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All About My Mother; The Whitley Household
Topic Started: Sep 16 2016, 10:07 AM (1,016 Views)
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 5, 2015, early evening

Kelly sighed as she set her glass down. She rubbed her hand on the bar counter, wiping the condensation off. She stared down at the glass of sangria in front of her. She stared at the grape floating near the top, and she pushed it down with her straw. She began to stir the drink, moving the fruit and ice around and making a clinking sound as the ice tapped the glass. She let out another sigh.

Since she ran away from the home, Kelly had been spending her time as lethargically as possible. She slept in late, ordered a large lunch for herself from room service, then spent the afternoon walking around the trails of the resort. She hadn't spoken to anyone else there since she arrived, but knew what to say if she did. She was Pina MacIntyre, a single businesswoman looking to take a long weekend to treat herself after finishing a big project with a major client. She could make up the details if she needed. Having spent the last sixteen years working in a bar, she knew the names of dozens of businesses in Kingman and the surrounding area and knew the jargon to give as well. She could probably be convincing.

It was dinner time, and Kelly was sitting at the bar in the resort's restaurant. All around, she could hear the sounds of people who were there for vacations or other events. From the way the staff was moving around, it looked like there would be a wedding there soon. Flowers were being hung from the walls, cloths were being laid on the tables. Kelly had to eat early before the restaurant would be closed for a rehearsal dinner. That was fine by her. She had eaten a salad, and could order more to her room if needed.

For now, she just sat at the bar and continued to drink. She was already on her second sangria, and could feel like having more. She stopped stirring the drink and took another sip. As she did, a man sat next to her. She glanced over at him, then away. She took another sip.

"I'll have a coke with lemon," the man said to the bartender.

The bartender poured the drink for the man, dropping a lemon wedge in. Kelly watched the man take his drink. She rubbed her hand against her forehead.

"Not in the mood for something strong?" she asked.

"I gave it up years ago," the man said in response. "It's not easy, but I'm learning to enjoy the flavor of the drink over how buzzed I can get."

Kelly smirked as the man took another sip.

"You are so full of shit," she said.

The man looked at her. "Maybe, but I know better than getting drunk around you."

Kelly's smirk vanished.

"How did you find me?"

"Hualapai Mountain Resort," the man said. "We didn't have a proper wedding ceremony, so your parents paid for us to have a honeymoon instead. Hualapai was where they sent us."

Christian turned to face Kelly.

"Even I remember that."

Kelly glanced downwards, then back to her drink.

"I thought I was careful."

"You were," Christian said. "You just forgot that I remembered this place when your parents didn't."

Kelly was silent. Christian took another sip of his drink.

"Are you going to make me go home?" she asked.

"No. Even if I brought you, I probably wouldn't be let back in the house anyways. I think it's best I stay out for a bit."

Kelly shook her head.

"Was it true? Did you cheat on Angie?" Kelly asked.


"I shouldn't be surprised," Kelly replied.

"I wouldn't expect you to," Christian said.

"Well, you never cheated on me," Kelly said.

"I did."

Kelly raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

Christian nodded. "Before we were seriously going out, I hooked up with an ex. It was a one time thing, but I was interested in you, so it felt like a betrayal."

"That doesn't count. If this was before we were officially dating, it's not cheating."

"Yeah, but it was cheating to me."

"Was there anyone else?"


"Tanya? My co-worker?"

"At the lounge, yeah."

"When was this?"

"It was when you and your friends were away for a holiday a few months after Noah was born. Tanya came over to help me out, and we ended up in bed."

"That bitch..." Kelly muttered. "Wait, so you fucked her while watching Noah?"

"Well, he was asleep then, but regardless. Believe me, Tanya wanted it to be forgotten as soon as it was happened. She was going through a rough patch with Dalton and it spilled over and-"

"Okay, I got it."

Kelly tilted her head as she looked at Christian. "Who did you cheat on Angie with?"

"Her name was Rebecca. We were working together at the bank for a deal, and I invited her to my house to finish the deal. Then we started drinking, and we ended up in bed."


"Shut up. Anyways, Angie caught us, and Rebecca ran off. We didn't see each other after that. It was a real dumb move. Angie was pregnant with Ella, we were both stressed and at each other's throats, and Rebecca was there when I was really losing it."

Christian rubbed his forehead.

"Believe me, I hate that I fall into the trap over and over again. I just don't know why it keeps happening."

"You're selfish," Kelly said.

"Excuse me?"

"You've always been," she explained. "You always wanted a lot of money, a lot of prestige, and a lot of fun. Whether it was poker or drinking, if it made you feel better, than it was worth it. I do believe you try your hardest to be more than that, but at the end of the day, you just want what you want."

"Hey, I kissed you because you wanted it."

"And how many times have you kissed Angie since Noah vanished? How many times have you two made love?"

Christian was silent. Kelly chuckled.

"Don't worry. I'm selfish too. I made this whole mess about me and acted like a total diva. I was the weeping mother who cared about her son so much she locked herself in her room like a madwoman and made everyone tread lightly around her because she was taking on such a dangerous task."

Kelly started to laugh a bit. "God, I'm so worried about our kids."

"Don't worry," he said. "Noah and Ella are so much better than we are."

"I guess so. I mean, how the hell did Ella record and publish that video?"

"I'm telling you, I can't sometimes with her. She once started a lemonade stand outside our house, but charged boys more for the lemonade than girls."

"What? Why?"

"She saw Angie watching a news report about the wage gap and decided to do the same."

"How old was she when she did this?"

"It was last year."

"So it's not too much of a stretch."

"No, but Angie certainly didn't tell her to do that. Seriously, she was charging the boys 50 cents for every 25 cents per girl."

Kelly started to laugh. "Noah never did anything like that. But oh man, did he ever tell you about Ernie in the ceiling?"


"It was from a book he found at the library. Ernie's some genie who lives in the ceiling and loves eggs. So it told you to throw eggs at the ceiling so Ernie would reach down and grab them."

"Oh no. I think I know what this means."

"No, it's not what you think," Kelly said. "Noah grabbed a whole carton of eggs and a stepladder and got up to the ceiling and started tapping it, asking if Ernie was there."

"How old was he?"


"Oh my god."

"So yeah, he figured it'd be easy to go to the top and just hand Ernie the eggs instead of throwing them."

Christian laughed.

"Oh, man. That was so much better than I thought."

"Yeah, except my dad came up from behind and shouted 'What are you doing?!?' which startled Noah so much he dropped the whole carton on the floor."



Christian chuckled. "Oh, wow. I can't believe that."


The two fell silent. They each took another sip from their drinks. Kelly's smile vanished.

"Chris, can we go back to my room? I'd like to talk in private."


The two paid their tabs and went back to Kelly's room. They ordered a bottle of wine and had it delivered. Christian poured a glass for Kelly and handed it to her. Kelly sat on the bed while Christian sat on a chair in the corner.

"What did you want to talk about?" Christian asked.

Kelly stared at Christian.

"Do they know I'm here?"


"Everyone. Did they send you?"

"No," he said. "I did find you on my own."

Kelly sighed. Christian took a look at her.

"Do you want to know about Noah?"

Kelly perked up. "What?"

"Noah. Do you want an update on him?"

Kelly's eyes widened and her breathing got sparse. "Chris, don't tell me-"

"No, no," he said. "He's still alive."

"Oh, thank god," she said. "I thought you were going to-"

"But he said something," Christian said.


"He addressed the cameras," Christian said. "From what I've read, Noah's talked to the cameras quite a bit, mostly telling them dirty jokes I've shared with him. But he said something for everyone."


Christian pulled out his phone and unlocked it. On screen was a text message to Angie. "Tell Edie and Arnold I found Kelly. I'll try to bring her home, so the police don't have to look for her." It was followed by a picture of Kelly at the bar, taken moments before he approached her. He clicked out of his text messaging app and clicked his web browser. The browser pulled up Noah's stream, frozen on a moment of him looking directly into a camera.

"I kept checking his stream today. He hasn't done much. He cried because a friend of his died, but spent the day alone in a room doing weird stuff. But he had something to say before he and his friend left to explore. I think you need to see this."

Christian handed the phone to Kelly after pressing play. Kelly held the phone and watched as her son spoke.

"Hey, Mom. I lasted five days here. That's longer than I did in little league, so I hope you're proud of me. Let me make this quick. Listen, I don't know what's gonna happen, but if I don't come back, please take care of everyone. I know Grandma and Grandpa will be sad, but could you try to be strong for them? You were always the badass matriarch our house needed, so I hope you can keep everyone going. Um, Dad. Angie. I hope you guys can be there for my mom if she needs help. Please also make sure Ella's okay. I can't imagine how she's processing this shit. But she's a trooper, so I hope you can explain it to her well. Oh, and as for my stuff, maybe you guys can auction it off to raise money for Ella's college. Wait, no, just give her my college fund. Odds are I won't need it any more. She's probably Harvard-bound anyways and could use the cash. I'll think of other things to say the next time I get a quiet moment with the cameras. Until then...um...peace, I guess. There isn't any here, but surely you guys have some."

Kelly remained stone faced as the video played. Once Noah walked away from the camera, she burst into tears. Christian moved over to the bed and took the phone from Kelly. As he did, Kelly wrapped her arms around him and began to sob into his chest.

"It's okay," Christian said. "He's doing fine, and he's taking it well."

"But he's still there. He's still there, and he doesn't think he'll come home."

Christian was silent. "We just have to believe in him. There's got to be some way for him to come home-"

Before Christian could say anything else, Kelly moved forward and kissed him. This time, Christian didn't resist, and kissed her back. After realizing what she did, Kelly pulled back.

"Shit, sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have-"

Before she could say anything, Christian pulled her back and kissed her.

"Fuck it," he said, breaking the kiss. "We're in grief. We're allowed to be stupid now."

"But Angie-"

"Fuck Angie," Christian said. "What do you want right now?"

Kelly paused, looking downward. "I..."

Kelly pushed Christian down on the bed and climbed on top of him. She continued to kiss him as she started to unbutton his shirt. Christian moved his hands under Kelly's blouse and began to raise it up, exposing her midsection. As the two continued to kiss, Christian grabbed his phone and turned it on silent. Kelly noticed this.

"Why did you do that?" she asked.

"I don't want any interruptions," he said, looking at the screen.

Christian set the phone upside down, the pulled Kelly closer. He held onto her and rolled her over. They continued to kiss and undress, ignoring everything else in the room.

On Christian's phone was a message from Angie.

"Okay. Do whatever you have to to get Kelly home. I don't care anymore."

As the sounds of Kelly and Christian's lovemaking filled the room, the phone vibrated on the nightstand. Neither Christian nor Kelly heard it. If they did, they would have seen another text from Angie.

"Where are you? Go to Kingman Regional Medical Center ASAP. Something's happened to Edie."
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June 5, 2015, early evening

Edie sat on the living room couch, staring at the fireplace in the room. The fire wasn't lit, but she simply stared forward and kept her eye on it, as if it would light just from her stare. She took a sip from her mug of tea, then sighed. As she did, Angie walked in.

"Okay, Ella and I are going to go for a walk," Angie said. "We should be back in time for dinner."

"Alright," Edie said. "We're just going to order pizza, if that's okay."

"Yeah, of course," Angie said. "I just want to have a talk with Ella, that's all."

Angie pulled her phone out of her pocket, then set it down on the coffee table.

"I don't want any interruptions," Angie said, "but we shouldn't be gone for long, so if anything comes up, just tell us when we get back."

"Okay," Edie said, turning back to look at the fireplace.

Angie silently stared at Edie, before turning away. Ella was standing at the front door, waiting to go out with her mother.

"Alright, ready to go?" Angie said.

Ella quietly nodded. Angie opened the door and guided Ella outside. She closed the door behind her. Once the room was silent again, Edie lowered her head and sighed. Before she could do anything else, she heard Angie's phone go off. Edie stared at the text message on Angie's phone. It was from Christian. It was a picture of Kelly sitting at a bar, along with a message saying he had found her.

Edie's eyes widened and she reached forward to grab the phone. The phone was still unlocked from when Angie last checked it, so Edie began to type a message.

"Okay," she began to write.

Edie paused for a second. She wanted Kelly home as soon as possible. She was writing a message to ensure Christian knew to get Kelly home. However, this meant writing as Angie. She could tell him Angie was out of the house, but she'd pass it along, but what mattered was getting Kelly back home before anything happened. She needed to say something to him, but wasn't sure what. After a few minutes of waiting, Edie finished the message.

"Do whatever you have to to get Kelly home. I don't care anymore."

Edie sent the text. Maybe it was wrong to send a message on Angie's behalf, but she wanted to ensure that Kelly got him. Things were already going crazy in the house. One minute there's fighting and cursing, then Christian's kicked out of the home, while Angie removes Noah's bedroom door and Arnold gets exiled to the couch for the night. Maybe Kelly being home wouldn't make things entirely better, but they'd be a start.

"I better call the police..." Edie said.

Edie got up from the couch and walked to the kitchen. She needed to let the police know they found Kelly before a missing person's report was filed.

Angie and Ella walked along the sidewalk of the MacIntyre's neighborhood. Since schools had closed due to the kidnappings, there were a lot more kids out and about in the area. Some were playing baseball in the road, while others were playing tag in their yard. As they walked along, Angie noticed Ella didn't seem to pay much attention to them. Ella kept her gaze to her feet as they walked. Angie put a hand on Ella's head.

"I know," Angie said. "You're not happy."

"No," Ella said. "I'm not."

Angie sighed. "I know, and you have a right to be. This has been a terrible month for everyone."

Ella stared at a pair of children fighting with lightsabers in front of their house. The kids were making fake lightsaber sounds and shouting at every parry.

"Not for them," she said. "They're acting like nothing's happening."

"Well, maybe they don't know anyone abducted," Angie said. "They might say prayers at night for the kids."

"But that's not helping," Ella said.

"You don't know that," Angie said.

"Yes I do."

Ella glanced away from the kids and started to walk ahead of her mother. Angie tried to match her pace. The two kept walking along the sidewalk, and were nearing a small park.

"Why don't we walk around that park a bit and then go back home?" Angie said.

Ella nodded. Angie silently followed Ella, and the two soon made their way to the park. The park was a small block with only two or three trees littering the area. There were a few benches scattered around the dirt paths. The two made their way over.

"Ella, I know it's hard to tell, but this event will change this city forever."

"How?" Ella asked.

"Well, over one hundred kids have been kidnapped. Unless there's a miracle, all but one will die. If we're lucky, that one will be Noah. It's going to hang around the citizens for a long time. Parents might be more distrustful of the school system or make a larger call to action, such as suing the government. The kids you see playing around may act like everything is okay, but that's because they don't know to be afraid."

Angie and Ella walked into the park and started along a trail.

"Is everything going to be different for us?" Ella asked. "Even if Noah comes home?"

"What do you mean?"

Ella stopped walking and looked directly at her mother.

"Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?"

"What? Why?"

"I heard you," Ella said. "Dad's cheated on you before, and he kissed Noah's mom. Is that it for you guys?"

Angie shook her head.

"El, it's too soon to say. It's a chaotic time, and we're not being logical."

"But when you have time to think, is it going to be over?"

Angie paused, then lowered herself to Ella's level.

"Ella, I love your father. We've been together over ten years, and he gave me you. I'll always be grateful for that. But I recognize that he's made mistakes, and he's done things that have hurt me. I'll know what to do with him when the time comes, but right now, I want to think about your brother and what he's going through."

Ella tried not to look at her mother. Angie put a hand on Ella's shoulder and smiled.

"Don't worry. I'm sure he'll come home soon," Angie said. "Maybe we can all go somewhere fun once he gets back. All seven of us."

Ella nudged herself back, removing Angie's hand from her shoulder.

"Mom, he's not coming back. Noah's not getting off that island. He's alone and sick, and he'll probably be killed by one of those crazy kids."


"If he doesn't come back, then Dad probably won't either."

"Whoa, what makes you-"

"Because Dad like Noah's mom. She's sad, and Dad would kiss her if it makes her happy. He'll choose her, and you'll leave him, and he'll stay here with her."

"Ella, that's-"

"And honestly, if Noah doesn't come home, it's probably for the better. His grandpa doesn't like him at all, his mom's a wreck, his dad's hurting everyone, and you're mad at everyone. He's going to come home and learn everyone is a liar and that everyone just uses him to get back at one another."

"Ella, stop!" Angie shouted.

Ella looked up at her mother. She could see her mom's eyes were starting to water.

"Ella, I love your dad. Yes, he's lousy, but I don't want to let this destroy our relationship. His grandpa may not like what Noah does, but I sure as hell knows he'd rather see Noah dance in a dress than fighting his peers on some island somewhere. And yes, his mom might be doing some crappy things right now, but it's only because she loves Noah so much. He's her only baby, and she's so scared about what would happen to him.

"If some terrorists abducted you and forced you into a similar game, I'd probably be as much of a wreck as she is. You're my only daughter, and it's my job to make sure you're safe and secure. I know I won't always succeed, but I know that losing you would be the most devastating thing to ever happen to me. And believe me, I wouldn't want to sit in some room watching you run around an island, I'd want to be calling everyone I can to find a way to get you home. I'd want to see those monsters punished for what they did to you, Noah, and every other child they murdered in these sick games.

"So please, don't hate your dad. Don't hate Noah's mom. Don't hate his grandparents. And please don't hate me. I'm sorry we haven't been good to you these last few weeks. I'm sorry if you've been scared or angry or upset. We're all scared, angry, and upset, and maybe we're not handling this the best way, but dammit, we're trying. You might not believe it right now, but we do love each other, and we all want the same thing. We all want Noah to be okay and we all want to get past this horrible incident."

Angie could feel tears starting to fall down her cheeks. Ella's eyes were also starting to flutter from tears. Angie pulled Ella close and hugged her tight.

"I'm so sorry, Ella. We should have been better, but I don't think anyone can be prepared for such an event."

Ella sniffled. Angie hugged her tighter.

"Come on. Let's go home and have some pizza. I bet the Edie knows a good place."

"Do you think they have stuffed crust?" Ella asked.

Angie looked at her daughter and smiled. She nodded.

"We'll see. But if they do, we can ask Edie."

Angie wiped her eyes. She stood back up.

"Come on, let's go."

Ella wiped her eyes, and the two started walking back out of the park. Ella grabbed her mom's hand and held it tight. Angie smiled and held Ella's tiny hand as tight as she could.

"Yes. Yes. Thank you."

Edie hung the phone up, keeping her hand on the phone for a few extra seconds. She held her hand over her heart and closed her eyes. She felt her breathing start to get heavy. The police knew Kelly was okay. She knew Kelly was okay. Christian would surely find a way to get her back home.

The back door opened and Arnold walked in. He had just finished taking another smoke break, and now the smell of tobacco filled the kitchen.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Christian found Kelly," Edie said. "I was just letting the police know."

"Oh, thank god," Arnold said. "Where is she?"

"Some bar," Edie said. "I don't know where."

Edie tightened her fist against her chest. Her breathing was concerning, and she was starting to feel weak. She stepped away from the phone and into the living room. Arnold followed after her. Edie sat down on the couch, sighing as she rubbed her forehead. Arnold stood at the entrance to the kitchen.

"Edie," Arnold said. "Can we please talk?"

"I'm not in the mood," Edie said, moving her hands to her eyes.

Arnold quietly rolled his eyes.

"Look, Edie, I know I was an ass last night. But I think there's worse to worry about like-"

"Arnold, please just shut up and leave me alone!"

Arnold froze. Edie had gotten mad at him in the past, but she never just snapped at him.

"Edie, what is it?" Arnold asked.

Edie shook her head. "I just haven't been feeling well. So I'm just going to go lay down upstairs."

Edie stood up from the couch and began to walk towards the stairs. Arnold started to walk after her. Edie paused at the bannister, her breathing starting to pick up. Arnold noticed her frozen in place.

"Edie, what are you-"

Before Arnold could finish, the strength in Edie's legs gave out, and she fell to the ground. Her body was half on the stairs, and half on the ground. Arnold rushed over to her.

"Edie! Edie! Are you okay?" He asked, turning her over.

Edie wasn't responding. She was still breathing, but she was hardly moving. Before Arnold could do anything, the front door opened, and Angie and Ella walked in. Angie froze in place, removing her hand from Ella's.

"Arnold, what happened?" she asked.

"Edie collapsed," he told her. "Call 911."

"Got it," Angie said.

Angie ran into the living room. "Ella, get her some water!" she shouted.

Ella was frozen in place, but then hurried into the living room. She passed her mother and ran into the kitchen. Angie grabbed her phone and quickly dialed 911.

"Hi, please help. My...friend has collapsed. She's breathing, but she's not reacting."

Arnold held Edie close, trying to keep her conscious.

"Edie, please stay with me," he muttered. "Please, please stay with me."

Ella ran back with a glass of water. Arnold took the glass from her and held it to Edie's mouth. Edie sipped the water, some of it dribbling down her chin. Angie then ran back in.

"Okay, they're sending an ambulance," she said. "Let's move her to the couch."

Angie pocketed the phone and moved over to the others. Arnold held Edie under her armpits, while Angie grabbed her by the legs. Ella moved out of their way as the two carried her over to the couch. They laid Edie down on the couch. Angie looked at her phone, anticipating a message from the paramedics. As she did. she noticed some text messages she missed. Christian had apparently found Kelly. Not only that, but someone had told him to get her home however she could. Angie didn't think much about that right now.

"Where will they take her?" Angie asked.


"Where's the nearest hospital?"

"Probably Kingman Regional Medical Center," Arnold said.

"Great," Angie said. "I'll tell Christian."


"He found Kelly, apparently," Angie said. "He and Kelly can meet us there."

Angie began to type the message, unaware that Christian had just put his phone on silent. Arnold continued to stroke Edie's forehead, while Ella stood silently in the corner.

"Please god, not her too," Arnold muttered under his breath.

Edie didn't show it, but she heard Arnold say that. She lay motionless, even as the sounds of an ambulance drifted closer to the house. She didn't know what to say, so she remained silent.
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June 5, 2015, late evening

"Where the hell are they?" Angie muttered to herself, looking at her phone.

Angie looked at the chain of text messages she had sent. They were all in a similar vein. "Where are you?" "Call me." "Turn your fucking ringer on." Not a single reply in almost four hours. She thought to herself that Christian had better be doing his job of getting Kelly home, otherwise there was no excuse for this.

Angie leaned against the wall and sighed. Visiting time was almost over, and there was still no sign of Christian nor Kelly anywhere. The last few hours had been pretty rough. After Edie fainted, Angie was worried the poor old woman had finally broken down. However, by the time paramedics arrived, Edie was back to talking and responding. They still took her in to the hospital anyways to check on her, just to be safe. Angie and Ella followed along, while Arnold rode in the ambulance with his wife.

According to the doctor, Edie had collapsed from exhaustion. For women of her age, it was crucial to be eating properly and to be maintaining the environment she was in. Arnold and Angie were silent the entire discussion. To be safe, Edie was given an IV, and if she was well enough, she could go home the next day. All that remained was to wait and see.

Angie looked at her watch. They had fifteen minutes left in visiting hours. She decided to walk back into the room. Inside, Edie was lying quietly in the hospital bed. Arnold sat next to her, gently stroking her hand. Ella was curled up in a chair in the corner, resting her head against the wall. She had fallen asleep a little while ago. Angie sat in the chair on the other side of the bed.

"How're you holding up?" she asked Edie.

"I'm fine," Edie said weakly. "I'm sorry to put you all through such a scare."

"It's alright," Arnold said, tightening his grip on Edie's hand. "Just take it easy now."

"Yeah," Angie said. "You've been really busy these last few days."

Angie reached over and patted Edie on the back. Edie gave a weak smile. It had been a long week, and for Edie, it was quite an unusual one. Along with the stress of knowing if her grandson was safe or not, she had to entertain house guests and handle a lot of chores. It hadn't been the easiest time, and along the way she forgot to take care of herself. She punished herself in her mind for not eating as well as she should have, and for not getting adequate rest.

"Sorry," Edie said. "The truth is, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. And I didn't feel like eating much today."

"I've had those kind of days," Angie said. "Believe me, it happens to everyone."

"No, it's not that," Edie interrupted. "Yesterday was the worst, and I never allowed myself to recover from it."

"Edie..." Arnold started.

Edie turned her head and faced Arnold.

"Arnold, for all the years we've been together, I shouldn't have treated you like that. I shouldn't have said such horrible things to you. Please forgive me."

Arnold's eyes started to water. He grabbed Edie's hand and held it up to his forehead.

"You did nothing wrong," Arnold said. "I was such an idiot then. You're right. I haven't been honest with Noah all these years, and that was a disservice to him. He's my only grandchild and I squandered so much time I should have spent with him. I should be taken out back and shot."

"Whoa," Angie said. "Arnold, that's extreme. What happened?"

Arnold sniffled, and rubbed Edie's hand. He looked up at his wife, her face full of pity. Arnold closed his eyes, then spoke

"Angie, the truth is, I never came to terms with-"


Angie, Arnold, and Edie all turned to the door. Standing there, her face red from running, was Kelly. She stood there, panting, as Christian slowly walked in behind her. Kelly started to tear up, then broke down crying. She ran over to her father's side and hugged her mom.

"I'm sorry..." Kelly said. "I'm sorry."

Edie hugged Kelly back.

"Don't worry," Edie said. "It's fine."

"No, it's not. It's all my fault," Kelly said.

Edie rubbed the back of Kelly's head. "No, I should have been more careful. It's not your fault."

Kelly continued to cry. As she did, Angie looked over at Christian.

"Where was she?" Angie asked Christian.

"Hualapai," Christian said. "It's a resort outside of town."

"Oh, the place we sent you guys for your honeymoon," Arnold said. "That's a nice place."

"Oh. I see," Angie said, looking away from Christian.

Christian stared at his wife, noticing her expression turning forlorn. He glanced downwards, then looked back at Kelly and her parents. As he did, Ella began to stir in her chair. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the adults in the room.

"Is Edie going to be fine?" Christian asked.

"Yes," Arnold said. "We just had a scare. I'm just surprised more of us haven't broken down like this."

Everyone in the room was silent. They all began to move their eyes away from one another, letting the statement hang in the air. Ella looked at the adults, then spoke.

"So Noah didn't get his sense of humor from you," Ella said.

The adults all turned towards Ella. Ella sat in her chair, hands in her lap, staring at them. After a few seconds of silence, Kelly let out a snicker. She covered her mouth as soon as she did.

"Sorry, that wasn't appropriate," she said.

Christian smirked. "When have you ever been?"

"Oh shut up," Kelly said. "Don't talk to me about appropriateness when you're telling our son gross jokes about leprechauns in truck stops."

"Leprechauns?" Edie asked, chortling in bafflement.

"Yeah," Kelly said. "This guy walks into a truck stop to-"

"Nope. Nope. Nope," Angie said. "Not with Ella in the room. Don't tell her that one."

"Mom, I'm not a baby," Ella said. "I watch Noah's show."

"Yeah, and you shouldn't follow his example," Arnold said.

"Oh really?" Ella said.

Ella slacked her jaw and stuck her chest forward, putting one hand on her hip.

"Hi, y'all!" she shouted. "I'm Pina Bucket! I'm so dumb that when I heard it was raining cats and dogs, all I could think was 'Yay, now I've got dinner for a week!'"

All the adults in the room began to snicker. Even Arnold had to hold a fist to his mouth as he smirked. Ella continued to pose with her mouth wide open, her teeth jutting out, and her back bent forward.

"Was that in one of his videos?" Arnold asked.

"Yeah. The one about idioms," Ella said, settling back into a normal expression and position.

"Oh, I see," Arnold said.

"You didn't watch it?" Christian asked.

"No, I must have forgotten," Arnold said.

Ella rolled her eyes, which Angie raised an eyebrow at. Angie clapped her hands together.

"Listen, I'm glad you guys are back," Angie said, "but we're going to be kicked out soon. Should we go?"

"I want to stay," Kelly said.

"Kelly, your mom needs to rest," Christian said. "Give her space."

"Look, we came in separate cars," Arnold said. "You three can go ahead first. We'll catch up soon."

"Sure," Christian said, looking to Angie and Ella. "Ready to go."

"Okay," Ella said, hopping down from her chair.

"Yeah," Angie said. "You take care, Edie."

"Take care," parroted Ella.

"Thank you," Edie said.

Arnold handed a house key to Christian, and he, Angie, and Ella walked out of the room. Christian peered back in before they left.

"Okay, we'll see you at home," he said.

"Bye," said Arnold.

Kelly continued to nuzzle against her mother, waving without looking at Christian. Christian left the room, joining up with Angie and Ella.

"Alright. Let's go home," Christian said.

The three began to walk down the hallway towards the elevator. As they did, Ella walked close to her dad, then flared her nostrils.

"Dad, you smell sweaty," Ella said.

"I do?" Christian said, sniffing his armpit. "Yuck! I do."

"Yeah. You smell gross."

"Oh, well, sorry honey," he said. "I was outside talking to Noah's mom tonight, and he was hot."

"I thought you were in a bar," Angie said.

"We started in the bar, but then we moved outside to talk. You know how warm Arizona in June is."

Angie raised an eyebrow as the three stepped into the elevator. She looked up and down Christian as the elevator began to move. She could see beads of sweat trickling on his brow, even though the hospital was well air conditioned. He wasn't looking over at Angie, staring off at the elevator door before him. Angie's eyes squinted as she noticed Christian bite his lip. He was hiding something, and she was going to figure it out.

But that could wait until everyone was home.
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June 6, 2015, mid-afternoon

"Kel, I'm sure we're good to go," Edie said.

"I know," Kelly said, looking around the hospital bed, "I just want to be sure."

"We didn't even bring much yesterday," Edie explained. "It was just an overnight stay."

Kelly looked back up after checking under the bed. "I know, but I want to be safe. Dad can keep waiting."

Edie walked over and patted Kelly on the back. "I'm ready. Let's just go home."

Kelly nodded. "Okay, sure. I'm not sure if Dad would have cracked a window or not."

"Kelly!" Edie said in a mockingly upset tone.

"Sorry, that was something Noah once said."

The two women began to walk out of the hospital room. Kelly sung a carrier bag over her shoulder. The bag had been used to bring Edie a fresh change of clothes. Edie turned to Kelly as they walked.

"Speaking of, have you heard anything about Noah?"

"No," Kelly said, keeping her gaze towards the elevators. "I haven't been watching."

Kelly stepped into the elevator with Edie. Edie looked concerned, her gaze darting around the elevator.

"Kelly, are you sure-"

"Mom, I'm fine," Kelly said. "I need to cut away for a bit and focus on other matters."

Edie was silent, and remained so as the elevator reached the ground floor and the two stepped out. They walked out of the hospital and through the lot until they reached Arnold sitting in Kelly's car. Kelly helped her mother into the passenger seat, then sat in the back. The three began to drive out of the hospital.

"Is everything in the house okay?" Edie asked.

"Yep," Kelly said. "Angie and Christian are looking after the home."

"And how's Ella?"

"She's fine," Arnold said. "She's been reading instead of watching the video."

"Oh, that's good," Edie said. "A child shouldn't be watching that footage."

"I don't think anyone should, but I think we've learned that we're always going to be tempted," Kelly said.

The car fell silent. Edie turned back and saw Kelly sitting in the middle of the backseat. She half-expected to see Kelly back to being five years old, sitting in a car seat and with a Berenstain Bears book in her hand. Instead, there was a fully grown woman who was staring forward with half-empty eyes. Edie glanced down a bit, then back to Kelly.

"Kelly, I-"

"No, mom, it's nothing," Kelly said. "Sorry, I'm just really embarrassed with my behavior this week."

"Kel, don't feel bad," Arnold said, keeping his eyes on the road. "We've all been really lousy this week."

"I know, but I feel the most foolish," she said. "I shouldn't have made such a big deal about watching the stream all on my own. Even if Angie was right that we'd have no other way of knowing exactly what happened to Noah, ignorance might have been better."

"No, I think we have a right to know," Edie said. "It's just hard to watch something so terrifying. We should have all taken turns. You know, watch in shifts."

"In hindsight, that might have worked," Arnold said.

"Yeah, especially since we now know roughly what happened the first few days," Kelly said. "Granted, I wouldn't want to be the one seeing him get shot by that girl."

"Well, no one would want to," Edie said. "But at least he made it out of that okay."

Kelly smiled, then sighed.

"Mom, Dad, what do we do?" Kelly asked.

"Pardon?" Edie asked.

"Now. Do we do the shift thing, or do we just refuse to watch?"

"I don't know," Edie said. "I'd rather not watch though. The little bit I saw was enough."

"I'll watch it," Arnold said.

"Honey," Edie began.

"No, it's fine," Arnold said. "I owe it to Kelly to help her out instead of retreating, and I owe it to Noah to show I care about him at the end."

"Dad, he knows you care about him. Why wouldn't he think that?"

"Yes, dear," Edie said, looking at Arnold. "Why wouldn't he?"

"Oh, um," Arnold stuttered. "I think he does, but I just figure it'd be best to watch."

Arnold glanced over. They had been driving for a few minutes and were now pulling back into their neighborhood.

"Look, we're almost home," he said. "Why don't we talk to Christian and Angie and come to a consensus? We know Angie has been watching, so maybe she'll help."

"Angie's been watching?" Kelly asked.

"You didn't see the video Ella posted?"


"Oh, well, yeah, she has," Arnold said. "On her phone when no one was around."

Kelly frowned a bit. Arnold tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. He perked up a bit when he saw the MacIntyre house.

"There we are," he said, pulling into the driveway. "Edie, how are you feeling?"

"Oh, I'm fine, dear," she said. "I think I could use a cold drink."

"Okay, I'll fix you something when we get in."

The three began to exit the car. Kelly grabbed the carrier bag for Edie and slung it over her shoulder. The three of them began to walk to the front door.

"A cold drink would be great," Kelly said. "You may want to take a nap as well. I can fix dinner."

"Oh, Kel," Edie said. "I'll be fine. I just-"

As the three approached the door, they all went silent when they heard the sound of something smashing.

"Christian?" Kelly asked.

Arnold pushed past Kelly and went up to the door. He shoved the key in the keyhole and turned it, pushing it open.

"What's going on?" Arnold said.

He froze in place. Kelly and Edie walked in after him. In the living room, on the floor, was Christian. He was clutching the side of his face, blood starting to drip down his head. Broken shards of glass littered the floor around him. Standing above him was Angie, her face turning red and her eyes watering. She was starting to pant, and her fists were curled by her side. In the corner seat was Ella, who was covering her mouth and sitting quietly.

"Angie!" Kelly shouted. "What the hell are you doing?"

Kelly moved into the room and knelt by her ex-husband, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"You son of a bitch," Angie muttered.

"Oh my god," Edie said.

"Edie, get a towel," Arnold said to her.

Edie ran back through the dining room and to the kitchen. Arnold stepped into the room.

"Chris, what happened?" Arnold asked.

"She hit me in the face with a glass!" Christian yelled.

"Angie, how could you-" Kelly began.

"How could I?" Angie yelled. "How could you?!?"

Angie stared at Kelly. Kelly felt her stomach start to sink as she met the frightening stare of the woman before her. Maybe being locked in her room was a lot preferable to being outside it after all.
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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."


"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?"


"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?"


"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.


"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.


"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.



"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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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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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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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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July 18, 2024, late afternoon

Ella and Kelly walked close together as they made their way through the cemetery. Ella kept the bouquet close to her side. It was a small bouquet she picked up at a grocery store before she left Las Vegas. She would have liked to get something bigger, which would have been something she was sure Noah would have liked, but she didn't really have money to get anything extravagant. But considering it was her first visit in nearly a decade, she was sure he'd take anything she brought.

Ella looked at Kelly as they walked past the headstones. Kelly looked very quiet and solemn, her glassy eyes focused on the path before her. Ella didn't know what kind of small talk you make in a graveyard. She could ask how often Kelly comes by or how she was feeling now. None of it felt right, so Ella soaked in the atmosphere. The two women made their way trough the rows quietly, passing a few other mourners along the way.

They finally reached the plot where the MacIntyres had been buried. Noah’s was still just a small plaque on the ground, although it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a while. Ella noticed grass was starting to grow around the edges. She thought that maybe the groundskeeper hadn't been over to this side in a while.

Ella also noticed a new headstone. “Arnold James MacIntyre” it read. Ella looked over the dates. “September 15, 1943 - April 4, 2021.” She did the mental math and realized he was short of turning 78. She then looked down beneath Arnold’s dates. There was more writing on the headstone. “Edith Marie MacIntyre”. There were no dates for her name. Ella figured they planned to put Edie’s body here when her time came and would fill in the dates then.

“Sorry, I should have brought some flowers for your father,” Ella said to Kelly.

“Don't worry. You didn't know him for long, so I wouldn't expect you to.”

Ella pursed her lips a bit. She then looked down at the bouquet, a mix of yellow and purple flowers. She reached in and pulled out one daffodil. She laid it on Arnold’s grave.

“I didn't know him well,” she explained to Kelly, “and I really only remember him during unpleasant times, but he was always nice to me, and I know he meant a lot for you and your mom and Noah.”

Kelly silently looked at Ella and smiled weakly. Ella then turned her attention to Noah’s grave. She sighed, then spoke.

“Hey, bro,” she said. “Sorry, I know I never called you 'bro' when you when you were alive, but I kind of changed a lot since you last saw me, so please bear with that.”

Ella brushed some hair back.

“I'm sorry I haven't come by in years,” she said. “Things have been rough since you died. Mom and Dad tried to make their marriage work, but it didn't. They split when I started high school. It was amicable, and I didn't really cry over it. I knew it was coming, they knew it was coming. I think they were just waiting for the right time for my sake.

“But don't worry, it's fine now. They've been on good terms since then, and Mom's still very much the same. I get to stay with Dad every other weekend, and he's been really good to me. I think he may have also decided to cut back on a lot of his bad behavior. He doesn't drink or smoke, and he hasn't dated since he and Mom split. So, yeah, looks like we won't get any more siblings like we feared, ha ha.”

“You did?” Kelly asked.

Ella turned to Kelly. “Oh, it was something dumb. I thought my mom was pregnant when I was five and had a freak out because I didn't want a little brother or sister, so Noah had to promise that he would only pay attention to me if that happened.”

“Why didn't you want a sibling?”

“I was five and an only child. I reveled in that attention.”

Ella cleared her throat and turned back to the grave.

“Anyways, I'm starting college soon. UNLV. I know you wanted to go there, and I'm really excited. I'm doing theater though. I want to be a comedian like you, so I want to work on my skills so I can make it in Hollywood. I've got a good start with my web show. Yeah, if you can watch it in Heaven, give it a look. I had Sharon Grievances on recently. I think you worked with her drag mom, Erin Grievances, in the past, so that may interest you.”

Elle chuckled, but her smile soon faded away.

“Um, Noah, I'm really sorry about what happened to you. You didn't deserve it, and no one from your school did. I know you didn't get to do the things you wanted and probably died sad and angry and scared, but I want you to know that we're all doing fine. Obviously, not entirely, but we’re making it through each day.

“I just hope you and your grandpa are getting along well, going fishing or whatever you guys did. I know I'll see you someday. I just hope you get your condo in Heaven ready for me, because when I get up there, I'll be coming in style and I swear, if you decorated that condo with pastels or, so help me, tartan, I'll let you have a piece of my mind.”

Ella bit her lip and swallowed. A tear was starting to fall down her face.

“Anyways, I'm going to be fine. You mom will be fine. So don't worry about us if you are looking down from that supposed condo in the sky,” Ella continued. “Just rest knowing we’re going to make the most of what’s left of our time here.”

Ella knelt down and placed the bouquet on the grave. She wiped her eyes and sniffled. She turned to Kelly.

“Do you have anything to say?” She asked.

Kelly shook her head. She wasn't crying, but her head hung low.

“You said it all,” Kelly replied. “I wasn't much for speeches and motivational words. Noah knows that, so we should be fine.”

Ella put a hand on Kelly’s shoulder. She gave Noah’s Mom a weak smile.

“Okay, we should go,” Ella said. “Goodbye, Noah.”

Ella waved at the grave and began to walk away. Kelly waited for a few more seconds, then followed after Ella. The two quietly walked through the graveyard to the parking lot. It was a quiet drive back to Kelly’s house. Neither woman said anything, both keeping their gaze elsewhere.

When they arrived back at the house, Ella pulled into the driveway. She remained seated as Kelly unbuckled her seat belt.

“Would you like something to eat before you go?” Kelly asked.

“No, I really should get going,” Ella said. “It'll be dark soon, and my mom will probably feel better knowing I'm on the road.”

“Okay, just be safe,” Kelly said. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for inviting me over,” Ella said. “I'm glad I got to come.”

Kelly smiled, then stepped out of the car. As she began to walk up the path to the house, Ella shook her head. She then reached into her center console and pulled out a scrap of paper and a pen. The paper was an old grocery list, so Ella turned it over and began to write. Before Kelly entered the house, Ella called out to her.

“Hey, wait a second!” she said.

Kelly turned as Ella made her way out of the car. She walked up and handed Kelly the paper.

“Here,” Ella said. “It's my phone and email. If you need to talk to anyone, for whatever, send me a message.”

Kelly quietly took the paper and stared at Ella. For a moment, she saw a bit of Noah in the girl. Maybe it was Christian’s genes peaking out, but Kelly felt comfortable.

“Sure,” Kelly said. “I'll be sure to.”

Ella smiled.

“Great. Well, I better go. Um…”

Ella looked back, then at Kelly. She moved forward and then hugged the older woman.

“Please do call,” Ella whispered.

Kelly froze for a second, then hugged back.

“I will,” Kelly said.

The two broke the hug, and Ella walked back to her car. She pulled out of the driveway and down the street. Kelly remained at the door, watching as Ella’s car disappeared. Once the car was gone, she remained in place for a few seconds. When she was ready, she walked inside.
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July 18, 2024, late evening

Kelly sat on the chair in the corner of the living room. As she did, she gazed around the room, stripped of its decorations and filled with sealed cardboard boxes in towers. She had never seen the house like this. She had spent her entire youth in this house. There were troubling times financially, but no matter what, her parents stuck it though and kept their home. Kelly realized that the only time she ever moved was when she moved to Las Vegas in her early twenties.

She had moved out thinking that she was going to make it. Maybe not as a star or a Vegas celebrity, but she knew her long, hard nights working would pay off. It's why she put up with nights serving cocktails to rowdy gamblers and creepy high rollers. It was why she figured it was okay to live without television in her one room apartment. It was why she lived almost entirely off Mac n’ Cheese for a year. Because it had to pay off somehow.

She thought Christian was that payoff. He was young, confident, and a good gambler. He took responsibility for their accident, and Kelly thought she'd move up the ladder. But it was never Christian. He was never her prize for her struggles. Christian would let her down, and she would put too much value on him. She made that mistake when they shotgunned, and she made it again when their son was abducted.

The real reward was Noah. Here was a creature who would love her and always love her no matter what. Sure, there would be tough times, but Noah was always good for her. He made her happy, he gave her reasons to live, and he allowed her to experience emotions and feelings she never thought she could.

But he was gone now. Left on some island somewhere as part of some horrible terrorist M.O. She could never understand it. They were all gone now. Her father was dead. Her mother would never be the same person. She would probably never see Christian or Angie again. Angie she didn't really care to see again. But Kelly also knew that, for her sake, it was probably better she didn't see Christian.

Kelly looked around the bare room and all the cardboard boxes stacked throughout. These were the last nights she'd spend in her home. In her 52 years of life, this home was the one consistent place she could go. Her parents were always here, and her son would be here too.

Kelly sighed. It had been a long day. She had feared the worst when Ella arrived. She really was surprised Ella came at all. Kelly only sent the letter under the impression the girl might remember her older brother and want something from the house to remember him by. She expected the letter to be intercepted by Angie or Christian and tossed out before Ella found it.

But she came. Ella made the journey south for some old dresses and jewelry, but she really wanted to be there. But Kelly shouldn't have been surprised. Ella said she didn't want another sibling, but the real reason was probably that she just loved her big brother so much she didn't want to share it with anyone else.

Ella would have to hold onto those memories as long as she could. She only got nine years with Noah, and while he had more of a digital presence to be archived, Kelly wasn't sure if Ella took the same steps.

But that’s what wills are for, Kelly supposed. Edie would probably die in the next five years, and Kelly would just exist until God decided she was done. If Ella really did want to keep a relationship with her, that would be for her to decide. Ella had so much life to live, and maybe sticking around a sad, old lady wouldn't be the best use of her time. Either way, Kelly would make sure Ella had any other mementos that she didn't take.

Kelly got up from the chair. It was late, and she still had a lot of packing to do until the movers arrived on Saturday. She still had to get Noah’s room ready for them, so she made her way to the stairs to get ready for bed.

Kelly walked up the steps, taking in each creak and sound on the steps. She couldn't remember the house being this quiet. Or maybe it was, and those memories are being overwritten by the memories of 2015. Kelly slowly traced her hand up the banister as she walked upstairs.

Kelly entered the dark hallway, and instantly stopped. There was a light at the end of the hall. There was a light coming from Noah’s room. Kelly wondered if there was a light Ella forgot to turn off. Whatever it was, she made her way to the room and turned on the overhead light.

Inside the room, she noticed a small desk lamp by Noah's computer still on. She slowly shook her head and walked over to the computer. She flicked the switch, then began to walk back. As she did, her eye caught something on the table. There was an old index card with writing on it, resting by the lamp.

“Kelly, watch the video. Ella.”

Kelly was confused. Ella had been in the bedroom for a bit, but what video was she talking about? Kelly’s eyes traced along the desk to Noah’s computer. She could see the computer was still on, but in sleep mode. She pressed a button on the monitor to turn the screen on.

What she saw was a YouTube page with an image of Ella frozen on the screen. The video was entitled “An Important Message from the Family of Noah Whitley.” Kelly looked at the page and noticed something else with the video. The account the video was posted to was Noah's old one. It was the account he used all those years ago to make his goofy videos. Why was there a new video on the account?

Kelly sat down on the chair and pressed play. Then, Ella spoke.

“Hi. My name is Ella Whitley. Some of you may know me as ‘Ella, Etc,’ but that's not why I'm here today. I'm here to talk about my brother.

“I never talked about this on my own series. I never wanted to draw a comparison between my brother and I, and I didn't want to drag my personal drama into my series in order to keep it lighthearted and fun. But since I'm obviously posting on my brother's old account instead of my current one, something must be going on.

“I'm sure some of you figured out I was the girl from that video that came out when Survival of the Fittest, Version 6 occurred. Well, if not, yeah, I am that girl who chewed out haters and my family on this channel. It was kind of dumb and I'm sort of embarrassed I did such a thing, but I was an angry nine-year-old and people were wishing horrible things on my brother. But let me talk about him instead of me.

“My brother was Noah James Whitley of Cochise High School in Kingman, Arizona. He was one of the dozens of students killed in SOTF 6, and it's been almost a decade since he died. If you're watching this video, it's probably because you subscribed to his channel back in the Tens. You may be curious why you're getting a video almost a decade later.

“I want to talk about Noah’s mom. Her name is Kelly. She’s been dealing with a lot since Noah died, and she has had to deal with it on her own. Along with grieving for her dead son, she had to take care of her elderly parents. Sadly, her father died three years ago, and her mother is now in assisted living following a stroke.

“I'm making this video because Kelly Whitley needs help. She’s strapped for cash, and has had to sell her family home to take care of her mom. She can't survive at this rate, so that's where I'm calling on all of you for your assistance. Tonight, I'll be setting up a GoFundMe and post it to this video and make a related video for my channel.

“Kelly needs all the help she can. I know we can't do a lot, but I want to take some of the burden off her shoulders. Like many families who lost a child or several to SOTF, they all need some help along the way. I know this may come off like some extra money grubbing about ten years after the fact, but it's a bit of charity I think you can make the effort for, and I don't think a lot of you even understand why.

“If you were a fan of Noah, you have Kelly to thank. If you enjoyed his shows, thank Kelly. She gave him all the love and support he needed growing up. She was his best friend, she was someone he could confide in, and she made tons of sacrifices for his sake. If you laughed at any of Noah or Pina Bucket’s antics over the last several years, you did it because Noah was so loved by his family that he wanted to transform that love into something we could all enjoy.

“We weren't always the most stable family. We certainly made mistakes, and we’re all learning to live with what life has thrown at us. But Noah did so much to change our lives. He made us laugh, he listened to our problems, and for me, who only got to know her brother for the first nine years of her life, it was something I greatly cherished and needed.

“If it weren't for Noah, I wouldn't make videos. I wouldn't be going to theater school, I wouldn't be writing new material, and I wouldn't be aspiring to become a famous comedian. And if it weren't for Noah’s mom, he wouldn't have passed on his love for making people laugh to me.

“I owe Kelly Whitley so much, and if you loved Noah or still quote him, then you should help her however you can. I'll let you know all the ways how.

“Remember: when someone dies, it's not about the life that wasn't lived, but the life that was lived. My brother died, but he had a great life, and echoes of him are still out there in the world. I choose to live for Noah, and to ensure that his mom is taken care of.

“So please, consider helping Kelly however you can. She’ll thank you, my brother will thank you, and of course, I'll thank you.”

The video stopped. Ella began to tear up and cry during the video, leaving a still image of her tear-streaked face on screen. Kelly's eyes had watered during the video as well. She couldn't believe Ella did all of that in the time she was here. It looked like Ella was genuine about helping her and really did love Noah.

Kelly wiped her eyes and leaned back in the chair. She spun it and saw Noah’s room. Ella was right. Pieces of Noah still remained even if he was gone. She would be able to find them wherever she looked. It didn't matter if he was gone or if she sold the house. Noah lived, and that's what mattered.

That's why she decided to help ensure he was still alive.

Kelly turned back to the computer and spent the next few minutes fiddling around. It had been nine years since she last recorded a video, when she, Angie, and her mother made that video begging people not to watch the SOTF streams. Angie handled most of the filming and editing for that project. Now it was her turn.

"Sorry, Ella," Kelly said to herself. "I know I said I wasn't good at speeches, but I think I'll have to try."

Eventually, she got the camera to start recording. She'd have to teach herself how to edit and post the video to YouTube, but she was willing to learn. She wasn't even sure what she was going to say, but she was going to figure it out. All she had now was time, and she was going to make the most of it.

Kelly settled into a good position, adjusting herself based on how the image on the computer reflected. Then, she spoke.

“Hello. My name is Kelly Whitley, and I'd like to talk about my son, Noah.”

All About My Mother:

The End

Cast (in order of appearance):

Kelly Whitley

Angie Whitley

Edie MacIntyre

Christian Whitley

Arnold MacIntyre

Ella Whitley

Noah Whitley

"To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother." -Pedro Almodóvar
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