Things to do in Freehold

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Chapter Seventy:

Amy Russo (Night of September 13, 1991)

Gradually, I opened my eyes to complete and utter darkness. Shit, have I been sleeping for that long? My afternoon nap was only supposed to last a couple of hours. I need to make dinner. Sluggishly, I sat upright in my bed, head throbbing, feeling sick to my stomach. Reaching into my nightstand drawer, I pulled out my bottle of pills and popped two in my mouth. Before twisting the lid back on, I noticed I was due for another refill from A.G. That’s the third time this month. Sometimes I really do think she’s ripping me off.

Anyway, afterwards, I got up to go to the bathroom and stick my head under the faucet to wash down the medication. When I glanced back up at the mirror and wiped my face dry, I caught a glimpse of the dark rings around my eyes. Why am I still so tired? Why do I feel so dead inside?

Heading downstairs, the delectable aroma of spaghetti and meatballs filled my nostrils. Is Ivan already home from work? Entering the dining room, however, I found out that it was Tommy who had been cooking. Since when does he know how to work the stove? “Need any help with that?” I asked him, leaning against the fridge.

“Hey, look who’s awake,” he smiled at me, continuing to stir the pot of noodles. “And nah, I’m almost done here anyway. You could help me set up the table, though. I’d ask Piper to do it, but she locked herself in the bathroom earlier and hasn’t come out since. Honestly, I’m starting to worry about her.”

“Really? In that case, I’ll be sure to check on her as soon as I’m done,” I told him, taking both the cups and plates out of the cupboards. “Sorry about dinner, by the way. I meant to do it myself, but I guess I lost track of time. I’ve been doing that a lot lately.”

“It’s alright, Ma. I don’t mind it. It’s actually good practice for when I move out in a couple of years.”

“Couple years?” I sighed, putting the finishing touches on the table. “Seems like just yesterday I was changing your dirty diapers.”

“Don’t worry, Ma,” he said, turning off the stove, then opening the oven to take out the garlic bread. He really went all out. “I’ll still visit on the weekends.”

“Wish you would take me with you,” I bowed my head as a single tear dripped onto the hardwood floor.

All of a sudden, I could hear the front door being opened. Ivan then walked in, wearing his blue-grey suit and burgundy tie. It was always such a strange sensation, seeing him so corporate. It was as if he were a completely different person. “Something smells good,” he noted, entering the dining room and kissing me on the cheek.

“That would be your son’s spaghetti,” I replied, pulling away from him.

“Not yours?” I could tell just by the tone of his voice, he was disappointed in me for not cooking, even though I said I would. It was the same attitude he had towards me losing my job.

“No, you see, I insisted on making dinner tonight,” Tommy intervened, serving up the food. That boy is always coming to my rescue. “I hope that’s alright with you.”

“Yeah, sure,” Ivan responded, looking past his son and into the kitchen. “So where’s Piper?”

“Right here,” I heard Piper say behind him. As Ivan stepped to the side, I caught a clear view of her, standing in the foyer with all of her hair chopped off.

“Hun, what did you do to your hair?” Ivan asked, making his way towards and running fingers what little was left. “You look like a boy.”

“I thought I’d try something different,” Piper explained. Although she was about six feet away from me, I could see the lump in her throat. “Do you really not like it?”

“Different is right,” Tommy snickered, taking his seat at the table. I smacked him in the back of the head for it.

“Well, I like it, Sweetheart,” I defended, making Piper grin. “I think it’s very Mia Farrow of you.”

“Whatever,” Ivan scoffed, pulling out his chair, then sitting down in it.

Taking my own seat at the far end of the table, I watched as Piper mouthed the words “thank you” to me. I nodded at her as she sat next to her brother.

After dinner, Piper asked what was for dessert, since we had finished off the last of the girl scout cookies the night before. I searched through the cupboards, even through the fridge for something sweet to eat. However, there was nothing to be found. Therefore, I suggested driving to the nearby liquor store to pick up some candy bars. Piper offered to tag along, while the boys stayed home to watch sports. As we were leaving, I asked if they wanted anything and Tommy said he wanted to be surprised. His dad, on the other hand, just silently held up a beer with his eyes glued to the TV. “Alright, we’ll be back in a little bit,” I told them, heading out the door. On the road, I decided it was as good as time as any to confront Piper about her sudden hair change.

“I just thought I’d try something new,” she exclaimed, looking out her window. “There’s no need to make a big deal out of it. It’s just hair.”

“I know; I just want to make sure you did it for the right reasons and not because you upset about anything,” I replied, pulling into the shopping center. “Plus, you could’ve asked me for help, you know? You don’t always have to do everything by yourself.”

Piper didn’t respond. Instead, she just continued staring out her window, quietly counting all of the red cars she saw. While parking, I caught her watching a group of college girls, wearing skimpy outfits, walk to their own car. She had that same expression on her face she’d get whenever Adeline would come over. I may not have known much about my daughter’s social life, but I knew that look anywhere, that sense of longing. I can only pray that one day my sweet butterfly will be comfortable enough to tell me the truth: she’s not interested in boys.

Entering the store, we went our separate ways: Piper to the candy aisle, and me, to the far back for some hard cider and another six-pack for Ivan. While there, I spotted a familiar face, eyeballing the whiskies. “Mighty Joe,” I called out to him from the other end of the aisle. He turned and flashed me a smile as I walked over to him. “Well, I’ll be damned. Long time, no see.”

“What do you mean? We see each other all the time,” he argued, looking back at the shelf of bourbon.

“Dropping our kids off at each other’s houses is not the same as seeing and talking to one another,” I scoffed, leaning against said shelf. “You know that.”

“Alright, true. How have you been Amy?” He, at last, made direct contact with me, but only briefly. It was long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his kind eyes, though.

“I’m good.”

“Liar,” I heard him say under his breath, finally choosing a bottle.

At first, I didn’t respond and instead, just stared at him, blankly. “I’ve been better, I suppose,” I replied, truthfully this time, bowing my head.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed you look a little tired,” he mentioned, pointing up at his own under eye. “You sleeping okay?”

“Actually, I’ve been sleeping great. In fact, I’ve been sleeping a little too much as of lately. I slept through breakfast, then almost through dinner. Hell, I even slept through my daughter cutting all her hair off.”

“Piper cut her hair?” His eyes widened.

“Yeah,” I laughed as the tears started to build. “Didn’t do a half-bad job either. I think she could have a future in styling.”

“Well, I would love to see it,” he smiled. Although, that smile soon faded when he decided to change the subject back to me. “So I, um, heard you’re not directing the plays anymore. You wanna tell me what that’s all about?”

I tried to hold back the tears, but I could feel them begin to run. Once again, I looked down at my feet so that Joey wouldn’t be able to see me cry. However, all of a sudden, he lifted my chin up and I rested my head upon his chest as he went in for a hug. Sniffing his cologne, my frown gradually turned into smile. He always did have the best hugs. The feeling of his warm embrace, though, was cut short by our daughters’ interruption. We didn’t say much to each other after that. But how I wish we had? I miss him; it seems as if we’re always missing each other.

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