Chapter 16: Trenton, North Carolina - October 3, 2017
I received Michael’s death certificate in the mail the next morning. It felt surreal as I opened it, reading all the information I already knew again. It stated his death was ruled accidental due to a motor vehicle accident. There was no mention of him drinking and driving or that he was ruining our marriage by being with his girlfriend at the time of his death. Even on this certified piece of paper, he sounded like a great guy everyone thought he was. I cried as I held the paper in my hands, thankful of the fact I was home alone. Everything felt so real and surreal at the same time.
How is it that in just a matter of weeks, I went from being a married and successful woman to a widowed bum staying with my father? Is this how the world worked when it was against you? Everything in me wanted to hate Mike for what he did to me. All I could do when I thought about him was picture the two of them alone in his car before the crash. Had they been together in our apartment before? In our bed? The very thought of that possibility made me shiver with rage. Mike was the only man I had been with for seven years. Sure, there had been some incidents when I was a teenager but he was the main person I was intimate with. How could he just be so open to the idea of cheating on me with someone for so long? Did I really mean that little to him?
I tucked the certificate in my dresser after making a copy of it. His life insurance company needed a copy of it before they will release his policy. I sealed it in an envelope and dropped it in the mail box to make its way back to New York. Back inside, I curled up on the couch and cried. I wasn’t quite sure what for though. Was I sad because Mike was dead or was I more upset about what he did to me? I was so confused about what was going on in my head. How is it that I had been fine the past two days but now, it felt like I was hearing the news all over again. All I wanted to do was to be in my apartment in the city, Mike hiding in his office until bed like we used to do. In the same breath, I also wanted him to be alive so that I could beat the crap out of him. To ask him why he would do this to me. To get some answers about him and this Tiffany girl. All I wanted to know is what he saw in her that he couldn’t get from me.
When I first met Mike, he was this very charismatic boy who I had seen around town before. He went to school in Newburg but spent a lot of time here in Trenton at his mother’s house. His parents were divorced and he split his time between each parent. At the beginning of junior year, he started going to school with us in Trenton. His mother felt he would be better off here after getting into some trouble at his old school. He came off as a jerk in the beginning, being a shade of nasty towards everyone who looked at him. He was placed in my math class in the seat behind me. The entire first week, he kicked my chair again and again. Even after I nicely asked him to stop. It was the most annoying thing in the world and I told him that. It only made him do it more. Finally, I told him if he didn’t stop it, I was going to shove his shoe up his ass. He laughed at me and said I seemed to be a pretty cool chick. That’s all it took for me to fall head over heels in love with him. He was crude, a rebel and listened to no rules except his own. Everything about him was cool to me and soon, we started hanging out all the time. It was about two months later that he finally asked me out. We started going steady and we were together since. I couldn’t have been happier to be with him. He was romantic when we were alone, writing me poetry and leaving it in my locker during classes. He brought me flowers all the time too.
About a year into our relationship, Mike started to see something between Cory and me. He would low key mention it at first, asking why I spent so much more time with Cory than I did with Angie and Marie. I told him it was because he was my best friend. I figured that was a good enough reason. His suspicions grew though as our senior year went on. He was convinced that Cory wanted to be more than friends with me, suggesting that he was in love with me. I told him he was wrong but he didn’t listen. He asked me to stop hanging out with Cory when he wasn’t there and would constantly ask me what him and I talked about when we were alone. I didn’t think much about it at first, assuming it was just boys bumping heads like normal. Cory fought with every boy I had thought about dating before. It was nothing new. But then Cory started to tell me he didn’t trust Mike. He kept telling me that he was worried about our friendship and that Mike had threatened to keep me away from him if he didn’t back off.
As the end of the year approached, I finally had enough of being in the middle of the two of them. I told Mike he had nothing to worry about because I didn’t see Cory like that. He didn’t believe me and told me I had a choice to make; him or Cory. My 17-year-old heart was torn in two. I had known Cory since I was ten years old. How could I just toss him aside like that? But I was also a year and a half into a relationship with Mike. He was the perfect guy in my eyes and felt blessed he wanted to be with me at all. I couldn’t just let him go because of my friend. So, I made the decision and choose Mike. He was excited and came up with the idea of moving to New York shortly after. I agreed, hoping to make my writing career work from there. I broke the news to my parents after graduation and that’s how we ended up in the city.
Cory didn’t take the news of me casting him to the side very well. Probably because I didn’t tell him. I took to keeping my distance from him, ignoring his phone calls and the notes he left me. It worked for a bit, his attempts to contact me going unanswered. But then he showed up at my house late one night and cornered me in my bedroom. I had no choice but to tell him. He wasn’t too happy. Not that I blamed him.
A knock on the front door made me glance up from the couch. Standing, I fixed my hoodie and jeans before opening it. Cory stood there, his tool box in hand and an extension cord around his shoulder. He gave me a huge smile when he saw me, it fading slightly when he saw my puffy red eyes. “Hey. You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Just being the depressed widow. What are you fixing today?” I asked, wiping my face with my sleeve.
“I wanted to go through the garage and see about making a plan. Wanna help me? I’m not too sure what your Dad wants and doesn’t want to keep.”
“Sure. Let me get my boots on. I’ll meet you out there.” Cory walked through the house to the back door while I slid on an old pair of work boots I found in my closet. Tossing my hair up in a ponytail, I walked out the back door. The door to the garage was wide open, waving slightly in the October breezy. The leaves had begun to fall from the maple tree in the backyard, the crisp orange leaves crunching under my feet as I made my way over to the garage. Inside, Cory was shifting around the Christmas tree box. He tucked it under the stairs and placed the ornaments boxes on top of it. He glanced over his shoulder at me as I walked in.
“I was thinking that this back part could be the kitchen. It’s a good size space and there’s already three outlets back here. It wouldn’t take much to run a gas line for a stove.” He said, pointing to the corner. He was right. It was a nice size area and I could imagine a kitchen back there.
“I like it. I would leave the floor plan open from the kitchen to this space. You could have an island to separate the two parts of the room. This could be a living room or a dining room depending on how the person wanted to set it up.”
“Right. I don’t think there will be much room for a bedroom down here so what if we turned the upstairs into a loft? I could cut the wall in half and put in some big windows to let a lot of light in. And I think I could squeeze a small bathroom up there but we’d have to give up some closet space.”
“Not necessarily. Come here.” I signaled him to follow me up that stairs to the second floor. I pointed at the far-right corner. “I think we should close off this part of the room for a closet. If we made it deep enough for just one row of clothes, it would be fine. That would leave space on the other side for a bathroom. It could just be a half bath.” He nodded, crossing his arms.
“That might just work. What do you think of wood paneling? Give it a nice log cabin feel?”
“Oh yes! That would be fantastic. We could do everything in warm browns then. How long do you think it’ll take to get all of this done?” He thought for a minute, looking around.
“I’d say we could get this whole place gutted and re-done by Thanksgiving. It’s pretty much an empty shell now as is. I’ll replace some of the rotted wood and can start putting sheet rock up tomorrow. I just need to haul out everything in here first.”
“Let’s do it then. I’ll take everything of mine to my room and the rest of the stuff can go in the attic until Dad goes through it all. I know a lot of it was Mom’s stuff.” Bending down, I picked up two boxes and started to carry them down the stairs. He followed, carrying some boxes as well. I set them down outside on the back porch. He did the same. Together, we carried everything from the second floor out, making a small pile near the back door. Cory gently tucked my mother’s easel into my bedroom while I loaded my boxes into the back of the closet. We made several trips up to the attic, stacking the other boxes in there. My stomach growled loudly as I shot the attic door. He laughed at the sound, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“Hungry?” He asked as we headed down the stairs to my living room.
“Yeah. I skipped breakfast this morning. You?” He shrugged.
“I could eat. Wanna go to town and grab something?”
“Sure. Only if you let me drive your jeep though.” Cory let out a loud laugh as he shook his head.
“Oh, there’s not a chance in hell that’s happening.”
“The dent is still there from the last time I let you! I’m pretty sure Jenna would just die if I let you drive her again.” I raised my eyebrow at him.
“You named your jeep Jenna?” I asked.
“Hey, every lady deserves a name. She’s no different.” Rolling my eyes, I walked out the back door towards the garage. I locked up the door, making sure no one would be able to get in there. It was looking empty now, most of the stuff in the house. Turning back, I saw him standing in the side yard waiting for me. Walking towards him, I watched as he held up his keys.
“Yeah cause I’m an idiot.” I let out a little squeal as I took the keys from him. His jeep was parked on the side of the road in front of the house. I ran over to the driver side door and hopped in. He dragged his feet getting in, putting his seat belt on in a little dramatic fashion. I put the key in the ignition and turned it over, the jeep grumbling to life. I had driven his jeep before back when we were kids. Cory had been so proud of his new car when he got it the summer after he turned 17. We drove everywhere in it too, taking day trips to the beach and a weekend long camping trip to Warrick Falls. His jeep was his pride and joy and when I begged him to teach me how to drive, he said yes. He regretted that decision after I dented the passenger side door. The driving lesson had gone well up until he told me to park on the side of the road. I was a bit closer than I thought I was and Jenna the Jeep met Terry the Tree. I felt terrible after it happened but now, it was pretty funny.
Pulling away from the curb, I headed towards the main drag of town. Cry drummed his fingers on the door handle, humming to himself as I drove. The sign for the pizzeria came into view and I pulled over in front of the little pizza shop. I heard him let out a sigh of relief as I turned the engine off. I glared at him, tossing the keys in his direction as I climbed out of the seat. He climbed out as well, shoving his keys into the back pocket of his light blue jeans. Today, he had on a dark grey t-shirt and a ball cap on top of his head. The color of his shirt made his tanned arms seem darker and the muscles in his arms and chest looked more toned as well. Walking over to the door, he held it open for me. I purposely bumped into him as I passed, knocking him back a few steps. I heard his chuckle under his breath as he let the door close behind him.
Angelo’s Pizza has been the only pizza place in town my entire life. It was a small little hole in the wall eatery that could only seat thirty people at the most. The floor was covered in white and black tiles and the walls were painted a bright green color. Decorations of pizza and other Italian items were hung on the wall, making it feel homier than anything. Across from the door was a glass display counter, a cash register perched on top of it. There was a woman behind the counter, her black hair in a tight bun on the back of her head. She was a bit curvy, her figure filling out the black jeans and blouse she was wearing in a way that made me jealous. She smiled as we approached the counter, slapping a notebook down on top of it. “Hello! Welcome to Angelo’s. What can I get you?” She asked.
“Can we get a cheese pizza and an order of hot wings?” Cory asked, cutting me off before I could order the same thing. She jotted it down, tearing it off when she was finished. Cory handed her a twenty-dollar bill which she used to ring up the order. She handed him back a few dollars and some change before heading to the back part where the kitchen was.
“I can’t think of the last time I had a good slice of pizza.” I said, sliding into a booth on the left side of the restaurant. He snorted, sitting across from me.
“You lived in New York City. Isn’t that the pizza capital of the country?”
“Well, yeah but I mean pizza is pizza. I didn’t really eat a lot of it while I lived there unless Mike was working late.” I felt my chest fill with something heavy as I said Mike’s name.
“Hey, we don’t have to talk about him if you don’t want to.” Cory said, reaching across the table to hold my hand. He rubbed the back of it, giving me a small smile.
“Thanks, Cory. Everything has just been so crazy since I’ve been back. I’m not quite sure how I feel about everything right not.”
“I don’t mean to bring him up but you said something about serving him divorce papers. Were things that bad between you guys?” He asked. I nodded, looking down at the table.
“Him and I just weren’t connecting any more. It was like being married to a complete stranger. Sometimes, he would come home and I would have no clue who he was. It’s not that he had changed or anything. I just felt like we had drifted apart so much that we weren’t the same people we were in the beginning. It’s hard to explain. We gave it our best and I figured our time had run out.” I replied, tip toeing away from Mike’s cheating. I didn’t want to have to bring it up unless I absolutely had to.
“Are you sure that’s it?” He asked, propping himself up on his elbow. “I hate to ask this but do you think he was seeing someone else?”
“No.” I snapped, glaring at him. He jumped at my outburst, surprised by my reaction. “Just drop it, okay?” A bubble of anger rested in my chest as we both fell silent. Strumming my fingers on the table, the thought echoed in my brain. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I stood up. “I’m not hungry anymore. Here.” I pulled some money on the table and slapped it down. “I’ll see you around.” Turning, I stormed out of the building.
“Abby, wait.” Cory called, emerging from the door after me. I didn’t stop as I walked up the street. People stared at us as Cory followed me, trying to catch up. “At least let me tell you I’m sorry for crying out loud.”
“Just leave me alone, Cory. I knew I was an idiot for trying to be friends with you again. You could never understand what I’m going through.” I called over my shoulder.
“Well obviously not since you won’t tell me. I can’t help you if you won’t open up to me about what you’re going through. And news flash, Abby. You aren’t the only ones with problems around here. Do you think that you would come back here and everyone would be worried about you so much they would put aside their own crap?” I stopped, spinning on my heel to glare at him.
“I didn’t ask for anyone’s sympathy. Believe me. You don’t even know half of the shit I’m dealing with! Don’t you dare preach to me about caring only about myself. Remember when our entire friendship was built off the fact you were in trouble and didn’t want any help? I sure do.”
“That was when we were kids! This is completely different. Something is going on with you and you won’t tell me. What’s the point of being friends then?”
“We aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t been in a long time. Get over it, Cory. I sure have.”