Chapter 8: Trenton, North Carolina - September 30, 2017
After unpacking all of my stuff, I had dinner with my father and Grams. Dad made Italian chicken with potato casserole. It was something I hadn’t had in years and I had forgotten how much I loved his cooking. Growing up, Dad always did the cooking while Mom baked everything. It was the way they worked together. He would come home from work and make dinner while Mom’s job was to keep an eye on me. I couldn’t recall a time where my mother had an actual job. I remembered her selling her paintings at craft shows and carnivals. She even set up some of her work in town during the summer for a few days. Dad never made her work and never complained about it. Of course, it made things tight money wise but we were still happy.
It was just the three of us for the longest time until Grams came to live with us when I was 12. At the time, I was confused about why she was there. She wasn’t sick and she had her own house in Newburgh, the next town over. Then Dad broke the news to me that Momma was sick. At first, I instantly assumed she had cancer or something like that. Dad explained to me that she was emotionally sick. I didn’t understand it. All I knew was that she was sad a good chunk of the time and needed someone to be home with her pretty much all the time. That’s why Grams moved in with us and why I was encouraged to spend more time out of the house.
After loading the dishwasher, I walked outside and found Dad sitting in one of the rocking chairs on the porch. He had a long neck in his hand and he pointed at the other chair next to him. I sat down, adjusting my jeans as I did. They were fitting looser now than they had before. Stress was causing some weight loss. I didn’t mind it though I knew it wasn’t all too healthy of a way to do it. Sighing, I leaned back in the chair and gazed across the street. There was a large empty field there where the old movie rental place used to be. It had caught fire when I was 18 and the town demolished the remains right before I left. Wild flowers and grass were growing in the open area. Next to it was the path that lead along Edgar’s Creek. If you followed it, you’ll end up right behind the elementary school that I went to as a kid.
“I was thinking about heading over to Randy’s Tavern.” I said, tossing a look at Dad. He raised an eyebrow at me as he took a sip off his bottle.
“Looking to get drunk?” He asked, smirking behind the beer. I rolled my eyes.
“No. Just seeing who’s around. I kinda just want to see if I can find Marie or Angie.”
“Well, let’s see. A Friday night in Trenton? Oh, I reckon they are there. All your old friends are probably there. All of them.” He sighed, setting his bottle on the porch wooden floor boards.
“Whatcha getting at, Daddy?”
“Oh nothing. Just that I know your friends like to hang out down there. That’s all.” I stood, shaking my head.
“Sure. I bet that’s all.” I flicked the brim of his baseball cap as I walked by. He let out a chuckle as I disappeared into the house. In my room, I sorted through my clothes to find something to wear. I wasn’t planning on doing anything spectacular. It was only Randy’s Tavern, a dive bar that’s located on the outskirts of town. Many of my friend’s parents met at that bar and conceived their children in the parking lot as well. It might sound like a trashy place but it’s not. It is a nice bar with a very nice owner, Randy Shoemaker. He’s owned it since my father was a teenager. Dad has had many occasions at Randy’s, most he can barely remember.
Deciding on a black quarter sleeved sweater and a pair of newer blue jeans, I changed and left my hair down. It curled at the ends on my shoulders. I slid a hair tie on my wrist though, just in case it decided to get out of hand on me. It has a bad habit of doing that. Shoving my feet into a pair of black calf high boots, I headed back outside. Dad was still on the porch, another beer bottle in hand. “Can I borrow your truck?”
“To go to Randy’s?” He asked. I nodded.
“I’m not going to be drinking. I promise.” I replied. He fished in his pockets for a moment before tossing his keys to me.
“Just call if you need me to come get you, okay?”
“I will! Thanks, Daddy. Love you.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek before walking down the steps. Rounding the corner of the house, I found his beat up dark blue pickup sitting in the driveway. The old girl was looking a little rough these days, rust showing up on the runners on each side and near the wheel wells. Dad had bought this truck my senior year, hoping to pass it to me when I graduated. I turned it down though when I revealed our plan of moving to the city. I didn’t want a vehicle up there because of the hassle of parking and driving in New York. It didn’t shock me he still had it. Opening the door, I climbed in and started her engine. She groaned a bit as I put her in drive, pulling out of the drive way.
The parking lot outside of Randy’s Tavern was jammed packed with pickups, jeeps and other vehicles one would associate with country boys and girls. I rolled my eyes as I pulled in, hating the fact that the stereotype of the south seems to be truer than I’d like to admit. I shut the door behind me as I hopped out, tucking my hair behind my ears. The sun was already setting as I crossed the dirt parking lot. The bar was a smaller sized brick building, two large glass windows on the front. Neon signs for different beers hung in them as well as posters for the bands coming to play in the next couple of weekends. People were going in and out of Randy’s, a blast of music coming each time the door opened. A couple emerged as I neared it, the man holding the door open for me. I thanked him loudly over the music as I skirted inside quickly.
Though I was not old enough to drink when I lived here, I have been to Randy’s Tavern many times. Mostly because of my father. He would get off work and come straight here, drinking until he couldn’t drink no more. When I got my license, I always was the one who needed to venture down here to drive him home. Dad’s drinking hasn’t been that bad since Momma died, something that made me relieved. I thought for sure he’d be worse after she passed but he turned it around shortly after.
As I now stood in the bar, I realized it hadn’t changed a single bit. On one side of the bar room, there was a cluster of pool tables and a dart board. People were littered around them, playing, talking and laughing with each other. Across the room from them was the bar. It ran the length of the room, about 15 feet. People filled the stools in front of it, ordering drinks from the two men behind it. Randy was one of the men behind the bar, looking a bit older than the last time I saw him. His once black hair was now grey and his chin supported a matching goatee. His eyes were still the same pretty shade of blue, though, and when they landed on me standing in the doorway, they sparkled.
“Well, I’ll be!” He exclaimed, ducking under the bar and walking towards me. Randy wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug, letting out a laugh as he did. Randy had been the closest thing to a grandfather I ever had I suppose.
“Hey, Randy!” I called over the jukebox. A country song was playing and a number of people were dancing to it in the middle of the second room that branched off from the bar room.
“You are quite the sight for sore eyes. How long has it been? Seven years? Abby, you look just as pretty now as you did when you left. What are you doing back in town?” He asked.
“I’ve moved back for a few months to help Dad out with Grams.” I lied. I wasn’t quite ready to have the sympathy conversation with everyone back here yet.
“That’s great! What can I get you to drink? Anything you want is on the house!”
“I’ll take a water. I’m driving.” I said. He scoffed, shaking his head.
“Nonsense! What was it that you used to drink when you were younger? Oh! Whiskey sours! I’ll have Craig make you a pitcher of them.”
“Craig? Like Craig Matthews?” I asked. Randy nodded, pointing at the guy manning the bar by himself. Now that I looked at him, I realized it was Craig. He had been one of the biggest bullies at our school, teasing me until we graduated. He had grown to be super tall and super skinny, his brown hair gelled back on his head. He was just as ugly as I remembered him to be, just a few more years added on.
“Yeah. Not the sharpest crayon in the box but he gets the work done. Why don’t you find a seat somewhere and I’ll bring your drink over?” I sighed, knowing there was no point in fighting it. If Randy wanted me to drink, I was going to end up drinking.
“Fine.” He smiled as he headed back to the bar. Glancing around, I noticed a small circle shaped table in the back corner of the room that no one was sitting or standing at. Walking over, I set my stuff down on the table top. Across from me, I noticed a group of girls sitting in a booth. Now and then, one would look at me and say something to the rest of them. The girl on the end had long blonde hair, brown eyes and boobs that could knock out Mike Tyson. Next to her was an olive-skinned woman, black hair tucked in a ponytail on her head and dark eyes. She was a bigger girl; a tattoo of a wolf was on her arm. The two slid out of the booth and headed towards me. Great. First night back in town and a bar fight is on the horizon.
“Abby?” The blonde asked, stopping on the other side of my table. I looked at her confused for a moment before I realized I was looking at Angie Lawson. The blonde had been one of my best friends since seventh grade. Next to her, Marie Thompson stood. A broad smile flashed on her face when she saw I knew who she was. Marie had been my best friend since the third grade. When I was transferred from Newburg to Trenton elementary school, we had lost touch until she moved to Trenton in the eighth grade.
“Oh my god! Angie! Marie!” Walking around the table, I wrapped an arm around each of them in a group hug. It had been forever since I had last spoken to either of them. Marie had come up to New York about two years ago to visit. Angie, I hadn’t seen since I left, unable to visit me in the city. They were two of my best friends in high school, the three of us causing quite the trouble in our time around town.
“I thought that was you!” Marie said as we broke apart. “What the hell are you doing back here? And why didn’t you call to tell us you were coming back?” Apparently, news doesn’t travel fast down here.
“It’s a long story. You want to sit with me? Randy is making me a pitcher of whiskey sours.” I asked.
“Oh, good god yes.” Angie said, tossing her wallet on the table. “Anything to get away from those bitches we work with.” Marie nodded as we climbed into the stools around the table.
“Where are you guys working?” I asked.
“Down at the call center on Route 29. It’s miserable but the pay is okay. How’s the real estate world treating you?” Marie replied. I shrugged.
“It’s been good. I’m on a break for now though while I’m down here. How long have you guys been at the center?”
“Oh, about four years for me now.” Angie said as Randy walked over with the pitcher of alcohol. He set it and three glasses down on the table, waving as he walked away.
“Two for me. After Patrick lost his job, I had to find something. And it was the only place willing to take someone with no work experience. Thank you, recession!” Marie said, pouring the drinks. She slid one in front of each of us, holding hers up. “Cheers to having Abby back in town!”
“Yes! Cheers!” We gently clinked glasses before downing the drinks. It was the right mix of sweet and sour as I swallowed. We slammed the cups back down, Marie refilling them.
“So how long are you in town for?” Marie asked. I shrugged.
“I’m not quite sure. Until at least the end of the year. Maybe after the holidays are over.”
“Well, jeez. I wish I owned my own company so I can take a three-month paid vacation.” Angie said, grinning at me. I gave her a polite smile, a pang of something filling my chest.
“Not really a vacation.” I replied, taking a sip off my drink. Marie looked at me confused.
“Abby, did something happen?” She asked.
“I don’t really want to talk about it here.” The two shot each other a look they thought I didn’t see.
“Why don’t we go sit outside then? It’s probably quieter out there.” Angie suggested. I nodded. Together, we gathered our things including the alcohol and headed for the back door. Behind Randy’s, there was a patio setup with lawn furniture and old couches. There was also a large fire pit where they have bonfires during the summer. No one was out here, everyone drawn in by the slightly chilly night time air. October was here and so was the fall weather. It was amazing. We picked the farthest away table from the building and sat.
“What’s going on?” Marie asked flatly, both of them looking at me with expectant expressions. Sighing, I sat back in my chair.
“Michael died.” Both gasped, Angie covering her mouth with her hand.
“Oh my god! Abby, I’m so sorry. Was he sick or something?” She asked. I shook my head, downing the rest of my drink.
“No. It was a car accident.” I replied.
“When did this happen?” Marie questioned, sitting forward.
“The beginning of last week. His funeral was last Friday.” I poured myself another drink.
“Abz, I don’t want to offend you but you don’t sound that upset about your husband dying.” Glancing up, I saw Marie looking intently at me for an answer.
“It’s complicated. We were on the edge of divorce to begin with. That’s why I’m down here. I just want to forget the whole thing happened. That’s all.”
“Oh.” Angie said, taking a sip of her drink. “Does Cory know you’re back in town?” She asked it so innocently that I almost felt guilty for glaring at her. She held her hands up, sitting back. “I’ll take that as a no then.”
“You think? Not quite ready to dive into that yet.” I replied.
“Well, he’s gonna find out eventually. Trenton isn’t exactly New York. There’s like 200 people here and word travels fast. I bet you anything that any of those idiots in the bar recognized you and called him.” Angie stated.
“No. If Cory knew Abby was back in town, he’s ass would be here already.” Marie said, pouring the rest of the pitcher in our glasses. “So, are you moving back down here for good then?”
“Not exactly. I just came down here to figure some stuff out. I think I’m heading back to the city to find my own place. My lease was up on our apartment and I just wasn’t ready to commit to anything quite yet.”
“Well, we’re glad you’re back! The three of us together again. Imagine the hell we are going to bring back to Trenton.” Angie said, holding her glass up for another toast.