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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 6, 2015, mid-afternoon

Ella sat in a chair in the corner of the living room, her legs crossed and her head down. In her hands was a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. It looked to be a fairly old edition, the pages slightly browned and brittle. It must have been in the house for a while, possibly read by Kelly and Noah when they were children. Ella flipped to the next page. Reading here was much more enjoyable than sitting in Noah's room browsing the internet. She had gotten her fill of the negative responses and reactions people had to Noah and the other abducted students. She wanted something a little more peaceful.

Unfortunately, she wouldn't get that.

As Ella tried to sit in the chair and read her book, she could start to hear the sounds of her parents talking in the kitchen. Noah's mom and grandparents weren't home yet, but her mom was in the kitchen reading a magazine. Ella heard the sound of the back door open, followed by the sounds of her father walking in.

"Hey, Angie, did Arnold or Kelly say what we were doing for dinner tonight?"

"No idea."

"Do you think we should pick something up or-"

"I don't know. Wait until they get home."

"Ang, are you okay?"

"I'm not in the mood."

"For dinner or-"

"To talk. Obviously."

"Ang, you can't stay mad at me-"

"Chris, not now."

"Angie!"

"No, I'm already annoyed that Edie collapsed and that you and Kelly were nowhere to be found. She could have died, and you guys were god-knows-where."

"Look, I turned my ringer off so we wouldn't be distracted."

"That wasn't a smart idea."

"Well, what? Was I supposed to expect you to call me?"

"That's not-"

"No, really. Tell me what's bothering you? Was it that I had my ringer off, or was it that I was with Kelly?"

"Chris-"

"You know what? I don't want to deal with this now."

Ella could hear her father start to walk towards the living room and her mother start to get up from the kitchen table. She started to curl up a little further in her chair. She was about to walk towards the stairs when she heard the voices get closer. As Christian walked in, followed shortly by Angie, Ella remained in her seat, trying to remain as quiet as possible so they didn't notice.

"Christian, hold on," Angie said, her hand clutched around a glass of ice water.

"No. You know what, Angie? I'm so sick of you acting like you can micromanage me. I mean, you told me to get Kelly back no matter what, so yeah, I spent a little longer with her than planned."

"Oh!" Angie exclaimed, flailing her arms to the side. "I'm sorry, I must have missed that, cause I never sent you a text."

"Believe me, I got a text. It's why I allowed myself to drink with my ex."

"You were drinking?"

"Nothing alcoholic."

"But was there alcohol."

"For her."

Ella closed the book and held it tight to her. Neither Angie nor Christian seemed to realize she was there.

"Did you have anything to drink? Ella said you smelled weird last night. Was that alcohol?"

"No, I didn't drink. I was sober with everything I did last night."

"So what did you do?"

"We just talked. We went to her room and talked."

"Was that really all you did?"

"Yes!" Christian shouted. "God, what are you implying?"

"Oh, sure. You get a chick drunk and take her back to her hotel room to 'talk'," Angie said, doing air quotes for "talk." "Tell me, was this just like when you fucked that woman you were working with. Was it just another 'heat of the moment' thing?"

"Ang!"

"No, be candid, Christian. When you were 'talking' to Kelly, did that lead to her going down on your dick? I mean, it was where you guys had your honeymoon."

"Angie, is that really water in your glass?"

"Shut up! I'm not the one with a problem here!"

"No, you've got a problem alright," Christian said. "You're upset you can't micromanage this situation like everything else in your life. My son gets abducted, and you want to turn this into Kramer vs. Kramer."

"That's a movie about a divorce."

"Oh, and I'm sure that's where this is heading."

Angie's eyes widened and her mouth pursed. "You can't be serious."

"Why not?!?" Christian asked, his face red. "I'm a horrible asshole who drinks and smokes and makes out with his ex during a horrible time in his life! I'm such a dick that I have to be judged harshly for my actions while my wife gets to lie about watching the streams to everyone. My son could be dead and you want to play Morality Police while doing absolutely nothing to make anyone feel better. You just want to act like you can make everyone feel better. Well, unlike you these last two months, at least Kelly had the decency to to fuck me! So-"

Christian's rant was silenced when he felt a glass object hit him in the face. He cried out, stumbled back, and fell to the floor. He let out a cry and touched his face. His hand was warm with blood. He was sure there was glass embedded in his skin, and his couldn't bring himself to open his left eye. He looked up as Angie moved closer to him. He looked up at his wife, her face red as an apple and her eyes as wide as saucers.

Ella remained frozen in her chair, her hands covering her mouth. The book had fallen into her lap. It was then that the front door swung open. Arnold, Kelly, and Edie were back in the house. She remained frozen in place as the adults began to move around.

"What's going on?"

"Angie! What the hell are you doing?"

"You son of a bitch."

"Oh my god."

"Edie, get a towel."

"Chris, what happened?"

"She hit me in the face with a glass!"

"Angie, how could you-"

"How could I? How could you?!?"

Ella remained in place as Edie entered from the kitchen. She gingerly walked into the room and handed a washcloth to Kelly, who pressed it to Christian's face. Edie stepped to the side nearest the fireplace.

"What are you talking about?" Kelly asked.

"You...you fucking white trash skank..." Angie began. "Your son gets kidnapped and you use that as an excuse to get pity sex from my husband."

"What?" Edie asked.

"Kelly?" Arnold said.

Kelly started to speak, but then looked down to Christian. Christian took the cloth from her and pressed it to his face. Kelly breathed in, and stood up.

"Yes, I did," Kelly said, staring intensely at Angie.

Angie began to move towards Kelly, but Arnold quickly appeared. He put himself between the two women, keeping his hand outstretched towards Angie.

"Move," Angie hissed.

"No. You're not doing that here," Arnold insisted.

Angie tried to push past him, but Arnold held out both hands, grabbing Angie by the shoulders and pushed her back. He kept a tight grip on her.

"For god's sake, woman!" Arnold shouted. "Not in front of Ella!"

Angie turned and saw Ella sitting in the corner. Her face was pale, and her eyes were starting to water. Edie gasped at the sight of Ella.

"Ella, let's go," Edie said, walking over to Ella.

"No!" Angie shouted, causing Edie to freeze in place.

Edie looked to Angie, dumbfounded.

"Stay away from her," Angie shouted.

"Excuse me?" Edie asked.

"Let her stay!" Angie exclaimed. "Why the fuck not? We're all a family and we all love each other. Might as well let her see it all!"

Arnold motioned his head towards Ella, and Edie began to move towards her.

"Ella, let's go," Edie said, reaching out to Ella.

"Don't touch her!" Angie yelled.

Angie turned to go after Edie, but Arnold held onto her tight.

"Don't you dare!" he shouted. "Don't you dare!"

Arnold grabbed Angie and pulled her away. He then pushed her so she fell back and landed on the couch. Arnold stood in front of her.

"If you get off that couch and go anywhere near that child, I will call the police!" Arnold shouted.

"Go ahead!" Angie yelled. "My phone's in the kitchen!"

Edie turned back to Ella, but Ella had already jumped out of the chair and ran into the kitchen. Edie held her hand over her chest.

"Ella, don't really call them!" Edie shouted.

Ella stopped at the kitchen table and remained frozen. She began to breathe in and out, covering her face with her hand. Tears were starting to fall down her cheeks.

"Please, let's just all calm down," Edie said. "We don't need to call the cops."

Edie sat down in the chair Ella was sitting in. She moved the book to the side.

"Angie, please," Edie said. "Don't do this."

"Oh, be quiet," Angie hissed at Edie.

"Hey, don't talk to my wife like that!" Arnold said.

"Dad, let me take this," Kelly said, stepping by her father.

Kelly stared at Angie. Angie was fuming, and Kelly made a firm stance.

"Yes, I had sex with Christian-"

Kelly could hear both her parents let out sounds.

"But! I know it was a mistake! Yes, I crossed the line. Yes, I've done that more than once. But I know I'm doing bad things. I know I'm causing Christian to betray his marriage. I know I shouldn't be locking myself in my room watching the streams. But what else should I do?!?"

Angie stood up. Arnold got between the two of them, quickly pushing the coffee table out of the way.

"Oh, and that makes it okay?" Angie asked. "That makes it okay for you to ruin everything?"

"She didn't ruin anything!" Christian shouted, pressing the darkening cloth to his face.

"Christian, are you-" Edie began.

"I'm fine," he said. "I need to get something straight."

Christian turned to his wife.

"Look, I was the one who let Kelly continue to kiss me. I was the one who initiated sex. You think I like constantly falling into the same vices over and over again?"

"I'm sure you do!" Angie said. "Cause clearly, nothing matters to you!"

"Nothing?!?" Christian shouted. "You think nothing matters to me?!? How about the fact that I've been dealing with the same shit over and over since I was a teenager? How about the fact that I've been in and out of treatment? That I've alienated my parents? That I ruined my first marriage? That I missed the first half of my son's life? That every attempt I make to better myself always falls apart?"

Even though his face was stained with blood, his face started to get redder and redder.

"Do you think I like being this way, Angela? Do you think I want to continue being such a fuck-up? Do you think I'm proud of making these choices?"

"But you keep making them!" Angie said. "You promised me you'd never cheat on me again after Rebecca. You swore on our unborn daughter that you'd be faithful. Do you know how it's been knowing that the life we had built together, the one we made for Ella's sake, could be unraveled at any second? Do you know how stressed that has made me?"

Angie pointed a finger at Christian.

"I've worked my ass off to build a good home for us. I settled for working from home if it meant that I could be there for Ella. I made sure to be friends with your son so that he could continue to stay in our lives. I have done so much for you and sacrificed so much, and it clearly meant nothing to you. You looked Kelly dead in the eyes and made it clear that shoving your prick into her mattered to you more than trying to do right by everyone in this house."

Tears were starting to fall down Angie's cheeks.

"You've made it clear where you stand, Christian, and clearly, it's balls deep in Kelly's pussy."

Arnold turned towards Angie. "Okay, that's enough of that talk."

"Dad, it's fine!" Kelly shouted. "Angie can say whatever she wants about me. I'm a grown woman, I can take it."

"Oh, really?" Angie asked. "Because clearly when things go south for you, you run and hide."

"Hey, I volunteered to watch the streams," Kelly said. "I agreed to subject myself to the horrors of Survival of the Fittest because you decided to open that box. I decided that I would be the strong one and burden the responsibility of seeing my son's fate. But you know what, I bet you just wanted to be the tough one.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah. Little Miss Angie, tech wiz and bouncing beauty, wanted to be the tough one and watch the streams. She wanted to control everything and would control our knowledge of Noah. Tell me, was that the reason you snuck peeks on your phone? Because you wanted to know more than Christian or mom?”

“Of course not!” Angie shouted. “I wanted to know if he was okay.”

“But you wanted that power, didn’t you?” Kelly asked. “You wanted to know about what was happening, but you wanted the pleasure of knowing that no one knew you knew. Tell me, what would you do with this? Bond with me? Drop the truth when it most benefited you?

“Shut the fuck up!” Angie shouted, stepping close.

Arnold put a hand on Angie’s shoulder, pushing her back.

“Face it, Angie,” Kelly said. “You wanted to be the idol of this house, but you wanted none of the burden. You wanted to be the strong one, but you didn’t want to actually do anything to earn it. You wanted to be able to judge us all and look down on us because you knew so much more than we did.”

“Kelly, that’s enough,” Arnold said.

“Kelly, please, don’t antagonize her,” Edie pleaded.

“No, it’s cool, Edie,” Angie said. “She’s already done that enough, so why can’t she throw more accusations at me? I bet it’s the sort of cheap psychology she studied at that shitty bar she works at. Or maybe that’s the result of a shitty upbringing.”

“Okay! That’s enough!” Arnold shouted.

Everyone in the room fell silent. Arnold pointed at Angie.

“Angie, you have every right to be mad, but don’t you dare insult me or my wife.”

“Oh, like you’re some paragon of virtue,” Angie said to Arnold. “I have an idea. Since we’re all being honest, how about you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, Arnie. You seemed to do something that really upset Edie and Ella. I mean, Ella wouldn’t have said you were hiding something in that video if she didn’t know what it was. So please, enlighten the crowd. What are you hiding?"

Arnold was silent. Edie covered her mouth.

"I..." Arnold began.

"I what?" Angie asked. "Come on."

Angie held a finger out and pushed it against Arnold's chest.

"It clearly made your wife mad if it got you kicked out of her room the other night. Don't tell me your marriage is rocky too."

"Angie!" Kelly shouted.

"Ang, leave them out of this," Christian shouted.

"Oh, no way in hell," Angie said. "This house is a fucking oven of repressed emotions and pent-up rage. How about Ole' Arnie share too since he's fucked around with everyone."

"My issue has nothing to do with you," Arnold said to Angie. "So don't accuse me of anything you don't get."

"Arnold, just tell them," Edie said.

The four turned to Edie. She was now resting her head against her hand.

"Edie..."

"It's all going to hell," she said. "Might as well add kindling to the flames."

"Dad," Kelly said, her voice becoming more and more frightened, "what's going on?"

Arnold closed his eyes, and clenched his fists.

"I...told your mother...and Ella...something about Noah."

"Noah?" Christian asked.

"Wait, what?" Angie asked.

"Noah, what do you mean?" Kelly asked. "Did he say something to you or-"

"No, it's not that," Arnold said. "The truth is...I...I never, exactly, came to terms with Noah being gay."

Instantly, Kelly, Angie, and Christian all let out groans and cries of shock.

"What do you mean?" Kelly asked.

"It's exactly that," Edie said. "Noah's gay, and he doesn't love him."

"Of course I love him!" Arnold shouted. "He's my little man. He's the only grandson I'll ever have and the closest thing I'll ever have to a son. I've loved him since I first held him, since he first started living here, since he learned to ride a bike, since he first went to school, since the minute I learned I was going to be a grandpa."

Arnold turned his head down.

"I just couldn't handle knowing he was that different."

Angie shook her head and sat down on the couch. "Unbelievable," she muttered to herself.

"You never accepted Noah for being gay?" Christian asked.

"It wasn't just the gay thing," Arnold said. "It was the dresses and the wigs and the makeup. I was fine with him being a comedian and taking those dance classes, but that was just all too much for me."

"Dad..." Kelly said. "Look at me."

Arnold lifted his head up and saw Kelly looking him dead in the eyes. Her eyes were starting to water.

"Are you seriously telling me that you never truly accepted Noah for who he is? Not once since he came out?"

Arnold wanted to speak, but couldn't. He merely hung his head in shame. Kelly rubbed her forehead and let out a whimper.

"So, when you said you were proud of him..." Kelly started.

"Kelly, don't. I already let him have it the other day," Edie said.

Kelly looked at her mom. Edie was starting to cry, and rubbed her eyes with her hand.

"Arnold's a liar. You're a liar. Christian and Angie are liars. We're all going to hell, so let's stop this nonsense," Edie said.

"Mom-"

"No, I mean it. Who cares anymore?"

Edie looked at the four in the room.

"How can we ever act like anything's going to be okay?"

Edie stood up from her seat and began to walk into the room. "We're never going to be okay. Those horrid people took our Noah and now all this has come to light. Arnold's been lying to Noah for years, Christian and Angie are toxic, and you, Kelly, are lost. And you know what? I don't know if I can take it anymore."

Edie lowered her head and began to shake it.

"I can't accept that this is my home. I can't accept that this is my family. We've all gone through so much and we're all such a mess. How could I never see that this was all building up? How could I never notice my husband was a homophobe? How could I not see that my daughter was dependent on her relationship with her son?"

Kelly reached out to Edie. "Mom, please."

"How could I let this house fall apart?" Edie interrupted, causing Kelly to stop. "Was that why I was left this home? My entire family dies and this is what I'm left with? Is this how I'm to suffer like my parents and my brothers?"

Edie began to pant. "Was I supposed to see the rest of the MacIntyres implode before I died? Was that always what was supposed to happen to me?"

The room fell silent. Arnold moved over to Edie, reaching out to hug her.

"Edith, please don't-"

Edie swung her arms up, knocking Arnold's back.

"Just stop!" she shouted. "Stop acting like it'll all be okay! If I had known this was how it was all going to be, maybe it would have been better if I died yesterday!"

Instantly, everyone in the room began to speak up.

"Whoa!" Angie shouted.

"Edie, wait!" Christian yelled.

"Mom!"

"Honey!"

"Why not?" Edie said. "Everything has gone to hell, so why not? It's not like any of you would really give a damn since you're all so messed up that you'd all rather focus on your own issues than try to help one another."

Edie began to weep. "Why should I have to watch everyone tear themselves apart?"

Edie continued to weep. Arnold moved in and hugged her. This time, she didn't resist.

"Edie, I'm so sorry," Arnold said. "I should have given Noah a chance. I should have watched his videos or seen his shows. Believe me, I'd rather he be back here right now than on some island somewhere. I'd rather he be here wearing sequins and feathers and making genitalia jokes than anything right now."

"Me too," Edie said. "I wish he was here right now."

Edie continued to cry into Arnold's chest. Kelly put a hand on her mother's back and patted it. Angie looked down and bit her lip. Christian removed the wash cloth from his face, looking at the bloodstains on it.

"I think I should go to the hospital," he weakly said.

"Okay," Angie said. "I'll take you. Kelly, could you please watch after Ella?"

"Of course," Kelly said, her gaze away from Angie's.

Angie remained in place, then shook her head.

"God, we're all so fucked," she muttered.

Christian walked over and patted Angie on the shoulder. "I know. And I'm sorry."

Angie looked at her husband. He no longer looked mad or bitter. He looked defeated, as he kept the cloth to his face and tears streaked down from his clear side.

"No, I'm sorry," Angie said. "God, I threw a glass at your face. If we were divorcing, I could lose Ella for that."

"It's fine," Christian said. "I deserved it."

"Don't say that," Angie said. "Please, don't."

Angie then noticed something moving in the corner of her eye. She turned and saw Ella standing in the entrance to the kitchen. She was holding Angie's phone in one hand, and crying.

"Ella?" Angie said. "I'm sorry about that."

Angie stepped past Kelly, Edie, and Arnold and towards her daughter.

"We were really immature, and we're all sorry for how we acted. We're going to quickly go to the hospital and when we get back-"

"Noah's dead," Ella said.

Just like that, everything in the house went silent. Christian covered his mouth with his other hand. Kelly looked over at Ella, stepping away from her parents. Arnold and Edie remained embraced, but turned to Ella.

"W...what?" Kelly choked out.

Ella sniffled.

"You got a message," Ella said to her mom. "While Mrs. MacIntyre was talking, you started to get a bunch of messages from Noah's Twitter. I had to check and..."

Ella held the phone out towards the adults. Angie reached for it, but was suddenly pushed back. Kelly had moved over and snatched the phone from Ella's hand. She looked at the screen, as Angie moved to her side. Ella had pulled up a webpage detailing the events of Survival of the Fittest, one that regularly updated with each death. The screen was enlarged, and on it, read a single sentence:

Noah Whitley: Stabbed to death by Isabel Ramirez

Kelly stared at the page, her breathing starting to increase. Angie stared at it, her eyes starting to water.

"I-is it true?" Christian stammered. "Is he..."

Angie turned back to her husband, tears starting to fall down her face. She nodded silently. Christian let out a gasp, then moved over to the couch and sat down, burying his face in his hands. Edie clutched Arnold tighter, her breaths having difficulty leaving her mouth. Arnold clutched Edie as tight, and put a hand on the back of her head.

Kelly stared at the page, the phone starting to shake in her hands. She finally dropped the phone and let out a scream. She fell to her knees and started to bawl. Seeing the woman on the floor, Angie sunk to her knees and put her arms around Kelly, pulling the sobbing woman close to her chest. Kelly let out another scream and continued to sob, clutching Angie's shirt so hard she started to dig her nails into Angie's chest. Angie didn't care, and started to weep too.

After that, there was no more talking in the house. There were no more accusations and criticisms, nor were there any pleas or demands. There was only grief, and six people who gave into it.
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