Nothing warned her before his face contorted with sheer terror and madness. Livia fell from his lap as he stood in panic. Her back hit his army jacket with a vicious thud that echoed against the trees. Blake’s running was as silent as his walking.
Livia struggled to take a breath, but her lungs refused. She felt like a fish tossed out of the only watery world it had ever known. She gasped and closed her eyes, unable to speak or move.
“Livia! Livia, please…Livia!”
Livia’s head lolled toward Blake’s voice. He crouched in the shade just a few yards from her sunlit form. She gave him a thumbs up. Getting the wind knocked out of her reminded Livia of the second-grade playground. Finally her body let her draw a deep breath of sunshine-warmed air.
Blake paced the shadows like a claustrophobic man in an elevator. Her thumbs up had done nothing to stem his panic. Livia pulled herself to her knees and crawled a few feet until she could get her legs under her. She staggered and half-ran, half-wobbled to the safe shade.
Blake continued pacing and glaring at the edge of the shade. He seemed not to have noticed her presence.
“Hey. I’m right here,” she murmured as he passed by.
Startled, Blake turned and took in the sight of her. He collapsed to his knees, and Livia hugged his face to her belly. She felt his hot, ragged breath in the same place that had driven her wild just minutes before.
He looked up at her, his face stricken. “Did you see? Did you see through me? Was it awful?” His voice was an octave above its usual register.
Livia smoothed his hair back and looked into his eyes. Cole’s words echoed in her head. That pond Livia? The coolest pond? It has many, many undercurrents.
“No, my eyes were blurry from the mist. I couldn’t see,” she assured him.
Livia remembered the thoughts of love that had almost burst from her lips before the sun arrived. She hated it for cracking the center of their connection. But maybe she should be thankful. He needed so much more than kisses.
Blake jumped up again, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I hurt you. I’m useless,” he whispered harshly.
He stalked to the nearest tree and shouted in frustration, punching as if it was an attacker. Livia was horrified to see an arc of blood leave his fist.
“Stop. Stop, Blake.” She tried to speak calmly. Livia moved to stand next to him and reached out, but his fists were flying harder now. She had no idea where to grab him. Finally, she just closed her eyes and stepped between him and the tree. When no punch came to meet her face, Livia opened one eye. Blake stared at a spot just above her head.
“When you hurt yourself, it hurts me.” She reached out to take one of his bloody, torn hands.
He flinched and pulled away. “Livia, I’m not even man enough to go into the sun to help you up. Don’t spare me a moment of your concern.”
“I wasn’t hurt. And I believe if I had been you would’ve come.” Livia watched as blood from his knuckles dropped onto the leaves.
“No. I wouldn’t come, Livia. I would stand here like a stone. Because I am the most important to me. I am.” Blake barely moved his lips as he spoke.
Livia covered her face with her hands and pressed on her eyes. She had no idea what to say.
“That moment…that moment out there?” Blake pointed at the bed of army jacket, grass, and mint. “I’ve pictured it in my head for months. Months! I knew it would never really happen, but it kept me going. The beautiful, smiling girl would look at me like a man—a man worthy of her body, worthy of her kiss. Do you realize what a fool I am for hoping?”
Blake took her face in his hands. “You let me touch you. Kiss you. Your skin? It feels like piano keys. My hands know just where to go.” He proved it by sliding one hand behind her neck and settling the other just over her heart.
Livia smiled, wondering if he was covering her in blood. It was worth it.
“Four hundred sixty-seven,” he whispered. The number seemed to deflate him.
He’s still counting. She couldn’t give up.
Blake removed his hands carefully and shook his head. “But it never ended like that, Livia. It never ended with me throwing you to the ground. But that’s what I do. I knock the breath out of anyone who dares take a chance on me.” He rubbed two fingers over his tattoo.
He looked at her and Livia raised her eyebrows in expectation.
“Does it hurt when the sun touches you?”
“No. It doesn’t hurt. But you’ll never want to be near me again.”
“Blake, if I see what the sun does to you, the shock will be over. Then we can be together in the sun—in your favorite spot.” Livia looked back at the ground where her shirt and his jacket still remained. “Or anywhere.”
Blake ran both hands through his hair, smearing it with bloody highlights. Livia tried to ignore the impulse to care for his wounds as he debated with himself.
“Fine. Okay. It can’t make things any worse, right? I’ve already thrown you on the ground…” Blake came close to her again.
He took her face in his bloody hands and kissed her chastely on her lips. Her body surged with the memory of pleasure.
He geared himself up at the edge of the shade. Livia held her breath as she waited. She begged silently for his skin be different, to be something that could reasonably cause fear in a man.
Blake faced her in the shade, then looked at his feet and stepped backward until he was encased in the full golden glow of the sun. He lifted his face with his eyes closed, and after a moment opened them and focused on Livia.
Livia saw then what Cole meant about stained glass windows. She’d had no idea the true depth of Blake’s beauty. His hair glowed with an array of rich bourbon shades, and his green eyes blazed tropical perfection. He tore his shirt open to reveal his chest, giving her more skin to see.
“Well?” Blake waited for her reaction, eyes wide.
Lie to him. Tell him what he wants to hear. Right now is the moment that matters. But Livia couldn’t lie. This was too important. “No, sweet Blake. Your skin isn’t glass. It’s just regular, beautiful skin.” Her voice was warm and comforting, but her tears betrayed her.
“What? You can’t see this?” Blake pinched his arm and slapped his face.
Livia shook her head.
Blake’s scream didn’t sound like something a human could produce. He dragged his fingers over his chest, leaving claw marks in their wake. Then he ran right for her at top speed. Livia refused to move and braced herself for the blow. He passed so close to her that her hair lifted in the rush of air. He disappeared into the trees.
Livia was alone, standing in her bright blue bra and unbuttoned jeans. She waited, sure he would return. After a few minutes she left his beloved shade and got dressed. The sun had warmed the day almost to seem like summer again.
Livia continued to wait as the sun ticked off devastating minutes in the sky. He will come back. When the sun began to fall behind the trees, Livia had her first rational thought in hours: I need the sunlight to get out of here.
She gave the sun the finger and tied Blake’s jacket around her waist, trying to ignore how heavy her hope had gotten. She was lucky to find the footpath and hazarded a guess at the direction of the park. It was dusk when she realized she’d picked the wrong way. She shivered as the fall now reminded her it was in charge, despite summer’s momentary fake smile.
She slid on Blake’s army jacket, and her hands found the pockets. When her left hand encountered something hard and smooth, curiosity got the best of her. She pulled it out. The evening granted her eyes enough light to see the pink, heart-shaped stone. Blake had carved the initials “L+B” in its face. The unconventional medium rendered the letters childlike.
Livia and Blake.
She put the stone back in the pocket. Did their connection still exist? Had she broken it? Broken him when she entered his carefully constructed walls? God, please don’t let this be a mistake.
By the time Livia got back to her Escort at the Park and Ride, the dark had descended, her feet ached from dragging the heavy hiking boots around, and she was screamingly hungry. As Livia dug her keys out of her pocket, she saw that Blake had been to her car.
It was covered with little bits of nature: long blades of grass, twigs, and stones. When she got closer she saw more. Blake had used the flora to spell sorry over and over on the hood. And the roof. And the trunk.
She felt touched and angry in the same instant. He’d come here to construct this apology instead of helping her out of the woods. Livia punched the hood, but was unable to inflict damage the way Blake had. It hurts too damn much.
Livia tossed herself into the driver’s seat. She started her car and drove off a little too quickly. As she pulled away, Livia watched the instruments of Blake’s message flutter into the night.
LIVIA GOT HOME BECAUSE her car took her there. Driving shouldn’t have been a reflex act, but she was thankful for the latent ability she now knew she had.
He left me alone. Livia wanted to be tougher about it; she’d gotten out of the woods just fine. But her sure, true faith had holes now. She didn’t want to doubt him, but she couldn’t stop. Livia sat in the driveway with the Escort in park. Sobs took her vision in a river of tears.
“Son of a bitch!” Livia slammed the steering wheel over and over.
Then headlights in her rear view mirror gave her a whole new reason to curse. Chris’s truck pulled in behind her. Livia wanted to deal with him about as much as she wanted a root canal. She pointed her rear view mirror to the floor to get the reflection out of her eyes. Chris always left his brights on so people could be “blinded by his awesomeness,” he liked to say. Livia tried to compose herself before Chris opened her door.
“There the hell you are!” he shrieked as it opened. “For crap’s sake, where the fuck have you been?” He stepped back as Livia climbed slowly out. Her long hike had taken a toll on her muscles. Even blockheaded Chris has the decency to look for me.
“I’ve been calling your cell phone for hours.” Chris stood waiting for an explanation like a Ken doll with all the right accessories. Livia couldn’t find the energy or inclination to describe her afternoon.
He grabbed her blank left hand. “Where’s your ring?”
Livia could see more than concern in his eyes—some anger as well. “It’s at the appraisers. I wanted to insure it.” Livia almost smiled as he blanched.
He avoided an unflattering conversation with an accusation. “Do you want to explain why Dave saw my fiancée sucking face with a homeless man today?”
“No, I don’t. I want to go inside and go to bed, if I’m being honest.”
“Oh, now you’re being honest. Where’s your ring, Livia?” Chris stepped closer, trapping her against the car with his arms.
“Hey, Chris, you can back up off my sister right about now.”
Kyle had come silently from the front porch to stand behind him. Her soft voice had barbed wire wrapped around it.
Chris dropped one arm to placate Kyle. She stepped into Livia’s line of sight and bit her lip in concern.
“Did you know your sister’s screwing a homeless man?” Chris taunted. “A freaking crazy-ass bastard? She has the nerve to do it in plain sight of my friend, who I’d just told my great news.” Chris’s eyes bore into Livia as he spoke to Kyle.
Livia felt her nerves fray at the insults. Chris wasn’t wrong for being mad. She hadn’t told him they’d broken up, but she’d certainly moved forward as if she had. Livia rubbed her temples in an effort to make thinking easier.
“Chris, we’re over. I don’t want to even date you anymore, never mind marry you. I’d give your crappy-ass ring back, but I threw it in the Hudson when I realized the underwear I’m wearing is worth more than it was.” Livia stared blankly at his familiar face.
“That’s it?” Chris tossed his hands in the air.
Kyle took a step closer and stood shoulder to shoulder with Livia. It was comforting.
“Nope. Dave’s right. I kissed another man. And he kissed the hell out of me. I think I’m still aroused from the whole incident.” Livia watched rage crawl up Chris’s arms and tense his face.
He looked at Kyle. “Can you believe this shit?”
Kyle smiled. “Yes. I so can believe it. You’ve never deserved her.” Kyle put her tall dancer’s body between Livia and Chris. “And you’re going to leave right now, or I’ll wake up my dad.”
Chris inflated himself like a balloon. “You do that, Kyle. I’d love to see his reaction to Livia’s homeless boyfriend.” Chris turned his rage back on Livia. “Did you sell the ring to buy him a new cardboard box to live in?”
At that, Kyle put her hand in the middle of Chris’s chest. “You’re done here. Leave.”
Livia stood quietly, waiting for righteous indignation to find her and spur a clever retort. Instead she closed her eyes and pictured Blake as he stood in the sun, waiting for judgment. Have I ruined him? Why did he leave me alone?
She opened her eyes as Chris walked away with elaborate pointing. Livia knew she should pay attention to his threats. Should she try to comfort him? This news had been a shock. Kyle was like a guard dog, jumping in her anger as he spoke.
“Whore!” The faded insult hit Livia’s ears just as her father slapped on the porch light and walked toward the ruckus, clicking his shotgun into position with one hand. The neighbors’ porch lights twinkled on like fireflies.
Livia shook herself out of her numbness. “Kyle, go in the house before you hurt him. Chris, quit acting like a Neanderthal and go home. We’ll talk about this later. Dad, please disengage the shotgun.”
The tone of her voice touched something in each person. Chris climbed into his truck, mumbling under his breath, and John broke the smooth, straight line of his weapon with one practiced motion. Only Kyle refused to move, still using her body as a barrier between Chris and Livia. But she did stop launching insults about his penis. Chris tore out of the driveway, tires squealing.
Livia slammed her car door shut. “I owe you an explanation, but for now let’s leave it at this: Chris and I broke up.”
Livia turned, passed her family, and went up to the shower. She turned the water handle to red hot as she undressed. The showerhead had one wild stream that created a gentle spray apart from the regular flow of water. Livia reached up and twirled her hand through it as she stepped in. The bathroom light caught little drops of water and made them prisms.
She remembered the forest’s rainbow mist. He left me alone. I could still be out there. Where is he?
Livia went through all the steps of her bedtime routine, but sleep never came.
Livia hated watching her alarm clock go off. It reminded her of those horrible Jack-in-a-Box toys—shocking, even though she knew it was coming. After she was dressed, she stood in the kitchen chewing on her thumbnail for a while.
Make a breakfast for him or don’t make a breakfast for him. That is the question.
But it wasn’t really a question. Livia couldn’t let Blake go hungry. No matter what kind of mixed bag her emotions were, she wouldn’t deny him food. She packed it carefully in disposable plastic containers and a paper bag. She also grabbed some bandages and more first aid supplies. Blake’s hands would need attention.
As she backed out of the driveway, Livia noticed the thick, black scars Chris’s truck tires had left on the asphalt. His screaming protest was permanent now. Damn him. Maybe she did owe him more of an explanation.
Livia shuffled thoughts of Chris to the back of her mind. Her cell phone buzzed like an angry bee in the passenger seat. Livia slid the pink phone open at the stoplight—the way she promised her dad she never did.
Hannah from high scho
Heard ur screwing the homeless. LOL! Hobolicious freak @ train station
is ur new STD buffet? ROFLMAO. <3
Livia groaned. Chris was obviously spewing his anger around town. Between him, Hannah, and Dave, she could soon expect a sky writer proclaiming the news. A honk reminded Livia to drive. The phone sang a song as Livia powered it down and pressed on the gas.
Remember two eighty-six. Livia now counted on the same sort of feverish, rain-soaked determination that had driven Blake to the train station for smile number two hundred eighty-six. Please be there. He has to be there.
Livia parked quickly and hurried out of the Escort. She dropped her phone twice before she managed to get it into her bag. She stopped when she got to the top of the stairs to the platform and searched. And searched. And searched. Nothing.
Livia waited until the last possible moment, but finally she just set the breakfast down where Blake usually sat. She swore Homeleth Humper looked smug and happy. As she boarded, Livia talked herself out of throwing him in front of the train.
On the ride home after a long day at school, Livia commanded her eyes to look at the floor of the train and not search for him. But they took direct orders from her heart and combed the platform as the train pulled in.
The bag she’d left was still there. Livia’s heart cracked like an egg in its delicate shell. It was dusk, but Livia took her sunglasses out of her purse and covered her eyes. That felt better. With sunglasses to shield her eyes, she was nothing more than an impassive, immovable commuter.
That night she took four allergy pills to ensure sleep. They also prevented dreams, and that worked just fine too. This became her routine: home from the train, finish schoolwork as quickly as possible, allergy pills, bed. In the mornings, she took care to leave by the back door so she could avoid the kitchen. She couldn’t even face the room where she’d once prepared breakfasts in a cooler.
Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes