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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 4, 2015, late evening

Around the time Edie and Arnold left to get the car, Angie stood in the kitchen, looking out the window into the MacIntyre's backyard. It reminded Angie a lot of the backyard from her childhood home. Her family had grown up modestly in a Las Vegas suburb, her parents having meager jobs to support their four children. As the oldest, Angie was tasked to be responsible for her brother and sisters while her mom was working late at the nursing home and while her dad was working in construction.

She had learned to make a home in the process. She knew how to wrangle three younger kids, how to prepare simple dinners, and how to keep the laundry going. But it was all so tiring. She hid it from everyone, but Angie wanted nothing more than to get away from all of it. She wanted to be the girl who could have sleepovers with her friends in the nicer parts of town instead of spending her weekends making sure Charles got to his soccer practice or that Emily and Avery made it to junior cheerleading. She wanted to spend her afternoons shopping with the friends or seeing movies instead of making sure Emily wasn't falling behind in math or that Charles had clean clothes for tomorrow.

That's why she bailed when she could. She got into UCLA and left to become the next big web developer. When she started college, the internet was just taking off, and she had to get on it as soon as possible. She had to create a website that would change everything, that would affect how we share information and how we communicated. She was going to create something memorable.

But then she met Christian. She had just started working at a software development firm in Las Vegas, and she had run into him at a coffee shop one day. It was fine at first; he was a handsome older man, he had charmed her with some card tricks, and soon they were seeing each other every weekend and calling one another every night. She knew he was damaged, who wasn't in this world? She knew he had struggles with alcoholism, had been through a divorce, and had a son he wasn't allowed to see. She thought she could handle it. She could recommend he find ways to stay sober, or find ways to work out a new agreement with his ex. It was all possible.

After all, this is what she was capable of doing. Being there for her younger siblings had worked out immensely. Charles was at MIT for grad school, Emily was coaching championship winning teams, and Avery was already making an impression at the advertising firm she worked at. Surely Christian would be like the rest of them. She could manage him and pursue an amazing career in virgin technology. She knew exactly what she needed to do, and thankfully, it had resulted in a nice house, a hardworking husband, an adorable stepson, and a baby on the way.

And yet she still found Christian in bed with another woman.

The year was 2006. Angie and Christian had been married over a year, and Ella was due in a few months. Christian was now seeing his son regularly, and they were building a home for themselves. Angie was at work, trying to finish most of her projects before starting her maternity leave. On that day, Angie had been feeling unwell, but tried to power through it. However, a seriously bad case of morning sickness had made her unable to do her work as well. Her boss, recognizing that Angie wasn't going to work well, suggested she head home and work from home. She could assign tasks to her coworkers, and they'd all understand.

After declining an offer to be given a lift home, Angie arrived back to her home. To her surprise, Christian's car was in the driveway. She wondered why he was home so early, since he had been fine so far. Unfortunately, when Angie made her way upstairs to the bedroom, she found him on top of some other woman. After some awkward attempts at explaining, Angie hurried into the bathroom to throw up again. By the time she was back, the woman was gone, and Christian was there looking embarrassed at his indecency.

Angie wanted to be mad. She wanted to scream at him, bash him over the head with a lamp, and push him out the window. She wanted him to touch the child growing in her stomach and ask him to tell their daughter he was a liar and a cheater. She wanted him to get on his knees and beg to never do that again.

But she didn't do any of that. Christian rattled off his excuses. She was a client from work, she came over to talk about a project at the bank, and things just happened. Angie let him say his words, then spoke.

"That was your one."

That was all she needed to say. She didn't speak to Christian about it for the rest of the day. After all, this was just who Christian was. He was a man of vices, who had suffered for them and tried to overcome them. This was probably just stress from work and the baby that that bitch could solve with her loose pussy. Angie could accept that. After all, she was the one to nip it in the bud. She could make him suffer for his indiscretions by making him imagine how he'd suffer. She could take the baby and all his money. She could damage his custody standing with his son. She could cost him his job. She could destroy him and make him think twice of ever doing that to another woman again.

But she couldn't be that person. She couldn't harm the father of her child. As much as she hated it, she needed Christian. Angie couldn't have the additional stress while pregnant. So she had to be crafty. She had to use her mind to punish Christian, to make him afraid of her. Sure enough, it worked. He was never more kind and generous to her than he was for the months after that. He even took a notable leave from his job to take care of Ella so she could go back to work early.

Part of why it worked was that, as she was sure, Christian knew he needed her. He failed Noah and Kelly. He failed so many people with his addiction. He needed her to feel better. He needed to know he could be a good husband and father. That meant her daughter was going to get the best Christian possible. It was bad for Noah, but it was best for Ella. Christian was going to give her all the favor in the world because he felt he owed it to her.

But now he had gone and kissed Kelly. Kelly, the blonde bitch who finally was okay taking alimony, had used her tears to make Christian weak for her again. Granted, Angie should have realized that. Of course he'd feel tension with his ex-wife while their son was dying in some far corner of the world. Of course he may be tempted and that Kelly would turn to him considering he was the only man in the house she could turn to for affection. Angie couldn't blame her, but that didn't mean she had to like her. Kelly had taken her laptop and shut herself off from the world, acting like watching the streams was her duty and hers alone. Yes, Angie shouldn't have suggested it, and maybe Angie was a hypocrite for watching the streams on her phone, but she was entitled to know what was happening to Noah was much as the others were. She made a point that someone should watch, but she believed the others should watch if they wanted.

She certainly didn't want Ella watching. Ella shouldn't have to see that. But Ella was smart. Ella had seen Christian and Kelly kissing, and she had figured out that Angie was watching the stream. Maybe Angie was ignoring her too much. She had to do a better job looking after her daughter in this time.

Angie walked up the stairs and headed over to Noah's room. After everything that happened, Ella had remained in Noah's bedroom. Angie couldn't blame her. People were fighting and cursing in the hall after Ella made that video, so she must have been frightened. Angie approached the door and knocked.

"Ella?"

No response.

"Ella, can we talk? Please, let me in."

There was a muffled response from behind the door.

"What was that?" Angie asked, leaning closer to the door.

"Go away."

Angie froze. She put her hand on the doorknob. She rattled it, but it was still locked.

"Ella, please let me in. What's wrong?"

"Mom, just go away."

Angie gritted her teeth. No. She was done with this. Everyone in this house was falling apart. Kelly had run away, Christian was in exile, and Edie and Arnold were useless to get anything done. Angie had enough of this.

"Ella, I'm coming in, whether you like it or not."

Angie stormed down the hall and down the stairs. She quickly moved through the house, searching every closet and cabinet she could. She didn't know where Arnold kept the tools, but she had time to look. After a few minutes, she found what she was looking for in the garage. She picked up a hammer and a flathead screwdriver, then made her way back to Noah's room.

"Ella, open the door on the count of three, or I'm coming in!" Angie shouted.

"Go away!" Ella shouted.

Angie shook her head.

"Fine. Forget counting. I'm coming in!"

Angie held the screwdriver up to one of the door hinges. She then started hammering the end of the screwdriver, causing the pin to move upward. When Angie was sixteen, her dad made her take a bathroom door off the hinges when the hinges had to be replaced. It was a skill she had almost entirely forgotten about, but thankfully, it came back at the right time.

The first pin was out, and Angie let it drop to the floor.

"One down, two to go!" she shouted at the door.

Angie began hammering on the next one. As she did, she missed the sound of the front door opening and a voice calling out. By the time the second pin was out, Edie had appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Angie, what are you doing?" Edie asked.

Angie quickly looked at Edie.

"Hi, Edie. Did you find the car?"

"Yes, but what are you doing?"

Angie looked back at the door, then at Edie.

"Talking to my daughter," Angie said.

Angie began to hammer on the last hinge. The door was close to falling over, but Angie kept hammering. Edie rushed over and grabbed the door.

"Angie, don't wreck my house," Edie said.

"Why not? Your daughter wrecked mine," Angie said.

Angie popped the last pin out, then moved forward, pushing the door. Edie let out a cry as Noah's door fell down on the ground. Angie looked in. Ella was sitting at the computer, facing away from the door. Angie walked in.

"Ella, we need to talk right now," Angie said.

"Go away," Ella muttered.

Angie picked up her pace and grabbed the back of the chair. She spun it around, but stopped. Ella was sitting on the chair with her knees pulled up to her chest. Her eyes were red and watery.

"Ella..."

"Something's wrong," Ella said.

Angie looked over at the computer. The stream was still playing, but now Noah was lying on a bed in some room. He was curled up and panting.

"He collapsed earlier. He doesn't look so good," Ella said. "I think he might be dying."

Ella lowered her head, disappearing inwards. She let out a whimper. Angie let go of the chair and stood straight up. Edie remained at the door, keeping her hands close to her heart. Angie lowered her head and shook it.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I should have known."

Angie walked away from Ella and sat on Noah's bed. She buried her face in her palms. No matter what she did, she couldn't manage this.
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