“You told me I disappeared, now where have you gone?” she shrieked.
She tried to kiss the truth out of him, but he turned his head and held her at bay. She fell to her knees, but he just shook his head. His future was predetermined. Even if banishing this newborn love sliced his heart in half, it had to be done.
Kyle had swallowed her disappointment and, deeply wounded, fled from his sanctuary.
After reliving the memory, Cole found himself once again in the depths of post-Kyle despair when the church door creaked open. He turned to see Blake standing in the foyer. He was filthy, and one of his shirtsleeves seemed to be caked with blood.
Cole stood to go get the first aid kit, but Blake just nodded once in his brother’s direction. Then his eyes found the organ.
“Cole, I know I haven’t earned it, but would you mind very much if I tried the organ?” Blake’s voice filled the empty church.
Cole smiled sadly. “Of course, brother. It would be an honor to hear you play again.”
Cole’s despair settled into his bones. His crying soul now had the worst kind of company: another soul crying just as loud.
Too Much Dirty in Me
“YOU CAN GO ON UP,” Cole said, his eyes following Blake’s to the loft. “I’m going to get a bandage for your arm, if that’s okay?”
Cole looked pointedly at Blake’s bloody shirtsleeve. Blake looked down and seemed surprised by the carnage there. Cole went to get supplies from his sleeping quarters. He texted Beckett as he walked:
He’s here. Arm is bleeding.
Beckett’s reply came as Cole opened his door:
He got a ta5t. playingh yet? Need me? Can com3e noqw
Cole grabbed a fresh T-shirt in case he could convince Blake to wear it. If he doesn’t run. He might very well run. Cole heard the organ gasp to life with a jangle of mismatched notes. It sounded like Blake was slapping the keys.
Cole updated Beckett:
Stay where u r. Not sure how this will go. He’s playing now.
Cole glanced at Beckett’s response:
Ave Fuckong Mariea?
Cole wondered how to put it:
No, just noise. Not music.
Beckett’s next message had no typos:
Cole ran until he reached the door to the sanctuary, but as he opened the door he tried to look unhurried. He walked calmly until he was out of sight, then took the spiral steps three at a time. The music sounded crazy. Crazy—as if Blake had never known how to create a coherent song on a musical instrument.
Maybe this Livia thing has finally broken him. A soul like Blake’s can’t make it in this world.
Cole had long had his doubts, so he also had plans. He was prepared to tell the authorities Blake had attacked him so they’d admit him to a psych ward. Blake had once had an array of medicines and doctor’s appointments, but a person needed a schedule for either of those things to do any good. These days Blake went where the wind took him. Cole watched as Blake tried to make his hands move the way they used to. Maybe it’s been too long.
As Blake reached for one of the highest keys, Cole noticed blood dripping from his arm. He stepped forward and put his hand on Blake’s shoulder. The first two manuals on the organ were covered in blood. Blake seemed oblivious. The rows of bloody keys reminded Cole of shark’s teeth.
“Brother, please let me dress your wound.” Cole tried not to sound angry or upset.
Blake gasped when he saw the mess. “Cole, I apologize.” He pulled off his shirt to mop up the offending blood. It had seeped between the keys.
Cole had no idea how to maintain an organ, let alone get blood out of it. He ignored his vibrating cell phone, sure it was Beckett wanting a progress report.
“Please, let me see your arm.”
Blake turned and held out his bleeding arm. Cole went to work wiping it clean.
“Chaos’ work?” he asked as the tattoo became visible. Cole waited for the answer, wanting to see how bad off Blake was at the moment.
“I left Livia in the woods, Cole. I need to remember that. All the time.” Blake finally met Cole’s eyes.
Now or never. Tonight’s the night. Cole decided to break Blake right now.
He would get Blake the help he needed before he could dig himself in any deeper. He was only destined for more pain.
“Blake, Livia came to see me.” Cole smeared antibiotic cream over the tattoo.
Blake just stared with wide eyes. Apparently he’d never considered that Livia would be looking for him.
“Was she angry?”
What will set him off? The truth or a lie? “She was wonderful and caring with my parishioners. She honestly wanted to find you. I’m not sure how angry she was in the woods, but she just seemed determined to locate you when I saw her.” Cole unwrapped the largest bandage he had.
Blake began wringing his hands. Cole felt his cell phone vibrate again. If he didn’t respond, Beckett would be here soon.
“She went to Beckett as well.” Cole started down the path of no return. Surely if Blake knew Livia and her sister had risked their lives to find him, the Sorry tattoo compounded with regret would drive him insane enough to be admitted.
Blake sat back on the organ bench and faced Cole, quiet as he absorbed the information about Livia.
“She went at night with her sister. Dentist had them cornered and was about to do his worst when one of Beckett’s employees saved them.” Cole added a grim overtone to his voice.
Blake looked like he might throw up. “Are they okay?” he whispered.
“Yes, they’re fine. Well, Livia had a little wound on her throat. It had stopped bleeding by the time she came to me.” Cole put his hand in his pocket. He texted Beckett without looking:
Stay where u r
Finally all the clandestine mid-mass texting paid off.
“She came to find me. She came to find me,” Blake said. His voice was a mixture of revelation and revulsion. “Do you think, Cole, that I could love her? Could I have a life with her?”
Cole had not been expecting that question. He’d expected Blake going off the deep end. He weighed his options.
“Blake, I think you two would have a beautiful romance. But long term? I don’t know. I’m scared. What if she wants a family? Or a man to sit at the dining room table or run the grill for dinner? Every night, for years? Do you think that’s possible for you?”
Blake allowed Cole to cover his wound.
“And what about you?” Cole continued. “What if she was yours and she walked away?” Cole saw Kyle’s face as he spoke to Blake.
Blake looked solemnly at Cole. “I would try very hard to be the man she needed. I would try harder at that than anything.”
Cole felt a stab in his own chest and wondered if he spoke from his own pain. Was he helping his brother at all?
“I think love would end you, Blake. I think you wouldn’t be with us anymore. It requires more common sense than you have.”
Cole’s words were bitter, and Blake looked quickly away, almost as if he’d been slapped.
Cole turned and went down the stairs to wait for the inevitable. Soon Blake would descend the stairs and into madness.
But Blake had only taken his favorite parts from Cole’s little speech. Livia had tried to find him. Livia needed him to keep her safe. Blake turned to face the organ. The keys had danced mockingly like disjointed puzzle pieces before, but now…Now they waited obediently. His hands knew them. His hands could sweep them together and create.
So he did.
He leapt right over the Ave Maria as if Livia held his hand to help him jump.
No more Ave Maria.
His hands flew over the organ, composing, painting, revealing all that was within him. Blake would show Livia all he had inside for her. If she was looking for him, she didn’t hate him. If she was looking for him, he was allowed to love her.
Even if Cole was right and Blake didn’t
Blake was allowed to love Livia. And he did.
Blake loves Livia.
You can play. You can play. You can play! Livia leaned against the wall, her aches and pains and shivering chill melting away now that Blake’s playing had become something beautiful. She tilted her head back and opened her mouth, as if to drink the music. She couldn’t imagine how he created it—it sounded as if three people must be playing. She heard bells, then the notes sounded like voices. So clearly the music sang to her: Blake loves Livia. Blake loves Livia. She stretched her arms out and dug her fingers into the rough, scratchy brick, trying to hug him from the outside of the church. She wiped tears from her cheeks. She wanted to run inside and see him creating. She wanted to see his strong arms and intuitive fingers crafting the notes. Blake’s sounds enchanted her.
Livia, just a gut feeling, but let him come to you. Dr. Lavender’s words forced themselves through the music to the forefront of her mind.
Blake had to find Livia. And he knew where to find her. He could come to her any day at the Poughkeepsie train station. But it had to be his choice to come back. Suddenly leaving him here to play his exquisite music didn’t feel like giving up. It gave Livia hope.
Livia stole quietly away from the scene of the beauty. She left Blake, but she never stopped hearing his music that night.
As the orderly, elegant notes drifted down, Cole returned to his pew and kneeled. Blake’s music was back. It was airborne poetry—diving and looping and loudly victorious. Telling Blake about Livia had not broken him. It had given him wings. Cole prayed for forgiveness for the jealousy he felt. He pulled out his phone and texted Beckett:
He’s playing! Like an angel. No Ave Maria.
Beckett’s reply came from ecstatic fingers:
A few minutes later Beckett pulled up onto the lawn of the church and hopped out. Cole met him at the door and they locked arms. “Cole, that right there is not the Ave butt-fucking Maria.” Beckett raised a fist in the air and pumped it.
“Beckett, could you not?”
“Sorry. No butt-fucking in church. At least that’s the party line, right, hot stuff?” Beckett raised his eyebrows.
Cole ignored him. “Do you have to park on the lawn every time?”
“I’m telling you, Cole, that’s how it all gets started,” Beckett began, retreading a familiar argument. “The government’s beating us down, and it all begins with those goddamn lines in the parking lot. Set yourself free, my brother. If you see a line, ignore it.”
Beckett ran past Cole and up the spiral stairs. No one else would dare interrupt Blake’s playing, but Beckett scooped him into a bear hug and pounded him on the back. “Look at fucking you! Playing this fucking multi-tiered nightmare!” Beckett waved his hands over the complicated organ.
Blake laughed as Beckett set him back on the seat and pointed a thick finger at the organ. “You ass-fuck this bitch. Ass-fuck it.” Beckett peeked over the balcony at Cole below. “Sorry, baby. I have too much dirty in me.”
Cole shook his head and smiled. Blake resumed playing, and Cole and Beckett migrated to different places in the sanctuary. Cole straightened the hymnals in the backs of the pews while he listened, and Beckett slunk to the very center of the magnificent room after daggers from Cole’s eyes shooed him away from the altar. He always found very blasphemous places to rest his feet.
When Blake took a break to stretch his back and fingers, his brothers clapped and hollered like they were at a championship baseball game. And Blake smiled, clearly thrilled to be reunited with an instrument. When the sun began to light the window by the organ, Blake came down to the spiral stairs.
“What time is it?” he asked. He stood shirtless, looking from brother to brother.
Beckett glanced at his cell phone. “Seven sixteen a.m. So do you have to be half-naked to play, Liberace? ’Cause you play for the old biddies in this place like that and Cole better pack a defibrillator.”
“I missed the train.” Blake looked like he’d missed catching a baby bird falling from its nest.
“Blake, why don’t you go get cleaned up? Livia always comes home too,” Cole said pointedly as he began readying the church for eight o’clock mass.
“Bro, you want me to hang out? I’ll drive you to the station.” Beckett was laid out in a pew like it was a lawn hammock.
“No, that’s fine. Thanks.” Blake looked down at the sunlight pooling on the floor in front of the windows. “I need to get going,” he said, though he didn’t move.
Beckett yawned, stretched, and stood, insisting on their formal goodbye. The three stood with their tattooed arms braided together.
As they stepped away, Beckett nodded toward Blake’s bandaged arm. “What’d ya get?”
“It says ‘Sorry,’” Blake said as he went out the door to Cole’s private quarters, leaving his brothers alone.
Beckett dialed his cell phone and spoke to Cole while it rang. “What time’s good for you?”
Cole sighed. “Around one-thirty today would work.”
“Chaos!” Beckett yelled into the phone. “Fit me and my brother into your busy fucking schedule of dusting lawn gnomes and staring out that dirty shed window. We’ll be there at one-thirty.”
A VERY BOUNCY KYLE woke Liva at some ridiculous o’clock on Friday morning.
“Wakey-wakey, you sloppy, old whore. It’s time to do you up. You’re going out tonight, so you don’t get to dress in nursing home casual.” Kyle ripped off Livia’s covers.
“Kyle, I have school.” Livia reached for her blanket again. “We’ll do this craziness later.” Livia wanted to get back to Blake’s music. It had filled her dreams.
Kyle karate-chopped Livia’s sleepy hand. “Listen, Liv, you want to come party with me? I get to create your look. And now is the time. Go shower and use my conditioner.”
Livia wondered if she was still dreaming. The expensive conditioner? This must be big. So it was a forty-five dollar hair product that shut Livia’s complaining mouth after her shower as Kyle hovered and plucked and curled. The outfit Kyle had selected and titled “Check to see if I’m wearing panties, boys” made Livia cringe: a plunging halter-top and a miniskirt with safety pins down the side.
“Just change into this before you get on the train.” Kyle handed Livia a black-and-white polka dot bag with a big, red satin bow. She clipped a red umbrella to it and stuck in a pair of ridiculous red heels. “And practice this: ‘Yo no soy una puta.’” Kyle said the words in an angry, accented voice.
Livia raised a sensitive, red, now-thin eyebrow at her sister.
“It means ‘I am not a hooker’ in Spanish. And you already know it in English, so you should be good.” Kyle gathered her torture implements and headed off to the shower herself. “I’ll pick you up at the train station. What time do you get in?”
Livia mentally ran through her Friday schedule. “Around seven o’clock tonight.”
Kyle dumped all her stuff back into her room and returned to Livia at a full run. Livia caught her launched sister like she was a baby monkey.
“Thanks, Liv,” said Kyle, squeezing her. “You have no idea how happy this makes me. I really need this tonight.”
Livia set her sister down. She didn’t like how determined Kyle sounded. Sadly determined—like she’s planning to punish herself.
Livia slipped into some jeans and a button-down shirt so she wouldn’t mess up Kyle’s masterpiece on her face. She made Blake’s breakfast with extra care and added a thick slice of crumb cake. When she got to the train station and saw the empty spot again, she had to dig deep to find her faith. It’s sunny. Maybe he can’t get here.
When she heard her name shouted behind her, she recognized the voice before she could hope it was Blake. Chris. He hustled down the platform steps
“Livia, I’m glad I caught you. Hey.” He stepped into her personal space, breathing hard, and gave her cheek a kiss that she tried to dodge. “Whoa—you’re looking above average today,” he noted, appraising Kyle’s makeup job. “I just wanted to let you know I miss you. I miss us.”
He stepped even closer. His cologne now seemed chokingly strong. He started in with the crude baby talk he considered suave. “Come on, sweet baby, let me into your silky hole again. You know you want me.”
I can’t believe I ever put up with this shit. “Chris, I don’t have place in my life for you anymore. We just don’t look at the world the same way—or want any of the same things. I’m sorry if that hurts you, but it’s the truth.” Livia took a step back.
Chris’s jaw tightened. “Is it the bum? The fucking bum that lays there?” He pointed at the place. “You know, we think he’s dead. So you might not hold out hope for his crazy ass.”
Livia shut her eyes. His voice had morphed into that of typical, spoiled Chris. He hated not getting what he wanted.
“That’s right. Dave and his buddies throw pennies at him, and they’ve been missing their target practice.”
Livia shook her head and glared at him. Chris lifted his chin defiantly. Is this really who he is? “You think that’s okay?” Livia made a mental promise to mess up slimy Dave in a serious way.
“Ah, Dave’s a big, banging nerd. I think it’s a stupid hobby.” Chris looked forlornly at his batch of roses, as if suddenly remembering his mission. “Listen, really Livia. I got you a real ring. I’ll forgive you for being with this fruitcake. We’ll chalk it up to experimenting.”
Chris went down on one knee. Livia felt the stares of the other commuters.
“Chris, stand up. Please. Don’t do this,” Livia demanded quietly.
Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes