“I’m sorry,” he recovers quickly. “I know that’s sounds ridiculous now. It’s been way too long.”

“Yeah.” Wow. I’m just full of scintillating conversation. “What are you doing here?”

I try to make the question neutral, but it comes out kind of choked. Seeing him transports me to a too-bright spring day and a darkened funeral home. I stood between my mom and Dan, who gave the eulogy. Dozens of my dad’s friends packed the room, too many brown leather flight jackets to count.

Flustered, I make Dan a drink.

“Can you take a break? I’d love to catch up.” Dan seems overly enthusiastic, overly apologetic. “I never meant to go so long without seeing you and your mother.”

The morning rush is mostly over so I saddle the lone barista with both register and bar duties. She scowls but I pull off my apron and pour a tall glass of tap water before joining Dan at a table that wobbles a little. Mental note to fix that.

“What are you doing in town?” I ask, genuinely curious. Dan’s folks moved to Florida, so my dad was pretty much the only reason he visited Eugene after high school.

“High school reunion. Thirty years.”

“Make you feel old?” I don’t mean to be rude. Sometimes I just say whatever pops into my head. Sue me.

“Yeah. I mean, I can’t believe I’m old enough to be the father of a real adult. Look at you, Berry! You look wonderful.”

I blush hard, because I feel anything but. My long, curly dark brown hair is looped back on itself in a messy ponytail. I’m wearing my standard uniform of jeans and a T-shirt, and I skipped makeup this morning. At 5:15 a.m., I’d rather have a few extra minutes of sleep.

Dan, on the other hand, looks like he’s channeling Anderson Cooper: he’s slim, toned, and perfectly shaved. It’s an unseasonably warm early June, but Dan looks cool and crisp in a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and gray trousers.

I realize I haven’t responded to Dan’s compliment and unintentionally gave him the Awkward Pause.

“Thanks. I guess I look a little different than last time.” I gurgle out a weird laugh, transported to my 13-year-old self, all knees and elbows and frizzy hair. Top off my look with braces anchored by neon rubber bands. I defined awkward teen.

“I didn’t know you worked here. I was actually hoping to see your mom this trip, but she—”

“Never returned your calls,” I finish for him. “Yeah. Don’t expect much. She’s all wrapped up in her counseling practice and she doesn’t have much of a life, social or otherwise.”

Dan’s face drops but then he rallies. “So tell me about you! Are you happy working here?”

“Oh, definitely. Being a coffee bar manager is, like, my dream.” Sarcasm drips from my words, and I kick myself. I don’t need to be snotty.

“Did you go to college?”

“Yep. I majored in journalism at the University of Oregon. It was a little weird commuting to school with mom while she finished her master’s in counseling. I worked here at the coffee shop all the way through.”

“So after graduation, you just stayed?”

“Of course not. I did what every journalism student does—I got a job at a little weekly paper. I covered local politics and school board hearings. Edge-of-your-seat stuff, let me tell you.”

“And then?” Dan sips his latte, gently probing.

“And then I quit. I was reporting a really bad story, one where two kids died. I worked crazy hours and made two bucks over minimum wage. So I quit. My old boss, who owns this place, hired me back as manager. Believe it or not, this gig got me a raise.”

“So you’re happy.” Dan leans back in his chair and I can’t tell if it’s a question or a statement.

I hesitate long enough that it becomes a question, hanging in the air between us, growing more significant with each moment.

I want to tell him I’m just paying my dues and that I have a plan to do something different, but the truth is, I don’t. I don’t know where I’m going next, or if I’ll ever figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

I just wasted four years on a journalism degree and it took me less than a year to figure out that being a reporter sucks.

Dan’s dark gaze is sharp and knowing, as if I’ve already admitted this. I could never get away with lying to him as a kid, either.

“I’m stuck,” I finally admit. “Stuck here, stuck with this.”  Do I look as pathetic as I sound?

“So get un-stuck.”

I roll my eyes. He makes it sound easy. He probably has a zillion frequent flyer miles, while the farthest I’ve ever been from Eugene was a youth group trip to Seattle. Six hours in a yellow bus rumbling up Interstate 5 hardly qualifies me as a world traveler.

“I’m serious, Berry. You can do something new.”

“Beryl,” I finally correct him. I gave up my childhood nickname a long time ago. Plus, I think Beryl is equal parts tough, hip, and classic. I can rock a name like Beryl.

“Sorry,” he says. “Old habit. But I’m serious. You should see the world. At least get out of this town. You have no idea how blown away I was when I moved to New York City.”

“Easier said than done.”

Dan waves his hand, dismissing the paralysis I feel. New York seems larger than life, a towering megatropolis that I’d get lost in. But Dan talks about moving there like it just takes a plane ticket and a little luck.

I know it also takes a pile of cash that I don’t have. I’m still saving for an apartment in Eugene.

I once read a whole BuzzFeed article about how hard it is to rent an apartment in New York, with hilariously horrifying pictures from Craigslist. Anything in my price range is guaranteed to have rats, roaches, and bedbugs. And that’s just the start of the creepy neighbors.

“Let me make it easier, then,” Dan offers. “I’m in real estate. I do high-end property management and I need an assistant. It’s not super-glamorous—a lot of it is grunt work—but I need someone who can do research, be super-organized and write well.”

He names a figure roughly twice my current salary and my eyes pop out of my head.

“Berry—Beryl, sorry—that doesn’t go as far as you’d think in New York, but it’s a start. So get yourself un-stuck. Move.”

I roll the idea around in my head, taking a huge drink of water from my glass and sputtering. Smooth.

“Mom will hate the idea.”

“Of course she will. You’re her only child. Maybe I can talk to her and help her understand? It’s time you leave the nest, explore a bit, and try on a new kind of life for size.” Dan’s eyes are shining with enthusiasm. Clearly, he’s fallen head-over-heels for New York.

“Why are you doing this?” I’m still suspicious. Even though Dan was there for many of my birthday parties as a kid and even some of our Christmases, I’m smart enough to know opportunities like this don’t just drop out of the sky.

Dan rubs his chin and I think he’s debating telling me an adult truth or the kind of generous lie meant to placate a child. “I guess I feel a certain responsibility. I’m sorry I dropped out of your life for so long. Your dad would have wanted me to be there for you. You’re stuck here and he would have wanted you to have an adventure.”

I feel tears threaten to spill over my lashes. “Be safe, but have an adventure,” was the phrase my dad so often repeated. It was his driving force, and he was always pushing me to do more and be more.

Until one day when he wasn’t there. And then I needed to just be safe, so I could be there for my mom.

“I do have a friend there…” I start, feeling the weight of the gift Dan’s offering.

“Call her. Or him. Or whatever.” Dan pushes his business card across the wobbling table. My lone barista sends murderous looks my way. “Let me know what you decide. I’ll be around for a few days. Or maybe I could stop by and say hello to your mom.”

“I’ll call you,” I promise, and give him an odd side-hug because I’m not sure what else to do. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

I can’t wait to share the rest with you! Head over to my Facebook page and give it a like for more sneak previews in the series. Tattoo Thief is available for KindleNookKobo, iBooks (link to come) and in print.

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