Poughkeepsie, p.10
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       Poughkeepsie, p.10

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Livia watched pinks and yellows color the sky. She usually loved being out this ridiculously early in the morning, before the rest of the world. The air smelled different, like morning dew scented with promise. But this morning she could focus only on the knot of concern in her stomach and her silent sister next to her.

  Kyle remained quiet all the way home, and when they arrived both girls were too numb to remember they’d snuck out the night before. As they slammed their car doors, both opened their eyes wide with alarm. Wordlessly, they bolted to the side of the house.

  Livia rolled her eyes and whispered, “We need an apartment. We’re too damn old to be sneaking into the house.”

  Kyle ignored her and went to work. She found the small, flat piece of metal she’d hidden behind a shrub and popped the lock on the downstairs window like a practiced cat burglar. She carefully replaced the tool where she could get to it again and continued to ignore Livia’s bug-eyed stare.

  “That’s why you never wanted a dog? Because it would bark when you snuck in? I wanted a dog,” Livia said, finally connecting the dots.

  Kyle shrugged and crawled in the window. Livia followed, her muscles still punishing her for her nap in the car.

  Her sister stopped in the kitchen and waited. With predictable regularity, their father’s sleep noises came, like a gasping, dying bear’s, from his room. Kyle picked out a very specific path up the stairs, avoiding all the squeaks, then opened the door to her room.

  “Put pajamas on,” she hissed over her shoulder as she went inside.

  Livia threw on sweats and a T-shirt and was back at Kyle’s door. Finding it unlocked, she entered. Kyle lay on her bed, also in sweats, staring at the ceiling. Kyle’s room should have been all simple lines and modern furniture, but before she was born their mother, Margret, had spent ungodly amounts of money to outfit the room in the style of a frilly, lavender picture she’d seen in a magazine about celebrity nurseries. Little was changed over the years.

  Livia knelt on the bed next to her sister. “Tell me something or I’m going to freak out.”

  Kyle looked pained. “Livia, you’ve got it all together. You’re smart, pretty, and you have always had Chris—until he recently revealed he was a muff wanker. You have goals. I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished I could be that way.”

  “But you’re so beautiful—” Livia quickly interjected.

  “Mom left,” Kyle continued. “She didn’t leave after you were born. She left after I was born. Maybe she knew I’d be a disappointment.” Kyle held her finger up, stopping Livia’s next instant defense. “You asked. Now listen.” She twirled a purple teddy bear in her hands. “When you were busy with Chris, I missed you so much. I couldn’t find my place and the emptiness in me got bigger and bigger. Don’t blame yourself. You have a life, Livia. That’s normal and healthy.” Kyle’s voice was soft.

  Livia pulled the bear out of Kyle’s grasp and held her hands. She now despised Chris even more, though this wasn’t his fault.

  “Do you know how many guys I’ve been with?” Kyle asked, meeting her eyes for just a moment. “So many. You know why? Because in that moment, just before you let them fuck you, you’re the center of their universe. It lasts just seconds, but I like that feeling. I crave that feeling.

  “This morning—last night? Whenever it was, standing in that church in front of him? I had that feeling. I was the center of his universe. And we had all our clothes on. That feeling lasted for hours.” Kyle closed her eyes as if to transport herself back there.

  “But Margret had something more important to do, and so does he,” she suddenly spat, her voice bitter and poisonous. “Something is always more valuable than me.”

  Livia had heard enough. “Kyle, you’re the most amazing, fearless woman I’ve ever met, and that includes that RoboBitch from the parking lot.” She gathered Kyle in a hug.

  “Even though I’m a stone-cold slut?” Kyle relaxed and hugged her sister back.

  “Even if you’re a dirty skankbag.” Livia smoothed Kyle’s hair in a supremely motherly gesture.

  “You still love me even though I’m a whore pit viper?” Kyle grabbed fistfuls of Livia’s shirt, her hands belying her teasing words.

  Sensing an oncoming tournament of off-color teasing, Livia shifted gears. She wanted to speak right to the emptiness. “I’d rather have you in my life than Margret. I’m not sorry you’re here.” Livia hugged Kyle again, trying to seal her love into her broken sister.

  Just then their father opened Kyle’s door. The sisters looked up from the bed to find him surveying them with alarmed eyes. Emotions were not his strong suit.

  “You girls all right in here?” His voice sounded like he was responding to a domestic violence call in the field.

  Kyle recovered first and offered the only thing guaranteed to make their father bolt. “Yeah, Dad, we’re okay. I was just asking Livia about tampons. I think I keep doing something wrong.”

  Livia buried her face in Kyle’s hair to hide her smile. As predicted, their father backed away, nodding, and hurriedly shut the door. His daughters’ silent laughter sent them across the bed together. Livia was thrilled to see her sister smile.

  Kyle seemed to rally. “Livia, you better get ready or you’ll miss your train.”

  “What’re you doing today?” Livia wasn’t quite ready to leave Kyle alone.

  “I’ve got work, and tomorrow night I want to go out. I’m going to party my ass off. There’ll be pumpkin pie shooters in honor of Thanksgiving.” Kyle wiggled her eyebrows and disappeared into her closet.

  “I’ll go with you.” Livia realized she should spend more time with Kyle, especially if her sister would be vengeance partying.

  Kyle looked at her skeptically. “If you’re hanging with me, you have to dress hot. Not like a psychologist.” Kyle paused, still not seeming satisfied. “Tell you what, I’ll lay out your outfit tomorrow. I’ll pick you up from the train station, and we’ll get your shitieous car from the lot on Saturday.”

  “Okay.” Livia knew she was committed now.

  Livia dragged herself back to her own room, then took a quick shower, got dressed, and hit the kitchen in record time. She thought of Bea, her recent late-night acquaintance, as she made Blake a breakfast sandwich and put it in a paper bag. Faith.

  Her father came in, arming himself for his day at the precinct. He looked tremendously uncomfortable when he saw her, and Livia felt terrible about the whole tampon farce. God bless him, he tried to take care of his girls no matter what.

  “Livia, did Kyle, um…figure everything out?”

  Livia nodded and silently begged him to move on. He didn’t.

  “Because if she needs to see a doctor—or a nurse if that’s better—to help her, with, um, stuff…” He shuffled his feet and looked at the ground.

  Livia felt her cheeks pink up like they’d been slapped. “We worked it out. She knows where things, um, go now.” Kill me.

  “Alrighty. If you’re sure.” John put on his police officer’s hat, which made him seem about six inches taller and changed his aura from Dad to Authority.

  This reminded Livia of a question. “Hey, Dad, if I needed to check someone’s background, would you be able to do that for me?”

  “That’s a little unethical, Liv.” John smoothed his mustache. “Is this about a boy?”

  Livia cringed. “Yeah, it is.”

  “Then absolutely. I’d be happy to.” He nodded with conviction.

  He turned to head out the door, then seemed to think better of it. “Livia, I stopped Chris Simmer for speeding last night.” He paused, seeming to want a response.

  None came.

  “He seemed pretty torn up,” he continued. “He asked how you were. As far as I’m concerned he’s nobody until you tell me different. But I just wanted to let you know. Angry guys do stupid things sometimes. Be careful.”

  “Did you give him a ticket?” Livia asked.

  “I gave him a warning. I know Mrs. Gran
dma’s in a fragile state.” He turned again to leave.

  Livia caught the door before he closed it. “Thanks, Dad.” On her tiptoes, she kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

  “Love ya too, Liv.” A smile slipped through his professional façade.

  Livia followed him out and got in her Escort. She was careful not to crush the breakfast sandwich filled with sausage, egg, and hope.

  11

  The Murderer and the Man of God

  BECKETT PULLED UP TO the meeting spot in the Hummer. He emerged from his vehicle in an expensive suit, sans tie, with exquisitely costly Italian shoes cradling his feet. Cole was already there, dressed like he was ready to do yard work. He sat on the hood of the church’s boring tan sedan, which Beckett had hated since the first time he saw it.

  “Still driving around in the dead man’s car?” Beckett said by way of greeting.

  Cole hopped off the hood and walked toward Beckett until they could wrap their forearms together. The men stood closely for a moment. Someone watching might have guessed they were going to kiss.

  Cole stepped back. “The dead man donated this fabulous piece of machinery with his dying breath. So, yes, I’m still driving it.”

  “This is probably the only twenty-year-old car in existence with fourteen miles on the odometer. That guy really went nowhere but church. It should be in a fucking museum.” Beckett hopped onto the sedan’s hood, and the car creaked in protest.

  Cole said nothing. The men scanned the woods. Today was cloudy, so they could expect to meet Blake here, where they’d parked, rather than traveling into the cover of trees.

  “He ain’t comin’,” Beckett said. “Not by a long shot.”

  But neither man moved. They would wait for the hour they promised, just as they had for the past seven years. This wouldn’t be the first time Blake hadn’t shown up.

  Beckett took a closer look at Cole. “You look like crap on a pile of crap. What the hell have you been doing, self-flagellating instead of whacking off?”

  “Did someone steal a Word-a-Day calendar recently?” Cole retorted.

  Beckett leaned over and gave an exaggerated sniff. “You smell like pussy! Did you get pussy? Are you nailing an old chick?”

  “You make me sick.” Cole turned, doing his best to ignore Beckett.

  But Beckett never gave up. “Did you put on a muumuu, grab some Bengay, and head to that glorified Denny’s like Don Juan? You da man!” Beckett pounded Cole on the back.

  Cole looked at him, face wreathed in despair, and the pounding stopped.

  “What? What happened?” Beckett lost his swagger, and his voice softened.

  Cole grabbed a fistful of his own hair. “Beckett, I met the most amazing girl this morning. I can’t think straight.”

  “Now that right there is some soap opera bullshit, and I feel for you, little bro. Aren’t you supposed to be Jesus’ bitch?” Beckett studied Cole’s face.

  “I’m not going to let down the people who’ve fed me and clothed me and gave me a chance when they didn’t have to.” Cole had actually pulled out some of his hair and now picked it from between his fingers.

  “Not to be a bastard, but, dude, aren’t all the people who were there when you started dead now?”

  Beckett waited for Cole’s wrath. He hated when anyone disparaged his congregation.

  “It’s the spirit of the thing. And no, some of them are still alive. Father Callahan is definitely still alive.” Cole scanned the woods again.

  “A woman can make you want to change your ways.” Beckett touched the small scar Eve’s knife had left on his neck. “Speaking of which, did Livia come to see you?”

  Cole’s eyes shut. “Yes, we’ve met.”

  “That’s not who you’re talking about, is it?” Beckett said, suddenly alarmed. Cole gave him a withering look. “I want her to be right for Blake so bad.”

  Cole nodded, but then shook his head. “No, it’s not her. Beck, Livia’s a regular girl. How can a regular girl handle it?”

  “I don’t know. I think she’s braver than most. Did you know she came to see me in the middle of the night? Tssk. I almost watched Dentist kill her and her little sister in my parking lot.”

  In an instant Cole threw Beckett on his back and squeezed his throat for all he was worth on the hood of the donated car.

  Beckett lay quietly and refused to fight back. He’d never lay a hand on Cole in violence, ever.

  Cole shook his head, seeming to come back to himself, and released Beckett’s neck. “You almost watched Kyle die? What kind of monster are you?”

  Beckett absorbed the verbal blow as he sat up. “I’m the worst kind, Cole. The worst kind.”

  The brothers sat in silence again, scanning the woods for prodigal Blake.

  After about ten minutes of awkward silence, Beckett tried again. “So, Fairy Princess is the lady who has you all jacked up. Livia’s sister.”

  Cole nodded.

  Beckett resumed telling his story as if Cole had not just tried to choke him. “Livia came to my office and managed to ask me about Blake, even after witnessing some serious shit in the parking lot.” Beckett watched as Cole’s jaw tightened. “She’s braver than she needs to be,” he continued. “Maybe, just maybe, she could be the one.”

  Cole stood and dusted off his pants as if they were as expensive as Beckett’s. “I hope he shows up today to check out the organ.”

  Cole got back in the miraculous tan sedan and started the perfectly maintained engine with Beckett still sitting on the hood. Beckett jumped off and went to the driver’s side window. He smirked at the manual crank as Cole rolled down the window.

  “Shut it,” Cole snarled.

  Beckett held up his knuckles for a bump. “If I watched your church burn down, would you kill me?”

  Cole looked suspicious. “No, and that’s a bizarre question.”

  Beckett looked toward the woods one more time. “If I watched Kyle die, would you kill me?”

  Cole’s eyes practically glowed red.

  Beckett nodded. “You might already have the answer to what’s hurting you.”

  Cole let out a giant sigh. “I’ll text you if he shows up.”

  Beckett smiled crookedly. “Text me when he shows up. I know my boy. He’ll be there for a keyboard.”

  Cole pulled away carefully, but he still left a cloud of dust that covered Beckett.

  Beckett wasn’t ready to leave. His brothers might never understand how much he hungered for their monthly meetings. He loved feeling like he had a family. He was so used to watching his back and striking first. The easy camaraderie they shared was a balm on his frazzled nerves.

  Beckett’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out while he brushed off his clothes. Eve’s text gave him peace:

  Chaos reported Blake sighting, gave him tat. Meeting go ok?

  Eve hated to talk on the phone. Calling her was like conversing with someone who didn’t speak his language. Most of the time she just hung up without saying goodbye after she got the information she wanted.

  Beckett’s huge fingers hated texting, and he sent horribly misspelled messages back to Eve:

  GooiD NEWWS. Meeti%ng Fine. Shipment on Tuess.

  UR an excellent fuck.

  She returned the text so quickly, Beckett laughed out loud:

  U will know when u have been fucked.

  Beckett put the phone in his pocket. He kept messing with her, trying to get her to sleep with him, but Eve had yet to do anything but tease him. In a world full of whores and junkies, not getting laid was a huge turn-on.

  Beckett scanned the trees again and felt a twinge of jealousy that Blake had gotten another tat. It was their thing, the brothers. Their matching tattoos had been the only ones any of them had. Fuck him, it’s his body.

  Beckett pulled himself up into the Hummer. He’d wait a little longer, just in case. There were a lot of illegal, deadly things stored in Beckett’s car, but the only thing he kept hidden was the CD
he now pulled out from under the driver’s seat. He slipped it in the player and turned on the power, letting the classical music sweep over him like a cool breeze. It was the soundtrack of his boys. The music that saved them. Blake’s music.

  Fueled by the melody, Beckett’s mind drifted over his past as he waited in the Hummer. After the botched cat rescue, Beckett had had to give Blake a beatdown to get him to stop with the goddamn hose. The cat scratches hurt so fucking much, but he kept hitting the new kid through the sting. Beckett’s balls had actually crawled inside his body like fucking ostriches from the pain.

  When he had finally seen Blake’s passive green eyes, he’d had the sick feeling he was beating on Jesus Fucking Christ. Beckett got up off the new kid and stormed into the house.

  New kid had followed him in, carrying a pathetic box of useless crap. He spoke in a ridiculous, cultured voice. “Where do they keep medicines and such in this house?”

  Beckett pointed with one of his thick fingers. “Up there, above the stove, so the kids don’t fucking eat ’em.”

  New kid had rooted around in the messy cabinet like a goddamn truffle pig finding mushrooms. He came back holding a tube of cream and stood behind Beckett.

  “Listen, I plan on being an ass virgin until prison, so you may back the fuck up. Now.” Beckett could feel the blood sticking to his shirt.

  “Well, unless you’re circus-style double jointed, there’s no way you’ll be able to reach these scratches on your back,” the new kid had astutely observed.

  Beckett had grumbled, but pulled off his shirt. In as masculine a way as they could, the two cleaned his back and smeared some salve on the long red scratches. Beckett went to get a clean shirt from his bedroom, and the new kid followed him.

  “That’s your bed right there,” Beckett said, pointing to one of two worn-looking twin beds in the room.

  New kid had retrieved his beat-up box from downstairs and hefted it onto his bed.

  He’d turned and given Beckett a formal greeting. “I’m pleased to meet you. My name’s Blake Hartt.”

 
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