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Poughkeepsie begins, p.17
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.17

           Debra Anastasia
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  But it didn’t matter. Letting the cops in even a little allowed them to break down the door, and he had too much riding on the situation with Kick to let that happen. He’d just have to take what they gave him and hope for the best.

  He heard her before he saw her. “I need to speak to the officer in charge,” she announced. “You have a guy back there who’s being framed. I can prove it.”

  Candy’s hair was askew, and her little fucking tit-covering sweater was rolled up in the back. He gave her a wave and pantomimed checking his watch. “Curfew,” he mouthed.

  Candy stuck her tongue out at him before an officer escorted her to sit in the chair next to him. Then he pulled over an empty chair from the desk of an Officer John McHugh, according to the name plate. Obviously that officer was lucky enough to be home tonight.

  “Okay, Miss…” The cop gave her a leading pause, encouraging her to provide her information.

  “Candy Cox.” She rattled off her address, phone number, and her father’s job without being asked.

  “Beckett here—” she pointed at him “—is a kid in the foster system and has trouble opening up to authority. He’s a nice guy, though. So nice that when he saw Freddie—Do you know Freddie?” The cop didn’t respond. “Freddie is an amazing guy at school. Super friendly and everyone loves him. He also happens to have Down syndrome. Those guys from another school were waiting outside the building when we arrived, and started taunting Freddie as well. They also assaulted him, upending a tray of cookies he was carrying. Beckett and I saw that they intended to harm Freddie, not to mention the horrible things they were saying to him—and you, sir, need to understand that there were no adults around. It was just Beckett, Freddie, and me against all those other kids. Beckett was trying to get Freddie and me to safety. And I bet those kids from Somers have been lying their faces off, because in the cold, harsh light here at the police station, actually verbalizing that they were picking on Freddie seems too hard. It was clearly a cowardly, jerk move.”

  Beckett felt his smile lifting on one corner of his mouth. She had so much fight in her. And the fear she should’ve had was absent.

  “So Beckett’s his first name; what’s his last? He looks familiar, so I have a feeling if I run his prints I’ll have a lot of answers.” The cop tapped his pen on his clipboard.

  Candy stood up. “Are you kidding me? After all I just told you? Gift wrapping an amazing witness and telling you this guy right here should be commended for protecting me and Freddie, and all you’re concerned with is the power struggle of getting his name? Who is your commanding officer? I want to talk to her.” She stomped her foot.

  She was so goddamn adorable. Beckett watched even the cop swallow a smile.

  “Please have a seat, Miss Cox. Let me explain something to you.”

  “No. I’m standing.” She crossed her arms under her breasts, and Beckett watched as the cop deliberately put his eyes on her face. Her boobs looked amazing from his perspective.

  “Fine. I’ll have you know that not all the Somers kids, as you referred to them, are liars. A few owned up to the exact scenario you just told me. And Freddie told us plenty at the scene. As far as Mr. Taylor—oh yes, I know his last name—this is a lesson for him too. You should have called us to help. That’s what we do. If Mr. Taylor could learn that we are in no way his enemy now, this early in his life, that could help him tremendously.”

  “So he’s free to go?” Candy held out her hand.

  Beckett waited.

  “Yes, he is. Which I would have told him as soon as he provided his name.”

  Beckett stood and took her hand.

  “So you know, I have great respect for what you do,” Candy told the cop. “And considering what my father does for a living, I usually default to seeking authorities in a crisis. But understand me when I tell you that Freddie was in danger and neither Beckett nor I are the kind of people to stand by and listen to our classmate be ridiculed. That might get us in trouble, but that’s how we’re going to live our lives. Right?” She pinned him with her fired-up eyes, and he wanted to pin her against the wall in return.

  The cop stood. “I should ’fess up. Freddie is my nephew. Thank you both for not leaving him alone tonight.” He turned to Beckett. “I owe you a favor now. Please let it be helping you fill out the paperwork for college or something awesome. Don’t be a punk.”

  Beckett offered him a smirk as the officer moved to the side and let them pass. The Somers kids were strewn around the police station looking either angry or downtrodden. Beckett scratched his forehead with his middle finger as they made their way to the door.

  Candy grabbed his hand. “Don’t. Are you crazy?”

  “What time is it?”

  She pointed to the clock on the wall. 11:15. Shit.

  “It’s okay. I’ll explain to them what happened.” She walked to the payphones in the lobby.

  “Who brought you here?” Beckett leaned next to the payphone.

  “Blake. He was able to get your car started.” Candy lifted the receiver.

  “You can call your parents, but I’ll drive you home.” Beckett dug in his pocket and pulled out change.

  “In what?” She looked truly puzzled as she punched in her number.

  “Blake will circle this place until I come out. We never leave each other behind.” Beckett shrugged.

  “That’s sweet.” When someone answered, Beckett listened to her explain that they were running late but she’d be home soon. She neglected to mention that she was at the police station. She seemed not to be in tremendous trouble…yet.

  When she hung up, he took her hand as they walked out into the parking lot. As soon as they cleared the doors, he pulled her to him, twirled her into his arms, and touched his nose to the tip of hers. “Thank you.”

  “It’s the least I could do.”

  She pulled back and kissed the end of his nose, and his heart exploded for her. She was more than the flavor of the week. She was a stand-up girl. Brave, right, and hot as fuck.

  “Well, actually, I think the least you could do is take off that grandma sweater and let me see those glorious tits again.”

  She smacked his forearm and started to smack his bicep. He hugged her to him. She snuggled into his arms. Candy was the kind of girl who could make him doubt his whole plan of taking over for Kick. Maybe there was a better way to save his brothers. Maybe…

  Cole sat in his darkened room, waiting for his brothers. He was still having trouble coming down from where his mother had taken him mentally, though he’d been back at Rick’s physically for a week. He was sure there was a professional name for the collapsing of his reality and the fear that rose in his throat unexpectedly.

  When Beckett and Blake weren’t around, the fear was worse. Every shadow was coming for him. He knew he could turn on the light, but he should be sleeping. Asshole Rick at least paid the electric bill. Child Protective Services paid attention to the electric bill, and he wanted the checks, so he made sure that was done.

  Cole pulled his blanket over his head, trying to box out the shadows. But they just felt closer, and he had to stare at them even if that made it worse. Knowing his mother was most likely dead should have made him feel better. But there had been a part of him—a stupid, wishful part of him—that thought she would change if she was off drugs. To know she’d gotten clean for the specific purpose of luring him back into her prison, her web, was the worst betrayal of all.

  Beckett would find out for sure. He would tell Cole if his mother was dead and gone or not.

  To an outside observer, Beckett was probably the most screwed up of the three brothers—all the drugs, the smart mouth, the quick temper. But Cole knew the truth: Blake was actually second in line for the messed-up title, and he wore the crown. What was it Beckett always said? “You’re the fucking quiet one—locked and loaded and no one has a goddamn clue.”

  Blake was broken, but he was most dangerous to himself, so afraid that his very existence in thi
s world would offend someone. Beckett, though a swirling pile of crime and charm, was the most together. He had the street smarts that mattered so much. That and the confidence he either had or faked would get him anywhere he wanted to go in life.

  But Cole had been in a cage. Like a monster. Like a wild animal. The lack of human connection had tripped something in him he wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure anyone could undo. Pain and love were so jumbled inside him, he wondered if someone would have to lock him up again just so he could feel in control.

  He remembered again how he’d felt when Beckett and Blake burst through the door in that awful warehouse, remembered that for some reason he’d been praying just before then. He’d tried it a few times since then as well. And amazingly, it did make him feel a little better, a little calmer. He wasn’t very good—mostly he just repeated words over and over again—but maybe that was enough. Yesterday he’d even managed to hold his hands together and pray instead of cutting. A mixture of superstition and compulsion might not be the healthiest way to stop slicing his skin, but at least he was finding an outlet that didn’t make him bleed. Perhaps he should try it now…

  He heard a tentative tap on his door. It came from closer to the bottom, so it was likely one of the little girls. Either Summer or Wintery had had a nightmare. He got up and fought one million monsters between his bed and the doorknob. He arranged the mask on his face to cover his terror as he opened the door. Quiet Wintery looked in his eyes, judging the situation. This kid who read the adult figures in her life by their body language instead of just barreling in made Cole’s heart quiver. He recognized what she was doing. He smiled for her. She’d never know that that expression on his face at this very moment was miracle.

  “Cole?” she whispered, and he motioned her in, turning the lights on for her.

  She closed the door after she’d dragged her huge plush elephant from the zoo in behind her.

  “What’s up?” He crouched at her level, making sure she was okay. God, he needed her goodness in this room. She lit up the darkness with her presence. The monsters crawled from his head, scared of the little girl. Ironic.

  “I had a nightmare.” Her eyes were wide.

  He knew better than to shush her and tell her nightmares weren’t real. They often were.

  She came to the foot of his bed, tossing her animal buddy up and using it as a cushion against the wall to support her back. Wintery’s gentle presence in his room sent his fear cowering to the corners. For that he said a prayer of thanks.

  He sat on the floor, looking at her, waiting to see if what she was afraid of had been manufactured in her imagination, made from real memories, or due to impending uncertainty.

  “Mommy is coming to get Summer and me tomorrow.” She looked at her toes, the nails there colored with what looked like marker.

  He nodded.

  “And I don’t know if she’s right Mommy or wrong Mommy.” She looked at him for answers then.

  He rubbed his forearm. She didn’t need to explain. He’d been picked up by wrong Mother. At least Summer and Wintery had a right version. Their mother was kind and proud when she had her head on straight.

  “She had to pass some important tests to be able to take you.” Cole threaded his fingers together.

  “Rick said to keep my suitcase packed because I’ll be back here soon.” Wintery’s huge eyes sought his assurance.

  “If you come back, you know Beckett, Blake, and I will be here for you. But I hope you don’t, sweetheart. Your mommy loves you and Summer so much.”

  “Sometimes she’s on the floor, and we can’t wake her,” she whispered. “Even when we pour water on her. Then we’re back here.”

  “I know,” was all he could say. The courts must have moved through some orders this month. First his mom, now theirs. “We’re going to stay in touch. You can call us if you need help, or if your mom needs help.” It felt crazy being strong for her when he was so weak on the inside. “And sometimes it helps if you pray.”

  After seeing his brothers tumble through the door at Safire’s after he’d begged God to prove him worthy, he felt it was okay to pass on this information to the little girl.

  Wintery nodded and looked less panicked. “Can I sleep here?”

  This was frowned upon, of course.

  “Sure, little lady. Stuffy too?”

  She crawled under the covers, and he tucked the blankets around her before sitting at the foot.

  “He comes everywhere I do. I can bring him tomorrow, right?” She hugged the giant stuffed elephant from the zoo.

  He hoped she could, so he nodded. Wintery fell asleep quickly now that her fears had been communicated. Watching her sweet face in repose, Cole willed her mother to have her shit together this time. If Beckett came home tonight, he’d ask him.

  Beckett waited in the car a little ways down Candy’s street. He’d whispered his plan in her ear just before he apologized to her father for their tardiness. And now her light flickered.

  “That’s my cue to go.” Blake held out his arm for the shake. “I want to go check in with Cole anyway.” They slipped into a fist bump.

  “Thanks for all your help, brother. Couldn’t have done tonight without you.”

  Blake nodded and left the passenger door unlatched so his departure was silent.

  Beckett snuck out of the car as well, moving through the yards until he stood under her window. Her wide smile was worth it all. She’d kept on her pretty dress, sans the sweater as he’d requested, and now she crawled out of her window. He got a beautiful view of her panties as she slid on her belly and let herself dangle from the roof’s edge.

  He wrapped his arms around her knees and enjoyed the hell out of slowly lowering her to the ground, pressing her body against his the whole time.

  “Come on,” he whispered, pulling her behind him to the car.

  She hugged his forearm as she followed, and it made him feel strong. He flexed like a lovesick asshole.

  “Where are we going?” She sounded like she was still smiling.

  “You’ll see.” Beckett pulled her to stand in front of the car and motioned for her to stay put.

  He reached into the car, which was still running, and pulled on the headlights. She hugged herself as if the harsh light was a cold splash of water. The headlights cut through the fabric of her dress and revealed the outline of her slightly open thighs. The music was already on, and he made it just loud enough for them to hear.

  He left his door open and met her in the light. “May I have this dance, Miss Candy Cox?”

  She rolled her eyes and shook her head, pretending to turn away so he was forced to pull her into his arms.

  “I’ll take that as a yes,” he said.

  “You would.” She laughed and shivered. “Giving you a peek at the girls is making me freeze them off.” She pointed at her chest.

  Beckett wrinkled his nose before sliding off his leather jacket and putting it on her. “Leather-framed boobs are my favorite.”

  He arranged her body in a traditional dance position and began to move with her.

  “Wait, you have serious, real moves?” She looked delighted and confused.

  “Keep up, gorgeous.” And then Beckett made a memory. He’d been looking forward to dancing with her. And now he could.

  He wasn’t getting jealous looks from all the dumbasses at school like he’d hoped, but her soft giggle when he twirled her beat that hands down. One song bled into another until they were just swaying, pulled in close to each other.

  “The stars are so clear tonight. Pretty.” She leaned back in his arms to see them better.

  “Stunning.” He never looked up, just looked at her.

  She put her hands above her head, stretching back like a cat. He pulled her up, kissing her forehead first. He had kissed a lot of girls, so he knew when to nip, when to add a touch of tongue or let her take the lead. As he did those very things, he reveled in the little purrs of satisfaction and wonder that came from her.
This was so much more than screwing her senseless. This trust and innocence she handed him made him taller. It made his chest puff up.

  His. She was his. He got it now, kissing her as she slid her hands to his biceps, moving to his chest and over his stomach. This was a type of oxygen he’d never had. It was spiked with her want, with the gentle look on her face. She put her hands on his cheek, soft. Her hands were so soft.

  “Thank you for helping Freddie. You were so brave, it was terrifying. And crazy hot.” She kissed him again.

  Beckett should have rushed in to confess all the other terrifying things he was capable of, but in the sanctity of the light from the stolen headlights, covered by a night sky with her in his arms, he wanted to believe he was good for one fucking moment.

  “So ask me.” She pulled away and put space between them, still holding his big hands in her small ones.

  He gave her a puzzled look. What she wanted asked was a mystery.

  “To be your girlfriend?” She gave him a look from under her lashes.

  “Oh! Well, now. Aren’t we bossy?” He spun her again and pulled her back against his chest, using a hand to move her hair to the side of her neck so he could press a kiss there. “I would love for you to be my girlfriend.”

  “So are you asking? Is this formal?” She wrapped her arms around his neck, tipping her head back so he could place a kiss on her cheek.

  He murmured against her skin. “What does that entail? Skywriters? Jewelry?”

  “Just a boy asking a girl. That’s all it takes.” She closed her eyes and lifted an eyebrow, waiting.

  “Fine. That sounds easy enough…Candy, will you be my—”

  His question was cut off by the sound of a horn. Startled, he shuffled Candy behind him. Because of the fucking headlights, he couldn’t see who he was facing.

  “Fucking Taylor. Where’s my shipment? I’ve got Kick’s hooker in here handing out the worst blow jobs in the history of dick. I don’t think he’ll pull his stoner head out of his ass long enough to care. Somebody better take this shit serious right now.”

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