Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Thirty-two:

Amy Russo (Afternoon of September 10, 1983)

There I was, sitting in my car and watching who I could only assume was Adeline, setting up a tea party out on the wrap-around porch. Instantly, all of the memories I had buried deep in my subconscious of my last year in Freehold came back to me in a flash. It felt as if it were just yesterday I crashed into a small and timid Joey Grace while rollerblading.

“You alright?” I asked him, helping him up. “What am I saying? Of course you’re not. I’m so sorry; I’m still getting used to these damn things.”

“No, please. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine,” he reassured me, over and over again, stumbling on his words each time. It was cute how nervous he’d always get around me; I was flattered. Of course, nothing ever happened between us, seeing as how he was about to be only a freshman in the upcoming school year while I was just one month away from being eighteen. “My name’s Joey.”

“Amy,” I held out my hand for a shake while trying to keep my balance with the other. “So you new around here, Mighty Joe?”

“Yeah, me and my mom just moved in on the next street over,” he explained, catching me in his arms as I was about to go down. “I was just going for a stroll around the block to get some fresh air.”

“So it’s just you and your mom, huh? What about your dad? Is he in the picture?”

He didn’t answer. Shit; I shouldn’t have asked that, I immediately thought. It was always a touchy subject for him. The truth was that no one knew where Mr. Grace was, not even Joe. Anytime someone would bring it up, his story would always change. I think his mom knew, though. I think she knew damn well.

Before I could apologize for my no-filter, I could hear Tina’s voice, calling my name all the way down the road from where we were. “There you are; I’ve been looking all over for you. Your loser neighbor, Eddie, keeps wanting to show me his baseball collection,” she griped as she turned the corner of the cul de sac. Who would’ve ever guessed my “loser neighbor Eddie” would end up being the love of her life and father of her child? I certainly didn’t. “Who the hell is this?”

“Tina, be nice. This is Joe,” I told her. “He’s new to town and I think I’ve already given him a concussion.”

His smile shined brightly up at me. From then on, we were like two peas in a pod. In just that one year, he’d been the best lil’ buddy a girl going through her last few formative years could ask for. I still regret the way I had left things with him, though. It’s just that night, that damn night, I never meant to hurt him the way I did.

“Hello? Excuse me?” I called out to the little redheaded girl as I got out of my car. Instantly, she stopped what she was doing and turned towards me. I think I may have surprised her a bit. I opened the picket fence’s gate and walked along the brick pathway until I was right at the bottom of the porch steps. “Sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. I’m Amy. I think your dad may be an old friend of mine. Joey Grace, is that him?”

She nodded. “That’s him.”

“Great. Is he home by chance?”

She nodded again. This time, no further words were spoken.

“Would you mind going in real quick and getting him for me? We have a lot to catch up on?”

Adeline went back inside the house and I was left alone on the oak steps. I took a deep breath and walked up onto the porch. To the right of me, there was a woven bench, a couple of fold-out chairs, and an outdoor coffee table. On the bench, I sat between a stuffed tiger and a purple elephant with white polka dots. A frog in a top hat was staring me down from across the way. I think it was onto me about stealing one the peanut butter cups left on the table.

“Amy,” I heard his deep voice as he walked out and shut the door behind him. From the corner of my eye I could see his silhouette walking towards me.

I immediately turned to face him, excited like a little kid on Christmas morning. After not seeing for so long, I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, though, of how well puberty treated little Mighty Joe. He was much taller now, around six foot three, maybe. His beard was starting to grow out nicely and he was much more muscular since the last time I saw him. In fact, he was almost completely unrecognizable, except for his eyes, those big, brown, puppy-dog eyes with specs of green in them. “Mighty Joe Young,” I said to him, grinning from ear to ear.

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