Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Thirty-three:

Joey Grace (Early evening of September 10, 1983)

“Joe? It’s Bob,” I heard his voice say over the phone when I picked up.

“Mr. Weston? I didn’t think I’d ever hear from you again, not after last night,” I explained as I noticed Ma standing in the foyer, trying to eavesdrop. She stopped and went into the living room as soon as I caught on.

“Believe me, neither was I. I know Sal would have my head on a stick if she knew I was doing this, but since she’s bedridden right now, I’ll cut to it. We’re having a service for Livvy next week,” Bobby got choked up on that last bit there. “And I feel as though you and Addie should attend.”

“Wow, Bob, I don’t know what to say. I figured after the incident last night, neither of you would ever want to see me again, but thank you for being the bigger man. I—”

“Don’t,” he cut me off. “I’m not doing it for you.”

The call ended right then and there. Neither an exact date nor time was given, not even a location. All I could hear was the drawn out dial tone on the other end. Hopefully, he’ll be sending the rest of the invitation through the mail. I put the phone back on the hook and went into the living room, where my mom was standing in front of the TV.

“Who was it?” Ma asked. I immediately noticed my old yearbook in her hands as I got closer to her.

“Bobby Weston,” I answered, slowly taking the book from her to see what page she’d been looking at. It was the page dedicated to senior prom. Basically, it was a collage of candid photos of us, students, dancing, plus one of the king and queen posing together. “They’re having a funeral for Liv next week.”

“Well, that’s good that he invited you. You are still her husband after all. You’re still family.”

“Yeah, we’ll see how it goes,” I muttered, staring down at one particular picture of Liv and I, slow dancing. I vividly remembered this dance. A Frankie Valli top charter was playing. I was constantly having to apologize for stepping on Liv’s foot. The couple beside was falling on top of each other because Douglas Moretti had spiked the punch with Jack. It was a beautiful moment in my opinion, one that will stick with me forever.

“You looked handsome that night. You both did,” I could feel Ma’s half-smile burning a hole in the side of my face. It was never a full-smile with Ma, regardless of what anyone said or did. For years, I tried to make her happy enough that her teeth would show, but at this point, I was convinced her face just wasn’t meant to do that. Before I knew it, even the half-smile began to fade. “So Amy’s back in town, huh?”

“Yeah, well, you know how sick her mom’s been lately. She wants to be there when she finally kicks the bucket.”

“Right, of course she does,” Ma said in a very passive aggressive tone.

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” she lied. Ma may not have been the best at expressing her emotions, but I knew when something was bothering her. Boy, did I know it all too well? “I just figured if she’s coming around here, she must’ve found out that you’re single now.”

Where the hell is this coming from? I thought as I sat down on the sofa and flipped through some more pages. “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s an old friend; that’s it.”

“I remember a time where you wanted her to be more than that.”

“As if you, of all people, would know anything about that,” I had to laugh. “Besides, that was a long time ago. Things change; people change.”

“You keep telling yourself that, Joseph. I might be getting older, but I’m not blind yet. I saw the way you were looking at her, that twinkle in your eye. It’s the same one you had the day we moved here and she’d just knocked you down on her skates.”

“Whatever,” I scoffed. As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. I did still have feelings for Amy. I didn’t want to; I tried not to. However, seeing her again, after all this time, brought it all back.

“You never had that twinkle with Olivia,” I heard her mutter behind me as I went to put the yearbook back on the shelf. When I looked back at her, she had already been gone, out of peripheral vision.

About a half-hour later, I decided it was a good time to go grocery shopping and I took Addie along for the ride. Honestly, we probably could’ve lasted until the end of the week, but I had to get away from it all, especially my mother. Plus, I was heavily craving some cherry red licorice.

As I was pulling into an empty parking space, I noticed something awfully familiar about the car sitting next to us. In the front seat, hanging from the rear view mirror, was a gold-chained mandolin with a taurus symbol carved into the pendant. Tina and I sort of lost touch after Amy left, along with the rest of our clique. I mean, I was there for her and Eddie’s wedding and when Brian was born, but that was it. The only other times we’d see each other was when were dropping our kids off at school. Even then, we would exchange no more than ten words each; some days, we wouldn’t even say one. Liv would still talk to her, though. Sometimes, it’d be for hours on the phone. Standing there in the parking lot, I wondered how she was taking the news, or if she had even heard.

“Dad, can I have mac’n’cheese tonight?” Addie asked as we were strolling down the pasta aisle.

“Didn’t you have mac’n’cheese last night?”

“Yeah, but I want it again tonight.”

Before I could respond, I noticed Tina with Brian at the other end of the aisle. She didn’t look upset, but she didn’t look content either. I knew Tina well enough to know when she was puttin on a brave face.

“Yeah, sure, whatever you want, Addie,” I told her as I made my way towards Tina. I saw her drop a box of spaghetti and instantly saw an opportunity to go up to her and start a conversation.

“Thank you,” Tina said as I handed her the dry noodles. Now that I was up close and personal, I could see that she was on the verge of tears. “I was actually meaning to drop by earlier to see how you were doing, but—” she paused and looked down at her feet. “I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of bed. Just going out to get groceries has been difficult enough, let alone seeing that house and, well, you. It’s overwhelming, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. You two were friends for a long time. I wouldn’t expect you to be okay.”

“What about you?” She wiped away a tear before it could even trickle down her face. “Are you okay?”

I shook my head. “Everytime I blink, I see her falling down those stairs all over again.”

“I guess that was a pretty stupid question, huh?” Tina smiled, briefly, as she turned to toss the spaghetti into her cart. She then pushed the cart towards the very end of the aisle before making a left turn at the intersection. I did the same, looking back, occasionally, to see if Addie was still following closely behind. She’d been busy talking to Brian. “So I overheard some women talking about you, in the bakery, earlier.”

“Oh yeah? What lovely things did they have to say about me?”

“Given that reaction, I’m sure nothing you haven’t already been accused of by now.”

“Of course,” I scoffed. At this point, I wasn’t even remotely phased by the fact I was being painted as a wife killer. Even the multiple stares and side whispers I got as soon as I entered the store were becoming more and more easier to ignore with every aisle.

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t believe you would do something as horrible as that, not for a second.”

“Why not? I would believe it if I was in your shoes. I mean, let’s face it, I do look pretty suspicious.”

“Then I guess I know you better than you know yourself.”

“Yeah? What makes you so sure of that?”

“Because I refuse to believe that the boy who got me that taurus necklace for my eighteenth, even though I was a total dick to him for most of that year, would ever be capable of something like this.”

“Ow!” I heard Brian cry out. I watched as he reached over to pinch Addie’s arm. Addie then screamed in agony as well.

“Brian!” Tina yelled as she yanked him towards her. “Why would you do that?”

“She started it!” Brian whined.

“Did not!” Addie defended.

“Did to!” Brian replied.

“I don’t care who started it, I just want you to finish it,” Tina demanded.

“That goes for you too, Addie,” I finally intervened, seeing that she had stuck her tongue out at Brian.

“But Dad!” Addie whined.

“No buts,” I said in a stern voice. Although, after noticing the tears building in her eyes, I went back to speaking in a calmer, more gentle tone. “Alright, fine. How about you take Brian to the candy aisle to pick something out? I’ll meet you there in a minute.”

Addie and Brian both smiled at that idea. Neither one of them could leave fast enough.

“Stay together, though!” I yelled. “And no talking to strangers either! There are already enough kids being put on milk cartons these days; we don’t need two more!”

As they scurried off, I could hear Tina chuckling behind me. “You have not changed a bit.”

“Sure I have.”

“Right. You’re much older now, I suppose.”

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