Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Six:

Jacob Mackenzie (Morning of September 6, 1994)

“Jacob!” I heard Ma shout from the bottom of the staircase. “I won’t tell you again; time to get up! You’re going to be late for your first day of school!”

“That’s the plan,” I said under my breath as I sluggishly staggered over to my dresser. I quickly threw on my favorite Pearl Jam shirt, then a brown flannel and some distressed blue jeans to pair it with, as well as black Converse to complete it. I then headed downstairs to the kitchen.

The smell of bacon filled my nostrils as I entered the room. The sound of the tea kettle rang in my ears. I sat down at the table and ate my cooled-down breakfast as I watched my mom help Pat with his tie. Apparently, he’ll get written up if he doesn’t wear every single part of the uniform for the first week.

“Does it have to be so tight?” my kid brother whined. I couldn’t blame him, though, Ma always fastened those things until the point of suffocation. I’m still shocked that I was able to make it through homecoming, alive, freshman year.

Pops just sat there in silence, reading the daily newspaper while he took sips off his cup of hot, black coffee. I knew very well what section of the paper he was reading too: local politics. I could tell just from the expression on his face that the words, “those damn liberals,” had come to his mind on at least three separate occasions since opening up the paper.

“Is that actually what you’re wearing today?” Ma asked me, completely disregarding her youngest’s incapability to breathe.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” I said, shortly before biting into a nearly burnt piece of toast.

“Because you look like a burnout,” she answered, bluntly.

“Wow, tell me how you really feel.”

“Just please, wear something else today. You know, so that can make a good impression with your new teachers,” Ma told me as she proceeded to clean up both Pat’s and Pops’s plates from the table. “Then, you can look like bum whenever you want.”

“Fine,” I caved. As I ran back upstairs to put on something more “appropriate,” I looked out my window to see if the girl had, by chance, come back. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t get her out of my head. I had spent the last couple of nights, wide awake, thinking of all the possible reasons for why she was ever there in the first place.

When I realized no one was there, except for a few construction workers working on God knows what at this hour, I decided to give up on ever seeing her again. I then did as Ma commanded and changed into a striped, baby blue T-shirt. Fuck, I look like one of the kids from “Saved by the Bell,” I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror, then headed back downstairs.

Ma had already left to drop Pat off by the time I got down there. Pops, on the other hand, had been waiting for me by the foyer with my backpack in hand. “Ready to go?” he asked, handing the bag over to me.

“As I’ll ever be,” I answered, grabbing my bag from him and then walking out to his car.

The drive to school was pretty standard right until Pops put the Lincoln in park. It was at the drop-off loop I saw the three memorials laid out on the front lawn, across the way. Underneath a tree, whose leaves were already beginning to color, were numerous bouquets of flowers, stuffed animals, pictures, candles, and other paraphernalia left for the deceased teenage girls. I knew they all lived in the same town; I didn’t realize they all went to same school.

“You gonna be okay?” Pops asked the moment he caught me staring.

“Would it make a difference?” I didn’t even look at him, just the memorials.

He thought about it for a minute, then spoke. “Nope,” he chuckled a bit. “Have a nice day at school, Sport.”

“Thanks, Pops,” I said under my breath as I opened my door and tossed my backpack over my shoulder. I threw him a goodbye salute right before he drove away.

For a brief moment there, I contemplated whether or not I should pay my respects to the dead. I am living in one of those girls’ house after all. Ah, what the hell? It’s not like any harm will come of it and I’ll certainly sleep better. While stopping and getting honked at by a couple of cars on the way, I jogged over the memorial tree. I didn’t look at them for too long, but I’m pretty sure I got all the information I needed, maybe more.

Tia McNealy, age 15, according to her plaque, was a ballerina who idolized Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald. Gabriella Brooks, 17, was captain of the debate team who frequently volunteered at the local animal shelter as well as several other charities. Out of the goodness of her heart or college applications? I think I, like everyone else, would like to believe it was for the first one.

Finally, I stumbled upon the last plaque which belonged to none other than Piper Russo, age 14. She didn’t seem to be very into extracurricular activities, but telling from the framed, handwritten poems, she was quite the writer. Although, I refused to read any them for the same reason I refused to look at any the girls’ photos directly: it made me uneasy. Seeing those young, smiling faces so full of hope was disturbing enough. To actually read something one of them wrote, one of them thought then put pen to paper, I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do so. As soon as the first bell rang, I got out of there as quickly as I could. I paid enough respects for one day.

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