Somewhere I Belong

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Chapter 40: Trenton, North Carolina - December 8, 2017

Sarah, Grams and I hit the store the next morning. Grams asked to come to make sure we got everything we needed for the huge number of cookies we would be making this afternoon. Grams likes to make no less than 500 cookies for the Christmas party. Half are for the party and the other half is for the tins she makes to give to everyone as they leave. On top of that, we had a number of finger foods to make and dips that needed to get put into crockpots as soon as possible to make sure they would be done in time.

Back home, Dad and Cory were cleaning the house and making room for the folding chairs we were renting from the local VFW hall. They set them up around the house and roped off the upstairs so that no one would go up there. When we came back, the two men disappeared outside to set up the fire pit. Since snow hadn’t fallen, it was still dry enough to have a fire out there. It allowed for more movement in the house and another area for people to congregate. While they did that, Grams and I got started on the cookies and Sarah made quick work of pinning the rest of the decorations up since she lacked in the baking skills.

After three hours of baking ten types of cookies, Grams popped the last batch in and bid us farewell, so she could take a shower. I finished separating the second half of the cookies into the small tins on the counter, stacking them in a large pile. Sarah tied red and green ribbon on each of them, giving them a present look. Once the last one was finished, she carried them into the living room and neatly placed them under the tree for people to grab as they left. I started on the regular food, setting up the three slow cookers to make chicken wing dip, egg nog and sausage dip. I assigned Sarah with the task of making a cheese and cracker display on the official Christmas plate we have. It was a green tinted glass in the shape of a Christmas tree. She cut the pepperoni and different cheeses to arrange them in an elegant fashion, lining up crackers as she went. She wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap when she was done, tucking it into the fridge. She did the same with the veggie plater, shoving it in the fridge to keep cool until the party.

Around four, Dad and Cory made a run to the liquor store. They returned with boxes full of wines, beer and various types of spirits. Dad pulled down the juice dispenser, mixing up a yule-tide punch with enough vodka and rum to knock out an elephant. He added some canned fruit to it before setting it out on the picnic table. It was chilly enough to keep it cold, the ice not even melting in it. He put the rest of the alcohol in the freezer and the wine rack. Grams came back down from her shower, dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater. It was green in color with red and white striped sleeves. On the torso was a picture of a gingerbread man wearing sunglasses and drinking a martini. “What do you think?” She asked, holding her hands up to pose for Sarah and me.

“It’s perfect, Grams.” I replied, smiling at her. “I’m going to go take a shower now while the rest of the food is cooking. Keep an eye on it for me?” I asked. Grams nodded, grabbing a pot holder. I walked out the back door towards the back house. Opening the door, I walked inside. Heading towards the bathroom, I shed my clothes and turned the water on. It warmed quickly, and I climbed in, pulling the curtain. The water felt amazing on my skin as I stood under the stream. The shower curtain moved slightly as I saw the bathroom door open. Peaking my head out, I saw Cory undressing in a hurry. “What are you doing?” I asked, laughing.

“Saving water.” He said, yanking his white t-shirt overhead. Kicking his jeans and boxers off, he climbed into the shower with me. I turned to face him, the water hitting him over my shoulder.

“Don’t you think everyone is going to wonder what we are doing back here?” He shrugged.

“No one will even notice.” Stepping closer, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. We had a quick sex session in the shower, climbing out and getting dressed about twenty minutes later. I pulled on my long dark red sweater dress and my black leggings while he changed back into his white t-shirt and jeans. He had a red button up on the back of my couch he had left her from before that he slipped into.

“Everyone is going to know what we did.” I said, combing out my hair. I tied it up in a bun on the back of my head, wiping away the drops of water that dripped off the ends of my hair with my sleeve.

“Because none of them have ever been young and in love before.” Cory said, running a hand through his hair. “Especially Sarah. Her and Marie were making out on your couch last night. I’m sure it’ll be okay. Besides, any chance I get to see you naked is worth the risk in my book.”

“Will you stop it?” I said, tossing my brush at him. He caught it, sending me a smirk as I mockingly glared at him. Reaching up, I unclasped the necklace that hung from my neck. I slid my new engagement ring off the chain and slid it on to my finger. The rest I left on the coffee table. Tonight was the night we had decided to tell everyone. I wasn’t sure when that moment would be, but I was ready.

When we were finished getting ready, we headed back to the house. Cars and trucks were beginning to line up outside along the side of the road. The voices of Dad’s co-workers filled the house as well as the footsteps of kids. The house quickly filled up with people, some who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. It seemed like the whole town was making their way here. Kids of all ages were in the living room, decorating the gingerbread cookies Marie had brought. She had made three dozen of them, knowing that they would go fast. The smell of food and pine scented candles wafted through the house and the sound of the Christmas music playing on Dad’s record player filled in the silence under the chatter of people. It was nice to spend time with everyone that I thought for sure I’d never see again. Angie came with her new boyfriend Derek, Cory avoiding her like the plague. The two were cute together. He was a foreman for a construction company that she met at Randy’s Tavern the night we all went out. The two really hit it off well and had been together ever since. It seemed like Marie and Sarah weren’t the only ones lucky enough to find love that night.

“Can I have everyone’s attention please?” Daddy called, standing on a chair in the dining room. “Would everyone be so kind to join me outside for a moment? I have an announcement to make and I want to make sure everyone is able to hear it!” I looked over at Cory from my place helping Meadow decorate a cookie. I gave him a confused look, but he just shrugged, turning back to talk to one of Daddy’s co-workers. The house full of people filled out of the back door, filling in the backyard. The Christmas lights on the back porch really sparkled against the night sky and matched the stars above us. I stood at the back of the crowd next to Sarah and Cory as Dad hopped up on the picnic table.

“What’s this about?” I whispered to Sarah.

“I don’t know. I think we’re about to find out though.” She gave me a small wink, turning back to face Dad.

“Now, most of you know that my baby girl Abby has moved back here to Trenton. I’m so excited to have her back here with us. Actually, Abby, can you come up here for a minute?” Dad asked. Everyone turned to look at me. I felt my cheeks flash hot with pink as Sarah shoved me towards the front. Stumbling forward a bit, Dad caught me and pulled me up onto the table next to him. “Everyone say hi to Abby!”

“Hi, Abby.” The group said together. I did a small wave, wishing I wasn’t standing in front of them all.

“Now, before Abby came back, this beautiful house behind us was nothing more than a dingy looking storage space. With the help of everyone’s favorite handy man, Cory, the two of them were able to fix it up and turn it into quite the living space. She designed the inside while Cory put her ideas to work. I had hopes of renting it out once they were finished but with the convincing and nudging of some of Abby’s friends, I came up with a better idea.” Daddy smiled at me which I returned with a raised eyebrow. From behind him, he pulled out a small red box. “Merry Christmas, Abz.”

“What is it?” I asked as he placed it in my hand.

“Well, open it and you’ll find out.” I nodded, pulling the lid of the box out. Inside, nestled in some cotton was a key attached to a silver heart shaped keychain. Written on the keychain was OUR FIRST HOME. “I’d like to give the house to you and Cory to live in.” He said.

“But, Daddy, it’s for you to make some extra money with.” I whispered close to his ear.

“I don’t need the money. What I need is for my daughter to be here with me. Her and her fiancé.”

“But how did you know?”

“Did you think he would propose without asking me first?” He asked, winking at me. “So? Will you move in?”

“Yes.” I replied, smiling at him. He turned to everyone who was watching in question.

“Looks like I will have two new tenants since her and Cory are now engaged to be married!” Daddy exclaimed. The group let out little gasps before cheering. Cory came forward in the crowd, people congratulating him as he passed. Dad stepped down, shaking his hand before giving him a quick hug. Reaching up, Cory helped me off the table.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Daddy knew?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for you.” He smiled, kissing my cheek. As he pulled away, I was engulfed in a bone crushing hug from both Marie and Angie.

“Oh my god! Why didn’t you tell us?!” Angie squealed. She grabbed my left hand, holding it up so they both could see the ring.

“It’s so beautiful! You did a good job, Cory.” Marie said, smiling at him. “I knew this would happen someday. Took you two long enough! I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks, guys.” I said, hugging them both. Grams appeared at my left, Cindy standing next to her.

“Well, I guess the secret is out now.” Grams said, leaning in and giving me a hug.

“You knew too?” I asked, glancing at Cory.

“Well, of course. Your daddy can’t keep a secret to save his ass. Congrats, dear.”

“I’ve never been so happy before!” Cindy exclaimed, grabbing my hands. “You two belong together. I’ve said it since you were kids. You kids were meant for each other.” She gave my hands a gentle squeeze before hugging Cory. Turning, they followed the little crowd that was heading back into the house. Wrapping his arm around my waist, we walked behind them. Inside, Marie, Sarah and Angie were standing in the kitchen.

“Abby, do you have a copy of our book? Angie wants to see it.” Marie asked.

“Yeah. It’s in on the bookshelf in my room. I’ll grab it.” I replied.

“I’ll get it.” Cory said, kissing the top of my head before disappearing towards my room.

“Anything back from Cottonwood?” I asked, leaning against the counter. Marie shook her head, taking a sip from the cup she had in hand.

“No but I did get a call from a literary agent. I left her a message, but I think she was gone for the weekend already. That’s a good sign, right?”

“Yes. Hopefully she’s calling to tell us she loved our book.” I responded. If that was the case, I could put Penguin Publishers behind me and focus on that agency instead.

“That would be great. I’ll try to get ahold of her Monday.” Cory returned to the kitchen, the manuscript for our book in his hand.

“Here. Can you guys give Abby and I a minute alone please?” He asked, handing Marie the book. The three of them nodding, glancing at me. The look on Cory’s face seemed a bit off, his jaw line clenched. The girls walked out of the kitchen, leaving Cory and me alone.

“Hey. What’s up?” I asked.

“What’s this?” He held up the letter from the contract that I had tucked into the envelop so no one could see it.

“It’s nothing.” I replied, turning to face the fridge.

“It’s nothing? Seems like it’s more than that to me.”

“Well, it isn’t. They wanted me to move to New York for a year. I didn’t want to. So, I turned them down. That’s all.” He stared at me blankly.

“You turned them down? Abby, this is the one thing you’ve wanted since I’ve known you. How could you just turn them down?”

“Because I don’t want to move back to New York. I have my whole life going good for me right here. There will be other publishers.”

“You just turned this down without even talking to me about it? What if I wanted you to move to New York? It’s only for a year. And you could come home for a few days here and there.”

“Cory, I’m not taking the deal. I’m not moving back there. I’m not leaving Dad, Grams and you here. I made up my mind.” I poured myself a glass of the punch and took a sip of it. “Besides, I don’t need to publish a book. I have the real estate firm going for me. Once we find a place down here, we’ll be transferring everything.”

“Getting a book deal is your dream though. It’s the one thing in your life that you have been trying to do since you were little. Do you honestly think I’m just going to let you pass on it because of me?”

“But we are just starting our lives together! I don’t want the first year of our relationship to be spent wishing we could sleep together at night and seeing each other in person rather than over computer screens?” I slammed my cup on the counter and turned to look at him.

“Our relationship. That’s my point. You made this choice without even consulting me! How do you know that I wouldn’t have offered to come with you? I don’t have a job here. We could find a place together there and came back when the year is over.”

“You and I both know that you would never be able to leave Trenton or Cindy for that long. Her and everyone in this town relies on you to be here. I can’t ask you to just pick up and run away with me. It’s not fair to you and I can’t do that to you again.”

“Well, I can’t be the reason you give up on the biggest chance of your lifetime!” He exclaimed. “I’ve waited this long to be with you, a year is nothing.”

“I’m NOT leaving. Why is that so hard for you to understand? I’m not signing that contract and I’m not agreeing to move to New York. I’m staying here in Trenton which is what I should have done seven years ago but I was too stupid to see that. I’m not making that mistake again.” Dad and Sarah walked into the kitchen, Dad looking at us confused. Sarah gave me an I-told-you-so look, crossing her arms across her chest.

“What the hell is going on out here? We can hear you two yelling at each other over the music and everyone talking.” Daddy asked. Cory handed him the letter, his eyes not leaving me. Dad read it quickly before looking up at me.

“They want you to go to New York for the year?” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Yes but I’m not going. Like I was telling Cory, I made my mind up to say here. It’s not a big deal.” I replied.

“Someone please explain to her why it is a big deal!” He exclaimed. Dad stepped forward.

“Abby, you know how big of a chance this is for you? Why are you just giving it up? A year isn’t that long.”

“Because I already wasted enough of my life in the damn place. I would rather be here with the people I love than up there.” I answered. I turned to Cory. “I made up my mind and I’m not changing it. End of discussion.”

“No, it’s not. We are going to talk about it together.”

“There’s nothing to talk about! I already told them I said no.” I lied.

“No, you didn’t. You haven’t sent the letter yet.” Sarah said, giving me an apologetic look. I shot her a glare, realizing I was highly outnumbered in this.

“I just came back here! Why do you all want me to leave again?”

“We don’t want you to go. We just want you follow your dreams.” Daddy said.

“Your father’s right. You need to go, Abby. I’m not going to let you pass on this.” Cory urged.

“I spent the last seven years of my life with a man who made up my mind for me. I’m not about to let another one do it. Go to hell. All of you.” Turning, I opened up the back door and stormed out.

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