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

Ella sat at the kitchen table as Kelly moved around collecting items from the fridge and cupboards. She began to absentmindedly look around the kitchen. The kitchen looked a lot barer compared to when she was last here. Ella remembered a bulletin board with a calendar and notes about bills hanging on the wall across from the table. It was gone now. There was also a small oil painting of a red bird above the doorway. That was no longer there either.

“I'm really glad you made it,” Kelly said.

Kelly walked over from the counter and to the table. She set a plate in front of Ella and a glass of iced tea to her side. Ella stared at the plate. There was a simple turkey sandwich and potato chips on the plate.

“I can't imagine how you felt making such a long drive in your own,” Kelly said.

“Oh, it was nothing,” Ella said. “I mean, I did see someone nearly drift off the road at one point, but I'm fine. My mom was more worried.”

“I understand,” Kelly said. She looked like she was going to say more, but trailed off.

Ella took a bite of the sandwich. She gave a small smile to Kelly, who replied with her own. After Ella swallowed, she cleared her throat.

“So, how are you holding up?” Ella asked. “I mean, I know the last few years haven't been good for you-”

“I’m taking it one day at a time. It's not easy, but I'm learning to live.”

Ella took another bite of her sandwich. The night of Noah’s funeral was a horrible one. The rest of the family ran into Noah’s room after Ella screamed. Arnold and Christian were able to get Kelly back onto the chair and freed her from the belt. She was taken to the hospital, which led to some worry and grief for everyone there.

Except for Angie, that is. Unlike the rest of them, Angie was more mad than scared. The next day, she packed the car, buckled Ella in the backseat, and left. Angie had another fight with Christian the night before. Kelly had just attempted suicide in front of Ella. Angie could sympathize with Kelly for what she was going through, but she wasn't going to allow her to mentally scar their daughter. Christian was more sympathetic, but Angie didn't want to stay any longer. Christian could stay as long as he wanted, but Angie was done staying in that house and subjecting Ella to the madness there.

A few days later, Kelly was released, and Christian returned to Las Vegas. He couldn't take any more time off from work, and he finally agreed with Angie. He couldn't stay in Kingman much longer at the sacrifice of his family. Kelly didn't have any words for him, but Arnold and Edie were committed to looking after Kelly. With that, the Whitleys were out of Kingman, and it would be nine years before another set foot in Arizona.

Ella nibbled on a potato chip.

“So, college huh?” Kelly said. “Are you excited?”

“Yeah,” Ella said. “UNLV is a good school, and I really like it.”

“I'm surprised though,” Kelly said. “I wouldn't have expected that quiet little girl to pursue acting so seriously.”

“Well, people change,” Ella say. “I guess I found my niche.”

“I guess so,” Kelly said. “What are you up to now? 2 million subscribers?”

“4 million.”

“Wow. That's nearly six times what Noah had.”

Ella looked down a bit. When summer 2015 ended and Ella started fifth grade, she asked her mom if she could take acting classes. Angie was a bit incredulous, but Ella convinced her she’d stick with it no matter what, and she'd take any punishment if she didn't stick with it. Much to Angie and Christian’s surprise, Ella was serious. She took classes twice a week after school and got involved in school productions. She started out in minor roles, but by middle school, she was earning leading roles.

As she continued to act and perform, Ella began to start working on other forms of performing. She began watching stand up specials, comedic films, and looking up the basics of comedy. She added to this by writing her own jokes and trying to perform at open mice that would allow minors. In Las Vegas, she was rich with options.

By the time high school rolled around, it was clear what Ella was going to do with her life: she was going to be a comedian. In a way, it was like she was living the dream Noah never got to fulfill, but as she did more work, she started to see it as her own goal. She never got into it to make up for Noah’s death, but because she found things were generally better if she was the one making people laugh.

That's why she started a web series. “Ella, Etc.” premiered in her sophomore year of high school. The premise was simple: Ella would vlog or ramble about particular subjects and combine them with her dry wit to make 5-10 minute comedy videos every week. She had done her research on filming, editing, and promoting-mainly by seeing how Noah did it- but it looked like it was paying off. Ella was a next-generation internet star, at least to a somewhat respectable degree.

Granted, the Internet notoriety and minor earnings from YouTube videos wasn't the best option for her. That's why Ella kept her grades up and got into the theater program at UNLV. Now she could learn more and be involved in more productions. After that, she'd figure out what she wanted to do with her life and how she could build a career. For now, she was enjoying what she was doing.

“I don't want to compare myself to Noah,” Ella said. “I mean, there are fundamental differences to our comedy styles, but I'm my own comedian, and I'd like to keep it that way.”

“I understand,” Kelly said. “Can you explain one joke to me though? From your last video.”

“But then it won't be funny.”

“Maybe, but what did you mean when you said that movie star was serving florals but was really giving weed?”

“Oh, it's cause she had that floral print dress, but her hair and eye makeup made her look like a stoner.”

“Oh, I see.”

Ella took another bite of her sandwich. She looked around at the kitchen. The kitchen had cardboard boxes all around, filled with cookbooks and the wall art Ella noticed was gone.

“So how’s your mom?” Ella asked.

Kelly’s smile disappeared. She looked down and clasped her hands together.

“She’s fine. Relatively. It's just been a really hard time for her.”

Ella nodded. She reached over and grabbed Kelly’s hands.

“I'm really sorry,” Ella said. “I can't imagine how she felt after her husband passed.”

Kelly kept her head low, while Ella stroked her hand. Ella looked over Kelly. Her memories of Kelly from years ago were a bit hazy. She mostly remembered the woman in the bathrobe screaming and shutting herself off from the rest. She remembered how she saw the grief-stricken woman kissing Ella’s father.

She couldn't see that woman anymore. Kelly’s hair was shorter, and the lines around her eyes and mouth suggested she was aging faster than a lot of people around her. Noah hadn't even been dead a full decade, and Kelly had aged as if it had been two decades.

If Ella had to guess, Edie must have looked worse. About three years earlier, Christian had received a letter in the mail. Arnold had a heart attack while Edie and Kelly were out of the house, and was dead when they came home. Kelly and Edie weren't there for him at the end, something Edie didn't take well. Ella’s family was invited to the funeral, but since things were still awkward, Christian and Angie elected not to go. Christian had claimed he had an important work presentation, and Angie had a similar excuse. They sent flowers instead.

A few months earlier, Edie herself fell ill. She had a stroke one morning and was hospitalized. She survived, but lost most of her mobility and motor functions. Kelly had to place her mother in assisted living to ensure Edie was cared for.

Ella cleared her throat. There was a reason she was here. She finished the rest of the meal quietly. When she was done, she stood up.

“So, can I see Noah’s room?” She asked.

Kelly nodded. “Of course. Let's go.”

Kelly led Ella out of the kitchen. They passed through the living room, now packed almost entirely and filled with boxes. The mantle was cleared of all photos, and some of the furniture had been pushed aside.

The two women walked up the stairs. The stairs had the same familiar creaking sounds Ella remembered from when she snuck around during those nights. The photos were also gone from the wall.

They walked down the hall, past each of the bedrooms. They finally arrived at Noah’s room. The door was back on its hinges; someone must have finally done something about it after all these years. Kelly opened the door, and they stepped in.

Ella felt her throat tighten as she walked in. She remembered the room well. Those days she locked herself in his room, that night she recorded that video; it all came back to her.

The room had been left as it was when Ella was last year. Someone, likely Kelly, had come in to clean it and air it out, so it didn't look frozen like Miss Havisham’s hall. But it was still stuck in 2015. Ella felt slightly saddened by this.

“Feel free to look around,” Kelly said. “Take whatever you want. I'm going to get rid of most of this stuff anyways.”

Ella nodded and made her way through. It saddened her to think that Noah’s museum would be taken apart. But she understood why. Assisted living was expensive. On a waitress salary, even with the money Arnold left, even with everything Edie left in Kelly’s name, there was no way to stay here. Kelly had to sell the house she thought she’d raise her grandchildren in. This was the home Kelly’s grandparents bought, where three generations of MacIntyres and Whitleys grew up. Now it was going in the market to be taken over by some family who may have no clue about the history of the family who lived here for the last eighty years or so.

It was probably for the best. Kingman, Arizona had a reputation now. It was in league with Seattle, St. Paul, and all those other cities targeted by SOTF. Every home, street, or business could have ties to someone who died. There was no need to make this house a landmark. Might as well let it go.

Ella began to move towards Noah’s bed. She sat at the foot of it and began to rub the sheets.

“I slept here, when we were staying over,” Ella said. “I remember thinking it smelled like Noah.”

“I've washed the sheets,” Kelly said. “Sorry, it won't smell like him any more.”

“No, don't be sorry,” Ella said. “I was deluded then.”

Ella got up and walked over to the closet. She opened it up and began to rifle through. Most of Noah’s clothes were still there. They hadn't been washed or cared as much as the rest of the room, but many of the items had held up. Ella pulled out a red, sequined gown.

“I remember this one,” she said. “I thought it was so pretty.”

“You could probably fit in it now,” Kelly said.

“Are you saying my body is a lot like a skinny boy like Noah?” Ella asked, giving an incredulous look.

Kelly chuckled. Ella did too.

“Don't worry,” Ella said. “I've thought that myself more than once.”

Ella slung the dress over her arm. She began to go through the rest.

“You know, you could probably sell some of these,” Ella said. “Maybe they'd be good for vintage stores.”

“I don't know,” Kelly said. “Even if it could help my mother, I don't know if I should make money off of Noah.”

Ella nodded.

"Well," she said, pulling more items out, "I guess you can donate them. Someone will appreciate them."

After she had a few things, she turned to Kelly.

“Do you mind if I have some privacy, to try these on?” Ella asked.

“Oh, sure,” Kelly said.

Kelly walked to the door.

“There’s some empty boxes in the corner there,” Kelly said, pointing to a corner of the room. “Fill them with whatever you want.”

“I will, thank you,” Ella said.

Kelly closed the door. Ella’s smile disappeared. She threw the clothes on the bed and walked over to the door, locking it. She pressed her back against the door and closed her eyes. As she did, a tear began to roll down her cheek.

“Noah…” she muttered.

Ella rubbed her eyes and moved away from the door. She spent the next few minutes trying the clothes on. Strangely, she did fit a lot of them well. On the other hand, a lot of them were not her style. She preferred simple and casual, and some were too gaudy for her to wear. She didn't find a lot to take, although a few would be good for events and parties, like the red dress and a few of the jackets.

As Ella put the clothes in the box, she looked over at Noah’s computer desk. She walked over, tracing her hand over the desk. A lot of the clutter from when Noah occupied the room was still there. She did find one of the framed photos around the desk to be of her and Noah.

She picked it up. She remembered when the picture was taken. It was her birthday. It was one of the few times Noah was able to be there for her birthday since it was on a weekend and he could drive himself to Las Vegas. She smiled at it, looking at Noah’s bright, blue eyes and white teeth. She almost forgot he smiled like that. She didn't watch any of the footage after he died. She didn't go back to see what she saw before, and she certainly didn't watch his death.

That made her think of something else. Ella reached over and turned the computer on. To her surprise, the computer still worked. Even more surprising was that she remembered the password. Then again, she found it written down near it.

Ella began to search through the computer. Many of Noah’s accounts were still logged in. Angie had managed a lot of them and changed the log ins to prevent hacking, but the accounts weren’t touched here. She could access all his social media and his bookmarked pages.

That's when Ella had another idea. She breathed in, then out. She got to work.

A few minutes later, Ella walked downstairs with a box full of clothes, jewelry, and the photo. Kelly was sitting in the living room, reading a book. She turned and looked at Ella as she came down.

"Hey, just one box?" she asked.

"Yeah," Ella said. "There wasn't a whole lot, but I found what I really wanted. Thank you for letting me have these."

"It's my pleasure," Kelly said. "Are you going to head out?"

Ella shifted the box a bit in her hands. She bit her lip, then spoke.

"Actually, there's one more thing," Ella said.


"Can we go see Noah?"

Kelly was silent, her face frozen in a half smile. "Pardon?"

"Noah. I want to see his grave before I go. I got flowers before I came here- they're in my car- and I really wanted to pay my respects since it's been so long."

Kelly looked hesitant to reply. Ella wondered if it was too much to ask, but Kelly perked up and smiled.

"Sure," Kelly said. "We can see him."
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