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Poughkeepsie begins, p.11
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.11

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  “Hey, I found these in the trash. They belong to you?” He held out the packs.

  “Yes. Wow. This is great. Thank you.”

  He watched the teacher take him in. Judging him, wondering if he’d stolen the packs and returned them. He knew she was dying to check the insides.

  He trotted back into the building and found Cole still sitting next to Blake, who was holding his head. “How was it?” he asked.

  Cole nodded. “Good. More than good. Great. Worth it.”

  Beckett watched as Cole’s gaze slid to Blake, concerned. It was a bad one, this attack on his system.

  “Well, I think they’re headed to the gift shop,” Beckett said. “I’m going to pop in just to see what they get.” He wanted to make sure the girls used every penny he’d put in their bags. “I’ll be back. Then we can hang out.” His implication was that they would wait for Blake’s hands to stop shaking, for the sun to dip below the horizon. He knew Cole understood.

  He arrived in time to watch Wintery struggling beneath a huge plush elephant and Summer smile at a plush tiger standing next to her. The kids around them were wide-eyed with awe. He felt a rush of pride swelling though him, making him stand taller. As the teachers began organizing the children to get back on the bus, Beckett backed away to return to the elephant house.

  On his walk back to his brothers, he felt good. To make something happen the way he knew it should? It was powerful. Those two girls had bad luck. Their mom was married to a vice that ate away at her soul. But the two of them shouldn’t have to suffer for it any more than they already did. They were so fucking sweet; they should have had an in-ground pool and no goddamn idea what it was like to be hungry. This was possibly his role in this world, he mused. To force fate into submission. To take and repurpose the good fortune that had failed to find the right people.

  Beckett entered the elephant house through the exit again. This time Blake looked stronger—embarrassed, but more steady.

  Cole stood. “The sun’s going down. You want to take a look?”

  Blake nodded and went to the door. Beckett watched as he assessed the danger that existed only in his mind. After a few minutes of contemplation, he nodded and stepped outside, holding the door for Beckett and Cole to walk through.

  The trip home was equal parts catching up and quiet. They reveled in the glory of giving the girls a nice day and the harsh reality that it was a Band-Aid on a hard situation. Cole brought up the Winter Dance. Beckett rolled his eyes as his brothers razzed him.

  “You going?” Cole winked at him.

  “Can’t. Mr. Gold said I had to stay out of trouble. You know and I know that’s not even a fucking possibility.”

  “But Candy, though. She’s worth trying for, right?” Blake gave a low whistle.

  “You two pussies can stop all this matchmaking bullshit. A girl like her can’t be with a dickbag like me.” Beckett bit his lip, thinking of how amazing it would be to invite her. The Save-Mart encounter had been a flash of all the things he could ever want with her, but the Winter Dance would be his giant plush tiger. A moment of winning. He was too old for that bullshit.

  Blake looked at his clasped hands, apparently deep in thought. Cole curled his hand into a fist. Arriving at their stop halted the conversation, along with the train. They had an appointment to keep. In the woods with Rick.

  10

  Negotiations

  CANDY SAT IN MRS. DRIVENS’ CLASS with the first half of the project neatly on her desk. Zyler waved from the other side of the room, and she returned the gesture. He’d called her a few days after the Halloween debacle, and her mother had passed her the phone, even though she tried to get away.

  After he’d stumbled over an apology for not getting her home safely and expressed confusion about why she hadn’t been having a good time, she knew what she needed to do. Very clearly, she explained that she wanted them to be friends, but that they would have to hang out away from his football guys to have even a chance at getting along. He agreed that the testosterone always amped him up and promised they could do something soon—just the two of them. Then she’d had to course-correct again and tell him she wasn’t talking about dating. She wanted to keep things casual, focus on making friends for now.

  He’d assured her he understood, and she’d felt relieved about the situation until she saw him at school the next day. He’d completely ignored her. Of course that didn’t feel great, and she wondered if she’d really hurt him. Over the last week or so he’d warmed up a little—he was waving now at least—and she found herself confused, wondering if she’d missed something and should try harder to like him.

  Looking ahead to the front of the classroom, Candy sighed. Despite her brain’s determination to make Zyler more appealing, her stomach fluttered when Beckett strolled in five minutes after the second bell. He had sunglasses on and raised his eyebrows above the frames in her direction as he swung himself into his desk.

  Mrs. Drivens mimed taking off the sunglasses, and he complied. A clandestine peek over at him revealed a black eye. Candy felt like he knew she was looking, but he kept his gaze on his desk.

  She slid her folder across the aisle and tapped his name on the cover sheet. He nodded and flipped through like she’d hoped he would. The outline and proposal for their project was complete, and she’d lied, saying he’d had a part in it. He leaned over the folder while Mrs. Drivens and the rest of the class listened to the first two presentations.

  “Beckett and Candy?”

  It was their turn, and he passed the folder to her as they stood in front of the class. Candy gave most of the presentation, but she paused at times to allow Beckett to add his input. She had to swallow her smile as he hit every mark. He was bright, just not motivated. She wondered how much of that had to do with the black eye he sported.

  When they were done, the class gave a pathetic round of applause, and Mrs. Drivens jotted down her assessment. Beckett walked behind her back to their desks and were almost seated when the fire bell sounded.

  In no rush, the kids responded calmly after the initial jolt of the unexpected noise. Beckett waited until the last of the students were out of the room, pushing Candy in front of him with his hand on her hip, then closing the door and shutting off the lights as well.

  As they stood in the parking lot, Mrs. Drivens went through roll again. Then she sent Zyler to run attendance to the administrators, so Beckett and Candy were able to whisper to each other without thinking about him.

  “What happened to your eye?” She touched his forearm.

  “Too much winking at sexy ladies.” He gave her an exaggerated wink.

  “Maybe you should quit trying so hard.” She shivered and hugged herself. Her jacket was nice and snug in her locker.

  Beckett shrugged off his leather jacket and put it around her shoulders.

  She smiled. “Thanks. But you only have a T-shirt.”

  “Can’t have those pretty nipples of yours perking up around these other guys.” He looked at her chest.

  “Perv.” She put her arms through the sleeves and zipped up the jacket. “Now your nipples are perking up instead.”

  “You look good in that.”

  “It smells like you.”

  “Sorry.”

  “No, that’s a good thing.” She wet her lips with her tongue. She watched as a chill ran up his spine. She unzipped the jacked and held out her arms. “Seriously. What’s taking so long? Come here.”

  Beckett gave her a sexy look and snaked his arms around her waist. He hummed with pleasure when they were chest to chest.

  “What happened to your eye?” She asked him again quietly, whispering the words against his neck.

  “Nothing to worry about, pink princess. I’ve got it all under control.” He kissed her forehead. “But thanks for caring.” He looked to his left suddenly, holding his index finger to her mouth so she couldn’t speak. “I got to go.”

  “During a fire drill?”

  He hugged her ha
rd in response before disentangling from their hug and jogging backward. “Zip up that jacket!”

  And then he was gone. She did as he asked and waited in line as Mrs. Drivens called his name. Mr. Gold chased after him as he headed back onto the building. While she watched, she overheard kids from the class lined up behind hers murmuring about Blake Hartt. Something was up with Beckett’s brother. And it was as hot as hell to see his complete disregard for the teachers.

  Blake stood in the men’s room looking out the small window. He was supposed to be out in the parking lot with his class. But the sun was mocking him. He’d used up too many of his meds getting to the zoo. And shit, even that hadn’t worked. Sometimes it got worse. The fear burned through the medicine more quickly when it snowballed like this. Clusters. The attacks came in overwhelming waves. They would break him down, make him feel like his spine was a sponge. All of his steps forward were on a broken ladder that collapsed beneath him just when he needed it most.

  He had stayed in the bathroom to try to disappear. Intellectually, he knew the result would be the exact opposite. By not being there for roll call, he was shining a huge spotlight on his otherness. The teachers would know he was gone. They would have to find him, discipline him for his disobedience. But no matter how hard he wanted to please them, nothing was more horrifying than the thought of going outside right now—in front of everyone, the whole school. They would see. And they would know. And then he would die of the shame.

  Blake turned and slid down the wall, curling into himself. Being inside his head was so much harder than it should have been. He tried to imagine what it would feel like not to care what the sun did, not to fear the exposure it would bring.

  There were times he knew he was being irrational. Outside, at night, in the dark he fooled himself into thinking he was stronger than the fear. But now, like, right now, it was death. He would die if he stepped outside. The shards. The glass. It was embedded. He’d watched it. Blake had watched as the blood formed around the glass embedded in his skin that day.

  Oh, God, not here. Not now. Not at school. Tears squeezed out the sides of his eyes. He slapped at his head, wishing the memory would stop. But his mind would take him back to that day now, no matter how hard he begged it not to.

  He’d had so much hope. The ladies at the library had said so many nice things—about his manners, his piano playing, how smart he was. They’d built him up so high he felt like there had to be a way his mother would accept him. Want him.

  There wasn’t. There never would be. She’d been drinking. Always drinking. It was all that mattered. When he’d tried to tell her about all that was good in him, she was angry.

  “Are they your mother? Miss Joan? The librarians? I’m your mother. I know you, Blake. And no matter what they say, hear this: You are worthless.”

  He’d been quiet then, trying to be respectful, but it wasn’t enough for her. She came after him.

  “I’m your mother,” she’d yelled. And then the blows. The hits. Those he was used to. That he could endure, but when she took out the belt, he reacted. At the end of it, he remembered the glass most of all.

  Psychologists had diagnosed him. The file, which followed him around like a shadow he was desperate to lose, was the introduction any adult in his life had to him after that. They saw those pages before he was able to hold a door open for them. Their minds had hardened before he could tell them he’d be happy to clean off the table after dinner.

  Because they already knew he’d punched his own mother in the face. They knew he’d been removed from his home by the police, that he was treated at the hospital for lacerations.

  It was not in the file that the glass had melted into his bloodstream. That the horror of his failings, in equal measure with the words from his mother, had grafted themselves to his brain stem. Or that the single most powerful thing in the sky could light him up, make his skin shine and blind everyone around him. Different. Other. Not worthy.

  It made no difference that he loved her, his mother. That he forgave her. It only mattered that after years of being abused, he had abused her in return. His mother.

  The door to the restroom opened, but Blake refused to look up. He knew it was most likely a teacher, finding him. Until he heard the cursing. He would have smiled if he hadn’t been locked in his spiral.

  “Motherfucker. It’s now? Fuck.”

  Beckett. Of course. He should have known that if his brother was in school he would figure it out. He was intuitive as hell.

  “I knew the zoo would set your ass off. Listen, they’re right behind me.” Beckett pulled him off the floor and pushed him into one of the stalls. “Just stay there. Say nothing.”

  Blake locked himself in. Staying quiet was about the only thing he was capable of at this second. The telltale squeak and slam of the restroom door announced the arrival of…

  “Mr. Gold. Hey! Fancy meeting you here,” Beckett began. “Funny story—”

  “Save it. Is Hartt in here?”

  “Yes, he is. Has the massive shits. Our foster father tried to grill meat last night. I had the funky craps all morning. You know how it is, effing food poisoning. My asshole looks like the inside of Kermit’s mouth right now.”

  Later Blake would razz Beckett about that line. He heard Mr. Gold stifling a laugh.

  “I figured he might be here,” Beckett explained. “Just a hunch.”

  Blake watched as Beckett’s shoes shifted. They were new, his sneakers. Beckett had been coming home with more and more new stuff. He was getting to be like Santa Claus.

  “Mr. Taylor, you know you could have told me this outside. No need to break rank and run in here, ignoring everyone.”

  “No, sir. I respectfully disagree. How was I supposed to know this was a drill? There’s no way in hell I would leave my brother in a burning building.”

  Silence was followed by an exasperated sigh. “You’re giving me new gray hairs, Taylor.”

  “It’s okay, Mr. Gold. You’ll be a silver fucking fox.”

  “Language.”

  “Sorry, sir.”

  Beckett always laid the sirs and ma’ams on thick when he was trying to get out of something.

  Blake heard more shuffling and a new voice saying, “Excuse me.”

  “And Mr. Bridge.” Mr. Gold sighed again. “Why am I not surprised to see you?”

  “We’re lucky this bathroom is a three-seater,” Beckett piped up. “Now my brothers and I can all have a nice dump together. Sorry our bowels aren’t cooperating with your drill schedule, Mr. Gold.”

  The stall next to him slammed open and shut. Beckett’s jeans and noisy belt hit the ground. “Jesus. Here we go. Open up, Kermit!”

  The stall on the other side got the same treatment from Cole.

  Beckett let a bunch of noises fly, all obviously made with his mouth. Soft laughter came from under Cole’s stall.

  Mr. Gold was on to them. “You three are all in detention in my office after school tomorrow. I think some good, old-fashioned bathroom cleaning will be just what you need to remember that fire comes before crap on the list of important things. Go back to class.”

  Cole added his own mouth farts to the situation as the bathroom door squeaked to a close. Blake leaned against his closed stall, laughing with tears in his eyes. His brothers both busted out belly-laughing as well.

  That they would do this for him? It was everything.

  11

  Sleepy

  CANDY STILL HAD ON BECKETT’S LEATHER JACKET the next day. When he walked into class wearing just a T-shirt, she felt instantly guilty. It was freezing out. She slipped the coat off her shoulders and held it out to him. He grabbed it and collapsed into his chair. He pulled it over his head and folded his arms on his desk, promptly falling asleep. After a moment she could hear his regular, deep breathing.

  Mrs. Drivens either didn’t see him or pretended not to notice. During roll call she skipped his name. After Candy pulled out her research and the books she’d gotten
from the library as resources, Mrs. Drivens came close to Beckett and pulled the jacket down. She woke him gently, rubbing his back, concern all over her face as she watched him wake.

  Beckett jerked awake and rubbed his face. “Sorry, ma’am. What do you need me to do?”

  The rest of the class chatted about their projects, but Candy sat close enough to hear the soft conversation.

  “Are you sleeping at night?” The teacher’s gaze searched Beckett’s face.

  “No, ma’am. But it’s okay.”

  Candy watched Beckett’s jaw tense as he shot her a quick look.

  “I’m concerned.” Mrs. Drivens’ compassion was palpable.

  Candy tilted her head down as if concentrating on her work, but she kept peeking at them.

  Beckett patted the hand Mrs. Drivens used to balance herself on his desk. “You’re a nice lady, teach. I appreciate it. But some cases are lost causes. It’s not your fault.”

  “I’d never consider you a lost cause.” Mrs. Drivens stood. “And I don’t give up. Wake up and do your work with Candy.”

  Beckett bit his lip and watched as the teacher went back to the front of the class. “You suck at eavesdropping.”

  Candy smiled as he caught her red-handed. “You suck at staying awake.”

  “Up all night, baby.” He turned to her and propped his head up on his hand.

  “Why?” She leaned closer as she watched his heavy lids fight to close his eyes.

  Business was all he said before his breathing became regular again.

  She pretended to talk to him while she did their paper until he was so out he laid his head down on the desk.

  The bell didn’t wake him, so she gently tapped his shoulder. “Wake up, sleeping beauty.”

  Mrs. Drivens motioned for her to go. “I got it, Candy. I think Zyler is waiting for you.”

  Sure enough, Zyler waved at her from the doorway to the class. There must have been a football game, because he was all dressed up in a shirt and tie. She waved back and went to meet him.

 
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