Beck – Chapter 1

Beck

Beck Cavanagh snorted at Dallas’s joke, his sides aching from how much they’d all laughed that night. Drink flooded their veins, and they could barely contain themselves, even with the sheer number of people in attendance who stared at them in a mix of disgust and appreciation. They didn’t care, though. Their little corner of the world was perfect, even if Beck said so himself. They were all in fine form, even those of them who had recently been added to their tight-knit group, as they chilled out before the Bonser Tattooing event the next day.

His gaze transferred to their surroundings, seeing if he could find anyone remotely interesting beneath the multicoloured strobe lighting to spend a few hours with. He passed over several men, no one jumping out at him. He could do with letting off a little steam, but his skin pebbled as he thought of what it would entail.

Instead, he focused on his friends, new and old.

“How many do you think we’ll get done this year? Will we beat last year’s?” Dallas asked.

Dallas was a surf dude, through and through. Well, he would’ve been if he actually surfed. He had the look, though. Beck wondered if he would have the balance to stay on a surfboard with how big he was. They all called him a giant because he was six foot six inches of pure muscle and tattoos, but Dallas was…conflicted, from what Beck could figure out. Despite being as close as brothers, Dallas liked his privacy, but he spent many nights looking for something in someone. Beck hoped he’d find it soon.

“We pushed it last year,” Finn said. “I think we’ll end up doing less or break even.”

Finn, on the other hand, was more than happy alone. Beck could only describe him as a free spirit, but he’d been with Life in Ink for years and showed no signs of leaving. If he ever did, they’d all be devastated, but they’d support him in whatever he chose to do. Finn was the quietest of them all, but when he spoke, they all listened.

“We have more help this year, though. If you think about it, with Ethan helping with the organisation and Kole helping with the designs, we’ll be concentrating on tattooing on its own. I bet we’ll manage more.”

Joey, who was the owner of Life in Ink, sat across from him, his arm around his boyfriend, Ethan. They hadn’t been together for long, but they were, without a doubt to anyone who saw them, made for each other. Beck had always thought he didn’t believe in love, but seeing them together had made him reconsider recently. Not enough to go looking for it himself, but to appreciate what Joey and Ethan had.

And with Ethan came his friends, Kole and Christi. Christi and her girlfriend, Di, didn’t visit as much as Kole did. Kole was spending more and more time in London as opposed to where he lived in Whitby, and Beck didn’t mind it one bit. The man was a genius when it came to art and design, and with Ethan’s wily words, he’d persuaded Kole to help them out at the event the next day. If they didn’t get more business from Kole’s artistic flair than they ever had, he’d eat his motorcycle.

The only person who was missing from their crew was Ani, the manager. They’d all spent the afternoon getting their area ready for the weekend’s event, but she’d ended up with a migraine and wanted it gone before the busy following days, so she’d stayed at the hotel and gone to sleep. Beck would’ve been happy to stay with her to make sure she was okay, but she’d insisted they all head out and have fun because they’d be too exhausted to do so the next day—which was likely to be true.

“What do you think, Beck?” Dallas asked, dragging Beck from his musings.

Beck grabbed his beer, pursing his lips as he considered their situation now compared to last year. “I think Joey has it right. We have extra help. We’ll smash it.” He put his fist into the centre of the table and the four of them fist-bumped. Kole snorted at his side, and Beck glanced at him, shoving him with his shoulder. “What’s got you so amused?”

“Does it really matter how many you get?” Kole asked, but the twinkle in his eyes belied his innocent question.

“You know it. Why not have a goal in mind? It makes hands work quicker.” Beck winked at him and drained his beer. “Hey, do you wanna dance?”

Kole stared at the dance floor, his fingertips immediately heading for his mouth, a tell Beck had figured out meant he was uncertain. They had all been told what had happened to Kole a few months prior, and they’d all vowed to make him feel safe again.

“Just you and me against the music. No one else,” Beck said into his ear. He pulled back and met his gaze.

Kole nodded once. “Sure.”

“We’ll be back,” Beck told the table and grabbed Kole’s hand, dragging him towards the mass of writhing bodies. “We’ll stay to the edge. That way, we can hightail it if someone tries something we want to escape.”

It wasn’t just for Kole’s benefit, either. Beck didn’t mind his friends touching him, and he often initiated touch himself, but he couldn’t stand it when someone stood at his back or danced behind him or touched him without warning. He was fine if someone was in front of him because he could see what they were doing, which was where he put Kole.

“Is this okay?” he asked over the music.

Kole nodded and started moving to the music, a small smile playing on his lips. Beck copied his moves, their hips swaying, their arms rising and lowering, their heads bobbing in time with the beat. A guy moved in behind Kole, grabbing his hips, and Kole jerked forward and spun around to face him. The guy raised his hands and said something Beck didn’t catch. Beck kept his hands loosely on Kole’s arms as the guy raised his eyebrows and Kole nodded. The guy started dancing in front of Kole, and Kole found the beat again. When Beck stepped back to give him room, Kole’s hand gripped the one that was still on his arm and shook his head. Beck stayed where he was, moving in time with Kole, their bodies a bit closer than they usually would be, but if that was what Kole needed to allow a stranger to dance with him, then so be it.

Their little bubble burst when someone squeezed Beck’s ass and pushed in against his back. Beck froze, his heart pounding as if he’d run a mile in ten seconds, and his mind went offline. But it only happened for a second, and then he shoved himself away, knocking Kole from in front of him as well, and faced the newcomer.

“What the fuck?” Beck said. “Did it look like I was giving you permission to touch me?”

The stranger grinned and backed off, shaking his head and disappearing into the crowd. Beck’s heart continued its sprint, and his gaze studied everyone around him, looking for a threat. A hand rested on his arm, and he jumped a mile, dislodging the hand before he found Kole, frowning at him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, not reaching for him again, and Beck nodded, trying to find the easygoing smile he always had available.

“Yeah, I just wasn’t… he made me jump.” It was the worst excuse on the planet, but what else could he say? No one knew the truth, and if he had his way, they never would. “Let’s get another drink, yeah?”

He headed towards the bar, but he kept an eye on Kole to make sure, first, that he was following, and second, that no one messed with him. Ethan’s best friend was good-looking in an “I don’t care” fashion. His dark hair was always mussed, reminding Beck of when someone had just taken off a motorcycle helmet. But it was his eyes that always got to Beck. Those deep chestnut-coloured orbs made it seem like he could see everything everyone wasn’t saying, and he didn’t need that kind of attention at that moment.

“Beer?” he asked Kole when they reached the bar.

“Sure. Do you want me to ask if anyone else wants one?”

Beck shook his head. “I’ll get them all one, anyway. If someone doesn’t want one, I’m sure Dallas will have it.” He grinned, finally finding some semblance of control. He hated it when he lost it like that.

Kole snorted. “I’m sure he will.”

While they waited for the bartender to fill their order, Beck asked, “I can’t remember what you said earlier. Are you heading straight back to Whitby after the event finishes on Sunday, or are you staying longer?”

Joey and Ethan had been trying to persuade Kole to move down to London for weeks, but Kole was resistant for some reason. Joey was ready to give Kole a job in the shop as soon as he said yes, and Beck could see him fitting in well. He wasn’t a tattoo artist, but his designs would make a tremendous impact on them, both as artists and as a business.

“I haven’t decided yet. I’m staying until Monday at least because I don’t fancy driving all that way after a long sojourn here, but further than that, I’ve not decided.” He held up his hand. “I know you all want me here, but it’s a big decision. I don’t have what Ethan has, and it makes it more difficult.”

“I can imagine it does with having family up there. You’d miss them.”

Kole nodded, his mouth curving gently. “I will.”

Beck didn’t mention that slip. The present tense of the word instead of the possibility. Maybe he’d already decided, yet he was worried about taking that step. Beck didn’t bring it to light, and instead, focused on carrying the tray the bartender had given him for all the drinks.

“Come on. Let’s water the rabble.” He grinned and followed Kole as he led the way, clearing a path so Beck didn’t get the tray knocked from his hands.

“Ah, I wondered where you two had gone,” Ethan said when Kole slipped into the booth and Beck followed, placing the tray down. “And now I know.”

“You know me. Dancing always makes me thirsty,” Kole said, and Beck glanced at him for the excuse. Kole didn’t meet his gaze and passed him a drink instead.

“I can’t stay much longer, Joey,” Ethan said with a yawn. “Otherwise, I won’t be any good to anyone tomorrow.”

Joey dropped a kiss on his lips. “We’ll head back after this one.” He transferred his gaze to Beck, his eyes narrowing as he studied him. Beck refused to squirm under the scrutiny and raised his eyebrows.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

Joey leaned forward, resting his arms on the table, and gave Beck his no-nonsense look. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Beck crossed his arms over his chest and leaned them on the table, too. “I’m fine. Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“Stop changing the subject.”

“I didn’t realise we were on a subject.” Beck gave his trademark grin, but Joey didn’t soften, and Beck’s front was crumbling. “I’m doing good. I’m looking forward to the event.”

Joey stared at him for a long moment and then nodded slowly. “Yeah, me, too,” he said, seeming to let his previous worries go. At least for now. He’d circle around to them again at some point. Maybe not that night, but at some point soon, Joey would get him to spill his guts—well, what he thought was Beck’s guts. Beck’s stomach churned at the thought. All the people around him believed he’d been completely honest with them about his past, but other than telling them he’d been in foster care and some of the awesome stories that had happened along the way, there was a huge part of that time he refused to tell anyone.

No one needed to be burdened with those memories except for him.

They spoke about the event again, none of their minds far from it, and then Joey slipped his arm around Ethan and tugged the sleepy man from the booth. Saying goodbye, he watched them until they disappeared and then focused on his beer. He peeled the label off the front and tried breathing through the need to fly out of the bar and straight into a scalding shower.

“Hey, do you want to stay any longer?” Kole asked from beside him.

Beck glanced at him, noticing his lifted chin, and shook his head. Ethan had shared something with the Life in Ink crew about Kole that the man probably wouldn’t want known, but it helped them know how he was feeling. Whenever Kole lifted his chin, he was embarrassed about something, and Beck hated seeing that.

“I’m getting tired now,” he said, though it was a lie. He doubted he’d sleep anytime soon.

Kole gave a small smile. “Fancy taking a walk back to the hotel with me?”

Beck didn’t read it as a come-on at all, but he understood what Kole wasn’t saying—he wanted company for the journey somewhere he’d never been before, and after the physical assault he experienced, Beck wasn’t surprised.

“Sure.” He focused on Dallas. “Yo, Dallas! We’re heading back. Make sure you get at least a few hours of sleep. Please.” He stared at him, Dallas’s eyes bleary and pupil-blown, but the man nodded. Slightly appeased because he knew how much alcohol Dallas could drink and still be coherent, he nodded back and followed Kole towards the exit.

The cool night air reminded him he’d left his jacket at the hotel, but he shoved his hands into his pockets and lifted his shoulders to his ears as if that would help warm him. “Fuck, it’s cold.”

Kole snorted. “Where’s your jacket?”

“I left it at the hotel when we ran out earlier.”

“Are you part polar bear? Jeez.”

Beck chuckled. “I wish.” He shivered and sped up when Kole did. “Did you enjoy tonight?”

Kole nodded. “I did.” He glanced at him and then forward again. “Thank you for the dance.”

“You’re welcome. I’m always happy to dance.”

“Not always,” Kole murmured, acknowledging the event Beck had wanted to ignore.

He didn’t reply, not sure what he would say if he opened his mouth with everything being so close to the surface as it was. Kole stepped in front of him just before they went through the front door of the hotel, and Beck stopped, meeting his gaze.

“You don’t need to tell me anything, but I wanted to say…if there is something you want to get off your chest, you can talk to me. I’m a good listener. Though you might already have someone, so if you do, you can ignore this. I was just wanting to let you know that I’m…here…if you need it.” He inhaled, having evidently run out of air from that monologue.

And despite Beck’s stomach churning at the idea of sharing that which he’d never shared with anyone, he found a smile. “Have you replenished your oxygen levels now?” he teased instead of answering.

Kole rubbed his face and sighed. “Yes, thanks.”

Beck shivered again, his teeth setting a record for how loud they could be when they chattered, and he gestured to the door. “Can we get inside now?”

Kole cursed and pushed through the door to the hotel, holding it open for him, and Beck groaned as heat enveloped him, chasing away the frigid January air.

“Not a polar bear, then.” Kole snorted, heading for the lifts, and Beck followed, studying the recent addition to their crew in the mirrored doors as they waited. Kole stood straight, his eyes lowered to the floor, but his head kept tilting whenever there was a noise behind them and his throat bobbed.

When the doors finally opened, Kole scooted across the threshold faster than a rabbit being chased by a fox, and Beck stepped in front of him, allowing him to stay behind him if he needed it, and pressed the button to close the doors. Someone yelled for them to hold the lift, but Beck didn’t.

Kole chuckled behind him. “That wasn’t kind.”

“I thought I was being extra kind. We don’t need to share.” He leaned back against the handrail and crossed his arms over his chest, keeping his attention on the floor instead of the man beside him.

“I still struggle some days,” Kole said after a long silence, and Beck peered across at him. Kole stared at the numbers on the display, increasing with each floor they hit. “I hate it,” he murmured. “I hate that he’s changed who I am.” Kole blinked, glanced at Beck and then to the floor. “Sorry.” He huffed a small laugh.

The lift dinged, and the doors opened. They were in rooms next to each other, and Beck stopped beside Kole’s as he fumbled in his pocket for the key. Beck wanted to say something to acknowledge what he’d said, but he wasn’t sure what.

“Thanks for the company,” Kole said with a smile when he opened his hotel room door. “I appreciate it.” He stepped inside, but before he shut the door, Beck found his voice.

“You’re still you. You’re just a shaky version of yourself at the moment. You’ll find your balance again soon.” Beck nodded and turned away, unable to believe the words coming from his mouth.

He clicked open his door and paused when Kole called his name. Glancing down the corridor, Kole’s head and shoulder peered around the door frame.

“And you’re still you. Whatever happened, you’re still you.”

Kole disappeared, and Beck entered his room, closing the door softly behind him. And as he sank to the floor and dropped his head into his hands, he considered Kole’s words.

Having his childhood ripped away from him had left little time to figure out who he was. He’d learnt to get by, to withstand, to survive.

He had no idea who Beck Cavanagh really was.

Continue to chapter 2