Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Twenty-eight:

Joey Grace (Afternoon of September 10, 1983)

“I heard about Olivia,” Ma explained, grasping the cup of coffee I made her while sitting adjacent to me at the dining table.

“News travels fast in this town.”

“I’m so sorry, Joseph,” Ma reached her hand out to rest on top of mine. I think it was meant to be comforting, but really, it just pissed me off. “Olivia was a good—”

I instantly pulled my hand out from under hers. “Don’t do that. Don’t pretend as if you care about me or Liv now that she’s gone. You hated her, you always have.”

Ma looked down at her coffee. With both hands on the rainbow mug, she twiddled with each of her thumbs. “I didn’t hate her,” she said, softly. “We may have had our angry disputes in the past, but I didn’t want her dead. You’ve got to believe me when I tell you that.”

I sighed and stood up from the table. Through the sliding glass, I looked out at the garden. A mix of different species of flowers had been soaked in the drops of last night’s storm. From the look of the clouds in the silver sky, it seemed as though it was going to be a rainy weekend. “So why exactly are you here, Ma?”

“What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

“Well, you saw me. Anything else I can help you with?”

She got from her seat to walk over to me. “I know I wasn’t always the best mother growing up, I do. I was cold, selfish, and downright negligent,” she explained. Both of her calloused yet still feminine hands gently grabbed my prickly face and turned it towards her. “I’m not asking for your forgiveness, just a chance to redeem myself, that’s all.”

I brushed her hands away from my cheeks. “It’s a little late for redemption. Don’t you think? Twenty-six years too late.”

“Maybe so, but you seem like you could use a friend right now.”

For a split second, I actually smiled at the thought of having her stick around for a while. Granted, it had been the first time in a long time, my mother came off as genuinely caring about my well-being. The only other time I could think of was right before senior prom, when I couldn’t figure out my bow tie.

“Daddy?” I heard Addie’s voice say as she entered the room.

“Hey, Sweetheart, you done playing outside already?” I asked.

Addie shook her head, however. “She said she needed to talk to you.”

Ma and I exchanged a look of suspicion. Who could she be talking about? We both thought. For fuck’s sake, don’t let it be Sally again. Another confrontation with her is the last thing I need at the moment. Ma and Addie stayed behind in the dining room as I cautiously walked outside to who the stranger was. To my pleasant surprise, she had been the breath of fresh air I’d been waiting for all day.

Sitting on my porch bench, next to Addie’s stuffed animal tea party, was the first and probably only girl to release butterflies into my stomach anytime she’d walk into a room. I grinned from ear to ear. A tear almost came to my eye, I was so relieved to finally see her again, after all these years. “Amy,” I uttered, softly.

“Mighty Joe Young,” she smiled back at me as she stood up. The Trebecs’ used to run the drive-in theater, here in town, so she was always referencing old movies. I tried not to take it to heart too much. If having my nickname be after a famous 1940s gorilla made her happy, then so be it.

“When did you get back?”

“A couple of days ago, actually. I would’ve dropped by sooner, but I’ve just been so busy. I’m in the middle of moving back into my parents’ old place.”

“Oh, really? For good? That’s terrific!”

“Yeah, well, with my mom being in the condition she’s in, Ivan and I both thought it’d be best to stay somewhere close to her nursing home.”

I bowed my head out of sheer embarrassment after she said his name. Of course she was still with that jackass, Ivan Russo. I was stupid to think otherwise.

“Speaking of hard times,” Amy changed the tone in her voice to a much more depressing one. “I ran into Bobby Weston at the floral shop today. He told what happened to Liv.”

Here we go again, I immediately thought. Yet another person who I haven’t heard from in over half a decade wants to tell me how sorry they are for my loss. It had only been the first day since her passing and I was already sick and tired of it all. If I learned anything from my ol’ man’s death was that the worst about a funeral isn’t that you lost someone; it’s the fake people around you, trying to comfort you. Liv will be dearly missed? Give me a break. No one is going to miss her like I will because no one married her like did nor did they father her child. After she’s in the ground, they can return to their normal lives. Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting on that porch bench, waiting for her to come home from work, as if it were all one big bad dream.

However, Amy didn’t say another word. Instead, she took a few steps closer and pulled me in for a hug. I was taken back a bit, but then I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed tightly. I buried my face into her shoulder and cried out all of the horrid emotions I was feeling. It was one of those hugs that was more than just an act of affection; it offered support. Support in which we were both in desperate need of.

“So what else is going on in your life?” Amy wiped away her tears as she pulled away. “Liv would sometimes write to me while I was in New York, but recently she stopped.”

Before I could answer her question, a door opened and closed behind me. Addie walked out with a couple of more guests for her party. I watched as she apologized to the rest of the stuffed animals for their tardiness.

“So that’s Adeline, huh?” Amy asked looking back at my daughter.

“Yep.”

“She’s beautiful,” she said, turning her attention back towards me. “She has your eyes.”

“So I’ve been told,” I replied. “I’m sorry; I haven’t invited you in.”

“That’s okay. I really should be getting back anyway. Lord knows what kind of trouble Tommy and Piper are giving their babysitter right now.”

Once again, the sound of the door opening rattled my eardrums. This time, it was my mother, out to tell me I had a phone call waiting for me. She was halfway out of the doorway when she got one look at Amy and froze, as if she’d just seen a ghost. That’s strange; I always thought the two of them got along quite nicely.

“Hi Ms. Grace,” Amy politely greeted her. “I didn’t realize you were here. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”

“Oh, no, Ma was just checking in. You know, with all things considered?”

“Right, of course,” Amy said as she looked over at Ma, still standing near the door. “Well, I’ll let you take that call. If you need anything or ever just wanna catch up, you remember where to find me, don’t you?”

I smiled, brightly, up at her. “How could I forget?”

Amy waved goodbye as she got back into her car. I watched her drive to the end of the cul de sac and onto the main road. Amy fucking Trebec, I thought.

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