Beck – Chapter 6

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Kole

When Beck finally disappeared from the front desk, Kole took a breath. He’d felt the man staring at him as he drew, and electricity sizzled in his veins as he tried to ignore him. It hadn’t worked. He’d been aware of every rustle, every move he made. Kole’s hand had trembled as he concentrated half his brain on drawing something remotely usable.

He stared down at the paper and froze. The image he’d drawn was something different from his usual sketches. It still had the tribal mandala effect, but to one side, a man’s face appeared in profile. The mandala was where the man’s brain would have been, and the tribal designs were integrated into the hair. He knew who it was and that it would never see the light of day, but seeing the conundrum that was Beck on paper in that form was disconcerting.

Turning to a new page, he tapped his pencil in the centre, seeing where his brain was going to take him next. As he settled, the door chimed, and Ani entered, her expression brightening when she saw Kole.

“Kole! I’m so glad you’re here. Have they helped you to settle in?” she asked, rounding the desk and putting her stuff away.

“They’ve been great. They weren’t sure what had been decided on where my base would be, but I’m happy sitting here.”

“Oh, no, no, no. That won’t do. Not that I don’t want to see your face all day every day, but you do have a space to do what you wish. You’ll need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the front here; otherwise, you won’t be able to concentrate. Follow me.”

She waved at Jim, and he stood, gathering his things, but the door chimed again, garnering Ani’s attention.

“Denny! It’s good to see you,” she said, rounding the desk to greet him. “You ready for more?”

“Always.”

“Beck’s upstairs. You know the way.”

Denny nodded, but Kole was ashamed to admit he was a little starstruck. Standing barely five feet from him was a member of The Ports, a band he religiously followed. Yes, he was a boy band fan.

“Oh, Denny, have you met Kole yet? He’s our newest addition.”

Denny smiled at him, and Kole’s stomach swirled. How many times had he looked at that smile and wished someone focused something similar on him?

“Nice to meet you, Kole. You’ve joined a great family.” They shook hands.

Kole finally found his voice. “Nice to meet you, too.”

Denny let go and headed for the stairs. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

When Denny disappeared, Kole swallowed. “Holy shit. I gotta get used to this.”

Ani laughed and followed in the celebrity’s wake. “You will. Soon, it’ll be old hat to you.”

Kole wasn’t so sure, but he nodded. “Fingers crossed.”

Ani showed him to a room set up exactly like all the others, with tattoo equipment and chairs.

“I don’t need all this,” he said.

Ani waved him away. “you don’t need to. It’s here for if we have a visiting artist, which we rarely do. Besides, we have two more rooms like it.”

Kole studied the space and could see the potential. Even the equipment didn’t faze him like it might’ve before. The idea of being able to ink someone was not as scary as the first time.

“Thanks. It’s perfect.”

“Don’t feel like you have to stay up here secluded. You’re welcome to join us downstairs whenever you want, but we wanted you to have your own space if you wanted it.”

Kole’s throat closed, making it difficult to swallow. “Thanks.”

“I’ll leave you to sort yourself, but come down in a bit. Once the scariness and overwhelm has eased.” She squeezed his hand and left.

And then it was Kole, standing in the centre of a room that had been given to him without any questions asked. Had he made the right choice? He wandered over to the window, putting his bags on the desk, and looked out. The cars roaring past were muted by the windowpane, but the view was nice. He could see himself being happy there. If only he could find someone to share his life with.

Beck’s face flashed through his mind, and he didn’t push it away. It was futile, but he couldn’t deny his attraction. He wanted to see whether Beck was willing to give them a try, but he needed to build up the courage first. He would, but he didn’t know when. He didn’t want Beck to think he’d moved to London for him because it wasn’t true. He’d moved for himself. Beck was an extra he hadn’t expected. But he was determined to move past his anxiety. What Andrew had done to him wasn’t nice, but he needed to live his own life now.

Okay, he had work to do on getting over the feeling of being watched, but he could do it. He’d already decided to find a therapist to talk it over with. One step at a time, he was doing. And so far, it was working.

Settling at the table, he got to work, wanting to crank out some ideas for Life in Ink to prove hiring him wasn’t a mistake.

When a knock came, he lifted his head, groaning at the crick in his neck. “Yeah?”

The door opened, and Ethan popped his head in, grinning. “How’re you doing?” he asked, coming further into the room.

Kole stood, dragging his best friend into a hug. “I’m good. How are you?”

“Awesome! I’m so glad you’re here.” He wandered over to Kole’s desk. “Wow. You’ve been busy.” He flicked through the strewn pages. “These are amazing.”

Kole flushed at the compliment. “They’re okay. Some need some tweaking, but they’re not bad.”

“Let’s take these to Ani. We can put them up on the wall now, and people can start looking through them.”

“Oh, I don’t think they’re ready for that yet.”

“They are. Trust me.”

Knowing he wouldn’t dissuade him, Kole shrugged, and Ethan grabbed a few and gestured for Kole to follow him.

“I know you’re scared, but these are great, Kole. I wouldn’t tell you they were if they weren’t. I respect you too much for that.”

Kole didn’t reply, knowing it was true. Best friends didn’t coddle each other. It didn’t mean he wasn’t scared. But, if he’d managed it at the Bonser event, he could do it here.

“Where shall we put these, Ani?” Ethan asked when they entered reception.

Ani flicked through them, a smile creeping across her face. “These are great, Kole. Let’s put two here, and then these three over with the others.”

She bustled around, clipping the pages into the frames already set up on the wall. Seeing his designs next to the others was a mind-exploding image.

“Now, anyone who comes in can either buy this design, or request something similar, and you can work with them to design it how they want it.”

Kole exhaled. “This is…” He shook his head, unable to explain.

Ethan slid an arm around his shoulder. “I know, but how cool is this, eh?”

Kole chuckled, and finally, some of the weight on his shoulders lifted. “It is cool, yes.”

He studied his work amongst the other artists—Joey, Beck, Dallas and Finn—and almost couldn’t believe where he was. He’d dreamt of being an artist for years but decided it wasn’t for him when his work was heavily criticised throughout school. He wasn’t cut out for the cutthroat business that it was. But here, he felt like his work mattered. That he had something to say in his designs. That others wanted to listen to. It was a little overwhelming.

“How are you finding the apartment?” Ethan asked, dropping into a chair and crossing his legs. His phone was already in his hand, something he was rarely without lately. But keeping track of Life in Ink’s schedule was a full-time job in itself.

Kole settled beside him, linking his fingers on his lap. “I like it. How you managed to find something that had even the briefest of views of the river was incredible.”

Ethan grinned. “Joey has connections, that’s for sure. I’m glad you like it. I want you to be happy here.”

“You just don’t want me to go back home and leave you to fend for yourself amongst this lot,” Kole joked, waving his hand to the ceiling.

“I’m not denying that, but I’m also adding that I love having my best friend around.” He leant forward. “Are you up for a night out tonight? Just dinner and a few drinks to welcome you?”

He hesitated, but he wanted to spend time with everyone instead of hiding away at home, so he nodded. “Sure. Where are we going?” He snorted. “Not that I would have one clue if you told me.”

“Actually, we’re heading to that restaurant we went to when you came last time. Before the Bonser event, I mean.”

“Oh, that Indian place?” Ethan nodded. “The food was nice there.”

“We have a reservation for seven o’clock. Is that enough time?”

Kole nodded. “That’ll be… Hold on a minute. How do you have a reservation already if you were only just asking me?”

Ethan smirked. “I already booked it. I would’ve forcibly dragged you there if you’d said no.”

“Good to know.”

“You’re welcome to head out now if you want a breather before tonight,” Ani said. “If anyone comes in asking about your designs, we can book them in for tomorrow.”

Kole inhaled and smiled. “No, I think I’m good. I love being here.”

And he did. Even when, in the next breath, a small group of twenty-somethings entered, making a lot of noise about each getting a tattoo and taking forever to choose, and turned the place into a loud group meeting. Their excitement and interest were palpable. Kole disappeared behind the desk so he was out of the way, but he stayed to listen to their conversation, taking titbits of information about what they liked and didn’t like to use in his future designs. Everyone was different, but if he could get ideas about what people liked, it would give him some reference to go with.

When the group finally decided, Ani and Ethan worked at fitting them in for appointments. Beck was almost finished with Denny, and Joey was nearly done with Leyton. Dallas was due at any time. So that meant each tattoo artist had three people to ink. Luckily, all the designs were fairly small and easy, from what Kole could see.

“Do you want to watch?” Ani asked Kole, but he shook his head.

“I saw some at the Bonser event. I know how it works, thanks. I marvel at how different people are. One liked one design, but another hated it, and so on. It’s weirdly wonderful.”

Ani grinned and clasped his shoulder. “That should probably be our slogan. Weirdly Wonderful in every way.”

“Are you channelling Mary Poppins, Ani?” Joey asked as he descended the stairs, Leyton following behind.

Ani chuckled. “If only. Life might be a little easier if I was.”

Kole watched the workings of getting clients into rooms and everything else involved and then retreated to his room to work on some more designs. That time, he wanted to try something colourful. Beck’s angel wings came to mind as he drew, and he incorporated some similar lines and textures. Before he started the colours, he added some shading, but before he could continue, someone knocked.

“Come in.”

Beck entered with a smile. “How’re things going? Ani said you’d been cooped up in here for hours.”

Kole checked the clock. “God! I have. No wonder my back aches. I got distracted.”

“Can I look?” Beck asked.

He didn’t think the design would get him into trouble, if Beck even noticed the similarities to his wings, but it still made his stomach churn. “Sure.”

Beck moved closer, resting one hand on the back of Kole’s chair, and the other beside his paper. At first, he said nothing, and Kole began to worry, but then he shook his head. “Exquisite. I see you kept it within a circular design. If you wanted to change it up a bit, you could extend the wings a little from either side, as if they were emerging from the design itself.”

Kole studied it and saw what Beck meant. He picked up his pencil and sketched a few light pencil marks to get an idea of what it would look like.

“I like it. I’ll add that tomorrow with some colour, too.”

“I keep meaning to add a little colour to my wings, but I never get around to it.”

Kole spun the chair around, dislodging Beck’s hand. “Why not?”

Beck shrugged. “It’s one of those things I keep telling myself to do, but then life happens. One day, I’ll get one of the others to do it.”

The idea of getting his hands on Beck’s skin and colouring his designs made Kole want to train to be a tattooist straight away, but he wasn’t sure if it was his calling or not. It was something to consider later on, after he’d found his feet doing the job he’d already been given.

“Are you ready to break the joint?” Beck asked with a wink.

“I need my bag, but yeah.”

He reached across and grabbed it, throwing it over his head to cross his body, and followed Beck from the room. They met with Dallas as he exited his studio.

“Hey! Are you figuring shit out?” he asked Kole.

“Getting there.”

He loved how interested they all were. They weren’t asking questions just for the sake of it, they wanted to know the answers to them, too. When the clock ticked over to six-thirty, their group cheered, and Ani flipped the sign over to closed.

“Go on, you bunch of twits. Get moving. I’ll lock up,” Ani said, laughing.

“I’ll keep you company,” Kole said, not wanting to leave her alone. It wasn’t because he thought she couldn’t look after herself, it was because he would’ve done it to anyone to ensure they weren’t left alone.

“Me, too,” Beck said. “Three is better than one. Or two.”

Ani shook her head. “You didn’t have to, but I won’t argue.”

She set the alarm and locked the doors, giving the place a quick once over before seemingly being satisfied. Then they all headed towards the Indian restaurant, which, if Kole wasn’t mistaken, was only a ten-minute walk away. Their conversation was light and easy, and it felt like he’d known them for years rather than months. What was it about these people that made him feel…safe?

As soon as he thought that, he had visions of them being hurt, and goosebumps rose across his skin. The same feeling he got when it seemed like someone was watching him. He glanced over his shoulder, checking behind them, but couldn’t see anyone of significance. He tried to shake it off—after all, it was all in his head—but it was hard. It was only when Beck rested his palm on Kole’s nape that he was able to breathe properly.

When they reached the restaurant, Beck paused, leaning down. “Are you sure you’re up for this? I can take you home.”

Kole wanted to take the excuse and hide away in his new apartment, but he couldn’t. He needed to start fresh, even if old memories and thoughts were trying to keep him down. Determined not to let them win, he shook his head. “I’m good.” He licked his lips, deciding to take a huge leap of faith. “But promise me one thing?”

Beck tilted his head and nodded. “What?”

“The next time we get together, it’ll be you, me, a bottle of tequila and a bed?”

Beck’s breath caught, but then he smiled, the tip of his tongue caught between his teeth. “I can promise that.” He leaned down, brushing his lips across Kole’s briefly before stepping back. “Time for food. Rain check?”

Kole nodded. “Not too long, though, yeah?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Exhaling quietly, Kole walked in behind Beck, proud of himself. He’d made the first move on other people before, but since Andrew had shaken his confidence, he hadn’t wanted to try. But Beck had wormed his way into his brain, and he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Despite being scared to death that he’d ruin things, he needed some relief, and what better way than to spend a night with the man who kept haunting his dreams?

“Oh, and Kole?” Beck said, stopping a few metres from their table, where everyone else waited for them.

“Yes?”

“Let’s make it a day we haven’t got to work the next day. I plan to take my time with you.”

Beck winked and settled beside Ani at the table, immediately jumping into the conversation and making everyone laugh. Kole, however, had lusty images running rampant in his head and couldn’t get his legs to work.

How the hell was he going to survive whatever Beck had planned for them?

Continue to chapter 7