Beck – Chapter 2

Back to Chapter 1

Kole

Kole Peterson found it easier to fall asleep than he’d thought it would be, and when his alarm woke him the next morning, he stretched his arms above his head and his feet until cool air touched them before pulling them back into the covers again. He rolled to his side and stared at the light, weakly straining past the edges of the curtains.

That day, he would stand alongside the Life in Ink crew, helping to design tattoos and whatever else Ethan and Ani needed him to do. It wasn’t something he’d ever envisaged for himself, but he was excited to stretch his design muscles. It had been a long time since he’d done anything with them—college, to be exact.

His second alarm rang. He’d always been one of those people who needed at least two, sometimes three, alarms to get him moving in the morning. It wouldn’t faze Ethan or Christi if someone told them Kole had ten alarms to wake up. The main thing was that he would never be late because, despite having so many alarms, he was always on time or early.

He swung his legs out of the bed and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, his fingers tangling in the knots. Exhaling away the leftover sleepiness, he headed for the bathroom and switched the shower on while he used the toilet. Then he jumped right in, moaning at the heat of the water. He let the spray pound down on his shoulders, easing the ache from how he’d slept, and then tilted his head back to wet his hair. There was something about the feel of the water drenching his strands that loosened his muscles further. Like he was washing something away, becoming new again.

He snorted at his fanciful thoughts and squirted shampoo into his hand. As he massaged it into his hair and scalp, his thoughts drifted back to the previous night and what happened with Beck. When that guy had startled Kole, he’d only found the courage to say yes to dancing with him because Beck was there. When Beck had tried to leave him, Kole couldn’t cope, and he’d grabbed for him to stay. But after a few minutes, Beck had frozen and then pushed Kole into the guy and faced off with another one. Despite Kole’s panic, he’d seen the flash of fear in Beck’s eyes. There was no way he could’ve left him to fend for himself at that point, even though Kole was terrified about what was happening.

After that, Beck had been distant but fronting hard. Kole could relate. It was one reason he’d asked Beck about walking back to the hotel. Yes, Kole hadn’t wanted to walk back by himself, but he could see Beck was struggling. But despite that, Beck had still protected Kole in the lift. The man was a conundrum. He hadn’t believed there were still people around like that. Except for his friends, of course. Though, thinking about it, the Life in Ink crew were becoming his friends, too. He just didn’t know them as well, yet.

He finished in the shower, ignoring his hard-on, and dried off. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he strode for the chest of drawers he filled with his belongings when they’d arrived the previous day. He’d already chosen what he was going to wear, so he grabbed the briefs, skinny jeans and T-shirt, and dressed quickly. Then he took the purple shirt from the hanger and slipped it over his shoulders. It was chilly outside, but he wasn’t sure if the event would be air-conditioned like it had been the previous day. He’d prefer to wear layers he could take off if he needed to.

Someone pounded at his door, and he checked the clock. Right on time. He shoved his wallet, keys and phone into his pockets, lifted his coat from the hook and opened the door.

“Ready?” Beck said.

“Yep.” He followed Beck down the hallway while shrugging on his coat.

“Did you sleep okay?” Beck asked.

“Yes, thanks. I might just have to steal the bed and take it home,” Kole joked.

Beck laughed. “This hotel is definitely worth their weight in gold.”

The lift deposited them on the ground floor, and they met up with the rest of the crew with hugs and back slaps all around before they left the hotel for the early morning walk to the event. It was being held right around the corner from the hotel, so it wasn’t far.

Ethan dropped into step beside him, hooking his arm through Kole’s. “Did you have a good night?”

Kole understood the undercurrent of his question. “I did, and I’m fine. As I said to Beck, I might need to steal the bed. It was damn comfortable.”

Ethan chuckled. “They spare no expense when it comes to comfort.”

“I can see that. I daren’t look at the prices of the rooms. I’m scared I’ll have a heart attack.”

“Yeah, definitely don’t do that. Either of them.”

Kole studied him. “You seem unusually chipper for such an early morning.”

Ethan hit his arm. “I’m always chipper. I used to get up at an ungodly hour, remember?”

“Just because you had to doesn’t mean you were chipper.”

“Shut up!” Ethan whined. “It’s true, though. I’ve been spoilt since moving here and not having to get up that early.” He rested his head on Kole’s arm. “Do you think you’ll join me one day?”

Kole snorted, knowing Ethan had been keeping those words in for their entire conversation. “If I leave Whitby, poor Christi will be on her own.”

“She’s got Di.”

“My family is there.”

“So is mine.”

“I have a job I love.”

“You could get a similar job here or you could work with us.”

Kole sighed. “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“I try.” Ethan tightened his hold on his arm. “I just want you happy, Kole,” he murmured. “And you don’t seem particularly happy right now. I’m worried about my best friend.”

Kole rested his cheek against Ethan’s head as they walked. “I know you are. I’m okay. I’m figuring things out. But you need to let me figure them out. I’m getting there.”

Ethan went quiet, but he wouldn’t be for long. And he was right. “Okay.”

Kole glanced at him, though all he could see was his hair. “What?”

Ethan lifted his head, meeting his gaze. “Okay. I’ll back off. Just make sure you come to me if you need anything at all. I don’t want you to ever think I haven’t got your back.”

Kole pulled Ethan into a hug, wanting to cry but refraining. “I know.”

They pulled back, and Ethan’s eyes were wet but resolved. “Don’t be a stranger if your decision is Whitby.”

“I won’t. You’ll never be rid of me.”

“Good.”

“You all ready?” Dallas yelled from his lean by the door to the building where the event was being held.

“We’re coming!” Ethan yelled back.

“So is Christmas! And it’ll get here quicker if you’re not careful!”

Ethan shook his head and lifted his middle finger to Dallas, who just laughed in response. “Come on, before we’re accosted by him. I wouldn’t put it past him to throw us both over his shoulders and carry us in there.”

Kole laughed and followed Ethan to the entrance. He’d been at the venue the previous day, but it still surprised him how big the place was. The cavernous ceilings appeared to reach the sky and a football field could probably fit in the square footage. With how the organisers had laid it out, partitions divided the space evenly between the hundred tattoo companies in attendance, but only enough to show the different spaces, not to stop the flow of visitors. Kole wasn’t sure what to expect with the event, though each of them had tried to explain it. But their words had failed to encompass the enormity of the event. As he entered that vast hall, the hustle and bustle of people echoed, creating a cacophony of noise along with music that didn’t reach as far as it probably should have.

“Kole!” Ethan called. “Come on!”

Shaking himself, he headed over to their area, a space with four reclinable chairs and trolleys that would be filled with tools. Two tables stood in front, one where Ethan and Ani would speak with the clients, and the other for Kole to create the designs. He exhaled at the blank tabletop, steeling himself against the wave of nerves that had him trembling.

“You’ll be great,” Ethan said in his ear, making him jump.

“I’ve never done designs for other people before.”

“I know. But you’re great at it. I know you’re worried about letting them down, but you won’t.” Ethan kept his voice down. “If you decide you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.”

Kole swallowed. “I want to.” And he did.

Ethan squeezed his shoulders. “Okay, then. Get drawing.” He threw three pads of plain paper on the table and shoved Kole towards it.

Kole laughed. “Yes, sir.”

Grateful for the pep talk, Kole settled down on the stool he’d been given and pulled a pad closer to him. He needed a muse, something to get the ideas percolating. He studied the hall, noticing the designs on the walls, the large banners hanging from the ceiling and the decorative arches. Plenty of ideas, but he needed more. Peering around him, he observed the people, and his gaze snagged on Beck, his head thrown back as laughter bellowed from him, the lines around his eyes and mouth as they deepened, the strength in his body, the wings of the tattoo that peeked around the edges of his tank top. A dark angel.

Feeling the need to draw, Kole grabbed a pencil case from his coat pocket, something he’d stashed there the previous night after worrying he’d forget it that morning, and chose a pencil. The moment the tip touched the paper, he fell into the design. Starting with something small, he sketched angel wings in the corner and steadily continued expanding on the original until he had something he was happy with.

“Woah, I want that!”

The voice startled him, and his pencil ran off the end of the sheet. He snapped his gaze up towards a youngish woman, her eyes on his newly finished design.

“Isn’t it a bit big?” the man beside her said.

“No, it’s perfect. It’s exactly what I was trying to draw myself, but I couldn’t get it to look right.” She glanced at Kole. “Is it for sale?”

Kole’s mouth worked but nothing came out, and Ethan stepped over, leaning down. “Kole, are you willing to sell that one, or is it personal?”

Kole glanced at Ethan, blinked and exhaled, his brain finally coming back online. He cleared his throat. “Yes, that’s fine.” He handed the paper to Ethan with a smile, his stomach swooping with the idea that someone was going to be carrying his design on their body for a long time.

The woman grinned. “Thank you so much!”

Kole nodded and watched as Ethan led her over to Ani and they finalised the purchase before Ethan took her to Beck. It was both a blessing and a curse that the muse for the design was the one doing the tattoo, but it was the right choice. Beck’s flair was extensive and extravagant, and he would do it justice.

Taking a deep breath, he faced his empty drawing pad and let it out slowly. Not even a few seconds later, Ethan drew his attention by bringing another person over to him.

“Kole is one of our designers today. Would you like to explain to him what you’re thinking of and see if he can create something you like? Naturally, you don’t have to choose his design, but if you like it, we can go from there.”

“Yeah, sure,” the guy said.

“Fantastic. Let me get you a stool.” Ethan grabbed a stool from behind the tables and took it around to the other side for the client. “I’ll leave you in Kole’s capable hands.”

Kole tucked away his reservations and smiled at the guy. “So, what’s your name?”

“Andy.”

“Nice to meet you, Andy. What are you looking for?”

Andy described what he wanted, and Kole rolled with it. He erased and redrew some things a few times, but eventually, Andy was happy with the result. He took the design over to Ethan and so went the rest of the day. It was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. He took several breaks, especially when his hand cramped, but mostly, he drew to his heart’s content. And when there weren’t any clients to draw for—whether that was because they’d chosen to ask an artist themselves or because they weren’t busy—he drew what he needed to, what his soul pushed to express.

When the announcement came that the event was closing, a ripple of awareness swarmed the venue. While Joey, Beck, Dallas and Finn finished up on their last clients, Ethan and Ani closed up their table, and Kole tidied away his designs. Whether they saw the light of day again was something he’d decide later.

“What was the final figure for today?” Joey asked Ani.

Ani shared a smile with Ethan. “Twenty-nine.”

Dallas threw his hands in the air, Joey and Beck hugged, and Finn stood with a grin on his face, the most expressive Kole had ever seen him outside of the shop.

“We’re over halfway, baby!” Joey said, lifting Ethan and spinning him around.

“Put me down, you big oaf!” Ethan said, laughing, belying his words by wrapping his legs around his boyfriend’s waist.

Kole chuckled at their antics. Their need to break last year’s record was cute. He hoped they hit the mark the next day. Kole might need to ice his hand that night if he was to draw for twelve hours the following day. He also needed some sleep. He stood.

“Congrats. I’m glad you’re on track. I’m heading back to the hotel.” He gestured over his shoulder. “Same time tomorrow?”

Joey held out his hand despite still holding onto Ethan. “You were amazing, man. I appreciate you helping us out so much.”

“It’s not a problem at all. I’ve had fun.” He smiled. “I’ll see you all in the morning.”

Kole waved and headed out, torn between wanting to celebrate with them and wanting to crawl into bed and sleep for hours. As soon as the frigid January air hit his lungs, he could breathe a little easier. Why, though, he wasn’t sure. It hadn’t been stifling when he’d been working, but as soon as they’d stopped, the walls had closed in on him.

He wandered slowly down the street, lit only by streetlights, and the now-regular feeling of someone watching washed over him. He quickened his pace, his pulse pounding in his ears until he started a jog. Only a few steps away from the hotel, a hand grabbed his arm.

“Kole!”

Kole yanked his arm away, held his hands in front of him and backed into the wall.

“Kole?”

He blinked a few times, trying to understand what else the person said, but still only catching his name.

“Kole.” Indistinguishable mutterings. “Kole. Beck.”

The new piece of information slipped in, and his gaze darted over the face swimming in front of him. The dark hair, the beard, the full lips, the blue eyes staring at him with something Kole couldn’t name in them.

“Kole. It’s Beck. Breathe for me, okay? Just breathe.”

His hearing cleared, and he sank into a crouch as his surroundings came into focus. Nausea swam around in his stomach like a tsunami, his head pounded, and his entire body shook.

“It’s okay. I’m here, Kole. I’m here.”

Kole glanced up at Beck through watery eyes and launched himself forward. Beck caught him with a grunt but tightened his hold around him.

“I’m so sorry I scared you. I’m so sorry. So sorry,” Beck repeated, brushing his hand against his hair, soothing him.

Kole, being the coward that he was, hid his face in Beck’s neck, tears streaming down his face. His legs wouldn’t be able to hold him until the panic faded, so he didn’t try. When would it be over? When would he get his life back? A one-night stand, someone he never thought he’d ever see again, had attacked him, unprovoked, while he was telling his ghost stories on one of his tours. Someone he hadn’t thought about once they’d parted ways. Someone who would never be forgotten again.

How could one small thing have such a profound effect on the way he lived his life?

“I’ve got you. I’m so sorry,” Beck continued to say.

Kole heard him whisper something else and other voices, but he couldn’t get the energy to rise and run away from whoever it was. Beck had said he’d got him, and for once, Kole was going to hold someone to those words. He didn’t plan on moving for a little while, despite how cold he was getting.

“It’s okay. Take your time, Kole. I’ve got you.”

If only he could lean on someone for more than a few moments. He needed the respite, but he didn’t have a choice. He would not bother Ethan with his burden. He didn’t know the artists well enough to ask for help. Christi was busy with Di and their new business venture. His family had told him to get over it by going to therapy. He had no one. But for these few minutes, he had Beck, and he’d remember the feel of his arms around him, his strength, whenever he needed a reminder that one day, just maybe, he might be able to have that for himself.

Chapter 3 – coming soon