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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 2, 2015, evening

"Okay," Edie said, taking the tray of sodas from the cashier. "Thank you very much."

Edie moved down the bar at the concession stand to where Angie was pouring melted butter over the tubs of popcorn they had.

"Ooh, I learned a trick," Edie said. "Let me show you."

Edie took a straw from the nearby bucket of straws and unwrapped it. She placed it in the tub of popcorn and positioned it under the butter dispenser.

"Watch this," she said.

Edie pressed the button, pouring the melted butter into the straw.

"Now, the butter will get on the popcorn at the bottom of the bucket," she said.

Edie removed the straw and repositioned it in the tub, repeating the process.

"That's really neat," Angie said. "How'd you learn that?"

"Noah showed it to me when we saw Fifty Shades of Grey earlier this year. He said he found the trick out on Tumblr," Edie said, shaking salt over the tub.

"Wait, you and Noah went to see Fifty Shades?"

"Well, I loved the books and wanted to see the adaptation. He wanted to see it so he could make a video for his show. I think it was something like 'Pina Bucket Attempts Fifty Shades BDSM'. Either way, it was a lousy film, but we had a good time."

Angie chuckled. "Oh man, I could never see a movie like that with my grandmother. She'd probably have a heart attack the moment she saw bare ass."

Edie let out a short laugh. "Oh please, I've seen worse than bare ass in my life."

"Really? Like what?"

Edie looked around, then leaned closer to Angie. "Let's just say that a teenage Arnold wasn't very good at locking doors."

Angie's eyes widened. "Oh my god. You mean-"

"Yep," Edie said. "To Bettie Page."

Angie let out a laugh. "Oh god, I can't believe that."

"Yeah, don't tell Arnold I said that," Edie said.

"I won't. Now, let's go."

Angie grabbed both tubs of popcorn, while Edie took the tray of sodas. Ella was sitting on a nearby bench, watching people walk around the lobby of the movie theater. In an effort to get out of the house and take a break from waiting, Angie suggested they go see a movie. She and Ella had wanted to see Pitch Perfect 2 for a while, but Noah's disappearance had put that on the back burner. Fortunately, it was still showing at a nearby cinema, so they could go. Ella agreed, although Angie had some suspicions that she didn't really care to see it. Of the others, Edie seemed like the only one eager to go. Christian and Arnold weren't in the mood to see a movie, and there was no way Angie would get Kelly out of her room. Thus, it was just the three of them heading to the theater.

"Okay, are we ready to go?" Edie asked.

Ella stood up, brushing the edges of her dress over her knees. "Yeah."

"Great," Angie said. "It's Theater 4, so let's go."

The three of them began to walk to their theater. Ella looked around at the posters on the wall, advertising the hot films of the Summer. Edie tried to keep talking with Angie.

"So, I never saw the first Pitch Perfect, but Noah said it was good. What can I expect from it?" Edie asked.

"Well, a lot of singing, for one," Angie said. "There's also gonna be some comedy, and probably some romance in-"

Just then, there was a beeping sound from Angie's purse. Angie stopped walking and glanced at her purse.

"What is it?" Edie asked.

"Oh, probably just a text from work," Angie said. "Even while I'm on leave I still get emails. I'll check when we're inside."

The three of them soon arrived at their theater and took their seats, with Ella between her mom and Noah's grandma. She had one tub of popcorn in her lap, while Edie helped herself to a few. Angie quickly looked in her purse at her phone.

"Is it home?" Edie asked.

"No, it's nothing," Angie said. "I logged Noah's social media accounts to my phone, I get alerts from his channels if anything is posted."

"Is it anything important?" Edie asked.

"No, not really," Angie said. "Just someone on Twitter mentioned his name and wished him the best. Same old, same old,"

"Oh, okay," Edie said, turning back to the screen, which was displaying some trivia questions.

Angie quickly looked back at her phone. She then looked back at Ella and Edie, both of whom were trying to figure out the trivia question. Angie put her phone back in her purse, then stood up.

"I'm going to use the bathroom real quick," she said. "I'll be back in a few."

"Oh, but the movie will start soon," Edie said.

"Don't worry," Angie said. "I don't really care for the previews."

Angie slung her purse over her shoulder and walked down the aisle and out the theater. She quickly walked to the nearest ladies room and hurried in. She walked into a stall and locked the door before sitting down. She pulled the phone and a pair of earbuds out of her purse. She brushed some of her curly, brown hair back before she put the earbuds on.

Angie was primarily a housewife, but she still did some freelance web design from home. She used to work for a web company, but after Ella was born, she decided to step back a bit and focus on being a mother. Because of this, she was able to stay up to date on social media trends and platforms. She had offered some advice to Noah for managing his social media profile on various sites and some strategies to help keep his videos relevant even after their initial posting.

Since Noah went missing, Angie offered to keep his accounts managed. It was easy for her to figure out how to log onto his computer (the password was "PinaBucket") and he kept his accounts logged in at all times on his browser. Angie assumed that Noah thought no one else in his family would use his accounts, so he felt comfortable leaving them logged on. Either way, Angie was able to get all the log-ins and passwords for his social media accounts and put them into her phone so she'd get alerts too.

This had made it easy for her to block and delete unwanted posts and responses. For the most part, the responses had been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. However, there were some lowlifes who thought it'd be funny to post horrible shit about Noah. They clearly watched the video she, Kelly, and Edie made and decided to ignore it. Angie could see these types were the ones who would do the same for profiles of other kidnapped Cochise students, primarily the ones who were dead or were killing.

Angie looked at the video that was just tagged to Noah's Twitter. She covered her mouth, trying to hide the smile. It was Odessa Arlington, a popular internet celebrity drag queen Noah had followed religiously. Odessa was a drag queen from Texas who had competed in numerous drag pageants and appeared in guest spots on several TV shows in the last ten years. She had started a web show a few years ago, and Noah had followed her frequently, adopting some of her catchphrases and gestures, such as saying "Bitch, fo' real?" and tongue popping, to his lexicon.

Noah had met Odessa a few months back when he was visiting her family in Las Vegas. Noah had discovered that Odessa would be doing a show at a local club and had convinced Angie to go with him. The show was fun, with Odessa doing comedic lip syncs to songs like "Mama's Broken Heart" and "Cold Hearted" and doing some stand up in between. Noah also got to meet Odessa at a meet-and-greet afterwards and nearly started crying when he met her. He regained his composure long enough to take a picture with her. He posted it to his accounts later that night and tagged Odessa to the posts in hopes she'd see it and maybe his channel.

Now, Odessa had finally seen everything he had done. Angie watched the short video Odessa posted. She looked at the queen, with her big, brown wig, her giant hair bow, and her dark colored eye shadow.

"Hey, it's your girl, Odessa, with a serious message. So months ago, I met little gay boy named Noah at a meet-and-greet in Vegas."

Odessa held up the picture of Noah from the meet-and-greet.

"He was a cute kid, kind enough to cry at the sight of me, and was really flattering during our short time together. I recently discovered that he was one of the kids abducted and put into Survival of the Fittest. Now, normally, I'd make a joke, but this is where I can't. Noah is just one of many kids who have been forced into this game, so I'd like all of my followers to take time to pray for these kids, maybe donate to their families if they've set up a GoFundMe or something like that, and to avoid any of the footage that is posted on the interwebs. Cause if you dare to look up footage of kids being murdered, then all I can say is 'Bitch, fo' real?" and this time I'd really mean it. That's all."

Angie shook her head and stirred as she sat on the toilet. If Noah was here, he'd be floored that one of his drag idols would have messaged him directly. Angie would have to send Odessa a direct message over Twitter thanking her for the kind words and the shout out. However, there was one part of the video that got Angie, one that made her slightly guilty.

Angie opened the bookmark tab on her web browser and scrolled down. She clicked the newest link there, a link whose name was merely a garbling of letters and numbers. She clicked it, and the video appeared. In it, she saw Noah sitting on a couch in some abandoned cabin, one of his traveling companions nearby. It had to be the night on the second day. From what she heard from Kelly, he and some girls were now residing in a cabin waiting for a friend to show up.

Angie closed her eyes and sighed. She had lied. She lied to everyone. She promised everyone that Kelly would be the only one to watch the footage. However, after Kelly took the laptop into her room, Angie retraced her digital steps on her phone and once again found the link to Noah's stram. She saved the link to Noah's, editing the bookmark name so no one who got past her phone password (the password was 3552, or "Ella" in numeric code) would notice she had the stream saved.

Yes, Angie knew it was wrong to do this. Yes, she was lying to everyone. Yes, she was subjecting herself to horrors. But she had seen more than anyone else, so as she understood it, out of everyone, she had understood the situation more than any of them. While Kelly resigned herself to watching Noah's stream and Noah's alone, Angie was looking at other websites regarding SOTF, following the #SOTF tag on Twitter and Tumblr. She had seen .gifs and images from the game. She saw a .gif of the girl who fell off the bridge, saw some kid get struck with an ax, and had seen another boy get pushed off a tower. It was horrible, but Angie knew she couldn't ignore it. Sure, she could distract herself with movies and small talk, but her stepson was still on some island somewhere, and the horrors of the game could only avoid him for so long. It helped her understand the gravity of the situation more, even if it meant subjecting herself to vicious images and reactions from faceless Internet people.

Angie closed her eyes and sighed.

"Bitch, fo' real?" she quietly asked herself.

Angie closed the browser app when she saw that Noah was still alive and wasn't doing much right now. She took the earbuds out of her phone and stashed them both into her purse. The last thing she needed was someone like Edie asking why she had earbuds in her phone. She had to get back to the theater anyways before Edie and Ella wondered why she was gone so long. Noah was alive as far as she knew, so she could at least let that stay in her mind while she watched Pitch Perfect 2.

After all, she could just check again when she got home. There were plenty of hidden corners in the Whitley house to check it in.
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