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Poughkeepsie begins, p.4
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.4

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  “I shouldn’t have done that.” She looked at the floor. “Not today. Not here.”

  In an instant, the cafeteria behind them went from desolate to occupied as the next lunch began to fill up.

  “Okay.” Beckett was a little bit devastated by her. His heart lurched in his chest as he saw her stumble frantically backward.

  She ran down the hall as he looked at the ceiling. She was a whirlwind. Before he woke up this morning, he’d had no idea he wanted Candy. But now he knew how impossibly sweet she was, and he would want more. Soon.

  As the day continued, Candy relived her out-of-character kiss with Beckett about a million times. It made her blush each time. Twice she caught herself touching her lips. He had tasted like heaven probably did. And he’d smelled so good, which he really shouldn’t have because there were for sure traces of pot on him.

  She chalked it all up to having men fight over her. And she was pretty damn sure that would never happen again, so maybe it was great she’d taken advantage of it and kissed dirty, sexy Beckett. And Zyler was still a bit on her mind as well. She saw glimpses of a friendly, genuine guy in there, but he definitely had a chauvinistic jerk exterior. Which was the real him? He hadn’t been the asshat who called the brothers mean things, but he sure ran with a pack of idiots. Oh wait—that was the football team.

  Candy sighed. She knew how high school worked by now. Today’s drama was all people could talk about, but eventually the shine would come off her penny. Crap, in a month all of these guys might all be best friends and not even sparing her a glance.

  When she got home, her parents were thoughtful, asking about her day. Her father was always particularly concerned because it was his job that brought about all the moving and displacement. Her younger brother was going on about his new middle school. He was thrilled. They had a few fields out back and tons of balls to toss around at recess. He made friends easily and forgot the old ones just as quickly. He was an in-the-now kind of person.

  Candy smiled, nodded, and said it had gone well. Later tonight her mother would cuddle up on the edge of her bed and get the real story—if the classes had been hard or girls had been bitchy to her, the important tidbits.

  The moving around sucked. She would freely admit that to anyone but her dad. He couldn’t change it, and he was wicked proud of his chosen profession. It didn’t matter anyway; she would go anywhere and do anything for her family. They were tight. They were truly each other’s best friends. Her house was an even-keel place to be. Her family talked out the drama that other families threw furniture over. If she spoke, her parents took her opinion into consideration—same for her brother. The worst part was when her dad had to be deployed for months at a time. There was a cloud over their hearts until he returned.

  After dinner they all pitched in to get the kitchen cleaned before separating into their unpacking squads. They were well-practiced at recreating their personal spaces, and Candy now stood in her new room to do just that. She had two boxes of stuffed animals, which she was way too old for, but their furry faces formed a familiar tableau that made the changes easier on her.

  He mother walked in carrying another box. “This is summer stuff. I think there’s room in your closet for it until it warms up.”

  Her mother was just an older version of her. They could even wear the same clothes, and they both had the mismatched eye color.

  “So how was it really?” Her mom grabbed a teddy bear and propped it with the others in the corner of the room.

  “Weird. Crazy. And fine. It’ll all be okay.” Candy grabbed her stuffed Big Foot and propped him up as well.

  “How crazy was crazy?” The stuffed animal pile fell over, so they both knelt to deal with it.

  “I’m the new girl, so the boys seem…”

  “Interested?” Her mom lifted her eyebrows.

  “A few. They almost got in a fight about it today. Crazy. I think I stumbled into something that was already going on. I was an excuse to get riled up.”

  “So how cute were they?” Her mom smiled.

  She thought about it for a moment. “Pretty cute.”

  Her mom opened her eyes wide and held up her hand for a high five. “Officially, stay away from that whole scene and join the chess club. Unofficially, that’s kind of cool. But stay safe.”

  Candy smiled, but left the impulsive kiss out of her recounting. She nodded, agreeing with her mom. The last thing she felt around Beckett was safe, but Zyler had an edge to him as well. So far at this school, good guys and bad guys weren’t so well defined.

  4

  Soup Kitchen

  TWO WEEKS PASSED. Candy thought she saw Beckett from time to time in the hall, but he never made it back to English class. She took the worksheets he missed off his desk every day and filed them in her folder. In the meantime, Zyler continued his quest to walk her to class whenever he could. He’d also convinced her to sit with him at lunch on a regular basis by bringing pictures of his dog to lure her in. Still, she always waved at the brothers as she walked by. Both would lift their chins to acknowledge her. The more time she spent with Zyler’s group of friends, the more she disliked most of them. A few were okay, she guessed, but she mostly tried to focus on Zyler and his dog stories. What she really needed were girl friends, and the girls in this group had not reached out to her. She got the impression that they expected her to earn her spot at the table. Instead she’d gotten a fast pass from Zyler, who seemed to be the leader.

  Finally, with a stack of English worksheets in her possession and no clear idea when she would pass them off to Beckett, she branched off from Zyler and went toward Cole and Blake’s table one day. She waved off Zyler’s questioning face. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

  “I have Beckett’s work for him from English class,” she told Blake and Cole. “Can you guys give it to him?”

  They gave each other a quick look of disbelief before nodding. She handed the worksheets to them, and they took out pencils and got to work, writing Beckett’s name on the top.

  “You’re just going to do it…for him?”

  Blake smiled by way of answer.

  “I’m sorry about the football knotheads and the threatening,” she offered.

  “You like hanging with them?” Cole pinned her with a hard stare.

  She shrugged and looked out the window. “I don’t know what I like yet. Just trying to get my bearings. I’m trying to believe some of them are decent people under there.”

  He had a softer attitude when she looked back at him. “Yeah. Well, you’re always welcome here if you need to be.”

  His invitation took her aback. He was willing to have her sit with them even though the entire football team might tromp back over?

  “That means a lot. Thank you.” She swallowed. “Is Beckett okay? Is he sick?”

  Blake looked up from Beckett’s work to shake his head. “ISI. Again. He’ll be back tomorrow.”

  “Oh, okay. Thanks.” She picked up her backpack and made her way to the spot next to Zyler at the football table. The cheerleaders who also sat there didn’t make Candy feel as welcome as Zyler did. They were talking about Cole and Blake and Beckett, and instead of stopping, they spoke louder when she sat down.

  “Like, seriously. Who would ever date a guy who gets free lunch every day? Where’s he going to take you? A soup kitchen?” Everyone snorted.

  Zyler watched Candy as she sighed. “Hey, Nicole!” he called. “We all know you like the all-you-can-eat wiener buffet anyway.”

  Nicole rolled a napkin in a ball and tossed it at him. He swatted it away.

  He turned back to Candy as the guys started to razz Nicole.

  “She’s a bitch. Taylor’s an ass, and those two guys?” He pointed at Blake and Cole. “They’re tight with him. Maybe if he wasn’t in their ears they’d be okay.”

  Candy gave Zyler a half smile. Who put him in charge of everyone’s worth? She liked the version of him that chatted with her about dogs at this loud table. If only
that him was willing to speak so the others could hear.

  Beckett put his feet up on the desk and cradled his head. He’d been up all night running around town, and he was fucking exhausted. He’d started a new job. Well, it wasn’t really a job as much as it was a lifestyle. He already had more money in his pocket than he’d seen in a year.

  Kick, his boss, was known as a dealer in Poughkeepsie. Beckett had visited him plenty of times to get what he needed for his own personal use. But this past week he’d stepped up and asked him for a run to hustle.

  Candy walked in to class, and he watched her through lidded eyes. She swept past him and sat in the seat she’d chosen the first day she was here. He could smell her conditioner, some expensive, flouncy stuff. He gave her a side eye. She looked rushed. Her hair was still damp, which probably explained the scent.

  Seeing her made him want to kiss her—take her hand, drag her out of class, and just kiss the hell out of those pillowy lips. Instead he thanked her. “My brothers told me about the work you grabbed for me. Thanks.”

  She nailed him with an angry stare, her eyes flashing. “Work for you? You mean the work they did for you?”

  “School isn’t my thing, princess pants.” He pulled his feet off the desk in front of him as Mrs. Drivens addressed the class.

  “Mr. Taylor, welcome back.” She gave him a little wave.

  He winked at his teacher and made a chiching noise in her direction. He was rewarded with her exasperated headshake.

  As the teacher took roll, he leaned over to Candy and whispered, “So are you and Bylar a couple now?”

  She shook her head and responded when her name was called. “Here!”

  Candy refused to talk to him while the teacher was speaking, so he alternated drawing on his desk and twirling the pencil he’d found on the hallway carpet on the way to class this morning.

  Mrs. Driven walked around and took the pencil from his busy fingers, flipped it so it was eraser side down, and pointed to the desk. Beckett began a half-hearted attempt at getting rid of his vandalism.

  He ignored the lecture, instead thinking of ways to lift one of those fancy scientific calculators in math for his new occupation. Until he could do all the bullshit he needed to do in his head, he would need a little help.

  When the class got up to readjust their seats, he realized he had missed a direction. Candy pulled her desk up next to his.

  He covered his mouth while asking her, “What are we doing?”

  She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes.

  “Fine. Be that way.”

  She sat next to him in silence, and the other kids in the class waited patiently. He for sure had missed something.

  He pulled his sweatshirt up over his nose and stared at her profile. She pretended not to notice.

  “You just getting closer so you can kiss me again?”

  She narrowed her eyes and risked an out-loud response. “No.”

  Damn, she was cute when she was mad. She began to braid her hair, twice slapping him in the face with one of her long, black locks.

  “Okay, that time you hit me in the eye.” He stole her pencil. It had her first name stamped on it in gold.

  “Seriously.” He pointed to it. “Are you running for office or some shit?”

  She slapped him with her hair again as she plaited it into a French braid.

  The teacher passed out thick booklets.

  He was mesmerized by her hair styling. “You teach yourself that?” He nodded at her hands.

  “No. My mom.” She paused and held all the sections of her hair in one hand while reaching forward to grab the packet. He checked out her butt in her jeans as she did so. She tossed the papers on his desk.

  The little girls he lived with would love to have their hair braided like that. They were young, and their hair was curly, so they basically just tied knots in it. Lately they’d been finding Blake and bringing their hairbrushes with them. He was super focused and gentle, working through their hair until the brush could move freely. Patient guy. His reward was a sweet hug from the girls. Just Blake’s speed.

  Candy slipped a hair band off her wrist and secured the braid at the end before tossing it over her shoulder and hitting him yet again.

  “Seriously?”

  Her lips turned up at the corners a little. Playful.

  He finally looked at the paper as she added her name to the top. She pushed it toward him, and he slapped down his murderer’s scrawl. Debate Project was written in bold print at the top. After a brief glance, it looked like he and Candy were doing a three-part project together.

  Beckett caught Zyler fuming in his direction. He bit his lip and smiled like the guy had caught him in bed with his girlfriend. Candy tapped him on the arm. He tuned in, swinging his gaze away from intimidating Zyler and toward enjoying the view of her.

  “You are pulling your weight on this. I’m not doing your part. Your brothers aren’t either. You. With your head.” She tapped the paper with her index finger to emphasize her point.

  “You’re a bossy chick.”

  “And you’re a lazy guy.” She shot it back so quickly he had to admire her spunk.

  “See, you’re making assumptions. When it counts, I give it my all.” He sat up and leaned closer to her, watching the flush rise in her cheeks. The lights dimmed.

  “What did you do to get in ISI for so long?” she whispered as she opened a notebook and jotted down the words Mrs. Drivens wrote on the overheard.

  “Bad stuff.” He watched her transcribe the information. “I think your boyfriend’s pissed.”

  She ignored him awhile before responding. “Not my boyfriend.”

  “He acts like it.” Beckett pointed at Zyler with his pinkie and watched as she hazarded a quick look.

  The lights came back up.

  “So use this class time to brainstorm. Before that bell rings you should have a decent idea of what you’re debating and the tactics you will employ.” Mrs. Drivens walked over to a kid at the front of the class who had his hand in the air.

  Predictably, Zyler was soon up to “sharpen his pencil.” Beckett put his huge boots up on the bar of the desk in front of him, blocking his path.

  They had a very male stare-off until Candy slapped his bicep. “Let him go.”

  Zyler waited a few beats before passing after Beckett made a show of removing his feet. Beckett pretended to kick him a few times and was pleased when he flinched.

  “Stop.” Candy hit him again, and he liked it. He liked that she thought she could control him, like he was a guard dog on her leash.

  Zyler leaned down to whisper in Candy’s ear. She shook her head.

  “No. Thanks, it’s okay.”

  He whispered again.

  “Actually, Mrs. Drivens stopped me this morning and asked that I work with Beckett. So I have to. But thanks.”

  She put her hand sweetly on Zyler’s forearm, and Beckett rolled his eyes as the guy flexed. Zyler snapped the end of his pencil on Candy’s desk and tossed the nub on the floor. Candy didn’t relax until he was sitting back down with his partner.

  “So I’m a charity case? Drivens think you’ll be a good influence on me or something?” He was hurt that the teacher had gone behind his back, that she thought he was dumb.

  Candy surprised him by shaking her head. “No. I lied.”

  “Wow. You do that well.”

  “I’m motivated.” She held his gaze in a way that made him think he might be blushing a little.

  “Why?” he whispered, almost afraid to hear her answer. Maybe she was an addict and had heard about his talents.

  “Because your brothers stood with you in the cafeteria.” She turned her notebook toward him with three ideas written on it.

  He ignored the paper and leaned closer to her. He could feel her hot breath with each of her exhales. Mint. Toothpaste mint. “It has nothing to do with the fact that you kissed me?” He looked from her lips to her fascinating eyes. He wanted to see her flustered, t
o know that the effect he always had on girls worked on her too.

  “It doesn’t hurt.”

  Her bold words made him hard. “Jesus.” He leaned even closer. “Who are you?”

  She bit her lip, just a little. “Which topic do you want?” Ignoring him.

  “I know what I want.” He was two heartbeats from kissing her right here, right now, in class.

  The bell made them both jump. She recovered more quickly, dragging her desk away. He was happy to see her hands were a little shaky. Then Zyler was in front of her, chatting her up, grabbing her backpack like pink was his favorite color.

  Just when Beckett was about to lose sight of her, she looked over her shoulder, locked eyes with him, and winked.

  She fucking winked.

  5

  Keeping Hope

  COLE SUNK THE TIP OF THE RAZOR into his flesh and hissed at the pain. The bathroom of his foster home provided him the seclusion he sought. His brothers would think him insane for inflicting pain on himself. They had a daily appointment with Rick’s fists for that. But it wasn’t enough. This was different.

  He lined up the blade with his previous scars, the ones made when he was younger. He didn’t damage the unmarred flesh. That was where he kept his hope. The red of the blood gave him peace. He was in charge of his own discomfort this time. He carved his right arm and watched it bleed. He didn’t snap out of the trance until he heard the front door close.

  After wrapping his arm in toilet paper, he pulled the sleeve of his shirt down. He flushed the toilet and diluted the sink from red to pink with the water from the tap.

  When he pulled open the door, Blake was on the other side. Cole didn’t look him in the eye. “’Sup?”

 
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