Poughkeepsie, p.2
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       Poughkeepsie, p.2

           Debra Anastasia

  Livia had trouble concentrating in the mornings as she anticipated Blake looking for her as she came down the steps at the station. She began arriving earlier and earlier, blaming her change in scheduling on wanting a better parking spot when her family asked.

  But it was a lie. She just craved more time with Blake. During those minutes each morning and evening, she felt herself becoming someone she’d never been before. Not someone else, really, but fully herself. She basked in Blake’s attention.

  Depending on the sun, he sometimes now met her as she pulled in. Her heart would pound as she glimpsed his familiar form from the top of the stairs. Twice she almost wrecked her car because he was staring at her.

  When the sun was out, she would walk to find him in his shade. He always stood as she approached. They’d fill the minutes before the train with happy banter and always had so much to tell each other. Blake had inquired politely about Livia’s schoolwork and what she studied, but she quickly changed the subject. She was proud to be going to grad school, but Chris had made enough comments condemning her field of study that she was shy about it now. During their last phone conversation he’d reminded her that psychology was the study of psychos. He didn’t understand her need to listen to those who might not have anyone else to confide in.

  Instead of sharing insights from her studies, Livia made mental notes whenever something amusing happened so she could share it with Blake. Sometimes her cheeks hurt from laughing when he finally held her car door open for her in the evening. He was there every day and every night. For her.

  One morning she arrived with her breakfast in her hands, trying to buy even more train-station time. He seemed so distracted by her simple bagel with egg. She wanted to beat herself over the head with it. He was hungry.

  I’m a dumbass. Of course. She’d been so selfish—just pleased to be adored and never once thinking, let alone asking, about how he got to her, how he survived. He wasn’t an angel, but a live person who needed sustenance and shelter to survive.

  The next morning, determined to do better, she arrived with a beautiful breakfast sandwich tucked into her bag. How many mornings have I smiled at him? She grinned as she got out of the car and on the entire walk to the platform. As she started down the large staircase, she saw him. The desire to be near him suddenly became a physical presence. Whoa.

  Today Blake stood in his shady spot with Livia’s smile echoed on his face. She had to force herself not to run to him.

  “You’re early.” His eyes stayed on her face.

  “I made you a sandwich,” she announced, presenting it proudly.

  Instead of more smiling, Blake’s whole face disengaged. He put his now lifeless gaze on the ground and nodded with grave seriousness.

  “I’m not a charity case.” His words had sharp edges.

  Livia bit her lip. “I make a really great breakfast. I just wanted to share.”

  Embarrassment crawled up her throat like heartburn. She’d obviously crossed a very prominent line in the sand.

  “I didn’t earn that sandwich.” He stared at it like it might come alive.

  “Well, from my point of view you did. You’ve escorted me to my car, and you’ve entertained me for weeks. I appreciate it.” She watched his eyes for a sign of life.

  “Any man should be expected to shepherd an unattended lady to her car.” Blake now moved his gaze to her feet.

  Of course, he wants to be a thoughtful gentleman, not a trained seal getting food for tricks.

  “Are you saying I’m too delicate to walk myself to my car? I shared my fear of the dark with you, and now here you are throwing it in my face.” Livia squinted at him and peeked through the lashes of one eye. Please let this work.

  His eyes flashed to her face. “No, of course not. I have no desire to hurt your feelings.”

  “Well, as an empowered woman, I’ve decided to repay your kindness. I have no intention of putting a gentleman to a task and not reciprocating in some way.” Livia held her nose up with mock-exaggerated dignity.

  His tone became a bit more playful. “Like I said, that wasn’t a task, it’s what manners require. Now, I might be able to take that sandwich if you were also giving these other fifty people on the platform a nice bagel, but I only see the one.”

  “You’re really not going to eat it?”

  He shook his head, his hair falling into his bashful eyes.

  Fine. Livia changed the subject and chatted politely with Blake about the weather until the train arrived. She didn’t mention the breakfast when she saw him in the evening, and left him a bit more quickly than usual. She had to stop at the store.

  I’ll feed fifty goddamn people every freaking morning if I have to. Just so he can eat one sandwich.

  She woke before dawn the next morning and was a whirling dervish in the kitchen by five o’clock. Cracked eggshells covered the counter around the sink, and foil-wrapped circles were stacked on every available square inch of table—and some of the chairs.

  About an hour in, Kyle stumbled onto the scene through the back door. “What the hell?” she grumbled. She pulled her messy hair out of her face to better examine the ridiculous preparations. “Are you having, like, one of those sleep-drug-induced wakemares?”

  “You’re up already? Wait—are you just getting home? That’s what you were wearing yesterday,” Livia said, eyebrows arched. “And I don’t take sleep drugs. What’s a wakemare?” She held her dripping hands over the sink.

  Kyle opened the fridge and grabbed the OJ. She chugged it like she was in a Tropicana commercial and burped loudly when she was done.

  Livia wrinkled her nose. “You’re disgusting.”

  Kyle gave her sister the finger. “You’re a pecker sniffer.” Kyle lived to shock Livia any chance she got. “A wakemare—I don’t know, people take sleep meds and think they’re sleeping but really they’re up ordering pizza and then doing the delivery guy.”

  Livia rolled her eyes. “Are you going to tell me where you’ve been?” She cracked more eggs into a huge bowl.

  “Are you going to tell me why you’re the scourge of every chicken in Poughkeepsie?” Kyle sniffed her armpit and made a face.

  After a moment of silent impasse, the sisters concluded their discussion by sticking their tongues out at each other.

  Forty-five minutes later, Livia raced the clock as she packed the sandwiches into grocery bags, with one very special bagel in a cooler. If she missed the train, this whole rigmarole would be for nothing.

  When she arrived at the station, with a screech, the sun was out, so she knew she’d be carting her bounty down the stairs by herself. After navigating the steep steps, feeling a little like a pack mule in the process, Livia sat demurely on a bench, trying her best to ignore Blake. He watched her from his shady spot with a curious grin. Finally she looked over her shoulder and pulled out the sign she’d made for the occasion:

  Breakfast sandwiches for friggin’ everybody!!

  She held it so Blake could read it. He shook his head and bit his lip. “You’re crazy,” he mouthed.

  She blew him a kiss, and he pretended to catch it. She felt her hot blush travel from her neck to her cheeks. All their previous conversations could be construed as friendly, but this was flat-out flirting. Livia got tingles all over whenever she glanced in his direction.

  Her “customers” accepted their usual smile from her, with the added bonus of a sandwich. Some said thank you, and some complained that the eggs were cold. Livia locked eyes with Blake again, and he shook his head while leaning against the station’s brick wall.

  When she was down to two sandwiches, she closed up shop. The last few arrivals on the platform, who remained sandwich-less, grumbled. But Livia shook her head and clutched the cooler behind her back as she went over to see Blake.

  “Now don’t let me down,” she said as she stepped into his shade. “That was a lot of work to get you to try my cooking.”

  “You’re a stubborn woman,” he said appreciati
vely. He pushed away from the wall and met her in the middle.

  Livia couldn’t take her eyes off his lips. “So I’m pretty sure we had a deal, right? I get the pleasure of forcing my sandwich on you now.”

  “When you put it that way, I must accept your kind gift.” He nodded formally.

  Livia wrinkled her nose and smiled at this triumph over his obviously strict code of standards. She handed him the cooler, and they sat on the ground. He seemed to get lost in the food. He was obviously fighting an eternal battle to avoid sucking it down like a vacuum.

  He’s so hungry.

  Livia was furious with herself all over again for not bringing food before. Lumped in the shadows every morning, he was hungry and she hadn’t fed him. It seemed sacrilegious.

  Blake wiped his mouth with the napkin she’d provided. “That was exquisite. I humbly thank you.”

  Livia was quick to respond. “And I you.”

  She repacked his trash and zippered up the cooler. His eyes followed her hands taking care of him.

  “It’s a lovely morning,” Livia prompted. She just wanted to hear his voice some more.

  “It’s a lovely morning,” he repeated.

  Instead of taking in the splendor of the emerging fall colors and the choppy Hudson River, his eyes scanned her face like it was a million miles of heaven.

  “Tell me, Livia, what did you do last night?” He cocked his head to the side.

  “I did my homework for class, did laundry, planned a ginormous breakfast. Boring stuff.” Ignored a pile of magazines more threatening than an assassin.

  “What’s troubled you? Your eyes look stormy right now,” he said.

  Livia smoothed her forehead with her fingertips. This man, having eaten for the first time in God knows when, made her worries about the upcoming proposal seem petty and foolish.

  “Just girl stuff.” Her eyes found his green ones again.

  “Are you saying I’m too delicate to hear about your girl stuff?” Blake asked in a higher octave voice, his eyes wide.

  Livia ran her hand through her hair and grinned. “Touché.”

  “Tell me.” His voice was sexy and intense, like a spy trying to acquire sensitive information.

  Livia shook her head as she began to explain. “Well…my boyfriend asked my father if he could marry me a few weeks ago—almost a month now, I think—and he’s hasn’t actually proposed.”

  Blake’s eyes registered the verbal punch. He seemed to swallow something that wasn’t there.

  “But I’m okay with that,” Livia added quickly. “Actually, I’m glad…I don’t know. I can’t figure out what’s going on with me, but I haven’t even wanted to see him.”

  “Has something happened?” Blake asked. “You seem distressed.”

  Safe. I can tell him. Livia took a deep breath. “Chris and I have been together forever—we met when I started college. I know marriage is the next step. It’s just…” Livia searched for words to explain her dread.

  Livia was surprised when Blake didn’t fill the silence with a guess, as Chris would have. He let her complete her own thoughts.

  “Chris and I just don’t see the world the same way. It took me a while to realize that, and then I kept thinking he was going to change—suddenly discover he’s not a teenager anymore.” She sighed. “You know the best compliment he’s ever given me? ‘You’re pretty enough to get by.’ He’s said it so many times.”

  Blake waited until she set her deep gray eyes on him. “He has no idea the beauty in front of him. He’s a fool.”

  His words made her heart glow. She smiled and looked at her hands.

  “Ten minutes until your train.” Blake nodded at the platform filling with people.

  Livia turned to survey the crowd. She wondered how Blake knew the time; he had no watch.

  His eyes shifted over the waiting people. “They worry about you because you talk to me.”

  Livia realized the other commuters were stealing glances at them. She turned back to Blake like a flower seeking sun.

  “They can kiss my ass. I’d rather talk to you than stand with those spineless nimrods any day.”

  Blake looked fretful. “Livia, you’re not invisible to them. There’s a stigma for talking to me.”

  “They mean nothing to me.”

  “Be that as it may, I’d like to see you have a seat again, so you better go stand with the spineless nimrods.” He stood. “Would you like me to hold on to your cooler since it’s empty now? I’ll return it to you tonight.” He motioned to her arm, but Livia had to step back into his self-imposed shade prison to pass the cooler to him.

  “That’s so thoughtful. Thank you.” Livia smiled.

  Blake gently traced his fingertips over her hand before he took the strap. The jolt from this touch was more than Livia could ever remember feeling during Chris’s sloppy kisses.

  Since they seemed to be sharing truths today, Livia decided to take one last leap. “So, Blake, what are the symptoms of your sun allergy?”

  She expected a rash, maybe hives. Nothing prepared her for his answer.

  Blake looked around the platform covertly before he locked his gaze on hers. “Livia, I’m made of glass, but it only shows in the sun. I can’t be caught in sunlight or everyone will know what I am.” He looked eager for her to understand.

  Now it was Livia’s turn to swallow something that wasn’t there. She recovered as quickly as Blake had. “I’m sorry to hear that, Blake. But I bet you’re very beautiful in the sun.” She watched as his face became triumphant.

  He thinks I believe him.

  Then, with her world radically different than it had been even a few minutes before, Livia walked toward the arriving train in a fog. Onboard, she magically got a seat and a thumbs-up from Blake when she looked back at him on the platform. She waved, and he smiled like she was the eighth wonder of the world. Livia didn’t realize she had tears on her cheeks until the train hit the Marble Hill stop.

  I’m an idiot—of course he’s broken. He must be so very broken.

  On the train ride home, Livia tried to stop chastising herself. She’d spent the day avoiding everything she should have been doing. With an entire faculty of psychologists around her, Livia had failed to ask a single one about Blake’s particular delusion. She also kept sending Chris to voicemail and ignoring his text messages. She felt another twinge of guilt as she freshened her vanilla lip gloss and fluffed her hair just before the train pulled in to Poughkeepsie. As the car emptied of its weary passengers, Livia looked for Blake’s messy hair and lanky frame.

  He stood dead center in the midst of the flow of exiting commuters. Livia’s anticipatory smile turned into outright giggling when she saw his delighted face. People continued to pour out around them, but Livia and Blake stood fast like two river stones, immovable in the current.

  She finally addressed him. “Hi.”

  “Hello, Livia.” His silvery voice surrounded her name like a veil.

  One of the commuters shoved Livia from behind. Not hard, just enough to let her know the regularly scheduled traffic pattern had been interrupted. With one hand, Blake steadied Livia and with the other, he prevented the male commuter from passing.

  Livia was about to tell Blake to let the man go—No harm, no foul—when she caught a glimpse of his face. He looked like an avenging angel.

  “Apologize to the lady,” Blake’s voice was smooth, calm, and deadly. He’d also unleashed his bright green eyes on the poor bastard, who looked like he might wet his pants.

  “Sorry.” The guy looked relieved when Blake nodded and let him pass.

  “Are you okay?” The concern in Blake’s voice made Livia laugh again. He was acting like she’d just been in a train wreck.

  “I’m perfectly fine. You do know I go to the city every day? I get shoved all the time.”

  Instead of quieting the riot in his eyes, this news made Blake seem even more troubled. The train rumbled off behind Livia, and they were finally alone in the
gloriously deserted station.

  “Did you have a nice day?” he asked, watching as if her answer was all that mattered in the world.

  “It’s better now.” Too much, Livia. She had no idea why her mouth was so free around him. The mere presence of Blake removed some sort of filter in her mind.

  He held out her cooler like a prize.

  “Thank you very much for taking care of it.” Their fingertips grazed again at the exchange. Something inside the cooler rattled around, and Livia arched an eyebrow.

  “You could open it,” he offered.

  He looked in her eyes as she unzipped the cooler. It was chock full of debris. She felt her heart stop beating in despair. She lifted out the pile of leaves and rocks. Blake looked so expectant.

  He thinks I understand what this means. Livia let the silence grow, having no idea what would bring the magic between them back. Maybe he is what they say. Just thinking that awful thought put a puncture right in the center of Livia’s hope.

  In the next moment Blake’s face fell as he saw her confusion. Embarrassment filled his eyes, and he studied the ground.

  “Let me take a good look at this.” Livia headed for the closest streetlamp.

  It isn’t just debris. She almost cried with relief. Blake had picked out the most exquisite of the fall leaves. Each one had exceptional color. Some even had recognizable shapes.

  “A cat! This one has orange in the shape of a cat,” Livia nearly shouted.

  Blake bit his lip as she discovered the sweet secret in every leaf. The stones came next—some had unusual colors and some had a miraculous little stream of crystals dividing them in half. The last two were plain gray.

  Livia looked puzzled and whispered, “I have no idea why these are special.”

  Blake dared to touch her face. “They’re the exact color of your eyes.”

  Livia covered his hand with her own and moved it down to her mouth. She put a sweet kiss in the center of his palm. His beautiful hands went through all this trouble for me.

  Blake’s eyes flared with desire, making them look greener.

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