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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 20, 2015, late evening

"Are they gone?" Edie asked.

"Yeah. The house is ours again," Arnold said.

Arnold sighed and looked around. The MacIntyre house had been converted into a reception hall, with tables and furniture rearranged and replaced. White tablecloths covered every surface, and dishes and scraps of food remained. Edie began to clean up several plates left on the coffee table. Arnold moved to help her grab some more, and they began to carry them into the kitchen.

It had been two weeks since Noah had been confirmed dead. The time since then had been a whirlwind of grief and distraction. The messages of support began to flood in from friends and neighbors. News reports continued to announce the names of the deceased in the game until only one student remained. Casseroles and baked goods showed up on the doorstep nearly every day. The family continued to move through the house, barely speaking to one another unless it had something to do with funeral arrangements or was a casual observation.

Of course, there was no actual body to bury. There was no way to get Noah's body from that island. The family decided to put a small plaque on the ground near the headstones for Edie's parents and brothers. They did bury a chest with some of Noah's prized possessions and other mementos. They put in two sets of clothes; a suit Noah was planning to wear for his high school graduation, and one of the sequined gowns he owned for Pina Bucket appearances. They also threw in a wig, some makeup, a pair of high heels, some jewelry, a notebook of his comedy material, framed pictures of Noah with his family, and a letter written by each person in his family. They were all carefully placed into the chest and lowered into the earth. It was a poor substitute for their son, but it was all they could do.

The reception had gone on and on. Edie and Arnold had said what they needed to to each of their guests to play along. The others were more distant. Christian and Angie didn't know a lot of the people there, so they remained in place, giving a chagrined smile and thanking them for their wishes. It was almost harder to keep track of Kelly and Ella throughout this day.

As Edie began to place the dishes in the sink, Arnold slowly approached his wife and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Edith, I'm sorry," Arnold said.

"For what?"

"Everything..." Arnold replied.

Edie raised a hand and stroked the hand Arnold placed on her shoulder.

"I should have tried," Arnold told her. "I really should have given him a chance. I wasted so much time and now-"

"Don't," Edie insisted, batting her eyelashes as her eyes began to water. "Please don't say it. I already know."

Arnold leaned closer, resting his head against Edie's.

"I don't want to dwell on it," Edie said. "I know you regret it, I know you wish you could have been better, but I don't think you need to apologize to me for it."

Arnold was silent. Edie turned to look at him.

"We need to think about Kelly right now," Edie told him. "She needs us now, so let's not think about our problems. Can you do that?"

Arnold nodded. "Of course. Anything for our daughter."

Edie gave a small smile. As they remained in place, Angie walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, have you seen Christian?" she asked.

Arnold and Edie turned around to look at her.

"Oh, I think he's out back," Arnold said.

Angie turned and pushed open the back door. She stepped outside and saw Christian sitting at the patio table. She saw a trail of smoke rising into the air by him.

"Smoking?" she asked.

"I think I earned at least one," Christian said, raising a cigarette to his mouth.

Angie walked over and sat in the chair across from him. "Hand me one?"

Christian looked at Angie. His face still had some bandages and stitches from when Angie threw a glass at his face. When they went to the doctor's, Christian lied about why he was hurt. His son was dead, and the last thing he was thinking of was pressing charges against his wife.

"You don't smoke."

"No, but I might as well see what the hype is."

Christian slid a pack of cigarettes and a lighter over to Angie. Angie lit the cigarette, then coughed as the smoke filled her lungs.

"Okay, never mind," Angie said, tossing the cigarette onto the ground and stomping on it.

"Why would you even smoke? You were the one who was worried about secondhand smoke around Ella-"

"I guess I wanted to understand why you would smoke when you know I hate it."


"No, forget it," she said, shaking her head. "I'm not starting a fight the day we bury your son. I won't do that."

Angie rubbed her forehead. Christian reached his hand out and grabbed Angie's.

"Angie. I was an idiot. My whole life, I've made bad choices and let myself get swayed by carnal desires. I could complain about you and things you've done, but right now, I feel like this is all just what I deserve."

Angie gripped Christian's hand tighter.

"No, do not blame yourself for Noah's death," she insisted. "Please, do not be so selfish."


"You didn't kill Noah. That Ramirez girl did. She wouldn't have killed him if those terrorists hadn't abducted them. Those terrorists wouldn't have kidnapped them if the government hadn't allowed them to run rampant for a decade now. There's too many people at fault, but you being a lousy husband and father is not why he died."

"Believe me," Angie said, looking Christian in the eyes, "I think Noah was glad you were his dad."

Angie let out a long sigh.

"Chris, we can worry about our issues later. Let's just take this time to mourn and to focus on Ella. Once we're in a better state of mind, we should have a long talk."

"Okay. I look forward to it."

Christian smiled weakly at Angie. She gave him one back.

Upstairs, Ella stared out Noah's bedroom window at her parents below. She had snuck out of the reception and went into his room for most of the day. She had spent the day going through his closet and looking at videos on his computer. She had spent most of the day worried someone would walk in and bother her. After all, the door to Noah's room was still off its hinges, so anyone could find her there. But fortunately for her, no one bothered to go into his room. She was probably the only person brave enough to enter.

Unfortunately for her, there was a knock against the doorjamb. She turned and saw Kelly standing there.

"Hey, Ella," Kelly said.

"Hello," Ella replied.

Kelly had been quiet the last two weeks. She had barely spoken to anyone and moved in a haze. Whenever someone would ask her about the funeral, she would give short answers, or give no opinion whatsoever. Kelly did determine what could and what couldn't go in the chest they buried, and had final say in any suggestions.

"Have you been here long?" Kelly asked.

"A bit," Ella said.

Kelly smiled at her, causing Ella to look away. Kelly walked into the room and began to rifle through Noah's closet. She pushed past his boy clothes.

"Ella...be careful," Kelly said, keeping her gaze on the closet. "This world is really harsh, so please just be ready for whatever comes your way."

Ella nodded. "Sure."

Kelly pulled a belt out of Noah's closet, then walked over towards Ella. "Ella, could you please leave? I want to be alone in here for a bit."

Ella nodded and walked past Kelly and into the hall. She looked back and saw Kelly smiling at her. Ella kept moving, hurrying into the hall. She stood there for a moment. Something didn't seem right with Kelly. Her eyes seemed really glassy and empty. There was something fake in that smile that really made Ella scared. Ella closed her eyes and shook her head.

Ella wasn't sure what she was supposed to do now. All the adults had been weird in the last few weeks. None of them were willing to talk to one another or to her, leaving her to look online to see what people had to say about Noah and the other kids from Cochise. There were the same kinds of comments. "This shouldn't have happened." "I'm glad he/she died." "The government should do something about this." Comments specific to Noah were from fans of his show, which had tripled since he died. An LGTBT news site did a piece about the deceased queer kids from Cochise, and they had included a link to Noah's web series. Heck, even Odessa Arlington had some nice things to say.

As Ella pondered what to do next, she heard a thump in Noah's room.

"Ma'am?" she said.

Ella walked back into the room and gasped. On the floor was Noah's computer chair tipped over. Suspended above it was Kelly, her neck tied to the belt, which was tied to Noah's ceiling fan. Ella could see Kelly's eyes starting to bulge and her face turning red, as choking sounds escaped from her mouth.

Ella let out a loud scream. From downstairs in the kitchen, Arnold and Edie stopped washing dishes, with Edie dropping a plate in the sink. Outside, Christian and Angie both snapped their heads towards the house. After a second of hesitation, all four hurried from their places towards the stairs, none of them prepared for what they were about to see.
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