Poughkeepsie begins, p.1
Poughkeepsie Begins, Copyright © 2015 by Debra Anastasia
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
1901 Avenue of the Stars, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
First Omnific eBook edition, November 2015
First Omnific trade paperback edition, November 2015
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Poughkeepsie Begins / Debra Anastasia – 1st ed
1. Poughkeepsie—Fiction. 2. First Love—Fiction. 3. Foster Children—Fiction. 4. High School—Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Micha Stone and Amy Brokaw
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
T, D, and J Always
BECKETT PUT HIS HEAD DOWN and waited for Rick. Other kids his age would be calling girls to go on dates right now. Maybe playing a video game. Looking at colleges. Under six months left on this two-year foster care sentence a “caring” judge had issued for him, and in his head, he was plotting his first murder.
The fall leaves crackled under the man’s approaching feet, steady. Beckett’s time here was the longest he’d ever been in one foster home, which—ridiculously—made this fucked-up shit the most stable relationship he’d had. But it wasn’t all bad. He could finally be what someone needed with Rick.
Beckett would never say out loud that he preferred the punch to the anticipation of it. He had to play by these rules, these jacked-up rules, to keep the other kids inside his foster home safe. After all, Rick had a great track record with “hard” kids. And that’s exactly how Beckett would be described by pretty much anyone except the two guys on either side of him.
Arm’s reach. They were within arm’s reach of each other. This Thursday dusk had cloud cover, so Blake Hartt stood tall, protected by the shade, on his right. Cole Bridge was on his left, silent and able to take obscene amounts of pain before buckling. He always went last. Cole was the closer.
It started with Beckett. Rick’s fist connected with his stomach, and then the wait was over. Sometimes, as he punched, Rick went on diatribes about kids these days, or explained how he was helping the boys to keep to the straight and narrow.
His words were instantly dismissed. His victims had lived too much life in their short years to believe his lies. Rick was a hitter. A beater. A sadist in the purest form.
The blows came as predictably as a drumbeat, and Beckett let his body be a target—never running, never even trying to. He had a deal with Rick: all beatings happened here. Never inside. Rick and his wife had ten kids in their clutches at the moment. Their motives were not obvious to those on the outside.
When Beckett was done, when he could take no more, he shifted his hand to hold his forearm instead of his other hand. And Blake, so observant, would step forward. Rick would switch targets then, taking on a new victim with vigor.
Beckett hated himself and loved Blake like a brother in those moments when he heard—and felt—Rick’s fist, or belt, or a switch from a tree, begin to rain down on someone other than him.
And Cole never let it last long—sometimes he waited for Blake’s hand to shift to his forearm, sometimes he stepped forward before then. Today was one of those days. Cole’s eyes flashed when Beckett glanced over at his face.
Cole moved forward aggressively. Now Beckett had to watch, because Cole would never grab his forearm to indicate he needed a break, or that something hurt particularly bad. Just enough to catch my breath, to buck up, then he would step up again, he promised himself.
After all, before these guys had appeared, one after another, a few months ago, it had been only him to take the beatings.
Tonight Rick petered out before Beckett had a chance to take another turn. The man looked at the ground as he turned and staggered, probably ready to go back and screw his spineless bride. Nothing got Rick more excited than causing pain. Fucker.
They waited, motionless, until he was gone. Beckett listened to Rick’s footsteps retreat until he heard them no more. Next business in order was a “first aid check,” as Blake called it. He’d stashed ice packs in the hollow of one of the trees, and he now dug them out and passed them to Beckett and Cole. The nature-loving Blake somehow always had the packs cold and ready, even in the burning heat of summer. If there were any bleeds, they’d bandage them up, if they had those supplies. Finally they’d critique Rick’s performance in a dark bit of humor that Beckett was pretty sure was the only thing keeping him sane.
Blake iced a spot on his chest while Cole put pressure on a bleeder on his bicep, his shirt pulled up.
Beckett put ice on his jaw, soothing a rare hit to the face from Rick, who knew how to hide marks like a master. “That bitch is getting sloppy,” he commented. “I think he’s hitting menopause.”
Cole rolled his eyes. “As long as menopause doesn’t hit back, I’m sure he’ll take another swing.”
They all moaned as a laugh bubbled up.
Blake passed his ice pack to Beckett, who used it on his throbbing rib. “Got you in the money spot, huh?” Blake observed.
Beckett nodded. “Always finds my rib. Like a homing pigeon. Motherfucker.”
The full dark descended, and all of them had school in the morning. Beckett tried not to be jealous of the kids who came in to school in new clothes with a lunch packed by their moms. Their nights had to be as taxing as a fart. Nothing like this. Never like this.
Blake pulled out his cardboard piano, which Cole and Beckett hardly noticed anymore. This quirk was as much a part of Blake as his hair color. Cole continued to move, pacing around the clearing, restless tonight when he usually sat still.
Beckett had seen the scars on the kid. Ol’ Rick was not his first rodeo. Cole had been tortured when he was younger—so much so that the pain of hate almost felt soothing to him. The crack of a fist was likely as close as he got to a lullaby.
“What’s up, brother? You got scabies or some shit like that? You’re shifty like a meth head.” Beckett tossed the extra ice pack to Cole.
“Nothing to worry about.” Cole put the pack near his kidney.
Blake shook his head. “Not what I heard. How come Dunns told me some guys are planning to fight you after school?”
“Dunns has a big mouth.” Cole shook his head slightly, closing down.
“Baby, you know I’m gonna annoy the fuck out of you until you tell me.” Beckett held his hands up like it was obvious he’d get the answer he sought.
“No. No. We’re not letting you go back to Boys’ Village again.” Cole handed Blake the two ice packs. “This place is enough of a prison.”
“Tell me.” Beckett stepped in front of him.
“No.” Cole backed away.
“Do it.” Beckett tilted his head to the side.
“No!” Cole half-shouted.<
“You know I’ll find out. And I’ll start with Dunns tomorrow.” Beckett folded his arms over his chest.
“I can handle it.” Cole pushed past him.
Beckett and Blake watched as Cole stormed off, then abruptly turned on his heel and returned.
This was what they did. Eventually they told each other the shit they usually kept hidden inside. They were comrades, friends—in the same military unit, in their heads.
“It’s the guys from over in Westlake—the fancy neighborhood. They’re sure Blake’s going to snap, saying he’s a serial killer and stuff. After PE they want to meet him in the locker room. They say tomorrow they’re hitting him until he fights back.” Cole put his hands in his jeans.
“You got PE fourth period, right?” Beckett spoke to Blake but put his hand on Cole’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure how the hell he was going to fix it, but he would.
“I can fight my own battles.” Blake looked supremely embarrassed.
“Yeah, but there’s ten of them. Too many. Even for you.” Cole shook his head. “I won’t let Blake go into the locker room.”
“Can you ditch class tomorrow? I need you to not be there.” Beckett looked at Blake who shook his head.
“Not alone. No way,” he told Beckett. “All three of us or none.” Blake looked like he might beg if he had to.
“We can’t get caught,” Cole reminded them. “If we do, the kids here get every punch we don’t take for them.” He motioned toward the house with his thumb.
“I got this, baby,” Beckett assured him. “I think I was born for it. I already have a plan.” He pounded fists with Blake and Cole.
Beckett smiled as he walked into the locker room. The Westlake kids had picked their day well: there was a substitute PE teacher, currently handling an “injury” to one of the smaller Westlake kids, who was pretending to have a possible concussion. But by covering their tracks, they’d given Beckett his opportunity.
Blake entered the locker room after class, as they’d discussed. Cole showed up right behind Beckett, a bathroom pass in his hand. The attackers had followed Blake in, just a few feet behind, slapping lockers on their way. The Westlake kids were on the football team, and their testosterone was new and flooded their systems when they were in groups. Like now.
Blake walked past his locker and came to stand next to Beckett and Cole. The numbers were off, but if Beckett had money, he’d still bet it on his side of things.
“Oh, you think those two are gonna help?” one of the Westlakers taunted. “We don’t want your kind here. Fucking foster kids. Parents hate you so they dump you in here, and we have to deal with you in your hand-me-down clothes.”
“Shit, my parents probably pay the taxes that buy your goddamn food every night,” offered another.
The insults came fast and free.
Beckett was about to start, to intimidate them, threaten them, but Cole was quicker, and he kept his courage at the end of his fist. He jumped and hit the nearest kid with a punch that nailed the top of his skull.
Beckett watched the kid’s eyes roll up in his head.
“Shit.” Beckett came in hard. This wasn’t his first fight, and it wouldn’t be his last. Blake, who the Westlake guys had wrongly assumed was an easy mark, came back swinging as well. Beckett picked off the guys closet to him, but became distracted when he saw Blake falter. As a result, two of the meatheads got him in a restraint, a third landing a punch in his fucking rib.
Meanwhile, Cole wasn’t Cole anymore. There were no rules to how he fought, no line he wouldn’t cross. Like a bull with a laser focus, he got to the guys by Blake and took them down. Now standing, Blake came in with Cole, stopping Beckett’s assailant from getting in another shot. All the aggression, all the punches they were never allowed to return to Rick came to the surface now. This was a battlefield, and while the kids from Westlake had wanted to bully someone, Cole, Beckett, and Blake knew how to fight to survive.
Together they worked, and even with the crappy odds of three against ten, they dominated.
The substitute teacher ran into the locker room, hollering, “What’s going on? You shouldn’t be in here. You didn’t have to change.”
There were bodies and blood everywhere. No one spoke. The Westlake kids knew better. They all just waited the teacher out. Finally one of the smartasses piped up, “Didn’t want our clothes getting sweaty. We’ll get dressed. We’re cool.”
The other boys in the class peeked in the doorway. Obviously the show Mr. Fake Concussion had put on was over. When the teacher finally gave up and told them she’d meet them outside, the Westlake kids helped each other up. The ringleader walked over to Beckett, hand extended.
“Hey, we’re cool, dude. Right?”
Beckett took his hand and squeezed it tight, pulling the guy close, whispering just for him in his ear. “You want a serial killer? You fucking found one.”
He maintained eye contact until the guy finally looked away, wrenching his hand free. “You’re crazy. Jesus.”
Cole, Blake, and Beckett let the Westlake guys leave first, staying in the locker room until it emptied out.
“You think they’ll stay quiet?” Blake wondered.
Beckett nodded. “They will.” He didn’t tell his partners he was planning to visit the Westlake ringleader over the weekend at his home. Or that he’d found a starter pistol in Rick’s basement and painted the orange tip black. Beckett had every intention of threatening the guy until he crapped his pants and made sure his football friends never pulled this shit again. On his brothers. On anyone. He looked at Cole, then Blake.
Each of them had blood streaming down their forearms. The part of their arms that signaled a need for solace in the forest now dripped with violence.
Beckett held up his arm in an arm-wrestling stance. “Grab on.”
Blake complied, then looked to Cole. “You too.”
The three-way handshake brought them close together. Beckett was hopped up on adrenaline, but he knew this was real. He knew it deep.
“Brothers?” he asked.
“Brothers,” Blake responded, smiling.
“Forever,” Cole added solemnly.
BACK AT SCHOOL ON MONDAY, Beckett was exhausted. Scaring the shit out of Dunns last night had taken far longer than he’d anticipated. The shithead had an angry cat, and while Beckett was happy to slap the crap out of a punk, he’d never hurt an animal—no matter how mean it was. In the end he’d gotten around it, and it seemed like Dunns had gotten the message, but damned if Beckett wasn’t sleeping while walking around today.
He slouched in his chair in the back of the room. English class was secretly his favorite—not enough to actually do the homework or any of that kind of bullshit, but the teacher had a bunch of spunk. And when she read out loud, he was fucking transported.
Lately she’d been reading to them—a book that made his veins pump. It was about a guy in jail setting up all his bullshit on the outside. He was taking licks but playing it smart. He had a plan.
Beckett had a ring of empty desks around him. That’s the way it was. It wasn’t like he was a fucking stinky bastard. But the other kids knew he was bad news. Trouble.
After Mrs. Drivens took roll, she asked for homework to be turned in. The kid two seats in front of him didn’t even bother turning around to collect his. Beckett looked at his notebook instead of his teacher’s disappointed face.
This damn school was going to be his last. He wasn’t looking to hurt anybody, but damn if shit didn’t make him mad. His notebook had the school logo on it. Free from the school. For needy kids. He was used to it. By his senior year of high school, he’d learned that teachers watched for kids like him. Kids that weren’t entirely sure how to pay for a field trip or an expensive book that was required reading. Not that he did the reading anyway. He’d lost count of the times he found a coat in his locker or gift certificate for a grocery store stuck in anonymously. They were good peop
His first memory as a child was standing in the freezing cold outside his mother’s apartment in his underwear. She’d said the word Hell just before she closed the door. It had started to rain. He’d been so damn young, it was crazy. Maybe four? He’d been going to a state-sponsored preschool. He’d loved the warm sweaters and the food they always had. Weekends had been hungry. School meant a full tummy.
The policeman who had finally picked him up and wrapped him in his very own coat had not been much of a talker. He’d sat Beckett in the front seat of his squad car and put the heat up full blast. Beckett remembered spreading his fingers in front of the hot air. It had hurt in reverse. Cold to hot was full of ouch. Through the rain-stained windshield he’d watched his mother yell in the face of the policeman—screaming about him.
“Nobody asked if I wanted the damn kid! No, I just fucking had him. Who worries about me?”
He’d been embarrassed that his underwear wasn’t white like the towel the policeman had used to dry his face.
His next flash was forward in time: the warm smell of bread baking, a fuzzy gray cat that licked his fingertips, a haircut that made him look so handsome according to the soft woman who worked at the salon.
Foster. He’d thought the mother’s name was Foster and the father’s name was Foster as well. Now he was fairly certain it had been about two months, but when he was a kid, it felt like forever. All the things they’d swaddled him with—affection, food, fresh sheets—had been new to him. They’d liked to keep him on a schedule. And he was a night owl, so he saw how often they came in throughout the evening to check on him—over and over, like he might melt away.
The teachers at preschool had been so proud of him, with his new backpack and his pictures of the kitty. And his smile. “I haven’t seen that kid smile since he’s been here. Let’s hope the courts get it right this time,” he’d heard one of them say.
The day Foster and Foster dressed him up and brought him to the church—No, it wasn’t. It was court—the woman Foster had had red eyes. She’d hugged him so much.