Poughkeepsie, p.39
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       Poughkeepsie, p.39

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Beckett pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, unbuttoned the cuff on his expensive shirt and revealed the brothers’ mark. The addition of knitting needles and twirling yarn made Beckett’s forearm ink the exact replica of the tattoo on Mouse’s chest.

  “He was my friend and my brother.” Beckett looked at Cole, who stared at the mark on Beckett’s arm.

  Seeming to feel Beckett’s eyes, Cole shook himself a bit and pulled out his Bible. Blake stepped forward and placed Mouse’s urn gently in the hole Eve had prepared. Although he’d told Eve he’d just recite a simple rosary, Cole now opened the Bible instead.

  “Beckett, you’ve reminded me of one of my favorite passages,” he explained. “This is from First Corinthians thirteen.”

  He cleared his throat and spoke in a lyrical tone. “Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of wrongs done to it.”

  Cole looked up from the Bible and met each person’s eyes before he continued. “Love doesn’t rejoice in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”

  After the murmured “amen” Beckett wiped his eyes. “Yeah, Cole. That was it. Right there.”

  Eve retrieved the shovel she’d stowed behind a tombstone.

  “Wait.” Beckett reached into his bag and pulled out a semi-automatic pistol. All present watched with wide eyes.

  “They do the twenty-one-gun salute for the good guys, right? So I brought this.” Beckett pointed the gun in the sky. “For Mouse.”

  The gun gave such a loud crack, it seemed to split the sky. Livia jumped, and Blake pulled her closer, his eyes wary on his brother.

  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen shots exploded from Beckett’s gun. Then he lowered his arm, wreathed in smoke. He ejected the empty clip and pulled a full one from his bag. He palmed it into the gun, but suddenly Beckett’s arm seemed too heavy for him to lift.

  He hung his head. “Who am I fucking kidding? What the hell does a gun shot by me mean? Nothing special, that’s for damn sure. Fuck it.”

  Livia left the comfort of Blake’s embrace. She put her hands on Beckett’s elbow carefully. She lifted his arm and angled it skyward.

  She spoke, staring into Beckett’s sad eyes. “For Mouse, who watched over my sister and saved Blake and me from more than we could’ve handled in the woods that night.” Livia nodded at Beckett, and he squeezed the trigger. When the sound had cleared, she counted out loud. “Seventeen.”

  Kyle stepped forward and replaced Livia at Beckett’s arm. “For Mouse. I didn’t know you well, but I wish I had.” The air snapped with the shot. “Eighteen.”

  Cole rubbed Kyle’s shoulder as he approached. He took the gun from Beckett’s hand. “For Mouse, who protected Beckett from himself for years.” The gun popped again. “Nineteen.”

  Cole waited as his brother came forward. Blake thought for a moment with the gun pointed at the ground, then aimed it at the sky. “For Mouse, who saved Livia’s life when I couldn’t. Thank you is not enough.” The gun took his gratitude to the heavens. “Twenty.”

  Beckett watched with pride, occasionally pounding his chest. Eve remained a few steps away, listening to the police scanner on her earpiece. She now looked at the gun in Blake’s hand and brought a shaking fist to her lips. She walked over and pulled the technology out of her ear.

  As she took the gun from Blake, the hand that had been shaking steadied. “Mouse, I wish you were still here. This place was better when you were part of it.” The last shot was the most jarring, juxtaposed with the perfect silence of its wake.

  As if the bullet was a key in a lock, the gray skies opened and a quiet, lovely snow shower filtered down. The flakes decorated the hair of the six mourners like glistening knit caps.

  Eve turned her face to be bathed in the fresh flakes. “Twenty-one,” she said softly, replacing her earpiece.

  Beckett picked up the shovel and brought moist soil to cover the urn-filled hole. He smoothed the small mound with the back of the shovel and wiped his hands on his suit. Eve gathered the used ammo clip and tucked it and the gun back in Beckett’s bag.

  Eve met his eyes. “The cops have reports of gunfire here, so we’ve got to go.”

  Beckett groaned, and for a moment a look of sheer panic flashed in his eyes. His brothers stepped to him quickly, rushing to join their tattoos for possibly the last time.

  “I think a call to Chaos is in order,” Blake said, looking at Cole.

  Cole nodded, and Beckett smiled. “Thanks,” he said.

  Eve had Beckett back on the motorcycle within moments and they sped away, leaving nothing but a flurry of snowflakes behind.

  46

  I’m Doing My Job

  CHRISTMAS AT THE MCHUGH home was a sweet scene. The girls spent the morning with their father before gathering with their favorite brothers in the afternoon. Gratitude and love were the most cherished gifts exchanged. But then Livia watched as her sister took less than a week to turn their father’s house into a Tasmanian devil’s bridal boutique. For every wreath Livia put away, every ornament she wrapped in paper, Kyle came in with an armload of wedding options.

  Kyle taped flowers, fabrics, and pictures to the walls in every room, and she ate, drank, and breathed wedding. She could work it into any conversation. But the one thing she refused to talk about was her dress. She wouldn’t even let Livia mention it, and she also let her know she need not worry about her maid of honor gown.

  “How come she has more crap here now than when she lived with me?” their father grumbled as he came down one morning.

  Livia moved a few bridal magazines off the stove to make him some scrambled eggs. She knew he must be crumbling a bit on the inside. The whirlwind wedding was scary, especially for someone not ready to lose his baby girl.

  Livia waited until her father had eaten and muttered his way out the door. She picked up the phone and dialed Blake’s number. His silky hello made her smile.

  “You’re smiling, right?” His voice was so intimate.

  “Of course,” she murmured. “Does it still count if you don’t see it?”

  “It counts when I feel it,” he replied.

  Livia longed to smell his skin. “I want to come over.” She knew she was losing the fight to live any life outside his apartment. She listened to his hum as he considered the possibilities. Livia moved a bundle of wedding favor bags out of the way.

  “You have to go work on your papers,” he finally said. “I’ll meet you at the station.”

  She knew he was right. Dr. Lavender had worked hard on her behalf. After Livia explained about Blake’s injury and the precariousness of his situation, Dr. Lavender had contacted Livia’s professors and requested lenience for her absences and a generous opportunity to make up her work after the semester’s end. Whether the other professors had kind hearts or Dr. Lavender had twisted their arms, she wasn’t sure, but Livia still had a shot at making this semester count.

  “I do have to go,” she agreed. “Did you get the rent collected?”

  “I’ve got one tenant left and then everyone will have settled up,” Blake reported with pride. “Actually, I have something to ask, and then I know you have to get ready.”

  “Go ahead.” Livia tried to picture what he might be wearing.

  “Ted has a friend that owns a club. They’re looking for a piano player on Thursday nights. I was thinking about it…” Blake trailed off.

  “I think that sounds wonderful,” Livia said immediately. “You’ll be terrific, and I’ll be front and center, every Thursday night.” She smiled again, wondering if he could feel it.

  “I’ll see you at the station,” he said before they ended the call with a
click.

  Neither said goodbye. They never could.

  One week before the wedding, the place cards had been filled out, and the candles for the tables were decorated with little hand-painted daisies. Livia’s dress had been revealed as crisp red with a white sash, and the matching shoes were surprisingly comfortable. Also, everyone except Cole was pretty much done with Kyle. She was snippy, frenzied, and angry.

  Kyle stood in the doorway to Livia’s room as she tried on the gown again. “That looks good. Your tits aren’t too pointy,” Kyle said, narrowing her eyes. “Hair up on the day of—I’ll help you with all that shit. No bedraggled librarian hair. Do you hear me?” Kyle jabbed her finger in Livia’s face. She’d taken to pointing a lot lately.

  “I don’t have a choice. You keep talking.” Livia gave her sister the finger and stuck out her tongue.

  “If you didn’t have your dress on, I’d pummel you. I owe you a pummeling now…” A florist’s catalog on Livia’s bed distracted Kyle from her threatening. “I think I’ll carry red flowers. You carry white and red. These ones, right here.” Kyle jabbed her finger at the pictured bouquet. She rolled her eyes when Livia refused to look. “Damn it, Livia. If you’re not helping, how in holy fuck’s sake am I going to be ready? I have so much to do.” She flopped backward on the bed, covering her eyes.

  Livia took a risk and sat next to her sister. “Your wedding is going to be beautiful. In the end, it’ll be you and Cole, and that’ll be perfect.”

  At the mention of Cole’s name, Kyle uncovered her eyes and a hint of a smile found her lips. She ran her hands through her hair.

  Livia looked out the window. Her father’s SUV crackled bits of gravel in the driveway as he arrived from work.

  “Dad’s home.”

  Livia said it out loud, but Kyle had already started to sit up. They listened in silence as their father went through the coming-home routine he’d followed for years. Putting away the hat and shoes, taking off his gun, and unloading it all made distinct noises.

  He must have known Kyle was home because her now-restored convertible sat outside. The bill for fixing it had been ridiculously low. Kyle and Livia suspected that Mouse had paid the bulk of it.

  The girls waited as their father climbed the stairs. When he arrived, he looked so big in Livia’s doorway, just like he had when she was a child.

  “Girls,” he said in greeting. “Have either of you heard anything on Mr. Taylor?” He sent his best dad stare from one to the other.

  Both looked away and shook their heads.

  “Do you know that my two daughters are the best leads I have to find Chris Simmer’s murderer?” He took a deep, steadying breath. “No one can find the other boys who were in the woods that night either.” He looked solemnly at the girls again. “I don’t want to be in this position. But I have to find that man.”

  Livia twisted her hands in a knot. She hated not helping her dad, but she could still picture Beckett standing by Mouse’s grave.

  Kyle’s fragile temper exploded. “Oh, so we’re defending Chris’s dead ass? The animal that tried to kill your daughter? Livia? My sister? I’ve never been happier that someone was dead. He pointed a gun at her, Dad. And those twits in the woods were right with him, I’m sure. How can you ever blame Beckett for doing what you weren’t man enough to do?”

  Kyle covered her mouth. The words were so harsh, even she knew she’d gone too far.

  Their father closed his eyes. He nodded.

  “Kyle, I’m doing my goddamn job. The same job that’s kept a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. This is what I do. I’m slow, and I’m calculating. You don’t think I could’ve killed Chris that night? You don’t think my co-workers would’ve had my back? I had a gun in my hand. And I didn’t kill him. Not because I couldn’t, but because I would never, ever want either of you girls to be disappointed in me. You know what you get when it comes to your father. I’m sorry that’s not enough for you, Kyle. I’m sorry a drug dealer commands more of your respect than I do.” He turned in the doorway, suddenly seeming a little smaller.

  Livia hopped up. She couldn’t let them leave it this way. “Dad, stop. Please.” She put her hand on his arm and he turned, as if powerless to resist her. “The only reason Kyle and I are worth anything at all is because you’ve set the most stellar example. I stood up to Chris because I knew that’s what you’d expect—for me to do the right thing. We love you so much. You’re everything we could want or need in a parent. Please know that.”

  He looked from Livia to his younger daughter and found her crying silently into her hands. He took Livia under one arm and spoke to Kyle. “Come here, little girl.”

  Kyle launched herself at them and into a three-way hug, just like when they were small.

  “I’m sorry, Dad,” she said.

  Their father hugged them both hard and kissed the tops of their heads. After a time, he patted their backs to end the hug. “Well, I got to get out of this uniform. But Kyle, just a word, you’ve been snapping and harping at everyone trying to help you with this wedding, and you need to knock that off. Everyone knows when they’re being a bitch.” He looked pointedly at his daughter.

  Kyle gave him a pretend glare.

  Livia patted her sister’s shoulder. “It’s true. You’re being a bitch.”

  Kyle threw the floral catalog at her as she headed downstairs.

  47

  Kyle’s Joy

  THE MORNING OF THE WEDDING was a cold January Wednesday, which made no sense to anyone except those in the wedding party. Midnight mass would be even more special this week. The residents of the retirement community were deep into the preparations and had turned out to be wonderful coordinators. Many of them had sons, daughters, and grandchildren who were willing to provide services or help out.

  Kyle still had not shown a single soul her wedding dress, and Livia was a little worried. Would fashion-forward Kyle strike a pose in some crazed, super sexy version of a runway gown? Offering no clue at all, Kyle did her makeup and hair at home wearing a baggy sweatsuit. Livia was also coiffed—and dressed—long before the sunset. Kyle insisted on doing Livia’s hair early, and it looked wonderful, but the curls were crispy to the touch. After dinner, the girls and their contrasting ensembles piled into Livia’s Escort for the ride to the church. Kyle had at least said she was planning to change into her dress there.

  When Livia parked in the church lot, the slow-moving caterpillar of angels from next door was already swinging and rocking the way forward to the church. Livia and Kyle blew kisses and curtseyed to the clapping that ensued when the seniors spotted them. Wednesday night seemed to be celebrating its unconventional use for a wedding. The stars blinked like Christmas lights and wintry air smelled of crisp snow—although thankfully the weather had stayed clear, eliminating the need for a whole lot of shoveling. The trees were stark and bare now, outlined against the night sky.

  Loaded down with cardboard boxes of flowers and a garment bag holding Kyle’s dress, the girls made their way inside. Once they’d deposited their goods, Kyle requested to dress in private, so Livia led her sister to the “crying room” at the back of the sanctuary. Livia closed the curtain over the wide glass window that separated the room from the rest of the congregation, then closed the door quietly behind her. Her sister would don her mysterious dress in a space that usually kept noisy babies from disrupting a worshiping crowd.

  With Kyle tucked away, Livia began her inspection. The pews had little bouquets of lilies tied with gossamer slips of fabric that connected each one to the other—like a train, Livia instantly thought. The candles flickered, and the wood shone from the Pew Crew’s tireless ministrations.

  Blake pushed open the door by the altar. His rented tuxedo was crisp, the bow tie perfectly straight. Livia stopped and let the sight of him evaporate her common sense.

  When his eyes found hers, he placed a hand over his heart, as if it might stop again. “You are so lovely,” he said.

  Li
via wrinkled her nose and blew him a kiss. Cole poked his head through the door as well and ruffled his brother’s hair.

  When he spotted Livia, he hollered, “Is she here?”

  Livia nodded but kept her eyes on Blake. Cole, usually calm, now seemed to be bouncing like a rabbit and dragged Blake back through the door. The guests had started to trickle in, and Livia knew it was time to help Kyle. She knocked on the door that sequestered her sister. She waited and knocked again. Nothing.

  “Kyle, enough with the secrecy. I’m coming in.” Livia opened the door, entered the room, and shut the door in one spinning motion so no one else would see in.

  Livia turned to face her sister, who was admiring her reflection in a framed full-length mirror. Kyle smoothed a short blue dress.

  “It’s time to get dressed. Can I help? Is the dress very complicated?” Livia stepped forward so she too was reflected in the mirror.

  Kyle bit her lip and looked at Livia in the mirror. “This is my wedding dress.”

  Livia raised her eyebrow and waited for some explanation. This was the dress Kyle had picked for her to wear on the night of the revenge partying. It seemed an odd choice.

  “I was going to wear this dress when Mom came back,” Kyle finally said. She ironed the material again with her hands.

  “Kyle, Mom’s not coming back. She’s not going to show up here today. I’m sorry.” Livia rested a tentative hand on her sister’s shoulder.

  “I know. I know she’s not coming. But I’m going to wear this dress to start my life with Cole. I’m this person now.” Kyle clenched her fists.

  “Wait. What?” Livia turned her sister to face her. “The dress doesn’t change who you are. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never seen a more beautiful bride, but you’ve always been this person. It’s not that you didn’t earn a mother, it’s that Mom didn’t earn you.” Livia waited until Kyle looked her in the eyes. “Do you understand that?”

 
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