Poughkeepsie, p.36
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       Poughkeepsie, p.36

           Debra Anastasia

  Like we don’t already know.

  “He should be out of surgery in the next hour. One of you can accompany him in the recovery room. Then you can take turns visiting when he gets to his room.” Susan smoothed her scrubs and left them to think.

  Beckett blew out a noisy breath. “Well, that doesn’t sound very fucking good. He’s gonna be a vegetable. Son of a bitch.”

  Livia stood and looked out the window. Her own eyes stared back at her. “We need to pray. Cole, say some prayers for us. Please. Healing prayers.” Livia kept her eyes on her reflection.

  Cole cleared his throat. “Um. Okay. Let’s see.”

  Kyle stroked Cole’s lips gently with her thumb. “Go ahead.”

  Cole pulled the room’s Bible out of a top drawer and flipped through it for a moment. His voice took on a different tone as he prayed, as if he painted the air with the solemn aura of the church.

  “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake…”

  Livia watched as Beckett folded his hands into a thick sailor’s knot of hope. He bowed his head. She couldn’t have loved him more if he’d been her actual brother. She let Cole’s words lift her.

  She pictured Blake and closed her eyes. He lay under the bright surgery lights, tubes in place, beeping monitors, Sorry tattoo. It was as if she stood in the room with him. She poured her energy around him, surrounded him with sparkling, champagne-colored sunlight. Heal him. Strengthen him. Heal him.

  “…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me…”

  Livia pictured herself holding Blake’s hand on a walk in the forest, the sun prickling through the leaves to dance on his face. She pictured his smile. She imagined she felt the gentle touch of his finger on her cheek. She pressed her lips together. He will kiss me again. I know it.

  Cole’s lilting prayer continued, almost like music. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

  Cole lifted his head, and in the pause, the four spoke together: “Amen.”

  Susan appeared as if the word was her name. “Okay, who’s going to visit Blake?”

  Livia smiled as three fingers pointed at her.

  She followed Susan into the surgical recovery area. The recovery room was a giant cube of yet more curtains. Walls, it seemed, were a precious luxury. Susan fitted Livia with a paper jumpsuit, explaining that Blake was susceptible to infection. Livia washed up to her elbows with antibacterial soap and snapped on a paper mask. Susan approved with a nod and walked to a spot two curtains away. She parted the fabric with reverence.

  Livia took in the sight of her love. He fought a still, silent battle against death, but he looked pale and helpless. Livia hated that. She knelt next the bed and kissed the mark of his tattoo through her paper mask and around the tubes. An IV chugged liquid straight into his veins.

  “Go ahead and talk to him, sweetheart. It helps,” suggested Nurse Kim as she monitored Blake’s machines. She checked off a few things on a clipboard, and Susan rolled in a computer chair for Livia to sit on as she held Blake’s hand and stroked his tattoo.

  “Hey, handsome, I’m right here. You’re doing an amazing job. I’m so proud of you.” Livia’s voice cracked a bit, and she swallowed her tears. “The ladies here are working real hard. Beckett’s here, and Cole is too. We’re all just waiting for you. But you take the time you need. I’m not going anywhere. Well, I may have to pee once in a while, but I’ll come right back.”

  Susan gently laughed and rubbed Livia’s shoulders. “There you go. Keep it honest for him.”

  As the nurses busied themselves with other patients and statistics, Livia slid her hand over his. She needed to feel his skin. She tucked his hand under the thin blanket and held it without protection. The same tingling she’d felt when they first held hands flooded her skin. He’s still in there. They can tell me anything they want. Blake’s right here.

  She scooted her chair closer to his head. The deep, monotonous breaths the ventilator forced him to take sounded scary, but Livia held tight to his hand.

  “I love you, Blake Hartt,” she whispered. “I’ll love you forever.”


  Eye for an Eye

  DR. HARTT HAD PUT Blake in a medically induced coma, as even waking might be too much for his recovering system. He was moved to a private room, and Livia began a hospital vigil. No one mentioned payment or insurance, but Livia had a feeling Beckett would provide cash.

  After three days, Blake was weaned off the drugs that kept him asleep. Told he could wake at any moment, everyone but Livia was concerned. They all found time to try to prepare Livia for the worst. Each time she would listen, thank them for their concerns, and turn back to Blake with a smile.

  They couldn’t feel the tingling. But she could. Nurses Susan and Kim had arranged for Livia to stay in Blake’s room, and she left only when she felt Blake’s gentleman’s code would be compromised if she remained. During one of these brief moments, while Livia stood in the hall, her father decided to stop by.

  “Hey, Liv. Kathy picked these out for you,” he said, handing her a bag of fresh clothes.

  “Thanks, Dad.” Livia looked over her shoulder, but Susan was still fixing Blake’s bedding. How she changed the sheets with Blake still in the bed seemed like a magic trick.

  “Well, your sister moved out,” her father began in a matter-of-fact tone. “She’ll probably be over to tell you all about it.” He shook his head in a constant “no” motion while delivering the news.

  “Did you guys have a fight?” Livia had always been the filter for her sister’s impulses.

  “Oh, no. She was busy rushing around sighing about the new holy boyfriend, saying things like ‘shadow’ and ‘my other self,’ yadda yadda. You know how I feel about living together before marriage.”

  Livia sighed. If he only knew how wonderful it was for Kyle to be settling down.

  “She’s going to be fine, Dad. Cole’s good for her.” Livia crossed her arms and looked again in Blake’s direction.

  “There’s something else,” her father said, capturing her attention again. “Your friend Beckett? If he shows up, I need you to call me right away.” Livia watched as discomfort and resolve took their places on her father’s face.

  “What happened?” Livia asked a little sharply. But she knew before her father told her.

  “You got a lot going on here. We’ll talk about it later,” he said, backing away.

  “Just tell me, Dad.” She gave him a pointed stare.

  “Chris was murdered right in his hospital room. Beckett Taylor is wanted for questioning.”

  Livia closed her eyes. Beckett.

  “I can’t say I’m sorry to hear that,” Livia finally said. “I damn near did it myself. How are you so sure it wasn’t me?” Livia watched as her father smirked then looked solemn.

  “The way Chris went? You could never do that—ever.” He shuddered.

  Livia did feel sorry for Chris’s family—for the beautiful Mrs. Grandma. But she couldn’t muster any real regret for Chris’s demise.

  Susan rolled a cart full of used linens past father and daughter. “Hey, Princess Charming, Sleeping Handsome is all yours.”

  Livia was grateful. Her hand had started to ache, missing the tingle Blake’s skin provided. Her dad held his arms out for a hug, a new custom he’d adopted the night Blake was shot. Livia hugged him and returned to Blake’s side, the door closing softly behind her.

  She arranged Blake’s hair so it looked more like it was supposed to, then pulled the now-familiar recliner over and held his hand. She’d put on her fresh clothes later. She focused on her favorite machine in the room: the one that kept track of Blake’s heartbeat. With slow breaths and conce
ntration, Livia could make her heart beat in tandem with his.

  Beckett sat in the hospital parking lot in a Lincoln he’d commandeered from one of his douchebags. Its windows were so black the car looked like a Matchbox toy. Behind them, Beckett’s eyes fixed on what he knew was Blake’s window. Whitebread was in there, waiting like the fucking pillar of strength she was. That little brunette had out-couraged pretty much every damn person he’d ever met—exactly what Blake needed.

  Beckett’s gaze fell on the discarded scalpel on the floor of the car. It was covered in blood. He sat here at the scene of the crime like a first-time pussy, with the goddamn weapon right next to him.

  When Eve had appeared at the hospital to tell him she’d killed the other assholes involved, Beckett had been relieved. And she’d been ready to finish the job. Eve wanted to eliminate Chris and keep Beckett’s hands clean. But Beckett wanted his hands dirty. He wanted to avenge his brother. Almost equal was his desire to protect sweet Whitebread. Eve was not pleased, but there was nothing she could do. She’d left to hide the corpses she’d created.

  As he had strolled the hospital and broken into the cafeteria to get food for his people upstairs, Beckett had formed the weak outline of a plan. He knew he owned a few beat cops. Mouse always made sure to keep a selection on the payroll—at times it was truly the only way to stay out of jail.

  Mouse. Beckett put his grief away.

  He’d fed his people, and Livia had even convinced him to pray. But Beckett’s prayer had nothing to do with Cole’s mumbo jumbo and all the “ths” at the end of every other damn word. Beckett wanted one simple thing. A shot. A chance to kill the fuck out of Chris.

  The next day they’d sent Kyle home, so Cole went back to his church and Livia followed Blake to his new room. Beckett said goodbye as if he were heading out, but instead did some stalking while flirting with the nurses. Over the next twenty-four hours, Beckett figured out their schedule, and he also scoped out Chris’s room—just one cop sitting outside his door. Guess they aren’t afraid of a double-kneecapped bitch running away.

  When he spied O’Malley, one of the cops on his take, starting a shift in front of the bastard’s door the next day, Beckett grabbed the first weapon he could lay his hands on. He found a packet of shiny tools for surgery and ripped it open. The scalpel’s blade was sharp and very small. Perfect.

  “Hey, O’Malley!” Beckett sauntered up to the uniformed officer.

  They shook hands like friends, but the cop’s eyes clearly said, What the hell?

  Beckett’s big smile never left his face as he issued orders. “Go get coffee for an hour. Then you can come back.”

  O’Malley’s mouth opened, but nothing ever came out. He put his head down and walked quickly down the hall.

  Beckett slipped into the room and let his eyes adjust to the dim light. Chris had cartoons on the TV like a dickless woman. He snored with his mouth open. Guaranteed, his IV was chock full of pain meds.

  Beckett stood looming over Chris, letting the image of his brother’s chest being shocked in the night fill his mind. At his core, Beckett was a killer; no one could find mercy in him now.

  A cracking punch on the bruise on Chris’s face was the patient’s good morning kiss. Chris woke, shaking like he was having a seizure. Beckett plunged the scalpel into Chris’s neck, slicing his vocal cords to keep him silent. After yanking the IV from Chris’s arm, Beckett let him know why he was visiting.

  “Hey, fuck-a-doodle-doo! You soggy-ass pussy. You shot my brother in the back. Know what that means? You’re gonna die, bitch.” Beckett didn’t put on gloves; he wanted to feel the warm, sticky blood. “Let’s get started. Eye for an eye, they always say.” Beckett began carving as Chris’s mouth formed the circle of a noiseless scream.

  Beckett looked away from the instrument on the floor of the Lincoln. Chris had died a horrific death, even by Beckett’s standards.

  But his death didn’t give Beckett the peace he craved. Until Blake woke up and talked like a normal motherfucker, Beckett was going to want to puke. All the doctors and nurses assigned to Blake had that sad look in their eyes, like they were treating a damn dead dog or something. And he knew those bastards had seen shit like this before.

  He guessed that was why he’d committed Chris’s murder like an amateur. Like a butt-munching serial jack-off. He’d left more DNA, proof, and motive in his wake than he could shake his dick at.

  Eve was going to kill him.

  And now he was back at the scene of the crime. His ass was getting stupider by the second. But he had to see Blake and bask in all the hope Whitebread tossed around like confetti.

  “Fuck it, here I go.” Beckett squared his shoulders, walked in the front door, and continued on to Blake’s room without incident. He found Whitebread curled up in the chair like a cat, her hand touching Blake’s. She was sleeping, and Beckett had almost turned tail to leave her in peace when Blake’s eyes snapped open.

  “The fuck!?” Beckett ran to Blake’s side as his brother’s face registered the room in panic.

  Whitebread popped up and was almost nose-to-nose with Blake immediately. Beckett leaned around her and held his brother’s flailing arms.

  Livia spoke in a soft, urgent voice. “Blake? They have you on a ventilator; this thing in your mouth needs to be removed by the doctor. Just calm down. Look, I’m here. I’m here. See? It’s okay. Just try to be calm.”

  Whitebread stroked Blake’s cheek.

  Beckett held his breath. Is this flailing, panicked dude the new Blake?


  A Real Human Heart

  LIVIA HAD BEEN THINKING about this moment since Blake came out of surgery. She’d talked herself through all the possibilities for when he woke up: he might be confused, and the ventilator sure as hell would freak him out. But now, sitting almost on top of him and holding his alert, scared face was enough to make her cry. His vibrant green eyes looked everywhere but at her.

  “Beckett, go get a nurse or a doctor,” she said as calmly as possible. She sensed Beckett’s reluctance. “Let go of his arms. It’s okay.” Livia felt the bed react as Beckett removed his huge body.

  Blake’s hands covered hers. She could see the trapped feeling in his wild eyes.

  “I’m so happy to see you. I love you so much. Thank you for waking up,” Livia spoke quickly but calmly, trying to capture Blake’s attention.

  Finally, his eyes locked on hers, and she gave him a huge, teary-eyed smile. She couldn’t tell if he counted because his lips were stretched around the appliance that had kept him breathing. Be in there, Blake. Please. Please, God.

  Livia turned to see Beckett run back into the room literally carrying a nurse. Nurse Kim, to be exact. He set her down, pointed at Blake, and shouted, “See!?”

  “Our boy’s awake,” Kim said simply, not even acknowledging her strange entry. “Hey, Blake. Good morning.”

  She kept a happy banter going as she efficiently checked the machines surrounding her patient. Susan arrived within seconds, and the nurses slipped into easy conversation. They seemed to be demonstrating for Blake how relaxed they were.

  “Blake, glad to see you awake. Good timing—we were prepping to wean you off of the vent to see how your lungs are doing. Would you like to try that now?” Susan waited with a gentle smile.

  Livia sat frozen. She hadn’t asked Blake a direct question yet. This simple yes-or-no answer would tell everyone in the room a million things. Can he understand words? Will he be okay? Is Blake still here?

  He looked perplexed and strained against the tube in his throat.

  Livia centered her energy again. You can do this.

  Blake nodded once, then twice, then three times. Yes, he wanted the tube out.

  He understands!

  Beckett scooped Livia off the bed and twirled her. The nurses filled the space she emptied.

  “You did it, Whitebread! You saved him. You’re amazing. My brother. My brother.” His voice breaking, Beckett set her back on her
feet and hugged her.

  When she saw Blake staring at her over Beckett’s shoulder, Livia stumbled a bit. His gaze was so intense. So Blake. Beckett kept her steady. She could feel his whole body smiling.

  They both stayed through the meticulous process of removing the ventilator. Blake’s first breaths on his own were gentle and sure, thanks to Kim and Susan’s expertise. He coughed when he was supposed to, following yet another command, and Livia’s heart soared. Finally, when they asked him to speak, he found her gray eyes.

  His voice was husky and raspy, but his words were clear. “Livia. You love me.”

  Beckett let her go as she climbed back onto Blake’s bed. Blake moved slowly, but he seemed determined and winced only a little as he reached for her shoulders and pulled Livia against his chest. She wanted to say something, but her sobs took those words from her.

  His raspy voice moved her hair with his precious, perfect words. “You’re here. With me.”

  Livia grabbed a fistful of his hospital gown. The strength that had sustained her dissolved into gratitude. To see his light, his face, everything that was Blake again brought relief like she’d never known. He rubbed her back as her body shook with sobs.

  After surveying the scene for another moment, Susan and Kim stepped into the hall and hovered just outside the door. Beckett held up his fist, and Blake paused his rubbing to salute by grabbing Beckett’s arm. Her sobs quieting, Livia turned to watch as the brothers said nothing but nodded solemnly at one another, which said everything. Beckett then turned to exit through the open door.

  As he stepped into the hallway, Susan looked Beckett up and down. “Livia’s dad told me to watch for you and give him a call if you turned up.”

  Beckett froze. His hands gripped the doorframe where he stood.

  “So, as soon as I’m sure Blake is on the mend, I’m going to make that call,” Susan continued. “It should be within the next ten minutes.” She finished her speech with a pointed look.

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