Catherine stood with the bathroom door open while she played with her hair. The full length mirror on the door reflected back into the small living room of her apartment. Bob sat there, his hands fidgeting with two magazines laying on the coffee table, wondering if he should pretend to read them or not.
“I’m sorry I’m running behind,” she said. “Our reservations are at seven?”
Bob nodded. “Yes. Seven. It’s okay.” He glanced at his watch. It was old but well taken care of. “We have time.”
Catherine smiled, but the smile only found Bob’s back. He was respectfully turned away, or so she assumed it was out of respect. He seemed nice, and she hoped their third date would be as enjoyable as the previous two. She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to her and the smile faded. She hurried her dark hair into a playful bun, checked her makeup, and returned to the living room.
Bob was glaring at an article in the Cosmopolitan that detailed the nine different male personalities and how to make the right one work for you. Startled, he put the magazine down again.
“I’ve been behind all afternoon,” Catherine said. “I had an appointment with my tattoo artist and the session went a lot longer than expected. He does great work though. What do you think?” Catherine, hiding her nervousness, pulled an arm free from her dress and bared her left shoulder. Watching Bob and giving him a slight smile, she pulled down her black bra strap to fully reveal the work on her shoulder. The piece was a cherry blossom tree in full bloom with roots reaching down her back in long, smoky tendrils. “You can’t see it all, but you get the idea,” she said.
Bob looked. The work was intricate, amazing, but “wow” was all he said.
Catherine noticed the lack of spark in the man’s eye and slowly covered herself again. The pride she’d felt for the art on her skin diminished.
“You don’t like my tattoos, do you?”
A look of shame fell over Bob’s face. Already ten years beyond her age, he now looked even older. Perhaps her friends were right. Maybe she was wrong to try dating someone his age.
“It’s not a very complicated question,” she continued. “Yes or no will do.” Fully covered now, her black dress looked as though she were to be attending a funeral rather than tacos and margaritas at a hip little restaurant along the coast.
Bob took a long breath. “I don’t have any tattoos of my own,” he said, “as I’ve never found anything I’d thought I’d like to see forever. In that realm, I don’t care for tattoos. However, I like your tattoos because they’re part of you. I can’t picture you without them, although I feel like you’d be very pretty if you hadn’t any.”
Catherine stared at the man sitting on her inexpensive couch. The stubble on his face was gray, grayer than it looked before, but she still found it attractive. The patience was still present in his eyes. She waited.
“Can I try again?” Bob asked.
“Have you ever been camping? I don’t mean just in the woods, but high in the mountains. A place where it gets very cold over night?”
Catherine nodded again, but did not disclose the details of the trip.
“You remind me of camping in the mountains,” Bob said, “up in the elevation where the cold air bites at your nose through the night. And it’s dark and the ground is hard and you feel like the dawn will never come. That you’ll be forever in that cold, dark place, just waiting.” He shifted in his sit to face her fully. “But then the dawn does come. Gradually at first. The black recedes into lighter shades of blue, and finally color comes back into the sky. But the cold is still there, still biting at your skin, and you’re waiting for that moment when the light crests the mountain top and falls into the valley you’re in. You’re still waiting for the warmth to come.”
“What does this have to do with my tattoos?” Catherine asked.
“The sun finally comes up over the mountain and you realize that all things come from amazing, burning fire. Fire so fierce and passionate that it can be seen for millions of miles.” He looked her in the eye. “That’s what you are to me. You’re that fire. All of you, tattoos and everything. And when I’m with you I realize how long I’ve been lost in the cold and the dark, waiting for the dawn to come and find me in my valley.”
Although their relationship didn’t work out, for her friends were right that he was too old and boring and she was too young and fun, the cherry blossom on Catherine’s shoulder was the last piece of artwork she decided to have placed on her skin.