Chapter 20: Trenton, North Carolina - October 16, 2017
The next few days was filled with helping Cory gut the garage out and putting up sheet rock. I wasn’t much good at that so I tended to just hang out and keep him company. Marie came over on Friday and we worked on our book while Cory replaced the floor in the loft. Our story was coming along well. It was about a girl who had to learn to adjust to a new school. I had written out the story and now I was helping Maire plan out the illustrations for the pages. This process was taking longer than I thought I would. It was hard to figure out what we wanted to show in the pictures that was important for the story. She traced while we brain stormed, Cory suggesting ideas while he worked. I was hopeful to be finish with it by the end of next week so we could submit it to a few publishers. I was stilling waiting on word about my other submissions.
Dad was quite impressed on the work Cory had done in the garage. It was already starting to resemble something other than a storage space. He had taken me to the hardware store to pick out paint and light fixtures for the kitchen the bedroom. I decided on a chocolate brown for the paint and sea glass lamps for the ceiling. Cory installed them the following week while I painted. the down stairs were coming together nicely. Cabinets were going to be installed next week along with the plumbing and the gas line for the stove. I was excited to see if finished and to be able to rent it out for Dad. That way, I was at least helping bring some money into the house rather than just hanging out doing nothing.
Half way through October, construction on the garage came to a halt. When they attempted to install the plumping, they found an issue with the town lines. They would need to be flushed and ran again before we could add new pipes. It was an annoying set back but I knew it was only temporary. I had planned to spend the whole weekend working on the bathroom but until everything was fixed, the garage was off limits. So, I found myself home alone and bored that Saturday afternoon. Cory came over after lunch to see what I was doing. He had also planned to spend the whole weekend working on the garage but found himself with nothing to do when it was closed off to us. Daddy made us promise to take the weekend off without any work regarding the house.
“We should go look at some stuff for the bathroom.” I said, gazing over at the garage. We were sitting at the patio table in the backyard, going over the floor plan and what we were going to do when the pipes were fixed.
“You promised your father you wouldn’t worry about the renovations today.” Cory pointed out, taking a sip from the water in his hand.
“So did you.” I replied, raising an eyebrow at him. “Fine. What do you suppose we do then?”
“We could go out to the pumpkin patch on route 32.” He suggested, shrugging his shoulders. “They’re having a little apple cider thing this weekend. Could be fun.”
“You want to go to a pumpkin patch?” I asked.
“Well, it’s better than sitting here with our thumbs up our asses. We could see if Marie and Patrick want to come too.”
“Alright. I’ll give her a call.” Reaching into the back pocket of my jeans, I pulled my cell phone out. I dialed her number and listened to it ring in my ear before she answered.
“Hey, Abby. What’s up?” Her voice said.
“Hey. Cory and I were thinking about going pumpkin picking. Do you guys want to join us?” I asked. In the background, I could hear Meadow babbling.
“Sure. Angie’s here too. We’ll meet you guys there in about half an hour.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I hung up the phone and glanced at him.
“They are going to meet us in about half an hour. The three of them are getting ready.”
“The three of them? You counting the baby?” He asked.
“Then who’s the third person?” The answer hit him as he let out a long groan. “Ugh. Angie’s there, isn’t she?”
“Yeah. Sorry. You’ll live.” Cory and Angie have never been the best of friends. When I first met her in the seventh grade, I found that having a girl best friend was a different than just Cory. We could talk about boys, make-up and other stuff that Cory really had no clue about. He did get jealous though when it came to me spending more time with her as our friendship grew. He felt like I was trying to replace him with someone else. It took me forever to get him to realize that wasn’t the case. The two fought all the time over me and who was my real best friend. Neither believed I could have more than one. It got to the point where I wanted to slap the both of them. The fighting continued all through the rest of high school. I imagine it hasn’t changed while I’ve been gone either.
“She hates me.” He grumbled.
“Only a little. It’ll be fine. I’ll keep her muzzled while you hang out with Patrick.”
“Should just hit her with a tranquillizer dart.”
“Be nice.” I replied, shoot him a glare. He rolled his eyes, standing up from the table. I followed suit, heading up the back porch. Inside, I grabbed a flannel shirt to toss over my t-shirt and packed some waters in a lunch pal. The Mullen’s Pumpkin Patch was located on route 32, just on the other side of Newburg. It was a little family owned thing that blossomed through the years. I’ve gone there so many times throughout my childhood that I had the corn maze memorized. It was a nice way to spend the day. I gathered the rest of my things and Cory helped me carry them out to the jeep. Climbing in, he drove towards Newburg. “What ever happened to your biological father?” I asked as we passed the bus stop in Newburg. It was the same spot we had waited for him to get off the inmate trolley all those years ago.
“Well, last I knew, he was in a state pen doing fifteen years. He got busted with an underage girl.” Cory said, turning right to get on highway 32.
“Jesus. I knew that guy was a creep. I’m still sorry that he turned out to be like that.”
“It is what it is. I just hope he’s genes aren’t that strong of a genetic. I’d hate to turn out to be anything like that asshole.”
“You’re a good man, Cory. There’s no way you could be anything but that.” I replied, giving him a small smile. The tips of his ears turned a slight shade of pink in embarrassment. I smirked to myself as I turned to look out the window. “I feel like I’ve missed so much since I was gone. How’s Cindy?”
“She’s doing good. I’ll have to bring you over sometime. She’s on dialysis now though. Her kidneys gave out a few years ago. She hates it but what other choice does she got? They turned her down for a transplant because she’s over 70.”
“That poor woman. First, she has to deal with you and Henry and now this? That woman is a saint.”
“She sure is. Speaking of Henry, I take it you haven’t heard what he’s been up to these days?” He asked.
“No. Is he still trying to get into every girl’s pants that he sees?”
“Not quite. He’s actually married now.”
“That’s great! Who’s the lucky lady?” I asked.
“Ron.” He replied. A snort escaped me before I could stop it. He chuckled, nodding.
“He’s gay now? No way! I never would have seen that coming.”
“Neither did Aunt Cindy or me. He moved to Virginia for a bit to finish up college and when he came back, he brought Ron with him. He’s a good guy. Quiet. They are both accountants living in the Outer banks.”
“Well, good for him. I’m glad he’s happy. He was such a good kid. Even if he followed us everywhere we went.”
“Tell me about it. So glad he grew out of that in a few months.” Cory pulled down a dirt road where a large wooden pumpkin was propped up. Mullen’s Farm: 3 miles was painted on it with an arrow pointing up the stretch of road. He followed it, the bumpy road making us bounce a bit. There was another sign further down the road that pointed to a long drive way. He turned into it, quickly approaching a field full of cars and other vehicles. Signs for different activities were posted everywhere and a large red barn stood in the far back corner of the property. A little farm house was next to it. Between us and the house though was the pumpkin patch and the corner maze that the Mullen’s build every years. Kids were running everywhere, parents pulling wagons behind them full of large pumpkins. Cory and I climbed out of his park jeep and I spotted Marie’s car a few rows over.
“There they are.” I said, waving at Marie who was unloading Meadow from the back seat. Her husband Patrick was sulking against the back of the car, a hand-held game in his hand. He was a very tall and very skinny guy with black hair and thin framed glasses. He was three years older than the rest of us, a guy Marie had met through her sister that she ended up with our senior year. The two were hitched before we graduated, unable to wait any longer. Patrick wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed or the brightest bulb in the bunch. He actually is quite irritating and I hate the way he treats Marie. She loves him though so I try my best to keep my mouth shut around him. Cory followed me as I crossed the make shift parking lot. Angie emerged from the back seat of the carry, the diaper bag over her shoulder. Marie hoisted Meadow’s car seat out of the back of the car before pushing the door shut.
“Hi!” Angie called, waving at me. He long blonde hair was braided behind her back and she wore a denim jacket with a pair of black leggings. She had always been the prettiest in our group of friends. Marie and I knew it just as much as the guys who hung out with us. At one point or another, most of the boys in our grade had asked Angie out by tenth grade. Cory was the only one I could think of who didn’t try, him not seeing her as anything other than my annoying friend. Pretty sure I would have stabbed him if he did try.
“Hey, guys.” I said, stopping next to Marie. Meadow smiled up at me, her blue eyes twinkling. Marie had dressed her in a pink flannel shirt and a cute pair of black pants. There was a bow in her hair that she was trying to pull out. “She is so cute!”
“Thanks! I was trying to dress her cute for fall. I’m just glad it’s not too chilly out today.” Marie said, smiling down at her daughter. She glanced up at me then Cory. “Hey, Cory. How are you?”
“Fine. How are things with you?” He replied, politely smiling at her. Marie and Cory were friendlier than him and Angie. Marie could respect my relationship with Cory and knew we were better friends than most people. I always assumed that’s why Marie and I were closer than Angie and I were. Marie was more understanding than Angie was. We always seemed to be on the same wave length, regardless of the situation or the distance.
“Good. How’s the house coming along?”
“We hit a rut. The pipes under the house were shot. They needed to be replaced by the town before we can continue. That’s why we were free today.” I replied.
“That’s shitty.” Marie looked over her shoulder at her husband. “Pat, are you going to be social at some point today or should I just lock you in the damn car?”
“Fine. Whatever.” He answered, shoving his game into the back pocket of his jeans. The grey sweat shirt he was wearing had the logo for the factory on it, a single plane flying over a small sky line. He nodded at Cory before giving me a sideways glance. “Hi, Abby.” He muttered. As you can tell, the feelings between us are mutual.
“Hi, Patrick. It’s nice to see you again.” I responded, trying my best to not rip into him about being rude to Marie. He didn’t answer, taking Meadow from Marie and heading for the opening of the pumpkin patch. Marie rolled her eyes towards me, shaking her head.
“I swear that man will be the death of me yet.” She said as we walked after him. Cory grabbed one of the wagons from the side of the field and pulled it behind us. There were pumpkins of every size and shape growing on the ground. We split up, looking for the perfect ones. Marie and Angie found two a piece that were the size of small boulders. Cory helped lug them to the wagon, it growing heavier for him with each added gourd. Pat didn’t seem too interested in finding a pumpkin. He kicked a few of them, “accidentally” putting holes in them. I ignored him, knowing that if I killed him here, there would be way too many witnesses.
Half way up the field, I found the most perfect looking pumpkin I had ever seen. It was the right shade of orange and was as round as it was tall. Bending over, I picked it up and walked over to the wagon. Cory laughed as he watched me struggle to squeeze it in with the rest of them. It finally slid in to where it would sit without falling. I gave him a smug smile as my cell phone rang from my jean pocket. Reaching in, I grabbed it and slid it out. Riley’s name appeared, followed by a number from the city. I internally groaned when I saw Mike’s sister’s name on the screen.
“Everything okay, Abz?” Cory asked.
“Yeah. I just have to take this call quick. I’ll be right back.” Using my thumb, I slid the green arrow over and brought the phone to my ear as I waked briskly away from my friends. “Hello?”
“Abby! Where the hell have you been?” Riley’s voice asked, her words slurring together. She was drunk. What a shock.
“Riley, I told you and your family I was coming back to Trenton for a bit. What’s going on?”
“I miss my brother.” She whimpered, sniffing.
“I know, Riley. I miss him too.” I replied, hoping I was telling the truth.
“Then why did you leave? He’s up here while you’re down there. You just left him to run back there.”
“I didn’t leave him, Ri. He’s gone. I needed to come down here and figure some stuff out. I’ll be back in January.”
“I called his life insurance agent. He told me that you were having all of his policy sent down there. It’s almost $2 million. Why do you get it all?” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.
“Because I’m his wife. That’s what we agreed on when we bought the policies together.”
“You killed him, didn’t you?” She asked, her voice beginning to grow louder.
“Riley, how could I have? He died in a car accident.”
“You could have done something to his car before he left! That’s why he lost control of his car.” My blood was beginning to boil now as I gripped my cell phone tighter.
“He lost control of his car because he was drunk.” I said through gritted teeth. She made a noise on the other end that I couldn’t quite make out.
“You liar. He wouldn’t drink and drive.” I had told Owen what had happened. He apparently did not spread the word to Riley at least.
“Well, he did. He had spent the whole day with his girlfriend and had one too many to drink. That’s why he’s dead, Riley. He did it to himself.” She was quiet for a moment, registering it all. Finally, she huffed.
“Then you must have made him so unhappy that he had no choice but to find another woman to make up for it! He always said you were a bad wife. He told me that all the time. After each time you would get into a fight, he would call me and tell me all about the horrible things you said to him. He hated you and that’s why he found Tiffany.” I froze. I didn’t tell her the girl’s name.
“Riley, did you know about his affair?” I asked.
“Yeah. He told me everything. Why wouldn’t I have known about that? She made him so much happier than you did. He wanted to break up with you so he could marry her but he was afraid you’d off yourself like your mother did.” My blood ran cold and I felt like punching something.
“Fuck off. Don’t ever call me again and tell your family to leave me the hell alone.” I said, hanging up the phone. It was hard to breathe, my breaths coming in as shallow pants. I felt like running. Like hiding. Like jumping into a hole to the middle of the earth away from everyone. Gripping my phone, I looked around. Marie and everyone was still in the pumpkin patch. I took this as my chance to run towards the corn maze on the other side of the land.
Running, I slid through a few stalks of corn and found myself in the middle of a long stretch. I kept running, doing my best to stay away from the sound of kids’ voices. I rounded a corner and found a dead end. There was a hay bail at the end of it with a sign that read DEAD END on it. I yanked the sign out of the bale of hay and tossed it through the stalks. Collapsing on the hay, I felt my body shudder with sobs. I folded my knees into my chest and buried my face into them, wrapping my arms around my head. How could she say those things to me? How could she hide the fact that she knew Mike was cheating on me? I got the fact they were family but I would think that a decent human being would tell someone that was happening. This whole thing could have bene prevented if she had. He could still be alive if she had told me what was going on. Instead, she blamed me for his death and said he hated me. What if it was true? What if he did hate being with me so much that he went out and found himself someone that made him happy? Did he really think I would kill myself if he tried to leave me? I was crying so hard that my chest hurt. It was hard to get air in my lungs and my face was soaked in tears. I knew I sounded like a lunatic, crying in a corn maze but I didn’t give a shit.
“Abby!” Cory’s voice called from somewhere near me in the maze. I fell silent, hoping he wouldn’t be able to find me. The sound of boots on the fallen corn stalks grew louder and he rounded the same corner I had a moment later. I heard him slid to a stop in front of me, panting under his breath. Lifting my head, I gave him a feeble attempt at a smile. “Abz, what’s going on?” He whispered, bending down so he was level with me from where I perched.
“My life is in the shitter. I’m a terrible person. No one wants to be around me. Not even my own husband.” I cried, feeling the sobs building again in my chest.
“What are you talking about? A lot of people love you. Your Dad, Grams and all of your friends love you. We all want to be around you.” He said softly, resting a hand on my knee. I shook my head.
“Only because you used to. You don’t know the person I am now. I’m a horrible human being and Mike knew it. That’s why he found a girlfriend.” Cory’s face hardened as I spoke. “He found a younger, prettier and nicer girlfriend than me. They went on dates and to stuff he wanted to do that I never had time for. They even went to Coney Island. He got drunk there and drove. He hit another car and killed the both of them. He got to die with the person he was happier with, leaving me with this shit show that I have to call my life now. All because I couldn’t make him happy.” I buried my face in my hands, muffled sobs choking out of me. Cory stood, scooping me up in his arms. I felt him turn around and sit, cradling me in his lap.
“Shhh.” He whispered. I shifted, wrapping my arms around his neck and burying my face into his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me and rubbed my back while I cried, unsure if I was ever going to be able to stop.
“I just want to be dead like him.” I whispered. Cory shifted again, pulling back slightly so he could cup my face in his warm calloused hands.
“Abby, don’t you ever say that again. You have so much left to do here. You can’t just give up now. Mike was a fool for doing that to you. I don’t care if you treated him like absolute garbage. No one is entitled to do that to the person they vowed their lives to. It’s not your fault what happened to him. He chose to drink and drive. He chose to cheat on you instead of trying to save your marriage. If he wanted to end things, he should have done it first then found someone else. Instead, he took the cowards way out of things. Don’t let his actions make you think you don’t deserve to live. A whole lot of people would disagree with that, myself included.”