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Poughkeepsie begins, p.18
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.18

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Horror poured over his romantic outing with Candy like blood. He spun, giving the assholes his back, and grabbed her by the shoulders.

  “Please go inside. Go home.” While he said it he tried to adjust his eyesight. Stupid. He had been stupid to do this.

  The sound of a rifle snapping into position sobered the whole setting.

  “Candy, come on over here.”

  Her father. And as much as that sucked, at least he had a way to get her home safely now.

  “You boys better go on to where you came from.” The man’s authoritative tone got action.

  Beckett walked Candy over, hands in the air with his body between her and the men threatening him about Kick.

  Her father’s face came into view as they neared. He was so angry, standing just inside the tree line.

  “And you’ll never darken my door again, Taylor. Understand?”

  Beckett didn’t answer, but Candy started to cry.

  “Please take her inside,” Beckett finally said softly.

  “Don’t tell me what to do with my daughter.”

  “Of course, sir. But please.” Beckett motioned in the direction of their house with his head and widened his eyes.

  Candy’s dad looked at the car full of shouting assholes and kept his gun aimed there as they peeled out. When the car was gone, Candy and her father began a family discussion that Beckett was the cause of but not included in. He waved at Candy sadly when she looked back over her shoulder.

  He stood with his hands clasped in front of him, head down, as his dream girl was led back to the life she belonged in.

  Kick was in trouble. Dumbass Doreen was in trouble. Now was his moment. Now he would decide which path to take.

  Blake climbed through the window and noticed light coming from under Cole’s door. He tapped out the combination that would let Cole know who was on the other side. There was gentle murmur of admittance, and Blake cracked the door. Wintery was curled up in Cole’s bed with her favorite elephant, and he sat on the end.

  Blake sat on the floor after closing the door behind him. “Nightmare?”

  “Sort of. I think it was more worry. Her mom is coming to get them tomorrow.”

  Blake shook his head. “I guess the judge was back from vacation. She’s clean already?”

  “I’m assuming. We’ll ask Beck when he’s home.”

  Blake looked at the little girl resting peacefully and nodded. “Left him at Candy’s house. He had some drama tonight, but he wasn’t arrested, so that worked out at least.” He pulled out his cardboard piano and smoothed it on the carpet. “How you doing?” He kept his eyes on his brother but moved his fingers to the beat of a hymn.

  “Fine.”

  “Really? ’Cause that was some intense stuff last week.” Blake added the bass to the song in his head.

  When Cole had returned to the house with Beckett and Blake, Rick had sent up flare signals all over the place, mostly to make sure his check for Cole’s care was reinstated. When the police came to question Cole, he simply told them his mom had failed to come home that night, so he went back to foster care because that seemed safest.

  The police had made some noise about paperwork being started, and an APB went out on his mother, but mostly things went back to the way they’d been. Beckett had assured them Safire would have no real way of finding Cole, and much of her warehouse had burned anyway.

  “It was what it was. It will do to me what it will.” Cole shrugged. “I’m back. The girls are who we should worry about now.”

  Blake nodded. He wouldn’t press Cole. He understood. His silence was sometimes the only privacy he had. It was a comfort.

  “You need to crash? Go sleep in my bed. I’ll stay up for her.” Blake nodded at the little lump in the bed.

  “I’m fine. You know what? I haven’t checked to make sure Summer is asleep too. You know she doesn’t like the hallway when it’s dark. Could you?”

  Nodding, Blake stood and held out his arm for the shake.

  When it was through, he went quietly into Wintery and Summer’s room to see the girl with the warmer name curled up sound asleep with her own stuffed tiger from the zoo. He almost left before he noticed the piece of paper in her hand. On the blank side of a junk mail flyer, she’d drawn a picture of herself and her sister with their mom in pencil. It was as cheery as she could make it without the benefit of crayons. I love Mommy was written across the top.

  Blake smiled before turning and easing her door shut. God, he hoped their mother wouldn’t disappoint them. And he hoped Candy could love some sense into Beckett. Finally, he hoped once again that Cole wasn’t so damaged by this latest experience with his mom that he would be broken forever.

  Beckett made his way into Kick’s horrible fucking house, and the dumbass was passed out and drooling—didn’t even have enough sense to prop himself up so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit.

  He slapped the man across the face. Once, twice, three times. The sounds of his hand against unconscious flesh brought a few deadbeats and dealers to the living room.

  He addressed them since Kick’s eyes remained closed. “What the fuck is going on?”

  Dentist, who had been quick to suck up lately, spoke up. “Jagged was here all making tons of shit and threats about a shipment he didn’t get. Judging from Kick being mostly dead, it’s the huge H delivery he was bragging about. Also, Dicksuckin’ Doreen was up to some shady shit yesterday. Jagged took her out of here like she was ransom and some shit. But that did not look like the God’s honest truth to me. I think Dicksuckin’ is doublecrossing Kick.”

  “Double D is a huge asshole. Who knew she had enough brain cells left to steal Jagged’s shipment?” And then Beckett got it. Double D had set up Kick, probably at Jagged’s request. Kick had been yelling the other day that she’d stolen his keys. If Kick lost the shipment—or was too wasted to prove they’d taken it—Jagged could claim he was within his rights to take over Kick’s territory.

  Beckett sighed as the motherfuckers and junkies looked to him for leadership. He thought of Candy’s dad looking at him like he was a piece of shit. The man wasn’t wrong. He was standing in a drug den, making plans about a fucking pimp drug dealer, and he knew his life had come down to a choice between his future and his brothers’.

  Tonight he had to decide who was more important. Candy had a road already paved for her. Her parents were crazy about her. She was smart. God, where would she fit in to this picture?

  “Arm up,” he told the motley crew around him. “We’re going to have a conversation with Double D.”

  Kick’s eyes fluttered open. Beckett got close, held his breath, and yelled in his face. “You’re fucking fired, you fucking dumbass! Your girlfriend started a war for all the territory I’ve earned. It’s mine. Get out!”

  He pointed to the door but didn’t have time to wait for the man to get his coordination together. Kick was still struggling to sit up when he left the house with the crew that was now his.

  He turned on the headlights as he pulled out, thinking of the scene they’d illuminated just an hour ago, and how they would now direct him somewhere else entirely.

  His heart wanted her, but his devotion to his brothers was bigger. And he knew leaving her behind was doing Candy a favor anyway.

  When Beckett came into Rick’s house the next morning, he wasn’t alone. Cole’s eyes widened as he watched Summer and Wintery’s mother come in behind him.

  “Go wake up your girls,” Beckett told her, pointing down the hall. “Tell them they’re going home.”

  Rick and his bride were missing, as they always were on Sunday mornings. Ironically, they went to church.

  She scurried off, and Beckett nodded at him and Blake where they sat at the table. How had he gotten the girls’ mother here? Why was he still wearing the same clothes from last night, sans jacket? Why did he have a black eye, a bandage on his hand, and scratches down the side of his face? All these questions would have to come later.

>   “I’m going to be gone today,” Beckett said. “I’m going with the girls to their mom’s place.”

  Cole stood and held up his arm for a shake. “She clean?”

  “For now. She’ll stay that way. No worries. I’ll see to it.”

  His eyes narrowed. The authority with which Beckett spoke led him to believe Beckett might control the supply of what the girls’ mom was addicted to.

  But before he could ask, Summer and Wintery burst into the kitchen. They couldn’t have been more excited. They both spoke at once, hugging the boys quickly before following their mother out the door like she was a fairy princess.

  “You’re taking them home?” Blake looked puzzled.

  “I’ve got it worked out with her,” Beckett explained. “I’m just going to settle them in, and a social worker will stop by. After that they’ll be monitored.”

  Cole nodded. “Great.” His brother sounded like a forty-four-year-old case manager. What the hell had happened last night?

  “See you tonight,” Beckett tossed over his shoulder as he walked out to the family waiting on the lawn.

  Blake and Cole looked at one another in silence for a few moments once they’d gone. Cole couldn’t recall it ever feeling so quiet. Too quiet. He needed to get out of the stifling stillness. “Walk?” he asked Blake, who nodded immediately. They were both good at missing people. Summer and Wintery had been like little viruses of hope.

  Outside, Blake stuck close to the trees, though the sun was behind the clouds. “What the hell did he do last night? How did he know where to get their mom?” he looked amazed.

  Cole shrugged. “He’ll tell us eventually. Something went down, for sure. The girls were happy, though. I’ll miss them, but I hope it sticks.”

  Blake nodded. “Seems like Beckett had a plan for that as well.”

  16

  Pictures

  AFTER THE LONGEST SUNDAY in recorded history, Candy sat in English class feeling completely despondent. Zyler had sauntered over to check on her, and she hadn’t even looked at him as she gave him the finger. Had no one ever turned him down before? Jesus.

  Beckett was still nowhere in sight, and she was worried. The guys who’d interrupted their romantic moment were from, as her mom would say, the wrong side of the tracks. And their yelling about drugs and hostages hadn’t even fazed him. He’d been instantly calculating, figuring out how to solve the problem and make it all work.

  That was scary. She’d recognized how much more of life Beckett had lived in that instant. She felt every small day of her seventeen coddled years. Once inside, her father had yelled at her and hugged her before sending her back up to her room. She had a dad who would grab a gun and face danger for his daughter. Beckett had picked up his own guns because no one was fighting for him.

  She looked around the classroom and noticed that everyone was in nice clothes. They seemed to be snickering at her too.

  The presentation!

  Well, she could fight for their grade. Candy was called first, thanks to her endlessly giving last name and the teacher’s preference for alphabetical order.

  She pulled her research out of the bag. It took her a few moments to get her thoughts together, but she’d delivered almost the entire thing when the classroom door slammed open.

  “Really? Really? Was it before or after we got Freddy inside, Twyler? You played the big man, protecting her from a fight, but there was no one to protect her from you!” Beckett was furious, his eyes boring in to Zyler, who just smirked.

  What on earth was he talking about? She gave him a forced smile. “Glad you came, Beckett. I’m just wrapping up our presentation. Want to add your findings? I have them here.” She held out a piece of paper to him, but her hands were shaking.

  Zyler stood up when the teacher did, obviously ready for shit to go down.

  “Dude, slow down. Let’s keep this all business.” The slimy smile Zyler wore seemed knowing. The class snickered as he pretended to take a picture of Candy with an invisible camera.

  Beckett turned his head like the Terminator, and everyone in the class could see Zyler regretted his words instantly. Blake and Cole ran through the door into the classroom.

  “Too late,” Cole remarked.

  Beckett went for Zyler like they were unsupervised in prison. He flipped empty desks on his way, like a tornado making a straight path when the furniture would suggest a jagged one. Cole and Blake immediately followed, trying to get a hold on Beckett. But they didn’t get there before he had landed three punches: one to Zyler’s face, one to his balls, and the other to his gut. Cole held on to Beckett’s back, and Blake stepped bravely between his brother and Zyler, apparently the only way to get him to stop.

  Mrs. Drivens scrambled over the desks to reclaim order, but the boys had stopped themselves. Candy held the paper she’d prepared for Beckett crumpled between her hands. She still stood at the front of the class like she was giving the presentation. The other kids seemed both scared and energized by the violence and began talking among themselves about what they’d just seen.

  Zyler moaned from the floor. Beckett turned back to Candy.

  “You didn’t tell me he put his hands on you.”

  Blake put his hands up in front of Beckett. “Okay, you’ve made your point. We don’t know exactly—”

  “What do I need to know? Are the pictures not enough? I saw tons of pictures on my way here. What the fuck?”

  “Language. Boys. Mr. Taylor, get yourself to the principal’s office right now. I’d call him down, but I can’t get to the intercom button because you made a mess of my classroom.”

  Beckett ignored her, addressing Candy again. “I’m so sorry. I know this all comes back to me.”

  “Go, Beckett, to the principal right now,” Mrs. Drivens repeated. “Zyler, can you walk? You really need to go too. But do you need the nurse to come here first?”

  Candy crawled over a desk and followed the brothers out of the classroom. Blake broke away from Beckett and Cole to stop her from pursuing.

  “Please tell me what’s going on. I have no idea.” She felt tears fill her eyes.

  Blake looked around. “The pictures. They’re not here. Not in this hallway. You haven’t seen them?”

  She shook her head, freeing the tears and wiping them away quickly. Blake looked reluctant, but he pointed to an adjacent hallway, and she saw what had Beckett all twisted up. Photocopied pictures hung everywhere. Pictures of her, eyes wide and mouth open, with Zyler’s hand on her breast, his delighted smile over her shoulder. Her mind backtracked through the flashbulbs at the dance and her argument with Zyler all the way to the snickering from her classmates this morning. It all clicked into place.

  “That fuckhead. I can’t believe they did this to me.” She made her hands into fists.

  “What happened?”

  “At the dance Zyler said he could help me get outside, and he led me out into the dark hall and then grabbed me as a joke—or he said it was a joke—which scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t see because there were flashbulbs, and it turns out those were for this.” She swung her arm wildly. “To do this to me today. God, I hate him and all his posturing crap. And he grabbed my boob.” She went to the nearest picture and pulled it down, then another and another, trying to get to them all at once. Blake had started to help her when she saw the poster-sized one hung way out of reach.

  “They used a ladder? Oh my God.”

  Beckett stormed into the hallway with Cole shaking his head next to him. He seemed so angry, yet also horrified and guilty all at once. She saw his face and ignored everything else as she went to him. He put out his hands to stop her, but she batted them away and hugged him instead, letting her tears take over. She was embarrassed and felt utterly alone, and she just wanted it to stop.

  She felt his arms come around her. She rubbed her face on his shirt before looking up into his eyes. “He said he could help me get outside, get to the police station, and I had no idea what he was actuall
y doing when that happened.” She pointed over her shoulder. “And this sucks, but it was meant to make you go off, to punish me for going with you to the dance, and to humiliate me for not choosing him.”

  Mr. Gold appeared in the hallway and cleared his throat. “Taylor, you and I have a few things to discuss. The rest of you can go back to class. I’ll call you if I need any additional information.”

  Beckett put his arm around Candy and turned to face Mr. Gold. “Candy did not consent to this picture being taken, as should be pretty obvious from the picture itself, and she sure as shit doesn’t want it all over the school. Can we take all these down first?”

  “Are you going to punch any other kids in the privates?”

  “Absolutely. If a dude takes a picture of a girl and posts it everywhere without her consent, I’ll punch him in the nuts. I’ll do a few times if it’s Candy.”

  Mr. Gold sighed. “You make things so easy on me, Taylor.” The AP unclipped the walkie from his hip and asked for a ladder to be delivered. Candy, Beckett, Cole, and Blake spent fifteen minutes taking down all the pictures they could find. Just minutes before the bell rang, Mr. Gold asked Beckett to come outside with him instead of back to the main office. Candy guessed it was because dumbass Zyler was getting his bullshit iced in the adjacent nurse’s office.

  Candy followed Beckett to the exit door, stopping him with her hand. “You okay?”

  “Of course.” He turned to smile at her. “I’m sorry I came in there like a sledgehammer of assholes, and that I missed our presentation.” He touched her face while Mr. Gold held open the door.

  “We’ll discuss your contributions to our group work later.” She gave him a hard look. “But in retrospect, I don’t mind the sledgehammer part too much.”

  “Before the bell, Taylor.” Mr. Gold coughed.

  Beckett leaned in and kissed Candy’s cheek. “Don’t let the fuckers get to you, okay?”

  “I won’t.”

  Beckett turned and walked out of the school with such finality, it worried her a little.

 
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