Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Seven:

Patrick Mackenzie (Morning of September 6, 1994)

As Ma pulled up to my new school, my stomach began to turn. I couldn’t tell if it was the tie around my neck, acting as a noose, or my nerves, but I was having a tough time breathing. “Ma, I don’t feel so good. Maybe we should go home and call it a sick day.”

“You want me to go in with you?” Ma asked, clearly seeing right through me and what Jacob would call my “bullshit.”

“No,” I responded, looking out the window while I wiped the sweat from my brow. “That’ll just make things worse.”

“Hey, Patrick, look at me,” she demanded. “You are going to be fine, here. This is not your old school. There are no Billy Whitmores to give you black eyes or swirlies here. You are safe and you are going to make some new friends.”

“What makes you so sure?” I asked, looking back at her.

Ma let out a sigh. “Because, if I’m wrong, then we’ll try homeschool again. You have my word, but you actually need to give it a chance.”

I knew I didn’t actually have her word because my cheapskate of a dad would never allow her to pull me out of school after already paying for the year, but it was a nice gesture. Therefore, I gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, goodbye. She then asked if I had remembered where the office was, prior to the orientation I had been given a week beforehand. While getting out of the car, I simply told her that it was down the main hall, the first room on the right. She had smiled at me and waved as she drove out of the parking lot.

I stood outside the heavy, double doors for a minute and had inhaled a deep breath. “Here we go,” I whispered to myself as I took a step inside the freshly painted building.

To my surprise, my first day actually hadn’t been too shabby. I had walked into the classroom with the lowest expectations, but then I actually ended up enjoying myself, not even half-way through the day. My teacher, Miss Melrose had been very helpful and fun when it came to our curriculum. She wasn’t like most teachers I’ve had in the past.

I also made a new friend, just like Ma said I would. His name was Zack Romano. He had bronze-colored skin and wavy jet hair, parted to the side. His eyes were a dark, almost black, shade of brown. He sat across from me in our table group and had been a very quiet, very timid boy. Although, he seemed pretty alright from what I interpreted from the many icebreakers we had to do. In my mind, it had been enough of a reason for me to go up to him at recess.

“Hi,” I said, simply trying to start a conversation.

“Hi,” he replied right before going silent once more. He had been sitting against the school’s garden shed when I had found him and had seemed to be more invested in whatever he was holding in the palm of his hands.

“Whatcha’ got there?” I asked, leaning over him to see what was so interesting. He quickly shifted his hands away. “Sorry,” I uttered. “You aren’t much of a talker, are ’ya?”

“Don’t have much to talk about.”

I sighed. After five minutes of sitting there in awkward silence, it was clear to me that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so I began to walk away.

“Wait, where ya’ goin’?” I heard his soft voice shout from behind me. I then stopped in my tracks.

“I figured you wanted to be left alone.”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to give you that idea.” He got up and dusted himself off with one hand all while still holding the mystery object in the other. “My mom’s always saying how I need to work on my social skills. I’ve never been that good at making friends.”

“I’m the same way,” I assured him as he made his way over to me. “I’m always saying the wrong things.”

“I’m never saying enough,” he explained. For a slight moment of comfortable silence, we both smiled because we understood each other. “Wanna pet my caterpillar?” He finally opened his fist to reveal a fuzzy, worm-like creature to me.

“What’s its name?” I asked, gently running my index finger along its little body.

“Not sure yet, but I was thinking maybe ‘Paulie.’”

“Hi, Paulie.”

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