Poughkeepsie, p.26
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       Poughkeepsie, p.26

           Debra Anastasia
 

  She watched with a crashing surge of pride as he reached up and pulled the mask off—he was in full sunlight. The orangey red light of the setting sun outlined him. Poughkeepsie’s dusk set the mood. No matter how much Blake healed, Livia had a feeling nighttime would always be their favorite. He disappeared from view, but she knew he was strong. So much stronger so much sooner than she could ever have hoped.

  Livia walked back in and leaned against the front door as she closed it behind her. She didn’t throw the bolt because her dad was home. No one was stupid enough to rob the McHughs with a patrol car parked out front. She sighed as she felt his love settle even further into her soul.

  Her father stood in the kitchen doorway with his eyebrows raised. Livia smiled. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the cardboard piano on the living room coffee table. Blake must have set it down to shake John’s hand.

  He left it! Livia hoped this was a good sign, not something that would cause a setback when he discovered it missing. I’ll get this discussion over with, then drive the piano over to him and pick him up.

  “Livia, I don’t even know where to start with this nightmare.”

  Livia turned back to find her father winding up. His face flushed and the veins in his neck were more visible than they should have been.

  “Blake’s not a nightmare. I love him, Dad. I love him. Let’s keep that straight.” Livia felt her hackles rise.

  “I’m not talking about Blake, though I have concerns about him. I want to know what happened to your sister and her car. I want to know why Beckett Taylor’s hanging around my two daughters. Where the hell is your sister, anyway?” John had started pacing, as he tended to do when he was angry.

  Livia felt some selfish relief. She loved the way her dad had said “Blake,” just as he’d name any of her friends. “Kyle rammed Chris’s truck when she found him spying on Blake and me. She’s fine. The car’s at a body shop. Beckett is Blake’s foster brother. They’re friendly. So yes, I know Beckett. I would almost call him a friend, but he does bad, bad things for a living.” Livia had never been a good liar, and she wasn’t going to try it now.

  John ran his hand through his hair. Then he turned and walked upstairs. Livia followed him. He entered her room and sat down on the bed.

  “I have to tell you, Chris came to see me. That’s why I know so much right now.” His voice seemed too loud in the small room. “Chris told me this. Not my own daughter. You’re in love? So soon? Didn’t Chris just ask me for your hand? Didn’t you say yes?” He ran his hand through his hair again.

  “He had no right to tell you before I had a chance. Was I not here? With Blake? Five minutes ago? I had every intention of telling you, Dad. It was not Chris’s place, and I resent him for that.” Livia found a paper rose and fiddled with it.

  She and her dad rarely argued. Kyle went go toe-to-toe with him on a regular basis, but Livia was always his girl, the one that understood him best. Being out of sync made Livia feel like her shirt was on backward. She came to sit next to him.

  “No matter how I got the information, I got it,” he countered. “Not saying Chris’s intentions were pure. But going from what you just told me and what I learned today, I can’t help but feel a little bit hysterical.” He clenched his fists. “I spoke with Blake’s old social worker. She does clerical work at the station, and she remembered his name, thank God.” John put his severe voice on. “Now, I’m not proud of how I got this, but you need to know he’s had a violent past.”

  Livia steadied herself internally. “I know about his past—what happened with his mom.”

  Having her father know Blake’s deepest, darkest secret so soon felt improper. Livia wanted to cover him, hide the truth for now.

  “Okay, so it’s fine with you that he punched his own mother? Let’s just say that’s water under the bridge. As nice as he seems, he had an excuse, or he was young. Let’s just pick a reason and run with it. But how about this? Blake, Beckett, and his other foster brother were unofficially considered suspects in the case of a missing, and presumed dead, male. He was the last foster father all three of them had together. The man left one Saturday and never returned. Murder, Livia.” John stood and began pacing again.

  “Were any of them found guilty?” Livia could barely take this all in. Blake would play no part in a murder. He’d even been reluctant to have the cooler stealers punished.

  “No. No, they weren’t, but that question scares the hell out of me, Livia. There wasn’t enough evidence to even question them. But I don’t need a guilty verdict to worry about my daughter. Will you make murder fit into your lifestyle now? Is that where this is heading?”

  Livia knew she needed to be sensible. How could she possibly make him understand? She needed to buy some breathing room. She halted her father’s words with her hand. “Dad, Blake and I have only known each other a few weeks. It’s a brand new thing. It might not even last.”

  He seemed to take a deep breath. Livia thought he looked a little less red in the face.

  “What about his foster brother, Beckett Taylor?” he asked. “Do you know what we call him down at the station, Livia? The Bloody Bastard. I don’t even want to get into how much that’s not okay. Even if in some dream world Beckett is decent, his enemies won’t be. And Blake? Your brand-new boyfriend?” John clenched and unclenched his hands. “He has a violent past I know about, and maybe plenty more I don’t know about. Has he ever hurt you?” John stopped pacing like a lion and waited for her answer.

  No! Never. Livia felt the words start to form, but then her first time in the clearing with Blake surfaced in her memory. She thought of being thrown to the ground. She thought of Blake running at her. She didn’t want to lie—surely her father could understand Blake was a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

  “Did he?” her father questioned again, his eyes growing bigger and bigger.

  Livia took a breath and spoke calmly. “He scared me once, but he’s dealing with some stuff, Dad. He didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t ever think he’d do it again. At least he wouldn’t want to. I just need to learn when to give him some space.” Livia knew her words were not telling the story the way her father needed to hear it.

  “Liv, do you know how many times I’ve heard those exact words from the mouth of a woman with her face beaten in? The men are always gonna change. The woman needs to learn. Christ Almighty, I never thought I’d hear those words from my daughter. Are you on drugs?” John held his palms out to her as if she could lay the answers he needed in them.

  “No. Jeez, Dad.” Livia sighed. Can I even begin to make him see things my way?

  “He’s homeless, Livia,” her father continued, moving on to a new concern. “Do you want to know why people are homeless? I’ll tell you, because I’ve seen a ton of them. They’re homeless because they’re crazy. Normal people don’t sit in one spot all day. I’ve seen that kid sitting in one spot all damn day, playing with a piece of cardboard. Now you’re dating him? You want to know what I think?” He didn’t wait for her assent. “It’s the university. I think it’s great for you to go—first McHugh to go to grad school and all that. But all those psychology classes are putting ideas in your head. I think you want to try to fix a crazy man, and one was conveniently located at the train station. Is he like a class paper for you?”

  Livia rubbed her hand over her face. She pictured Blake’s distant form removing his mask. “I’m a person who can help him, Dad. I even met with a professor about his problem, and I got great advice. It’s working. He’s doing great. Right now, he’s doing great.” Livia looked in her lap and realized she’d untwisted the rose. It was just a wrinkled napkin. She busied her hands trying to put it back together, nice and tight.

  “Livia, I can’t tell you what to do anymore. You’re a grown woman. But I can give you my opinion, and I think Blake’s a mistake. You’re a beautiful, smart young lady with a head on your shoulders—up until this point anyway. Getting romantically involved five minutes after breaki
ng up with your fiancé and hopping into the arms of the train station hobo while making friends with murderers is not who I raised you to be. I expect more from you, Livia. I have to say, I’m disappointed. And I’m worried sick.”

  John sat again and pulled her into an uncharacteristic hug. “I just love you too damn much. You’re my perfect girl. I want perfect things for you. That’s all I want. Happy and safe. I want you happy and safe.”

  Livia could hear a sob in his voice. She could only imagine what he must have read and heard at the station. Beckett probably had his own roomful of paperwork documenting his evils. Considering that, her dad was holding up pretty well.

  “I love you, Dad.” His police uniform was scratchy against her cheek.

  Livia caught movement outside on the front lawn in her peripheral vision but didn’t want to break from her dad’s rare hug to look. She turned her attention to her father’s face.

  “I have to tell you, Blake’s not a murderer or a woman beater. When he hurt me, it was an absolute accident. He actually saved Kyle and me when Chris seemed to be getting out of hand. I can’t apologize for Beckett, but he’s not the man I love.”

  Here it goes, the hell with breathing room. Dad needs to know how it is.

  “It happened so quick. I just knew. In my heart, Blake and I are already bound. Remember the story about when you met Mom? How you knew she was special right away?” Livia waited to see if he was following.

  He nodded.

  “You took a risk marrying her. You took a risk having kids with her. You knew she was flighty, to say the least, but you did it anyway. Do you regret it, Dad?” Livia took his hand.

  “Never,” he said immediately. “I got my girls. You two are why I get up in the morning.”

  His eyes were angry, but Livia could see the glow of pride as well. She’d known that would be his answer, and it made her smile.

  “That’s because it was the right thing to do. You followed your heart, even though it might get broken. You let it lead you to the path. I’ve found my path, Dad. Blake’s someone I’ll never regret. I can’t promise how it’ll turn out, but my heart can’t make any other choice.”

  Livia squeezed his hand; he had to understand. “You’re the first man I ever loved. He’s the second. I couldn’t have one without the other. Please, Dad, stand with me on this.”

  He squeezed her hand back and made a sour face. “I hate when you use logic against me. It takes my knees out. I’ll give him a shot, but if he ever hurts you…”

  Livia put the paper rose down on her dresser. She couldn’t get it back together correctly and wished she hadn’t messed with it in the first place. It looked deflated and sad.

  John sighed when Livia turned to his arms again. She decided right then to hug him more often. Every day he needed to know how much she appreciated him. The ringing of the house phone broke their embrace.

  They then played the McHugh family’s most hated game. They had three cordless phones and after talking, Kyle would toss the handsets aside and return to whatever she was doing at the moment. They could be buried in the couch, on top of the fridge, or nestled in the pantry when she was done.

  Livia and John ran from room to room, looking. Livia swore she heard one in the living room. She froze when she saw the coffee table empty. She dropped to the floor and checked all around. Blake’s cardboard piano was gone. She ran for the door and tried the knob. It was locked. No one in her family ever locked the knob, just the bolt.

  But Blake would, just to be courteous and keep Livia safe. Blake would have picked up the piano, locked the door, and closed it behind him. Blake had been in the house to get his piano. Livia knew it for sure. She ran through her conversation with her father.

  “Dad, Blake and I have only known each other two weeks. It’s a brand new thing. It might not even last.”

  “Has he ever hurt you?”

  “He scared me once…”

  Livia grabbed her car keys. She had to get to him.

  She ran out, only to remember father’s cruiser blocking her in. She turned just as John found one of the phones. The answering machine clicked on and became a loudspeaker, booming voices throughout the house.

  “Sorry. The machine got it first. Hi.” He was gruff on the phone, as usual.

  “This is Nurse Susan Weiss at Poughkeepsie General Hospital. May I speak with Officer McHugh?” She sounded stiff and professional.

  “This is John McHugh.” He spoke slowly.

  Livia tried to get back out the door before hearing this woman possibly ask her father on a date, but the next words stopped her cold.

  “Your daughter, Kyle, was just brought into the ER. I’ll need you to come as soon as possible.”

  “What happened?” John asked, his voice robotic.

  “Sir, I just need you to drive safely and quickly to the hospital. Do you need directions?”

  “Tell me what the hell has happened to my daughter! Is she okay?” John appeared in front of Livia, squeezing the phone tightly.

  “Officer McHugh, is Kyle allergic to any medications?”

  John looked at the phone like it had sprouted wings.

  Livia took the phone from his hand. She led him by the arm and grabbed the cruiser’s keys off the hook. They rushed outside together.

  “This is Livia. I’m Kyle’s sister. She’s not allergic to any medications. You need to tell me right now what we’ll be facing when we get there.” Livia landed in the passenger seat as John threw the cruiser into reverse.

  The phone could almost reach the end of the block before it went out of range. Livia had walked out of the house thinking she was on her cell phone instead of the house phone on more than one occasion.

  “Livia, Kyle is unconscious. One of the police officers at the scene recognized her. I can’t tell you why, just yet…B..fr…” Susan’s voice faded.

  John looked at Livia’s pale face and flipped on his lights and sirens. He hit the accelerator and turned the cruiser toward the hospital.

  30

  Restless Cock Syndrome

  BECKETT PARKED THE HUMMER in front of the bank’s outdoor ATM. It had its own drive-thru spot, which looked like a teller window, and that pissed him the fuck off. Windows should have people in ’em, not machines.

  He hopped out of the Hummer and grabbed his wallet. He ran his fingers through his hair and felt the scab from Eve’s knife on his scalp.

  Eve. That torpedo mind-fuck sex was outrageous and fantastically titillating. Titi-fuck-illating. But there was something else as well. Emotional, a small voice in Beckett’s head suggested. Connected. Well, shit. That seemed just about right. Definitely something new.

  Beckett smiled to himself as he pulled open the bank’s thick glass door and held it for a middle-aged mom-type glued to her iPhone.

  “Thanks,” she mumbled as he followed her into the building. A line of people snaked into the maze of red velvet ropes. Son of a bitch. A long line did lots of bad things to Beckett and his spotty attention span. He called this condition Restless Cock Syndrome. But he liked to do his wheeling and dealing at the window—when he actually used the bank—so Beckett stepped into the dreaded line. He flipped a toothpick out of his pocket and put it in his mouth. A good fifteen people were ahead of him, so he had to dig deep to stay sane.

  He peeked over middle-aged iPhone lady’s shoulder. Her screen had nice, large print. He figured she needed eyeglasses to read, but was too vain to wear them. He almost turned his attention back to his toothpick when the word pussy caught his attention. Girl was reading some porn. Beckett put the toothpick away. Hot damn.

  He decided to fuck with her head and read the male’s part of the conversation. “Let me slide my fingers into your pussy while we slap your ass with this whip,” he whispered nonchalantly into her ear.

  The lady dropped her phone and stood stock still. Beckett stooped and picked up the phone, handing it back with both his dimples on full display.

  “Hey, sweetheart. Don’t
be ashamed. It’s hot.” He waggled his eyebrows.

  A key chain decorated with pictures of kids’ faces dangled from her jeans pocket. She smiled at him and accepted her phone with a blush.

  “Do you know why I like moms so much?” Beckett couldn’t stop himself now. His restless cock needed entertainment.

  “Why?” she whispered, her eyes riveted to him.

  “Because a lady with a little vintage can usually take all of me. And I like all of me taken care of.” He reveled in the heat that rushed to her cheeks and neck.

  Beckett gave her one last wink and turned his attention to his own phone. He enjoyed the back and forth, but as cute as she was, middle-aged iPhone chick could never shake Eve out of his mind.

  He stared at his phone and thought of having her surround him. Her smell when she wanted him. Even the soft curve of her lower back helped make Beckett sure what he was about to do was right.

  Beckett clipped and unclipped the closest red velvet rope from its post and tried to avoid thinking about how close the guy in line behind him was. He pulled his phone out again and checked for missed calls. None. He played a little Tetris, then trashed the whole game with his lack of concentration. He returned the phone to his pocket.

  Finally, the stealth porn reader sashayed up to the next teller. Beckett breathed more freely with the space in front of him clear. A contractor with ridiculously droopy pants finished up what must have been a fucking elaborate transaction that apparently involved an assortment of questions from the Spanish Inquisition. Beckett rolled his head on his neck and shook out his hands. As soon as the contractor and his pants were out of the way, Beckett appeared in front of the vacated teller. He hated to wait to be called like a dog when he was obviously goddamn next.

  The teller finished writing the previous customer’s receipt with big, loopy handwriting. Her fancy script took so motherfucking long that Beckett knocked on her clear, bulletproof window. She jumped and dropped her pen. “Shannon Waltus,” according to her gold-etched nametag, gave Beckett the most polite dirty look he’d ever received.

 
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