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Poughkeepsie begins, p.7
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.7

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Blake put his hand against a birch tree. The sun-filled walk looked like a torture chamber to him. God, why did it have to be so hard? People didn’t know what they had, being able to walk freely wherever they wanted, not a care as to the placement of the clouds above.

  Maybe someday soon he’d be able to do it. But today was not that day. He curled the piano into his pocket and took the safest path back through the woods. The dense evergreens worked together to cloak him. By the time he was back to the house, the sun was low enough that he could skirt his way to the back door. The house was so quiet. Without the little kids, with no TV on, it was like a funeral parlor. Saturdays were never like this. Then Beckett slammed the front door, looking exhausted and bloodshot.

  “Hey.”

  “’Sup.”

  They walked to the fridge at the same time, Blake opening it and Beckett swearing. “We’re are fucking out of food.”

  Beckett’s hands were jittery. It was hard to see him like this—strung out and stressed. The quest for the girls’ field trip money had given him permission to go head-first into the business he’d been dancing around.

  “Listen, I’m getting picked up in a few minutes.” Beckett set his backpack on the floor, opened it, and pulled out a roll of bills secured with a thick rubber band. “I need you to hide this in the fucking woods. It’s for the girls. But peel off a little and go grocery shopping tonight, if you can. If you want to. Do we need anything else? You want new sneakers? What fucking size does Cole wear?”

  “I don’t know. Why do I have to hide it?” Blake filled a glass with tap water and drank while pocketing the money.

  “Trust me.” Beckett zipped up the pack and put it on his back.

  “Listen. We can get the money a different way—”

  Beckett shook his head. “I already made it. It’s in your hand. Some things, when you start them, you can’t have second thoughts. It’s like that now. I’m about to get a shake down and an ass kicking. It’s cool. I know what I’m getting into.” Beckett’s upper lip was coated with sweat. “Just keep it somewhere I can’t find it. And Rick can’t drink it. Okay? I got to get changed into some crappier clothes.”

  With that, Beckett bounded up the stairs. Blake slipped out the back door, lucky the sun had descended for the evening. He knew already which tree behind the house to tuck the money into. It had a knot covered by moss and held the one picture he had of his mom. Sometimes he went there to reminisce, sometimes to rage. It was complicated, but the spot on the tree was secure and dry. Before tucking the money away he counted it. Five hundred dollars.

  It was from drugs. Blake knew that was how this kind of money was made. And you didn’t hit the streets and not know how ruthless the dealers were. Five hundred missing was enough to be a serious offense. Blake separated out a hundred dollars and put it in his pocket. The remaining four hundred disappeared into the tree.

  Blake watched from the trees as a car took Beckett and his backpack away. He’d seen that flashy blue Mustang with the black stripe down the center before. Shaking his head, he headed downtown quickly—through yards, over fences, and through some wooded patches. He arrived and saw the blue car parked outside an abandoned warehouse. He quietly picked his path until he could see in a window. The lack of outside security lights made him comfortable; he was camouflaged.

  The windows were covered, but there was a tear in the black paper, and he could see a slice of the inside through it. He recognized Beckett’s voice.

  “Fuck you! I got mugged. You’re fucking lucky I have what I have. Fought off, like, ten motherfuckers.”

  The loud slap resonated. Blake shivered. He was going to have to go in there. No one got beaten alone. That was the deal.

  There was a huge commotion—had to be a pileup of angry bodies. Blake came around the corner just in time to see the guy by the front door run into the warehouse. By the time Blake made his way to Beckett, three guys were already on the floor. One was struggling to hold Beckett, and another wielded a two-by-four, ready to swing.

  Blake grabbed the edge of the lumber and pulled the attacker off balance. Beckett used the distraction to free himself from the grip of the other man. He punched him so hard his head snapped back. And before he’d even fully collapsed, Beckett was on the man Blake had stopped, taking the two-by-four.

  “Go. Go into the woods. Go!” Beckett held the man against the floor using his boot, applied at the neck.

  Blake nodded and left, out the back way where Beckett had pointed. He would be pissed that Blake had been there. He preferred this side of his life to be done alone.

  Blake found the window again and looked in to see Beckett pointing the lumber at a group of surly-looking drug dealers.

  “You fuckers think this is okay? How much goddamn money have I given you?”

  Beckett’s demeanor shocked him. A complete change. Deadly. So much older than eighteen.

  A man who seemed to be in charge tried to defuse the situation. “Seriously, I get it,” he said quickly. “They were acting on their own. I did not ask for any of this.”

  “That’s bullshit. They don’t move without you. And to beat someone’s ass for a few hundred? You do know I’m bringing you cheddar by the fucking truckload.”

  Beckett tossed the wood down close to the man on the floor’s head when he started to talk. He stopped. The fallen men began to pick themselves up off the floor.

  “Kick, I’ve got four parties to hit tonight. They’re waiting on me. Are we done?” Beckett crossed his arms in front of him.

  The man nodded. “Yeah. Go. But don’t lose anymore goddamn money, Taylor. Or I’ll come after you myself.”

  Beckett nodded, then stopped the one man who’d seen Blake. He whispered harshly in his ear, and the man nodded.

  Blake slipped out the back and waited as he heard Beckett wave away an offer to drive him to the party where he was expected. After a moment, when the warehouse was empty, Beckett came out the back door and whistled. Blake knew this was his cue.

  Beckett startled when he stepped next to him. “Shit, you’re quiet.”

  Blake didn’t ask, but the moonlight must have revealed the question on his face.

  “I’m fine. I’ll triple-charge the assholes tonight and double what I took. Kick will be offering to suck my sack by the time I’m done.” Beckett put his huge hand on Blake’s shoulder. “You can’t do that for me? Okay? You see shit like that going down, you walk away. You never knew me. Get it?”

  Blake didn’t answer.

  “Seriously. I’m not kidding. I can’t protect you in there.” Beckett squeezed his shoulder.

  “Would you stand by if I was where you just were?” Blake nodded in the direction of the warehouse.

  “Hell, no. But this is what I’m good at.” Beckett put his hands in his pockets and shuffled his boots. “Listen, can you show me how to get home the quickest? I got to take a shower before I head out.”

  “I can.” Blake started off in the swiftest direction. He knew these woods like the back of his hand. But first Beckett had to understand. Blake spoke to the stars, but knew his brother behind him could hear. “I’ll never turn my back on you. I’ll never make that promise. I don’t care what you’re into. Never alone.”

  They walked quietly, Beckett bringing up the rear for fifteen minutes before he reacted.

  “Okay, Blake. Never alone.”

  Blake guessed Beckett was thinking about Cole too. Just like he was.

  7

  Date Night

  CANDY PUT ON HER FAVORITE JEANS, a soft, white sweater, and tall black boots. She finally just put her hair in a high ponytail when it kept getting tangled in the neck of her sweater. A little gloss, some mascara, and she was all set. Well, one or two sprays of her favorite perfume, which smelled a little like cotton candy, couldn’t hurt. Made for a conversation starter when combined with her name.

  The study session she’d had with Zyler last week had gone well. He’d been funny, engaging, and no
t anything like the dick bags he surrounded himself with at school. So when he’d asked her for a date, she decided to give it a shot. It’s not like Beckett was a real possibility—her parents would freak, for one thing, and he wasn’t asking, for another. Although it seemed like he liked her when he was actually around.

  But that was not important right now, as tonight she was going on a date with Zyler. They were having dinner with her parents and going to a party. Her dad always insisted on meeting any guys she went out with, and Zyler had taken things a step further and suggested dinner “so he could meet Pilot,” he’d explained.

  The doorbell sounded, and she couldn’t help but wonder if the nice-guy version of Zyler would show up, or the jerk. She smiled as she heard her entire family welcoming him downstairs. Pilot barked and then danced around on the tile. She could hear his nails clacking. Her parents immediately began asking Zyler about football, so it seemed he was wearing his letter jacket.

  As she came downstairs, he smiled up at her like it was prom night. Her mother wore an excited smile.

  “You look so pretty, Candy,” he told her. “Thanks for the invite. I’ve been looking forward to spending time with your parents.” He leaned down and scratched her dog’s ears. “And this big boy. Hi, Pilot!”

  She could practically see him worming his way into her dad’s good graces. It seemed picture-perfect Zyler had come over this evening. So far, at least. Candy smiled as she showed him the way to the dining room.

  The dinner went well. Zyler asked each person in her family about their interests and offered humblebrags on his own football achievements. Candy sighed. He certainly was good looking, and he liked to smile at her. She shouldn’t be thinking of Beckett’s lips at a time like this. Not at all.

  After dinner, Zyler shook hands with her dad, fist bumped her brother, and hugged her mom as they prepared to go. Pilot flopped over for belly rubs. He could do no wrong as far as her family was concerned. They waved good-bye, and she followed him down the driveway to where he held open the door of his huge Ford 250 for her. She climbed up, and he made sure her feet were all the way in before slamming the door shut.

  He seemed less perfect once they were in the truck. He tossed his letter jacket over a case of beer in the backseat and gave her a lascivious smile. “And now to show you the best time you’ve ever had in your life.”

  “Where are we headed?” She looked out the window, futzing with the button on her jacket. His seemingly grand plans for the evening set off a few internal alarms.

  “Dunns is having a party. The whole block of parents go away together for two weeks to a time-share beach house. So pretty much there’s a party every night in his development while they’re gone.”

  That set off a few more alarms. Zyler also really liked tailgating the car in front of him.

  “Oh. Okay.” She double-checked her seatbelt. Dunns was pretty much an asshole, and the girls who hung around him hadn’t warmed up to her yet either. She would’ve preferred to go get a milkshake at the diner or something, somewhere she and Zyler (Byler, Myler—she heard Beckett’s voice in her head) could talk. Although the Zyler she actually liked talking to seemed nowhere around now.

  The party block was easy to spot. Cars were parked everywhere, and some of the houses had their front doors thrown open. Zyler got out and was surrounded by friends immediately. Candy got out and stood on the passenger side for a while before he came around and offered his hand to her.

  She could have sworn Nicole hissed in her ear as they walked into what had to be Dunns’ house. The music was loud, but not crazy loud. There was smoke everywhere, and bodies in every room. Dunns found Zyler and pulled him away, intent on talking about a delivery. He looked blasted off his ass already.

  The smoke made her cough, so she walked through the house out the back door to the pool deck. The backyard was landscaped with little paths, solar lamps, and pretty white twinkle lights. She shivered a little, which explained why there were so few other people out here. She sat on a decorative garden bench. She had to be home by twelve, which meant this party was her reality for at least three hours.

  Movement out of the corner of her eye startled her, and when she turned, Beckett sat next to her.

  “Oh my God.” She slapped his leg.

  He was biting his smile, but with the contact of her hand on his thigh, it was unleashed, dimples and all. “I have that effect on girls.” He grabbed her hand before she could pull it away and rubbed his thumb on her palm.

  She jerked her arm back, but his touch was like liquid fire on her nerve endings. He was a lot to handle in general, and sitting next to him in the dark outside of school was an elevated situation.

  “What are you doing here?” she finally thought to ask. “Are we going to have a cafeteria-style situation in a minute?”

  “What are you doing here?” He looked her up and down like she was the evening’s entertainment.

  She found herself sitting up straighter. “On a date.” She sighed.

  “With yourself? ’Cause that’s kinda hot.” He put his arm around her, the little bench pressing him against the side of her body. He smelled delicious, and his eyes were far more bright than they ever were in school. “Let me guess: Syler?”

  She rolled her eyes and stopped herself from laughing out loud.

  “You look like a beautiful sin I’d like to commit tonight,” he continued. “Goddamn. Your tits in that sweater could start a war.”

  It was so bold she was caught off guard. This time she covered her mouth but couldn’t stop her laughter.

  “That’s not the intended outcome of hitting on you. Though I love your smile.”

  Oh, he was too smooth. Too much.

  “I’m on a date,” she reminded him.

  He grabbed her ponytail and wrapped it around his fist, pulling just enough that she had to lift her chin. Then he leaned so close his lips were almost on hers. She held her intended exhale in her chest, trapped by the anticipation of a kiss.

  “I don’t mind being your dirty secret, Candy.”

  Her thoughts pooled on the ground. For a few beats, she was useless. Beckett touched his nose to hers and kissed her on the forehead.

  He made like he was going to pull away, and she felt her hair swing free of his grip. She leaned forward and put her hands on his cheeks. He stopped and lifted his eyebrow. She kissed him, hard. Forget Zyler and his parent-butt-kissing ways!

  Beckett pulled her easily into his embrace, moaning with the kiss she refused to break. He held her tight, like he’d been the one to take her on this date, not another guy. She pulled away from him when she heard a door slam.

  “Sorry. Sorry, I keep doing that to you.” She put her hands in her lap.

  He kept her close. “Don’t be. Like I said, dirty secret.”

  She turned to face him again. “I suck at secrets.”

  “I hope so.” He touched her face, caressing the side of her cheek with the back of his hand. She closed her eyes for a moment when she heard Zyler calling her name. But Beckett refused to break their eye contact. “He’s not worth you.”

  “Are you?” she whispered, ignoring her name again.

  He released her and stood, waving at Zyler and answering her at the same time, “Not even close.”

  She stayed in her seat, shivering at the loss of his heat. Zyler smiled at her and shot Beckett a look.

  “So you’re taking Jason’s place?” he asked. “Dunns is looking for you.” He waved a hand toward the house like Beckett was hired help.

  Beckett nodded and hefted a backpack Candy hadn’t seen until now. He locked his gaze on her and puckered his lips.

  She blushed and looked at her feet. Zyler sat down. He had a glazed look and smelled like weed.

  “Hey.” He put his arm right where Beckett’s had been. “You feeling good? Why you bothering with that guy? He’s nothing. Trash.”

  Candy watched as Beckett was admitted to the party via the back door. She missed him. “What
did Jason do?” she asked.

  Zyler took a sip from the red plastic cup he was almost hugging. “Delivered party favors. I guess they needed a sub.”

  He offered the cup to Candy, and she took a sniff. It smelled strong. She’d had drinks in the past, but beer and wine didn’t taste like turpentine. She handed it back.

  “What? You’re no fun.” He kissed Candy on the cheek. She watched as Beckett came back out of the house, preparing to go.

  “I’m not feeling awesome.” She looked at Zyler and smiled. “I’m sorry.”

  He frowned. “Aw, this party is going to be totally dope. You’ll feel better if you have a little.” He tried to hand her the cup again, but she stood and waved in Beckett’s direction. Although he was mid-conversation, he headed toward her.

  “Beckett will drive me home,” she told her date. “You stay. Have fun.”

  Zyler stood slowly, perhaps a bit over-chilled by the weed he’d smoked. “I can’t let you leave with that guy. You’re my date.”

  Beckett put his hand on her back and slid right into the conversation. “You won’t want to miss what I just dropped off. No worries. I’ll drive her right home.”

  “Nah, man, I’ll take her. Wouldn’t want to distract you from your work this evening.” Zyler held out his hand.

  The football team suddenly materialized from all different places in the house. One even climbed out the window, and they started their school chant. Candy felt her throat tighten. Beckett’s brothers were nowhere to be found this time.

  Beckett had to raise his voice to be heard. “Last stop. I’m good.”

  “Go,” Candy encouraged Zyler. “Seriously, I don’t want to ruin your evening.” She stepped backward, and Beckett tilted his head toward the woods.

  “I’m parked right over there.”

 
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