They walked into the room on a wave of rowdy catcalling applause. Shauna tensed, grasped his arm, and whispered to him through her hundred-watt grin--as if they were a couple of cons in a prison yard instead of coveted, cosseted stars from Eternal Requiem, the most successful TV show since Friends:
"Jesus, Beck, I wish I hadn't worn my diamonds."
"Relax," Beck whispered back, kissing her hair. "They're just kids."
The kids whistled at the kiss, and the volume of catcalls increased.
A stout, beaming woman bustled over to them and motioned for the kids to quiet down. The applause tapered off, and a hundred or so faces looked up at them expectantly.
"I know you've all been looking forward to this, and I'm sure you'll make Ms. Williamson and Mr. Beckett more than welcome. Now, let's have a moment of quiet for the grand opening! " She handed Beck a comically large pair of scissors and led he and Shauna over to a closed wooden door with a red ribbon thumb tacked across it.
"We're overjoyed to declare the Arden Grange Drop-Internet Café... open for business!" Beck said, beaming at the crowd. He snipped the red ribbon, and the kids roared with approval as he opened the door and bowed with a flourish.
"Enjoy the surfing, but be careful with those machines. Don't forget what happened to Troy Moran."
There were more laughs and whoops. A few of the girls wrinkled their noses in mock distaste.
Troy Moran had been one of the well-loved heroes on Eternal Requiem, and at the end of season five he accidentally discovered some damning evidence against Beck's character, Vaughn Isengaard--serial killer--during a recreational computer hacking session. Vaughn had strangled him (almost decapitated him, in fact) with a length of mouse cord, in order to shut him up.
Shauna smiled at him as the kids filed into their new café. Beck was such a strange one. He was the most selfless, saint-like soul she had ever known. Yet he played the vilest, most reprehensible character in the history of stage and screen. Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates - they had nothing on Vaughn Isengaard.
Since the first season of Eternal Requiem exploded onto the network, Beck had received thousands of death threats; more than fifty were considered serious enough to merit him personal security on the show's payroll whilst each season was on air. He attracted antagonism and aggression almost everywhere he went.
Unlike Beck, Shauna was one of the heroes from Eternal Requiem, but even the constant worship from the obsessive fan base scared her more than a little, especially some of the reactions to the onscreen chemistry between her character and Beck's. If she had to live with Beck's lot--the pure hatred the Vaughn Isengaard character incited--she would have quit long ago.
But Beck never grumbled. (Hell, he had even gone against the cast plot for a group-strike when they were demanding more pay during season three. "It sticks in my throat, guys," he had said. The average fan probably spends more than half of his or her weekly wage buying a single DVD box set, and we already get more per episode than they do in a year. He made them remember that they were lucky, privileged. Made them feel grasping, and shamed them into submission; Shauna included. As things turned out, the strike wasn't necessary anyway--the cast all got a bonus and a hefty hike after season three wrapped, and at the end of each season thereafter.)
Not only did Beck uncomplainingly put up with his lot, he also did good things for people, and tried to use his status to make a difference. He always made a selfless gesture, with strictly no publicity, as soon as the latest season was in the bag.
Last year it had been the sound and light hall for disabled kids, and those with learning difficulties. This year--just two weeks after wrapping season nine--it was the Internet café at the drop in centre for underprivileged kids: twenty five of the latest PCs, monitors and printers, five new consoles and wide screen TVs (plus a hundred or so games) the gleaming, canteen-standard cappuccino machine, not to mention a set of funky crockery--God only knew how much it had set Beck back.
Shauna fingered her diamond earrings guiltily as she looked at the kids-- their enraptured faces. Beck the benefactor, Beck the good guy; he had really come through for them.
"I love you, Beck," she said softly. Beck smiled into her eyes and kissed her nose.