Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Twenty-two:

Jacob Mackenzie (Morning of September 10, 1994)

I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, which was odd, considering I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was simply too anxious. I had just asked the girl of dreams to hang out somewhere outside of school and she said “yes”. What was I going to wear? What shall I say to her when I pick her up or for the rest of the night for that matter? What do you say to someone like that? Someone whose family has been talked about all over town and the next one over? Someone so well known, yet still so mysterious? I want to understand her, but I also don’t want to be too invasive. She’s already had enough of that, I’m sure. I don’t want to be like other guys she’s had to deal with before; I want her to like me, trust me.

I came downstairs, wearing the same Pearl Jam shirt and flannel combo I’d originally planned on for that first day of school. I figured a fellow music lover like Adeline would appreciate it much more than Ma ever could. I then entered the kitchen where I’d find Pops leaning against the counter, sipping on a fresh cup of Joe.

“Mornin’ Champ,” he said as soon as he noticed me come in.

“Mornin’,” I replied, opening up the fridge to grab some milk for my cereal. “Are you working tonight at all?”

“Tonight? No, why?” he answered.

“I was just wondering if I could borrow the Lincoln for a couple of hours,” I explained, pouring a bowl of off-brand Lucky Charms, followed by the opaque whole milk.

“You got a date or something?” Pops grinned wide.

“Something like that, yeah,” I smiled back. My cheeks turned red at the thought of me actually dating Adeline; being her boyfriend and her being my girl. I then envisioned the two of us, walking these streets, holding hands and kissing every so often. Instantly, I got a gut feeling of butterflies.

“Well, look at you, first week and you already got yourself a lady friend,” Pops said as he went to rinse out his mug. I watched as the little bits of coffee grounds rose to the brim and then swam down the drain as my dad poured out the murky water. “I guess moving here wasn’t such a bad idea after all, huh?”

“Yeah, whatever,” I rolled my eyes. “Does that mean I can?”

“Sure, why not?” Pops then tossed me the car keys. “Just be sure to refill the tank on your way home.”

I nodded as I heard Ma walk through the door, holding groceries in both hands with Pat’s little buddy by her side. I think his name is Zack or something like that. I’d only met him one other time, earlier in the week, and he seemed like a nice kid. Although he wasn’t one of too many words and when he did speak, it was exclusively to Patrick.

“Pat should be up in his room still,” Ma amiably directed the mute ten-year-old. As the boy ran upstairs, she waltzed into the kitchen and set the groceries on the table in front of me, immediately noticing my bowl of multicolored marshmallows. “I was just about to make breakfast, Jake.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t wait,” I tried to while my mouth was full of tiny rainbows and pieces of toasted oats.

“Well I would’ve started it sooner had I known that you were gonna be up before noon on a Saturday,” she said as she started putting the produce in the drawer of the fridge. That had always been part of Ma’s system. Somehow, it made sense in her mind to store fruits and veggies at the bottom, various meats on the shelf above that, dairy products (excluding the milk) on the second shelf, and beverages on top. Of course, any condiments went on the inside of the door. “What are you doing up so early, anyhow? This isn’t like you.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” I replied with immediate regret. Damn it, now she’s gonna think something’s wrong and won’t leave me alone ’til she knows what it is.

“Our boy’s got himself a date tonight,” Pops blurted, still loitering near the marble counter.

Ma instantly stopped everything she was doing to turn and look at me, directly. “With who?” she asked, slightly smiling, sounding pleasantly surprised.

“Adeline,” I said after slurping the last drop of milk from my bowl. I always was a fast eater, regardless if I was in a rush or not.

“Oh,” she responded. Her proud expression quickly faded away. I was familiar with that type of “oh”. It was the same “oh” I had given Brian when he told me those stories about Adeline. I still had the feeling that some of those were misjudged.

“Is that a problem?” I asked, hesitant to make any eye contact with her. I then got up to rinse my dish in the sink.

“No, not a problem,” she lied. “I guess it makes sense. She is quite the looker, huh?”

“Yep,” I murmured, almost inaudible. I still didn’t understand why she was being so queer about it. It’s not as if Adeline had given her a reason to hate her. Given her gene pool, I’d say she was actually sweet. So what has Ma heard? Who had she been talking to? I bet it had been Brian.

“Am I missing something? Who the hell is Adeline?” Pops interrupted.

Ma avoided answering the question. Figures. “She’s Joey Grace’s daughter,” I came right out with it.

“The serial killer? That son of a bitch had a daughter?” Pops asked, looking at Ma. She still didn’t answer him, too focused on silently judging me.

“Yes, he does,” I confirmed, starting to walk out of the room with the car keys in my back pocket. I wanted to ensure that they were already there, safely hidden away by the time Pops changed his mind. Or at least, by the time Ma had changed his mind for him.

“Where are you going?” I heard her ask behind me.

“Nextdoor!” I responded, before exiting the house.

Brian’s room was exactly how I always suspected it to be: a nerd’s wet dream. His top shelf had been filled with action figures that had never been taken out of their boxes, while his second and third shelves were full of comic books galore. A total of two posters hung on his walls, near his Back to the Future bedspread: one of Robocop, of Sharon Stone’s character from Total Recall.

“Yeah, I, uh, don’t have a lot of girls over,” he confessed as if it were a secret. He sat down on the bed, awkwardly fiddling with his thumbs. He then looked up at me as if to see what my reaction was to all of it.

I smiled, trying to hold in all the possible snarky remarks I could make as I looked around the room some more. I soon noticed, on top of his desk, a semi-old photo, framed in gold exterior, of Brian and some mystery girl at their middle school graduation. The girl rocked a spiky black pixie cut and a berry-colored lipstick with her gold graduation gown. “Has she ever been up here?”

Brian’s face quickly went from red to blue. “Quite a few times, actually,” his voice quivered. “That’s Piper Russo, the girl that used to live next door.”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“No, it’s alright. It’s my fault for having that stupid picture out anyway,” Brian said, tossing the photo into of his desk drawers.

I am a jackass. I am an ignorant, selfish, and insensitive human piece of garbage. This poor guy was still mourning over his lost loved one and here I’ve been expressing my infatuation with Adeline, daughter of the guy that killed said loved one. I know she isn’t her father’s crimes, but hell, I still shouldn’t brush that off as if it were nothing. “So you two were pretty close, huh?”

“Best friends since birth.”

“Did you guys ever, you know, date?”

“What? No,” Brian assured with a look of disgust on his face. “It wasn’t like that with Piper.”

“Okay, just had to ask. Not even a moment of sexual tension, though? In all those years?”

Brian didn’t say another word. He just stood there, looking at me in silent judgment for bringing up a dead girl’s sex life.

“Right, no, you’re right. That question was way out of line; I’m sorry,” I surrendered. I leaned against the sylvan desk and waited for Brian to start speaking to me again.

“Besides, I wasn’t really her type anyway,” Brian finally responded. “Let’s just say you two have a lot in common in that department.”

I wasn’t entirely sure as to what he meant by that. However, I didn’t bother to ask him any more questions about Piper. I could see the hurt in his eyes just from saying her name. “So you mentioned something about a new Game Boy the other day?”

Brian’s face immediately lit up with joy. “C’mon, I’ll show you.”

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