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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 evening

"I really think we should try to get her out," Angie said.

"Look, this situation has got to be hard and confusing for her," Christian said to his wife. "If Ella wants to stay in Noah's room, then let her."

"Chris, I don't like that she's locked in there though."

"It's fine. She'll have to come out eventually. Let's just go to bed."

Christian put his arm around Angie and walked her to the guest room. After Ella's display at dinner, they had given up the idea of going to a hotel for the night. They had tried to get Ella out of Noah's room, but to no avail. She had blocked the door and wouldn't respond to any commands or bribes. Edie also tried to help, but that didn't make much of a difference either. Ella was not coming out of the room, and that was final.

Angie and Christian got into their bed and turned off the lights. Angie stared straight up at the ceiling, while Christian closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

"Are we being terrible to Ella?" Angie asked.

"What?" Christian asked, keeping his eyes closed.

"I mean, I know we took her to that movie yesterday, but are we not respecting her enough right now?"

"Ang, it's a tough time for everyone. She's nine and she's never even had to go through something like this before. I mean, your parents are still alive, so it's not like she's really faced death before."

"We still don't even know if it's death or not," Angie said. "It's a fucked up scenario, and we don't really have a reference for what to do. It's not like Kimberly Nguyen wrote a piece about what parents should do for their other children during SOTF."

"Yes, and we will figure that out on our own," Christian said. "Look, tomorrow, we'll try to talk to Ella, and maybe see what we can do for her. We shouldn't spoil her, but we should at least try to understand her and help her understand what we're all going through right now. Communication is key for this time, and we shouldn't be hiding our thoughts and feelings from each other."

Christian and Angie were both glad that neither one was looking at each other. For Angie, Christian keeping his eyes closed meant he didn't see her eyes widen, nor did he see her bite her lip. For Christian, he could keep his face the same, even though he realized how hypocritical that last statement actually was.

Angie rolled on her side, placing an arm across Christian's chest.

"You're right. Maybe we can make her something special. Or maybe the three of us can get out of the house and go somewhere."

"Good idea," Christian said, turning his head over to look at his wife. "Let's talk more in the morning."

Christian moved forward and gave Angie a quick peck on the lips. She smiled, and they both settled into their sleeping positions. As they tried to fall asleep, both Christian and Angie tried to think about what they could do for Ella. Angie thought about the lemon blueberry pancakes Ella loved to have for breakfast on her birthday, and Christian thought about the trails she liked to go hiking in. Of course, these thoughts were interrupted by the link saved on Angie's phone and the sensation of Kelly's lips on Christian's. After a while, they stopped cuddling and fell asleep.



"She's still in there?" Arnold said, taking his reading glasses off.

"Yes. The poor thing won't come out," Edie said, climbing into bed.

Arnold grabbed a bookmark and placed it inside the Tom Clancy novel in his hands. He set the book and his glasses on the nightstand.

"I can't believe it," Arnold said.

"Arnold, the girl is upset. We all are."

"But locking herself up isn't right."

"Well, she's following a precedent in this house, now isn't she?"

Arnold fell silent as Edie settled into bed.

"Edie-"

"Arnold, we can't let either of them stay locked up. Ella's a child and she'll be able to move on much more easily than any of us. But Kelly's got me concerned."

Edie sighed and looked at her husband.

"Noah nearly died today, and if Kelly's freak-out was any indication, his actual death might be worse. We may need to closely monitor her now."

"What's your idea?" Arnold asked.

Edie shrugged.

"I don't have one yet," she said. "But look, I think we need to get Kelly away from watching the stream. At least for a day or two."

"Are you suggesting someone else watch it?" he asked.

"Maybe," Edie said. "Kelly may have taken this burden on entirely for herself, but it's becoming clear it's not a good idea. Maybe we start doing it in shifts."

"Like we draw straws or something?" Arnold asked. "Edie, this is absurd."

"I know, but I want something other than what's happening. Maybe we should just lock up all electronics in the coat closet and wait for a call. I don't know. I know we're trying to protect our memories of Noah, but it's clear to me that none of us are going to be okay. Believe me, I'm starting to think that next time I go into Kelly's room, I should take that laptop and smash it. But it's Angie's computer so I'm not going to do that."

Arnold raised his eyebrows. He had never heard his wife get so annoyed. Sure, they had fights-any couple together for over forty years would have a few- but she never threw her arms in the air and got flippant.

"We'll figure something out," Arnold said. "Just go to sleep. It's been a hard day for everyone."

"Fine," Edie said, laying under the sheets and turning on her side away from Arnold. Arnold tried to put an arm around her, but she seemed to recoil from it. Arnold rolled on his side away from Edie. Even when she lost her parents and her brothers, Edie had remained calm through it all. Noah wasn't even officially dead yet, but already cracks were forming. Arnold had to wonder if this was something hereditary passed through Edie's family. He wasn't going to think of it. He didn't want to think of it.




Kelly sighed and closed the laptop. Noah had trapped himself in a room in the cabin and was climbing into bed. He had made it through the third day, and that was enough for her right now. It was frightening to see her son nearly get gunned down, but at least he was relatively safe. She was surprised by the joke he told on the beach, but also not really. When she and Christian were first going out, Christian had asked Kelly to tell him the dirtiest joke she could think of. She thought a bit, but couldn't think of one. Christian told her about leprechauns in truck stop bathrooms, and that had radically altered the evening, one where Kelly couldn't stop thinking of the leprechaun. It was still a nice date though.

Kelly placed the laptop to the side and laid down in bed. She stared up at the ceiling and tapped her fingers on her blanket. Noah had survived, yet again. He wasn't anywhere closer to safety, but he had at least made it through the day. Kelly wanted to be happy, but she couldn't find herself happy. Nothing was making her happy. Not the meatloaf her mom made for dinner, not the knowledge that Noah was in a place where he could at least sleep, nor even knowing that there were family in the house.

Kelly rolled around in her bed. She had spent the last three days in bed, but it was starting to get uncomfortable. Her back was sore, her legs felt like they were going to snap off, and her eyes were starting to feel strained. She finally lay face down on the pillow and let out a groan. What was she going to do now?

She could keep watching, but that ran the risk of seeing more horror and atrocities. That also ran the risk of being a pain to everyone. Kelly still had some self awareness. She knew how she was acting. She had never been such a brat as a child. Even when she was sick, she tried to not be too much of a burden to her parents. The longer she stayed around, and the longer she was going to bother everyone. She had to do something for them all.

Kelly got up and turned the laptop back on. She began to open the computer, but she resisted playing the stream. She began to look up hotels and resorts outside of Kingman. She didn't want to go too far in case of an emergency, but she wanted to get away at least.

"Just for a little while" she told herself. "Not too expensive, and not too far."

She continued to look around at the options available to her. By morning, she had a plan.




Ella sat in Noah's computer chair and stared at the screen on Noah's computer. She had pulled up the video the older women posted a few days ago. It had broken 1 million views and had been shared. Some other drag queen had a response video to it. Ella looked over the comments. Most of them were supportive. Some were from people who had been affected by SOTF in the past. Some were from people who had no connection but wanted to share their sympathies.

Then there were those people. Apparently, her mom hadn't done as good a job cleaning up comments like she said she would. There were some inflammatory comments from some people who wanted to mock the situation or mock Noah. Some made fun of his sexuality or criticized his web show. Every negative comment was followed by dozens of positive comments and comments that called out the terrible people for their rude behavior. That made it somewhat better, but not entirely.

Ella then went into Noah's channel. The videos on his channel had also gotten a significant increase in views. Her brother had finally gotten the attention he always wanted in life, and he was probably unable to celebrate it. Ella shook her head.

She wanted to be glad her brother's videos were being well received. But she couldn't. People didn't really know Noah. Her mom and the others tried to make Noah sound like a real person, but that didn't work. Noah presented a fake version of himself on his show, and not just the version with the wig and unidentifiable accent. That's why Ella decided to do something.

Noah was still logged into his YouTube account. He had some guides for his video editing software programs around the desk. She had all night and nothing to do tomorrow. In about an hour or so, Ella had the recording program open and ready to go. Ella pressed play, and then spoke.

"Hi. My name is Ella Whitley, and I want to talk about my brother."
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