© 2019 by PG Forte. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt: Inked Realities

Inked In OakTown 1.0

Chapter One

“Well? What’d they say?” There was a trace of impatience in Trevor’s normally placid voice. He gestured at the phone still clutched in Quinn’s hand. “What’s the word on the show?”

Quinn didn’t answer right away. He was too busy trying to dial down the anger that had him wanting to hurl his smartphone across the room. There’d be a sharp crack as the case shattered against the exposed brick, a skittle of pieces skidding across the reclaimed-wood floor. That little bit of willful destruction would go a long way toward improving his mood. But was it really worth the trouble he’d be giving himself?

 

It had been years since he’d outgrown the habit of accidentally destroying cellphones on the regular. It was possible technology had advanced so far since then that recovering his contact list would no longer be the hassle he remembered, but he didn’t want to count on it. It was better to work out his aggression at the gym.

 

“Come on, Quinn,” Destiny urged. “Don’t keep us in suspense. Has the show been cancelled or not?”

 

As he slipped his phone back in his pocket, Quinn shot a quick glance at his fellow tattoo artists in an effort to gauge their moods. Trevor leaned casually against the windowsill, arms folded across his chest, his expression masked, doing his best to appear unconcerned. Des was an easier read. She perched nervously on the office couch, not even bothering to hide the fact that she was worried. It was funny how a just a few years could change a person’s outlook on a subject. “No, we’re not getting cancelled. Not yet, anyway. They’ve renewed us for another season.” 

 

The show had been Quinn’s idea—his dream, really. But, in the beginning, neither Trevor nor Destiny had wanted anything to do with it. In fact, they’d been so opposed to the idea of turning their life into a reality TV show that they’d offered to walk. They’d both been prepared to quit OakTown Ink, Quinn’s small and, at that point, relatively obscure tattoo shop and find another shop to work out of. But Quinn hadn’t wanted to go it alone—that had never been the plan. He’d wanted to make it big, yes, and he needed money. He was pretty sure this was the fastest, most fool-proof way to meet both those goals, but he wanted his friends there with him. It had taken weeks of badgering before they both finally agreed to stay on and let him give it a try. After that had come the real work—selling the Townsend Network on the concept…

 

That was then, however. Now, it didn’t take more than one look at his co-workers faces for Quinn to realize that they were equally committed to the show’s future. And that they’d be equally disappointed if things went south—which, at this point, they very well might do.

 

“Okay.” Trevor again. “Not cancelled is good. But..?”

 

Quinn sighed. “But...goddamn Zoe Taylor Townsend. That witch doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s opinion but her own! I told her we were okay with Declan leaving, that we weren’t really looking to replace him. I said we’d talked things over between us and we’d all agreed that the show would work out fine with just the three of us, that it might be a good thing, and that maybe now they could finally place a little more emphasis on the tattoos we’re doing, focus more on how we interact with our clients and less on how we interact with each other, you know?”

 

Trevor rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Quinn, we know. We heard your end of the conversation just fine. I take it she didn’t go for it?”

 

 “She said the three of us, on our own, don’t generate enough drama.”

 

“Yeah, well…” Trevor shrugged. “With Declan out of the picture, she might have a point.”

 

“Jeez. Ya think?” Destiny muttered beneath her breath. “Score one for Ms. Suit.”

 

Quinn couldn’t help but snort. “Okay, fine. Point taken.”  That was one of the main reasons he’d wanted Trevor and Destiny in this with him, wasn’t it? The fact they got along with each other more often than not had seemed like a great big plus to him. Unfortunately, the network thought otherwise and had been fighting him on that front right from the start—in part by saddling him with Declan Ross, troublemaker extraordinaire, the only cast member who hadn’t been part of Quinn’s original crew.

 

As a tattoo artist, Declan did solid work, Quinn couldn’t fault him there, but the drama he generated had been a little hard to take at times. Still, much as it pained him, Quinn had to concede that Declan’s antics had been damn good for ratings. So good, in fact, that he probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Declan’s sudden decision to up and leave Inked in OakTown—the show that had made them all famous, Declan even more so than the rest—had thrown their producer into a panic.  

 

“Who do they want to bring in to replace him?” Destiny asked.

 

Quinn’s gut churned. “Oh, you’ll love this. Turns out they can’t just bring someone in—because, you know, of course they can’t! That would be too freaking easy. So, instead, they’re gonna turn it into a contest. It’s gonna be one of the new storylines. Tattoo Quest: Search for a New Artist, or some such shit. As far as I can tell it’s the only storyline that’s going to get much airtime this season.”

 

Trevor frowned. “I don’t get it. Are you saying they changing the show’s format? How’s that supposed to work? What kind of contest are we talking about anyway?”

 

“Who the hell knows?” Quinn shrugged. “I think I stopped listening after about the first five minutes. As far as I can tell, the idea is to call up a bunch of the guys they’d auditioned last time around, the ones they didn’t pick, and see if any of them want a second shot at the title, so to speak. She said something about having weekly challenges that would pit the contestants against each other—no idea how that’s s’posed to work. Then we all vote to see who should get eliminated. They’re even going to let viewers call in with their choices. Can you believe that shit? Like random people watching from home know fuck all about tattoos!”

 

“Hold up.” Destiny looked alarmed. “Who’s voting? You don’t mean us?”

 

“Sure I do.” Quinn nodded. “Are you kidding me?  Us and a rotation of ‘celebrity judges’ whatever that means. We get to throw shade, bitch about the quality of the contestants’ work, pick it apart, embarrass them in front of their clients, tell ’em about everything they did wrong—and that won’t be at all awkward when we end up having to work with one of these losers later on.  Just watch it turns out none of us can stand the winner.”

 

“Maybe that’s part of their plan to increase drama?” Trevor suggested.

 

“Yeah, it probably is,” Quinn agreed. “Morons. She even floated the idea of making this a recurring thing. Said if it works out well, maybe next season she’d give us each a ‘team’ to manage. Like we all don’t have nothing else to do!”

 

“This is a disaster,” Destiny predicted, her voice hollow.

Quinn shot her a sympathetic glance. “I know, honey. And you haven’t even heard the best part yet. It appears the princess is being written into the show as well; because, you know, the network has to have a say in the judging too, right? She’s actually moving up from LA so she can participate. Why couldn’t she just ask Daddy for her own show, if that’s what she was after. Why’s she have to take over ours?”

 

Trevor shook his head. “I’m sure that’s not what she’s doing,” he said, entirely too reasonably. “But back up a bit. Did you say Zoe’s moving here?”

 

Quinn nodded. “Yep. She’s flying up tomorrow. Says she needs to be on hand when we start taping.”

 

“But that’s not for at least another month,” Destiny protested.

 

“I guess she wants to get settled in ahead of time.” Quinn sighed a little as he thought about it. “I figure the plan is for her to take a look around, get to know us all a little better, and then see what kind of drama she can drum up. Either way, I’ll be lucky if I don’t lose my friggin’ mind by the time we start taping. Having that woman constantly underfoot is not how I’d planned on spending any part of my hiatus.”

Maybe the show had been a mistake. Sure, it had sounded like fun when he’d come up with the idea, and he couldn’t pretend that all the money it brought in hadn’t come in handy. It was why he’d dreamed it up in the first place. He’d had expenses, a house to remodel, promises to keep. But just like always, what seemed too good to be true usually was. And there was always a price to pay. Now the network was looking to up the drama. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Because, right now, drama was the one thing Quinn could not afford to give them.

 

“Why don’t you let me deal with Zoe,” Trevor suggested.

 

“Dude.” Quinn stared at him. There was taking one for the team, and then there was this. “For real? You’ll babysit her for me?”

 

Trevor winced. “I wouldn’t’ve put it that way. But, yeah, why not? You’ve got enough on your plate right now. Besides, she doesn’t bother me nearly as much as she bothers the two of you.”

 

“Oh, man.” Quinn was pretty sure there was more to the story than that. There was something Trevor wasn’t saying.

 

“I never said she bothered me,” Destiny pointed out. If the suddenly suspicious expression on her face was any indication, she thought there was more to the story as well.

 

But as relief welled up inside Quinn, he decided he didn’t really care what that something was. They could deal with it later. “Thanks, man. It’s a deal. I owe you one.”

 

“I never said Zoe bothered me,” Destiny repeated.

“My mistake then,” Trevor said, brushing both Quinn’s thanks and Destiny’s protests aside with a wave of his hand and a murmured, “Don’t worry about it.”

 

Destiny looked like she wanted to argue, but just then the office door opened and their receptionist, Mia, stuck her head inside.“Hey, Quinn? Your appointment’s here.”

 

 “Appointment?” Quinn repeated blankly. “I had an appointment?” That damn conference call had wiped everything else from his mind. He better not have a tattoo scheduled that he’d forgotten about, because if he did, it was sure as hell getting rescheduled. As worked up as he was, there was no way he’d risk taking a tattoo machine to anyone’s skin right now.

 

Mia shrugged. “Jessica Dale? There’s nothing on the calendar, but she’s here looking for you. I assumed you knew about it.”

 

“Oh! Jessie’s here?” Quinn knew he was grinning, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “Great. Tell her I’ll be right out.” Happiness expanded in his chest, blotting out the tension remaining from the phone call. He didn’t understand how someone he’d seen only a handful of times, someone he barely even knew, could have that effect on him, but he was glad of it just the same. He’d rounded his desk and was halfway to the door when guilt stabbed at him.

 

He turned back and caught Trevor’s gaze. “Hey, listen. Are you sure you don’t mind about this?”

 

Trevor sighed. “Quinn, dude, how many times do you need to hear it? I’ll handle Zoe. It’ll be fine.”

 

“Who cares about Zoe? I’m talking about Jessie.” Even though Trevor had sworn he was fine with Quinn tattooing Jessie, stealing one of his clients was a crappy way for Quinn to repay him for such a solid favor.

 

Trevor shook his head. “No worries man, we’re cool. She came to me because she wanted a portrait and that’s what I do. But, even while she was in my chair she was talking about how she couldn’t wait to get one of your pretty filigree pieces. She’s a fan, I get it.”

 

“Yeah, it’s nice. But all the same, she was your client first. I hate to feel like I’m poaching.”

 

“You’re not poaching. You know I don’t count on a lot of repeat business with memorial tats. If they’re lucky, most people don’t ever need more’n a couple—which is as it should be.”

 

“But that’s silly, T. You don’t just do memorial ink.” Destiny glanced apologetically at Quinn. “I mean, I’m not saying Quinn shouldn’t tattoo the lady, if that’s what she wants, but your machines don’t magically stop working if you try and work on something other than portraits, do they?”

 

Trevor smiled at her. “No, of course not. But portraits have always been my favorite—you know that. And now that I no longer have to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills every month, thanks to the show, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Especially on my own time.”

 

He turned back to Quinn. “It’s okay. Really. This isn’t a competition, Quinn. You want to ink her, and she sure as hell wants you to, so go for it.”

Quinn nodded—feeling vindicated on several levels. “All right then, I will.” There’d been a lot of benefits that had come with the show, money, recognition, as much job security as they’d ever find in this business. But the freedom to pick and choose who and what they worked on, to only tattoo what they wanted, when they wanted—that was possibly the biggest perk of all.

 

Quinn turned again to leave when Destiny’s voice stopped him. “Quinn, wait. Before you go, I need to speak to you for a minute. It’s about the show.”

 

Now? Quinn bit back a groan. The show was probably the last thing he wanted to think about at this moment. “Can’t we talk about it later? I’ve got someone waiting on me.”

 

Destiny sighed, shoulders sagging just a little. “Yeah, okay. Later will be fine, I guess.”

 

“Great. Thanks.” Quinn flashed a relieved smile in her direction—and stomped on the guilt inducing little voice in his head that said that ‘later’ was clearly not ‘fine’ at all—as he reached for the door. “Peace, dudes.”

 

As he fled the room, he heard Trevor ask, “Des? What’s going on?” But if Destiny made any answer, Quinn missed it.