Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Forty-eight:

Joey Grace (Early evening of September 11, 1983)

“Ow!” Addie cried out as I struggled to drag a brush through her thick hair. “Daddy, you’re brushing too rough!”

“I’m sorry, Sweetie; I don’t mean to you, but you have a huge knot in the back,” I exclaimed. “And the party is in twenty minutes.”

I was still shocked that Adriene would invite us to her annual dinner party, even without Liv. We weren’t much of friends in highschool and the only reason we’ve kept in touch after all these years was because Liv was a first grade teacher at her husband’s school. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if they genuinely wanted our presence this year, or if they just felt sorry for us.

“Joseph? Are you home?” I heard Ma call out from downstairs. Apparently, she was now letting herself in.

“That’s why there’s a car parked in the driveway, Ma!” I yelled back as I finally got the brush to go through Addie’s hair. I separated it into two sections, then started braid her red locks into pigtails.

“There’s no need to be smart with me,” Ma said as she entered Addie’s room.

“Then don’t ask stupid questions,” I responded, making Addie giggle.

“You’re setting a bad example for her, you know?” Ma huffed, taking a seat on the bed. “I’m her elder for crying out loud.”

“Not that I don’t heavily enjoy your company, but why are you here?” As soon as I finished up with Addie, I exited the room and headed back to my own to retrieve a jacket out of my closet. Ma followed closely behind.

“The police dropped by the diner today, asking where you were last night. I told them you were with me.”

“You did?” I stopped when I reached the closet doorway and turned back towards her, arms crossed, tapping her foot.

“Yes, but that’s not really the point now, is it? You want to tell me why I had to lie to them?”

“Okay,” I exhaled. “The truth is I went to meet up with Amy last night.”

“Amy? Really?” Ma looked at me with disgust. “Isn’t she married now?”

“Which is exactly why we had to keep it under wraps,” I explained, throwing on my brown bomber-style jacket.

“Well, don’t tell me you’re sleeping with each other.”

“No, it wasn’t anything like that. Although, we did kiss, but—”

“But what?”

I stared down, at my feet, thinking of the reason why I didn’t sleep with Amy when I had the chance, why the bittersweet memory of Liv wouldn’t let me. That old shack was where I first saw her as more than just one of Amy’s friends; it was our spot. I couldn’t be with another woman in there; I just couldn’t. “It didn’t go anywhere.”

“Well, good. You don’t want to get mixed up with a woman like her anyway.”

My grief quickly turned to anger as soon she said that. Right then, I felt it was as good a time as any to confront her. “Yeah, she told me about the little stunt you pulled that night I came home from New York, how paid her off to stop talking to me. What kind of a mother does that?”

Ma sat down on the edge of my bed. “At the time, I thought I was protecting you.”

“From what?” My voice grew louder as my entire body filled with rage. “From seeing that my best friend, my first love, still gave two shits about me!”

“I saw how heartbroken you were that night, Joseph! How devastated you were when she picked that college boy over you!” Ma yelled at me, standing back up. “You were wallowing in my arms. Do you remember that? Seeing her again would’ve just poured more salt into your wounds. So yeah, I paid her to leave, but only because I cared about you, damnit!”

Before I could say anything, Ma was already halfway out the door. She then stopped to get one last word in.

“And I didn’t want her to leave you alone forever,” she said with her back still towards me. “Just for that night. Any other avoidance she had from was all on her, not me.”

I watched as she made her way down the stairs and out the front door.

“Can we go now?” Asked whined, leaning against the wall outside of her bedroom.

“Yeah, we can go,” I answered, walking over to her.

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