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Poughkeepsie begins, p.22
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.22

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Good form would have been to watch from the sidelines, under a hat—see his brothers do their thing and slink out. Instead he sat dead center with his legs wide open like his testicles were two cannonballs. A graduate came down his aisle in a hurry, missing her mortarboard. Her mother stood and met her halfway, holding the red hat in her hands.

  “Here you go, Helena.” She gave her daughter a quick hug as Beckett moved his boots out of the way.

  The name sparked recognition in him; she was a friend of Candy’s from prom night. He touched her hand and caught her attention as her mother made her way back to her seat.

  “Hey. Where’s Candy?”

  It was stupid question; Candy would be lined up with the other graduates.

  Helena looked him up and down, and her jaw tightened. He recognized the girl-wall-of-protection when he saw it.

  “She’s not here. Her great aunt died, and she had to go to the funeral.” Helena pulled her hand away. “Which you would know if you weren’t such a pussy.”

  Helena rushed off, but not before giving him a dirty look.

  He tried to not feel the wave of pain that crashed over his head. He hadn’t realized how much he was hoping to see her until right now. He hung his head. He wished he had one quick hit to numb everything. Make it go away.

  The music started, and the crowd stood. He saw Cole first and then Blake walking down the center aisle. Helena walked by too, ignoring him and waving to her parents.

  The ceremony was so long his ass felt flatter and his left nut had fallen asleep when it was finally over. The graduates threw their hats, and Beckett gave his brothers the loudest, most obnoxious shouts he could muster.

  As all the families began visiting with each other afterward, Cole and Blake found Beckett.

  “My beautiful daughters,” he said, smiling sweetly. “You are both fantastic.”

  They itched their faces with their middle fingers.

  Mr. Gold interrupted, stepping close. “Gentlemen. Did you bring a camera to document the day?”

  Beckett looked at his empty hands, cursing himself for not thinking to bring one. He’d have had to get one first, but still…

  Mr. Gold pulled one out of his pocket and motioned for the brothers to get together. He snapped a few shots before telling them to come by his office to pick up the prints the following week. Cole promised he would.

  Mr. Gold shook all their hands, but also clapped Beckett on the shoulder. “Stick with your brothers. It’s just as important as you think it is.”

  Beckett nodded as the AP disappeared into the crowd. He looked around at all the beaming parents and shook his head. “Let’s blow this joint. I have a present for you educated assholes.”

  Two hours later, the brothers celebrated in a more private location. Mouse had collected them and taken them to a seedy Italian place where Beckett bought them lunch. After they’d finished eating, they began the true celebrating with a round of shots and a discussion of what exactly their tattoo should be.

  Blake’s was the easiest. Both Beckett and Cole said in unison: “Music.”

  The smile that spread across Blake’s face was a slow one. He outlined a shape on his arm. “I’ve always liked the way the treble clef looked.”

  Beckett wanted a gun to represent him at first. It took some negotiations to get him to settle on a knife. Blake was grateful that Cole was also reluctant to put a gun on his skin. For Blake, a gun would symbolize the worst part of what Beckett felt he had to do every day. But a knife could be useful, a symbol of strength. In the woods it could help build things, like a fire. There was hope of other purposes in a knife. A gun had just one job.

  Then they were all quiet for a while, thinking about Cole. He was such an internal guy. He wasn’t easy to peg with a symbol.

  Eventually the quietest brother spoke. “I think I’d like to get a cross, if that’s okay?”

  Beckett chuckled. “Sweetheart, you can pick whatever you want. I’ll get Mr. Potato Head if that honks your banana.”

  Blake nodded, but he was curious. “Can I ask why?”

  Cole engaged in a long staring contest with his next shot. “When my mother, that woman, got me back, I gave up. I gave up on resisting what they would do to me there. I turned off. But just before I was going to be with the person who bought me, after my own—” he stumbled a bit over these words, then continued “—mother had sold me, I prayed.”

  He looked up at them, eyes shining. “And then you two came through the door. In that moment? I knew you were sent to me, that I’d been given nothing from the people in my life, but I think from God, or whoever is in charge, I got you.”

  All the brothers shifted and coughed, looking away from each other as they nodded vigorously. The emotion was too much for the small table they crowded around.

  Blake was able to respond first. “A cross it is then, brother.” And then they committed to the last brothers’ handshake they’d ever have without the mark bonding them together.

  A quick phone call to Mouse had their ride out front, and a set of three shots to go provided a bit of courage. After a short drive, Mouse left them in the front yard of a slightly worn suburban home.

  Beckett led them around back to a shed in the yard, and Blake surveyed the scene, feeling a bit claustrophobic. The shed behind Chaos’s parents’ house was a fucking scary place to get a tattoo, no matter what he’d promised Beckett. He wanted to pour antiseptic all over himself and his brothers. Beckett, of course, had offered to go first. Music blared, and they had a bottle of some top-shelf stuff he said he’d “come across.” Blake was about one-hundred-percent sure the makers of this particular whiskey had never intended it to be set on a broken-down riding lawn mower between guzzles.

  He was grateful Chaos wasn’t imbibing. The whole thing was already terrifying, in a medieval sort of way.

  Chaos wiped blood away from the lines on Beckett’s arm that were slowly morphing into a cross. They’d described the tat they wanted to him, and now he was free-handing his inspiration.

  Beckett wiggled his eyebrows at them. “This feels like a bunch of cracked-out cats having a fucking orgy on my goddamn skin.”

  Cole shook his head. “Are their other kinds of orgies? I thought they were all about the fucking.”

  “You have much to learn, young grasshopper.” Beckett winked at Blake.

  Cole picked up the fancy bottle again. “Hey, so you and Candy done for good? I didn’t see her there today.”

  Blake watched as Beckett closed his eyes for a second before offering a buoyant answer. “Fuck, yeah. No chick’s going to hold me down. I hold them down. Why do you ask?”

  Blake waited to see if Cole would share.

  “No reason. Just curious.” Cole scratched his scalp, making his hair all crazy before smoothing it flat.

  He did a pretty crappy job, so Blake guessed he was a little buzzed.

  “That’s a fucking lie, brother. Tell me.” Beckett flexed his arm, and Chaos reprimanded him.

  Blake took up the mantle of telling Beckett the bad news. “I’m glad you’re over her, ’cause we saw her holding hands with a guy downtown.”

  Beckett’s jaw tensed, an anger flashing over his features that would scare a lot of people. But not his brothers.

  “You’re so, so over her.” Cole wiped his mouth after another sip.

  Beckett sighed. “Yeah, I’m not all that over her.”

  Cole looked at his feet. “Sorry, Beck. Didn’t know it was like that.”

  Beckett shrugged, posturing again. “Seriously, I’m tripping in pussy. Don’t feel bad. My dick gets sucked anytime it wants to.”

  Chaos worked down toward the tip of the cross, turning it sharp. Cole and Beckett were now represented in ink.

  Blake broke the awkward silence. “Dude was pretty ugly.”

  Beckett barked out a laugh. “That’s good.” After a moment, his face softened. “She was—well, is—so fucking special. It’s good that she wasn’t there today. I
mean, sucks that she had to go to a funeral, but better that I didn’t get all in her head again. Or anywhere else.” He waggled his eyebrows and laughed. “I couldn’t do it to her, you know?” he added after a moment. “What I do now? What nice girl can take that?” Beckett massaged the back of his neck with his free hand.

  “You don’t have to do it,” Blake jumped in. “Come on, Beck. We can make our way, the three of us. You can be anything you want.” He motioned for the bottle from Cole and took a tiny sip.

  Beckett nodded. “I don’t want us to just make our way. I want to burn a fucking warpath. Make them bow to us.” Fire replaced the regret in Beckett’s eyes. “You both are worth that. You deserve it.”

  Chaos wiped Beckett’s arm clean of blood again and started on the treble clef, the Blake portion of the tattoo.

  “We all have demons,” Cole said after a moment. “All three of us. The cage I was locked in, the sun boxing you in, Blake. And Beckett, you’ve been fighting just to exist for way, way too long. I get it. I get how it might be fantastic to be king for a while.”

  Chaos was so quiet, the brothers spoke like they were alone. After Cole mentioned the cage, Blake was positive he was tanked. He passed the bottle to Beckett, who winced at a particularly painful jab to his forearm.

  “Here, fucking here,” he announced, holding up the bottle. “Let’s drink to that. Three kings against the world. I’ll get you some goddamn thrones!”

  When the laughter died down they listened to music while Chaos worked. They found a deck of cards to play poker with while trying to keep Beckett’s mind off the needle.

  “Okay,” Chaos finally announced. “What do you think?”

  Blake leaned over to get a view of Chaos’ artwork. The tattoo was raw and surrounded by the bright red of Beckett’s angry skin, but it was elegant—beautiful in a way he hadn’t anticipated. After they’d described the tattoo to Chaos, Blake had expected more of a triangle of different shapes. Instead the knife, cross, and treble clef were one solid design. Just like them.

  Beckett touched it. “It’s fucking perfect. That’s how we are too.”

  “All together,” Cole added, rolling up his sleeve.

  Blake smiled as he took off his dress shirt, revealing a T-shirt underneath. He was always amazed to find his brothers sharing his thoughts.

  “Till the caskets are dropped.” Beckett lifted one eyebrow.

  “Never alone.” Blake stepped forward as Chaos prepared for the next arm.

  The End

  Acknowledgments

  Family: T, J, and D, someday the cruise!

  Mom and Dad S, Pam, Mom and Dad D, Seth, Elizabeth and J, Aunt Jo and Uncle Ted, all the aunts and uncles and cousins: Thank you so much.

  Friends: Helena Salt Hunting, just you know…everything; Tijan, Teresa, Kelly, Jamie, Erika, Texas, Daisy, Shannon, Karen M, Nina, Eve, Darhower, Midian, Leisa, Jillian, and all the others I’m forgetting, you know I suck at this.

  Jessica Royer Ocken: Your excellence is fantastic. I adore you.

  Omnific peeps: How is it we’ve been doing this for so long? Thank you, Elizabeth, Micha, Coreen, Lisa, Kim, and CJ. Dreams do float.

  Poughkeepsie Street Team: You are all the most amazing readers. Thank you. Beverly C, Michele M, Lisa LJ, and everyone!

  Ladies with the Pough tattoo!! You are so very bad ass.

  My readers: With your beautiful imaginations and selfless hearts, you are such incredible gifts. The turns of fate that allow us to play together are my favorite.

  Candy Miller: For use of your name.

  Bloggers: The Rock Stars of Romance, Totally Booked, Read-Love-Blog, Shameless Book Club, The Sub Club, Neda, Grace DZ, Jen M, Sarah, Noemi, Ayeisha, Carol O, Clista, Lori, Nicki, Maryse, Aesta, Bookish Temptations, Autumn Reviews, Autumn, XO_BB_XO, Literary Gossip, Xtina, Fred, Sandy S, Kelly, Lb, Sara, The Filets, Deb’s Boobs, Author 101, COPA, all the amazing groups and Facebook friends!

  My agent!! Rachel Marks and the entire team at RF Literary, thank you so much!

  About the Author

  There are a lot of eyes in Debra Anastasia’s house in Maryland. First, her own creepy peepers are there, staring at her computer screen. She’s made two more sets of eyes with her body, and the kids they belong to are amazing. The poor husband is still looking at her after seventeen years of marriage. At least he likes to laugh. Then the freaking dogs are looking at her—six eyeballs altogether, though the old dog is blind. And the cat watches her too, mostly while knocking stuff off the counter and doing that internal kitty laugh when Deb can’t catch the items fast enough.

  In between taking care of everything those eyes involve, Debra creates pretend people in her head and paints them on the giant, beautiful canvas of your imagination. What an amazing job that is. The stories hit her hard while driving the minivan or shaving her legs, especially when there’s no paper and pen around. Within all of the lies she writes hides her heart, so thank you for letting it play in your mind.

  Debra has written a smattering of books in a few genres. There are two paranormal romances in the Seraphim series and now four contemporary romances in the Poughkeepsie Brotherhood series. Fire Down Below is the first in the comedic Gynazule series, with the second, Fire in the Hole, currently for sale as well. The Revenger, a dark paranormal romance, is lurking in the wings, waiting for its upcoming debut, and the last, a novella called Late Night with Andres, is special because 100% of the proceeds go to breast cancer research. (So go get it right now, please!)

  You can find her at DebraAnastasia.com and on Twitter @Debra_Anastasia. But be prepared…

 


 

  Debra Anastasia, Poughkeepsie Begins

 


 

 
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