Chapter 30: Trenton, North Carolina - November 22, 2017
The week following the night at the bar was the longest and most stressful one of my life. After our kiss, I had no clue how to react. Thankfully, my friends made sure to barge their way over and drag me off to dance. Cory and I haven’t had a chance to talk since, something I was helping by avoiding him like the plague at all cost. When he did manage to find me, I always made sure Sarah or my father was around. I wanted to ignore whatever feelings I had going on in my heart right now. It was a mixture of want, need and shame. Granted, kissing Cory was like opening a time capsule and finding something I had been missing for years. It was something I’ve wanted since the day I left and I couldn’t be happier that it happened. In the same breath though, I felt awful for kissing the man who my husband hated, that I cheated on him with before we left for the city and all within just two months of his death. It made me feel like the scum of the earth and I wanted to hate myself. I couldn’t even stand to look at my reflection in the mirror.
I did my best to hide whatever feelings I was going through from everyone else. Even though I was hiding them, they all still seemed to see that something was up with me. Sarah asked me every day what had happened the night at the bar. I lied and told her we had talked about our friendship and that being back was great. I don’t think she bought it but she finally let it go after the fifth time. Daddy noticed something was off too. He asked me if something had happened but I told him it was just holiday nerves and the added stress of Sarah being here. I knew for a fact he didn’t believe me but he dropped it for my sake. He knew better than to press the issue with me right now.
The morning before Thanksgiving, Sarah and I woke up and dressed for the day. As I was pulling on my heavy NYU hoodie, she appeared at the top of the loft steps. “Hey.” She said, nervously playing with the hem of her dark blue sweater.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Can I talk to you about something?” She asked. I nodded, pointing to the bed. Walking over, she sat down and gave me an expectant glance. Rolling my eyes where she couldn’t see it, I walked over and sat next to her. “Listen, I think something has been going on with you. I know you’re going to lie and say there isn’t but we both know that’s bull shit. So, you’re going to tell me right now or I’m going to tell your father that I’m worried about you.”
“Sarah, nothing is going on.”
“You’re a shitty liar. What happened between you and Cory? Did he say something that made you upset? Cause I will beat his honky tonk ass into next week if I gotta.” I shook my head.
“No. He didn’t do or say anything wrong. It’s the exact opposite really.” Sighing, I looked down at my lap. “He kissed me that night at the fire and told me he still had feelings for me.”
“Abby, that’s great!” She said, smiling at me. Her smile faded though when I didn’t return it. “Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I love the fact it feels like nothing has changed between us. But something has changed; me. I left and got married to a man that not only hated my friendship with Cory but always thought something happened between Cory and I.”
“That’s who Mike was though. And none of that was true.”
“Yes, it was.” I whispered. I glanced up at her. “Cory and I slept together the night before I left with Mike for the city. I wanted to tell him I was leaving but it escalated into so much more than that. Then the next thing I knew, Mike proposed to me and we were on our way to the Big Apple.” She let out a puff of air, her bangs lifting slightly as she did.
“Okay. So, you had a onetime fling when you were 18. That was 7 years ago. And it’s nothing compared to what Mike did to you for the last six months of his life. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it still.”
“I don’t. I feel guilty about that fact I’m here kissing Cory while my husband’s body is still warm in his grave. It’s barely been two months, Sarah. What the hell am I thinking?” Standing, I crossed my arms in front of me. “I feel like such a skank.”
“You aren’t a skank, Abby. You’re human. You’ve had these feelings for a long time. Feeling them isn’t a bad thing.”
“Well, it feels like it is. I’d hate to make Cory think we were going to be together and then not follow through with it. I also don’t want to agree to be with him and then feel terrible for the rest of my life because of how Mike felt about the two of us. I just don’t know what to think or feel anymore. I’m more confused about my life now than I was when I came down here.” Sarah sighed, standing up.
“I think you should just take things slow for now. Try and figure out what you want. Cory will wait for you. He’s waited this long. I’m sure a little while longer won’t kill him.” I nodded, biting my lip. “You’re only 25. You have plenty of time to decide what you want your life to be like.”
“I guess so. How are thinks between you and Marie?” I asked. A blush filled her cheeks as a smile crossed her lips. I smirked at her reaction. “That good?”
“I don’t want to put too much thought into it because she is married but we did kiss the other night when we were hanging out. I hope she’ll think about leaving that asshole to come to New York for a while.”
“You and me both. I think she’d be much better off. Just don’t set yourself to get your heart broken. I’d hate for you to get crushed like that again.”
“I could say the same to you, girl.” She gave me a hug before heading down the steps. I followed after her, both of us heading towards Dad’s house. Walking in the back door, the smell of fresh coffee and cake hit my senses. I followed the smell to the dining room where my father and grandmother were sitting at the table. Both held cups of coffee and a small coffee cake sat between them, smaller plates next to it.
“Morning, girls! Hungry?” Dad asked, scooping some cake onto a plate for himself.
“It smells wonderful!” Sarah said as she disappeared into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. She returned a few moments later, sipping the warm liquid carefully. I sat in the chair next to Dad, grabbing a piece of the cake for myself. I felt him eye me from the corner of my eye. Turning, I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Nothing.” He responded, shrugging his shoulders. He took a sip of his coffee, setting the mug on the table. “How are things?”
“Fine. Sarah and I are going to run to the store to get the rest of the stuff for dinner tomorrow. Is there anything special you want us to get?” I asked. He nodded, reaching into the breast pocket of his shirt. He pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. I glanced at it, noting there seemed to be the contents of the entire dinner on the list. “Dad, the only thing not on here is the turkey. You did get the turkey, right?”
“Yeah. They gave us free birds at work this year. It’s currently hanging out with the beer in the fridge. I’m going to pull old Tom out tonight so he can finish thawing. Make sure you get everything to make those mint cookies. I haven’t had any since I came to New York a few years ago. I think Cory wouldn’t mind having some either.” Sighing, I felt more stress being piled on my plate. Avoiding Cory up until now had been easy. He had no real reason to come over and I did my best to hide when he was near. Sitting down for a whole meal with him would be a different story. I planned on gluing Sarah to my side, keeping her within arm’s length at all times. If he couldn’t catch me alone, we wouldn’t need to talk about what happened.
“It’ll be fine, Abz. We’ll get everything we need. I want to get some stuff to make a dish to serve as well.” Sarah said, finishing her coffee. I nodded, shoving the paper into my back pocket. I pushed the uneaten piece of cake away from me and stood.
“I’m going out to get my coat. I’ll meet you in the truck?” I said, heading for the door way.
“Can you grab mine too?” She called.
“Yeah.” I grabbed the door knob of the back door and heard the hush whispers that usually occur after I leave any room lately. Rolling my eyes, I walked out and headed to our house. Inside, I pulled my black pea coat on and scooped up Sarah’s winter jacket from the couch. It seems like every time I either enter or leave a room, I just happen to miss a conversation about me. It was like living in high school all over again. It was starting to drive me batty.
Sarah met me at the truck a few minutes later, the engine beginning to warm the cab up slightly. I pulled out of the drive way and headed for the larger chain grocery store that was located right in between Trenton and Newburg. They had built it a few years after I left and it had become one of the biggest attractions in town. Dad hates it but I know he shops there a few times of week because it’s just so much more convenient and cheaper than the Mom and Pop stores in Trenton. Not that money was of an issue now. I had finally cashed the check for Mike’s insurance, depositing the money into my account. It still felt weird to have it there but I did my best to forget about it. I figured I would find something to do with it later.
In the store, we bought everything from sweet potatoes to stuffing, making sure to have everything we needed to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Our cart was heaping as we cashed out, Sarah gushing about having a big family dinner. She had never been to one before and she keep asking me about what it would be like. I did my best to keep up with the conversation but I was growing weary of her excitement. All I wanted to do was go home and hide in the loft away from the world. There was a bottle of wine in the fridge that was patiently waiting for my return, I thought as we loaded up all the groceries into the truck. I tossed the tarp over them so nothing would fly out before making the short trip home.
After unloading everything inside with the help of Sarah and Dad, Sarah insisted we started prepping for dinner tomorrow. She shoved everything I would need to make yams into my arms while she started on the three-bean salad she wanted to make. She blasted Christmas music from her phone while we got to work, mixing together the food so that we could just heat it up tomorrow. It was a smart plan but not something I wanted to do right now. I did it to please her though, hoping to get some of the attention off me. I made the yams, the scalloped corn and a heaping pile of stuffing before turning to start the cookies. She was still fusing with her salad, her non-existing cooking skills showing through. Sarah couldn’t cook to save her life even though she has been trying to learn for years, hoping to perfect her vegetarian life style by making homemade dishes rather than being seen at a hipster filled eatery. The beans she was trying to make clumped together in the bowl as she mixed in the dressing with it. I snickered into my elbow as I mixed the batter in the mixing bowl in my hand. I made a mental note to not eat that.
Sarah and I finished our prepping and spent the rest of the night watching cheesy movies on the women only channel in the back house. She made sure not to bring up Cory and I was grateful of this. She did the same the next morning, cheerfully waking me up to show me the new black sweater dress she had bought for the day. I climbed out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans and my light brown off the shoulder sweater. She was already in Dad’s house by the time I climbed down the stairs and made my way through the backyard. The smell of turkey hit me as I opened the back door. Dad was standing in the kitchen, making bacon and eggs on the stove. He waved his spatula at me as I closed the door behind me. “Hey, Abz. How’d you sleep?”
“Fine. You?” I replied, grabbing a glass of orange juice from the fridge.
“I’ve had better nights but I’m good now. It’s still hard for me to celebrate this kind of stuff with your Mom not being here, you know? But life goes on I guess. What about you? How you holding up?” I shrugged.
“Mike didn’t really like Thanksgiving. He cared more about the football games and the shopping the next day. I guess that’s why it’s not that bad for me.”
“Well, that’s a good thing. You want my bad news now?” He asked, giving me a sympathetic smile.
“What?” I asked, dread setting into the pit of my stomach.
“Your Aunt Judith called. She’s joining us for dinner since her and Uncle Steve are legally separated now.” I let out a loud groaned, slamming my glass down against my leg.
“But Dad! This is supposed to be a stress-free holiday. She is the walking, talking and bitching example of stress!” I exclaimed. Aunt Judith is my father’s older sister. She’s also the biggest bitch to walk the planet Earth. Ever since I was little, the woman always found reasons to harp on me for everything. She hated my hair, my clothes, my weight. Everything I did seemed to be the characteristics of a black sheep and she tried her best to make me one. She was the same way towards my mother, commenting on her mental status in the beginning. Dad stopped letting her come over though when Momma’s illness started to get worse. He thought for sure she’d say something to set either Momma or me off. He was probably smart in that move.
“I know but she has nowhere else to go and there’s always the chance that this might be Grams’ last Thanksgiving. I couldn’t tell your grandmother that her only daughter couldn’t be here. I’m sorry.” He apologized, sliding the bacon onto a paper towel covered plate.
“If she says anything to me, I’m going to pop her in the mouth and claim PTSD.” I grumbled, grabbing a piece of bacon. I took a bite, glaring at the floor as I thought about the last time I had seen my aunt. She had told me I was gaining weight and that it was no wonder the only boy I could get to talk to me was the town orphan. My eye twitched at the thought, anger bubbling in my stomach.
“It’s only for a few hours. I’ll make sure Grams keeps tabs on her, okay?” He handed me a paper plate with scrambled eggs on it.
“Fine.” I sighed, grabbing some forks for us. The four of us ate breakfast before starting the process of popping the different side dishes into the over. The turkey was cooking nicely, the 25-pound bird looking massive as he was dressed in tin foil in the oven. Every time Dad took it out to baste, the whole house filled with the amazing smell of the bird. It made my stomach grumble and I was growing impatient for dinner.
Around two, the doorbell rang. Grams answered it, Cindy and Cory walking through the door as she opened it. Cindy looked the same as the last time I saw her, only slightly older. She was still using a cane to walk and her hair was now fully grey. Her and Grams hugged, Grams taking her coat as Cory carried a covered dish into the kitchen. He flashed me a smile as I mixed mashed potatoes together by the stove, Sarah complaining about the amount of meat that was being used. Her vegetarian side was beginning to pop out now and she wasn’t too sure about the idea of eating a “beautiful and harmless” bird for the sake of an American Tradition. Cory smirked at me as Sarah talked, slipping the dish he was holding into a free space on the counter. Shaking her head, Sarah stalked her way back towards the living room, leaving the two of us alone.
“Hey.” He said, stepping towards me.
“Hi.” I answered, sweat forming in my palms as I gripped the whisk in my hand tighter.
“Can we talk?” I opened my mouth to answer when the doorbell rang. Soon, the sound of a little yipping dog filled our ears and I rolled my eyes.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” Aunt Judith called, the annoying barks of her ankle biter Gypsy increasing when the rat dog saw other people.
“Is that your Aunt Judith?” Cory asked, an unamused look on his face.
“Yup. Isn’t it great?” I muttered, slamming the bowl of potatoes down on the stove. “Dinners done!” I called, slipping by Cory to find my father. He was in the dining room, putting the leaf in the table so that all seven of us could sit comfortably around the large wooden table. Aunt Judith was hugging Grams and introducing herself to Cindy. I glared at her back, wishing she’d turn around and see me. Sarah appeared next to me, carrying some of the food from the kitchen. I followed her lead, helping her and Cory carry out the food to the table. We set everything up, leaving space for the turkey by the space where Dad usually sits. Sarah also set the table, pilling plates, silver ware and wine glasses at each seat.
“Everything looks to yummy!” Cindy said, sliding into a chair. Grams nodded, sitting next to her. Aunt Judith sat next to Grams, followed by Sarah who was the only one brave enough to sit next to Satan. Dad sat next to Sarah and Cory sat next to Cindy, leaving me the seat between the two of them. I sat, trying my best to hide behind the turkey, Aunt Judith sitting right across from me.
“Hi, Abby. Mom said you were back here in Trenton. What happened? Did the real estate market not pan out like you had hoped?” She asked, scooping some yams onto her plate. Aunt Judith was a short, fatter and meaner looking version of Grams, her eyes more squished together on her face.
“No. I’m here on a break.” I politely replied, putting some turkey on my plate. The sound of food being served filled the room, silverware scrapping the china plates.
“Her husband died, Judith.” Grams said in a warm but stern warning. Judith nodded, grabbing some green bean casserole.
“I know. I read it on the news. He died in a car accident with one of his clients? I hope their family isn’t thinking of suing you. How would you be able to afford that?” I saw Sarah’s mouth gape open at my aunt’s comment. It didn’t even phase me. This was mild compared to what she said to me when I was a kid.
“I think the family has other issues on their mind right now.” I responded, moving on to the biscuits I had made. I pictured whipping one at her face.
“You’re probably right, dear. So, what now? Are you staying here in Trenton or are you thinking about running back to the city?”
“Haven’t made my mind up yet. I have some time since our business is doing well.”
“Exactly.” Dad piped in, taking a bite of his food. “She doesn’t need to decide right now.”
“Well, why would she? She’s staying here rent free, not working and I’m assuming picking things up with this one.” She waved a hand at Cory. “It’ll be like she never really left, right?” She asked with a smug smile on her face. Sighing, I tossed my fork on my plate and it made a loud clattering noise. Everyone turned to look at me.
“Are you done? Or do you have any more snide remarks to make about my life? I’ll wait.” She stared at me, not making a move. “You are the biggest bitch I have ever met. And that’s including the abusive woman I helped put away when I was fifteen.” Aunt Judith looked at me with an expression that could only be called appalled. She looked like I had just slapped her.
“Excuse me?” She asked.
“You heard me. I didn’t stutter. You are a horrible human being. No wonder Uncle Steve left you. I mean, I know it sucks my husband died but at least he wasn’t chomping at the bit to get the hell away from me like Steve was for you.” A tense silence fell over the table at my comment. No one dared to move except for Cindy was nibbled on a roll, watching us intently like a game of tennis.
“Andrew, are you really going to let your daughter speak to me like that?” Judith asked, turning her attention to my father.
“He isn’t letting me. You deserve to be told the truth. I’m a 25-year-old woman now and I am not going to let you tear me down like you did when I was a kid. Everyone walks around you like they are on egg shells because they are afraid of what you’ll say to them. Well, I’m not any more. You can think as little about me as you want because I clearly do not give a fuck anymore.”
“Charming. Obviously, you haven’t changed much since you left. You’re still the same spoiled brat you were when you were 18.” She snapped, sitting straight up in her chair. I chuckled.
“Spoiled? Please inform me how I was spoiled. Are you referring to the childhood where our family barely got by? Or the attention I received after my mother hung herself? Because to my knowledge, neither one of those things were in my control.” My heart began to race a sweat formed in my palms as I stood up. “God, this is so typical you. I don’t even know why I came back here. You’re just living proof that nothing around here has changed. You’re the same mean ol’ bitch as you were before. Everyone is still expecting me to be this perfect ray of fucking sunshine after my entire life has been ripped to shreds. I apologize if I don’t seem to have my life together as well as you believe I should have right now. My husband just killed himself with his damn girlfriend in the car. And I’m also sorry if you feel like I’m not handling it in a fashion that suits everyone at the table. News flash; I’m not that same girl who left this fucking town. Hell, I don’t even know who I am anymore. Frankly, I don’t even want to know anymore.” Shoving my chair in, I turned and walked out the front door.