Poughkeepsie, p.43
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       Poughkeepsie, p.43

           Debra Anastasia

  “Do you have the rings?” Blake finally righted his shirt and started on the tie.

  “Yes, I do. Get used to hearing that today, by the way.” Cole stood to retrieve the rings from his pocket. He was keeping them safe in a little satin bag. He emptied the contents into his hand.

  Blake counted them out loud. “One, two.”

  Cole ribbed him again using his best cartoon voice. “Two! We have two rings! Ah-ha-ha!”

  “Are you allowed to beat up the officiant before a wedding? I think we need to start that tradition today.” Blake play-punched Cole in the stomach.

  Light, funny, and slightly false, the boys tried to keep the giant, Beckett-sized hole in the room filled with their banter.

  Cole grabbed Blake’s jacket off the wooden hanger and held it open. Blake stood in front of the mirror, adjusting the tie again, then submitted to the jacket.

  “Do you think I should smooth the hair? I mean, like, with a part or something?” Blake tried it out with his hands.

  Cole tilted his head like a cocker spaniel. “Um. I’m going to go ahead with a no. You’ll look like a newscaster.” Cole made his voice deeper. “And today, in other news, Blake Hartt and his bride jammed up an entire train station with their love.”

  Blake smiled. “Some important people must really owe Kathy big. I’m still amazed we were able to pull this off.”

  Though she was a humble police station receptionist by day, Livia’s dad’s mysterious new girlfriend seemed to be hooked up beyond reason. She’d gotten the mayor of Poughkeepsie to allow a train platform wedding ceremony, although a train would make a noisy stop sometime during the blessed event.

  After admiring his fully dressed self for a moment, Blake started for the door, pocketing his keys.

  “Hey, we’ve got, like, hours to go before Livia shows up,” Cole pointed out.

  Blake looked at his shoes. “I don’t want to be late. I don’t mind the wait. I’m used to it.”

  Cole shrugged and followed his brother out the door. Blake consented to a ride in Cole’s car only after Cole pointed out that the walk might dirty his tux. They arrived at the platform with two and a half hours to spare before the 7:30 p.m. ceremony. Blake assumed his position at the edge of the red paper aisle. His eyes tracked the scarlet trail to its beginning: the top of the stairs leading to the parking lot.

  My Livia will come to me on this path.

  At times the men made small talk or helped the wedding planner put the finishing touches on the silver-and-white decor. And they each lit what seemed like a million candles. Blake remained standing throughout the wait, sometimes gazing at the rippling Hudson River.

  Today, when I count her smile, I get to keep it.

  He asked Cole again to see the rings. The simple gold bands were old-fashioned looking and fairly thin, but Blake had bought them with money he’d earned at the piano bar.

  As her wedding present, he’d composed a song for her on the piano at work, working at night after the bar closed. As long as he locked up, the owner didn’t mind Blake’s experiments. Livia had made only one of his Thursday night gigs. A study group ate up the rest of her free hours as she worked double to catch up on the material she’d missed while involved in Blake’s drama. It had taken Blake a little while to come to terms with her course of study and planned career. But as he spent more time with Livia and talked to her about what she was learning, he came to feel confident that she saw him only as her soulmate and never as a potential patient. She wanted to help him and just happened to have an above-average knowledge of how to do so.

  Blake had no piano today, but he hoped he’d have an opportunity to play her present for her soon. He’d written the music neatly on staff paper and folded it in his jacket pocket. He patted it now and smiled. He surveyed the scene and realized the guests had started to arrive.

  Flickering candles climbed the stairs, and hundreds more trimmed the edges of the platform. White seats had been neatly arranged to hold the fifty or so guests for the occasion. Blake had a feeling the small check he’d given the wedding planner was not the only compensation she’d received for the wedding.

  Kyle’s old friend Lorraine, the night’s DJ, was stunning yet understated in a silky gray dress as she arranged her iPod and speakers for the ceremony. Her big equipment was already set up at the park for the reception. Blake greeted the men and kissed ladies’ hands as the guests continued to fill the platform. He nodded to the handful of police officers who arrived together, almost in formation.

  “I’m asking my people to leave their firearms at home,” Livia’s dad had informed him the week before. “I think guns make Livia nervous after your…uh…incident.”

  Blake loved that John paid such close attention to his daughters. He’d not been the only one to register the flinch Livia still exhibited whenever she heard a sudden loud noise.

  The sun sifted through the trees around the platform, and Blake stood proudly in its curtain of light. It would be retreating from him this time. He walked over to his old spot in the shade with victory in his step. He’d been trapped there for so long. He shook his head and returned to the sun’s rays, amazed at how powerful that simple act made him feel.

  By 7:28, all the guests had arrived, and there were three empty seats: one for Eve, who had yet to show up, another for John, who would have a seat after he gave his daughter away, and a third that would remain empty, save for the ball of soft white yarn with two silver knitting needles in it.

  Lorraine had set an elegant tone with a subdued Verdi concerto. Blake heard the rumble of an engine and the cracking of gravel in the parking lot. The limo. She’s here.

  The steep staircase kept the guests’ prying eyes from seeing the little family that had just arrived. As he waited, Blake glanced to his side, where his best man wasn’t. Cole looked at the spot as well.

  Then Kyle’s smiling face appeared at the top of the stairs, and she gave Lorraine a thumbs-up. The dreamy music Livia had selected for the ceremony filled the air.

  Kyle made walking down the steep stairs in high heels and a long silver gown look easy. She took care not to poke holes in the runner as she tiptoed her way to the dais. Cole received a kiss on the cheek and a wink.

  As Blake leaned down to accept her hug she whispered, “Remember when you and Livia tried to hog the spotlight at my wedding? Just when you and Livia get to the good part, Cole and I are going to have porno sex right there.”

  She pointed discreetly at the spot to Blake’s right, and he couldn’t help but laugh. As the music switched from a cappella to a piano-filled marvel, Blake watched as all his hours of waiting paid off. At the top of the stairs, with her father holding her arm tightly, Livia appeared, looking demurely down at her feet.

  She and John took one small step at a time. She was obviously much more concerned about tripping than Kyle had been. During her descent, Blake just looked. Her white gown fit her frame perfectly, and the strapless dress revealed the gentle, tempting curves of her shoulders. Her bouquet contained the paper-napkin roses he’d made for her, combined with baby’s breath. A flowing train cascaded down the stairs behind Livia, and an even longer veil billowed in the gentle breeze like a blown wish.

  Livia stopped to hold her small tiara on with her bouquet hand, and she finally looked at him. As always, her blazing beauty ignited him as she approached.

  Me. She sees me.

  She was only a few steps from the bottom when she smiled at him. Blake mouthed the number back to her.

  “You’re here,” she whispered.

  “Always,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.

  She blushed. Her father helped her down the last few steps, and she returned her gaze to her feet. She looked down now because, Blake knew, she was trying not to cry. She didn’t want to be a “blubbering mess,” as she called it. Blake ducked his head lower to get a glimpse of her face. His beautiful love was just steps from him when Livia’s father extended his hand. Blake shook it with a ster
n formality. This ritual was so important to him.

  After transferring responsibility from one strong hand to another, John kissed Livia on the cheek. Blake could see he also wanted to hug her, but after a moment, he went to his chair without the gesture of comfort. John was also working not to make Livia cry.

  Blake waited for her to look at him with a smile, but her shoes were still too captivating. He held a hand up to stop Cole from beginning the ceremony. He knelt on one knee, close to the hem of her dress, and looked up at her. She watched him as he kissed her hand.

  “Beautiful, enchanting Livia, will you marry me today?”

  Livia’s disobedient tears emerged, gravity bathing his smiling face with their small, splashy wishes. She took her hand from his and covered her mouth. She nodded over and over as she cried.

  Blake stood and gathered her. Livia dissolved into him, leaving the guests alternately tearing up or looking in other directions.

  Blake tried to stroke her hair through the veil, but he was afraid he would pull it out. “Shhh. It’s okay. I’m not that terrible, am I?”

  Livia shook her head.

  “I’m making you my wife right now, even if you cry through the whole damn thing.” Blake switched to wiping her tears.

  Kyle, the only other person standing close enough to whisper, leaned in to Livia’s ear. “Quit being such a snot-flinging drama queen. Suck it up and marry him.” She turned her attention to Blake. “Are you two going to be a while? Should Cole and I get started over there?” She pointed to her previously selected location.

  Blake laughed and shook his head. Livia regained her composure.

  Kyle held a tissue in front of her sister. “Don’t ask me where I was keeping that.”

  Livia wiped her cheeks and eyes, then tucked the tissue into her bouquet instead of giving it back to her sister.

  Years later, a little girl would pull that tissue out and ask her mother about it. “The Sobbing Bride” would become one of the girl’s favorite tales. She would request it from her mother’s point of view, then run to have her father tell his version.

  But for now, the couple turned to Cole, who assumed a very regal tone. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a ceremony celebrating Blake Hartt and Livia McHugh. Today is not the start of their lives together. It will mark the day we all stood, clapped, and gave good wishes. But their fates were destined for each other long before they even met. True love, the kind that lasts forever, is very rare indeed. It takes compromise, continued growth, and trust.”

  Cole paused to look from Blake to Livia and back again. “Livia and Blake have a head start on all those things,” he continued. “Time has tested them already, asking a fresh love to face terrifying and life-changing tasks. These two had to find and hold onto their love, even when it felt like all was lost.”

  Blake kept his eyes on Livia, though his body faced Cole. Livia would glance, smile, and look away, shaking her head while she tried not to cry. Lorraine left the Verdi on softly in the background, and Cole made sure to look at Kyle, surely remembering their own rocky path. The sun threw out glistening beams, making the platform golden.

  The sound of a motorcycle in the parking lot caught everyone’s attention.

  Blake looked at Livia. “Eve’s here.”

  He recognized the motor from her arrival at his apartment for their daily walks. Cole was about to continue when the engine cut out. The steps that approached were not quiet or delicate; instead they rang loud, widely spaced, and definitely masculine.

  Cole and Blake raised their eyebrows at each other and looked to the top of the steps in tandem. Beckett appeared and stood for a moment, taking in the scene. Then he trotted down the steps.

  Livia grabbed Blake’s lapels. “Oh, God. No. They’re going to arrest him.”

  Blake pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. “He knows that, love,” he murmured. “He knows.”

  Beckett was halfway up the aisle with a huge grin when John stood and stepped in front of him. “Stop right there. Mr. Taylor. You’re wanted for questioning in the murder of Chris Simmer.”

  Livia handed her bouquet to Kyle and picked up her gown. She stutter-stepped as quickly as she could in her heels until she was between Beckett and her father.

  Beckett’s gruff voice moved her veil as he spoke, “Happy wedding, Whitebread. But please, don’t worry about this.”

  Livia shook her head at her father and turned to wrap her arms around Beckett. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

  Beckett patted her back while keeping his gaze on her father.

  “Livia, step aside,” her father said. “Let me take care of this, and we can get back to the wedding. One of the boys can take him down to the station.” He used his cop voice.

  Livia put one hand on the center of Beckett’s chest and the other on her father’s, connecting the men’s hearts through her own.

  “Dad, please. I know this is an impossible thing to ask. I know you follow all the rules, and that’s what I love best about you. But this man is important to Blake,” she patted her hand gently on Beckett’s chest.

  John tightened his lips and shook his head.

  “And I know you don’t like him. And I know you need to question him. But I’m asking you, please, please do it after the wedding.” She patted her father with her other hand.

  Beckett removed her hand. “Go up there with my brother. Don’t fight my battles for me, Livia.”

  Blake now stood next to John, ready to take Livia away from the confrontation. Cole came to stand on John’s other side, his hands holding his Bible tightly, his mouth moving in a quiet prayer.

  John bit his bottom lip. “Livia, the last thing I want to do is upset you. But Mr. Taylor here, he’s a real slippery guy. I need to grab him while I can.”

  Livia made a fist and put it to her forehead. “Dad. Some people who should love me and should be here aren’t. Like Mom.”

  Her father blinked.

  “Beckett shouldn’t love anyone, but he does, and he knows he shouldn’t be here, but he is. I’m asking you, please, let him stay. I know I’m not being fair.” Livia took her father’s hand. “And if you really can’t do it, if you really have to take Beckett now, I won’t be mad. I’ll understand. Sometimes the right thing can seem so wrong, like it does in this moment. But really, Beckett won’t hurt anyone here. Not today. I bet he isn’t even armed.”

  Beckett shook his head and opened his jacket for all to see.

  John sighed. “Livia, even if I decide to let him stay, how can I ask that of the other guys?”

  Livia turned to face the row of dignified police officers. “You can’t, Dad, but I can. Would it be okay? Could you guys possibly let him be the best man?”

  Finally, after some murmuring and grumbling, the officers nodded.

  “Thank you so very much.” Livia knew they must deeply respect her father to grant such a request.

  John accepted Livia’s exuberant hug. “Yup, all right. Better get up there and get married already. Time to let Blake have the pleasure of your nagging for the rest of his days,” he said.

  Gentle, tension-soothing laughter spread through the crowd, and John simply turned his back on Beckett and returned to his seat.

  The brothers could not contain their enthusiasm. They wrapped their forearms together and pounded backs. Beckett and Blake each offered Livia the crook of an arm as they went back up the aisle.

  “Baby, you didn’t have to do that,” Beckett whispered fiercely. “But thank you so fucking much. You look gorgeous today.”

  Livia kissed his cheek and let go of his arm so he could hug Kyle.

  “Hey, Fairy Princess, I think you may be the hottest married chick alive right now,” Beckett said.

  Kyle hugged him and punched him in the arm at the same time. Cole resumed his place and opened the Bible, signaling the return of decorum.

  “Let’s start over. The sun still hangs by a thread in the sky for us. Please accept our humble thanks, Lord. The
beauty you have wrapped around this loving couple tonight is the perfect backdrop.” Cole gestured grandly at the spectacular show behind him.

  The river was a silver mirror reflecting the rippling colors. The sun glowed red, as deep as love, as it headed for the horizon, and the clouds flaunted pinks and oranges.

  Cole reached into his pocket and handed Beckett the bag with the rings. He held them gently in a cupped hand for a moment and smiled down at them. Then he put them in his pocket and held his head high.

  “Blake and Livia have come before us today to declare their promise,” Cole said. “They will fill their hearts with only each other and their love. It is our job as witnesses to support them and to send them positive thoughts when we think of this day and their life’s journey together.” Cole made a point to gaze at those seated before him. “The couple has prepared their own vows. Livia, would you like to go first?”

  Livia nodded and unwrapped a pink page from the stem of her bouquet. She spoke softly, so only Blake could hear her. But the audience felt the moment by watching Blake’s eyes as she spoke.

  Livia read from the paper as if it were a letter. “Dear Blake Hartt, thank you. Thank you so much for thinking my smile was worth waiting for. Thank you for letting me see who you are inside. I found the sweetest spot in the world—it’s wherever you are, surrounded by your arms. Please be my husband. I couldn’t have it any other way. I promise to make you lose count. Love, Livia McHugh.”

  When she’d finished, Blake took the paper from her hands. He folded it and put it in his pocket, where it nestled side by side with his music. He kissed her ringed hand, and then her bare one. He had no paper, but he spoke clearly and unhesitatingly. There was a slight echo as his words bounced around the cement platform. He borrowed her letter format to respond.

  “Dear Livia McHugh, I’ll be your husband. I’ll be nothing but yours for the rest of forever. A single, simple day with you is something I’ll refuse to take for granted. You have been the reason my heart beats since the moment I saw you, long before your hands actually had to do the job for me. Sleep in my arms. Wake up by my side. My beautiful love, be my wife and make me the happiest man. And I will never, ever lose count. Love always, Blake Hartt.”

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