Chapter 10: Trenton, North Carolina - October 1, 2017
Dad picked me up at Randy’s a little after midnight and drove me home, him cracking jokes about my promise not to drink. I wasn’t drunk but I was teetering on the edge of being so. The next morning, I felt fine. No headache or pain that usually comes with a hangover. I climbed out of bed and took a shower, noticing my Dad and Gram were nowhere to be seen. It was Sunday however. I figured they were at church, something Gram makes Dad do still even though he is creeping towards 60. It was nice to have the house to myself as I got out of the shower. I had plans to unpack the rest of my things today and to haul my old stuff to the garage.
Shoving my old comforter set, clothes and curtains into a box, I carried it out back to the garage. It was more of a barn than a place to store your car. The two-level structure had seen better days, the red paint fading to an unsightly orange color and the door on it had chipped white paint all over the ground in front of it. I shoved it open with my foot and stepped inside, the smell of moth balls hitting me like a brick wall. This is where we store everything that isn’t being used for the time being. The Christmas decorations were in one corner, our old swimming pool in another. There was also a bunch of tools in the back part of the first floor that Dad had acquired throughout the years.
Stepping on the bottom step, I climbed up the rickety staircase to the second floor. It was wide open, boxes and other types of storage containers stacked around. My mother’s easel was propped up against the wall and a trunk with her paintings next to it. This used to be my mother’s studio. Dad set it up with I was a kid, giving her a free space to work without any distractions. She loved it too, spending hours up here. After she was diagnosed with her bipolar disorder, she took to being here alone instead of with others in the house. It was her own type of therapy, giving her an outlet she enjoyed using to express her emotions. Setting my box down in the corner with some of my other stuff, I walked over to the trunk and picked up one of her paintings. It was of a pond in the middle of a field, beautiful purple water lilies on the surface of the water. I remembered her painting this, telling me that she would play in that field as a kid with her brothers. It was her favorite memory as a kid as both her brothers died when she was a teenager. They were killed in a farming accident when a tractor rolled over on them. It was something she never liked to talk about much and I knew to never bring it up. It wasn’t until after her death that I finally asked my father about it. Even he knew little about it except what he had heard from her.
“Hello?” A voice called from the open door of the garage. Confused, I turned and jogged down the steps with the painting still in hand. There wasn’t anyone inside and the doorway was clear. Poking my head out, I noticed a man walking around the corner of the garage. He was heading towards the back, disappearing from my view. Quickly, I walked over to the side of the garage hoping to see the person. He had stopped by the back of the garage where the fence was connected to it. It was a faded brown picket fence that stood above me. Dad had installed it when they bought the house, the summer before I was born. It was very weathered now, pieces missing along the way. On the other end, the fence connected to the Anderson’s actual car garage. It was constructed to keep out any animals or people who liked to just pass through the yards to the street behind our house. I watched as the man set a tool box on the ground and pulled a tape measure from it. He was taller than me with broad shoulders that were covered by a red and white flannel shirt. He wore a black baseball cap and dark blue jeans that seemed faded from being worn. On his feet, there was work boots that had their own story to tell from the look of the wear on them. Reaching up, he measured the width of one of the fence posts and jotted it down on a little notebook he pulled from his back pocket.
“Can I help you?” I asked, stepping forward. The man glanced over his shoulder at me, hazel grey eyes locking with mine. My breath vanished as I realized I was looking at the face of Cory Forester. He looked just as shocked to see me as he dropped his tape measure to the grass at his feet. Slowly, he swung his body to face me fully. Under his flannel, he had a t-shirt with a football team logo on the front of it. Cory looked the same as he did when I left, his face seeming just a bit older than before. The scar over his eye from the time he got hit by a car was still there and his grey eyes sparkled in the sunlight. I suddenly wished I was wearing something better than a pair of jeans and an old band t-shirt I had found in the closet.
“Abby?” He asked, slowly as he took a step forward. “What are you doing here?”
“I guess I could ask you the same question.” I replied, unsure of what else to say. It had been a long time since I last saw Cory. Growing up, he had been my best friend. We met when I moved here to Trenton in the fifth grade. He was the only friend I had for a while until I met Angie and Marie came along. Saying we were close was an understatement. He was a staple in our home during my childhood, my own parents considering him their adopted son. Which was funny seeing as he was there all the time to avoid his own foster parents. The last time I had seen Cory, he’s reflection was staring at me through the rearview mirror as I drove out of Trenton.
“Your Dad asked me to come finish up the fence today.” He replied, picking up the tape measure from the ground.
“Why are you fixing stuff around here?” I asked, putting a hand on my hip. He shrugged, turning back to the fence.
“Seems like his actual son-in-law isn’t too helpful.” He muttered under his breath just loud enough for me to hear it.
“Real mature, Cory. Good to see you haven’t changed a damn bit.” Turning on the heel of my tennis shoe, I stormed back into the garage. I was fuming, my heart racing in my chest. It was the first time I had seen him in closer to a decade and he was going to insult my dead husband? All I wanted to do was find something heavy to throw at him. I bolted up the stairs, tossing the painting back in the trunk. The sound of boots on the steps made me glance over my shoulder. Cory stood at the top of the stairs, his tape measure still in hand.
“I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.” He said. I didn’t reply as I moved over to the back corner where the rest of my things were. “I haven’t see you in forever and I didn’t know what to say. How are you?”
“Why do you even care, Cory?” I replied, heaving a box from the floor onto another box. My name was written on it with the word STORIES scrawled under it. He let out a frustrated puff of air as he did his best to control his temper.
“Abz, I don’t want to fight with you. Now, I’m sorry about what I said and what happened the last time I saw you. Can we at least try to be civil for the moment? We were friends at one point, remember?” Pausing, I let myself look at him. I sighed, allowing my hands fall to my sides.
“I’m sorry too. Good to know we are still the same losers we were back then. How have you been?” I asked. He shrugged, walking into the room.
“Alright I guess. Nothing too much has been going on I guess. What about you? I hear you have your own company now. That’s great.”
“Yeah. It’s a real estate firm. We opened about two years ago. It’s been good so far.” Bending over, he perched himself on top of a wooden crate by the box of paintings as I knelt down in front of the box of notebooks.
“How’s the family?” He asked with a strained voice.
“Are you trying to ask me about my marriage?” This was a very touchy subject for Cory and me. For the longest time, it had just been Cory and I against the world. When I turned 16, I met Michael. He was a kid from Newburg who kind of just showed up one day and became a part of my life. Michael was a punk who listened to no one, played guitar in a garage band and played by his own rules. I feel head over heels for him in no time. When we started dating, I introduced him to Cory. The two got along well for a while but tension seemed to appear just into the start of our senior year. It was clear the two didn’t like each other. Cory was convinced Mike wasn’t a good guy for me and my boyfriend thought for sure that Cory was just looking to get into my pants. The situation got so bad that Mike gave me no choice but to pick between him and Cory.
“I think so.” He replied.
“Well, I suppose it’s safe to tell you since Angie and Marie know. I’m shocked the whole town ain’t heard about it yet considering. Cory, Mike died in a car accident last week. That’s why I’m back here.” I turned away from him, opening the box of stories. Like in my room, it was stacked full of binders, notebooks and paper. I lifted one of the binders out and opened it, setting it on my lap.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cory said, pulling his baseball hat off. I watched him from the corner of my eye as he shook his head. “I mean, I didn’t much like the guy but I never wanted this to happen to you. How are you doing?”
“Fine.” I answered, shrugging my shoulders. I flipped through the pages, not really reading what was on them.
“Fine? Abby, your husband died. How are you fine?” Sighing, I closed the binder and looked at him.
“Because I served him with divorce papers the same morning I found out he had died.” Tossing the binder back in the box, I ran a hand through my hair. “It’s something I’m not ready to talk about quite yet, okay? That’s why I’m back in Trenton. I want to get passed this by relearning about who I used to be. Maybe it’ll help me feel like a human again. Anyway, what about you? Got a wife and some munchkins running around somewhere?” I smirked at him. He was hesitant to return it but he did.
“Nah. Jus my dog, Nala. She’s a beautiful pit bull. You’ll have to meet her. She’s the only woman in my life right now.”
“What are you doing for work? How did the whole Marines thing pan out?”
“It didn’t. I signed up, went through basic and failed the psych test. Said I was too emotionally damaged to join any branch of the military. No surprise there though. I was working down at the factory for a long while after high school but I was one of the lucky ones that got cut when it shut down. Your dad’s been trying to fix me up with a position at the garage but it’s been a slow process. Mostly, I’ve been doing some odd jobs around town for everyone. It’s not glorious but it pays the rent.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your job. Daddy never mentioned to me that he was still talking to you.”
“Probably because I asked him not to. I didn’t want you to hate him for talking to me.” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Cory, do you think I hate you?”
“Well, yeah. You never called or anything after you left. What else was I supposed to think?”
“How about I was married and was starting out a new life with someone?”
“Someone who didn’t let you talk to me.” He said, his tone flat.
“It’s not that he didn’t let me. He just didn’t like it when I talked to you. And you know why that was. He was my husband. I couldn’t just go against him because you didn’t like him.”
“Abby, I don’t want to fight with you.” He said, standing.
“Whose fighting?” I asked, standing as well.
“You know where this is headed. How about we talk about something else? Like how long are you going to be in town for?”
“Until after the beginning of the year. And I’m not fighting. I was just stating a fact. That’s all.” Shaking his head, he rubbed the back of it. His hair was very short now, cut just an inch or so from the scalp.
“You are the same stubborn person I remembered you being, I’ll give you that much.” He said, turning towards the stairs. He started down them, me hot on his heels.
“What’s the supposed to mean? I’m not stubborn. If anything, you are the stubborn one, jackass.” He stopped on the bottom, looking up at me.
“Thought you liked that about me.” He flashed me a grin and a wink before walking out the door.