Beau let out a trembling exhale as he hauled the last of their suitcases onto the bag caddy. The cheap aluminium frame matched the rest of the airport hotel’s bland decor, and shook under the weight of their luggage.
He took a moment to stop and rest his hands on top of the last suitcase, leaning his weight onto it to look like he was catching his breath. He would much rather look exhausted from moving all their heavy equipment than for anyone to realise it was just plain old nervousness that tightened around his throat.
In truth, he’d barely broken a sweat as he moved all of their weighty suitcases and boxes of expensive equipment. This was, after all, his job. Being the one and only roadie for the Paranomads team meant Beau always had plenty to do, something to lift, and problems to fix. Moving cameras, microphones, and lighting equipment came as easy as breathing – but flying across the globe with his childhood friends to promote their ghost hunting webseries in America’s busiest pop culture conventions? That had Beau feeling a little out of his depth.
“Hotel coffee not good enough for you, mate?” A small hand clapped Beau’s back as a thick Australian accent piped up from behind him, the drawl almost as strong as his own. He smiled tiredly at the girl who was grinning up at him, her neck craning to meet his eye.
Despite the early hour of the day and the struggle of squeezing into a tiny hotel bathroom alongside two other people, Adelaide looked wonderful. Her dark hair was washed and blow-dried, combed away from her face to fall down her back with a gentle wave. Her rugged, skinny jeans were torn in some places, but they looked nothing but trendy alongside her favourite burgundy leather jacket. One hand with short manicured nails rested atop the handle of her suitcase, while the other clasped the strap of a studded black backpack that was slung over one shoulder. The confidence of her outfit and her smile made Beau feel tiny, despite being over a foot and a half taller than her.
“Morning, Adelaide. I’m fine, just… focusing,” he responded, as he turned back around to check their bags were secure on the caddy. He kept his eyes forward as Adelaide’s heeled boots clicked against the lobby tiles, and pretended to focus on their equipment as she heaved her own case onto the pile.
“Well, Isaac is getting more from the brekky bar anyway,” she smiled again, then turned around to lean her back against the heaped pile of suitcases. Before Beau had a chance to respond, she suddenly asked, “Are you excited to meet our new big-shot producer?”
Their eyes had already met, so it was too late for Beau to stifle the nervousness that pinched his brow. He shrugged his large shoulders just an inch, then nodded, keeping eye contact all the while. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “But also… scared shitless, if I’m honest.”
Beau would much rather appear exhausted from hauling crates and bags; he’d much rather hide the growing pit of fear in his stomach from ever seeing the light of day. But he couldn’t lie to Adelaide, and she’d given him no reason to ever want to.
Her smile pinched one corner of her mouth and she nodded, then gave his arm another little nudge. “Me too,” she leaned in. “It’d be fucked if you weren’t. We’ve just flown fifteen hours to get here, and I’ve only talked to this guy on video calls before now. Ugh, I hope he’s not secretly an asshole…”
“What are you whispering about?” Another voice came from behind them, the accent much softer than Adelaide’s. Beau swallowed his nervousness and put on his brightest smile to turn and face Isaac, but their travel companion was too busy scowling down at his cardboard coffee tray to notice Beau’s expression.
“Nevermind,” Isaac interrupted before either of them even thought to reply. “Addy, help? They didn’t put the sugar in.”
She chuckled and left Beau’s side to join Isaac’s, where she plucked up one of the cups, grabbed a handful of sugar packets, then walked away without a word.
“Adelaide!” Isaac shouted, a whine latching onto his voice as Adelaide began to cackle her way away from him.
“I got it,” Beau murmured, unable to help but smile from her cheekiness. Isaac and Adelaide had always been close friends, but there was a strong sibling-esque energy between them that meant one was always teasing the other in some way. He only wished they could holster it until they’d all gotten some more sleep.
Isaac held still as Beau popped the top off one of the coffees then shook out a sugar packet. He dared to glance at Isaac’s face as he tore the packet open, but his friend was staring intently at the open latte, eager for a taste.
Even with a tired, dead-eyed scowl, being so close to Isaac made Beau’s heart thrum a little louder in his chest. He’d also dressed nicely for their big day and styled his hair out of his face, with one or two stray strands fighting against the gel and falling loosely over his forehead. His clear acrylic glasses were sliding down his nose, and Beau had to fight the urge to fix his hair and push them back up. Isaac was not a touchy person, and no doubt a small act of affection like that – especially from another man – would have him startled and throwing their coffee across the lobby, then grumbling about having to order more.
Beau hurried to dump the sugar in Isaac’s coffee and secure the lid so his friend could hold up the tray and take a much-needed sip. But to his surprise, Isaac instead lifted his head and opened his mouth, letting out an impatient, wanting sound, which Beau somehow understood immediately. Without thinking, he pried the cup out of the tray, then lifted it up so Isaac could sip straight from his grip. His eyes fell shut and he hummed happily at the taste, driving Beau’s teeth sharply into his bottom lip.
After a much-needed gulp of caffeine, Isaac pulled back and opened his eyes. Beau quickly followed suit, tipping the coffee upright and releasing his lip from his canines. Isaac looked up at him curiously, but only for a moment, then reverted his attention to the remaining coffee in the tray.
“Couldn’t remember if you had sugar,” he announced.
“Nope,” Beau answered as he pried his cup from the tray and held Isaac’s out for him to take. “Not anymore. Trying to be good.”
“Blegh,” Isaac murmured as they exchanged cups. “Dunno why. You look fine.”
Beau swallowed the lump that grew impressively fast in his throat. He couldn’t even drop a ‘thank you’ before Isaac had already turned away to find a bin to dump the empty tray in, leaving the compliment to hang heavy in the air around him.
Beau had always been a big guy. Though he had been a chubby teenager, he hadn’t gotten into exercising or dieting to change his appearance. He only wanted to get stronger, so that he could carry his equipment with ease and be the best roadie he could be. He’d started to grow fond of jogging, which turned into lifting, which turned into suddenly caring about nutrition and a total lifestyle change before he knew it.
All of that because his damn cameras were so heavy.
He never cared about what he looked like; he never grew out of all the things he used to love eating because he cared about getting buff and looking cool. But Isaac paying enough attention to call his appearance fine? It made Beau feel dizzy with delight.
He shook his head to try and dislodge the ridiculous feeling, then chased it away with a swig of coffee. It was too hot and a little bland. He hoped it was just a bad cafeteria, and not indicative of what their next few months of American coffee would be like.
“Are we good?” He called out across the empty lobby to where his friends had found a sofa to lounge on.
“Yeah,” Adelaide yelled back with twice as much vigour. “He’ll be here in ten. Come sit!”
Beau took a deep breath, waited until his exhales were smooth and unshaken, then crossed the room to join his friends.