Poughkeepsie, p.3
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       Poughkeepsie, p.3
 

           Debra Anastasia

  Livia had an unbidden thought of the last time Chris had touched her. He’d twirled her in front of his buddies. “Hey, her face ain’t much, but her ass is slammin’.” Chris had pled “joking around” when she confronted him later, but the whole scene left Livia feeling gloomy.

  “It’s getting late, Livia. I think I should walk you back to your car,” Blake said.

  He made no motion to remove his hand. It felt soft and cool on her mouth. Livia felt a rush of panic as she let go of his hand to check her vibrating cell phone.

  “I put it on vibrate so I wouldn’t have to talk to Chris.”

  She’d missed five calls from her father. Livia groaned as the phone lit up again in her hand.

  “Dad’s calling.” She pressed the send button. “I’m fine, Dad,” she said by way of greeting. “I know, I’m sorry. I ran into a friend at the train station and we got to talking. I’m getting into my car right now.” She sent Blake a panicked glance.

  He pulled her by the hand in the direction of her car and did the perfect impression of a dinging open-car-door noise. Livia smiled over her father’s worried, angry ranting. She’d been with Blake for over an hour. It felt like minutes.

  Blake took her keys and opened her car door again. Livia promised her father she’d see him soon and disconnected their call. She couldn’t help but notice how brisk the night had gotten. Concern must have shown on her face.

  As if reading her mind, Blake made a quiet plea. “Please don’t think of me that way. Let me be the guy at the train station.”

  “You’re not the guy at the train station. You’re my Blake.”

  Livia gave the Escort a bit of gas as the engine turned over.

  She watched as Blake silently mouthed, my Blake.

  When she glanced in the rearview mirror, he was standing in the middle of the road. Her red taillights blazed over his skin. He looked like he was on fire.

  3

  Serendipitous Rendezvous

  LIVIA’S FATHER BEGAN HER evening with the first of two conversations she didn’t feel like having. He spent an ungodly amount of time expressing his disdain for vibrating phones, specifically Livia’s, which had delayed their contact at the train station.

  Then Livia finally talked to Chris. She started by delivering a small white lie about a rundown battery to explain her latest refusal to answer her cell phone.

  “Hey, Livia. You had me scared shitless. I thought I was going to have to run all around Manhattan looking for you.”

  Chris’s concern seemed unusual. He hadn’t made any effort past his phone to sustain their relationship in weeks. She covered her lips with her hand and remembered Blake’s soft touch. Betrayal.

  Livia prided herself on loyalty, and her heart wasn’t feeling loyal to Chris.

  “My grandma had a mild stroke last night.” Chris’s voice cracked on the word “stroke.”

  Livia groaned internally. This was the one time Chris needed her in all the years they’d been dating?

  “Chris, I’m so sorry. I know how much you love her.”

  Everyone loved Chris’s Grandma. She insisted on being called Mrs. Grandma, even by people she’d just met.

  “What can I do to help?” Livia asked.

  Chris hemmed and hawed for a few minutes before he finally got around to his request. “Well, she comes home tomorrow night, and I’d really love for her to have a nice meal. My mom will be cleaning at Grandma’s, but her cooking isn’t exactly a special treat.”

  Livia agreed with Chris there. His mother implemented “The Magic Pot”—a plug-in electric fry pan—and an alarming selection of ingredients far too often for anyone else’s tastes. They decided to meet at Mrs. Grandma’s at six o’clock to make dinner. Then, as if the medical incident had burst the dam of his memories, Chris proceeded to regale Livia with all his favorite stories about his grandmother. It was kind of sweet at first, but then Livia realized the explanations were becoming more and more about him and less about Mrs. Grandma. Her eyes were heavy long before he decided it was time to stop talking.

  The moment Livia’s eyes opened the next morning, her brain said, So little train time, and she sprang into action. She’d wanted to arrive even earlier this morning to make up for the quick exit she’d have to make this evening, but after staying up late listening to Chris, she’d overslept.

  Livia had twenty minutes to wait for her train when she arrived at the station, but she still ran all the way to the platform. It was another cloudless day, so Blake was predictably in his self-imposed shadow cave.

  He was sitting this time and kept his head tilted down as he peered up at her. It looked just like an image from a fashion magazine. Blake was so handsome—Livia couldn’t believe the other women on the platform weren’t taking cell phone pictures of him.

  He’s still invisible.

  This time Livia had packed a small picnic blanket. She quickly spread it out and opened the cooler for Blake.

  “Good morning, Livia,” he said, looking at her oddly.

  “Sorry! Hi. Good morning, Blake.” She was so rushed she forgot the simple greeting.

  “You look tired. Did you sleep well?” Blake ignored his sandwich.

  “No, I didn’t. I was on the phone with Chris most of last night.” Livia was busy fixing Blake’s napkin, but when she glanced again at his face she saw such hurt there.

  “His grandma had a mild stroke. I won’t be able to stay long this evening. I’ve got to make her welcome-home-from-the-hospital dinner.” She motioned to his still-hot breakfast.

  “Livia, you’re too kind. I’ll take this breakfast as a token of our friendship—thank you—but do you ever do anything just for yourself?” Blake lifted the sandwich and waited for her answer.

  “Talking to you.” She watched him go motionless as her filter yet again refused to engage. “I do that because I’m addicted to the feeling it gives me.”

  Blake put the sandwich down and watched her like she was a bomb with a lit fuse.

  “See, right there? Telling you that was just for me. I should consider other people’s feelings,” Livia lamented.

  Blake smiled at her, finally. “Have you ever seen a shooting star, Livia?”

  She nodded, perplexed at the change in conversation.

  “It’s very beautiful, right?” He nodded with her this time. “It makes you wonder—is that shooting star just a happy accident or has the universe had it planned for a thousand years?” He tilted his face to the sky, his eyes tracking an imaginary star as it screamed to earth. He looked back to her. “Either way, you can’t stop it. You can beg it to slow down or you can just enjoy the show.”

  “Am I the star in this story or you?”

  Blake wrinkled his nose and chuckled. “Was that a bad analogy? I meant we’re the star, Livia. Us. This.” He shrugged his shoulders like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Us being in the same atmosphere is either a great cosmic catastrophe or the most serendipitous rendezvous.” Blake pronounced the French word like a closeted foreign language teacher.

  The pull toward him came from her center. Her eyes never left his face as she moved to her hands and knees. She crawled slowly over the blanket, the breakfast, his legs, until her hands rested on either side of his hips. His smile lifted only on one side. He took care to stay very still, but his mouth opened slightly as she approached. This close to Blake she could smell him. Fresh, sweet fall leaves and mint.

  He smelled like a dedicated lover of Mother Earth. The mint was his breath. It wasn’t a manufactured toothpaste, but a marvelous herb scent. Livia had never wanted anything more than to taste his lips right then.

  “Would you mind very much if I kissed you?” she whispered.

  Blake shook his head.

  Livia leaned in and took a gentle kiss. His lips were soft, and they tasted perfect. The smell of his skin combined with that wonderful taste almost made her collapse.

  Blake steadied her by placing his hand against her chest. His splayed
fingers must have felt how fast her heart was beating. Livia pulled back just a bit to see his eyes again. They were half closed and shimmering.

  It was his turn to whisper. “Would you mind very much if I kissed you?”

  She shook her head and waited, very still. Blake lifted his other hand to touch her face. Livia had to work not to press her skin into his fingers. His touch was light as a breeze. He traced the features of her face. He trailed his fingers down to her throat and up to her earlobe. He’s so gentle.

  As soon as the thought flashed through Livia’s mind, Blake grabbed a fistful of her hair, yanking it enough to make her gasp. Then he kissed the living hell out of her.

  Oh, oh, OH. Livia felt her arms begin to shake, and Blake took more of her weight onto his forearm. She’d had no idea kissing was an art form. She knew now. Blake had to be the one to end the kiss.

  “You better get over there with the passengers.” He could only stare at her lips.

  The train. Right. Crap.

  Livia had forgotten they weren’t alone. She tried to ignore the tremors in her hands as she cleaned up his smooshed breakfast.

  “I’m so sorry I kneeled on your food.” She tried to put it back together.

  “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m all good right now.” And he was. He looked delighted and kept licking his lips, much to Livia’s distraction. “May I take your cooler and blanket for you again?” He held out his hand.

  “Please. Thank you very much,” she replied.

  Livia needed to go further onto the platform to catch the train, but a set of handcuffs seemed to bind her wrist to Blake’s. He noticed her reluctance and motioned for her to enter his shade again. He bent at the waist and lifted her hand to his lips. Before he released her hand, he looked out at her from his under his eyelashes.

  “Have a wonderful day, Livia. I vote for serendipitous rendezvous.”

  Livia felt her mouth open a little when he added the French accent again. She stole glances at him as she finally moved to wait for the train.

  “Homeleth humper.”

  Livia looked around to see where the weird words had originated. A balding man glared at her from over his smart phone. Livia pointed to her chest and gave the man a confused eyebrow lift.

  “Yeth you. You’re a homeleth humper.” The man slowed his lisped speech so he could pronounce the insult more clearly.

  Livia felt her rage ignite. “Well, Oily Comb-Over, looks like I need to buy you a load of Shut Your Mouth for your birthday.”

  Livia watched the man turn bright red. She heard Blake’s words in her mind, You’re not invisible to them.

  Well, screw them. That was the best kiss of my life, and these jerks were lucky to witness it.

  Livia now saw clearly what she needed to do. She would break up with Chris this weekend. She sighed with satisfaction and the lingering effects of Blake’s kiss, now tattooed on her heart.

  Livia spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding whether or not to buy the potato knish at Grand Central Station. She held the white paper bag in her hands. Will he accept it without being insulted? She’d crushed his breakfast being so forward this morning. She shook her head at her behavior. Where does this confidence come from?

  Chris had once told her he was the only man who’d ever really want her. Instead of making her special, he made it sound like she was lucky he was willing to stoop to her level. “Nobody likes a chick reading books all the time,” he liked to complain. “Why don’t you live a little instead of always being at school?”

  The thought of being out of their relationship gave Livia wings. Why had it taken her so long to see this? With the Poughkeepsie station next, she stood by the doors like one of the uptight commuters and was ready to disembark before the train had even stopped. Her eyes scanned the platform, and she almost fell off the train in her rush to find Blake. Finally, she saw him at the very outer edge of cement platform. His face looked different. Swollen. Hurt.

  Everything Livia carried slid from her arms. She ran straight for him. When she’d closed the distance, her hands hovered just over his beaten face, not wanting to touch, but wishing she could heal. “Blake, what happened?”

  He winced in obvious pain, but insisted on their regular greeting. “Hello, Livia. How was your day?”

  “Stop. Stop that. Tell me what happened to you.” She gently ran her fingers down the length of his chest. He gasped when she reached his ribs. “You’re hurt.”

  Blake shook his head. “My life outside of this train station won’t touch you.” His green eyes swam with pain and determination.

  No. No. “Blake, I’m begging you. I’m right here. Please talk to me,” she implored him.

  He tried to straighten his posture. “I regret to inform you that I lost your belongings today. I’ll do my best to replace them,” he tried to bow formally, but pain prevented it.

  “Did someone beat you up for my cooler and blanket?” Livia asked.

  Blake hung his head. “There were too many of them. I tried my best, but they thought the cooler might have something valuable in it.”

  His lip was bleeding. Livia’s internal rage flared again. The thought of her beautiful Blake defending the honor of her empty cooler brought tears to her eyes, which she quickly blinked back.

  He misread her emotions. “Was it terribly special? I’m so very sorry.”

  Livia put her finger on his lip, trying to stem the bleeding and his ridiculous words. “If you think I give a rat’s ass about that cooler, you don’t know me at all. Nothing I own is worth your pain.”

  She began an inventory of his possible injuries. His hands were scraped, his lip swollen, and his rib was obviously the worst of it. They were silent, the moonlight making his eyes luminescent.

  Then, quietly, he took down one of his walls for her. “I know you.”

  “Blake, will you let me take you to the ER?” She already knew his answer.

  “No, I can’t pay for their services.” He was adamant.

  Dignified, proud.

  “Well, walk me to my car then, please,” she asked.

  Blake insisted on helping her pick up the things she’d dropped, even though his pain had him breathing through his teeth.

  If he doesn’t die, I’m going to kill him for being stubborn.

  He opened her car door and looked perplexed when she reached in and popped the trunk. Her father, John, never let her drive without a decent first aid kit.

  Blake said nothing, but kept his eyes steady on Livia as she cleaned his wounds and covered what she could with bandages. When she’d done all the plastic kit would let her, she handed Blake the two aspirin thoughtfully included by the manufacturer. He swallowed them without the benefit of water.

  “Thank you for not complaining about that,” Livia said.

  Blake nodded in acknowledgment.

  “Come home with me. I can’t leave you here like this.” This time her voice cracked.

  “My angel, you forget, you have to go make Mrs. Grandma her meal.” Blake ran the back of his bandaged hand down Livia’s cheek.

  “Please. I won’t be able to breathe from worrying about you.” Livia didn’t care how crazy she sounded.

  “I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t want you bringing me home like a stray cat.” His defenses were climbing back up. She’d asked too much.

  “Okay. I’ll see you Monday then?” The words felt like sandpaper on glass. Rough and unwanted.

  “Yes, sweet Livia. I’ll be here. Have no worries.” He leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead.

  He was gone into the darkness before Livia had closed her car door. The dashboard’s green clock clocked taunted her. 5:55. She’d have to drive fast to get to Mrs. Grandma’s.

  Livia could never have imagined how many things would have changed by the time she pulled into the Park and Ride on Monday morning. A huge, glittering engagement ring from Chris kept distracting her from driving, and her concern about Blake’s weekend welfare made h
er an almost speechless basket case.

  It took her two tries to shift the car into park, and based on the burning rubber she could now smell, Livia knew she’d left the parking brake on for her commute. She gathered her things, including a delicious breakfast from the town bakery, and took off running.

  Blake.

  He leaned casually against the brick wall where his protective shade usually formed. The day’s thick froth of clouds was a firm barrier from the sun. His swelling was gone, but he still had bruises. He glanced up and smiled like he hadn’t seen her in years.

  Livia set her bags down and walked right into him, feeling his arms close around her. She found the crook of his neck and placed a kiss there. She ran her hands all over his face and through his hair. Here. He’s here.

  The ring danced gaudily on her left hand. Blake caught it like a wayward butterfly.

  “How did he trick you into this?” Blake looked amused instead of angry.

  “Chris’s a son of a bitch,” Livia declared. “Well, that’s not true. His mother’s a really nice lady. I could throttle him, though.”

  Livia pushed herself away and started an animated pacing. “So there I am, making dinner for Mrs. Grandma—who is doing great by the way—and his whole family is in the kitchen. Chris drops to one knee and pulls this monstrosity out.” Livia held her hand up. “He has the nerve to say ‘Grandma wants to see me happy before she dies, so, Livia, will you marry me?’ What the hell was I supposed to say? Mrs. Grandma is there with teary eyes, clapping. So I said yes—to her mostly, even though she’s far from dying.”

  Blake had not moved, but he watched her with a grin.

  “Come here,” he said.

  He held his hand out to her. Livia stepped in closer and let him pull her against him again. He lifted her left hand and smiled sadly.

  “I’m pretty sure this isn’t a real diamond.” He searched her eyes for a moment. “Are you disappointed?”

  “You know, I thought it was a little glassy looking. There’s really no way he could afford a ring this big.”

  Blake shook his head along with her.

 
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