Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Twenty-four:

Joey Grace (Late morning of September 10, 1983)

Last night, I had spent a good hour and a half, in my living room, explaining to the cops what had happened to Liv, all while watching her being carried out in a black body bag. Even still, I don’t think they fully believed me by the end of it.

“And what exactly were you doing at the time you heard this alleged commotion, Mr. Grace?” Sheriff Grecker asked, pacing around the room, examining every little object he came across. I think it was a tactic meant to intimidate me, but really, I was just annoyed.

“Like I said before, twice now, Liv and I had just gotten into a heated argument and I had stayed in our bedroom to blow off some steam.”

“You argue with your wife often, Mr. Grace?” Deputy Romano intervened. Wouldn’t you like to know, Ace? Ace Romano had gone to the same high school as Liv and I and was only a grade below us.

I remember, in the first couple of years that we were dating, Liv would sometimes tease me by saying she was going to leave me for a younger man. It was fine; I wasn’t too threatened by it, because at the time I was head over heels for an older woman.

Anyway, she didn’t have to say his name for me to know she was talking about Ace. All the girls talked about Ace, the long-haired, half italian, half native american hippie who’d blast The Grateful Dead in his Volkswagen bus and constantly reek of Mary Jane. Now, here he was, sitting across from the way, having the nerve to call me “Mr. Grace.” I guess now that he’s an officer of the law and a father to be, I’m supposed to somehow take him seriously.

“I didn’t kill my wife, if that’s what you’re trying to get at,” I explained.

“No one’s getting at anything, Mr. Grace, not yet,” Grecker assured me. Although, I didn’t quite feel assured. “We just find it strange how your wife managed to take such a tragic fall on, according to what you’ve told us, the exact same day she was leaving you.”

“I know how it sounds, alright? I’m not an idiot. I know how it makes me look, but I promise you, I never laid a finger on Liv, I wouldn’t. I loved her.”

I’ll admit, even I was skeptical of the sincerity of that last part. Did I still love her, after all these years? Did I ever love her? I mean, we’ve always had our ups and downs, but we always came back to each other in the end, no matter what. Was that love or just mutual stupidity?

“Where is he?” I heard a familiar woman’s voice ask.

“Ma’am, you can’t be in here; this is a suspected crime scene,” an officer told her.

“Don’t you ‘ma’am’ me. I wanna see the bastard that did this to my daughter!” the woman demanded. Ah, yes, the lovely in-laws had arrived; it’s just what the situation needed. “You sick bastard. You sick bastard!” all five feet and four inches of firecracker, Sally Weston entered the living room, ready to kick my ass. “How could you? The mother of your child? How could you do this to her?”

Bobby Weston, Liv’s father, had held his wife back as she cried tears of both grief and rage. At first, I thought, maybe, he was doing this to protect me. However, in reality, he simply didn’t want to see his wife start something she couldn’t finish without her leaving in handcuffs by the end of it.

“Mrs. Weston, I realize you’re upset, but let’s try to take a deep breath and calm down for the time being,” Romano said, in a soft, obnoxiously peaceful voice as he got up from the sofa to comfort the weeping woman.

“No, I can’t calm down! That bastard killed my baby! He killed my little girl!” Sally cried out, pointing at me.

“Take her outside, Romano,” Grecker ordered, finally deciding to take a seat next to me on the couch.

As if I wasn’t already feeling shitty enough, I was getting accused of murder, left and right; a murder I know for a fact I didn’t commit. Admittedly, it wasn’t looking too hot for me. The fact of the matter was that it was my word against theirs. The fact of the matter was that I fought with Liv the very day she died. That was my last interaction with her. It was a conversation I’ll never get back.

After telling me that they weren’t allowed to arrest me yet, due to lack of physical evidence, Sheriff Grecker and the rest of the first responders had up and vanished. Not long after, so did the nosy neighbors who had made themselves comfortable on the sidewalk in front of the house.

The rest of the night had been a blur. All I remember is the fact that I spent most of it in my room, simply crying on the floor, next to the bed, for however many hours. The only time I’d come out of the hole was either to check on Addie or use the bathroom. At dinner, I had made a meal for two, but I don’t remember eating my share of the food. It just wasn’t the same without her.

I could hardly sleep either. Everytime I went to rest my head on my pillow, I would see her empty side of the bed. Everytime I’d shut my eyes to block it out, I would just get flashes of her falling down those steps all over again. I tossed and I turned, but it was useless, so I got up and went downstairs to look for a book to read.

While scanning through the living room bookcase, I instead found an old high school yearbook that, on the cover, in gold lettering, read: FREEHOLD BOROUGH HIGH’S CLASS OF ’75. Flipping through the pages, I tried to find pictures of Liv and I. Before I could even fully turn to Most Likely To’s page, I could see younger Liv’s pearly white smile peeking through, at the bottom right corner. It was then that I had to take a seat and a deep breath in order to prepare myself for the overwhelming sensation of both nostalgia and grief. I turned the page.

There she was, in a paisley mini dress, posing next to socially awkward me while I rocked the Jim Morrison hair and neighborhood sex-offender ’stache. Although all of the pictures were in black and white, I still remembered the way she’d wear bright green eyeshadow to compliment her strawberry-blonde hair, which was always parted down the middle back then. Boy, did she look beautiful? What was she doing hanging around a fool like me? I looked down at the caption of the photo that said, “Most likely to get married: Olivia Weston and Joseph Grace.” It made tears drown out my eyes once again.

After looking through it for a while, I set the yearbook down on the coffee table and fell asleep on the sofa. I had been awakened by the sound of Addie’s cartoons. Rubbing the crust out of my eyes, I got up to go look at the clock in the kitchen. Eleven o’clock, already? Poor Addie must be starving for some breakfast. I quickly scurried over to the fridge to grab some bacon and eggs when a knock came to the door.

“Who’s that, Daddy?” I heard Addie ask as I made my way to the foyer.

“I don’t know, but stay right there,” I told her. Yet, after hearing the patter of little footsteps, I realized she went against those orders anyway.

This better not be those cops again, I thought. I just woke up. Looking through the peephole, however, I saw someone I never expected to see again in my lifetime, especially at this hour. I turned the knob until hearing the click and cracked the door open just wide enough to see her standing there, dressed in her usual blacks and greys as if she had a funeral to attend later. Then again, Liv did just pass, so I guess this time it was rather appropriate. “Ma? What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Joseph. It’s good to see you again.”

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