Chapter 41: Trenton, North Carolina - December 23, 2017
The party fizzled out after my fight with Cory. I watched from the loft as people left, their headlines fading away as they drove up the street. Cory’s jeep stayed in the drive way. Several times, he had tried to come talk to me, but I had locked the door of the house. I now had both keys to the door and he had no way of getting in. I shut off my cell phone too, refusing to talk to anyone right now. Why couldn’t any of them just accept the fact I was staying here? Did they all want me to leave so bad? I know this was a big chance for me but all I want is to be here with all of them. Every part of my body wanted to scream and throw things at Cory and my father both, but I knew it was pointless. Hiding was the best thing I could do right now.
And hid I did. A few days passed. Then a week. I stayed inside until night fell, then I would sneak out to get food or other things I needed. Cory kept trying to talk to me, but I kept all the doors and windows locked. My cell phone was on, but I ignored it each time it rang. Sarah and Daddy even tried. I refused to talk to them as well. They were just as guilty as Cory and I wanted space from them. Everything would be fine if they just left me the hell alone. If I made it till after the first of the new year, my contract would be invalid anyway.
Two days before Christmas, I heard a light knock on the door. Looking up from the couch, I could tell it was Grams from her shadow on the blinds. Sighing, I walked over and peaked through to make sure it was just her. She smiled at me, holding up a plate of cookies. Unlocking the door, I opened it and let her in. She stepped inside while I locked the door quickly behind her. “Hello, dear. I thought you might like some cookies.” She set them on the coffee table and smiled sadly at me. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. It’s the rest of them that need to get over themselves.” I mumbled, grabbing a chocolate chip cookie and taking a bite out of it. “Why is it such a big deal that I want to stay here?” I plopped on the couch, chewing on the cookie.
“Because we all want what’s best for you. If going to New York for this is what’s best for you, okay. If staying here is, that’s fine too. I support you either way.”
“Thanks, Gram.” I smiled as her as she sat next to me.
“Just promise me that you’ll think through this all. I’d hate to see you regret this in a few years. Nothing says you can’t have roots and wings when you’re trying to fly.” She slipped her hand into the pocket of her sweater and pulled out a folded-up piece of paper. “Cory asked me to give this to you if you opened the door for me.”
“Ugh. Grams, you’re working for the enemy.” I said, taking it. She let out a light laugh, standing.
“What can I say? Grandmas are the best spies. I’ll see you later, dear.” She patted my leg before leaving, locking the door behind her as she left. Unfolding the paper, I read it.
I’m sorry about our fight. I know leaving here isn’t what you want to do. I understand. I’d hate to see you leave again. I miss you and want to talk to you. Meet me at Getman’s at 7pm? Please.
Sighing, I read the paper a few more times. Glancing at the clock, I saw it was a little after six. I stood from the couch and changed into a pair of jeans and a hoodie before pulling my winter coat on. Tucking the note into the pocket, I left the house and headed for the woods across the street. Walking through here in the dark was a bit more challenging than usual. The water was frozen in most places where the current was weak or slow, letting me cross when I needed to with no issue. I followed the creek until it let out at the school. Walking around the brick building where I had first met Cory, I made my way over to the beginning of Getman’s park. This was the back entrance, the road a bit further from our spot than the one by the high school. I made the trip though, using the flashlight on my phone to guide my way through the trees and branches. The soft glow of a fire began to appear as I came closer.
“Hey.” Cory’s voice said as I stopped on the outskirts of the clearing. He was perched on the log, his heavy blue down vest on his torso while his arms were dressed in a long sleeve red and white flannel. His jeans stretched as he stood, his work boots making the ground crunch under him. I stepped forward into the light and warmth of the fire’s glow.
“I’m glad you came. I was worried you wouldn’t.” He said softly, standing from the log.
“I almost didn’t. I knew I had to though. Cory, I’m sorry I got mad at you, but you have to understand why I’m not going. It would mean telling you good-bye again and I just can’t handle that. It about killed me the first time. It’s something I can’t face.”
“I know. I feel the same way. That’s why I wanted to know if you would run away and get married to me. Tonight.” I gaped at him.
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you as soon as possible. That’s why I think we should elope. We can catch a train to Atlantic City and get married. Maybe spend a few days on the shore, our own private Christmas.”
“Are you sure about this? What about Cindy and my Dad? They’ll want to be there.”
“We can have a big wedding after the holidays are over. I just know that I can’t spend another moment without being your husband.” Stepping towards me, he reached out and grabbed my hands. “Will you run away with me?”
“What about everyone else?”
“None of them matter. All I care about is starting my future with you.” Looking up at him, I smiled.
“Okay. I just need to go home and get some clothes packed first.”
“No need. You left some things at my place. We’ll buy you some clothes when we get to Atlantic City.” Leaning in he kissed me quickly before turning to the fire. Tossing some dirt on it, he extinguished the flames. Grabbing my hand, he led me out of the woods and towards his truck which was parked in the school parking lot. He opened the door for me, so I could climb in. My heart was racing in my chest when he climbed in.
“This is it! We’re going to get married.” I said, smiling wide at him. He nodded, bringing the jeep to life. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway that led to Newburg. “You think everyone is going to be upset when they find out what we’ve done?”
“I think they will adjust to it. It might take some time but I’m sure everyone will understand why we did it.” He responded. The street lights on Newburg flashed over the jeep as Cory entered town. The train station was on the outskirts of the city, the large brown brick building was lit up with Christmas lights on the outside. Cory parked in the lot on the side of the building and hopped out, grabbing a bag from the back seat. I slid out of the vehicle, walking around the backside of the jeep. He grabbed my hand and we walked towards the front door. It was a heavy wooden door that he pulled open with two hands, allowing me to enter. This inside of the station was a beautiful marble that was a cream color. Several large pine trees stood around the room, decorated with lights and garland. Garland also hung from the rafters, making the place feel like a slice of the North Pole.
“It’s so pretty here.” I said as Cory came to a stop.
“It is. Stay here. I’m going to buy the tickets.” He kissed me on the check and then walked towards the row of windows where the attendants were. There weren’t many people here; a small family on one side of the room and some couples talked in low tones in various places. I smiled at one couple who were kissing by one of the trees. They were lost to the world, only wrapped up in each other. I imagined Cory and I like this standing at the altar in just a few hours. I couldn’t wait to be Mrs. Cory Forester.
“I could have bought my own ticket.” I said as Cory walked back over. Shrugging, he tucked the tickets into his vest pocket and fixed the pack on her back.
“It’s fine. We have a few minutes before we can board. Do you want to go outside and look at the stars?”
“Sure.” He linked our fingers together and led me to the back door of the train stations. There were three trains lined up on their tracks out here, waiting for their riders to board. Workers and engineers were hopping back and forth from the train to the terminal, yelling at each other. Cory pulled me to the left side of the terminal, coming to a stop. I saw a small group of people standing off to the side and they all turned to look at us when we stopped walking. Daddy, Sarah, Marie and Grams all smiled when I looked at them. “Cory, why are they here?” I asked, turning to look at him.
“Because they wanted to say good-bye before you go to New York.” He replied, his voice cracking a bit.
“Don’t be mad. I know you aren’t going to like it now, but you need to go. If you don’t go, you are going to regret it for the rest of your life and I can’t let you do that.”
“You’re sending me away?” I whispered, feeling tears fill my eyes.
“No. I’m helping make your dreams come true. You’re going to get on this train, sign that contract and kick ass in the city. When you’re done, I’m going to be right here waiting for you when you come home.” I shook my head, trying to pull my hands from him but he didn’t let go.
“I can’t leave you. I won’t.”
“Yes, you can, and you have to. Please. Do this for me.” He whispered, pulling me into his chest. Sobs racked my body as he held me close. “I know you can do this. I believe in you more than anything in this world. That’s why you need to go.” I felt someone rub my back, causing me to turn. Dad stood there, a small smile on his face. My suitcase was at his feet.
“Hey, Abz. Cory’s right. You have to go.” He said. I let go of Cory and hugged my father. He squeezed me tightly, kissing the top of my head.
“I know, Daddy.” I whispered.
“You’ve got this, kiddo. I’m just a phone call away. And it’s only a year.” He held me at arm’s length and gave me a small wink. Grams walked over and pulled me into her arms.
“Sorry for setting you up for this, dear. I just didn’t know how else to help you.”
“Thanks, Grams. Take care of Dad for me, okay?” I said, letting her go. She nodded, handing me a little Tupperware container of cookies.
“For the train ride.” She said softly, smiling at me. I nodded, turning to face Marie. She engulfed me in a tight hug, tears slipping down her face.
“Seems like I just got you back here and now you’re leaving again.” She said, wiping her face. I did the same to mine, using my coat sleeve to dry the tears as they flowed.
“Feels that way.”
“Well, Sarah and I are going to be coming up for a few weeks at the end of January. So, don’t make plans. And as soon as I hear back from Cottonwood, I’ll let you know.”
“You better. Kiss Meadow for me and tell Pat to go to Hell.” She laughed, nodding. Sarah walked over and grabbed my hands. “Feels weird to be going back without you there.”
“I know. But like Marie said, I’ll be there in a few weeks. Stay at my place, okay? You can just take over the rent for the year. Then we can both be official Trenton residents. And I’ll be up a bunch of times to help go through the movement process for the company. It’s not a good-bye. It’s just a temporary see-you-later. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will. You too.” I squeezed her tightly. “Keep an eye on Cory for me while I’m gone.”
“You know it.” She said, pulling away. A tear slid down her cheek as Marie grabbed her hand. Taking a deep breath, I spun to face Cory again.
“Now boarding Train 611 for New York City!” A man called, hanging out of the open door of the train next to us.
“That’s your ride.” Cory said softly.
“I guess so. Cory, I can always wait to go until after the holidays. They don’t need an answer until January.” He shook his head.
“No because if you don’t get on this train right now, one of us is going to end up stopping you. I can’t be that person.” Reaching up, he cupped my face in his hands and I watched as tears welled in his eyes. “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being the love of my life. I promise to be standing here when you ride back into town. And I’ll be there to visit you as much as I humanly can.”
“I’ll visit too. Once a month. I don’t care what it costs. I’ll be here as much as I can be.”
“Good because I don’t want to risk forgetting what it feels like to have you next to me.” Leaning in, he pressed his lips against mine. I grabbed the front of his jacket, pulling him deeper into the kiss. When we pulled away, my lips were swollen, and we were both out of breath.
“I don’t think I can do this, Cory.” I whispered, looking up at him.
“Yes, you can. C’mon.” Linking my hand in his, he started walking towards the open doors. He pulled my suitcase behind him as I waved at everyone behind me. The man in the doorway took my bag, disappearing inside with it. Cory slid off his backpack and handed it to him as well. “It’s your manuscripts and some other stuff you’ve written. I thought maybe they’d want to see the other stuff you have.”
“Thank you.” I placed my hand on the side of his face as a tear slid down it. I wiped it with my thumb, giving him a small smile. “I’ll be back for you, Cory. And when I am, I’m going to become your wife. No if’s, ands or buts about it. Do you understand?” He smiled, sniffing as he wrapped his arms around me.
“I think I can wrap my head around that idea.”