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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, late morning

'32. And yet you still believe in leprechauns?' Thank you, thank you. Shout out to my dad for telling me that joke.

Angie raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. Christian had never told her that joke before. She had never imagined him telling a joke like that.

I hope that's how you remember me. If not...you'll find something better.

Angie nodded. She had plenty more to remember Noah by, and she was glad for that. She could remember the day she first met him after she married Christian, when he was still in elementary school and wasn't as willing to talk to her as much as he did now. She could remember when he got into high school and sent her a hilarious email about it. She could remember when he first performed at a club using the fake ID she helped get him. Any of those would be better than watching him get shot on a beach.

Angie had been reading in the living room when she heard Kelly scream a few hours ago. She wanted to run up and see what happened, but part of her didn't want to see the others. She could imagine what she'd see: a crying Kelly, Arnold and Edie panicking, and maybe the sight of her stepson dying. It was slightly terrifying, and more importantly, Angie wasn't even sure what she'd see. Kelly was being very secretive about the stream and what was happening to Noah. Vague updates weren't enough for Angie.

So, once she heard the sounds of people running around upstairs, she grabbed her phone and earbuds, and locked herself in the downstairs bathroom. She knew Christian was outside getting ready to help Edie with the yard, and she had no clue where Ella had run off to. Fortunately, the bathroom was unoccupied, so she hurried in there and made sure no one could hear her as she sat on the toilet pulled up the stream.

For the few minutes Noah had with Nancy, Angie kept her mouth covered with her free hand as the other held the phone. She could feel her breathing start to increase. A quick glance over to the bathroom mirror showed her that the color was drained from her face, and that tears were starting to well up in her eyes. She remained frozen in anticipation for what would happen next, worried that it would all end right then and there. To her relief, Noah was able to hurry away from Nancy, and Angie could breathe easily again.

She remained in the bathroom for a few more minutes, wanting to see what happened next. She watched Noah treat the injury on his leg. Angie felt close to puking. She wasn't very good with blood in real life, usually feeling a bit woozy whenever she saw or smelled blood. Nosebleeds often left her panicking, she tensed up whenever she donated blood, and even her labor with Ella was something out of a nightmare. She could watch violence in films and TV shows, since those at least disconnected her from the reality of bloodshed. But now she felt worse than normal. Maybe it was because it was someone she knew- even worse, a member of her family- that made it even harder to accept.

Fortunately, Noah could tell a joke and look past the situation. Angie had to wonder how brave a front he was putting on. He was now injured, alone, and had a horrifying near-death experience that was still not over. Angie sighed and rubbed her forehead. Noah was now off to parts unknown, and she had to wonder if this was merely a sample of what was to come. She prayed it wouldn't be. She didn't want to believe it would.

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Angie jumped in her seat a bit, pulling the earbuds out of her ears.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Ang, it's me," replied a voice from the other side, which she identified as from her husband. "You okay?"

"Oh, yeah," Angie said, quickly pulling the earbuds out of the jack on her phone and pocketing them. "Is something wrong?"

"Everyone's freaking out," he said. "Noah was shot by some girl."

"Oh, was he?" she asked, closing the browser app that had the stream playing. "Sorry, I've, uh, been in here a while."

"Oh, sorry," Christian said.

"It's fine. Is he okay?" Angie said, standing up.

Angie quickly flushed the toilet, then walked over and turned the faucet on. She didn't bother to wash her hands, using that time to put her phone in her pocket.

"He is, but Kelly and Edie got a real scare, so neither of them are doing well."

Angie turned the faucet off. "I can imagine."

Angie walked over to the door and unlocked it. She swung the door open and saw her husband there. Like she did moments ago, Christian looked a bit pale and shaken.

"What's happening now?" she asked.

"Kelly's locked in her room as usual. Arnold's comforting Edie in their room. Ella's somewhere about the home. It's a mess."

Angie nodded. "Okay. Is there something we can do?"

Christian rubbed the back of his head. "I don't know. I think we just need to give them all space."

"That sounds right," Angie said. "But maybe we can handle lunch or something."

"I doubt they're in the mood. You can check if you want."

"I might. Let me see if Ella's hungry first."

"Fine with me. I'm gonna step outside for a bit," Christian said.

Christian walked away, making his way towards the back door. Angie watched him leave through the door, then leaned against the door jamb. She sighed and tapped the back of her head against the jamb. She quickly fished her phone out of her pocket and pulled up the web browser. She clicked open the bookmark for Noah's stream, muting the phone so she could see the footage. Noah was still walking through a forest.

"Come on, Noah," she said to the image on her phone. "You can do this. Please come home."

Just then, Angie hear the back door open. She quickly locked the phone and turned to the door. Christian was walking in.

"Sorry, could you help me for a sec?" he asked. "I want you to come look at something."

"Oh, sure," Angie said.

Angie walked towards the door through the kitchen, setting her phone down on the kitchen table. She walked outside with Christian. Christian was standing by the patio table.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Sorry, I just wanted to get outside the house to talk," he said.

"About what?"

Christian slowly inhaled, swallowing a lump in his throat.

"I think we should leave."

Angie raised an eyebrow.

"Leave? Now?"

"I know it's not a good time, but I'm worried what staying here will do for Kelly and the others," Christian explained. "I mean, we're just here taking up space, waiting for something bad to happen to Noah, and I don't think us being around is good for the MacIntyres."

"It's your son," Angie said, crossing her arms. "You have a right to be here."

"Yeah, and we can stick around. I just think, maybe, the three of us- you, me, and Ella- should consider staying at a hotel while we're still in town."

"How long would we stay at a hotel? Until we knew for a fact Noah was dead or alive?"

"I don't know," Christian said. "But look, we're taking up space, and the environment here is starting to feel a bit suffocating."

"How so?" Angie asked.

Christian was about to speak, gesturing his hands in front of him, but then shook his head.

"Well, Kelly has been locked in her room for three days and had a screaming fit a few minutes ago. How do you think that'll make Ella feel?"

"Ella's nine years old," Angie said. "I think she can understand."

"She can understand, but that doesn't mean she can handle it."

Christian looked down and dug his foot into the brick pavement.

"Look, I can start calling some local hotels. Somewhere nearby and affordable," he said to Angie. "All I'm saying is that we're all acting weird and stressed, and maybe taking a break from each other will, you know, calm things down a bit."

"Okay, so we spend the night at a hotel. Then what?" Angie asked, walking closer to her husband. "We just putter around Kingman until Arnold calls to let us know Noah's dead? We come back here during the day and continue to expose ourselves to Kelly's breakdown?"

"Something like that," Christian said. "I don't think it's perfect, but I think we might have jumped the gun with coming down here too soon. Especially bringing Ella around. I can't imagine how she's handling this. Nine or not, she's still a child and her brother was nearly murdered, as far as we know."

Christian sighed. "Ang, I don't like this at all, but we do need to think about more than Noah's safety right now. We can't just ignore Ella right now, and we certainly can't continue to put pressure on the MacIntyres. Let's at least consider it and maybe talk it over with Arnold and Edie when they're ready."

Angie looked over her husband. He wasn't making eye contact with her, nor was he staying still. His foot was tapping on the floor, and he was rubbing his left forearm with his right hand. Angie couldn't be sure if he was being completely truthful right now, but even if he was spinning a yarn, he did have a point.

"Okay, start looking around," Angie said. "I'm gonna go make Ella some lunch."

"Got it."

"You hungry?"

"Not really. I could go for some lemonade."

Angie and Christian walked back to the kitchen door. They stepped inside, with Christian making his way to a cabinet to fetch a glass, while Angie moved over to a shelf nearby, scanning for a book.

"Here's the phone book," she said, pulling the large tome off the shelf. "You can probably find some hotels here."

"Great. Thanks," Christian said, pulling a pitcher of lemonade out of the fridge.

As Christian began to pour himself a glass, Angie moved over to the kitchen table to set the phone book down. As she did, she tilted her head out of surprise.

"Hey, Chris."

"Yeah?"

"Did you take my phone?" she asked.

"No. Why?"

"I could have sworn I left it on the table," Angie said, placing her hands on her pants pockets to feel for the phone.

"You sure it's not in another room?"

"No, I'm sure I set it down. I'll look for it," she said.

Angie began to look around the kitchen for the phone. Christian tried to help her look for it. What they didn't know was that the phone had been picked up while they were outside and had made its way to Noah's bedroom.

After the scare, Ella had made her way downstairs and sat quietly in the living room, trying to understand what was happening. Was Noah dead? Was he hurt? Would he be okay? She sat there waiting for something to happen. When she heard her parents talking by the bathroom, she quietly made her way over. What she didn't understand was, after her dad went outside, why her mom suddenly turned to her phone and started to talk to Noah.

In Noah's room, behind his locked bedroom door, Ella had unlocked her mom's phone. Angie once told Ella the code to her phone was 3552, "ELLA," when she needed Ella to unlock the phone to look at a recipe she found on Pinterest. Once she did, Ella saw footage of Noah walking through a forest, a bandage wrapped around his leg.

Ella sat on the floor, her back resting against the bedroom door. This was her brother as part of some terrible game. This was what his mom had been watching for the last three days. This is what her own mother was watching. Her mom, who came up with the idea to put a video on Noah's channel begging people to not watch the streams, then came up with the idea that locked Noah's mom in her room for days so only one person would have to report on Noah's status. Her mother was breaking her own promise and was watching the footage.

Ella continued to watch as Noah trudged through the woods. They were all liars, weren't they? Kelly, Angie, and Edie watched the footage even though they begged the world not to. Arnold lied to Noah for years about his feelings about his sexuality and passions. Her dad couldn't keep his marital vows and kissed Kelly. Ella's hands tightened around the phone as she continued to watch the footage, tears starting to form in her eyes.

If they were all going to be bad, why shouldn't she as well?
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