Having heard the footsteps of Chris, Jon, and Paul subside, Bailey dismounted Connor and walked to the door of Heather’s room. She opened it oh so very slightly and looked out. The room was clear.
“Let’s go,” she called back to Connor.
He picked up Bailey’s bag and the two shuffled through the house and out the front door. The sky was pitch black, but the street lights lining the cul de sac made the street look pavement look television-ready for a football game. The two shuffled to the mailbox and stood around waiting.
“Do you think he saw us?” Bailey asked.
She stared at the front door, waiting for Jon to arrive.
“I don’t know,” Connor replied. “I didn’t have a good line of sight.”
Bailey had nothing of value to reply and the two sat in quiet, save the buzzing of the street lights, the buzzing of the cicadas, and a clanking sound that neither Connor nor Bailey. The clanking got louder and was accompanied by the shuffling of feet. Connor and Bailey looked over and saw a figure approaching them carrying a light. As it got closer, it spoke.
“You two don’t have any unleashed dogs, do you?” the voice called out.
Connor checked himself, as did Bailey. Neither of them had any unleashed dogs.
“No, we’re just hanging out,” Bailey replied.
The figure came into view. It was a woman around their age wearing a blue button up shirt with a golden security pin. She was carrying a lamp that looked like it belonged on a movie set. The woman, still walking, reached out her hand. Connor shook it.
“The name’s Henrietta. Nice to meet you,” she said.
Bailey reached out her own hand but Henrietta did not stop. She walked straight past Bailey and continued down the cul de sac.
“Nice to meet you too,” Bailey shouted at Henrietta’s retreating body.
“Keep safe and make good decisions!” Henrietta shouted in reply. “I must keep moving.”
Bailey and Connor watched as Henrietta continued down the cul de sac, then turning their attention back to the door where Jon had just appeared. He strolled over to them, a great big grin on his face. Connor had never seen him smile like that before, and Bailey had never seen him walk like that before. Knowing that Jon would be most amiable if he had the first word, they waited for him to speak.
“You two did perfectly,” Jon said, clapping them both on the shoulder.
It was not like Jon to be this rewarding.
“Oh my goodness, I wish you two would have been on my end. It was amazing.”
“Do tell,” Bailey encouraged.
Jon whipped out his joint and asked for a light which Connor provided. Jon took a deep inhale, coughed like he was about to die, and continued.
“So, I very carefully get Paul and Chris out of the ballroom, right?” he said. “Which took some skill if I do say so myself. So I lead them up to the bedroom, and Chris is all ‘What’s happening? Is Heather alright?’ and I was like ‘Oh she’s alright… maybe more than alright.’”
Jon looked at the two for validation. They both feigned laughter.
“Right, so then you two start making your noises, and oh you should have seen him. Props on the Heather impersonation, Bailey. You really outdid yourself.”
“He literally broke down crying. Haven’t seen him more low in my life. He was all ‘no how could you do this to me Heather! How dare you cheat on me! Jon, you were right to tell me never to trust this whore!’ It was truly everything I wanted it to be,” Jon said. “You two put on quite the performance.”
He spat on the grass and turned to Connor.
“How did it go with Heather?” Jon asked, handing the joint to Connor.
Connor took a hit without coughing.
“Well,” he said. “More than well actually. I’ve even got her phone.”
He produced Heather’s phone from his pocket and showed it around.
“So she couldn’t even call for help,” he said. “For all I know she’s still down there.”
Back in the ballroom Liza and Andy were swing dancing their hearts out next to Ben and Billy who were drunkenly slow dancing to the most stylistically inappropriate music imaginable. A great deal of stomping announced the entrance of a frazzled, frustrated, wine-stained Heather back into the ballroom.
“Connor!” she yelled, moving through the room like a corpse bride. “What. The. Hell.”
She looked around the dancefloor. Connor wasn’t there. Neither was Jon or Paul for that matter. The room was fairly empty, and Heather had no outlet to vent her anger.
“Heather! Your dress!” Liza exclaimed, running up to her daughter. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not nearly enough,” Heather said.
She strode over to the bar, took a tall shot of vodka and a deep breath and returned. Everyone stared at her waiting for her to address her state.
“You know what, it’s fine,” she said. “Dresses are replaceable. Wine bottles are replaceable.”
The clanking of the lamp returned, but this time with two sets of footsteps, and a quiet bickering. Jon stopped speaking and stared into the distance. Bailey and Connor followed suit, appropriate recognizing the first figure as Henrietta, but unsure about another figure that appeared next to it.
“What’s going on,” Jon said, squinting his eyes.
“It’s some neighborhood patrol person,” Bailey said, taking a hit off the joint. “Apparently this neighborhood is full of loose dogs or something.”
She handed the joint to Jon as the two figures walked up to them.
“Hello, I’m Henrietta,” Henrietta said.
She stopped this time but continued to step in place.
“And I’m Henry,” Henry said, extending out an arm. “Is that weed?”
“Yeah,” Jon said. “It’s almost done though. You want the last hit?”
Henry swore and looked at Henrietta. The two of them walked away to the center of the cul de sac. They continued to bicker in soft voices. The only thing that could be made out from where Bailey, Connor, and Jon stood was ‘I should be at the gate’ and ‘do we call her?’.
The two marched back and stopped, except for Henrietta who kept stepping in place. Bailey stared at Henrietta’s feet in utter confusion.
“D-do you have any unleashed dogs?” he asked nervously.
“No?” Jon replied
Henrietta slapped Henry on the head and whispered, “just do it.”
They looked at one another, then at the three, and Henry tackled Jon. Henrietta was not expecting this and stared in horror alongside Connor and Bailey at the most inappropriately weighted wrestling match of the night. Quite literally. Henry weighed anywhere from 175 to 185 depending on his salt intake for the week, and Jon weighed only 115. He was no match.
“What the hell is he doing?!” Bailey yelled at Henrietta as Henry fumbled with a zip tie and restrained Jon’s hands.
“We’ve got a handbook that says no weed?” Henrietta replied.
Bailey nodded, watching Jon struggle when she was suddenly pulled into a surprisingly strong headlock by Henrietta. She had also grabbed Connor and was holding both of them like a human pillory.
“The fuck!” Connor yelled.
They squirmed but Henry, now finished with Jon, began zip tying the two. Left alone, Jon started to run towards the house and was quickly retackled by Henry. After a fair amount of squirming, Henry and Henrietta had successfully restrained the three.
“What do we do now?” Henry asked, worried.
“Let’s head to the office and call Darlene,” Henrietta replied.
Darlene was quick to show. It was her first night off in quite some time, and her sleeping schedule had yet to return to normal. She arrived in the office in full one am glamour. She was wearing pajama pants and a robe, her eyes were ‘have been unsuccessfully trying to sleep four hours’ red, and her hair looked distinctly as if she had put rollers in a couple of hours ago and chose to take the out to come over rather than stay true and keep them in. Darlene opened the door of the office to find Henry and Henrietta standing over Jon, Bailey, and Connor who were laying on the ground, silent.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Darlene yelled.
Henry and Henrietta looked at one another in fear, partly from their unsurity of tying up these three strangers and mostly because Darlene looked terrifying. The moment she yelled, they started pulling their captives up off the ground.
“No, leave them,” Darlene said, dismissing the two with a cutting hand gesture. “I’ll ask about them later. Why on earth is nobody staffing the gate? I had to park on the street outside the community.”
Henry flushed red and shrunk. Darlene turned to Henrietta.
“Henri, I want you to know that my anger is not directed at you. You seem to have done a fine job,” she said.
“I thought the other one was Henry,” Bailey said from the floor.
While Bailey was lying on the ground, she had oriented her head so that her chin rested on the cold linoleum. Her mouth remained facing outward, but with a limited range of jaw motion, her words were slightly uffled.
“You don’t get to speak!” Darlene yelled, stomping on the ground with great force right in front of Bailey’s face.
Bailey uttered a muffled, so did Connor even though he wasn’t even next to Bailey. He mostly screamed because Bailey screamed and because loud noises in close ranges are objectively frightening. Connor was also facing down completely, nose to the linoleum. With his scream his mouth touched the ground slightly. It didn’t taste good.
“Hen, go to the gate, now.”
Henry left the office, beat red. The door shut.
“Now who are these hooligans?” Darlene asked. “And are there any dogs in the closet?”
“No dogs,” Henrietta said. “Weed. You can smell it on their breath.”
Darlene dropped to the ground with a speed unnatural for her age and stature. She stuck her nose in front of Jon’s mouth and inhaled deeply.
“Smells like floor,” she said, standing up. “Weed doesn’t smell like floor.”
“It was fucking weed you dipshit,” Jon yelled.
Connor tried to kick him but only succeeded in kicking himself.
“They were also saying some sort of scary stuff,” Henrietta said. “I think this one chained up some girl in a cellar?”
She pointed to Connor with her foot.
“I did not chain her!” Connor yelled defensively. “I just left her in the dark.”
“False imprisonment?” Darlene said.
“It was a joke!” Bailey added. “Plus, Heather’s a smart girl. She’ll get out soon enough. And it’s her own home. Is it even imprisonment if it’s her own home?”
Darlene looked down at the three captives, worried.
“I was going to say that false imprisonment is not in the handbook and we are not police,” she said. “But you wouldn’t be talking about Liza’s Heather, would you?”
“Does that change anything?” Jon asked.
Darlene pulled Jon up off the ground and stared at him in the eyes.
“Liza is the only one who actually read anything for book club, so yes, I am emotionally invested in the wellbeing of her daughter and those that she cares about.”
She threw Jon back onto the ground, which wasn’t much of a feat. He was a very small individual.
“Henri, tell me everything you heard.”
Henrietta did, to the best of her abilities. After finishing Darlene sank into a seat and pulled out her phone.
“Henri, can I trust you alone with these three?”
“I think so?” she said.
Unconvinced Darlene stood up and took a zip tie from Henrietta’s pocket. With Henrietta’s help she pulled their captives off the ground and zip tied the three zip ties together.
“There’s gotta be something illegal about this,” Bailey said, shaking her hair out of her face.
Darlene clapped a hand on Bailey’s shoulder.
“It’s nice to see someone who still believes that the law applies to them,” Darlene said. “I’ve paged Verge. We’re going to speak with Liza.”
Bailey, Connor, and Jon all started running at once but only succeeded in falling over like a very small and uncoordinated rat king. Darlene grabbed them up by the bound hands and marched them over to the conference room.
“If they try anything again, there’s rope in the closet,” Darlene said. “I’ll be back.”
A cheap ambulance sound rang, cheap here referring to the sound, not the ambulance. The emergency services of the area were top notch. This was not the sound of an actual ambulance, but instead the sound of a Liza’s text-tone for Darlene. Yes, Liza was one of those people who had a text-tone that might have been more appropriate as a ringtone, though an ambulance sound probably isn’t the best alarm in any scenario. The phone rang from her purse and was slightly muffled, however the musicians had stopped playing on the arrival of the wine-stained Heather, and in the shocked silence, it was the only thing to be heard in the ballroom.
Liza strode over to her purse, keeping a concerned eye on Heather as she did. She looked at her phone.
“You know what? It’s getting late, and I look like a mess. I might turn in early,” Heather said
“Or, we could not do that!” Liza said, looking back up at her daughter.
Liza put her phone in her purse and walked over to Heather, grabbing her by the elbow. She turned back to Billy and Ben, the only ones left in the ballroom, save Andy who, not wanting to be a third wheel, excused herself to the bathroom.
“We’re going to make our first costume change of the night,” Liza said. “Keep the party going.”
The door closed and Heather was the first to turn on her mother.
“Mom, I’m fine I promise. What’s going on with you?”
“I got a message from Darlene.”
Liza pulled out her phone. The text read ‘Liz’s sounds captions. Heading cover’.
“I don’t get it,” Heather said.
“She may be the only one to read for book club, but that woman is the fattest-fingered texter I have met, but I think it means she’s heading over. Go get changed and meet me back in the ballroom.”
Heather nodded agreement and waddled away, her drunken mobility taking back over without the firm grip of her mother’s arm. Liza made her way to the front door and let herself out. The figures of Darlene and Verge approached. Liza shut the door behind her and took a good look at the two. Darlene looked like she did on the days she pre-gamed for book club and Verge was straight-up in his pajamas.
“Keep this quick. I have a daughter covered in wine and guests to entertain,” Liza said crossing her arms.
“Of course, of course,” Verge said. “I got here as quickly as I could. You see, Darlene here told me that Henri told her that she overheard some people saying some things that may concern you, Liza.”
Liza sighed and snapped her fingers.
“I’ve got a dress to change into,” she said. “Please be brief.”
“My apologies Liza,” Darlene said. “I should be the one to speak. You know how Verge is, always taking too long to say things. He’s probably the most truthful person I know, but with that comes with all the ‘he said, she said’ source citation, which is admirable and all, but at some point isn’t there value in just stating things as fact?”
“Darlene, that’s a lot of talk right there. It’s a question of philosophy that I don’t think you’re truly prepared to debate on the spot,” Verge replied.
“Should I come back?” Liza asked.
“Oh, why do that when you’re already here!” Verge said.
“Because I have an unsupervised ballroom left with two teens that want to hate-fuck each other so palpably that it’s making the orchestra uncomfortable. Hurry up.”
“Oh but to hurry would mean cutting the details and the truth is in the details,” Darlene said.
“Agreed, agreed,” Verge agreed.
“Why are you here,” Liza said, pausing between each sharp word.
“Our new hires have done a wonderful job tonight,” Darlene said. “Well, Henri has, Hen may need to be reprimanded. But overall I’m satisfied with the result.”
“Is that all?” Liza said.
She reached back to grab the door handle.
“Well, when Darlene told me I was all ‘should we have Liza interrogate them’ and ‘is it really an independent commission if we have members of the community doing our work’ and ‘but it really does concern her’,” Verge said. “Like, this is our first time capturing a non-dog criminal.”
Liza, who had begun opening the door, turned back.
“Criminals?” Liza asked, intrigued.
“Though for the record I have not personally seen them, my information comes from Darlene and her information from Henri.”
Darlene smacked Verge on the arm.
“I didn’t capture them, but I did seem them,” she replied, then turning to Liza. “Would you like to speak with them?”
The door opened further. Liza was placing part of her weight on that door and, not expecting the door to move without her push or pull, stumbled. She looked up to see Paul and Chris standing there.
“I really should get back to the party,” Liza said. “I’m sure you two will take care of everything appropriately.”
She smiled back at Paul and Chris, motioning for them to head to the ballroom and nodded at Darlene and Verge.
“As you wish,” Verge said, nodding back.
The two left and Liza reentered the house.
“What was that all about?” Paul asked.
“If history proves true, an unleashed Dalmatian trapped in a locker,” she said. “Now you two go penis block Ben and Billy or whatever the kids call it these days. I have a new look to serve.”
Paul and Chris scuttled away horrified, and Liza left to go change.
Heather entered her room and collapsed onto the bed. She was done feeling frustrated over Connor’s antics. At this point she was just tired. Drunk, tired, and still thoroughly covered in wine. She willed herself up and looked around the room. Her pillows were definitely not how she liked them to be, but she was unsure whether that had taken place during the morning’s activities when everyone was in her room, or if she had just had too much to drink.
Heather slipped off her dress and opened the door to her bathroom. She walked in and stared at herself in the mirror. She swore. The wine had soaked through to her Spanx. She would have to get new ones. Heather kneeled down and opened the cabinet under the sink. Her eyes unfocused as she stared at the array of bottles of soaps, oils, and serums. With great focus she found the liter of Schweppes she kept in her bathroom for this very reason. She shuffled to the bathtub and poured the bottle in unceremoniously, only remembering to plug the drain a quarter of the way into the pour. She tossed the dress in, struggled for a good five minutes to remove her shapewear, and then tossed those in too.
She exited the bathroom, threw on the nearest black dress she could find, and head back down to the ballroom.
Heather ran into Liza as she walked. The two were matching much closer this time as Liza too had chosen a black dress, the hem of hers slightly longer than Heather’s.
“Oh honey, you look adorable,” Liza said, walking up to her daughter. “But your hair is a mess, let me fix.”
Liza pulled the tie out of Heather’s hair that had long stopped doing any service and pulled Heather’s hair into a tight bun, reminiscent of the few months in high school that Heather had tried to do gymnastics but dropped out after realizing that gymnastics isn’t something you can really just pick up at fourteen without prior training.
Liza opened the door to the ballroom. The music section was back up and playing a classical cover of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” Billy and Ben were waltzing erratically and off tempo, and Chris was sitting with Jon, both drinking.
“Oh I love this song,” Liza said, stepping in tune to the music. “I was never a fan of Seal and never did see Batman Forever, but this song transcends that.”
Paul and Chris turned on hearing the entrance of Liza and Heather. Chris stood up.
“Yes, yes, get up you two,” Liza said.
She grabbed Paul and pulled him in to dance.
“Less sitting, more dancing. More excitement!”
Chris stormed over to Heather and Liza got her wish.
“Why did you change your dress,” Chris asked.
There was a distinct sharpness to his tone that Heather did not pick up in her state. Paul ran up to Chris and pulled his arm.
“Chris, what did we talk about?” he whispered.
“I just said I wanted to know why she changed her dress!” Chris said, yelling the last part.
Heather, blissfully ignorant, did a twirl and a curtsey.
“The other one got stained, so Liza and I had a costume change,” said Heather.
Chris started to laugh and Paul tried once again to pull him back. Chris resisted, pulling his arm away from Paul’s grip.
“Aren’t I lookin’ like a fresh snack?” she asked.
“A rotten one,” Chris spat.
He turned away from Heather and instead to Liza. Paul grabbed Chris a third time, which was unnecessary. Chris did not attempt to move forward but instead shouted from a distance.
“Did you know you raised a drunken slut?” he shouted, just as drunk.
Andy took that moment to reenter from her bathroom break and walk into the scene. The musicians had stopped playing; Ben and Billy were sitting, staring wide-eyed at Chris who was in turn staring at Liza. Liza took a few steps towards Chris and stopped. She finished the last bit of wine in her glass and crossed her arms, acrylic nails tapping on the glass slowly.
“I will give you one pass, Chris, because you’re drunk,” Liza said, collected. “Whatever you say about my daughter you say about me and I want you to be careful about that.”
Heather stood, stunned. She tried to look at Paul for any kind of sign, but he was too busy looking at Liza with an oddly similar look of contempt on his face.
“Heather,” Chris said, turning on her. “Where did you go when you left the ballroom just now?”
“To change my dress,” she said. “Mother and I left together.”
Liza nodded in agreement, but Chris, eyes fixed on Heather, did not see nor care.
“And how did your dress get stained?” he asked.
“I was trapped in the wine cellar without a light and knocked over a bottle of wine,” Heather said confidently.
Paul and Chris looked at Heather, unblinking. Neither could believe what Heather said.
“Trapped. In the wine cellar,” Chris said. “You were trapped in the wine cellar?”
Liza was also confused, but more to Heather’s motivation than to the veracity of her claim. The stains on Heather’s dress were very real and had smelled distinctly of Côte-Rôtie which was not being served at the bar.
“Connor, wherever the hell he is now, wanted a tour and left me there as a joke,” Heather said, turning to Paul. “Which by the way, Paul, you need to check who your brother is friends with. That was not okay.”
“Be careful, Heather,” Paul said.
“Be careful of what?” Billy said, standing up. “If she said she was in the cellar, she was in the fucking cellar.”
He finished his own drink and walked over to stand next to Heather.
“Then why was she in her room fucking Connor!” Chris screamed, flecks of spit hitting Billy in the face.
Billy backed away, and Liza stepped forward.
“Paul, you need to get him under control right now,” Liza said sternly.
“With all due respect Liza, he’s telling the truth,” Paul replied. “I was there.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Heather asked, genuinely shocked and taken aback.
“I should have expected it from the beginning!” Chris yelled. “You spent our entire date talking about fucking Billy and Ben. You’ve never given a shit about me, you’re just looking to sleep with whoever is the most convenient in this fucking house.”
“Chris, are you okay?” Heather asked.
“Are you okay?” Paul yelled.
Paul was done playing neutral. He knew what he had seen, and hearing Heather continue to lie was too much for him.
“We saw you in your room fucking Connor!”
Gaslit to the extreme, filled with rage and self-doubt, Heather marched to the bar, reached over, and grabbed a bottle of vodka. She took a five second drink with closed, tearing eyes.
“You need to leave!” she screamed, taking another drink. “You’re insane and you need to leave.”
“You’re the one who needs to leave!” Chris screamed back. “You frigid bitch!”
Heather hurled the half-full bottle of vodka at Chris and stormed out of the ballroom. It missed and smashed to pieces in front of Liza’s feet. Andy made brief worried eye contact with Liza and chased after Heather. The ballroom fell to complete silence save the angry heaving breaths of Chris.
“The only ones leaving right now will be the staff,” Liza said, calmly.
She turned to the music section, most of whom were visibly distraught, a few of whom seemed to still be enjoying the gig. Liza made a hand gesture and they began to pack up. Liza gave the same order to the bartender who packed up just as quickly.
“I don’t know what happened tonight, but I know for one thing that my daughter is not a whore,” Liza said, staring down Chris with the black light eyes he had seen the night before. “I am going to check on my daughter.”
Liza stormed out of the ballroom, crunching broken glass as she did. A scream echoed through the house and a chill ran through Billy. That wasn’t Heather’s scream, it was Andy. Billy ran out after Liza, Ben in tow, leaving Chris and Paul awkwardly alone.
The screaming led Liza, Billy, and Ben to a bathroom where they walked in on a horrific scene. Andy, screaming hysterics, sat on the ground holding a Heather. Heather’s head lay in a pool of vomit and she was not moving. Andy looked up as they walked in and began babbling.
“I thought she was going to head to her room, but she wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I headed back here that I smelled the vomit and I found her here and…”
Andy’s words faded into more sobbing. Liza heard none of what Andy said. Liza dropped to the ground and grabbed the limp, unresponsive body of her daughter. A pulse, all she wanted to feel was a pulse.
The continued screams of Andy were not quiet and penetrated through to the ballroom where Chris and Paul distinctly heard the words ‘she’s dead.’ Horrified, they left the ballroom to witness Billy and Ben carrying Heather, dress and hair soaked in her own vomit, out the bathroom and into the foyer as paramedics entered through the front door. Liza exited the bathroom and saw Chris and Paul.
“You two go back inside,” she managed to spit out before kneeling next to Heather, crying.
The paramedics had everyone clear away as they took attention to Heather. Andy sobbed and Liza held an arm around her, trying her hardest to keep things together herself. Billy and Ben watched on silently.
Before the paramedics had even touched Heather, her body convulsed and she vomited over the carpet. Liza jumped in a mix of shock, disgust, and surprise. Heather was conscious at the very least.
“M’am are you her mother?” one of the paramedics asked, walking up to Andy.
“I’m her aunt. My sister Liza is,” she said, shaking.
“M’am, if it’s alright with you we’re going to have to take her to the [insert medical jargon here that I will research].”
Liza nodded, and the paramedics carried Heather away.
“I should go with them,” Liza said.
She sat down on a couch to catch her breath.
“We can stay here and help clean,” Billy said.
They sat in silence until calm.
“Aunt Liza, I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but before you leave we should probably figure out what to do with our other guests,” Billy said.
Liza was too exhausted for her face to change expression. She stared emotionless across the foyer down the hallway toward the ballroom.
“Ben,” Liza said. “Do you believe him?”
Ben turned to Billy, looking for answers that did not come.
“I don’t want to,” he replied.
Ben looked around. He was thinking of how Heather said that Connor trapped her in the cellar and became suddenly aware that Jon and his friends were all gone.
“Do you remember Jon leaving?” Ben asked.
“I don’t remember anything at this point,” Liza said. “Why does he matter.”
“I just have an odd feeling,” Ben said.
“Should we tell them to leave?” Billy asked.
“No,” she said. “Bring them to me.”
Billy got up and head to the ballroom, bringing back a very worried looking Paul and Chris. On Liza’s hand gesture, they sat down. Liza stood up, facing them.
“While it would bring me no greater joy than to hear of your death in a car crash right now, I will not be held accountable for that,” she said. “You have all proven yourselves far too drunk and irresponsible tonight. You are not to leave this house until we resolve this absurdity.”
Chris and Paul nodded.
“Is she alright?” Paul asked sheepishly.
Liza turned to Paul, mind racing.
“No,” she said, turning away from the two. “She asphyxiated on her own vomit.”
Chris looked at the rug, in horror. It was covered in chunks. He too wanted to vomit for a multitude of reasons.
“The medics rushed her away without a pulse,” Liza said.
Billy and Ben looked at one another in a confused horror of their own. Andy, second guessing her own experiences, started to cry again.
“We have enough witnesses in this house to put you away for a very long time,” Liza said, turning to look directly at Chris. “I am going to the hospital for the pronouncement, and I am leaving you under the supervision of Andy. My suggestion is that you all go to sleep, and we can figure out how you are pay penance for what you have done.”
Liza, still damp with vomit, grabbed a key off of the plaque and left the house. Andy muttered something about fatigue and left too, leaving Billy and Ben with Chris and Paul.
“Billy,” Paul started, but he was immediately cut off.
“I don’t care Paul,” Billy said. “I don’t care what you think you saw or what you actually saw.”
Paul fell silent. Chris remained silent.
“Drink some fucking water and go to bed.”
Chris and Paul shuffled away, and Billy collapsed back onto the couch. He was startled, disgusted – in equal parts from Chris and from the vomit that now littered the foyer – but above all else, he was mad. It was an anger that radiated off of him noticeably. Billy was usually the first to crack a joke about Heather or slander her name in the sake of comedy, but this wasn’t a joke. That, or he had truly misunderstood the lengths Chris and Paul would go to stick with a bit. He was unfamiliar with this anger, Billy. Usually if he or someone he cared about was wronged in some way he could make up for it with a witty comment in the moment, and afterward dismiss the weight of the words, but that didn’t work here. He felt sick. He felt like he was projected onto a crimson astral plane of ‘fuck Chris’. It was nearing two am, and he didn’t feel the least bit tired.
“I believe Heather,” Ben said plainly.
His voice was dry and hoarse as if he had been screaming for a time, though he had said very little.
“I regret not saying earlier, but I believe her.”
Billy did not respond. Ben’s words of validation felt sincere but slipped right through him. Billy sank his face into his hands.
“I just wish we could just re do the whole night,” he sighed. “I just want a genie or a fairy or at this point I would take a fucking demon box. I just can’t.”
Ben reached an arm around Billy and squeezed him in a half hug. The pressure was comforting, but both of their bodies felt so cold.
“If there’s anything I can do to help you, Billy, I will,” Ben said.
He rubbed Billy’s shoulder softly.
“Oh I could think of something to make it better,” Billy said.
His face was still firmly planted in his hands, but form the movement of his cheeks, Ben could see him crack an ill-timed smile.
“But it would be inappropriate.”
Ben thought for a moment and decided that not even Billy would take this moment to make a sex joke.
“Would I be able to do it?” Ben asked.
Billy sat up and looked at Ben in the eyes.
“I mean no disrespect in saying that you would probably wouldn’t be my first choice for the job,” he said.
“Billy, I am willing to do anything for you right now,” Ben said, matching Billy’s stare. “I will go to my grave denying having said this, but I regret breaking off what we had, and right now I want nothing else than to see you feel better.”
Billy laughed and broke eye contact. He looked past Ben to the wall behind his head.
“It’s probably the trauma of the night speaking, but I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “It’s nice not having class anymore and having this whole place to tromp around, but, you know…”
Billy trailed off, but Ben understood.
“I just feel so awful for Heather,” Billy said.
“I know you may think I’m not the right person, but you can ask me for anything at any time,” Ben said. “I’m here for you, always.”
Billy looked back to Ben.
“Anything. No judgement,” Ben said.
Billy contemplated for a few moments more and took a deep breath.
Ben scooted backward and cocked his head. Maybe he should have been more specific.
“Anything legal, Billy. I mean, maybe a light misdemeanor or one of those felonies that shouldn’t really be a felony,” Ben said. “Chris is my best friend, Billy. You know that.”
“I see,” Billy said, standing up. “I thought you’d take his side.”
Billy stood up to leave the foyer. Ben ran after him, grabbing his arm. Billy shook it away violently.
“Billy, no, that’s not what I meant-”
“Ben,” Billy said curtly, stopping. “My head may not be where it’s normally at right now, but I am level-headed enough to know what I’m saying and what you’re saying. All of that was just polite talk you felt socially obligated to spit out. And I don’t even blame you. I would probably do the same if the roles were reversed. I just need to sleep this off.”
“No,” Ben said with force.
Billy stopped and turned.
“It would be silly of me to expect that you might pick back up where we left off at a time like this, but at the very least, I don’t want you leaving thinking that we aren’t friends.”
“A real friend would stand up to Chris.”
“Billy, Chris did a shitty thing. Irredeemably so. But you can’t just cancel somebody out of your life!”
“Irredeemable is irredeemable. He could have fought with Heather one-on-one, but he chose to slander her in front of everybody.”
“His story doesn’t even make sense! Why on earth would Heather leave the party just to go fuck one of Jon’s disgusting friends and then come back? How high school does he think she is?”
“Chris single handedly destroyed any chance we had to continue as a friend group. He is sleeping in this fucking house, completely convinced that he is correct, and so is Paul. If they can’t trust Heather, they are nothing to me.”
Billy shoved his pointer finger into Ben’s chest.
“You are no better than them. You don’t care about Heather, and you surely don’t care about me.”
“Billy, I swear on my mother’s name that I care about you.”
“You were always one to talk. If you care so much, do something.”
The two fell silent, staring at one another in an anger both similar and dissimilar to the morning that Heather and Billy had picked him up from the bus stop.
“Okay,” Ben said.
Billy’s eyes widened.
“I will make Chris regret his actions,” Ben said.
“Good,” Billy said. “I am going to tell them that that they resuscitate her, and then I’m going to bed.”
Billy left the foyer.
Henrietta had taken to her phone. Her captives had long finished their talkative phase, and after a few failed attempts to run away, they accepted their fate of bondage. Darlene had been gone for a while now, and though Henrietta had been nervous initially, her success in stopping the three from escaping on multiple occasion gave her confidence.
The door to the office clicked open and Darlene jumped up. So did Connor, Bailey, and Jon, but their jump was more of a wave that barely made it off the couch. Henrietta exited the conference room. Henry stood in the front room.
“Henry?” Henrietta asked, confused.
She had expected Darlene. Henry was not Darlene by any means.
“Darlene and Verge came over to the gate and Verge assumed my duties for the night,” he said, staring at the ground. “Apparently I went from new-hire probation to double-probation.”
Darlene didn’t know how to respond. She led Henry back to the conference room with their hostages.
“Did Darlene give any kind of instruction?”
“She was just a few paces behind me when I entered.”
The door to the office burst open again, and Darlene entered, of note to Henrietta, without Liza. She strode over to the conference room and shut the door.
“Grab me my stool, Hen,” Darlene commanded.
Henry looked around and could not see a stool. There were several chairs in the conference room, but no stool.
“I need my interrogation stool to interrogate. Go get it,” she said. “Front room.”
Henry ran out and returned with a stool covered in a light dusting of dirt. It had been being used as a plant stand. It had been a long time since Darlene had interrogated anyone.
“Bring forth the criminals,” Darlene said.
Henrietta looked at the hostages who were well-present in the room and back at Darlene. She pulled on their arms and urged them into three seats at the conference table. Only two, Jon and Bailey, were really able to face Darlene given their back to back to back bondage. Connor faced away.
“The girl. What’s your name,” Darlene asked.
“Bailey,” Bailey replied.
Darlene looked around the room and over at Henry. Henry shrunk in fear.
“Hen, does it look like we have a courtroom stenographer in our presence?” she asked.
“No?” Henry replied.
“Wrong answer,” said Darlene. “It’s you. Why aren’t you writing this down?”
Henry bolted to the closet and grabbed a notebook. He returned and sat down.
“How is that spelled?” he asked.
“Hen, you are not the one interrogating the criminals,” Darlene said sharply. “That is my job. Now Bailey, how do you spell your name?”
Bailey spelled her name.
“And you there, the boy, what is your name.”
Jon did not respond.
“Hmmm… Based on that ‘Diversity in the Workplace’ seminar I went to, I’m gonna guess this one is mute. Which we will respect,” Darlene said. “Hen, put him down as ‘Mute boy’.”
Henry did so reluctantly.
“Okay, moving on-”
Darlene was interrupted by coughing.
“I’m Connor if anyone cares,” Connor said, still facing away.
“Who said that,” Darlene asked looking around.
Henrietta pointed to Connor who, being a foot taller than both Jon and Bailey, was clearly visible.
“Thank you Henri,” Darlene said. “Now, you three, are you good people or bad people.”
“Good people,” Connor and Bailey said.
Jon remained silent.
“Hen, put down ‘good’ for Connor and Baily, and a question mark next to the mute boy. If we had more time we could throw him in the lake and see if he floats, but I’ve been told we can’t do that anymore, and we don’t have the time or lake,” Darlene said. “Now while you say that you are good people, would you say that you do good things? I know many a good person who does bad things and many a bad person who does good things. For example, Hen here is a good person, he told me so, but he is demonstrably poor at his job. Do you three do good things or bad things?”
“We smoked a little weed; we didn’t kill anyone,” Jon blurted out.