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Poughkeepsie begins, p.5
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.5

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  “Did you see the note downstairs?” Blake’s voice was slow. Rick must have refilled his meds.

  “No.” Cole stepped out of the bathroom, eager to put distance between him and his secret. “What’s it say?”

  “They’re taking the little kids out west to the ranch. We’re staying on our own. Two weeks.” Blake smiled despite his medically suppressed emotions.

  “That’s…great. Wow. Two weeks. We might even heal a little.” Cole nodded at Blake.

  Beckett slammed the door open downstairs and came up holding the note Cole had obviously missed on his way to get to his razor. Sometimes it was all he could think of.

  “Shit.” Beckett tilted his head.

  Blake took the note. “The get-out-of-jail card not good enough for you?”

  “Nah. Love that. But who will he beat if we’re not there?”

  And that was why Cole loved Beckett. His first thought was the little kids. Of course, he had lived here first.

  “What can we do?” Cole saw a bit of blood seeping through his shirtsleeve. He covered it with his hand.

  “We’ve got a day here before they go. I’ll think on it.” Beckett tucked his hands into his pockets.

  “You see your new girlfriend today?” Blake’s eyes were heavy, but he still did his best to tease Beckett.

  “You know I’m a multi-woman kind of guy.” Beckett rocked back on his heels.

  Cole applied more pressure to his wound.

  The door downstairs slammed open, the little kids coming home from school. The two smallest with their wild, curly hair clambered up the stairs and hugged the boys. Cole swept Wintery into his arms. She planted a kiss on his cheek. Beckett tussled Summer’s locks as she spun under his touch. These two girls had wormed their way under the shield the brothers were excellent at tossing up. Better to not be attached. The foster program was a fluid thing. Parents came back into the picture. Courts changed their orders. Social workers came and left. It was a hard place to be a lifer.

  Summer held onto Beckett’s arm, and he lifted her like weight in the gym. “Beckett, we have a field trip to the zoo!” She squealed as he set her back down on her feet.

  “Where’s the form, pumpkin head?” She opened up her backpack. It was pink with a kitten on the front. Cole was pretty sure Beck had shoplifted it for her. She opened her folder, stamped with the school’s logo. The free folder. Summer had her form in perfect condition, without a crease.

  “They say we can buy lunch, and we can go in the gift shop,” she added. That part wasn’t said with the cheery happiness it should have been. It was a problem. Money was hard to find. Rick was happy to let the school give the kids the bare minimum.

  “Your sister going too?” Beckett asked.

  Wintery buried her face in Cole’s neck. He patted her back. Shy. She was drawn to Cole. He would rip his beating heart out and hand it to her to keep her safe. He squinted, thinking of Rick taking his rage out on her.

  “Yes. Well, her class is on the bus too.”

  Cole met Blake’s gaze and knew he was having the same issue. The other kids in the house had done what they had to do: put their shields in place, kept anyone from getting too close. But Summer and Wintery were too young. Their mom was a drug addict, but she loved them. She didn’t beat them; she just couldn’t get her act together to take care of them.

  Beckett squatted down. “No worries. You and your sister will be on the bus, and you’ll have money for lunch and a toy. I promise.”

  “I love you, Beckett!” Summer wrapped her hands around his neck and gave him a kiss.

  Blake held out his hand for the girls’ forms. He looked at them and passed them to Cole. Wintery put her thumb in her mouth—a holdover. They were supposed to discourage her. That way she wouldn’t need braces down the line. But Cole remembered doing the same thing when his mom had him in the closet between the men who paid her for time with him. So he’d never tell her to stop.

  It was going to be a lot for both of them. Twenty bucks for the bus and then fifteen each for lunch. And he guessed the zoo’s gift shop was expensive as hell. Still, Beckett went on promising and promising. When they finally shooed the girls down to the living room to watch cartoons, Cole pointed to Blake and Beckett’s room.

  No one needed to ask Beckett about his big promises, the explanation started right away. “I’ve got it. It’s okay. I’m working at night. Can one of you keep track of it? I’ll get you the money; you just make sure the school gets it, and Rick doesn’t drink it. What’s the date on that?”

  Cole looked. “Two days after they get back from the ranch. I was thinking…” Beckett threw himself on his bed and Blake sank down onto his. “You know they’re going to take the van out to the ranch, right? So if they’re taking all the kids, there’s a spot for one of us.”

  Both Blake and Beckett interrupted.

  “I’ll go.”

  “Me.”

  “Listen, it doesn’t make sense for Blake…” He hated to point it out. Blake had an aversion to the sun that none of them made a big deal out of. It was a holdover from his childhood, and as Cole felt the blood drip down his arm inside his sleeve, he knew he was in no position to judge. They did what they had to. Survival. “The sun in the windows and stuff.”

  Blake hung his head, quietly adding, “I can do it.”

  “I know you can, but you don’t have to. And we need someone to be there the whole time.” He said it gently, but Blake covered his face with his forearm anyway.

  “And the girls need that money, so if you’re going to get it, Beck—however you are—I’m assuming you have to be here.”

  “I can make that in a night. I’ll go. I’ve been there before. Discussion over.” Beckett nodded at his decision.

  Cole waited until they were both focused on him again. “I can take the most. We all know it. And we can’t take a chance with the girls. I’ll be there the whole time. The sun won’t stop me. And I won’t need to get high. I’m the safest choice.” His demon was cutting. And that problem was portable. “I appreciate you both wanting to step in. And if he gets crazy, I’ll call the police on him.”

  The others nodded, though he knew they didn’t believe that last part. He would kill Rick before he ever did anything that would break up this family. But he said it anyway, so their consciences had an out.

  They were quiet for a while. Cole finally added, “Beck, you get the money. Blake, you get the forms in to their school. And I’ll get the girls back here in one piece. Then on the day they go maybe we can skip school and go see them at the zoo.” That last part was a lie too. Getting the girls their money was going to tap their resources. There would be nothing left for their own transportation.

  Beckett stood and held out his arm. The other two met him in the middle. “Let’s get these little girls to the fucking zoo.”

  It was about more than the animals. More than the trip to the gift store like the other kids in their class. It was giving them a memory—good memories like kids are supposed to have. Cole was pretty willing to die for that very cause as he pictured shy Wintery seeing an elephant for the first time at the Bronx Zoo.

  Beckett tried not to nurse his side as he walked down the residential street close to his foster parents’ house. Rick had been a weak pussy tonight, but still got him in the ribs, as usual. Motherfucker. The Lincoln with the headlights off didn’t completely stop as Beckett got in.

  The driver was a senior runner. And Beckett was pretty damn sure he was skimming of the top. “Kick wants to see you before we start,” the man said.

  Beckett met the guy’s eyes in the rearview mirror and nodded once. Fine with him.

  He should’ve been afraid of Kick. But maybe he’d just watched people too much over the years. Kick was a tough guy, but he seemed scared under it all, like he might be afraid to call people out on shit. He’d been second in command to Dello about six months ago. Then when Dello had his head blown off, Kick was in. Slid his way to the top. He hadn’t hu
ngered for the power.

  But Beckett wanted it. He wanted it probably for good reasons, if a psychologist was making a fucking pie chart of his inner demons on a chalkboard: those little girls, his brothers. He wanted to promise them shit. Real shit that came true. Money answered the problem. It felt like there was blood pooling in the back of his throat when he thought about the possibilities. Just to look at them and say, “Fucking go to college. Be anything.” And mean it. That’s why he was here tonight hustling instead of sleeping. Instead of studying. Instead of holding Candy Cox’s hand.

  The Lincoln pulled to a stop in the driveway of Dello’s old place. Beckett got out without hesitation. Never slow down. Never pause. Like dogs, these fools would only respect the bastard with the sharpest bite.

  Kick sat on the couch, sucking a line of coke into his nose with five-dollar bill.

  Couldn’t even do blow like a boss. Only C notes need apply.

  “You want?” Kick gestured to the glass coffee table.

  “You paying?” Beckett looked around the room. That Kick couldn’t see the deception hiding behind the eyes around him was like an evil miracle.

  “Sure, pup. Let’s see how you do.” Kick held out the five.

  Beckett took out his own ten and rolled it. He slammed back the last two lines on the table before replacing his money. The coke was insane. It made his eyes want to jump out of his head and punch in his balls.

  He held his arms behind his back and rode out the initial mindfuck. “You needed to see me?” He was ninety-five-percent sure he sounded chill.

  “Yeah. I had a guy in your school—taking orders, delivering and shit.” Kick sat back on the couch and snapped at the girl closest to him. “You want a hit? You’re going to have to suck it out of my dick.” He unzipped his pants. The girl rolled her eyes and stood, ignoring him. She was one of the hookers. Beckett recognized her.

  It was shit like this that would do Kick in. You tell somebody to do something, they have to do it. Beckett stepped in front of the woman’s exit. He laced his hand in her hair and pulled, hard. Maybe too hard—the coke had him out of control just a little fucking bit.

  “Kick wanted his dick sucked, bitch. You think you get to call the shots here?” Beckett came close to her face and snapped his teeth. She gasped. “You’re going to suck his motherfucking dick like he told you.” He pushed her back in Kick’s direction.

  Kick looked ready to wave off the whole scene. But Beckett let his eyes go vacant, not giving the woman a choice. No weapon, just yanking on her hair, but he had to dominate the situation. The room went uncomfortably quiet as the girl stumbled backward after Beckett let her go.

  He jutted his chin at Kick and held his breath. If she laughed at him and blew him off, he sure as shit wasn’t going to hit her. And then he would be just a pup, like Kick had called him.

  Instead her eyes welled up. She looked scared of him. She seemed almost grateful to sink to her knees in front of Kick.

  Lord knew how much coke the man had had, because he had the slipperiest, softest prick in the world. When it was getting crazy embarrassing, Beckett nodded at the other guys and had them step into another room. He closed the door to give Kick the privacy he needed to either get it up or fake it.

  Five minutes later, the girl walked out, giving Beckett a wide berth. Kick called them back in.

  “Like I was saying, Jason was a pretty good runner. But he’s locked up. Now I got Poughkeepsie East uncovered, and those Westlake kids can put it back. They pay hundreds for fucking beer. Spoiled shits. So they can come to you now. You speak for me. Stay away from deals on campus. They have dogs and shit go through there.”

  Kick certainly didn’t look like a guy that had just nutted. Flaccid asshole. Beckett thought for a moment. “Sure, I can handle it. But I have a condition.” He folded his arms over his chest.

  Kick laughed. The other guys in the room laughed. Beckett waited.

  Finally Kick replied, “Not sure you’re hearing correctly. I’m telling you what to do. We’re not negotiating.”

  “I want the college too.” Beckett gave Kick the same stare he’d laid on the hooker.

  “That’s mine, you little ass pump.” A wiry but intimidating asshole with a tear tatted on his face and a string of molars around his neck stood. He walked right up to Beckett’s face, nose to nose.

  “Looks like that’s Dentist’s run. Sorry, pup.” Kick’s voice filled the room, but Beckett just stared into the man’s black eyes.

  Beckett hit Dentist so hard the man went down like a bag of bricks. Just out fucking cold.

  “Shit.”

  “Son of a bitch.”

  Beckett looked from Dentist to Kick’s face. “Either I do that to him every time I see him, or he reports to me.”

  It was the people in the house who let Beckett know he was on to something. The reviews were in, and he’d caused a visceral reaction.

  Kick nodded. “Okay, pup. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

  Candy walked into class with Zyler, but sat next to a sleeping Beckett. He was out cold, head resting on his folded arms. She gently tapped on his desk as Mrs. Drivens called the class to attention. No response. She touched his wrist softly.

  Like a rattlesnake, quick as a blink, he snatched her wrist in response. She gasped as he opened his bloodshot eyes.

  “Sorry, pink princess. I wake up loaded for bear.” He let her arm go.

  “She’s talking about our project.” Candy pointed to the front.

  Beckett nodded and sat up, running his hand over his face.

  They watched a video of three debates, illustrating how theirs should go. By the time Candy was done taking notes, Beckett was sleeping again.

  When Mrs. Drivens gave the class time to brainstorm with their partners, Candy let him sleep. There was something so exhausted-looking about his face. She wrote down their topic: for and against the use of animals in the circus. She gave him the task of conveying the “for” side. The bell rang, and he didn’t stir. Zyler walked up and smiled at her.

  “You’re stuck with a great partner, right?” He tapped Beckett’s foot with his own.

  Without opening his eyes Beckett gave Zyler the finger.

  “Hey, Candy, I’ll carry your books?”

  Candy no longer took her backpack from class to class. She had her schedule and locker stops down.

  “Just give me a second? I’ll meet you in the hall. Thanks.” She smiled back at him.

  He left reluctantly.

  Beckett ran his hands through his hair, messing it up.

  “Listen, I want to work with you on this. But I’m serious about my grades. Are you busy tonight?” She stood as he did the same. He had nothing to grab from the desk. “Do you even have a pencil?” she asked.

  He shook his head and grinned, both dimples showing up as his eyes sparkled.

  She handed him one of her pink Candy pencils.

  He took it and stuck it behind his ear. “I’m busy every night.”

  “Well, you’re going to have to figure out when to see me.” She gathered her books in her arms.

  “Fine. I’ll take you home today.” His eyes smoldered as he looked her up and down.

  “Great. Meet you in the parking lot after the last bell.”

  He looked both surprised that she’d agreed and a little worried. He covered it with a shrug. “I’ll be there. Thanks for the pencil.” He stepped close to her, so close she thought he was going to kiss her. He looked from her lips to her eyes and back again. “Candy.”

  When he walked away, she exhaled. Her heart clenched when he looked into her like that—like he knew so much more about life than she did.

  That was why she’d kissed him that time.

  She turned toward the exit and saw a surly Zyler puffing his chest.

  Beckett walked by and slapped his shoulder. “Keep it up, Cyler.”

  “Zyler.”

  “Whatever.”

  Candy caught up to him as Beckett melted
into the foot traffic in the hallway.

  “He’s such a jerk. I bet we can get Drivens to put you in our group. She knows he’s scum.” Zyler held out his books for Candy to pile hers on top of.

  “I don’t know why you’re always so mean about him. He seems okay. Just tired.” She walked down the hall next to Zyler, thinking about Beckett.

  He shouted to a few guys across the way before returning to their conversation. “If running drugs was an Olympic sport, he’d medal every damn day.”

  Candy didn’t love that. She wasn’t a fan of drugs at all, but she didn’t love Zyler’s tone either. “Yeah, I hate judging people a ton before I know them.”

  “I’m not judging. I’m informing a friend who hasn’t grown up in this town so she doesn’t make mistakes she’ll regret later.” Zyler lifted his chin in greeting to another football team member walking in the opposite direction.

  “Well, can you inform me why you seem so much nicer when no one else is around to see?” Candy liked the Zyler who was just for her much better than the one who paraded down the hall and showed up at the lunch table.

  He stopped walking and tsked her a bit. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Me and my boys like to play around, but it’s just fun, you know?”

  She didn’t add that if they needed him to be an asshole, they weren’t the best of friends to have. Instead she asked another question. “So do you just hate the rumors about Beckett or do you have other reasons?”

  She took her books back from Zyler, and they continued to her class.

  “He started shit with my boys a while ago—took some dirty hits on them in the locker room. We’re here to protect, you know? We’re the football team, but this is our school. And he’s a problem. Came after Dunns in his home with a gun. Screwed and dumped Kain’s sister. We’ve got issues with him. And I’m not afraid of him. He’s just a poser. He’s bad news, Candy. Stick with me instead.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek before promising to call her for a math study date.

  She nodded, puzzling over his words as he walked away.

 
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