“Clean Slate” by Lisabet Sarai from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.

Ally is undergoing one of many laser treatments to remove a lifetime of tattoos she collected as a member of a street gang. The lengthy procedure is almost finished but also quite painful, and laser technician Luisa suggests that they stop and make the next time the final session, instead of this one, but Ally insists they keep going. She explains that she promised her fiance Richard that she would be done today. It’s his money that has paid for the treatments, and he’s impatient to witness the spectacle of her skin unmarred by brightly colored inks.

Luisa resumes her work, and soon Ally is free of her past, and free to pursue the next phase of her life. Luisa has definite ideas about what it might entail, and she makes a move Ally is receptive to…for a moment. Once it has passed she seems content to go running back to Richard. She explains this by telling Luisa that he saved her life. Luisa doesn’t dispute that, but she challenges Ally to examine her own heart and ask whether she isn’t trading one sort of gang for another, isn’t still conforming to the expectations of those she feels can protect her. She asks Ally to consider living her life as the person she truly is inside.