Ryan walked down the street in downtown Wichita, his messenger bag slung over his shoulder. He'd just come from a meeting with one of the local galleries, and he supposed it had been a successful meeting. They wanted him to do a whole show in their gallery, which meant that the photography world still had faith in him after months and months of no aesthetic work. The downside was just that - he just woke up uninspired one day and was still waiting for something brilliant to come to him. Sure, he'd been able to pump out more than enough wedding business to make ends meet and then plenty more. He saved up enough to buy Kayla the engagement ring she wanted, and her ecstatic reaction to his proposal at dinner a few nights earlier was more than he could've hoped it would be. With a new fiancée and this gallery show, he should have felt like he was on top of the world.
But he couldn't deny the fact that there was a strong possibility that he would fail the gallery if inspiration didn't hit him soon. He remembered the days back in high school when he started photography classes his sophomore year as an elective because it was supposed to be easy. It turned out he had a natural talent behind the camera and being in the darkroom was calming. He continued on to a level two class his junior year, then completed a studio class for his senior portfolio. He earned himself a full ride to one of the best art universities in California after completing his four years there, he returned home and opened Ryan Ellis Photography.
Trying to figure out where things had gone wrong in the last three years and cause him to lose his muse, he walked right past the parking lot where his car was parked and continued down to Johnny's Tattoos. Johnny Gordon was one of his childhood friends; they had lived across the street from each other until middle school, and then sort of lost touch after that, going to different schools and all. Ryan had actually met Johnny's little sister Saida first, but about a year before the Gordons moved away, she had been sent to some boarding school and he hadn't seen her since. Johnny didn't ever want to talk about Saida or the reason she'd been sent away, so Ryan had never pushed the issue. He stopped in to see Johnny every now and then since he'd discovered the shop when he first moved back home.
Johnny's tattoo gun was buzzing in the new addition that was now the back of the shop. The front of the shop Johnny had remodeled into a reception area and one wall partitioned off his work area. The shop's piercer, Shawn, also had his own work area now. Ryan sauntered to the back, leaning on the half-wall that served as a barrier between the work area and the waiting area. Johnny wiped some excess ink off of his customer's shoulder. He looked up and saw Ryan and gave him a head nod.
"Hey Ryan. What's up, buddy?" Johnny asked, putting his needle back to the guy's shoulder.
"Not a lot. Just came from the gallery."
Johnny dipped the gun for more ink and raised an eyebrow. "Come back here and take a seat. I'll be finished with this piece in about thirty minutes. Chris didn't have any appointments today and we're slow so he took the day off. You can sit in his chair."
"Thanks." Ryan dropped his messenger bag next to the chair and reclined back, trying to relax. His head was swimming with ideas for the gallery show, but nothing amazing would come to him. Johnny finished the tattoo he was working on twenty minutes later, took the customers payment and sent him on his way. He returned to the work area and sat back in the other tattoo chair.
"All right, man. Lay it on me."
Ryan shook his head. "I don't know, John. I got that show with the gallery, but it's been a long time since I've put out any aesthetic work."
"You've had some pretty artistic wedding shoots," Johnny offered.
"Yeah, but I can't put that in a show. The gallery would think I was trying to be funny and failing miserably."
"How long till the show?"
"Something will come to you," Johnny assured him. "You're a genius behind the camera."
"Thanks. I guess we'll see how things go."
Johnny took that as a cue that particular part of the conversation was over. "Did you pop the question to Kayla yet?"
"Yeah, the other night when I took her to dinner. She was thrilled."
Johnny snorted and replied, sarcastically, "You seem like you are, too."
Ryan leaned forward and rubbed his temples. "Kayla's a great girl, and I love her a lot. I'm just in a weird place right now. When I was going to school in California, I just dreamed of different things. My life is just so stereotypically small town right now."
The bell over the front door rang and Johnny got up to see who it was. He clapped Ryan on the back; Ryan got up and slung his bag over his shoulder again. Two very young looking girls were standing at the front, and Ryan stood back while Johnny talked to her.
"Can I help you?"
"Yeah, I'm wanting to get my tongue pierced, and see about getting a tattoo done," one of them replied.
"Are you eighteen?"
The girl nodded. "Just turned."
"All right. Fill out this paper and let me see your ID. My piercer guy won't be in for about an hour, but I can take a look at what design you want and might be able to fit you in today, since we're pretty slow."
The girl took the clipboard and pen from him and sat down with her friend to fill it out. Ryan continued to wait while Johnny took her information, then sent her and her friend to the back to look over some design books he had before they got started.
"That girl doesn't have the maturity to pick out something she's not going to regret in a year. This ought to be fun. You ever think about getting any ink done?" Johnny asked Ryan.
"I've thought about, but couldn't ever settle on anything."
"Think about it. You come up with something middle-sized and I'll do it for free. You want something bigger, I'll cut you a good deal on it. Kayla too."
"I don't think Kayla will be getting tattoos anytime soon. She's deathly afraid of needles. I'll keep that offer in mind though." His eye wandered to the two salon chairs in front of mirrors he'd noticed behind the counter, on the opposite side of the reception desk. "Hey John, what's that about?"
"Oh, those," Johnny smiled. "I did the numbers and found out that I could get some good money with a hair place in here, too."
"Yeah? Who's coming in to work for you?"
Johnny grinned. "That, my friend, is a surprise."
Ryan nodded. "All right then. I'll see you around, man."
"See ya around."
Kayla was waiting for him at his apartment, a stack of bridal magazines on the coffee table in front of her. It was days like this, when he just wanted to sit with a glass of whiskey and soda and collect his thoughts, that made him regret giving her a key. He put on what he could manage of a smile and greeted her with a kiss. She pulled him right down onto the couch and began excitedly flipping through the magazines. Ever the organized one, Kayla had a post-it on the front of each cover that listed what she liked in the magazine and had then flagged the items on the respective pages.
Kayla's family had moved into the Gordons house the summer after they left. Ryan noticed her a few times but didn't think anything of it until she and her mother knocked on their door the day before eighth grade started and worked out a carpooling routine. They didn't start dating until the end of sophomore year, and when they both went to out of state colleges, they agreed to an open relationship. Ryan had been too focused on his photography to turn any attentions on other girls except for the occasional party date. Kayla had dated a couple of other guys, but swore that it had never gone further than kissing. Ryan believed her; Kayla had been raised in a very proper home, so sleeping with more than one man was beyond her thinking. She and Ryan had dated for two years before she gave in to temptation and let him take her virginity. Once they both came back from school, they resumed an exclusive relationship and it had been that way ever since. Ryan sometimes thought that his current restlessness stemmed from how routine and predictable everything had become; maybe if he could just have something out of the ordinary happen then he would be out of this rut.
"Ryan? Sweetie, are you listening?" Kayla asked, snapping Ryan out of his thought pattern. He looked down at her pretty green eyes framed by her angelic golden brown hair and his heart tinged with guilt.
"Sorry, doll. I guess I spaced out. You want to get some take out for dinner?" Ryan got up to fish the stack of takeout menus from the drawer in the kitchen and returned to the couch. "What sounds good?"
Kayla rolled her eyes and tossed the magazine in her hands back to the stack on the coffee table. "I don't care."
"What's wrong, Kay?" Ryan put the menus in his lap and turned his attentions to her.
"Are you going to be this way through the whole panning process?" she asked. "I mean, I know wedding planning isn't at the top of any guy's priority list really, but for the five minutes I did get in to talk about it, you weren't even paying attention."
Ryan hugged her to him. "I'm sorry. No, it won't be this way the whole time, I promise. I'm just a little distracted today. We just got engaged a few days ago - we have plenty of time to talk about these things. Let's just enjoy being engaged for a couple of weeks, okay?"
Kayla nodded and lifted her head to kiss him. "How did it go at the gallery today?" She took the menus from his lap and began to shuffle through them.
"That's part of what has me so distracted. They want a whole show in three months."
"Ryan, that's fantastic!" Kayla got up off the couch and threw her arms around his neck. "I'm so proud of you."
"Thanks. If inspiration doesn't start hitting me soon though, I'll have to ask them to move it up - which is definitely not the professional thing to do."
Kayla moved her hands to his chest and kissed him again before resuming her perusal through the menus. "You're a photographic genius, sweetie. You'll figure it out. How about Italian? The usual?"
She picked up her phone and called in the order before he could answer. Her easy dismissal of his worries over the gallery show and more of the usual made him tense all over again. He needed some time in the darkroom soon or he was going to have a nervous breakdown. He got up and went to the kitchen, filled a small glass with ice and poured a fair amount of whiskey over the cubes. He filled the rest of the glass with soda and took a long drink, finishing half of it in one swig. Kayla came into the kitchen from making the food order and frowned.
Ryan shrugged. "Just one to help me relax a little, Kay. Don't freak out. How long till the food's ready?"
"About thirty minutes."
"Why don't you show me that magazine again before we go?"
His offer seemed to make her brighten a little and even though she insisted on driving on the way to get their food, it seemed he had made it up to her for being distracted. They returned to his apartment and ate in front of the television, watching a movie while they ate.
"So, I think I'm going to have Lauren as my maid of honor, of course. Then I think I'll ask my sister, your sister, and Michelle to be my bridesmaids. Have you thought about who you're going to ask yet?"
Ryan shrugged. "Probably my cousin Justin. Maybe Kyle and Matt."
"What about your best man?"
"I was thinking I might ask Johnny, actually."
"But you rarely even hang out with Johnny, and he kind of clashes with the other guys you mentioned."
"He's the oldest friend I've got. And what do you mean he clashes? Johnny's the most laid back person I know. He'll get along just fine with the other guys."
"All right, if that's what you want. I don't know how Daddy will feel about someone with ... That kind of lifestyle being in the wedding."
"Someone woke up on the snotty side of the bed this morning," Ryan snorted. "Johnny's a good man. He's not an alcoholic and he's not a druggie. He lives in the same neighborhood as your sister, actually."
Kayla picked up their plates and headed to the kitchen to place them in the sink. Ryan followed her.
"Look, sweetie, if you want Johnny in the wedding, that's fine. I'm just trying to give you fair warning of how my father might take it."
"You've never met him," Ryan reminded her.
Kayla dried her hands on a dish towel and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Let's not argue anymore tonight, okay? I don't want to be one of those couples who are blissfully happy until they get engaged and then everything falls apart."
"All right, fair enough," Ryan agreed, kissing her forehead.
"I have an early meeting at the bank in the morning, so I'm going to head home and shower. I'll call you before I go to sleep."
Ryan helped her gather her things, promising to make a couple decisions on the things she had marked in the magazines and would now be taking up permanent residence on his coffee table. She kissed him goodbye and told him she loved him before whisking out the front door. He sealed up the leftovers and stored them away for later, knowing he was looking forward to a relatively sleepless night.
"I didn't think I'd see you so soon," Johnny told Ryan when he went back to the tattoo parlor the next day. Ryan pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket and laid it on the counter.
"I couldn't sleep last night, and I got to thinking about that tattoo. I sketched some stuff out, and this is what I came up with. I don't have my heart set on this design, but something like this."
Johnny looked it over and nodded. "This is killer, man. I think there's a couple things I'd suggest, just to tighten it up, but the design is definitely unique. Do you know where you want it?"
"I think on my back, kind of wrapping around to my shoulder."
"That would definitely be awesome," Johnny agreed. "Let me make a copy of this and sketch out a couple things and we'll get it going, all right? You sure Kayla's okay with this?"
Ryan groaned. "I haven't talked to her about it, but I probably should, I guess. I have another question for you though."
"Yeah man, what's up?"
"I want you to be my best man, John. You're the oldest, most loyal friend I've got and if I had to have just one person up there, I'd still ask you."
Johnny's face lit up. "Hell yeah, I'll be your best man. You don't even have to ask."
The men bumped fists and then went back to Ryan's tattoo design. Johnny started working on the design right with Ryan there until his next appointment came in, and he had to work.
"You mind if I stick around, John? I've got the camera in the car and I think I have an idea for this gallery show."
"Yeah, sure. As long as it's okay with the customer, you're welcome to snap whatever you want."
Ryan felt like inspiration was coming back to him all at once. He quickly gathered both his 35mm and digital camera and returned to the work area. He brought along the stack of waiver forms he brought with him wherever he went, just in case, and for the rest of the night, all of Johnny's, and some of Chris's, customer's agreed to allow him to shoot them getting their tattoos, and then to take pictures of the finished product. A few of the customers who had gotten larger pieces or more interesting pieces, he gave them a card to call him when the tattoo was healed so that he could do some studio shots. Things were starting to look up, and he couldn't wait to get into the darkroom and start printing.
"Thanks so much. You have no idea how helpful this was." Ryan shook hands with Johnny at the end of the day, feeling a huge weight off of his shoulders. There were so many ideas flowing through his brain, he was afraid he would lose them all if he didn't get some work done soon.
"No problem at all. Hey, the wife and I are having a little barbecue two Sundays from now for Britton's second birthday. Why don't you bring Kayla out to the house and celebrate with us?"
"Britton is already two? It's been too long since I've seen her or Sophie. I'll definitely be there, and I'll make sure I get Kayla to go with me."
"Great. I'll see you in a couple days."
They bumped fists and shared a man-hug before Ryan left. He couldn't wait to get home and tell Kayla about his day.
A/N: I'm so looking forward to writing this story I couldn't wait to post it and start getting some feedback. I'm going to finish FLC before I post the next chapter, that way I'm not getting ahead of myself with too many stories going on at once. Enjoy!