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Apple of the Eye

by Remy Quigley







Published by Remy Quigley at Smashwords


Copyright 2018 Remy Quigley

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Part 2





Discover Other Titles by Remy Quigley:

Sounds of the Soul - Part 1


Chapter 1:


Ben


Ben’s eyes snapped open for the fifth time in an hour, his gaze latching onto the poster covered ceiling above his head. All of his favorite bands and solo artists were up there; Black Sabbath, Arctic Monkeys, Phil Collins, Rob Zombie, and Biggie Smalls. There were no posters or pictures on the walls of Ben Jenkins’ room, only the ceiling. His walls were spray painted by his little brother’s best friend during the first week that he moved into the quaint living space above his tattoo shop. The only pictures in his room were taped onto random places, like the one of him and his brother in the top hand corner of his widescreen, two of him and his best friend on the window frame, some of him with customers on the front of one of the drawers on his dresser, etc.

Ben stared at a strip of white ceiling in between two of the posters for a few moments before he sat up in his bed and glanced at the clock on his night table. He sighed with a mixture of agitation and relief when he saw what it read, 4:53. With this, he accepted that he would receive not an ounce of sleep before he had to help Harry open the shop at nine o’clock. If he did manage to fall asleep in the next ten or twenty minutes, he would be groggy and irritable when his alarm clock woke him at 8:15, if it managed to wake him up at all.

He pushed himself out of bed, stretched until he felt those satisfying back cracks he’d been waiting for, and then snatched his cigarettes and lighter from the shelf beneath his widescreen. After nearly four hours of lying sleepless in bed, Ben was ready for a smoke and something to look at.

He stepped through the solo door that led to the small balcony of the second floor. He had a couple of pots out there, filled with nothing but hard soil, because he’d failed to remember to bring in his plants before the weather got cold. Two striped beach chairs sat opposite one another at the sides of the balcony. Harry and Ben usually sat in these during the warmer parts of the year, watching cars roll by and people make their way down the sidewalks. Twice, they’d been lucky enough to witness arrests.

Ben sucked in a satisfied breath when the cold air hit him upon stepping out. He was wearing nothing but a pair of gray sweatpants; a state which would’ve caused most people to rush back inside for a T shirt and a hoody, but only made Ben more comfortable than he’d been inside. The cold air fought off the near exhausted, somewhat dreamy state he’d been in after opening his eyes to the ceiling and accepting that he wasn’t going to get any sleep. It made him feel revived, ready for the weary day ahead.

He stretched out on one of the beach chairs, took one of his cigarettes out of their pack, and lit it up. He could’ve described the first puff as near orgasmic, staving off the hours that he’d lain there restlessly waiting to fall asleep. Ben knew that his active, almost jittery way was a large part of his sleeping problem, but he’d gotten the hang of staying awake for two or three days, so he didn’t really think about it anymore.

Ben puffed on his smoke, his eyes on the street below him, and thought about the touches of detail that he wanted to add to a bible scripture tattoo he’d be doing in six hours. Gotta make sure the snake’s rattle is perfect. It’s gotta be bright lime green and scratchy looking, like a sketch…

His thoughts trailed off as his attention was averted to a singing voice. Ben leaned forward in his seat as he listened, his gaze searching the sidewalk for the one singing. I know that song. If I could just think of the name…

I can’t remember if I cried, when I… read about his widowed bride. But something touched me deep inside, the day… the music died. So bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry…”

Don McLean, duh, Ben rolled his eyes at himself. Finally, his gaze found the singer. Ben leaned farther forward without thinking, even sliding forward a bit in his seat, until his arms settled comfortably on the balcony’s metal rails. He rested his chin on them as he watched the young man walk and sing. He was on the other side of the street, his hands shoved in his pockets, his eyes closed, and his lips moving with a familiar ease to the lyrics. He couldn’t have been any older than sixteen or seventeen, Ben decided almost immediately. There was nothing but peach fuzz on his high boned cheeks and his features were youthful, in their last mile of fully maturing. The skin under his eyes was lineless, a trait that always made Ben immediately think, 'That’s somebody that sleeps well, they get their eight hours.'.

The singer's mouth was bottom heavy and pouty, though every time his lips met he pulled the bottom one in farther than it needed to go, as if he was catching it with his teeth every time. His reddish brown hair was long enough that he’d tied it in a thick, messy tail at the nape of his neck. It wasn’t frizzy or curly, but straight and thick, so that it formed into wavy locks halfway down that stopped several inches past his shoulders. He wore a Miami Dolphins sweatshirt that looked to be two sizes too big for him by the size of his legs, though his jeans were a bit baggy too, so it was hard to tell. On his feet were a sadly worn pair of house slippers.

That last part caused Ben’s eyebrows to short up. House slippers? Well, hell, it is almost five in the morning and this guy is just strolling down the street singing. Must be a weirdo, but he still looks good… Ben blinked twice at the thought as he eyes followed the singing stranger. He let it drift away quickly though, as he did with most of the thoughts not pertaining to work that passed through his head when he was sleep deprived.

Opting to not watch the strange kid anymore, Ben slouched back in the beach chair to finish his cigarette. By the time the cigarette was gone, he was murmuring the rest of the song in his head. He sang it softly to himself as he went back inside, grabbed a towel out of his closet, and headed to the bathroom next to his room.


Will


“Come over here and say that, bitch.” Avery said venomously, gesturing for Will to get up and come over to him.

Will grinned before taking a drag from the joint he held in between his fingers and passing it to Jared. Will and his four best friends sat in an alleyway in between a special of the day restaurant and a salon, Will and Jared sitting with their backs to the salon and Avery and Vincent sitting across from them. They’d opted to spend the day at the arcade and strolling around town instead of going to school, a decision that they made too often. By the time they decided to smoke the joint Will brought, it was already a little after noon.

He stood after passing the joint off, cracked his knuckles, and went to stand right in front of Avery. He set his hands on his knees after stopping, leaned forward over Avery, and flashed him a taunting smile before saying, “Your girlfriend’s got the scariest underbite I’ve ever seen.”

Avery glared at him and lifted a fist threateningly. “If you weren’t my best friend, I’d beat you to a pulp.”

“Jesus, Avery.” Jared started with a shake of his head as he blew smoke from his nose. “Pot’s supposed to make you feel peaceful, ya know?”

“Avery never feels peaceful.” Vincent said as he crawled forward a foot to take the joint from Jared.

“Yeah, why’re you always so angry, Ave?” Will asked, kicking Avery playfully in the calf before returning to his spot beside Jared.

Avery shrugged, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly. “Probably because I spend too much time with you assholes.”

Will burst into laughter and the others quickly joined. When it died down, Will said, “My roses are lookin’ perfect. I’ll give you one for Jamie tomorrow, Vinnie.”

“Thanks, man. I wish I had the money to get her somethin’ nice, but I figure a rose will make her happy anyway.”

Will nodded happily, pleased that his hobby was useful to others, before pulling his pack of smokes from the front pocket of his flannel shirt and lighting one up. “Oh, do you guys remember hearing Ralph talk about getting his tat?” They all nodded. “Well, I’ve decided I’m gonna try it, too.”

His friends were silent for a moment and then Avery said through a chuckle, “Will, Ralph looks like he’s in his twenties, but you look like you’re about fifteen. There’s no way a tattoo artist is gonna fall for it if you lie.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got a fake ID, so it doesn’t matter how old I look.”

“They’ll know it’s fake, just like the cashiers at the Short Snout.” Jared said, and he and Avery exchanged nods of agreement.

Will stuck his tongue out at them. “Don’t care. Gonna try anyway.”

“Hmm. Well, it’s not like you’ll go to jail. They’ll just turn you out.” Vincent said thoughtfully.

“Exactly. And if they do fall for it, I get my first tattoo.” Will agreed enthusiastically before standing up and dusting off his jeans. “You guys wanna come with?”

“Wait, you’re gonna do it now?” Jared started, still seated like the other two.

Will shrugged, grinning to himself at the idea. “Why not?”

“What’re you gonna get if it works?” Vincent asked as he pulled his pack of menthols out and passed one to Vincent.

Will shrugged again before taking a few steps towards the entrance of the alley. “Dunno. Guess I’ll look through what they’ve got.”

“You shouldn’t do that, Will. I mean, shouldn’t it be meaningful if it’s gonna be on you for the rest of your life?” Jared started in a tone of disapproval; he had the most sense out of the whole group and was always lecturing them when they made bad choices.

“It’ll be meaningful. I just gotta find the right one…” Will started off at a steady pace, but stopped when Avery called to him.

“Wait. I’ll come with you. See you guys later.”

Will waited for Avery and then they left the alley side by side, both with one hand in a pocket and the other holding a cigarette. Will was the second tallest of the group, with Avery beating him by an inch and a half at 6’2. Avery’s angry and brooding personality was reflected in the clothes he wore and the way he kept his hair. He wore mostly black all the time, with a heavy chain dangling from his belt loop and the wallet in his pocket, and heavy black boots that used to belong to his dad. He already had a tattoo that he’d gotten during a family vacation to California; it was a snake-like dragon wrapped around his left forearm. He kept his black hair in a short, thick mohawk, and the thin shadow of hair on the right side of his head shaved to look like a demon’s face.

“So, which one do you wanna go to first?” Avery asked, while following a frilly skirt with his eyes as it passed by them.

“We can just go into the first one we pass by.” Will replied in a zoned out tone before asking, “Did I tell you about the chess game I played with Pete during lunch yesterday?” Avery shook his head and Will continued, his tone thick with energetic conviction. “That shithead beat me in five moves. Can you believe it? I think that whole ‘tools missing from the shed’ thing he’s got going on is an act. I mean, if he’s really that air headed, how the fuck did he beat me in five moves?! I mean, I’m pretty damn good, don’t you think?”

“Sure, sure. But, didn’t Jared’s grandad beat you on Christmas last year?”

Will waved that off irritably. “Doesn’t count. That old man’s been playing chess his whole life and I’ve only been playing for a couple of years. Pete’s probably been playing since he was in diapers. Yep, that’s gotta be it. Practice makes perfect, that’s all it is. There’s no way Pete’s actually smart.”

“Look, there’s one.” Avery started, pointing at a tattoo shop across the street from them.

The Sharpened Pencil… Wonder why it’s called that.”

“Dunno. But I heard from my sister’s husband that they're pretty good.”

“Cool. Let’s check it out.”

Avery nodded and they started across the street. They paused at the black metal door, their eyes latching onto the paper sign on the window that said, Persons under eighteen are not permitted to enter. They glanced briefly at each other before Will swung the door open easily and held it for Avery to step in first. Two of the small desk spaces on the left side of the shop were being used, one of them by a woman getting a tattoo on the top of her left breast. She’d taken her shirt off and tied it around her chest like a makeshift bikini top. She glanced up at Will and Avery as they walked passed, noting that their eyes were glued to her boobs, and smiled at them. Will grinned, twiddling his fingers at her, while Avery blushed and quickly looked away. Avery was, oddly enough with his abrasive personality, shy around girls.

Will looked forward again just as they reached the counter at the halfway point and his last step faltered. While they were walking up, a man stepped up to the counter, ready to speak to them. He was about Will’s height, maybe a little bit taller, and he was wearing a loose fitting tank top with black and blue horizontal stripes. His arms were covered in tattoos and Will studied a couple of them quickly; the largest was a silver dagger with an ornate ebony handle that started at the end of his left shoulder and ended just above his elbow, on the inside of his right forearm was a blood red and white koi fish, stretching from the palmside of his left wrist and stopping almost at his elbow was a line of thick Japanese characters, and on the knuckles of his right hand were small detailed insignias that Will couldn’t quite make out. His face was long, his nose as straight as an arrow, his eyes a hazy gray and the skin beneath dark and lined, and his slightly top heavy mouth was crooked on its left side from a thin diagonal scar. His cheeks were shadowed by a thin layer of almost black scruff and his wavy hair, the same very dark shade of brown as his facial hair, was messy and just long enough at the front that it fell a few centimeters into his eyes. He’d shaved about an inch or so off at the lower back and sides of his head, giving him a somewhat edgy look. He had two tiny steel stars beneath the end of his bottom lip's left side, a skinny silver snake just above the end half of his right eyebrow, and the lobe of his left ear was almost covered in studs and a few heavier, colorful characters that Will didn’t recognize. The eyebrow with the dragon stud lifted when he placed his forearms on the counter and leaned towards them.

Whoa, this guy packs a punch. Will thought dazedly as he soaked in all of the stranger's striking features, his heart thudding anxiously and his hands lifting to ring his fingers in front of him. He should be on a fucking billboard. I mean, holy crap, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so fucking gorgeous…



Chapter 2:


Ben


He’s wearing the same exact thing he was wearing this morning, right down to the house slippers. Ben noted as he raised his eyebrow at the two high schoolers standing at the counter of his shop. He must be stupid if he thinks I don’t know he’s not eighteen.

“Can I help you two?” Ben asked, glancing at the boy he’d never seen before and then meeting the other’s sharp, sea green eyes.

The kid stared at him for a few seconds with his mouth actually hanging open before shaking his head briefly and receiving an odd look from his friend. “Uh…, yeah. Yeah, I’d like to get a tattoo.”

Should I just call him out or… “Can I see your ID?”

The kid grinned at him, nodding as he reached into his back pocket to pull out his wallet. Fake ID, huh? Ugh, why did it have to be this kid? I hate to ruin the day of someone with such good taste in music. But I really hate it when kids, who’re obviously not old enough to come in here, just waltz up to me and expect me to fall for it.

Ben took the ID when it appeared in front of him and studied it. The fake name he’d chosen was Gregory Tate and Ben couldn’t help but wonder what his real name was. These things are well made these days. If he looked older, I really wouldn’t be able to tell… Ben glanced back up and found that the kid had a welcoming half grin still glued to his face. There was an optimistic gleam in his eyes and he was already studying the works of art on the walls.

Ben sighed and cleared his throat, holding the ID out to the kid when he turned to look and then reaching underneath the counter. He pulled out one of the slips that every customer had to fill out and sign, laid it on the counter in front of the kid, and then placed a black pen on top of it. He had to bite the inside of his cheek when ‘Gregory’s’ friend went wide eyed. The kid’s smile didn’t falter, though, and he leaned forward right away to start filling it out, his manner making it seem like he’d been sure he wouldn’t be found out.

“Do you know what you wanna get today?” Ben asked calmly as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki shorts.

Shit, let’s hope Harry doesn’t come back until this kid’s gone, or I’m gonna get lectured. Lucy and Sam, two of the tattoo artists that worked in the shop, had already glanced over and shook their heads when they saw him lay the paper down. Whatever. I own the shop, too. As long as this kid doesn’t go showing it off to his parents or the wrong people, it’ll be fine.

“Um, actually I was thinking I’d just check out your… uh books…”

“That’s fine. There’s plenty of variety in our albums.” As he said this, Ben pointed towards the stations. “They’re all right over there.”

The kid nodded slowly while writing and Ben caught him glancing up at him through his lashes every now and then. When he was done, he slid it across the table towards Ben and then started over to the books. Ben watched him for about a minute as he stopped in front of the first book, opened it, and started flipping through. The kid’s expressions ranged from not interested enough to downright shaking his head at a few of them. The phone rang behind Ben and he moved to answer it.

“Sharpened Pencil Tattoo.” Ben began in a monotone; he hated answering the phones and having to work with the schedule, a task that Harry usually took care of.

“Benjamin, this is your mother.” A sharp, insistent voice said from the other end, causing Ben to wince.

“Mom, I told you not to call the shop. You’re holdin’ up the line-” Ben started in a hushed voice as he turned his back to fully face the front of the shop.

“Well, if you’d answer my text messages, I wouldn’t have had to call. Now, are you or are you not able to watch the house this weekend?”

Ben rolled his eyes and checked his tone before replying. “I just don’t understand why Owen can’t watch the house, Mom. He’s old enough-”

“Your little brother may be old enough in years, but inside he’s a toddler.” Here, Ben had to bite back a laugh. “The minute your father and I step out the door, he’ll have every teenager he knows at the house with music blasting and… and alcohol. Benjamin, you know we can’t trust him to-”

“Alright, Mom. I know he’s an idiot. I’ll watch the house, so don’t worry about it, okay?”

She sighed with genuine relief and Ben had to bite back another laugh. “Thank you, son. I’ll make a ham before we leave and put it in the fridge for you.”

“Okay. Thanks, Mom. I gotta go.”

“Alright, sweetie. Remember not to overwork yourself. I love you.”

“Love you, too. Bye.” Ben settled the phone back into its cradle and sighed heavily. “Dammit, Owen.”

He turned back to the counter and his eyes went wide. The kid was standing there with an expectant look on his face as he watched Ben, one of the art books laying open in front of him.

“I found one.” He declared, poking the page with his finger.

“That was fast.” Ben said as he moved forward to peer down at the book.

“Yeah, well… it’s uh… it’s just perfect, I guess.” He replied through a somewhat nervous laugh.

Ben glanced up at him and saw that he was being studied. The kid’s eyes went wide when Ben’s latched onto his face and he took a half step away from the counter. One of Ben’s eyebrows lifted when he noted the red tint to the kid’s cheeks, but he brushed it off as nerves late in coming. He looked back down at the book and studied the drawing that the kid picked. It was a woman’s mouth set partially opened to reveal a bit of the tongue and top teeth, a cigarette set comfortably in the corner, waiting to be puffed on while it hung there. The lipstick color Ben had chosen when he drew it was a thick hot pink. I should’ve known he’d just pick something random, but I always end up hoping that they have an interesting story behind the tattoo they want to get.

“This… is what you want?” Ben asked slowly, his gaze trailing back up to the kid’s eyes.

He nodded with enthusiasm, a bit of his half grin coming back. “Yeah, but I want the lipstick to be red instead of pink. Like a bright red.”

“You want the gloss on the bottom lip?” The kid nodded and Ben reached under the counter again for a sketch pad. “Where do you want it?”

“On the back of my neck.”

Ben bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from asking ‘Gregory’ if he thought that was such a good idea. Instead, he nodded slowly as he began drawing it out for the third time, getting the feel for it again.

“Alright, and do you wanna get it right now? I drew this, so I’ll be the one to do it, and I don’t have any appointments for the next three hours so…”

“Right now’s great.”


Will


“So, it’s called the Sharpened Pencil, ‘cause you draw everything in pencil, right?” Will asked in a thoughtful tone.

He was sitting backwards in the customer’s chair at one of the two larger desk spaces in the back of the shop. He’d taken off his Miami Dolphins hoody and tied his hair up in a loose bun with a rubber band that the artist supplied. The artist was behind him in a comfy looking rolling chair and Will was listening as it rolled one way and then the other, while the artist made preparations for the tattoo. Avery was leaned up against the wall in front of Will, who could tell that his friend was fighting hard against the urge to shake his head and grin.

The chair rolled back to sit right behind Will and he immediately smelled rubbing alcohol when the artist replied in a tone that Will found stiff. “Uh, yeah. The other owner and I are both like that. It’s a preference thing.”

Rough fingertips tapped against Will’s back as the artist grabbed the back of his T shirt’s collar and pulled it down. A thin, damp cloth pressed against the back of Will’s neck and moved up and down for a moment before being pulled away. Will released the breath he’d been holding when his collar was released.

“Hey, uh… you should probably take off your shirt, too. The collar on its just a little too high.”

Will and Avery exchanged a brief look of understanding as Will thought, Easy for you to say, gorgeous. The thought was just a bit too much for him and he shook his head as he ran a hand through his hair. Okay, no calling him gorgeous. I mean, he is, but that was just creepy.

“Hey uh, no need to be shy, man.” The artist said in a tone that Will thought sounded more uncomfortable than he felt. “We’ve seen some pretty nasty body parts in here…”

Will smirked at himself before quickly tugging off his T shirt and throwing it at Avery, who shot him a threatening look, but didn’t say anything. The sounds of the chair's movement that had started up again behind him stopped and Will knew what the stranger was seeing, three long scars wrapping around his right side from almost the middle of his back to the lower most ribs on his right side. It’d been inflicted by a garden hoe and Will had never once told anyone the truth about how it happened.

He waited in miserable silence for the tattoo artist to say something and then the sounds of steady working behind him began again. The artist began cleaning the back of his neck with rubbing alcohol again before Will registered the distinct feeling of a razor sliding over his skin.

Will let out a puff of air and then asked, “You’re shaving my neck?”

He watched the skinny pink razor fly through the air and land in the trash bin by the desk as the artist replied, “Yep. That’s how we do it.”

The chair went to rolling about again and Will asked, “So, what does that Japanese writing on your arm mean?”

It was a few moments before he answered, during which Will heard the sounds of a machine humming. The chair rolled back behind Will and then his neck was wet again.

“It’s a secret.” The artist replied, and Will felt himself blush as he bit his bottom lip. Whatever, he thought in an ‘I could care less’ tone, if you went to Japan, everybody there would know what it means.

The artist carefully pressed what felt like a thin piece of paper against the skin of Will’s neck and then slowly pulled it off. All was silent for a moment and then the artist said, “Alright, take a look at it.”

Will glanced over his shoulder at the artist to see that he was holding up a round hand mirror and pointing with his other hand at the tall mirror at the back of the shop. He let his eyes linger on the artist’s face as he took the hand mirror and stood. He made his way to the tall mirror and held the hand mirror up, so he could see the stencil on the back of his neck. It seemed to him that the artist had positioned the tattoo perfectly, so that it was centered in the section of his neck that met his shoulders.

He nodded as he set his gaze on the artist again and made his way back over. “It’s perfect.”

“You sure?” Will nodded again as he repositioned himself in the chair, flashing the artist a grin. “Alright, let’s do this, then.”


“I can’t believe you got away with that.” Avery said immediately after the door of the shop closed behind them, shaking his head and grinning.

“Heh. I know, right?” Will replied in a weak tone, his gaze flashing back to the shop over his shoulder as it got further and further away.

His hand lifted up to brush the gauze covering the back of his neck and he thought, I think I’ll start hanging out in this area, maybe I’ll get to see him again.

“You picked that tattoo because of Shelby…, right?” Avery asked, in a tone of hesitance that was uncommon for him.

Will chuckled goodhumoredly to show that he didn’t care, that he’d never care, though his friends all seemed convinced that he was hiding some deep hurt because of her. “Yeah. She’s got some perty lips.”

Avery smirked and elbowed Will, always the one to be relieved when Will treated the subject nonchalantly. “Amen.”

When they reached the intersection that Will’s road connected to, he slowed his pace and said, “I’m gonna head home and grab somethin’. Can I come to your place after?”

“Sure, man.”

They bumped fists and Will started off down Hemlock Road. He took out his pack of smokes and lit one, puffing on it as he walked at a leisurely pace. The tattoo artist’s face flashed through his mind again and he let it linger, trying to pinpoint which feature made him so beautiful. Beautiful like a painting or something, Will thought off handedly.

He saw a familiar face and grinned, lifting his free hand to his mouth to whistle. Mrs. Sherman, Will’s eighty one year old neighbor, turned to look at him a few feet from the door of the drug store she’d just stepped out of. She smiled when saw him and lifted a delicately gloved hand to wave.

“Lookin’ good, Mrs. S.” He called and winked.

She chuckled and waved him off before turning away. Will tossed his cigarette then and crossed the street, murmuring Juke Box Hero to himself as he slipped through the skinny gate that led into his small backyard. From there, he made his way around the back, ducking when he passed one of the two living room windows, and up until he reached the drain pipe that passed right by his second story window. He climbed it carefully and quietly, sliding his window open with the same care and slipping inside the house.

He moved quickly once inside his room, grabbing his string bag from the hook over his door and throwing in a T shirt and jeans from the clean pile on his bed; he hardly ever slept at his house, so he tended to just throw his clothes on top of it instead of taking the time to put them away. Will moved to his dresser and rifled through the treasures he kept in the top drawer until he found a lighter and his pot tin. He tossed them in the bag, too and then turned without looking to hurry back to the window. He tripped over the leg of the chair in the corner by the dresser and stumbled a bit before catching himself with his back against the wall.

Will froze for a few seconds with his back and the wall holding him up, listening with his breath held. He heard a heavy set of feet downstairs and then the deep voice of his father hollered, “Will?! Is that you?! Goddammit-!”

He moved at warp speed then, dashing to the window and swinging his legs out. He climbed halfway down the drain pipe as fast as he could and then jumped. He landed on his feet and then fell onto his back, which sent a good portion of the air in his lungs out to quickly, but actually didn’t hurt that bad.

“You fucking shit! Get the fuck back in here!” His father’s voice roared from above him.

Will looked up, winced at the look on his dad’s face as he glared down at him from the window on the second floor, and flashed him a shrugging smile before darting up from the ground and racing for the gate. He didn’t stop when he hit the sidewalk, but kept sprinting until his house was far behind him.


Chapter 3:


Ben


“Can’t, I’ve got a private appointment tonight with a friend from high school.” Ben replied without looking up from the sketch pad that he was doodling on.

“This is the second time you’ve blown me off, Ben.” Kelly grumbled, lifting one heeled foot and tapping it angrily against the floor.

He lifted one foot up onto his chair and set the sketch pad against it to bring it closer to his face as he added more detail to a doodle that he thought had potential. “I know, and I’m sorry, but I’m busy tonight.”

“You promised me, Ben. You said, ‘We’re definitely gonna go see that movie Saturday night.’.” Her tone was becoming whiney and Ben could see Lucy and Sam glancing over in annoyance.

“I know that’s what I said, but I can’t.”

Just go away already, dammit, you’re fucking up my concentration. It was only ten thirty in the morning and he hadn’t slept the night before, so his patience was short, and he disliked it when women decided to bother him while he was at work.

She sighed disappointedly and he heard her take a few steps towards the door. “Fine. I’ll call you.”

“Alright, see ya.” When he heard the door shut behind her he sighed, set his pencil down in his lap, and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“You’re such an asshole, Ben.” Lucy said as she spun her chair around to face him.

He finished his text and then looked up at her, smiling. “Why’s that, Lucy?”

“Because you just texted some other chick right after that one walked out.”

“He’s not an asshole, Lucy. He’s human and he’s lucky enough to be attractive to the opposite sex.” Sam cut in, winking at Ben and flashing him a comical thumbs up that he knew Lucy would see.

Ben happened to glance up at the large glass window to the right of the door and notice that someone was leaning against the window. He had his hood pulled up, but had settled one of his feet onto the rim of the window behind him. House slippers, what the hell are you doin’ leaning against my window like that?

Lucy must’ve followed his eyes, because only a moment after he noticed the kid she said, “Oh, look, the jailbait’s back.”

Ben rolled his eyes and stood up, placing his sketch pad and pencil on his desk. He strode to the door and stepped outside. His determined stride slowed once he set eyes on the kid. ‘Gregory’ had his head leaned back against the window and his eyes closed. He was twiddling a cigarette in between his fingers and murmuring a song.

“… buying bread from a man in Brussels, he was… six foot four and full of muscles, I said, 'Do you speak-a my language?'… He just smiled and gave me a-.” He opened his eyes as he lifted his cigarette to his mouth, spotted Ben, and grinned at him. “Hey, man.”

Ben’s eyebrows were both raised when he stopped beside the kid and shoved a hand in the pocket of his jeans to pull out his cigarettes. “Hey. Uh, what are you doin’?”

“Me? Just chillin’. Hey, aren’t you cold in that?” He started suddenly, looking back up at Ben’s face after studying his wife beater and frowning.

“I like the cold.” Ben replied in a monotone, annoyed by the kid’s carefree attitude and the way he avoided the obvious reason that Ben had asked him what he was doing. He lit his cigarette and watched as the kid nodded and took a drag off of his own. “So…” He began after taking a puff and blowing it up to the sky. “What’s your real name, Gregory?”

Gregory’ sputtered on the smoke in his lungs and started coughing. When the fit passed, he met Ben’s gaze with an awkward smile and rubbed the side of his neck. “It’s uh… Will. And I’m uh… sorry, I guess?”

“You guess?” Ben asked, his tone still calm, but his eyes now tense with irritation.

“Well… I am sorry, because you seem cool. But, I can’t say I wouldn’t do it again, because it worked.” Will made a guilty face when he saw the quick scowl that flashed over Ben’s.

“It only worked, because I decided to be nice.” You shitty kid, Ben’s mind added. “Anyway, why are you loitering in front of my shop?”

“Loitering? You make it sound so serious…” Will replied in an amused tone, one corner of his mouth turning up.

“Don’t avoid the question.” Ben replied tightly as he lifted his cigarette to his mouth again.

Will bit his lip to hold back his smile. “Sorry. Uh, I just thought maybe we could um… hang out.”

One of Ben’s eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open a bit. Hang out? Does this kid think I have nothing better to do than hang out with high schoolers all the damn time? I’ve already got Owen and all of his plus ones over too much and now this kid? Hell no. I’d go crazy.

“Look, I’m a pretty busy guy and you tried to lie to me yesterday about something serious, so… no.”

Will’s face dropped dramatically and then he was standing a step closer to Ben and holding his hands in front of him like a beggar. “I said I was sorry, right? And I mean, all I wanna do is hang around the shop…”

Ben studied Will’s pleading, yet somehow ‘still trying to be cool’ expression for a moment before asking, “Why?”

“Why? Uh… heh.” Will’s stance straight and he reached a hand over his shoulder to tug absently on his ponytail. “The shop’s cool, ya know? I wanna see how everything works. Maybe you can show me some stuff…”

“So, you’re interested in becoming a tattoo artist? Is that what you’re tellin’ me?”

“Shit, I don’t know, maybe. It seems pretty cool…”

This jerk just wants to laze around in my shop all day, doesn’t he? “I’ll think about it. For now…, why are you here so early in the morning?”

Will shrugged, seemingly calmer now that Ben said he’d think about it. “I woke up early and didn’t have anything to do.”

Ben let his exhaustion show on his face for a split second as he ran a hand through his hair. “Fine. You can stay for an hour or two, but if you’re loud or annoying, I’ll kick you out.”

“Really? Awesome. Oh, and what’s your name?”

“Ben.” He replied before tossing his cigarette and opening the door for Will.

He shook his head at Lucy and Sam when they sent him wide eyed, questioning glances. He gestured towards one of the two table chairs at the back of the room when Will pointed at the customer’s chair at his desk and then took his place in his rolling chair again. He took his sketch pad and pencil off of the counter and placed them in his lap before looking up at Will, who was tapping his foot on the floor and looking at the pictures around him on the walls.

Ben opened his mouth to ask him if he’d been taking care of his tattoo and then the shop door opened. He turned to face it and smiled a bit when he saw that his brother and Ginger were walking in behind Harry.


Will


Will decided that he didn’t think Ben was gorgeous in a painting kind of way by the time he was telling him his real name and dancing around apologizing. I find him attractive, Will told himself in an almost serene mental tone. He pushed the realization away for later as he entered the shop with Ben and sat down at the back. To keep himself from looking at Ben, he looked around at the art on the walls for the second time. When the door opened, he looked up to see a familiar face, Owen Jenkins. Will knew him through Daniel, but didn’t talk to him much. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Owen, just that he spent most of his time with his closest friends, who were already used to his blunt way of speaking to others. Will recognized the redhead beside Owen, but couldn’t think of her name; he thought it might be Jenny. The man walking in front of them was unfamiliar to him. He was short and pudgy with a thick, dirty blonde beard, more piercings than Ben, and a liquidy barbed wire tattoo that wrapped around his neck three times. He eyed Will for a moment before stopping next to Ben and looking at him, while Owen and the redhead leaned against the counter in front of Ben.

“Who’s the punk, Ben?” The pudgy guy asked as he jabbed his thumb in Will’s direction.

“That’s Will. Will, meet Harry, my brother Owen, and Ginger.” Ben said without looking up from his sketch pad and using his free hand to gesture as he said their names.

The three of them looked over at him and he waved, flashing them a smile, before setting his gaze on Owen. “So, your Ben’s brother…”

“Yeah, unfortunately for him.” Owen said through a laugh.

“I sort of see the resemblance. You’re like a younger, less attractive version of him…-.”

Ginger burst into laughter, punching Owen in the arm when he glared at her, and Ben and Harry joined in with chuckles. Will’s gaze snapped over to Ben at the sound of his chuckle and he felt his cheeks turning red when he realized what he’d said without thinking. Ben looked over at him then, as his chuckle died, and for a few seconds they stared at each other with blank expressions. Will looked away first, dropping his gaze to the floor and twiddling his thumbs.

Harry jerked a thumb towards the door at the back of the shop and said, “Take your break, Ben. Get these kids out of the shop.”

Ben sighed heavily as he stood, closing his sketchpad and sliding it under the desk. He waved a hand at the three of them and started towards the back door as he said, “Come on, up to the bat cave.”

Will frowned as he stood, following behind Owen and Ginger, and asked, “The bat cave…?”

Owen looked over his shoulder at Will as he smirked and replied, “Yeah, that’s what Ben calls the second floor. Harry’s a Batman fan, so there’s a lot of posters and Batman themed shit up there.”

“So, you guys live above the shop?” Will asked as he stepped out into the alley behind the others and caught up with Ben.

“What did you think the second story was for?” Ben asked in an incredulous tone.

Will shrugged, blushing again, and then saw that Ben was headed for a set of iron stairs that led up to a door to the second floor. He followed Ben up with Owen and Ginger behind them; the two were laughing about something, but Will was too busy thinking about the way Ben’s shoulders looked from behind to pay attention. He leaned against the rails while Ben pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door.

“Those rails have broken twice.” Owen told Will when he reached the top of the stairs, smirking when Will quickly took a step away from them.

“Yeah and the second time, it was Owen’s dumbass that fell eight feet to the alley.” Ben told Will as he turned the door’s handle and pushed it open.

Ginger laughed as she moved to stride leisurely through the door while Ben held it open. Owen flashed Ben a middle finger as he passed and then Will stepped inside. Will stopped a few feet into the short front hallway, his eyes scanning the pictures on the walls. He spotted one of Ben and a middle-aged woman smiling while standing on the edge of the river, and then one that caught his eye. He moved towards the small picture and studied it. It didn’t take long for him to realize that it was Ben, but younger and with short hair. Young Ben’s mouth was turned up in a cheesy grin and he was holding up a peace sign.

“This is you?” Will asked when he caught sight of Ben standing next to him out of the corner of his eye.

“Yeah. I was fifteen. We just met, so stop looking at my pictures. You’re lucky I let you into my house.”

Will couldn’t stop the hurt look he shot Ben, but managed to quickly shift it to an apologetic half grin. “Heh. My bad.”

He turned away from the picture and continued down the hall into the small living room. He stopped again a few feet from the couch where Owen and Ginger sat and a worn checkered Lazy Boy, looking at the posters and the large ornate rug hung up on the wall to cover the windows. Most of the posters were of Batman, as promised, some featuring the Joker and other supporting characters. The shade over the lamp on the end table by the couch bore Batman’s symbol and there was a Batman beanie bag chair beside the TV.

Ben passed him as he entered the room and slouched into the Lazy Boy, pulling out a cigarette. Owen looked over at Will from his phone as he approached and slowly sat on his other side on the couch.

“Hey, do you still smoke?” Owen asked with a hopeful look in his eyes.

Will glanced over at Ben to see that his attention was on a magazine he’d picked up from the table in front of the TV and then back at Owen. “Yeah, why? Wanna get high?”

“Dude, I always wanna get high.” Owen replied in such a serious tone that Will had to laugh.

Ginger sighed irritably and stood from where she sat on Owen’s other side, moving to slump down in the beanie bag chair. When Owen flashed her a questioning look, she said, “I told you my aunt and uncle are staying with us this weekend, and Aunt Trish hugs me every time she sees me, so I don’t wanna reek when I get home.”

When Will pulled out a pack of papers, Owen started, “Can we use your bong, Ben?”

Will watched Ben glance up from his magazine and roll his eyes. “I guess.”

Owen stood from the couch and after a moment of watching Ben while his eyes scanned the magazine, he asked, “Do you… smoke?”

Ben didn’t even look up. “Why do you think I own a bong?”

Will blinked at him before dropping his gaze to his hands and thinking, He hates me.

“Hey, don’t take Ben’s crappy attitude to heart. He just doesn’t like most kids.” Will gave her a look that surprised her, a sharp and gloomy one, before dropping his gaze again. “Bu… but he definitely wouldn’t let you up here if he didn’t like you.”

This brightened Will up a bit and he lifted his head slightly. “I don’t like him. I only let him in the shop, because he begged me to and I only brought him up here, because Harry wanted you squatters out of the shop.”

Will’s head dropped again. He just couldn’t let that last long, could he? Jerk. Oh, well. Maybe he’ll still let me stick around if I’m persistent…


Chapter 4:


Ben


Damn, I can’t remember the last time I was this high, Ben thought as he stared at the same page of the magazine he’d been reading before Will passed him the bong. He wasn’t reading it anymore, just staring at it. While he stared at it, he replayed the sound of Will singing American Pie in his head. It was only after several minutes of this, as Will chatted with his brother and Ginger, that he realized what he was doing.

Ben’s right hand crinkled one corner of his magazine as his eyes snapped up. After a few seconds of staring blankly at the table in front of him, he dropped the magazine onto his lap and reached in his pocket for his smokes.

“You’re the only person I know other than Ben who likes Phil Collins.” Owen told Will, causing Ben to look over at them.

Will glanced at him at the same time and smiled. “You like Phil Collins?”

“Uh… yeah.” Ben replied dully, his eyes a bit wide, before turning them to his cigarette as he lit it. He’s got a really bright smile, doesn’t he? And that grin he pulls out sometimes is… what? I know there’s a word for it-

“What’s your favorite?”

“What?” Ben started as he blew out his first puff of smoke and looked back at Will without thinking.

He blinked at him when he caught sight of his now shining, expectant eyes, and then looked away again. “Your favorite Phil Collins song. What is it?”

“Oh, uh… In the Air Tonight. You?” Ben replied tightly, pressing his cigarette’s filter between his teeth for a second.

“That’s a good one! My favorite’s You’ll Be in My Heart.”

Ben’s gaze snapped back over to Will, who was still smiling pleasantly, and he started in a laughing way, “Wait. You mean like, from Tarzan?”

Will nodded, his smile dropping a fraction. “Yeah. That’s the one.”

Ben burst into laughter, laughing so hard that by the time it passed there were tears in his eyes. Man, this kid is a trip. He wiped his eyes and sighed, leaning back as he set his gaze on Will again, his mouth turned up in a lazy smile. Will’s expression was unreadable, his eyes a bit wide and set firmly on Ben’s face, before he looked down at his hands and smirked.

“Whatever, man. It’s a good song.” He mumbled while smiling.

“I’m not sayin’ it isn’t.” Ben replied halfheartedly, looking up just in time to see Owen and Ginger exchanging questioning looks.

Ginger’s phone went off then, loudly blaring the theme song of some anime she liked, and after reading the message she stood. “Come on, Owen. We’re gonna be late for Jack’s show if we don’t leave now.”

Owen sighed heavily and stood, moving to bump fists with Ben before starting out of the room. “See ya, bro. Later, Will.”

“Bye bye.” Ginger said pleasantly, waving quickly to Will before following after Owen.

The door shut behind the two and then Ben and Will were alone. Will took another rip from Ben’s bong and then sat it on the table. They lapsed into silence as the two of them fiddled on their phones.

Will was the one to break it after a little over five minutes by asking, “So, is it hard being a tattoo artist?”

Ben rolled his head lazily on his neck to look at Will, settling his chin into his free hand. “You don’t have to pretend to be interested in it. I know you’re not really thinkin’ about becoming one, so don’t bother asking about it.”

For a split second, Will poked his bottom lip out in a pout. He pulled it back in quickly, catching in his teeth for a moment before saying, “Okay, so I don’t really wanna be a tattoo artist, but I’d like to know stuff about you.”

Again, Ben noted that Will’s cheeks were turning red. He averted his gaze to the smoke rising from his cigarette and asked, “Uh, why?”

“Cause I wanna be… friends. With. You.” After this, Will groaned aloud, causing Ben’s gaze to snap back over and catch Will flashing him an uncomfortable smile that showed his teeth. “That sounded weird, like I’m in fifth grade, but you get what I mean…”

Shit, he wants to be my disciple. That means he’s not gonna stop buggin’ me. Dammit…

Ben sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Fine, you can hang out here if you want. But like I said before, if you annoy me or disrupt my working place you’re out. Got it?”

“Really?! Thanks, man. I won’t be annoying or anything, I promise!”

He looked to see Will’s grin and immediately regretted what he’d said. Why didn’t I just tell him to leave me the hell alone? That’s what I’ve been planning to say, then I go and say the opposite. Will’s singing played briefly in his head again. Now that I think about it, his voice is really nice. Sort of scratchy, but in a pleasing way, and you can really hear the emotion in his voice…- Ben’s phone rang and he quickly pulled it from his pocket and answered, smiling when he heard the voice on the other end.

“Hey…” Lisa crooned in a laughing way. “Miss me?”

“Heh, only a little. What are you doin’?”

“Well, I wasn’t waiting for you to call me, but my patience ran out.”

“I was actually just about to call you…-” Ben lied, trailing off when he saw Will stuff his phone and lighter in his pocket before standing. “You leavin’?”

“Huh? Yeah. I gotta meet a friend somewhere. See ya.” Will shot him a wave before leaving.

“See ya…”

“Who’s that?” Lisa asked hesitantly.

“Just some kid. So, what are you doin’ tomorrow?”


Will


No point in being jealous, dammit, Will told himself as the tone Ben had used while talking on the phone ran through his head for the third time. It’s not like I have a chance at being more than friends with him, anyway. I’m lucky I’ve gotten as far as I have. He only spent a second after these thoughts wondering why he wasn’t appalled by the fact that he was jealous of a girl, already knowing without needing to tell himself that there was no point in arguing with himself about it. He was interested in Ben in the same way he’d been interested in Shelby, though it was already clear that his feelings for Ben were stronger. I feel bad every time he talks sharp to me and I blush all the goddamn time around him. That shit never happened with Shelby…


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