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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 evening

"Bless us, o Lord, for these thy gifts, for which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen."

"Amen," replied the others at the table.

Once Edie was finished saying grace, the others raised their heads and began to move to eat the food on their plates. Dinner was simple: a kitchen sink meat loaf, boiled red potatoes, some green beans, and a packaged gravy. Edie had scrounged everything she could after pushing aside all the casseroles and dishes friends and neighbors brought over. She wanted to put her hands to something after spending most of the afternoon crying. She didn't feel like gardening after the incident, despite how appealing pulling weeds sounded after what she saw, so cooking would have to do.

Instead, she took to squishing ground beef with her hands and cutting vegetables with a knife. With each squish and chop, she felt a sense of stability return to her mind. Here, she was creating, unlike people like those terrorists who merely destroyed. If it meant the people at the table could enjoy her food and feel some distraction, then she was glad for it.

Unfortunately, it didn't look like there was much of that at the table. Everyone was eating quietly, and from what she could see, some of them were hardly eating at all. Arnold, who normally loved her meat loaf and could eat a whole loaf if given the chance, seemed more interested in scraping the gravy on the ceramic plate. Ella had pierced a potato and merely pushed it around, soaking it in some melted butter and gravy. Christian and Angie looked like they were eating, even though they kept glancing at one another. As for Kelly...well, Edie just hoped she was eating. She was still in her room, the tray with dinner placed outside her door. If it wasn't for Kelly speaking from beyond the door, Edie was sure she'd have to get Arnold and Christian to break it down.

Angie let out a sigh.

"Edie, thank you. This is so delicious," she said.

"Oh," Edie said, surprised by the sudden speech. "Thank you."

"Is there a secret?" Angie asked.

Edie let out a short chuckle. "Oh, not really. I had a recipe from my mother, but I like to add and subtract when I make it. A little more garlic, a little less Worcestershire, that sort of thing."

"Well, it's definitely one of the best meat loaves I've ever had. Right, Christian?"

"Hm?" Christian said, looking up from his plate. "Oh, yeah. It's great. Thanks."

The room fell silent again. The five at the table continued to eat, occasionally passing glances at one another. Arnold let out a cough in order to break the silence, but no one responded. After a few minutes, Christian decided to speak.

"So, listen," he said, facing Arnold and Edie, "Ang and I were talking. It's really nice that you've let us stay here so far, but we might consider staying at a nearby hotel from now on."

"Really?" Edie asked. "Is there something wrong?"

"No, not at all," Angie said.

"It's just that, you know, we're guests here. And the more we laze around here, it feels like we're intruding," Christian said.

"It's certainly not like that," Edie said. "Besides, we offered to let you stay."

"Yes, and we appreciate that," Christian said. He glanced over at Angie and Ella before turning back to Edie.

"I just think it'd help if we took some space from one another," Christian said. "At least for a day or so. We'll stay in town; I've already found a good hotel for us. We can be available if you need us for anything."

"Edie, you've been really kind," Angie said, "but you and Arnold probably could use the break as well. You're already doing a lot to look after Kelly, and you don't have to go out of your way to help us."

"But I want to," Edie said. "Please, it's no trouble."

"Maybe," Christian said, "but I doubt we can be as much help to you or Kelly while we're here. Right now, I just don't see how I can help Kelly right now."

Ella let out a scoff. Angie looked over at her, but Ella quickly covered her mouth with her fist and coughed a little. She then reached for her glass and took a sip. She gave a small glare to her father as he continued to speak.

"So, that's just our thought. We do appreciate everything you've done so far, but some space is probably all we need right now."

"But-"

"Just let them go, Edie," Arnold said.

"What?"

Arnold took a sip of water.

"If they want to go, then fine. Christian is right. We could use the space."

"Arnold, I don't know if that's what we need."

"It's fine. Ella shouldn't have to be here when all this craziness is going on, and Angie could probably use the time to do things around Kingman."

"Arnold-"

"Besides, we should know Christian's all about running away, so let him."

Angie's eyes widened as she chewed on a green bean. Christian furrowed his brow.

"Excuse you, but Kelly left me," Christian said, "so don't get things confused."

"Excuse you," Arnold emphasized, "but I think there were about six to eight years where you were places unknown."

"Hey, let's not do this here," Edie said.

"Yeah, let's just keep things calm," Angie said. "We're all eating, and Ella is here."

"That's fine," Christian said, stabbing his meat loaf with his fork. "I'll calmly start gathering our things so we can spend a night away from Arnold and his foul tobacco smell."

"You didn't mind yesterday," Arnold scoffed.

"Well I mind now," Christian said.

"Wait, what happened yesterday?" Angie asked.

"It doesn't matter," Christian said, "but we do have a child here, and second hand smoke kills."

"Oh please, if that were true, Noah would be dying in a hospital from cancer instead of on some godforsaken island!"

"Arnold!" Edie shouted.

The room fell silent. Arnold's face turned flush when he realized what he said.

"I..." Arnold said.

"Forget it," Christian said. "Let's just eat. We'll pack and be out once we're done here."

Arnold slowly nodded and kept eating. The others started eating as well. The only one who wasn't eating was Ella. She sat in place, looking at the four adults. She finally spoke.

"I don't want to go."

Angie and Christian looked at her.

"Honey?" Christian asked.

"I don't want to go," she said. "I want to stay here."

"Ella, what do you mean?"

"I mean: 'I want to stay here.' It's that simple," Ella said, biting into a potato.

"El, you're not staying here without us," Christian said.

"Why not?" she asked. "I'm nine, Dad. Mr. and Mrs. MacIntyre can look after me. It's not that big a deal."

"Ella, why do you want to stay here?" Angie asked. "Is something wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Ella insisted. "I'd much rather stay here than go to some stupid hotel."

"Angie, it's no big deal," Edie said. "We'd love to have her here."

"I know you would," Angie said, "but I just-"

"I'm finished," Ella interrupted, pushing her plate forward on the table.

"Ella-" Christian began.

"I'll be upstairs," she said, pushing her chair back and stepping out.

Ella began to walk out of the dining room and towards the stairs. Christian stood up to go after her, but Ella quickly turned around.

"Oh, by the way, Mom," Ella said.

Ella fished into her pocket and pulled out Angie's cell phone. Angie's eyes widened in shock, while Arnold, Edie, and Christian merely looked on in confusion.

"I borrowed your phone earlier. I meant to tell you," Ella said curtly.

Ella set the phone on the floor and walked up the stairs. Angie got up and walked over to the phone, picking it up off the floor.

"Ang?" Christian asked.

Angie looked over the phone, quickly entering the code. The phone showed her main screen. She double clicked the home button to see what apps were open. To her relief, nothing was still open. She sighed.

"Oh, sorry," she said, turning back. "I was just worried where this went."

Angie pocketed the phone and sat back down.

"You know, maybe Ella needs the space too," Angie said to her husband. "It couldn't hurt for her to get away from us."

"Angie-"

"Let's just eat," Angie said, picking up her utensils again. "We can check with her once we're done."

Angie continued to eat her plate of food. After a few seconds, Christian did as well, with Arnold and Edie joining in. The four continued to eat in silence.

Upstairs, Ella reached the top of the stairs and began to walk down the hall. As she walked past Kelly's room, she saw the dinner tray was still there. Kelly was probably watching Noah's stream, watching him suffer and die on that island. Ella wanted to feel sorry for Kelly since she was Noah's mom, but all Ella could think about was Kelly kissing her dad last night. All the adults were bothering her right now, and if Arnold was even willing to make a crass remark about Noah dying, she wanted to retreat from them while she could.

She looked at Kelly's dish and spat at it, watching her saliva hit the meat loaf and potatoes. It wouldn't be noticed by Kelly when she finally brought the tray in, and maybe it was rude, but she didn't care. She was going to go to the one place she knew she'd not have to deal with them.

With that, she stepped into Noah's room, making sure to prop the chair under the door knob. Now she felt at home.
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