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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 1, 2015, late evening

Ella stared up at the ceiling of the living room, the sound of the ceiling fan creating a soft hum. It had been a long day. That morning, they learned Noah had been abducted as part of a game created by some terrorists, then her parents were rushing to pack bags and drive nearly two hours to Noah's house in Arizona. Ella had never been to Noah's house before. They were planning to come visit for his high school graduation, but that seemed unlikely now.

Despite all of this, Ella should have been feeling drained. Instead, she didn't feel much of anything. From the moment she heard Noah was missing along with over a hundred of his classmates, Ella wasn't sure how to react. Any other nine year old girl would have been crying or praying, but Ella felt almost nothing. It wasn't that she wished Noah wouldn't come back; if anything, she wanted her older brother back more than anything. But Ella realized she wasn't sure if it was okay to feel sad. At any moment, Noah and the kids could be found, and life would return to normal.

When her dad left for a few days to see Noah's mom, Ella didn't bemoan the absence of her father. When her mom cried while talking on the phone about Noah's disappearance, Ella didn't walk over to comfort her. All Ella could do was stay out of their way and look busy. She finished her schoolwork without the need for their help, she cleaned up after herself, and she made sure to not bother them when they were talking. None of it made her happy, but Ella figured if she looked busy or calm, maybe it would make her parents feel better. Maybe they'd be able to worry about one kid instead of two.

What Ella did find herself doing, more than anything, was watch the videos Noah put online. Before, Ella only watched the videos he made in passing. If she was on YouTube and saw a subscription update, she'd watch if the title interested her. For the most part, she found herself watching the videos of Noah alone. She didn't hate Pina Bucket, but to her, Noah was always funnier when he was just being himself. At the same time, his videos were also a little more mature than a fourth grader should be watching, and he made a lot of jokes she didn't understand.

But if anything, it showed Noah living and breathing. If she ignored the footer for each video, she could pretend Noah had posted each video to show he was okay.

Ella turned on the couch. Noah's grandparents had a pullout couch for her to sleep on. It was fairly old and made a few noises when she tossed around. But Ella didn't feel like sleeping. She slowly got out of the bed, and began to walk through the house. Edie had left a lamp in the hallway on so Ella could find her way to the bathroom or the kitchen if needed, so she wasn't stumbling around blind. She walked slowly through the living room, up to the mantle over the fireplace. All along the mantle were pictures of Noah, his mom, and her parents. Ella slowly studied them. A portrait of the four taken in their Sunday clothes. Arnold and Edie wearing Christmas sweaters next to an illuminated tree. A picture of an elementary-aged Noah, covered in mud and missing teeth. It was odd, Ella realized. Noah was twice her age this year, but she had never seen him younger than she was. To her, Noah was always towering above her. Even though she knew he had to be a young boy at one point, she almost never was able to visualize him as such.

Ella turned away from the mantle and walked towards the stairs. Everyone went to sleep much earlier, shortly after they finished their talk in the kitchen. Ella had pretended to be watching cartoons in the other room during the talk. They probably wanted her to be distracted, so she let them think she was engrossed in the show. In actuality, Ella wasn't that into cartoons, and the volume was low enough that she could hear everything they said. It was why she had turned to look at Kelly when Kelly took the laptop to her room to watch the footage of Noah; to let them know that she was still around. Even though she spent the last few weeks out of their way, even she didn't want them to talk about her and act like she wouldn't hear.

Ella slowly made her way up the stairs, trying to be as quiet as possible. When she reached the top, she peered down the hall. She had explored the upstairs earlier, and she knew exactly where everyone was sleeping. The first room on the right was the guest room, where her parents were sleeping. The lights were off, so Ella was hoping they were actually sleeping. To the left was Arnold and Edie's room, also dark. Further down the hall, a small light could be seen peering out from under the door. That had to be Kelly's room, Ella decided. Kelly had taken the burden to watch the feed, and even though it was after midnight, she was still watching.

Ella slowly passed by the rooms, praying that each step wouldn't set off a creaky floorboard. As she moved pass Kelly's room, she found the room she was looking for. She slowly put her hands on the doorknob, turned it slowly, then pushed her way into Noah's room. Once inside, she slowly closed the door behind her. Noah had left the blinds up before he went on the science trip, so the room was filled with moonlight. She walked over to the bedside dresser and flicked the switch on the lamp. It wasn't much, but now Noah's room was filled with electric light.

Ella slowly poured over the objects in Noah's room. His room was quite a sty, but at least it was slightly organized. She walked over to his computer desk, where he filmed new videos nearly every week. She could see various papers scattered around. His UNLV acceptance letter was laying near a notepad with show ideas written and scribbled out. Scattered around those were some makeup sets and brushes, a jar filled with Hershey Kisses, and a few other small trinkets.

She continued to walk and saw his dresser. There were some more objects on it, a notable one being two busts with the blonde wigs Noah used to play Pina. One was flat with dark roots, while the other was curlier and longer. Like the mantle downstairs, he had placed some framed family photos. Unlike downstairs, these included Ella's family. Ella reached over and brought one picture into her hands. It was a picture of her and Noah taken at her fifth birthday party. Noah had hoisted Ella into the air and was resting her on one shoulder. He had a large, goofy grin on his face, while she had one of startled bemusement. Ella put the picture back on the dresser and quickly walked away.

She found herself facing Noah's closet. She slowly opened the closet. To her surprise, Noah had divided the closet into two sections: one for Noah, and one for Pina. Ella started to push the clothes down the bar. Noah's personal clothes were tasteful and simple. Mostly collared shirts and polos. Pina's were silly. Mostly tight looking dresses and jackets, some cut quite short. Ella looked down and realized that on the floor were several pairs of high heels. Noah once bragged that he only had three pairs of shoes, but he was clearly not counting these ones.

Ella reached down and pulled one pair out. They were a pair of red high heels, with a pointed tip and a sharp heel. Ella looked around and noticed a large mirror drilled into Noah's wall. Ella stared at her reflection in the mirror, then back at the shoes. After that, she began to move.

In a few moments, Ella had taken the curly wig off the dresser, pulled a rhinestone studded jacket out of Noah's closet, and put the red shoes on her feet. The wig was poorly placed on her head, while the jacket rested over her nightdress. The shoes were fairly big for her, so she felt she was sliding a bit trying to balance on them. She walked over to the mirror and stared at her reflection. A few times Noah had visited her, he asked if she wanted to play dress up. When she was younger, she was fine with that. She'd put makeup on Noah poorly or paint his nails garish colors. She got passed that phase pretty quickly, so she never let Noah dress her up.

Now she was here, missing one brother and wearing his clothes, wigs, and shoes. With nothing else to do, Ella raised two peace signs up to the sides of her face and stuck her tongue out.

"Hey, y'all," she said, keeping her tongue out and her voice low, "I'm Pina Bucket. I'm dumb as a corn kernel and I get in bar fights with popular celebrities. How y'all doing?"

Ella remained in place, keeping her tongue out. She slowly lowered her hands and closed her mouth. She reached up and pulled the wig off her head, letting it fall to the floor. She slowly turned and walked over to Noah's bed. She pulled back the covers and climbed in, keeping the jacket and shoes on.

Ella lay in Noah's bed and looked up at the ceiling. It was still an unfamiliar ceiling, but this one was different than the last. This is what Noah saw every nigh when he went to sleep. This is what he stared at when he was probably thinking about how fun the science trip would be. When he thought about getting into UNLV. When he thought about a new video he'd make.

Ella felt her eyes start to weaken, so she turned away from the ceiling and buried her face into Noah's pillow. She inhaled, and realized just how familiar a scent was on the pillow. It was Noah. He was on some island somewhere, probably dead, and yet she could swear he was laying right there.

Ella closed her eyes. She suddenly felt tired, but it was also getting hard to keep her eyes open. Maybe it was because they were starting to well up with tears, but Ella was finally able to rest, and soon drifted off to sleep.
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