Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Thirty-six:

Amy Russo (Late night of September 10, 1983)

I woke up, desperately seeking a breath to catch. I then put my hands around my neck to make sure it wasn’t real, that it wasn’t happening again. Tears of joy, alleviation, rather, ran down my face when I realized it was only a bad dream this time around. I looked over to see that Ivan was still fast asleep, snoring even. God, what the hell happened to us? We used to be so happy, so good. Now, I no longer recognize the man sleeping next to me.

Sliding into my slippers, I got out of bed and walked out, into the hallway, then into Tommy’s room. He looked so peaceful, lying there, on his side, curled up in the fetal position. It had been the same way he’d slept as a baby. Nine years later, I see things haven’t changed and can only pray they never will.

Closing Tommy’s door, I noticed Piper’s was wide open. I peered inside and saw that she was nowhere to be found. “Piper?” I called out, quietly. I didn’t want to wake anyone, not yet. When she didn’t answer, I went to look downstairs. “Piper?” I said, a little louder.

“Mom,” I heard her sweet, gentle voice say and the feeling of instant relief cascaded over me.

“What are you doing up?” I asked, heading into the kitchen where she was. I switched on the light so we wouldn’t be conversing in complete darkness.

“I needed some water,” she explained, trying to pour herself a cup and making a complete mess on the counter.

“Oh, Hun, let me,” I requested, taking the pitcher from her small hands and pouring the water myself.

“Did I wake you? I tried to be quiet.”

“Oh, no, Sweetheart, I’ve been up,” I replied, looking around for the paper towels. “Mommy was just having a—”

“A what?”

I got one look at her face, her precious little face, and I knew I couldn’t tarnish her innocence by telling her about my dream, my memory. I couldn’t let her know what happened that night, what her own father did. “Nevermind.”

Not long after, Piper had had her glass of water and was ready to go back to bed. She led the way up the stairs and into her bedroom. Once again, I tucked her in, nice and tight.

“Goodnight, my little butterfly,” I told her, kissing her forehead.

“Goodnight, Mommy,” she said, shutting her eyes.

Closing her door, I heard a ticking sound coming from my own room, down the hall. Although, it was a consistent tick; it sounded as if something was softly hitting the window, every now and again. I went to inspect it and found out that there were pebbles being thrown at the window closest to Ivan’s side of the bed. Please God, don’t let him wake up. Thankfully, he was still snoring like a chainsaw by the time I got up to the window. It was there I saw a familiar face, standing in our side yard.

Joey held up a bottle of Jack Daniels and two crystal scotch glasses. He smirked, then tilted his head, signaling me to meet him down there. I mouthed to him to give me a minute. I then threw a robe over my pajamas and quietly snuck out of the room and back down the stairs. Opening the front door, ever so discreetly, I exited the house and closed the door just as slowly and gingerly as I opened it.

When I saw that Joey was no longer in the side yard, I knew exactly where he was wanting to meet. We called it our clubhouse when we were teens. No one knows whose shack it was originally, but it’d been in the neighborhood for as long as I could remember and during that summer, we made it ours.

“Joey?” I called out into the dark forest around the shack. “Hello? Joe?”

Suddenly, I heard footsteps in the distance. They sounded human and as if they were getting closer and closer, but as I looked around, there was no one as far the eye could see.

“Joey?” I called out, more vocal this time. The footsteps kept growing louder and louder, as if someone was running towards me. Officially creeped out, I decided to turn back, only to literally run into a tall stranger. I almost screamed, but then quickly realized it was just Joe, my Mighty Joe. I could catch my breath again.

“Sorry, did I scare you?” he asked, seeing that I was still a little worked up.

“Uh, yeah, a little,” I was able to laugh it off now. “It’s weird, though, I could’ve sworn the footsteps were coming from—”

“From where?”

I briefly looked back to the patch of utter darkness I initially thought the sound of broken twigs and leaves emanated from. Grasping the fact that there still seemed to be no one there, I turned back to Joe. “Nevermind, I think I’m just tired.”

“Well, before you start falling asleep on me, how about you come on in and see what I’ve done with the place?”

He then proceeded to lead me into the rundown shack, where he had placed candles on the center table and hung up a lantern on each end of the room. I hadn’t ever seen the place shine so bright before. With all the boarded up windows, it was dim, even in the daylight.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“I love it,” I uttered, grinning from ear to ear. I turned back to see he was doing the same while leaning against the wall. The lights flattered him well. “I love it.”

Joey pulled out a fold-out chair for me to sit in as he poured each of us a quarter-glass of whiskey. We talked and laughed for what felt like hours, just like we used to. It was as if I had never left. However, all good things must come to an end.

“So what happened to you that night?” I finally asked. I couldn’t sit back and ignore the elephant in the room anymore. “Why’d you leave?”

He let out a big sigh. “I don’t know,” he then shrugged. “I guess it was because both you and Tina looked like you were having plenty of fun without me. I figured it’d be best if I went. Plus, it was your college visit that weekend anyway; I just came along for the ride.”

“C’mon, Joe, you don’t really expect me to believe that? You’re seriously telling me you ditched your first ever keg party and got an entire train ticket back to Jersey, all because your friends kind of ignored you?”

He nodded, but I didn’t give in to that croc of shit for a second.

“It was Ivan, wasn’t it? It was because I was hanging around Ivan.”

A single tear came to his eye, but he quickly wiped it away, thinking I wouldn’t notice. “Well, it sounds like you already know what happened. Why the hell do you need me to tell you?”

“Because I want to hear it from you,” I started to cry, myself. “Joe, you were one of my closest friends and you just left me in the dust.”

“You ditched me first.”

“I’m not just talking about that night anymore. I’m talking every night since, every day since. You weren’t there to say goodbye on my last day, just like how weren’t ever there to pick up the phone afterwards. I know your mom said you needed time, but I—”

“Wait, my mom?” his voice grew indignant as he stood up. “When did you talk to my mom about me?”

“She didn’t tell you?”

Joey recomposed himself and sat back down to hear me out. I told him all about that night from my side of the story. I told him everything his mom told me when I came back home, looking for him.

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