I need your help.
Please pick your favorite / what you think would be the most marketable cover design / title.
And here's my progress:
Liza drove back home from the hospital with hazy eyes. There were few cars on the road at three am, especially this far into the suburbs, which was not a testament or encouragement of sleep deprived driving by any means. The entire trip Liza endured the regular sudden jolts of awakeness that would pierce through her body, reminding her not to drift off, sometimes prompted by her own body’s systems, sometimes by a pothole in the road.
The hospital staff she had spoken with said that Heather could be discharged at the time. Located close to a state university, Heather’s wasn’t even the first stomach they had pumped that night, but for comfort and for cover, Liza insisted that her daughter spend the night. Liza found it hard enough to will herself to drive back home, and she couldn’t imagine being Heather and trying to lug herself to and from the car.
Liza pulled into the cul de sac and up to the gate. Verge was on duty and was still in his pajamas as he had been when they had spoken earlier that night. Liza felt the urge to comment somewhere in her but couldn’t manage the physical effort it took to break the twenty-five minute streak of not-speaking she had started after leaving the hospital.
“Somebody’s out late,” Verge said. “You get some sleep now.”
Liza nodded, hitting the gas in anticipation prior to the gate lifting, but not so early as to clip the gate. She pulled into the drive way and threw the car into park. If the lights of the cul de sac were dimmer, she might have taken the chance to just fall asleep in the car there, but the lights were too bright, the anxiety of her neighbors seeing her too strong, and the smell of the vomit on her dress too prominent. Liza took her arm off the wheel and reached for the door handle. Sense flew through her body as it broke out of its resting state. Liza entered the house and head to her room.
Though she knew it to not be so, the house felt empty like the roads just minutes prior. The sun had not yet risen, but Liza opted to keep the lights off, walking through the hallways with only the street lights through the windows and the occasional glow of a fire alarm to guide her. There was a peace to the state, but Liza’s head was empty. This was no time of retrospect for her. She walked as if through a silent purgatory, unwilling to explore thought of the night’s events, but at the same time, unable to drop the somatic weight that pulled at every inch of her skin, even the parts where she had had work done.
Liza opened the door to her room to find Andy laying in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She too seemed half asleep and half awake. She didn’t jolt or crane her neck as Liza opened the door, but instead turned to her side to follow Liza as she walked in. The two made eye contact.
“She’ll be alright,” Liza said.
Andy gave what could have been a light nod, but also could have just been movement accompanying exhalation, none of which Liza could see. She had turned away to look out the window at the star-lit garden. Her home was close enough to the city for shopping and to be relevant, but still far enough away where the city lights didn’t wash out the nighttime sky.
“Are you still upset?” Andy asked, scooting herself into a seated position.
Liza gave a short glance back to Andy and returned to the window.
“You’ll kill yourself if you keep dwelling on it.”
Andy’s words passed through Liza’s like water through a sieve. She wasn’t dwelling on it, quite the opposite. She was trying to escape any sort of feeling, and act she knew to be fruitless. Heather was still at the hospital – she would need to be picked back up – and Billy’s friends were still in her home, probably sleeping. For a moment, Liza regretted her earlier lie. If she had told them that Heather was alright and banished them from the property, maybe she could be sleeping comfortably now. But in that scenario, she would never know what led to the events of that night, and Liza knew that with the guilt of a dead woman on their hands, someone would come forward. They had to.
“I appreciate your advice, but your kid wasn’t the one publically ripped apart,” Liza said.
She grabbed her night clothes and slipped into the bathroom, less out of vanity and more to put distance between herself and Andy.
“Who was there for that, Liza?” Andy asked. “You’re talking like the whole city was there.”
“Well that’s how it felt,” Liza said, stripping off her leggings; they had become thoroughly stained. “It’s not like the orchestra signed non-disclosure agreements or anything.”
Liza exited the bathroom wearing a charcoal-grey silk robe and matching pajamas. They were beautiful, but the smell of vomit remained. She sat down on the bed facing away from her sister.
“If there was someone out there who had already experienced the half of what I just did, I would be willing to listen to their words of comfort,” Liza said, staring back out the window. “But there is no such person.”
“Liza,” Andy said, her voice calm but direct. “You can’t let yourself wallow like that. I’m not going to let you spiral any further than you already are.”
“With all due respect, please leave me be,” Liza asked. “I understand what you’re saying. I really do. And at times I’m able to think my way out of things, but right now I can’t do that. Please just let me have my human moment, and let me wallow for the night.”
Andy got up and joined her sister on the opposite side of the bed. She grabbed Liza’s hand and put it in hers. Liza kept staring out the window.
“I guess I can’t demand you to be happier,” Andy said. “But I’ll settle for pointedly angry.”
Liza flicked her eyes away from the window but did not move her head.
“What do you mean?”
“You made them believe that Heather is dead,” Andy said. “We will use that to our advantage. Let me help you take some of that hurt you’re feeling right now and redirect it straight back into those children that brought it about.”
There was a knock at the door and the two both jumped. Tonight was all but a conventional night for the two, but they still were not expecting visitors. Perhaps Billy had something to say. Andy opened the door to find Paul and Chris staring back.
“Guys, this is far from an appropriate time or place,” Andy started, but was cut off by Liza’s voice.
“Let them in,” she said, quietly. “Now’s a time if any to have a conversation if they’ve sobered up.”
The two shuffled into the room awkwardly, being careful to leave the door ajar. Andy returned to sit next to Liza who had shifted her body to face them. A cold radiated from her skin.
“The last thing we want to do is waste your time, Liza,” Paul said. “So we’ll try to be quick.”
“If you didn’t want to waste my time you wouldn’t have knocked on that door,” Liza quipped.
Paul made a look as if to sass back, but Andy returned it with a stare of ‘remember who’s house you are in’, which cut him short. Chris spoke up quietly.
“Were they able to do anything at the hospital?” he asked. “There was a kid in my elementary school class who was technically dead for like two minutes once, so like, I know sometimes they can bring people back.”
Liza gave Chris her most patronizing look possible and Chris shrunk.
“Do you see Heather here?” she asked.
Liza forced a light quaver into her voice as she spoke. The affect punched Chris straight in the stomach.
“I want you to listen to me here, Chris,” Liza said. “I may be old enough to be your mother, but you are an adult now, and you have the responsibility to act the part.”
“I tried my very hardest to make it clear to you not to mess with me or my family, but it doesn’t seem that you got the message. You have destroyed me, and most importantly you have destroyed Heather who is now laying in the [HOSPITAL NAME] on a cold metal table, because you decided to make up some crack pot story about her fidelity for reasons I know not nor care to know.”
“It wasn’t made up,” Paul said.
Liza turned away from Chris and Paul and spoke directly to her sister.
“Andy, I stand corrected; you were right. Now is not the time for this conversation as it seems that they are still both drunk and deceitful. Get them out of my sight before I kill them like they killed my daughter.”
“We’re not drunk, and we’re not lying!” Chris screamed.
He began to tear up. Andy walked up to him, a presence that once may have been comforting, but now did opposite.
“Jesus Chris, did nobody teach you how to be a person?!” Andy yelled. “Heather is my niece and Liza’s daughter and you have the gall to yell at us just hours after learning of her passing. The last memory I have of my niece will be holding her unconscious body in a pool of vomit. You have no right to scream at me or my sister!”
“Andy,” Liza said.
Liza ran up to grab Andy who looked as if she was about to strike Chris.
“I’m allowed to be mad too, Liza,” she said.
“You don’t understand, we rea-” Paul started but was immediately shouted down by Andy.
“No. It doesn’t matter. Heather is an adult, and she should have been treated as such, even if she did do something that terrible.”
Liza pushed her to the side as Chris started to speak again.
“Chris, unless you want me telling my gun-loving ex-wife who lives just a half hour away that you pushed our daughter off the edge, I suggest you leave this room immediately and go back to the guest quarters that I so graciously allow you to stay in.”
Chris and Paul left. They walked back to their room, quite shaken. It had been a terrible plan from conception, Paul thought, but he knew what he had seen. So did Chris, and the two of them didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. Sleep was the last thing on their minds. Walking back, they ran into Ben who was also returning to his room. Chris had a moment of shameful self-awareness that his eyes were red puffy from crying, but resolved that that was the least of his worries.
“Hey,” he said, still looking down.
“You just missed it,” Paul said.
The two sat down on the same couch and Ben sat facing them.
“Missed what?” Ben asked.
“Liza and Andy nearly beating us to death,” Chris spat out.
Chris rested his face into his hands and breathed deeply. Ben didn’t know whether or not to feel pity towards Chris. He felt an instinctive need to protect his best friend and to comfort, but after taking a good look at Chris who sat there looking exhausted, hungover, and green, Ben was able to compartmentalize those feelings.
“Given the circumstances, I think that may have been an appropriate response,” Ben said.
Chris looked up at Ben, confused. This was not the reaction he wanted.
“If you’re going to be sassy, at the very least don’t put me at the butt end of it,” Chris said.
Ben did not respond, which was not characteristic of him. But maybe, Chris thought, the events of the night and, frankly, the time of the night had taken its toll on him too. Ben, like Chris, looked paler than usual. Like, fifth grade spelling bee where he spelled the word ‘sheriff’ with two ‘r’s instead of two ‘f’s pale.
“Are you okay?” Paul asked. “Have you been vomiting too?”’
“Sick, yes. Vomiting, no,” Ben said.
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
Ben stared at Chris. There were dark circles under his eyes, and in observing them, Ben could feel the sag of his own.
“I mean that what you did in that ballroom was nothing short of murder,” Ben said coldly.
“Not you too,” Chris said.
He shriveled into the couch.
“Ben, do you really think I would lie about something like this? Do you think I would say something like this without seeing it with my own two eyes?”
Ben looked from Chris to Paul who had remained silent. Paul looked back. He was torn between his horrified disappointment that Chris had not followed his instruction to not say anything to Heather, and his horrified anxiety that nobody believed in what they had seen.
“I saw what I saw,” Paul said. “And what I saw was Heather sleeping with Connor.”
Ben stood up, disgusted.
“You two are just, immoral,” he said, walking away from Chris and Paul.
“Jon saw it too,” Chris shouted out. “You can’t really believe that all three of us would lie?”
“Then where is he even?” Ben asked.
Neither Chris nor Paul could answer, so Ben left.