Poetry writing is hard to adapt when non-scary people don't write love poems anymore...
Okay, so you might realize that Ben randomly has a guitar now. I only realized now that Much Ado requires Ben too to write a poem for Billy, and so I will unexpectedly have to make him a musician too. I will have to tromp back through my text and drop some guitar references here and there and jokes about musicians being bisexual. Maybe at some point I can use the possibility of the guitar breaking as narrative tension. Who knows.
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 publicly 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.
The two sat quietly in the wake of Ben leaving, both feeling a like impulse to return to their rooms, but an anxiety of being alone.
“What’s gotten into him?” Chris asked Paul, not really expecting an answer.
Paul’s mind was blank. He just wanted someone to agree with them. Someone to validate their experience aside from Chris or Jon, and on that matter Paul was beginning to become worried as to the whereabouts of his brother. Jon wasn’t a traditional drama queen by any means, but Paul could imagine Jon at the very least finding the events of the night intriguing. He was an adult, and he didn’t need to tell Paul where he was going, but it would have been nice to know.
“I wish I knew,” Paul replied. “To think that the worst of our problems used to be Ben and Billy’s bickering.”
Chris looked back at Paul, poorly greased cogs chugging away.
“Heather is Billy’s cousin,” Chris announced.
“I’m aware, Chris,” Paul said. “That’s why we’re at her house.”
“No no no.”
Chris hit Paul on the arm, working out the thoughts as he spoke.
“We made Ben thirsty for Billy again, and Heather is Billy’s cousin,” he said.
Paul started to understand.
“Are you saying that Billy’s manipulating him or something?”
“Not exactly,” Chris replied. “Or at least not consciously. You know how Ben goes through his phases. He’s probably just in shock and retreated into Billy’s mindset.”
“He really does just think with his penis,” Paul said, sighing.
Before the two could retreat back into silence, Connor and Bailey burst into the room. They weren’t alone, and they weren’t really bursting of their own accord. In fact, they were more being dragged by two individuals that Chris and Paul had never seen before, a man and a woman around their age, and as the group of four came closer, it became clear that Connor and Bailey were both bound by the wrists.
Paul and Chris were taken aback for a number of reasons. The bondage scenario was certainly concerning, as was the presence of the two strangers who – had they performed their presence in any other way may have appeared as just more guests that neither Chris nor Paul knew – definitely didn’t look like they belonged. Connor and Bailey both shouted gratitude upon seeing Paul. Paul stood up.
“What the- where were- who are you two?” Paul stumbled.
“Henry,” said Henry.
“Henri,” said Henrietta at the same time.
The two looked at each other.
“Hen,” said Henry.
“Henrietta,” said Henrietta.
Paul didn’t know what to make of that verbal waffling, but he didn’t care. Frankly, his request for identification was more a conditioned social response than a wish to know their names. He could see that Connor and Bailey were tied up, and that they clearly didn’t want to be. That was all he really needed.
“What are you doing here and why did you tie them up?” Paul asked.
Henrietta thought. They hadn’t really tied them up, rather than bound. But the word ‘tie’ was in ‘zip tie’ and she didn’t want to fight that battle.
“I don’t remember,” Henry said. “Henri?”
“I think this one was false imprisonment,” Henrietta said, pointing to Connor. “And the two together both were lying. Oh, and weed. Definitely not the dog thing though.”
Paul looked at them in utter confusion. The only false imprisonment he could see was that of two strangers imprisoning his brother’s stupid friends.
“Chris can you go grab my backpack from my room, I’ve got a utility knife,” Paul said.
“Oh please do not,” Henrietta said. “I want to free them too, but Darlene said that we should leave them in the closet?-”
“That’s horrible,” Paul said. “Who’s Darlene?”
“And Darlene vastly overestimated the space in that closet. Like, maybe you could fit a few dogs, tops, but these two were not going to fit. So we’re looking for a Liza to see if she’s got any other ideas of what to do.”
Chris, who had remained on the couch even after Paul’s request, laughed. The interaction of earlier still racing through his head no matter how hard he tried to think of something else.
“I can show you where she is,” Chris said. “But she is not in the mood for visitors.”
“We’ve got two hostages with criminal charges,” Henry said. “I think she can turn her mood around.”
Chris turned to Paul. It was becoming clear to them that they were the only one’s savvy to the night’s events. Chris’s mouth was clamped shut and Paul wordlessly agreed to bring them up to speed.
“I don’t know where you two have been,” Paul started. “But there was… an accident earlier, and uh. Heather got upset and had a lot to drink, and she. She passed out and drowned in her vomit.”
Connor’s eyes widened, which was quite a feat for how tired he was at that point. Bailey stared past the faces of Paul and Chris, expressionless. She slowly sank to her knees, pulling Connor down with her.
“Is that true,” Bailey asked, quietly. “Is she really?”
Paul affirmed and Bailey broke into tears crumpling into a ball on the floor, a heaping mass of silver-grey fabric. Connor tried his hardest to console through shoulder touching, but with bound wrists it wasn’t the easiest task. Henry looked very uncomfortable, and Henrietta was mostly just confused by the experience. The crying set off Chris who joined in, and, becoming frustrated with the display, Henry hoisted up the two hostages by the wrists. They shouted out in pain and Henrietta slapped Henry on the arm. A terrified anxiety not unlike that of Catholic-guilt pierced through Bailey’s chest and into her stomach.
“Did we have anything to do with that,” Bailey asked. “Please tell me we didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Paul expressed confusion. He hadn’t seen them since they had left midway through the party, but come to think of it, Connor had left with Heather.
“Why would you have anything to do with it?” Paul asked.
Bailey shot a nervous glance at Connor looking for permission. Connor’s face was blank. Confident that nothing they had done was ultimately illegal and desperately needing to disseminate the pressure taking over, she confessed. Bailey told them about how Jon knew about Paul and Chris’s plan during the first party, and how they failed to foil it. She told them how Connor got Heather out of the way for the time they needed, and lastly, she told them that it was her and Connor in the bedroom earlier that night.
“I really thought it was just an innocent joke to make Jon feel better about himself!” Bailey said.
She went into her sentence trying to tell the truth, but realized how much of a lie it was by the end. They weren’t putting any good into the world when they walked into Heather’s room, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise that things didn’t go as expected.
Paul sat back down on the couch, unwilling to believe Bailey’s words as she was unwilling to believe his own. He felt his pride of his experience and perception battling with the Bailey’s story that filled in the blanks of the night far too well. Paul looked to Chris who too was seated on the couch. His face was pale as it had been for most of the night, but now it verged on translucent. Henrietta and Henry watched on, unsure how to proceed without further direction.
“This better not be some kind of trick,” Chris said.
“I’m done with tricks for the night,” Bailey said, wiping her eyes on the shoulder of her sleeve.
That wasn’t the answer that Chris was looking to hear. Chris wanted Liza, Billy, Andy, and Heather to jump out from the room behind him and announce that they were the ones doing the tricking. That was really the only scenario where he could accept being tricked, but looking down at the fabric of Bailey’s dress, it became harder and harder for him to ignore the truth.
“How did you get Heather’s voice though,” Chris asked, staring at the ground. “That was definitely her voice.”
Bailey didn’t think it an appropriate time to put on a Heather impression given the current circumstances and Heather’s apparent death, so she spoke in her own voice explaining her talent bluntly. Chris didn’t need a show. It was clear to him, just as it was clear now to Paul who was in split horror between Chris’s misinformed actions, his own inability to prevent said actions, and the behavior of his brother. Jon had put on pageants of hate in the past, but this was to a level that Paul hadn’t seen.
“Jon really put you up to this?” Paul asked, hoping for a no but expecting a yes.
“I have texts if you want to see them,” Connor said.
This was only partially true given that Henry had taken both Connor and Bailey’s phones and stashed them away in the locker, but before Paul could ask to see them (which, frankly he may not have done given his resistance to further affirmation of his brother’s character and the subsequent image that it may project onto him by association) Liza and Andy came storming in.
“What is with all the incessant yelling and- wait, who are you two?” Liza asked angrily, pointing at Henry and Henrietta.
“Who are you two?” Henrietta asked, pointing back at Liza and Andy. “Are you Liza?”
“Of course I am,” Liza replied. “Now identify yourselves before I call before the neighborhood watch.”
“We are the neighborhood watch,” Henrietta said. “Or at least I think we are. Do we have titles, Henry?”
Henry dug into his pocket and unfolded a sheet of paper, their position description. It did a good job describing the position but didn’t officially state a title. Liza snatched the sheet out of his hands.
“Do you work with Darlene?” she asked.
“Yes, well, she left for the night, which is why we’re here,” Henry said. “What do you want us to do with these two?”
Liza looked down and finally noticed that Connor and Bailey were bound by the wrists. This was exactly why Liza had advocated for the watch to stop using actual handcuffs, but it seemed as though Darlene had only picked up on the letter of the law and not the spirit.
“Are these the two ‘criminals’ that Darlene was babbling about?” Liza asked.
Henrietta nodded. Liza reached into the pocked of her robe and whipped out a pocketknife. Henry and Henrietta backed up quickly. Connor and Bailey recoiled but not so successfully due to their bondage. Liza approached the two and cut the zip ties away. The two no-longer-captives stumbled away from one another. Connor turned his now-free wrists, but Bailey stayed relatively still.
“May I ask how you got in here?” Andy asked.
“The door’s always open,” Liza said. “I’m more concerned of why. I’ve had enough of a night with these two.”
Liza pointed to Connor and Paul who were watching the scene with blank faces yet taking in no information.
“What on earth could these two have done.”
Henry started to speak in a particularly ineloquent manner when Chris started to cry again.
“Liza,” he wailed. “I’m so sorry.”
Liza surveyed the room. Paul looked as if he was close to tears himself. Bailey was starting to angry cry through clenched teeth. Liza had a brief impulse to break the conceit, but it passed. A casual glance at Chris’s face was all it took for Liza to flit back into the ballroom, watching the anger replay on Chris’s face like a highly-specific and not very universal Snapchat filter.
“Have you final seen the error of your ways?” Liza asked. “Done with your little pranks?”
Chris stopped mid-cry and made eye contact with Liza. It was cold. He extended a shaking arm and pointed at Connor and Bailey.
“It was them,” he said. “Not us. Them.”
Bailey looked on the verge of being truly destroyed as a person, so Connor offered up the story this time. It didn’t sit well with Liza. There was only a partial vindication of Chris’s actions, and Liza was already hours along on the hating Chris train with no plan of getting off. She turned back to Chris.
“I’ve heard worse,” Liza said. “And none of that changes what you did to me and my family, Chris.”
Chris, having hoped that at least some of his rage-turned-guilt be lifted, fell back down into quiet sobs. Paul stared between his pile of a friend and Liza, wishing to comfort Chris, but not knowing if that would be something of a political statement under the eyes of Liza. Chris pulled his head back up.
“Liza, you don’t understand how truly sorry I am,” Chris choked out. “I would do anything to take it back. You have to believe me.”
Liza turned to Andy and back to Chris.
“Andy and I need a moment alone. You two.”
She pointed at Henry and Henrietta.
“I can take them over. Go back to whatever you were doing before you barged into my home.”
Henry and Henrietta scurried out of the house and Andy and Liza stepped aside, leaving Paul alone with Chris. The two didn’t speak. They sat silently, trying and failing to mull over their thoughts. Paul was having something of an existential crisis whereas Chris’s mind wasn’t forming thoughts again, returning to a primal pre-language sort of anxiety pumping. Andy and Liza returned.
“I have a proposal,” Liza said.
Chris looked up. He hadn’t caught Liza’s words, but her tone was something to cling to.
“I know you, and I’ve met plenty of boys like you,” she continued. “You’re a ball of pride and repression. I am willing to let Heather rest and convince myself that you had no agency in the matter under one condition.”
Chris nodded, sustaining eye contact.
“Tomorrow I will be hosting a matinee to conclude the weekend. You will write and perform a eulogy,” Liza said. “If I am convinced that it is sincere, you may leave with only your guilt.”
Chris nodded. Liza turned to Paul.
“The same is not required for you, but I would encourage you to help him,” Liza said. “Lord knows he’ll need it.”
“I encourage you to try to get some kind of sleep. There’s only about two hours until sunrise, and this house fills with a surprising amount of natural light.”
Liza turned around and left, Andy in tow. Chris and Paul exchanged glances before slowly dragging themselves off to their guest rooms. They were all ready to rest.
Morning came very quickly, in the perceptive sense. Nothing had changed about the relationship between the earth and the sun, though many of the guests could have been tricked into believing so. As the sunlight trickled in through the many sun tunnels throughout Liza’s home, so did the soft sound Ben’s guitar. The sound might have been pleasant under other circumstances, but it was far too early, and the Ben was just strumming the same three chords again and again, stopping and starting without rhythm. This continued until Connor, who was sharing a wall with Ben, got up out of his bed and walked over to the next room.
Connor knocked. Ben set his guitar carefully on his bed and opened the door. He wasn’t expecting Connor of all people, but he needed a second set of ears and was grateful that someone else was up that early.
“Perfect, come in; come in,” he said, dragging Connor into his room before he could even speak.
Ben threw Connor into a chair and picked back up his guitar and the sheet of paper he had been writing notes on.