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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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July 18, 2024, early afternoon

Ella tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she drove past a series of road signs advertising fast food restaurants and cheap hotels. It had been a long time since she had been down this road. The last time, she was laying limp in the backseat of her parent's car, her head pressed against the window as they headed into Kingman for Noah's funeral. After that, her family left Kingman, never looking back. Ella wished they had gone back a few times, even if it was just to see Noah's grave, but that didn't happen. Things didn't happen the way they wanted them to. She had to learn that harshly at age nine.

Now she was eighteen years old and driving her dad's van all the way from Las Vegas to Arizona. At first, she had been somewhat nervous about the trip. After all, this was the first time she had taken such a long drive all on her own. She nearly swore she'd never drive more than an hour from home after nearly driving into a ditch during Driver's Ed. But she had to tell herself it was easy. After all, Noah would make the drive to come see her. She could do the same for him.

She was about twenty minutes outside of Kingman when she realized the fuel gauge was getting low. Ella brushed a long, curly lock of hair behind her ear and began to scan the sides of the road for a gas station. When she saw one, she calmly turned off the road and pulled up to the first available pump. She began to pump the gas, letting the automatic pump fill the van up. She thought the van would get better mileage than it did. She shouldn't have been surprised though. The van was a cheap gift for her sixteenth birthday, and at the time, she was just glad she had a car. Now that she was college bound, she wished she had something a little more reliable.

Ella unlocked her phone and began to write a message. Her mom asked her to give her updates for her journey. Ella wasn't allowed to leave Las Vegas without a lecture about driving down Route 66 and what to do in an emergency. Ella begrudgingly allowed the lecture to occur, although part of her wished that she didn't have to be subjected to it. The ditch incident was the fault of that asshole who cut her off, not of her own device.

Of course, Ella had to remember that her family had gone through enough tragedy in the last ten years, and it was natural that Christian and Angie might assume the worst. She was at the age when Noah was taken, after all.

Ella texted a quick message to Angie.

"I'm at a gas station twenty minutes out. I should get to the house in less than an hour. I'll message once I'm back on the road."

She sent the message. She then stared at the phone and sighed. The gas pump stopped pumping, alerting Ella to the full tank. She placed the pump back and closed the cap. She got back into the van and began to drive. As she began to pull out, Angie texted back.

"Okay, please don't forget to. Please be careful driving, and please be careful at the house."

Ella shook her head.

"You don't need to tell me," she muttered to herself.

Ella pulled onto the road and quietly drove into Kingman. Kingman didn't look like how she remembered it. Granted, that near-month she spent in Kingman was limited in where she went. Aside from the MacIntyre house, there was one movie theater, one hospital, and one park she visited. After that, it was just the cemetery. There was an air to Kingman that was unlike Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, there was an artifice that hid the carnal pleasures of the town. Here, there was an air of artifice that suggested the town was hiding. Maybe it was just the shape of the buildings or the looks of the people walking around, but there was a sadness to Kingman she couldn't help but notice. After all, this was a town where over one hundred kid were abducted and murdered. The town could try to move on, but it would never escape that.

Ella continued to drive until she found herself reaching a familiar street. Like before, the neighborhood was full of old houses, children playing in the summer heat, and dry air passing through. Ella slowly drove through, taking it all in. She never found out if any of the other abducted children lived in this area. Noah's family lived in a lower-class area, so there could have been some other poorer kids here. Ella pushed that aside. She wasn't here to drive up to every home that lost a child in Survival of the Fittest and ask if they wanted a shoulder to cry on. She had a much more important task.

There it was: the MacIntyre house. Ella pulled into the driveway, taking in a deep breath before she stopped the car. She looked around the yard. The yard looked dead. Whatever grass was there looked more brittle and dead than before. Placed in front was a wooden sign.

"For Sale."

Ella rubbed her forehead, then opened the car door. She stepped out of the car and walked up to the front door, her long hair flowing in the dry, summer air behind her. She pulled down on the pink polo shirt she was wearing and pocketed her keys in her jeans. She walked up to the front door and quietly sighed. This was it.

Ella raised her fist and knocked on the door three times. She stepped back slightly and cupped her hands in front of her. The door opened, and she saw a familiar face there.

"Oh, hello dear."

"Hello, ma'am," Ella said. "How are you?"

"I'm great. Now please, come in."

Ella walked past the woman and into the house.

"You must be hungry after driving for so long."

"Oh, a little."

"Come on, I can make you something."

"You don't have to do that, ma'am."

"It's no problem," the older woman said, walking to the kitchen.

"And Ella," she added, "we're both adults. You can call me Kelly."

Ella nodded, then followed Kelly into the kitchen. She wasn't sure what would happen today, but she needed to be ready for it.
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