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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 1st, 2015, Evening

Kelly kept her hands clasped in front of her face and leaned slightly forward in her seat. In the other room, she could hear the sound of cartoons playing on the TV. Ella was glued to the screen, watching the show play, completely unaware of what was going on around her. Kelly quietly sighed. Even though Ella and Noah were only related through their father, she could see a bit of Noah in the young girl. The way Ella sat quietly, even her posture, was how Noah used to watch Spongebob on Saturday mornings in his pajamas. Kelly could only see Ella from the back of her head, and she was sure if she could see the girl's expression, it would be one of bemusement and fascination.

Kelly looked away from the living room. Seated around the dining room table were the rest of the adults. Kelly sat at the head, with Edie sitting to her right. Beside Edie was Kelly's father, Arnold. Arnold had stayed silent the whole day, only speaking when he announced he was going outside for a smoke or if he was going to run to the store to get some milk. Arnold's gaze was down at the table, and Edie was grasping his left hand, slowly rubbing her fingers over the back of his hand.

To Kelly's left was her ex-husband and Noah's father, Christian. Christian was red-eyed and grizzled, having given up shaving over the last few days. Angie sat beside him, her hands moving over her laptop. She'd pause every few seconds to sigh or to sniffle, but kept her hands moving, scrolling through various web pages. Christian let out another groan.

"Angie, what are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm just checking on his accounts," she said. "It's updating quite regularly, and believe it or not, not everyone listened to the video."

"Okay, but do you have to be so loud?" Christian asked. "It's grating."

"Sorry, I'll try to type quieter," Angie said, her eyes darting from her husband to the laptop screen.

"Please do," Christian said, rubbing his forehead.

Kelly was about to speak, but stopped. It was hard to believe she would be seeing so much of her ex. When they divorced, Kelly was content to keep Christian as far away from Noah as possible. His career as a poker player was unstable, and his drinking problems made him quite distrustful with whatever money they did have. Even the battle to let him get some parental rights to Noah was a pain to go through. However, she had to admit that Christian had changed enough that it was fine for Noah to see him, as long as Christian kept himself in check.

For the most part, this meant only seeing Christian when it came time to drop him off at Christian's home in Las Vegas or when Christian brought Noah home. She kept things amicable, as Noah probably deserved, and Christian had kept some decorum in all of this. But now she was forced to spend more time with Christian, and Kelly wished it wasn't like this.

When Noah first went missing, Christian took a leave from his job and came down to Kingman to see if he could help or to be there when Kelly heard anything. He left after two weeks when it looked like things weren't going to be resolved so quickly. After all, he still had his wife and daughter in Vegas. They had been understanding and supportive, but there was so little Christian could do.

That morning, when the reports of the resurgence of Survival of the Fittest arose, Kelly was shocked to see Christian had brought his entire family down to Kingman. Ella was done with school for the year, and since Angie didn't work, it was easy for them to quickly pack their things and come visit. Christian wanted to stay in a hotel, but Edie made sure there was room for the three of them. They did have a guest room for Christian and Angie, and Ella could sleep on the living room couch. No one was going to sleep in Noah's room. They didn't have to discuss it, but it was clear that option was never going to come up to any of the people in the house.

It had been Angie's idea to make the video for Noah's channel. Christian refused to be a part of it. He didn't want to put himself out on the internet. At the same time, he also didn't think he could hold himself together for the video, at least not in the way Angie requested. Arnold was also in no way prepared to appear on the video, so that left the women to film it. Angie had uploaded it shortly after it was complete. In just a few hours, it had already reached a few thousand views.

It was also throughout the day that the combined Whitley-MacIntyre clan had to deal with a continuous ringing over the phone, the repeated sound of the doorbell, and many offers of condolences and casseroles that came with these chimes. Kelly had tried to field all of these calls and appearances, but eventually got tired of it and left Edie to handle it. Edie, for the most part, was able to smile and try to speak in a hopeful tone to these people. She could thank them for their prayers, tell them they were all trying to help each other through this terrible time, and accept any offers for support in the mean time.

It had been an exhausting day. Mrs. Baker's lasagna had been half-consumed and was now chilling in the refrigerator along with Mrs. Simon's tuna casserole and Mrs. O'Leary's peach cobbler. The phone had been disconnected now that it was after 8 pm and the family wanted to be able to sleep through the night without hearing anything. All that remained in the household was the sounds from the cartoon Ella was watching, and the tapping at Angie's laptop.

Angie let out a sigh, then stopped typing.

"So, I know none of you are going to be happy to hear this," she began, "but I found it."

"Found what?" Edie asked.

"It," Angie clarified. "I found the stream that shows us what happens to Noah."

"What?" Christian said, his voice raising.

Angie lowered the laptop screen partially so no one could see what was on her computer screen.

"I did some research," she said. "I looked through various social media sites, found some forums, and I found the links to the feeds for Survival of the Fittest. People are posting where you can see various kids begin their, well, 'stories', for a lack of a better word. And I just found Noah's."

"Why the hell would you go looking for that?" Christian asked. "Do you want to see him die?"

"Of course not!" Angie said. "I don't ever want to see that. It's just..."

"It's just what?" Christian asked.

Angie sniffled. "How else are we going to know what happened to him?"

The room was silent. Edie's mouth fell slightly open, while Arnold merely kept his gaze to the table. Angie looked around at all of them. Even at Kelly, who hadn't reacted much at all since Angie began to speak.

"Look," Angie began, "I know this is terrible. I know I'm opening Pandora's Box here, and I know I'm probably going to regret it, but Noah's fate is here. It's on this video, and it's the only way we're going to know what happened to him on that godforsaken island. I remember reading that the feed from the last time this occurred with that girl from Seattle was delayed, so for all we know, Noah may have passed away weeks ago, or he could be the only one left. And I also know the FBI will probably start cracking down on links after it becomes public the end result of this event.

"As I see it, right now is the only time we can actually see what happened to Noah. Before it becomes difficult to find the footage, while the event is still fresh on the public's consciousness, and while we are all gathered. I'm not saying we all have to watch it, but that it might be best we decide if we're going to watch it or not."

"I think you're fucking crazy if you think I'll let you watch that," Christian said to Angie.

"Christian," Edie said, "Ella's in the next room."

"Exactly!" Christian said. "She's nine. Do you think I'll be okay with her wandering in right when someone dies horribly on screen? Think of what that could do to her."

"Think of what it could do to any of us," Edie said. "Noah's our special little boy, and we shouldn't subject ourselves to the same torture he's going through."

"I know," Angie said. "That's why I think we should set up a private space; a room in this house where someone watches it and reports anything to the others. Ella won't go in, I'll make sure of it. But would you rather learn of Noah's death from some secondhand source? Would it be fine if Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Simon came in to tell us Noah died before we knew he was dead? Would you rather some troll on Twitter post an image of Noah's corpse before we see it? Believe me, I would rather not watch what equates to a snuff film, but I sure as hell want to control how we handle this situation as much as we can. It's certainly not like we're allowed to be with him when he dies. If he died. Sorry."

Angie stopped talking and buried her face in her hands. Her face had turned red and tears had started to well up in her eyes. Christian moved over and put his arm around Angie.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have yelled. It's just... I don't want to see him die."

"Me neither," Angie said, "but we have to know. I mean, it's our right to know what happened to him."

"So, what then?" Edie asked. "Who watches it?"

The room fell silent. The five adults all started to look around. No one wanted to be the one to volunteer, but no one wanted to hear any of the others say they'd watch it. Arnold shook his head.

"I won't watch it," he insisted. "I want to remember Noah as the boy who once said I was so old that my social security card is a stone tablet. I don't want to remember him as someone crying and begging for help as one of his classmates takes his life."

Edie had smirked a bit at the joke, but then fell solemn. She patted Arnold on the back.

"It's okay, dear," she said. "I won't watch it either. I'll remember him as our amazing little grandson."

"I don't know if I can do it," Christian said. "I mean, he's my son..."

Christian bit his lip and held his head low. Angie looked at her husband, then spoke.

"I can do it," she offered.

"What?" Christian asked.

"Look," Angie said, "it's probably easiest if it's me."

"What are you talking about?" Christian asked.

Angie wiped her eyes.

"I've only known Noah for nine years," she said. "The rest of you knew him for eighteen. Christian, you may not have been there for part of his life, but he's still your flesh and blood. I've only seen him during the last few summers and Christmases. I didn't even meet him until after we got engaged. I love Noah, but out of everyone here, I have the fewest memories with him. And believe me, I'd love to remember the Noah of those memories more than the Noah on this feed, but I think out of everyone here, it will probably hurt me the least."

"Ang..." Christian began.

"Look, I'll try to keep quiet about what I see," Angie said. "I'll wear headphones, I'll lock myself in another room. No one has to know but me-"

"Give me the fucking laptop," Kelly blurted out.

Everyone turned to face Kelly. Angie looked the most surprised. This was the first thing Kelly had said since they all sat down.

"What?" Angie asked.

Kelly got up from her seat. She walked around the table and stood over Angie. Angie looked up at Kelly. Kelly was only about ten years older than her, but Angie felt like she was small child looking up at her own mother.

"Give it to me," Kelly said.

"Kel-" Christian began to say.

"He's my son," Kelly said. "I brought him into this world, and I've been with him nearly every day for his eighteen years of life. I've seen him grow. I've seen him learn. I've seen him make mistakes. I've seen him make accomplishments. And I've seen him become the man he his. I know this will probably kill me, but goddammit, I will not let my son's last moments be missed. And I won't let anyone prevent me from seeing this or taking this burden from me.

"Now. Give. Me. That. Laptop."

Angie quietly turned back and handed the computer to Kelly. Kelly began to walk out of the room and towards the stairs.

"I'll be in my room," Kelly said. "Angie, bring me the power cord."

"Okay," Angie said.

Kelly took one look into the living room before she headed up the stairs. Ella was still watching TV, but she had turned and was now staring at Kelly. Ella's eyes weren't the same color as Noah's, but in her large, brown eyes, Kelly could see the same look of worry that Noah showed whenever Kelly was sad. Kelly breathed in, then spoke.

"Goodnight, Ella."

"Goodnight," Ella replied.

Kelly walked up the stairs and into her room. A few minutes later, once she had Angie's power cord, she lay in her bed and opened the link to the stream Angie had found. She sighed, then pressed play.

"Lord, please help me. Please help us all," she muttered to herself.

And with that, she saw her son slowly wake up in an old dorm room. His story had begun.
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