Poughkeepsie, p.33
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       Poughkeepsie, p.33

           Debra Anastasia
 

  I’m almost glad Chris slapped me.

  Chris pointed a shaky finger at her. “You should be ashamed. It’s about time.”

  “I’m ashamed of you, Chris,” Livia said fiercely. “I’m ashamed I ever let you touch me. I should have saved myself for Blake.” She topped off her statement by heaving bloody spit into Chris’s face.

  As Chris reached to grab her, Blake sprinted and took a flying leap that hit him in the side. Chris almost folded in half with the force. The two men hit the ground, and Blake executed a graceful forward roll. Chris lay prone, the wind knocked out of him.

  Blake was up and punching before Chris could move. Three solid punches to the jaw were the swift justice Blake deemed appropriate. Chris curled into the fetal position and moaned. Blake pushed himself to standing and got to Livia. He put his hands gently on her face.

  Dave seemed frozen. Blake took his gaze from Livia long enough to growl at him, and Dave took off running. The moaning twosome that had been Blake’s restraints now got to their feet. Wilson made his plans known immediately: “Fuck this shit. Let’s get out of here. I’m not being all revenge for the nerd. Chris Simmer’s an ass clown.” The two helped each other stagger away like rats from a sinking ship.

  Blake rubbed Livia’s cheekbones gently with his thumbs. “I can’t believe you came for me. My brave Livia.” He kissed her lips and looked concerned. “You’re bleeding.”

  “I’m fine, Blake, but we have to get out of here. Some of Beckett’s enemies are after you.” Livia stroked his bruised face.

  “Then why are you out here?” he asked, eyes instantly angry.

  Livia gave the perfect answer. “This is the only place I knew I’d get to see you.”

  Blake kissed her lingeringly on the forehead, then grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the trees. He took care to go a different direction than their attackers-turned-victims had fled. Livia smiled, in spite of the situation. In the woods Blake could keep them safe for days.

  Then the distinct sound of a gun being cocked stopped Blake like he’d just stepped on a landmine.

  “Now hold the fuck up, you two shitty lovebirds,” Chris’s voice echoed through the air. “That’s not how this plays out.”

  Livia could hear Chris stepping through the leaves. Closer, closer.

  “Livia, when I count to three, I want to you to run into the trees,” Blake whispered. “And keep running. Promise me.” He sounded calm and determined.

  “Absolutely not.” Livia turned from their escape route. “I’m never leaving you.”

  “Livia, please.” Blake squeezed her hand and tried to force her in the right direction.

  She squeezed right back.

  Chris seemed to think the gun meant he could call the shots. “Come the fuck back over here. We got some shit to discuss.”

  Blake kept his body between Livia and the gun. Chris motioned the couple to the center of the clearing.

  “See, they were calling me a loser, and I just can’t have that. Livia, you’re making everything so tough for me. You playing Juliet to this bastard’s Romeo affects my reputation. Do you know what people will say? I had witnesses here tonight. It’ll be all over Twitter what a punk I am. A fucking loser punk. Livia, those are the kind of people I beat up. I can’t be one of them.”

  He paused for a moment to reposition the gun in his hand. “So you need to understand, I have to do this. I need to do this. Really, it’s what you want. It’s what you asked for. Maybe a murder-suicide will let those guys know who’s in fucking charge around here, eh?” A sick plan solidified in Chris’s eyes.

  Livia tried to see him around Blake. “You’re delusional,” she said. “This has gone way too far.”

  Blake crouched slightly, as if trying to calculate Chris’s next move.

  “Murder-suicide? Now you’re going to kill yourself? What the hell?” Livia wished she could slap Chris back into reality.

  Blake squeezed her hand and spoke over his shoulder, “Don’t say any more.”

  “No, Livia. God, you’re a stupid fuck,” Chris said. “Now stand next to each other so I can see you.”

  Blake hesitated.

  “Fucking do it.” Chris’s voice had a desperate edge.

  Livia stepped up next to Blake. She had to talk Chris down.

  “I’ll make this work,” Chris said. “Homeless bastard goes apeshit on the chick too stupid to stay away from him. It’ll be a good lesson for other ladies.”

  The gleam in Chris’s eyes sent a silent scream of terror through Livia. “Chris, it won’t work like that,” she quickly countered. “You’re just angry. You make awful choices when you’re angry, remember?” Livia held an open palm to him, trying to soothe his unhinged mind.

  But in an instant Blake stepped in front of her, turning his back to Chris and the gun. The shot was so much louder than anything else in the woods. And it seemed to echo forever. Livia watched Blake’s face in horror as he fell toward her, leaning for a moment like the Tower of Pisa. She staggered back, trying to hold him as they both collapsed to the forest floor. Livia knew he was tremendously injured when his body hit hers so hard. If he could have, she knew Blake would’ve softened the blow.

  His breath was a sucking gasp that sounded more like a draining tub than a man filling his lungs with air. Then she heard him form the words “Play dead.”

  So Livia did. She closed her eyes as much as she dared. She could still see outlines through her lashes. She squeezed her hands against Blake’s chest. Hold on, Blake. Stay with me.

  A sharp pain in her side reminded her of the Mag light in the inside pocket of her jacket. She snaked her arm out and found the opening. She could hear Chris cursing.

  “Motherfucker. I shot them both. Fuck my life.”

  Who he was talking to, Livia wasn’t sure—maybe the devil in his head. She wrapped her hand around the flashlight and waited. Her heart pounded so hard it felt like one giant explosion, not individual beats. Blake’s body pressed on her ribcage. Is he playing dead or being dead?

  Chris stomped over to the pile of lovers and yanked Blake off of Livia. As soon as she had Chris’s head in her sight, she sat up and swung the flashlight as hard as she could. It bounced off his skull with a thud.

  For years John had trained his girls in self-defense. “Just common sense stuff,” he liked to say. “Hit your attacker three times and run.” This mantra kept Livia swinging. She pushed herself to her knees and onto her feet. She hit Chris again, her blow landing on his neck.

  He crouched from the pain and moaned. “Ow, ow, ow.”

  His hand still held the gun. Livia hit that hand with the flashlight, and the weapon thumped to the ground. She gave Chris a quick sidekick that was not nearly as powerful as she’d hoped. He grabbed her foot and dragged her down with him.

  As she fell, Livia found her knee right above his testicles. She put all her weight on that leg, pressing on his soft parts. Chris flung her off and grabbed his privates. She lifted her body off the soil with a mouthful of leaves.

  “Fuck. Rrrr.” Chris seemed to be trying to get away from his own balls as he writhed on the ground.

  Livia traced the ground with her hands and found the warm gun. As soon as she had it pointed at Chris, she hazarded a look at Blake, but she already knew things weren’t good. He’d never let her fight Chris on her own if he had a choice. She gritted her teeth at the sight of his motionless body and turned back to Chris, who she found propping himself up.

  “Don’t move. Just don’t move.” Livia’s voice was laced with agony.

  “Liv, we can do this. We can say the bastard attacked you, and I saved you. I’ll do that.” He used one hand to massage his nuts.

  Maybe it was the word bastard. Maybe it was Chris using the word we. But Livia leveled the pistol with his head.

  “Livia, you’re not a murderer.” Chris spoke quickly now. “You won’t kill me. I had our whole life planned out—and you couldn’t do that to my mom,” he suddenly added. Chris
s face was as serious as he ever got.

  This was Chris trying to be the Chris from years ago, when they’d first met. She approached him, keeping the gun pointed between his eyes. She stood with her feet apart and her shoulders squared. I want him to die. Her hands shook as she looked at him. He lacked the sense, it seemed, to run away. I can’t be like him. I won’t.

  Livia changed her aim and Chris breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God, Liv. I thought you—”

  Bang.

  Livia fired the gun into Chris’s right knee. As he reeled, she took aim at his left.

  Bang.

  Chris’s screaming made the sounds of the cold night into a horror movie soundtrack. Livia put the safety on the gun and slid the hot metal into her pocket.

  She turned her back on him. He couldn’t chase her now. She sprinted to Blake’s side and found him blinking, so she knew he was alive. She actually sobbed with relief.

  “Blake, where were you hit?” Livia dropped to her knees to feel his chest. The moon gave him an ethereal bath. His breathing was shallow and wet.

  “Livia.” He coughed and winced.

  “I’m right here.” She searched her pockets for her cell phone, then remembered it was in the cruiser with a dead battery. Of course. “Do you have a phone?” Livia lay her hand on his forehead. He was cold.

  Blake gave the slightest headshake. No.

  Livia set her jaw. She knew Chris always had his phone in his left jacket pocket. His screams had turned to whimpers. She pulled out the gun and lifted the safety. Cautiously, she inched closer to Chris and reached in his jacket pocket. He grabbed her wrist as soon as she made contact with the phone.

  “You shot me. What the hell?” His voice and his grip were weak.

  He was just a talking monster in her head. She ignored him. Livia slipped out of his grasp and dialed the phone while sprinting back to Blake. She propped it on her shoulder and put the gun’s safety back on before shoving it back in her pocket. She heard nothing, so she took a closer look at the phone. There was no goddamn signal.

  She kneeled at Blake’s side again.

  “Hey, handsome. I don’t have a signal. We’re going to have walk a bit. Let’s help you up.” Livia slipped her arm under his and tried to help him sit. He shouted, and Livia laid him down quickly.

  “I’m so sorry. Is it that bad?” Frustration curled her fingers.

  “Livia, it’s not good.” Blake hardly moved his lips.

  His voice was just a hint. Just a whisper. Panic poured into Livia’s system.

  “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ll just drag you out.” Livia put down the flashlight.

  “Wait. Why don’t you go get help?” Blake panted with the effort of his words.

  “I can’t leave you here. Beckett’s enemies and Chris’s asshole friends are still out there. I can’t leave you.” She situated herself behind his head.

  She heard him suck in a wet gasp as she lifted his shoulders and attempted to pull him out of the clearing. She tried so hard, fighting and straining to tow him. But he was too heavy. She hadn’t moved him at all. Livia gently laid his head on the ground.

  “Oh good. You stopped. That hurt.”

  Livia grabbed handfuls of her hair. “I’m sorry. That was stupid. You’re not supposed to move someone who’s injured.” Livia took off her jacket and made a little pillow for his head. “I don’t know what to do, Blake. You’re hurt. I can’t move you. The cell phone’s got nothing. I’ve no idea if they heard me over the police radio earlier.” She put her hands on his cheeks.

  He kept his eyes closed for longer and longer periods of time, and he offered no answer to her problem. He seemed to be working on staying alive. Are his lips that blue? Or is it the moon? Livia knew she’d have to go for help.

  “Hey, look, I’m going to run toward the road. I’ll call 911 as soon as I get a signal, and then I’m coming back. Does that sound right? Is that right?” Livia begged and told at the same time.

  Blake opened his beautiful green eyes. He tried to smile, but it was just a grimace. “Livia. I love you too. Smile again.”

  She hated his words. They were a goodbye. “I can’t smile, I have to run. I have to get help.” She tried to stand and felt the gentle pressure of his hand on her thigh.

  “Smile again.” He worked to keep his eyes open.

  Livia picked up the hand that had stopped her. She lifted it to her lips and kissed every knuckle. By the time Livia tried to smile, only one of his green eyes was focused on her face. Her forced smile used all the wrong muscles.

  “Good enough,” he joked.

  “I’m going to be right back. Hang on. All this love is stealing time.” She pulled herself from his side. “Stay right here, Blake. Hang on. Okay? Hang on.”

  Livia found the flashlight she’d pummeled Chris with, and it still worked. Chris had stopped making noises altogether—not that Livia cared. She forced herself out of the clearing and to the edge of the woods and begged herself not to turn around. If she saw Blake lying helpless, she wouldn’t be able to leave. A few more steps and the trees enveloped her in their darkness, adding fear of the unseen to everything else she was shouldering. She steeled herself and began to sprint. Twenty steps in, she felt her soul grind to a halt. Go back.

  She couldn’t even argue. She doubled back and stared at Blake’s form. Something was different. He wasn’t there. No. She ran to him. Setting her ear to his chest and hushing her own panting, she waited. And waited. She put two fingers on his neck to feel for a beat. She watched for a breath. No beat. No breath. Nothing.

  In theory, she knew just what to do. Her dad always made sure his girls got in on the CPR recertification down at the precinct. It hadn’t even been three months since she’d resuscitated a cold, white CPR dummy. Thirty to two. Simple.

  But this was far from simple. She second- and third-guessed herself. What if he’s breathing and I can’t see it? She sat back and looked at her still, beautiful love. Do it now.

  Livia positioned Blake’s head and plugged his nose. She clasped her mouth around his. One breath, two breaths.

  The metallic taste of his blood met her lips, joining the blood from her mouth’s wound. She positioned her hands, almost an inverted prayer, and committed herself to the act. Livia pushed her hands straight down from her shoulders, as she’d practiced time after time. The tearing and popping sounds were unexpected, and she powered through a wave of nausea.

  “One and two and three and four and five and six…”

  Oh, God don’t let me hurt him.

  “…and seven and eight and nine and ten and eleven…”

  Am I really doing this? Here? Is this real?

  “…and twelve and thirteen and fourteen and fifteen…”

  We’re in the middle of nowhere. No one is going to find us. Even the fire has gone out.

  “…and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and nineteen…”

  He’s dead. I’m just beating on his body.

  “…and twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two and twenty-three and twenty-four…”

  My arms hurt. How can my arms hurt now? Blake. I can’t. I can’t be here without you.

  “…and twenty-five and twenty-six and twenty-seven and twenty-eight and twenty-nine and thirty.”

  The next step was simple: cover his mouth and fill his lungs with air. Breathe into him with life’s breath. Livia did so, licked her lips, and started compressions again.

  “And one and two and three and four and five and six and seven…”

  I’ve got to be positive. I have to know he’ll make it.

  “…and eight and nine and ten and eleven and twelve and thirteen and fourteen…”

  We’re going to grow old together, Blake. We’re going to hold hands and kiss.

  “…and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and nineteen…”

  I’m giving you all my energy. All this love and hope. It’s going from my heart to yours, through my hands.

&nbs
p; “…and twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two and twenty-three…”

  Feel it, Blake. Feel it.

  “…and twenty-four and twenty-five and twenty-six and twenty-seven…”

  I love you so much. I’m going to love you forever. Can you feel that, Blake?

  “…and twenty-eight and twenty-nine and thirty.”

  Livia leaned down, repositioned Blake’s head, and filled his lungs twice more. As she put her hands on his chest to keep her rhythm, she looked down at his face, at his skin.

  “And one and two and three and four and five and six…”

  Am I imagining that? Your skin?

  “…and seven and eight and nine and ten and eleven…”

  Blake! Blake, your skin! It’s just like glass, Blake. You’re really sparkling. I can see it. I can really see it. Your skin is amazing!

  Livia’s tears landed on her hard-pumping hands. Nothing would stop her from beating Blake’s heart for him now. Nothing. Not even the sound of people crashing through the woods.

  “…and twelve and thirteen and fourteen and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen…”

  You’re glistening, Blake. I’ll never stop. I’ll never stop.

  40

  If I Wanted You to Cry

  EVE HAD A HORRIBLE feeling. She and Beckett had been doing their best to walk quietly in the direction Mouse pointed when they heard the first gunshot. They let go of each other’s hands and broke into a run, weaving through the thick trees. A few minutes later, they heard two more quick pops.

  Eve kept herself at a dead run mostly so she could get to the situation, whatever it was, before Beckett did. She couldn’t look at him again and see guilt and horror. Losing Mouse had already been too much. If Blake had been taken from him too…But despite her best effort, the underbrush and haphazard trees were doing an excellent job of slowing her the hell down, and Beckett lumbered close behind.

  They should still have been trying to be quiet, but Beckett would go in guns blazing, so she needed to have his back and his front. Eve briefly entertained shooting him in the foot or knocking him out, just to keep him safe. He was a charging bull, but after having planned Beckett’s death for years, she would not allow it to happen now.

 
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