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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 3, 2015, early morning

Christian slowly crept down the stairs. It had to be close to three in the morning, but he wasn't feeling tired. It had been a quiet evening for the most part. Kelly remained in her room, only coming to the door when Christian brought her a plate of reheated lasagna. He hadn't talked to Arnold much, mostly sticking to spending the day watching the news in case there were any updates on SOTF. Sure, Kelly was watching the footage to see what happened to Noah, but that was in the past. The news could cut the need to watch the stream short by announcing that 80-some kids had been rescued and were coming home in the next few days. Sadly, there wasn't much on that in the news; just pundits arguing about who was to blame for the abductions.

Christian rubbed his hand through his hair as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Ella was sleeping in the living room, so he quietly walked through the room. He looked over his daughter as she rolled over on the pullout couch. He could just make her out from the dim light of the lamp in the nearby hall. Ella looked a lot more like Angie than him, having curly brown hair that fell past her shoulders and a small nose like her mom. Christian wondered what Noah looked like when he slept as a kid. There were a whole seven years of Noah's life he missed due to his personal issues, and every day he found himself kicking himself for all the moments he missed. It made Noah's abduction all the more painful, as now he knew he could lose out on so much more of his life.

Christian crept by and soon found himself in the kitchen. There was already a lamp on the corner table on, so he quietly moved to the cabinets to fetch a glass.

"Good evening," said a low voice.

Christian jumped in place a bit, nearly dropping the glass. He turned and saw Kelly sitting at the kitchen table. He couldn't see her when he first walked in, so he had no idea she was nearby. Kelly was seated at the table wearing her bathrobe, with an open bottle of wine nearby and a glass in her hand.

"Kel, jesus you nearly scared the shit out of me," Christian said.

"Not so loud," she said. "Ella's still sleeping."

"Sorry," he said, lowering his voice.

Christian looked at the wine. Kelly wasn't much of a drinker. She may have spent her adult life working in bars and restaurants, but she rarely touched the stuff unless it was a social occasion. That was something she probably picked up from her father.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine," Kelly said, taking a sip. "Noah's still alive as far as I can tell, but he's just sleeping in the cabin, so there's not much going on. Just thought I'd take a break."

Christian filled his glass up with water from the tap and walked over.

"Good," he said. "You could use one."

Christian took a seat in the chair across from Kelly. He wasn't sure what to say, so he tried to find something to say.

"What kind of wine is that?" he asked.

"Merlot. It was supposed to be for Noah."

"Noah?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Kelly sighed. "I made a dumb little promise with him. I told him that the night he graduated high school, I'd let him have a glass of red wine. He and I were talking a few months back, and I decided to promise him he could have his first drink when he graduated."

"You're encouraging our son to drink underage?"

"I wasn't trying to encourage him to break the law," Kelly said, "I just figured it would be good to have one glass with his mom so we could sit and talk about his future and his plans. I mean, he got into college. I didn't, and neither did my parents. He could have a drink if he did."

"I understand," Christian said.

Christian knew Kelly's lack of education was a sore spot for her. It wasn't that she didn't try to get into college, but her family couldn't afford to send her. She did well in school, even tried for scholarships, but nothing ever panned out. She tried to escape the shame of failing to do anything by moving to Las Vegas and trying to make something there. If she couldn't further her education, maybe she could start a new life of her own. In a way, she succeeded, but she was still back in Kingman, working a minimum wage job and living with her parents.

Christian took a sip from his glass.

"Kel, I'm really sorry," Christian said.

"For what?"

"For everything. I mean, we never really talked since we agreed to let me back into Noah's life, and I feel we should put all our cards out on the table."

"Don't," Kelly said.

"No, I want to-"

"If you do, you're making it sound like Noah's dead," she told Christian, her voice slightly raised.

"That's not what I'm trying to do," Christian said. "I just...I feel like we never really got on good terms with one another after our marriage failed. This is a time we should all be coming together, not drifting apart, and if there's anything I can do for you, I want to be able to do so."

"Duly noted," Kelly said, taking a sip of wine.

She began to refill her glass. "So what do you want to talk about so badly?"

Kelly took another sip. Christian let out a small sigh.

"Why haven't you found someone else since we split?"

Kelly raised an eyebrow.

"What?"

"I'm curious. It's been sixteen years since we split. Was there really no one else for you?"

Kelly shook her head. Christian rubbed the back of his neck.

"Really? I mean, I find that hard to believe."

"You sound like my mom," Kelly said.

"You know Edie's just worried about you."

"Yeah, and I'm not interested. At least not now."

Christian stared Kelly in the eyes. "But really, have you never thought about trying?"

"Of course. Every so often, someone would come along, and I'd think 'maybe he's the one' or 'maybe I should have dinner with him.' But I get over that quickly."

"Why? It's not because of me, is it?"

Kelly gave a disapproving look to Christian. "Why the hell would it be because of you?"

"Well, I mean, our marriage failed-"

"And you were the first shitty man I was ever with? Please, Chris. I've been with worse. My middle school boyfriend told his friends I once went to school without panties on just because he asked me to. My high school boyfriend's wanted us to have our first time during a house party. Oh, and the first guy I dated in Kingman tried to get me to blow him in a parking lot. You may have been a drunk asshole, but you were very much in line with the kind of guys I had the misfortune of crossing paths with."

Christian looked slightly down.

"Wow. So your dad is wrong."

"What did he say?"

"He said I'm the reason you haven't dated."

"What?" Kelly replied with an incredulous look. "Seriously, Dad...Look, it's not because of you."

"They why not?"

Kelly took a sip.

"I haven't dated because of Noah."

"Noah? Why?"

Kelly looked directly at Christian. "Because I worry about what it could mean for him. I mean, he's already in a broken home, and I was worried what a sudden stepdad could mean for him. Besides, most of the men in Kingman aren't the kind who take to single moms or kids with out children."

"Yeah, that's a bit unfortunate," Christian said, taking another sip.

"I was going to wait until Noah was in college, or done with college. Besides, being in a relationship doesn't matter to me. I'm not interested in getting married again, I don't want any more kids, so most guys are probably going to see me as a dead end."

"You can date someone without marrying them or having kids," Christian said.

"I know, but I think a lot of men want that. I'd just like someone who'd be comfortable to be with on a quiet night, or who could make me laugh. I didn't really want for that in the last sixteen years. I mean, Noah was fun to be around, and he always made me laugh. So I didn't feel lonely."

Kelly turned slightly away from Christian. Christian looked closely at Kelly.

"Kel?"

"Sorry, it's nothing. God, if Noah was here he'd make a Norman Bates joke or something."

Christian chuckled. "Yeah, he would, wouldn't he? I mean, he's already got a wig and dress, so he could totally pull it off."

Kelly let out a laugh. Christian smiled a bit. This was probably the first time Kelly had smiled in a while.

"Not gonna lie," she said, "but Noah's first drag show was when he was six and got into my mom's clothes. He came running down the stairs in one of her floral dresses with a sunhat on and lipstick smeared on his face. We were all just sitting around, and when he came in, the first thing he said was 'Grandma, it's me, Anastasia!'"

"Anastasia?" Christian asked.

"It was from a movie he watched as a kid. Oh man, my dad looked prepared to have a heart attack. Mom played along with it and asked who Anastasia was and where she came from."

"What did he say?"

"He looked my mom dead in the eyes, hands on the hip, and declared 'Mother Russia'."

Christian let out a laugh, then covered his mouth. Kelly also similarly covered her mouth.

"Oh my god," Christian muttered.

"Yeah. I wonder why he didn't use Anastasia as his drag name," Kelly said, taking another sip of wine. "It's a fabulous name."

"It sure is. Oh man, I wish I could have seen that," Christian said.

"Yeah," Kelly said.

Her smile slowly faded away and she lowered her head. She put her mouth to her hand as her face started to turn red.

"Kel?"

Kelly waved at Christian with her free hand, trying to say "It's nothing." Of course, when Christian saw her head dip lower and a whimper escape, he got up from his seat and moved closer.

"Kel, it's going to be fine," he said.

"No it's not," Kelly said. "He's probably never coming home. I want nothing more than to see him come out from around the corner in a crazy dress and spouting some weird nonsense. But he's not. I just know it."

"Hey, hey," Christian said, sitting beside Kelly on the bench and pulling her close. Kelly embraced Christian and began to cry into his chest. Christian rubbed Kelly's back.

"Look, it's late, you're tired and probably a bit tipsy. Maybe you should get some sleep, and tomorrow, you'll start to believe he can come home. Okay?"

Kelly quietly nodded, then looked up at Christian. Christian could see her red face, her puffy eyes, and her cheeks stained with tears. He soon saw something else much closer. Kelly moved forward, pressing her lips to Christian's. Christian's eyes widened, and he pulled Kelly away.

"Kel!" he protested.

"Sorry," she said. "I just...sorry..."

Christian looked at his ex-wife as she turned away from him. He could feel her shaking a bit, and saw another tear fall down her cheek. He closed his eyes and sighed.

"If it helps you feel better, then go ahead," he said. "Angie can't know."

Kelly looked back at Christian. Looking at him, she could see the same cool poker player she passed by in a casino all those years ago. She leaned forward and kissed Christian again. Christian put his arms around Kelly and pulled her close. The two remained on the bench, kissing one another in the silent kitchen. Tears continued to fall down Kelly's cheeks, and a few started to fall down Christian's.

As they kissed, a figure moved quietly from the entrance of the kitchen and back into the living room. Kelly and Christian couldn't hear her as she quietly climbed back into the pullout sofa. She positioned herself in the bed and stared at the ceiling. She clasped her hands around the blanket and let out a long exhale. Ella rolled herself away from the kitchen entrance, not wanting to acknowledge what she had witnessed, and praying she'd be able to chalk it up as a dream in the morning.
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