Chapter 13: Trenton, North Carolina - December 20, 2003
The snow crunched under my feet as I made my way through the trail in Getman’s Park. I grumbled under my breath as I felt the snow in my shoe, soaking my sock. I knew I should have told Cory to meet me down by the creak. The snow wasn’t as deep down there and I could have grabbed my boots from home first. This sneaking around to hang out was getting old. It had been a good three months since Vicky forbid us from seeing each other. At first, he just would come to my house and we’d hide in the backyard. After a while though, Vicky started to drive by hoping to catch him there. It was getting too risky and Cory was afraid she’d see him there. So, we had to start hiding in the woods to hang out. I wish it wasn’t like this but I had no real choice.
“There you are.” Cory said as I made it to our little clearing. He had a fire going in the little pit and it felt nice as I stopped next to him.
“Sorry that hiking in the damn snow it’s exactly a skill I have. It’s freezing. Why couldn’t we just go to my house for hot cocoa?” He gave me a look as he pulled his dark green winter jacket tighter around him.
“You know why. I don’t want to chance you or your parents getting in any trouble. Vicky said if she caught me there, she’d call the cops to get a restraining order.” I scoffed.
“A restraining order? For what? Cause we’re friends. That’s so stupid.” I plopped down on the log and pulled my knees up to my chest, setting my backpack on the ground next to my feet.
“I know. I wish I could change it but I can’t. How were your classes today? Mrs. Reeve’s math test was brutal this morning. Pretty sure I bombed that one.”
“I know. It was so hard. Glad it’s over. What did you think of Spanish? PJ and Miss Lopez got into about the homework.”
“Course he did. He’s such an idiot. So glad we are finally on vacation from school.” He tossed another stick on the fire, embers rising into the air.
“How have things been at home?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.
“Alright. Vicky got a job at some place in Newburg. She starts next week so maybe I’ll be able to come over while she’s gone. Jake doesn’t care what I do as long as I’m home by curfew. Hell, maybe I’ll get lucky and someone will just kidnap her. I wouldn’t mind just living with Jake.”
“I’m sure we could find a way to arrange that.” I joked, nudging him with my elbow. He smiled, shaking his head.
“I can’t afford it. I’ve looked into it.”
“I just wish we didn’t have to sneak around to see each other. My parents are worried about you. My mother almost called Child Protective Services because of it. I had to beg her not to. I wish there was just some way around this, you know?” I felt hot tears begin to fill my eyes as I buried my face into the space between my knees and my chest. I heard him shift so he was sitting closer to me.
“Abz, please don’t cry. It’ll get better. I promise. Once I turn 16, I can get emancipated. Then I can get the hell out and she can’t stop me.” He said, rubbing my back. I lifted my head, my tears turning cold from the winter air.
“That’s still in three years! What if she really hurts you before that? You don’t know what could happen.” He gripped my shoulder reassuringly and smiled, leaning in closer to me.
“You’re right. I don’t know what could happen. I do know that I will always have you as a friend though. And that if things get too bad, I can count on you to try and save me like always. Cause that’s what you do, Abby.” I sniffed, wiping away my tears.
“I try to at least.” Sighing, I leaned against his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around mine, pulling me closer against his side. It felt nice and warm, tucked into him like this. Something fluttered in my chest as his thumb stroked my shoulder. I didn’t know what it was but it felt different than anything I ever felt before. Was it because this was the first time he held me like this? We had been close a hundred times before. Why did this make me feel happy and nauseous at the same time?
“Are your parents still having their Christmas Eve party?” He asked. I nodded, nervously tucking my hands under my knees.
“I was just thinking about last years. It was fun. And your Mom’s mint chocolate cookies were good. You should save me some of those if she makes them again.”
“I wish you could come.” I whispered. I felt him move his head, nodding.
“Me too. Vicky will probably have me tied to the wall that night though. She usually has her real kids over and expects me to play into the big happy family picture.” Cory described his family to me after we met like this: Vicky and Jake were his foster parents. They have five sons, including him. He also has three biological siblings from his birth mother. The only one he has any real relationship with is his younger brother, Henry. Henry lives with his biological father’s aunt, Cindy here in Trenton. He’s two years younger than us and will tag along with Cory when he can. Like the rest of us, Cindy knows and hates what’s happening to Cory at home. She attempted to get custody of him when he was younger but the court ruled that she had no legal ground to removed him from the home without proof. Cory was only seven at the time and was afraid of what would happen to him if he told the truth. So, he lied in court. Cindy tries to help Cory as much as she can, giving him presents and money whenever she sees him. I wish all the time that he lived with her instead. He’d be so much happier there.
“Well, I’ll save you some food then for whenever you can sneak out again. I know it’s hard.” I replied, sitting up. Cory looked at me for a second before turning back towards the fire. He didn’t move though, our sides still touching.
“Maybe the day after Christmas I can stop by. Have to see what’s going on.” We were quiet for a while, the only sound coming from the crackling of the wood in the fire.
“I brought you a present.” I said, breaking the silence between us. Reaching over, I unzipped the front of my backpack and pulled out a wrapped box. He gave me a look of surprise as he took it. Siding his finger under the tape and the red paper, he ripped it open. Inside, the box was a dark green color. Opening it, a smile broke out over his face. He held up the pocket knife, pulling out the seven different attachments that it came with.
“Cool. Thanks! My other one only has the blade and a cork screw. This one I can do much more with.” He closed them all back up, tucking it into the pocket of his jacket. He tossed the paper and the box into the fire. Looking back at me, he rubbed the back of his head nervously. “I don’t have your present with me. It’s at home, hidden under my mattress so she can’t find it.”
“That’s okay. You can give it to me later.” Glancing at my watch, I sighed. “I have to get going. It’s almost dinner time. You can come if you want. Dad’s making chicken and biscuits.” I could tell he was thinking about it as we both stood.
“Alright. Just let me run home and get your present first, okay? I can sneak in and out without them knowing I was even there.” Happiness flooded my chest as he agreed.
“Great! I’ll see you there in about half an hour?” I asked. He nodded, tossing some snow on the fire.
“Yeah. I’ll be there as soon as I can be.” He gave me a grin and a wink before heading off towards his house.
From our spot, I rushed home and told my parents Cory was coming over for dinner. Momma was very happy to hear that, thankful she could see him to make sure he was alright. Dad set another spot at the table for him in the same chair he always sits in when he’s here. I sat on the couch, watching out the front window for him. I knew which way he usually comes, cutting through the creek to stay out of sight from the main road. I kept my eyes on the tree line for his green coat. Mentally, I made a list of stuff we could do while he was here. We could play some video games, play in the backyard and build a snow fort. Since Dad put up the new fence, no one could see back there from the street. No one would know he was there that way.
Half an hour passed. Then an hour. No Cory. Momma and Daddy sat at the table, waiting for Cory to show up. They asked if I wanted to eat and we could have Cory join us when he got there but I refused. He was going to show up and I was going to wait for him. They ate, letting me sit on the front porch for him. I bundled up in my jacket before sitting on the front steps. The street lights were beginning to buzz on as the sun vanished into the night sky. Worry began to fill my stomach as I looked up and down the street for him. Did Vicky catch him trying to leave? What if he had run into PJ or one of his friends and they beat him up? Cory had never stood me up before. Even if he knew he couldn’t hang out, he always would sneak a phone call to me or something.
The sound of sirens in the distance made me look up. Flashing blue and red lights were visible through the other side of the trees near the school. The front door behind me opened and Dad appeared, pulling his coat on. “Dad, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Stay here, okay?” He said, stepping down the porch stairs.
“But Dad-.” He held his hand up.
“I mean it, Abz. Stay here with your mother. I’ll be right back.” Momma appeared behind me and rested her hands on my shoulders. Together, we watched Dad run across the street and through the trees. More lights and sirens appeared, heading in the direction of the rest of them.
“We should go inside.” Momma said, giving me a small smile. She let go of me, long enough for me to jump off the porch steps and book it into the woods. “ABBY! COME BACK!” I heard her call after me. I didn’t though as I dodged passed the trees in the dark. The flashing lights of what looked like police cars and an ambulance lit up the small forest like a Christmas tree. I ran through the water, splashing the freezing liquid up my legs. My feet and pants were soaked but I didn’t care as I made it to the other side of the trees.
Fredricks Street was blocked off on either end, a state trooper cruiser parked with its lights flashing. In the middle of the street, I saw a blue station wagon stopped in a crooked fashion. An old woman was standing outside of it, talking to a police officer. She was visibly shaken, her hands trembling as she pressed them against her face. There were two ambulances parked further up, their lights almost blinding as it filled the street. It casted shadows on everything that appeared and disappeared with the flashing light. Looking around, I noticed two paramedics talking to one another. One pointed at the ground behind the old woman’s car. Stepping to the right, I saw what used to be a bike was laying on the concrete in front of the grill. The tires were mangled and bent into different shapes other than round like they were. The frame itself was also bent in half, the brand name written in bright orange barely visible. I knew that bike. Realization hit me like a brick.
It was Cory’s.
Panic sunk into my chest as I walked up the sidewalk, hoping to see him somewhere, anywhere in the crowd that was forming along the police barricade. I didn’t see him though. In the second ambulance, I could see movement in the side window and noticed the back doors were open. Inside, there were two EMTs moving around a gurney. There was a person laying on it, blood smeared on their face. Cory laid there, his eyes closed and blood seeping from a cut on his forehead. They had taken his coat off and his arm was in a sling, his wrist sticking out at an odd angle. His jeans were torn at the knees and blood soaked into the denim from them.
I felt a sob escape my lips as I stepped off the curb, running towards the ambulance. A pair of arms grabbed me though, lifting me off the ground. I fought against them, trying my best to get to Cory. I was getting pulled farther away from him by the person holding me. It took a few seconds for me to realize it was my father. “Let me go! I have to make sure he’s okay!” I cried, shoving against Dad. Tears streamed down my face as they closed the doors to the ambulance. He finally set me back on my feet but grabbed hold of my arms.
“You can’t. They are taking him to the hospital to get checked out. I told you to stay at home with your mother.” Dad said, bending down so he was face to face with me.
“He was biking to our house when Mrs. McGregor hit him with her car. It was dark and she didn’t seem him crossing. He’s going to be okay, Abz. He’s got a broken arm more than likely and probably some bruised ribs. He’ll be home by tomorrow at the latest. I promise. He’ll be fine.” I let out a sigh of relief. Behind me, I heard the ambulance start its engine and the siren started as it pulled away and up the street. As the ambulance passed, I caught sight of Vicky on the other side of the street. She saw me at that same moment, her face flashing red with rage. Huffing, she crossed the street towards Dad and me, a man tailing behind her. He was smaller and mousier looking, thin glasses on his face and greying brown hair.
“YOU!” Vicky roared, making a move like she was going to strike me. Dad pulled me back, stepping between us. “I should have known you would end up here. My son is on his way to the hospital because of you!”
“No. He’s on his way because of an accident. It’s not Abby’s fault that he was hit by a car.” Dad said, staring Vicky down. They were about the same height but she didn’t seem to have any fear in her of him.
“He wouldn’t have been out here in the first place if he wasn’t sneaking off to see your little tramp! Why else do you think he’s over on this side of town?” She turned her eyes to me. “I told you to stay away from him! You are nothing but a nasty little girl and I want you to stay clear away from him. I know he’s been sneaking around to see you still. It’s done though. Tonight. If I catch you anywhere near him, I’m calling the police for harassment.”
“That’s not fair!” I exclaimed, trying to push by my Dad. He held me back with a firm hand though. “Cory’s my best friend. You can’t just make him stay away from me. He wants to see me just like I want to see him! Why can’t you just let him be happy?”
“He’s going to make something of himself someday. That won’t happen if he spends all his time with a little whore like you.”
“Stop calling my daughter names. I don’t know much about you but I know for damn sure that she doesn’t deserve this. I can’t tell you how to parent your kids but I can tell you that Cory and Abby are best friends. They have both my wife and my blessing to see each other as much as they like as well. He’s a good kid even if he was raised by someone with manners like you. If I had the means to, I would take you to court and have him taken out of your custody tomorrow.”
“Well, good luck doing that on your piss poor salary. I know all about your little family. You work as a mechanic for almost close to nothing while your wife is going off her rocker. I’ve heard things all around town about her. No wonder your kid is so fucked up.” Vicky seethed, a grin on her face. Dad’s expression hardened and he gripped my shoulder.
“Let’s go home, Abby.” He stated, turning to leave.
“Good. Go back to your psycho wife and keep your girl away from my son or I’ll have you all arrested.” Vicky called. Daddy ignored her as we headed up the street. My hands were shaking from the fight and my legs were hurting from the bitter cold.
“Do you think she’ll have me arrested, Daddy?” I asked a few moments later.
“Well, I think she’ll try. She doesn’t seem to be one who doesn’t follow through on threats.” He replied as we walked up the porch steps. Momma threw open the front door, looking relieved to see us.
“Oh, thank god! Abby, don’t you ever do that to me again!” She exclaimed, squeezing me tightly in a hug.
“Sorry, Mom. Didn’t mean to scare you. Cory got hit be a car.” I said as she let me go.
“I know. Your father and I heard it on the police scanner. That’s why your daddy took off when he did. I didn’t want to tell you until we knew for sure.”
“Let’s get inside. Abby, change into your pajamas and then come out to the living room. We should talk about some stuff, okay?” Dad said, giving Momma a look. I followed them into the house, pulling my boots off inside the door. I nodded, doing what I was told. I changed from my jeans and a t-shirt into flannel pajama pants and a sweat shirt. When I came back into the living room, my parents were sitting on the couch talking. Dad stood when he heard me.
“What’s going on?” I asked, cautiously looking at them.
“Come sit, honey.” Momma said, patting the couch next to her. Walking over, I sat down. Dad perched himself on the arm of his chair and rubbed his face with his hands.
“Abby, your Momma and I have to talk to you about a couple things, alright?”
“Is it about Cory’s foster mom? Cause I’m not staying away from Cory. I don’t care if they send me to jail.” I said, crossing my arms.
“No. It’s not about that. Though, we are going to talk about him after. We just wanted to let you know that Grandma Green is coming to live with us after the holidays are over. When she comes in tomorrow, she’ll be staying for a few months.”
“Why? Is she sick?” I asked. Dad shook his head.
“No. She just wants to come and help us out around here. See, your mother has been sick for a while. Grams just thinks if she moves in, she can help us all out and keep you company.”
“Sick?” I asked, feeling panic in my chest for the second time tonight. I whipped my head to face her. “Momma, do you have cancer?”
“Oh, good god, no. I’m a different kind of sick, Abby.” She said, taking my hand in hers. “I’ve just been feeling kind of sad lately and I’m not dealing with it in the best way. So, I started seeing a doctor who is going to help me out with everything. That’s all.”
“So, is what Vicky said right? Are you crazy?” I noticed her eye twitch at the mention of Cory’s foster mother.
“No. Your mother is just through some stuff that a lot of people go through. What that woman said isn’t true and you should never listen to anything she has to say. For some reason, she has it out for us.” Daddy replied, sliding down into the seat of his chair. “And about that, we have something we need to ask you. It’s very important that you tell us the truth, okay?”
“Okay.” Momma took a deep breath.
“Abby, does Cory get abused at home?” She asked. I looked away, fixing my eyes on the carpet. Cory’s voice begging me not to tell them rang in my ears.
“I can’t tell you.” I whispered.
“You can’t tell us? You tell us everything. No secrets, remember?” Daddy asked. “If Cory is getting hurt by his foster parents, you need to tell us so we can get him some help.”
“They’ll send him away though!” I exclaimed, jumping off the couch. “He’ll have to go somewhere else to live and I’ll never see him anymore.” Dad sighed, standing.
“It’s a better option than staying with people who are hurting him, Abz. He is getting hurt, isn’t he?” I glanced up at him, tears lining my eyes. I nodded slowly.
“Yeah. Vicky hits him and stuff all the time. That’s why he always has bruises and marks. He made me swear not to tell you guys because he was afraid of what she would do if she found out.”
“I knew it.” Momma whispered, standing. Walking over, she grabbed the phone from the receiver.
“What are you doing?” I asked as she dialed.
“I’m calling the hospital to report that he is being abused. They will check him out and contact CPS if there is anything.”
“Momma, you can’t!” I pleaded. “Cory made me promise not to tell. He’s going to hate me if he finds out I told.”
“Honey, listen.” She hung up the phone and knelt down in front of me. “I know Cory is your best friend but this is very serious. If you really want to help him, we need to tell someone who can do something about it. Cory deserves to be somewhere with people who will love him like we do. That can’t happen if no one knows what’s going on.” Reaching up, she wiped my tears away. “I promise you that no matter what, Cory is not going to hate you.” Reluctantly, I nodded. She stood again and dialed the phone. She disappeared up the hall way as someone answered. Dad wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me against him in a tight hug.
“You did a good thing, kiddo. We’re gonna get Cory some help.”