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Poughkeepsie begins, p.15
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.15

           Debra Anastasia
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  “But a deal’s a deal. Julian? Can you take Bree to her money?” Safire trailed a finger over Cole’s shoulders. “So listen, boy, please don’t think you can get away. I’ve got more friends outside than even teenage angst can handle. Shall we?”

  The ride to Safire’s place of business was short. It didn’t matter. He was off.

  “You know, your mom really is an asshole, right?” She sat next to Cole in the back of the car, touching his thigh. “She’s going to mainline that whole two K at once. And that will likely be it for her.” She patted his leg, not looking sorry at all.

  “Then you killed her.” Cole pushed her hand away.

  “You don’t seem too upset, you cold fuck. Damn. Hmm. Maybe I have better uses for you than my client.” Safire tapped her nails on the armrest.

  When they got out, the converted hotel looked like a bingo hall. One of Safire’s associates led Cole to a room toward the back. He was locked in, as he’d expected. There was a bed and a locked toolbox.

  The client would have the keys. And Cole bet he would be bound before the client was allowed in the room. Anything and everything could be in those metal drawers: cigarettes, pliers, dildos—whatever buffet Safire had promised. A man in his right mind would be scared, clawing to get out. But Cole was off.

  It was like he’d known he would be back here. In this place. His time out of his mother’s custody seemed like a fairy tale now. All Rick did was punch. It was a walk in the park. He stood in the center of the room, clasped his hands in front of him, and put his head down.

  No more. He would never do this again. They would have to kill him first. Someone would come to strap him down, maybe drug him, before the client arrived. He would attack. He was off, but he was also closed. No more. He was too big now, too grown. The person who opened the door would get the shock of their life.

  So Cole waited. And waited. He heard Safire order someone to dart him—shoot him with something from a distance. He turned back on for a few seconds, realizing if he were drugged first he might be powerless. His body would be his cage just as much as the room.

  But he turned back off. Fear wouldn’t help.

  The commotion began as a low hum. Everyone in this building was likely prepared for things to go to shit at any moment—cops showing up, enemies, angry clients. Trouble like what was producing these sounds was common. Cole recognized it from his mother’s small-time business. Slippery liars said what they had to to get out of trouble. Whatever it took.

  But these rumblings began to build. Then there was gunfire. Cole stayed in the center of the dingy room, head down, as shots rang out through the walls. It didn’t make sense to pray now. It would make sense to cower in the corner. Seek cover. But Cole didn’t run. He prayed—to a God he swore didn’t exist.

  It was just a whisper, and behind the gunfire and screams no one could hear it, but he spoke the words out loud.

  “I don’t want this to be how it ends for me. Let me be free. All these years I’ve asked for nothing, but now…” A bullet flew past his cheek, and he turned his face toward the feeling that registered after the fact. “I want to be free. Show me. Show me you’re worth something. Show me I’m worth something.”

  The doorknob jiggled, and Cole locked his eyes on it.

  Show me.

  Then the door began to splinter, the force on the other side damning it to destruction. Beckett and Blake fell through the doorway at the same time. Beckett armed, and Blake assessing the room for exits.

  Beckett looked at Cole, taking the temperature of the situation. “They touch you yet?”

  He shook his head, stunned that his brothers were here. They’d found him. They’d come for him.

  “No way out here.” Blake was back at the doorway, and Beckett stepped forward to cover him.

  “Across the hall is a window,” Beckett told him. “I’m going to light it up and then we can jump through. Got it? Blake, then you, then me. Okay?”

  Beckett held his hand out, and for a moment Cole had trouble moving his feet. He’d been ready to die. Ready to be tortured. But here was his choice, his answer, his freedom. He nodded and grabbed Beckett’s hand, felt Blake’s hand on his shoulder.

  “Ready?” Beckett planted his feet, unloaded four shots in strategic places, and nodded at Blake as he stepped into the hall, still shooting.

  Blake took a flying leap toward the window, which shattered around him. He rolled onto the first-floor roof before dropping out of sight.

  Beckett turned in the hall and peppered the other end with gunshots. “Go. Go!” Beckett waved Cole out of the room, and before he knew it he was rolling onto the roof and grasping the gutter that edged the end of the shingles. Blake waited close by and slapped his shoulder again as his feet hit the ground.

  “Come with me.”

  Cole followed Blake to the nearby woods. His brother pushed him into the shadows and held his index finger to his lips. He knew Blake used his hearing like a superpower, listening for things like twig snaps and rustling branches that sounded an alarm for him.

  They waited too long, looking at the window where Beckett was supposed to appear. Cole looked over at Blake, who looked concerned. As they watched, two of Safire’s security men ambled into view, walking under the window. If Beckett came through he would land literally on top of them. It was bad.

  Blake stooped and picked up two heavy branches Cole hadn’t even seen. He pointed and tilted his head in the direction of the men, offering Cole a branch. He nodded and followed Blake’s steps as exactly as he could, knowing his brother always took the quietest path through the forest.

  Before either man felt the creeping sensation of someone behind him, Cole and Blake had swung their branches. They topped off the blows with matching punches to the stunned men’s faces.

  Beckett dropped into the melee from the roof and assessed the situation as he stood from his crouch. “Go.”

  He watched Cole and Blake like they were his soldiers on a battlefield as he pointed to the woods again. His eyes were clear as he analyzed and rejected options.

  “Get us to the car, Blake.” Beckett followed at the rear, tapping Cole and passing him a knife as they walked. “Keep it close. She’s going to want you back, and I didn’t kill anyone yet.”

  Blake picked his way through the woods like they’d been his backyard his whole life. After a few minutes they arrived at a Benz, and Beckett tossed the keys to Blake.

  He opened the back door for Cole. “Stay down for a few miles, if you can. That okay?”

  Cole nodded. He would have spoken, but the lump in his throat prevented it. He was out. His brothers had pulled him out.

  Blake was a good, smooth driver, and in a few minutes Beckett called the all clear.

  “You good, baby?” Beckett’s eyes assessed him, taking inventory as Cole pulled himself from the floorboard.

  He nodded and looked at the car’s ceiling. Relief washed over him. He was on, not off. He was alive, not dead. He wasn’t alone. He had family.

  Cole curled into himself, sobs destroying him.

  Beckett watched Cole closely. This had been some next level-bullshit. And Cole had already been through some caveman-brutal violence coming up with his horrible mother. A betrayal like that cut deep and hard.

  He watched as Cole’s eyes filled up, and he curled his hands into fists. His breath came in gasps. His brother’s reality might possibly be caving in. Who the fuck knew. Beckett put the safety on and set down his gun. He turned in his seat and leaned over, grabbing Cole’s shirt and twisting it hard at his chest, pulling the sobbing man closer to him. It was one of the ways he scared the shit out of people, this look he would give, but not now. “Look at me. Fucking look at me!”

  Cole’s hazel eyes finally locked on Beckett’s.

  “You are never alone. You will never be alone! We’re together. Do you understand? I will murder the whole world to keep you out of that shit! It will never happen to you again. Do you hear me? Do you fucking
hear me?”

  Cole screamed back at Beckett. Not words, just a guttural noise. Pain. Pain vocalized. Blake careened the car to the side of the road and cut the lights. After it was in park, he turned and faced Cole as well.

  Cole screamed again. Anger. Hot tears, rage. Pain, so much pain. Beckett panicked. Was it something I said? Shit. Was I too late? Shit.

  Blake crawled over the seat, sat next to Cole, and he started screaming too.

  Jesus Christ. The two of them were fucking insane. And if they were going crazy, he would follow. Beckett crawled over too, sloppy and kicking his brothers as he planted himself in the backseat. It took a second before he could match them, before he could go to that place in his head and heart and scream. But he did.

  For a few heartbeats, three teenage boys raged at their childhood. They hollered at fate. They screamed out pure need. It was the sound of Peter Pan fucking dying, the ghost of dreams that would never be—until Cole started cough-sob-laughing.

  It was catching, the sliding from one emotion to another. Blake was next, holding his stomach and laughing. Finally Beckett held his head and did the same. They collapsed in a heap, slapping at each other in their hysteria.

  When they finally caught their breath, they didn’t need words. They didn’t need anything but each other. Cole put up his arm and Blake and Beckett grabbed on.

  Never alone.



  CANDY LAUGHED AT BECKETT’S IMITATION of an old lady buying a lotto ticket in English class. He was so animated, his piercing blue eyes clear. Every time he looked at her, she felt a sliver of excitement up her spine. The Winter Dance was this weekend, and she was hoping maybe…

  “So tomorrow night. You. Me. Music,” he told her. “I’ll pick you up at eight so we can make a grand fucking entrance.” He tapped his fingers on her desk and gave her a full-on, dimpled smile.

  She couldn’t hide the matching smile on her face, but she played with him for a minute. “Um…I have a project assignment due? My partner’s a slacker so I keep having to do it all. Not sure I can make the time.”

  He narrowed his eyes and bit his lips together, but the dimple was still hanging out. “Do I need to beat someone up for you?”

  It shouldn’t have been hot when he said that. But it was. “I heard a rumor people with demerits can’t go to the dance.” She crossed her arms in front of herself and tried to give him a hard look.

  He rolled his eyes and pulled out his wallet. It was packed with cash. He flipped through some hundreds and found what he was looking for: two tickets to the Winter Dance. “I’ve got connections, baby. No worries. I’ll beat up this dumbass partner of yours, and we’ll glide right into this dance like a pair of professionals.”

  She leaned forward and touched the tickets lightly with her finger. “I don’t know if you can take him. He has kind of a reputation.”

  Beckett lifted his eyebrows. “That turn you on?”

  “A little. I can’t lie.” She bit her lip.

  The bell rang, startling them both. She sat back and gathered her things as Zyler made his way to her desk.

  “So I’ll see you tomorrow night at the dance?” he asked, pointedly ignoring Beckett as her means of getting there. “Can’t wait to see you decked out in a pretty dress. Or wear your pajamas. You’ll still be the hottest girl there.”

  Beckett stepped in front of Zyler, shaking his head. “Yes, we’ll look for you from the dance floor. Will you be the one sitting alone?” He gave a menacing grin.

  “Maybe.” Zyler looked at the floor. “But I hope you’ll save a dance for a friend, Candy.” He looked up at her innocently. “Just keeping things casual, like you said.”

  Candy looked at him closely. He had her with the keeping-it-casual thing. She could hardly refuse to dance with him, though Beckett was likely to spontaneously combust. “Um, sure. I guess,” she said uneasily, pleading with her eyes for Beckett to let it go. A fight now would cancel their dance plans completely. Could that be Zyler’s intention?

  Amazingly, Beckett stifled a laugh, gave her a panty-melting smile, and left the classroom. When she recovered, she headed out herself, Zyler hot on her trail.

  The next evening Candy put on a red dress with matching heels. It was a little low cut. Her mother had had reservations about buying it. She added a small black shrug and used its one button to give her enough coverage to get out of the house without her father’s neck veins exploding.

  That was the next issue. She’d finally told them at dinner that it wouldn’t be Zyler taking her to the dance. They’d all seemed disappointed. And she got it; they really loved Zyler’s charming personality. They just didn’t realize he was not as perfect as he presented himself to be, mainly because she hadn’t found a way to explain that wouldn’t make them worry. And ultimately, even if Zyler was a bit of a pompous jerk, he was probably safer for her than Beckett.

  But there was just something about Beckett. He was who her heart wanted. So at dinner she’d mentioned that Zyler was getting serious, and she felt she was way too young to settle down. She used the “keeping it casual” line on them as well. Her parents had reacted the way she’d hoped and passed alarmed looks at each other, suddenly more receptive to her new date.

  Now the doorbell rang, and her parents allowed Beckett in. Candy could hear him curse twice and apologize in the process of introducing himself. She descended the stairs and prayed he would keep his tongue in check. Her dad’s overwhelming presence usually kept people scared and respectful.

  She knew immediately when his eyes were on her, starting at her feet and passing over the rest of her body.

  “You are so beautiful. Goddamn.” Beckett bit his knuckle and whistled.

  Candy watched her father’s face turn red as a brick. She hurried the rest of the way down the stairs. “Thanks for picking me up! Love you guys. See you later!” She grabbed Beckett’s arm and pulled him toward the door to leave.

  “Hold up. Does this young man know you have a curfew?” her father asked. “How long has he had his license? When do I meet his parents?” He stepped closer.

  “Dad. Seriously.” Candy gave him wide, pleading eyes. “We’re just going to a dance.”

  “No, that’s okay, baby.” Beckett patted her arm. “Sir, I will bring her home at whatever time you’d like. And I’ve been driving for a long while now. Also, I don’t have parents. I’m a foster kid.”

  Blunt, true answers. He was not exactly specific about the driver’s license, but her parents were too surprised by the foster kid news to question further. She pulled again on his arm. “Got it. Be home by twelve. Thanks!”

  As they headed down the driveway, her father called out after her, “Eleven!”

  “No problem,” Beckett answered. He held the door open for Candy on the silver Benz. After she was tucked inside, he shut the door and came around.

  “I thought you drove a Jeep?” She buckled her seatbelt as he ignored his.

  “I like to mix it up. Keep a girl guessing. Just like the way I do in her pants.” Beckett clicked his tongue before backing up.

  Candy took off her shrug and placed it in her lap. When Beckett made a right turn, his eyes got stuck on her chest.

  “Well, now.” He gave her a low wolf whistle that made her blush. “You came prepared.”

  “It’s just a little cleavage.”

  “It’s a lot of tit, and I love it.” Beckett reached out and stroked one of her breasts. She slapped his hand away.

  “What? It’s not like I haven’t kissed them before.” He reached out again.

  “You earned it last time. A girl likes a little seduction.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

  “That sounds like a challenge I’m totally on board for. And I know I’ll be beating you away from my cock tonight. So don’t forget, you have to earn it too.”

  Candy busted out laughing. “You are dirty, Beckett Taylor.”

  “You don’t know the half of it, Candy Cox.” He pu
lled the slick Benz into the school parking lot. The last row was all that was available. She started to get out, and he ran around to catch the door.

  “You do look amazing. Good enough to eat.” He nuzzled her neck and went in for a kiss. She pressed herself against him, and they kissed for a mind-numbing length of time, Beckett holding her against the car.

  “Get it! Hey, let us see what she’s got too! Don’t be selfish.”

  Beckett’s head snapped up. They located the hecklers close to the school doors.

  “Fuckers from Somers. They shouldn’t be here. They love to start shit, been rivals with Poughkeepsie East forever.” Beckett put his arm around Candy as they began to walk.

  “Please, let’s just go inside. They’re just being dicks.” She patted his chest.

  He gave her a nod. “I have a deal with Mr. Gold so I can take you to this: no fights. And I’ve been good, right? Fucking Wyler got to leave English with both his testicles today. But if they say one more fucking thing, I swear…” His jaw tensed.

  Candy was a bundle of nerves. “We could just go.” She stopped.

  A minivan pulled up in between them and the front doors. The Somers assholes soon found a new victim to heckle. Freddie Orbeen was a senior as well.

  “No, baby. Not anymore I can’t.” Beckett stepped up their pace. “Go inside. I’ll be there in a minute.”

  Beckett hated how excited the Somers kids got when they saw Freddie and the tray of cookies he held.

  The cookies were a tradition with Freddie. Beckett had heard that Freddie’s mom had started doing it in kindergarten—sending cookies to events with Freddie just to give him an ice breaker. Freddie was the most beloved senior at Poughkeepsie East, bar none. The cookies helped, but so did his fun-loving personality. Down syndrome made Freddie special, not different. He was at the sidelines of every football game, center stage at every dance, and often had to turn down high fives because he was going to be late for class.

  Freddie’s mom pulled away.

  Candy refused to leave like Beckett had suggested, hugging herself and keeping pace with him as he rushed to get to Freddie and escort him in.

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