Chapter 31: Trenton, North Carolina - June 9, 2008
Exciting murmur filled the halls as I exited from my math class. Everyone was talking about the summer and graduation. It was quickly approaching, the ceremony taking place next Friday. It felt weird knowing I was no long going to be in high school. It was like I was reaching a part of my life that was on the edge of a cliff. I couldn’t see what was below me but I was still half tempted to jump off. I smiled at a few people I knew as I made my way to my locker. It was mostly empty, the last day of classes meant we had to give back our text books. The only things left in there were a few notebooks I had kept to bring home at the end of the day. I yanked what little I needed for the afternoon out and shut it, heading for the cafeteria. Turning the corner, I smacked into someone. Both of our stuff went flying and they landed on their ass on the ground. Looking down, I saw it was Cory.
“Sorry!” I exclaimed, holding my hand out. He smirked, taking it so he could pull himself up.
“You’re such a klutz.” He said, helping me pick up our stuff. My notebooks and pens had scattered all over the place along with his backpack and math books.
“Hey, you ran into me, jerk.” I replied, handing him his notebook. Things between the two of us have gotten better since we have given each other space. We still hang out but not as often as we did before. Mike seemed to feel better about but was still leery of Cory. He tolerated us seeing each other in school but still opted to be there whenever we saw each other. I knew Cory hated it but he gritted his teeth and bared with it to make sure our friendship was intact and I was happy.
“Because you weren’t looking where you were going. You heading to lunch?” He pointed towards the cafeteria doors. I nodded.
“Yeah. Can I join you?” He asked.
“Sure.” Turning, he walked next to me towards the double doors. “How’s your classes so far today?”
“Well, we watched the same movie in study hall, English and science. Pretty sure I can quote it from memory now.” I giggled. “What about you?”
“Pretty much the same. We played a board game in math though so that wasn’t too rough. I’m glad it’s almost over. I’m ready for this part of my life to be over.”
“Speaking of that,” Cory started, stopping near the door. He took a step away from them, motioning me to follow. I did, giving him a confused look. “I think we should talk about us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our friendship. I know things between you and Mike have been tense because of me. How are they now?” I shrugged.
“Fine I guess.”
“That’s good. I miss you, Abz. I miss hanging out with your everyday. It’s like you got a boyfriend and I got shoved aside. I get it but I was hoping that maybe since school was almost over, things would be different. That we could hangout like we used to.” I smiled at him.
“I missed you too, Cory. And I would love that. I just need to see how Mike feels about that. I’d hate to tell you we can and then have him shoot it down later. We’ve been good lately though. It’s weird not having you hanging out at the house like before. Dad even misses you and Grams asks me about you all the time. I think we should be able to go back to the way we used to be.”
“I hope so.” He winked at me, tossing an arm around my shoulders in a loose hug. “I’ve missed teasing you.”
“Oh, I bet.” Cory’s arm flew off me as someone slammed into him. It knocked me over, sending me sprawling to the floor and landing on my backside. Glancing over, I saw Cory was on the ground and Mike was on top of him. Reaching his arm back, he punched Cory hard in the cheek. Cory grabbed hold of his shirt and tossed him off, rolling over so he was on him. He started punching him, his knuckles making contact. I scrambled to my hands and knees, crawling towards him. Mike swung his leg, managing to roll Cory over. He was on top again, trying to land punch after punch. “Mike, stop!” I called, getting to my feet. I grabbed his arm but he shoved me back. I bounced off the wall, pain following a popping noise in my left wrist.
“You son of a bitch!” Cory roared, getting a grip on Mike’s shirt. He shifted, sending Mike down to the ground. He landed a solid punch to Mike’s eye causing his head to lunch backwards a bit. Mike fought back though, doing his best to claw at Cory’s bloody face. Both were on the ground now, trying to beat each other’s faces in.
“Guys! Stop it!” I exclaimed, not sure of what to do. My wrist was throbbing and the two kept going at it as if I wasn’t there. The screech of sneakers on the cement floor filled the hallway as the hall monitor and Mr. Femento came running around the corner from the cafeteria. Mr. Femento was our assistant principal and was built like a football player. Standing at 6’2 and about 300 pounds, the African American man had no issue grabbing a hold of Mike by the back of his shirt and yanking him off of Cory. The hall monitor, a smaller man but still stocky, grabbed Cory and pulled him to his feet. The two boys struggled against the teachers, rage burning in both their eyes. I had never seen a look like that before and it made a tiny shiver run down my spine.
“What the hell is going on here?” Mr. Femento’s voice boomed, echoing down the long hallway. No one spoke, Cory and Mike silently glaring at each other while they tried to catch their breaths. Mike was sporting a shiner already, his right eye engulfed in purple and swollen skin. Cory’s lip had been split open and blood dribbled down his chin. He seemed to be less damaged that Mike but his white t-shirt was ripped at the collar and he had a red mark on his shin where Mike had first made contact. “Hello? Is anyone going to answer or are we all willing to forfeit walking at graduation next week?” Mr. Femento asked.
“It’s my fault.” I said, stepping forward. “Mike thought something was going on between Cory and me. I should have known better. Please don’t punish them.” He looked at me, giving me a watchful eye.
“Abby, these two knuckleheads should know better than to fight on school property over something so childish. You’re both lucky that I’m not dragging your asses down to the office to deal with the principal. I’m going to let you off with a warning. If I see or hear of you two going at it again, the three of you will be banned from graduation. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Mike and Cory mumbled together.
“Forester, you should get yourself checked out at the nurse. Can’t have you bleeding the rest of the day.” Mr. Femento nodded towards the hall monitor. The guys nodded, pulling on Cory’s arm. Cory bent down and grabbed his backpack, giving me a lingering look before following his escort towards the nurse’s office. “As for you, Mr. Winters. I’d slap some peas on that eye tonight when you get home.” He released Mike once Cory was gone. Mike nodded, standing stiff and disheveled. “The two of you should get to class. The bell is about to ring.”
“Yes, Mr. Femento.” I said softly. I grabbed my notebooks off the ground for the second time in twenty minutes. The vice principal walked away, leaving Mike and I there. I shot Mike a glare, heading up the hallway.
“Abby, I’m sorry!” Mike called, following behind me.
“Don’t. I can’t even look at you right now. What the hell were you thinking?” I snarled over my shoulder.
“He had his hands all over you and I just blacked out.” I skidded to a stop, whipping around to look at him.
“It was a fucking hug, Mike! We’re friends. Friends hug! I can’t keep doing this. You just attacked Cory for no reason and almost got all of us kicked out of graduation.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” He asked, a glint of anger in his face.
“No. I’m trying to tell you that this shit needs to stop. You need to trust me when I say nothing is going on between Cory and me.”
“I do trust you. I don’t trust him.” He replied. I rolled my eyes.
“You keep saying that but it doesn’t make a difference! I want to be with you, Mike. I really do. You just make things so hard to deal with lately. Don’t you want things to work out with us? Don’t you want to be with me?”
“Of course, I do! I just don’t think I can be with you here.” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“What are you saying?”
“I think after graduation, we should move. Let’s go to New York like we always said we wanted to do. We can live with my sister for a while until we get on our feet. You can find a literary agent up there and I’ll start school for my accounting degree. It’s what we said we were going to do. Let’s just do it.” He said, grabbing my hand. “We can leave this dingy little town behind us and make a future for ourselves. Just you and me.”
“Do you mean it? Like, we leave and live there?” I asked. He nodded. “What about our fighting though? And our parents?”
“No one says they can’t come and visit once and a while. And they make phones. I just think with a fresh start, we’ll be much better. What do you say?” I smiled at him.
“Okay. I’ll go to New York with you.”
“There’s one more thing though. I want you to think long and hard about it before giving me an answer. If you go to New York with me, I never want to hear Cory’s name again. You’re not to see him, talk to him or even bring him up. It’s the only way we are going to get passed this. If he’s in Trenton, he gets left behind like everything else.” I gaped at him, a heavy weight in my chest forming.
“I mean it, Abby. I’m going to New York with or without you. It’s up to you. If you come with me, no more Cory.”