Beck – Chapter 5

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Beck had tried to drown the “what-ifs” from his head by searching for someone to share his bed, but whenever he found someone, it was never their eyes that gazed back at him. And each time, he found an excuse to end the night early. His frustration built, but it didn’t matter how many times he told his reflection that he couldn’t have Kole, his brain—and his dick—didn’t listen. Luckily, it hadn’t bled into his work, and because of that, he found himself working longer hours in the two months since the Bonser event.

The following morning, he had to stay at the shop as it was his turn. He’d not long been back from a trip to Amsterdam to tattoo Sem van der Berg, a top male model, while he was home. The city was a beautiful place, but Beck loved his home city much more, despite London having the reputation of being dirty, packed like sardines and never sleeping.

He stared at his TV screen as the images flashed across it, words spoken that never registered with him. What he wanted was to sleep, but that was difficult when his own screams woke him repeatedly through the darkened hours. His body was sluggish, and he laid down, shoving a cushion beneath his head and tucking his feet under another. Blinking several times to remove the gritty feeling, he relaxed as much as possible, hoping sleep would come.

Beck ran through the forest, laughing as his foster brother and sisters chased him. He jumped over a log, rounded a tree and crashed into something—someone. Falling to his ass, Beck growled up at Drake.

“Drake! Watch where you’re going!”

He clambered to his feet and brushed his trousers off, groaning when Allan, Rebecca and Sarah caught up. Beck threw his hands in the air.

“That’s not fair!”

Drake stepped closer, gripping his shoulder in a tight hand. “I’ll make it up to you tonight.”

Beck shivered at the promise in the other boy’s eyes. Drake was two years older than his eleven years, and he didn’t like him one bit. He often pretended to be nice and kind and helpful, but when their foster parents weren’t looking, he could be mean and hurtful—with his words and his hands. Beck had learnt many things during his years in the foster system, and being beholden to someone was never good.

“Don’t bother,” Beck said, shrugging him off. He turned to the others, pointing at Sarah. “Your turn.”

Sarah shouted and pumped her hands in the air and set off through the trees. Beck, Allan and Rebecca counted to ten. Allan and Rebecca set after her first, Beck giving them a headstart because they were younger than he was. But before he could join them in the hunt, Drake shoved him against a tree face first, covering his back with his body.

“You know something, Beck? You should be a little kinder to the person who shares a room with you.”

Drake pushed against him, shoving Beck’s groin against the tree and causing him to whimper as pain streaked through him.

“Let me go, Drake!”

He tried to push away, but Drake forced him back again.

“Be kind, Beck. You never know what you’ll end up getting.”

Drake disappeared, and Beck pushed off the tree, brushing himself down again. He glared at Drake’s retreating back and sighed. Maybe he’d go to bed early so he was asleep by the time Drake came into the bedroom. Maybe then he’d leave him alone.

Laughter reached his ears, and he shook his head, sprinting off in the direction of the foster siblings he actually liked.

Beck startled awake, but it only took seconds for him to reorient himself. Waking up on the sofa was a regular occurrence, as was the sweat coating his skin. He breathed deeply before pushing to sit upright. His head spun a little, but he closed his eyes and waited until it passed. Once it had, he headed for the kitchen; coffee was calling his name. While he waited for the kettle, he stared out of the window into the early morning light, watching the commuters drive past his flat.

It wasn’t a luxurious place to live, but it was his, and he couldn’t be happier with it. His flat was above an estate agent’s and had two floors. The first floor had a living room, kitchen and bedroom, and the top floor had two small bedrooms. He rarely used the top floor, except for storage, but it was handy if anyone needed to stay over. Not that anyone did.

The noise from the road wasn’t as loud as he’d found it to be in other locations, so that was a bonus, but it sometimes got worse whenever there was an event going on at the bar or club down the road. But as he didn’t sleep much, it wasn’t a huge issue. Sometimes, he even went to join them.

The kettle clicked off, and he poured the hot water into the mug, the scent of coffee rising into the air. Despite being extremely hot, he wrapped his hands around it and stared out of the window some more. He had plenty of time before he had to be at work, but he would be there far too early, anyway. What else did he have to do? Between pining after Kole and nightmares about his past, he didn’t have much taking up his time. Tattooing was the best release he ever had.

Once he finished that coffee, he made another and headed for the shower, finally washing off the nightmare he’d experienced. He didn’t feel much about them anymore; they were just…there. If he didn’t dwell on them, he was fine. But sometimes, nausea and headaches accompanied them. By the time he was dressed, that coffee was making its way through his body. He made one more for the road, which should give him enough energy to keep him awake for several hours, especially with more caffeine throughout the day. No one would be the wiser.

The radio kept him company on the thirty-minute drive to Life in Ink, and despite getting caught at every possible traffic light he could, he still made good time. He unlocked the door, switched off the alarm and locked the door behind him. He still had over an hour before he needed to open the doors to the public, so he dragged his ass up the stairs to his studio, flicking lights on as he went.

Immediately, he turned on some music, nodding his head when Bon Jovi started playing. No one could ever go wrong with Bon Jovi. Going through his usual routine, he set his studio up, pausing only when he received a message from Joey through the group chat.

JOEY: We have some amazing news!

He waited, but nothing else came through, so he typed:

BECK: You’re pregnant! Congrats!

JOEY: Close, but not quite.

He knew sarcasm when he read it. He waited again, but still nothing. Sighing, he sent another guess.

BECK: You’re emigrating to Australia?

JOEY: A little bit closer.

BECK: You’re eloping?

JOEY: Your guesses suck. Anyone else?

DALLAS: You’re pregnant?

DALLAS: Shit, Beck already did that one.

DALLAS: You’re marrying a prince?

JOEY: I’ve found my prince, Dallas. Don’t need another.

BECK: You’re closing up shop.

JOEY: What a traitorous thought! No way!

DALLAS: You’ve found someone to pay off your huge gambling debt from our visit to Vegas three years ago?

JOEY: I didn’t have a debt! Asshole!

JOEY: If anyone did, it was you.

DALLAS: Get real. I won plenty.

BECK: Ethan has decided to dump your ass because he realised I’m a much better catch?

JOEY: In your dreams.

ETHAN: I didn’t know you cared so much, Beck.

BECK: You’re a prince, so Joey says. I think I deserve a prince.

ETHAN: You truly do, and you’ll find one.

FINN: You’ve finally persuaded Kole to come and work with us?

The conversation stalled for a moment, no responses at all, and then Joey started typing.

JOEY: How the fuck…?

JOEY: Yes. Kole is coming to work for us.

Beck’s breath caught in his throat as he stared at the words, questions tumbling through his head in no particular order. When? Why? How? Where? When? He licked his lips, needing to ask the question, but not wanting to appear too keen. Luckily, though, Dallas beat him to it.

DALLAS: Yes! When is he starting?

The doorbell of the shop rang, and Beck glanced at the time, cursing when he realised it was time to open up. He shoved the phone into his pocket, even though he needed to know the answer like he needed to breathe. The doorbell sounded again, and he jogged down the stairs and to the door.

“Hold up!” he called, unlocking the door and flipping the sign to “open.” “Sorry about that. I was…”

He trailed off when he was met with a familiar face. He didn’t need to know the answer. He was staring at it—him.

“Hey. Joey said it was okay to drop in today. To see how things worked. Is that…okay?” Kole asked, still standing on the threshold.

Beck blinked. “Yes, of course!” He stepped back. “Come on in. I’ve only just been told the good news, but I wasn’t told when you were starting.” He closed the door and focused on opening the blinds. Inhaling, he faced the man who had made him want to fall asleep because he saw him in his dreams—when his brain let go of the nightmares, that was.

Kole winced. “Sorry about that. I hadn’t realised they were keeping it a secret.”

Beck waved him away, even as his stomach flooded with butterflies at being so close to the guy again. “It’s all good. It was a good surprise, that’s all.” He rounded the desk to see the calendar. Nothing said anything about where Kole would be working from. “I’m not sure where you’re going to be, but I’m sure you could use Dallas’s studio today. He’s on his travels today.”

Kole shook his head. “I’m good just sitting in one of these chairs and doing my thing. I doubt I’ll have many people wanting me to do something for them.”

Beck smiled. “You will. As soon as word spreads that you’re working for us, that you were the one at the Bonser event, people will start flocking. I know it.”

Kole licked his lips and lifted his chin, though Beck could see the uncertainty in him. “I don’t know about that, but thank you for saying it.”

“Do you want a tour, or have they done that already? Wait. Where are you staying?”

“Joey found me a small flat not too far away. It works for now, but maybe I’ll find something else, eventually. I don’t think it’s my forever home.”

Beck nodded. “I can understand that. There are so many places, good and bad, in London that it may take a little while for you to find something you like.”

“Same everywhere then.” Kole grinned and put his bag on the counter. “I’ll just sit here and wait until Joey or Ethan are around.”

Beck didn’t want him to feel unwelcome or unsure, so he settled on giving him a task. “How about you draw some designs for us to put on the wall? Like these.” He moved to the designs covering the walls. “Each of us has designs on there that people can choose from or they can request something from the designer of their choice. Or bring something in themselves. Either way, if you get some drawings done, something with your flair on it, we can put them up and see what happens. I bet you’ll get more work than you think you will.”

He could see Kole wasn’t convinced, but he nodded. “I’ll start scribbling.” Settling into a chair in the waiting room, Kole pulled his things from his bag, laying them on his lap. He opened a regular artist’s pad, chose a pencil and tapped it against his lip as he stared at the blank page. Beck knew all this because he watched. He couldn’t help himself. He took in the way he held his pencil. The way he scraped his teeth across his lower lip while his hand brushed across the page. The way he tilted his head when he paused to study what he’d already created.

Beck only stopped when the bell rang to signal someone had opened the door. Blinking and shaking his head, he focused on the newcomer, and stood, smiling.

“Leyton! How’re things? Not seen you in a while.”

Leyton was a huge mofo, originally from Nigeria, and he had a huge array of tattoos over his entire body. There wasn’t much space left for big designs, but smaller intricate ones would work in the spaces left. Beck had thought the man had been messing with him when he told him he was a preschool manager, but once he’d seen him in action at an event they’d been invited to at the preschool itself, Beck had known it was a role Leyton had been born for. The man had settled onto a chair, rested his arms on a table on each side, and let the children colour his tattoos. He’d sat there for hours. Hours. And the kids loved it. It was why he always had only outlines done on his arms and legs. The rest of him was a waterfall of colour.

“I’m a busy man, Beck. Especially now I have a baby to look after.” Leyton grinned.

Beck gaped. “Seriously? When did that happen?” He rounded the counter.

“We’d been thinking about it for a while but decided to go for it. We hadn’t told anyone because we didn’t want the hell of having to explain if or when it happened. But now little Maria is in our arms, we’re telling the world.”

Beck shook his hand, wishing he could get the courage to hug him, but he reserved that for close friends only. His body didn’t like it when he touched strangers for too long—it was maybe the reason his one-night stands didn’t stay for a second night.

“Congratulations! I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks,” Leyton said. “So, are we still on for today’s session?”

Beck returned to the other side of the counter and checked the diary. “Yes, definitely. Joey should be here in a few minutes, but if he isn’t, I’ll yell for him.” He winked, and Leyton laughed. “While we’re waiting, though, I want to introduce you to our newest team member. Kole?”

Kole blinked, seemingly coming out of a trance-like state. “Sorry, what?”

Beck chuckled. “This is Kole’s first official day, but he joined us at the Bonser event a couple of months ago, and he was very popular. We’re expecting great things from him.”

Kole licked his lips again, distracting Beck, but then stood and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“You, too. You won’t go wrong with this crowd. What styles do you do?”

“Um, I don’t really know if there’s a specific word for it, but I like tribal design and mandalas, so I try to combine the two to make something unique.”

Leyton whistled and nodded. “I like the sound of that. Do you have any you’ve already created?”

Kole seemed like he held his breath as he handed over the pad he’d been working on. Leyton flicked through the pages, making Beck wish he’d stepped closer to see them, but he didn’t interrupt.

“I love these,” Leyton said. “Do you think they’d still work in a small design?” he asked Kole.

Kole’s mouth worked but nothing came out straight away. “I’m not a tattoo artist, so I don’t really know…” He looked at Beck, who rounded the counter again and looked at the design, marvelling once more at Kole’s talent.

“Which one?” he asked Leyton. When he pointed it out, Beck scrutinised it a bit more and nodded. “Yes, that could easily be reduced in size. It might work better if there was one less row inside the circle, but it wouldn’t be impossible to do. You know us. We’re always up for a challenge.”

“We wouldn’t be who we were if we weren’t,” Joey added as he entered the room from the stairs. “Leyton, my man.” He hugged him. “How’s Eamon?”

“Great, thanks. Do you think we could have a change of design for today? I love this.”

He held up Kole’s design, and Beck watched Kole’s cheeks darken, but his eyes sparkled as Joey and Leyton discussed his design. That was what it was all about. The rush they felt when their designs or work were appreciated. The pleasure when theirs were chosen to be forever inked onto someone’s body. The satisfaction when everything went right.

As Joey asked Kole if he could take the page from the pad and Kole nodded, Beck couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across his face. And when Joey and Leyton climbed the stairs, he stared at Kole.

“I’m not usually someone who would say I told you so, but…”

He grinned at Kole when he threw a pencil in Beck’s direction, but then dropped into the seat again and retrieved a new one—and a new page. Beck had paperwork to get on with until his client turned up in an hour, but he stealthily watched Kole as he drew line after line and wished he would draw on Beck’s body instead of paper. The feel of a pen dragging across his bare skin while Kole leaned over him. The images had Beck restraining a groan and adjusting himself in his jeans.

He had to remind himself that Kole was off limits. If only because Beck wasn’t a relationship type of guy. If he had been, he would drag Kole to him and keep him, but he wasn’t. And it wasn’t fair to Kole to give him hope for that.

It didn’t stop him from wanting him, though.

But then the memories came back, followed by nausea, trembling and a headache.

When would he leave him alone?

Continue to chapter 6