The Launch Pad had formerly been a gym called Maximum Exercise, and the new owners had invested precious little of their money in a remodel. The club’s flimsy sign was not quite opaque enough to hide that of the previous business behind it, which gave the illusion that the club might actually be called The Maxi Pad.
Blake tried to get to Livia’s door before she could open it, but he failed and had to satisfy his gentlemanly urges by holding it ajar and shutting it behind her. Kyle seemed rejuvenated by the ride and bounced out of the car. She’d brought a small duffle bag instead of a purse, which had Livia a little worried.
“We’re waiting for Todd, Debbi, Karen, Sam, and fucking Kevin—at least they said they might be here,” Kyle announced as she began digging in the bag.
She pulled out a small, insulated cooler, and from that emerged the six Tupperware cups, with lids, that Livia and Kyle had used when they were children. She handed a little cup to Blake and offered one to Livia.
Livia looked at Kyle like she was crazy. “We’re having a picnic at The Maxi Pad?”
Kyle drained one of the cups as Blake drank deeply from his.
Blake licked his lips. “I love this juice.”
“Kyle, is there more than juice in those cups?” Livia watched as her sister and Blake each slugged back another cupful.
Kyle wiped her mouth with her hand. “Of course.”
Blake’s face blanched. “What else does this contain?”
Kyle gave him the smile that had so often gotten her out of trouble. “It’s Hairy Buffalo. I brought some alcohol-soaked fruit too. Would you like some?”
“How dare you give him that without telling him what it was? Are you out of your mind?” Livia snarled.
Kyle took the cup back from Blake and looked guilty. “Sorry, Mr. Mary Poppins. That stuff has a considerable amount of Everclear and a few other things from the liquor cabinet in it.”
Blake swallowed, eyes wide.
“If you hurl, it’ll hardly affect you.” Kyle pulled the fruit out of her bag and began munching on a piece of pineapple.
Blake bit his lip. That didn’t seem to be a very appealing option.
Livia smacked the fruit out of Kyle’s hands. “You brought us here to watch you get wasted? Is that your idea of a fun night out?”
Kyle shrugged off Livia’s words and pulled on a protective attitude. “I thought you might join me. Whatever.”
She motioned for Livia to unlock the Escort and tossed her duffle bag inside. She seemed to make an extra effort to appear nonchalant as she turned to go inside. “I’m here to dance. This place has the best music. Leave if you want. I’ll get a ride,” she tossed over her shoulder.
Livia took a deep breath and tried to forgive, considering the week her sister had just experienced, but looking at Blake going green kept making her angry.
“We’ll be inside in a minute. I’ll be the one to drive you home tonight,” Livia said. She held Blake by the elbow to steady him.
Kyle marched off to the door. She bypassed the small line, and the bouncer waved her in.
“Her Hairy Buffalo is intense. I highly suggest purging.” Livia wanted to give Kyle the biggest noogie of her life.
“That’s not very romantic, and I had the meal you prepared for me.” Blake looked at the ground shyly.
“Sweetheart, I think it’s going to happen one way or another. I’m going kill Kyle. A lot.” Livia sent her sister the evil eye through the building’s walls.
“I’ll be okay. I’ve had alcohol in the past. Let’s get inside and see what your sneaky sibling is up to.” Blake held out his hand.
As they approached the back of the line, Beckett’s Hummer crashed into The Launch Pad’s parking lot from the side, pounding the surrounding shrubs into flat testaments to his gigantic tires. His music vibrated the air as he parked in what was clearly the middle of the parking lot, nowhere near an actual space, destined to jam up the lot until he left.
“There the fuck you two are.” Beckett hopped down from the Hummer as the rest of his posse pulled into the parking lot conventionally. The Launch Pad was about to be busier than it had ever hoped to be.
“Why the hell are you at The Flaming Tampon? Do you have some sort of craptastic death wish?” Beckett trotted up to Blake and pounded him on the back like an exuberant Labrador retriever.
The pounding must have mixed up the meatloaf and Hairy Buffalo, and Blake barely managed to get behind a shrub before losing the contents of his stomach as discreetly as possible.
Beckett looked Livia up and down and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Whitebread’s so hot she’s smokin’ tonight.”
Blake peered up from the bushes and looked as if he might die of embarrassment. Beckett laughed out loud, stomped over to the shrub next to Blake’s, and pushed his finger down his throat in a well-practiced motion. He stood up smiling. “That’s right, bro. Puke and rally, baby. I think there are some pubic hairs in mine.” Beckett banged a fist on his own chest.
Blake looked mortified but laughed.
Beckett pointed to his parking lot-jamming Hummer. “I got toothpaste and Listerine in there. You wanna hit that?”
Blake nodded as he followed his brother to the car. Livia tagged along. Mouse had the mouth-cleaning implements at the ready as they arrived. After removing the unpleasant taste from their mouths, Blake and Beckett touched tattoos in greeting. Beckett turned his other arm over to show Blake his bandage. Blake lifted one eyebrow, and Beckett peeled the tape back to reveal his new Sorry tattoo, a perfect replica of his brother’s.
“Cole got one too,” Beckett said.
Blake looked off in the distance as his eyes filled with emotion.
Beckett pulled Blake’s face back to look at him and held it in his hand. “Never alone, bro. You’re never alone as long as I live.”
Blake nodded. “Thanks.”
Beckett turned the touch into another pounding-of-Blake session. Then he looked at his crew. “Quit gaping at me fudge-packing my brother. Let’s get in this Maxi Pad and knock it the fuck out.”
His crew seemed minimally enthusiastic as Beckett pushed past the people waiting in line. The bouncer almost genuflected as he saw Beckett’s face.
Beckett turned to the potential customers. “This dump is at capacity now. Go home and whack off.”
Beckett lowered his voice. “Mouse, get one of our douchebags to take over here, and I want all the exits covered.”
Beckett hustled Blake and Livia into what used to be the fitness center’s reception area. The Launch Pad’s owners had not done much with the inside either. The immediate view was a cheesy mural of people working out, circa 1980, complete with leg warmers and sweat bands.
“Why for an assfuck’s sake are we in this shithole?” Beckett took in the interior like he was a tourist in a confusing foreign city.
Livia sighed and leaned her cheek against Blake’s shoulder. “Kyle wanted to do some revenge partying, and I didn’t want to leave her alone. She also tricked Blake into drinking some Hairy Buffalo.”
Beckett smiled. “Fairy Princess is on a bender, huh? And she manufactures her own Jesus Juice? Sounds like we better keep an eye on her.”
Beckett turned to Mouse again. “This place’s a festering whore’s crotch. Do I own it?”
Mouse spoke up—louder and squeakier as the glass doors to the dancefloor opened and took the music up a notch. “No, boss. You want me to arrange that?”
“We’ll see. Remind me tomorrow.” Beckett now headed for the glass doors that had just returned to their closed position. With both hands he flung the double doors wide. “You bitches are welcome!” he shouted. “I’m finally here!”
A wave of sweaty air hit Livia in the face as she and Blake followed Beckett’s grand entrance through the doors. For a place this horrible, Livia was surprised to find Kyle had been right about one thing: the music was great. As they wove their way through the humid room, Livia recognized Lorraine as the DJ, and it all made sense.
But now Kyle was dead center on the hardwood dancefloor, which had probably been an aerobics room in its former life, lost in herself and her dancing. She was fantastic. Even soused up on Hairy Buffalo, she moved like silk blowing in the wind—smooth and beguiling.
Blake held Livia’s hand as Beckett claimed a table in the corner of the room. The poor patrons already sitting in the prime spot watched as Beckett hefted their drinks and slopped them onto a new table. No one had the guts to reprimand him as they slunk away.
Beckett watched as Kyle danced. “Looks like Fairy Princess has wings.”
It was as if she were alone in the room. She owned the space as she combined flying jumps with conventional dance club moves. No one could touch her talent, so they stayed on the perimeter as a backdrop to her unchoreographed show.
“She’s always been a beautiful dancer.” Livia sat down in a chair that faced the dancefloor and Blake.
Blake seemed preoccupied with a pile of pink napkins the table’s previous occupants had left behind. Livia smiled at him, trying to gauge how he was feeling in this bizarre setting, which probably bordered on surreal for him. Blake met her eyes and ran one of the napkins through his fingers.
The music was so loud, all Livia could do was mouth, “Are you okay?”
Blake nodded. “You’re beautiful,” he mouthed in response.
Livia blushed, and when the music cut off abruptly, Livia blushed more deeply. She knew what was next.
Kyle’s voice, magnified by a microphone, echoed through the club. “Livia McHugh, get your ass out here and dance with me.” Then a speaker-blowing electric guitar riff jumped out of Livia’s childhood and into her ears.
“Oh, crap.” Livia shook her head.
“Livia, if you love me, you’ll dance with me,” Kyle taunted.
Blake looked both amused and slightly concerned as the crowd around Kyle began clapping and chanting “Li-vi-a! Li-vi-a!”
Beckett unleashed an ear-piercing whistle, followed by a round of hooting.
“Excuse me,” Livia mouthed to Blake and stood up.
Blake rose as well, and it took her a moment to realize he was getting up because she had. When she walked away, he resumed his seat. As Livia reluctantly stepped onto the wood floor, Kyle came at her with a running jump. Her eyes were hooded and glazed, and she hung onto Livia like a leather-clad koala bear.
“Do the routine for me. Please, Livie. I love you. I’m sorry I poisoned your boyfriend. I’m the one who made him so cute, though. You have to forgive me, Livia. I’m so bad.” Kyle looked close to tears.
“He barfed and now he’s fine,” Livia said. “You know I love you, and you’re not bad, you just make bad choices. Do I still have to do the routine?”
Kyle smiled and wrinkled her nose. “Oh, yes. The routine must happen. Assume the position.”
Kyle bounced out of Livia’s arms and gave Lorraine what must have been the universal hand gesture for I just tricked my sister into humiliating herself. Start the music before she runs.
The opening bars of the familiar song once again vibrated to life. It was very easy to dance with Kyle; she never forgot a step and could cover for her partner’s mistakes. In this case she’d been doing it since the fifth grade, thanks to her odd penchant for classic rock and her ability to get Livia to do whatever she wanted. The audience heckled the very juvenile dance routine, and Livia smiled at her sister while plotting to fill her breakfast orange juice with liquid laxative. The dance ended with three cartwheels in a row from Kyle while the less gymnastically inclined Livia waved frantic jazz hands.
Thankfully the music shifted seamlessly and the dancefloor filled again after the embarrassing routine was over. Livia continued dancing near her sister while stealing looks at Blake, whose attention was either on Livia or the napkin in his hand. Eventually, as always happened, Livia grew tired before Kyle showed any signs of slowing down.
“I’m sitting down,” she shouted to Kyle and pointed at the table.
Kyle nodded and danced away, dismissing Livia with a wave of her hand. Livia made her way back to the Beckett-jacked table, and Blake watched her as if she were crossing a tricky, ice-covered river. Livia tried not to trip as he stood when she came to the table. He held her chair as she sat and then resumed his own seat. He leaned toward her, and Livia put her feet on his chair.
“You’re beautiful.” Blake said hello as he’d said goodbye.
“You said that already,” Livia mouthed over the banging music.
Blake just shrugged. He flashed Livia a shy smile and held out the pink napkin to her. He’d turned it into a beautiful, perfect rose bud with a single leaf. Livia took the rose from his hand and turned it over carefully. He’d pinched tiny thorns into the paper stem. Livia put it to her nose as if to smell it. She realized he was waiting.
“You’re beautiful,” Livia mouthed. She would have hugged the rose if it weren’t so delicate. She hugged him instead.
With her ear so close, Blake was able to murmur into it. “May I have this dance?”
Livia giggled as the room vibrated with a rhythm they could feel. Blake stood and very seriously held out his hand. Livia couldn’t imagine turning him down, even if she had to figure out how to grind in time with the beat, but Blake had his own idea. He didn’t lead her to the dancefloor. Blake took her deeper into the corner behind their table.
With the pink rose cradled carefully in their combined hands, Blake and Livia began a slow dance to music only they could hear. Livia danced to the symphony she heard flowing out of the church window the night she found out he could play. She opened her eyes to see Blake’s serene face. She wondered if he danced to music he was composing in his head at this very moment—music that had not yet been played.
Livia and Blake danced like they were alone, not stuck in a blaring, sweaty night club.
Beckett eyed them as he lounged on three chairs he’d shoved together into a hard, uncomfortable couch. They’re so fucking innocent. They don’t have a clue why I showed up here tonight. If there hadn’t been an obnoxiously repeating Tweet about them, he certainly wouldn’t have come to this craphole no matter who was here. He scrolled through his text messages and found a new one from Eve.
This ur homeless brother?
She’d attached a picture of Blake slumped in the shade with a fresh red welt on his face. He was not looking at the camera. Some brain-dead mouth-breather had added a point total at the bottom of the pic:
Pennies Thrown: 34 Pennies Landed: 23
Beckett rubbed his hand over his mouth to hold his anger in.
He rarely did the killing himself anymore, but the photographer and the Photoshop artist would feel the full extent of his talent. Pennies would be used in every torture he could imagine, and Beckett had an extremely active imagination. He was currently contemplating how many sizzling-hot pennies could fit on the surface of one human’s skin. Branding their eyes shut would be the very last step, and the smell of burning skin would be his reward. Beckett ran a hand through his hair. Patience. If he spooked them, he’d never find them.
Beckett surveyed the crowd that had gathered around him. He caused a stir wherever he went nowadays, probably because he provided the resources for lots of experimenting among the poor souls of Poughkeepsie. There wasn’t a vice Beckett couldn’t supply, and the evils he offered were the highest quality. Beckett smiled at his past and future customers with both his dimples. No need to feel alarmed, his smile told them. The devil always had the biggest welcome mat at his door.
But all the while Beckett smiled and entertained with his filthy mouth and shameless flirting, he kept a watchful eye on Blake and Livia. The other picture Eve had sent to his phone was a doctored picture of Whitebread. She rocked at least double
Someone out there was tracking those two, so The Maxi Pad was now on unofficial lockdown, courtesy of his crew, and Eve was doing her best to track where the Tweet with the photos had originated. Beckett found himself grateful that Mouse was woman enough to frequent the ridiculous site. Eve reported that he’d found the picture floating on one of his knitter friend’s daughter’s page.
Beckett glanced over at the dancefloor. Fairy Princess was whore-bagging it out hard core. She could dance—he’d give her that—but she had the eyes of a veteran prostitute ten minutes before she retired for good.
“Merkin!” Beckett called over one of his minions.
Merkin could melt into any crowd. People never remembered he’d been there. He also had an unfortunate toupee, hence Beckett’s loving nickname.
“Boss.” Merkin arrived and awaited command.
“See that cute little fucking dancer? Get a shot of her when she’s smashed between a few dudes.” Beckett flipped his phone in Merkin’s direction.
Merkin nodded and slipped away. Beckett watched as he did some extremely white-man dancing to get close to the circle of guys closing in on Kyle. She was grinding against three men while she sucked on her finger seductively. After checking that the shot was clear, Merkin retreated and handed the phone back to Beckett, ensconced in his cluster of hangers-on.
“Thanks, you fucking muffin fluffer.” Beckett started his inaccurate texting as Merkin dissolved again into the crowd:
Hey# Cole U stuypid monk ur girll iz going dowen like the Hindenburg.
We r at the Maxzi %Pad
Beckett ordered a round of watered-down drinks for the fools around him. He threw in a request for a couple bottled waters for fucking Romeo and Juliet. They might get thirsty, even in their own damn world. His brother was lost in Livia, twirling her hair around his finger like he was making a magic fucking wand out of it.
Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes