I don't edit my photos.
Don't worry about the chapter number. I was looking at my chapter divisions and realized I started cutting them shorter and with less emphasis later on in the novel, so I went ahead and added some more divisions earlier on.
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(yes, the use of the female figure as a graphic framing device is tired and old, but I like the song.)
CHAPTER TWELVEMorning 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. Connor slumped into the chair and led his eyelids sink, but Ben’s immediate beckoning shot him out of his upright sleeping purgatory.
“I need your help,” he said.
Connor yawned and opened his eyes. Ben, uncomfortably juggling the tasks of holding a guitar in concert with writing on paper, met his line of sight, annoyed that Connor was not helping him despite not having not specified any topic or direction.
“What’s up,” Connor asked.
“I’m trying to write a song for Billy,” Ben said.
He crossed out a lyric angrily without proper backing support for the page. His pen ripped through the paper. Ben swore and reached for a new page, regretting his habit of buying loose leaf paper.
“I don’t know if ‘I’m sorry your cousin died’ is best explored through song,” Connor replied. “Though, I don’t listen to much country music, and I have this ghostly feeling that that’s a common topic. When are the CMAs?”
“Heather’s not-” Ben started, stopping immediately. “Heather’s not in this song. It’s just a love song. Plain and simple.”
“Then I might criticize your timing,” Connor replied.
He felt an urge to get up and leave, but his body was too tired to exit his seated position, and he decided he could put up with Connor a little bit longer. Billy ignored Connor’s comments and continued writing.
“What’s a good rhyme pair for ‘tight ass’?” Ben asked, still looking at his page.
Connor scooted up in his chair, suddenly very awake.
“‘No class’,” Connor replied. “When exactly do you plan on singing this?”
Ben looked up.
“You know, I can tell that that was supposed to be a dig at me,” Ben said. “But it actually fits and I am going to use it.”
Ben continued scribbling. A light wave of jealousy washed over Connor as he watched. Not necessarily a gay wave, but the wave one is typically washed over by when observing another individual getting attention when one is lacking that attention.
“Nobody’s ever written me a song,” Connor said.
Ben looked up from his writing again. Connor was slumped dumbly in the chair.
“Have you ever written anyone a song?” Ben asked.
The answer was no. The point was taken. Connor did not reply.
“Thought so,” Ben answered for him. “Is it too much of a stretch to rhyme ‘fairly complainy’ with ‘thick and veiny’?”
Connor choked on his spit.
“A little blunt, isn’t that?” Connor asked.
“Actually, a little pointier than you’d expect,” Ben replied to more choking sounds. “Could you go wake up Billy and bring him here? I feel like I need more concrete visual sensory detail in the song, but he’s making a stupid face in all his Instagram photos. I tried texting him but he’s probably still asleep.”
Connor gave Ben an ‘I do not approve of being used as an alarm clock’ stare, but got nonetheless. He exited the room, and Ben shouted back.
“Don’t spoil the song,” Ben said. “Just tell him I need his advice picking out an outfit or something.”
When the footsteps faded away, Ben picked back up his guitar.
‘something something something when’ ‘then’ ‘men’? Ben regretted sending away Connor so quickly. He set down his guitar, scolding his singing ability in his thoughts. He hated that he couldn’t properly put his feelings into words without sounding cliché. He hated how that feeling in it of itself was cliché, and lastly, he hated that that sort of metacognitive introspection was even taking place. If he wanted to write stupid cheesy love songs, he should be able to write stupid cheesy love songs. Unfortunately, no amount of proactive positive thought could qualm the anxieties. This is what he got for being a Gemini.
Connor trekked his sway over to Billy’s room which, the placement becoming clearer as Connor neared, was regrettably next to Heather’s room. The door was open and the room smelled strongly of wine. Connor took a step forward and stared inside. It was empty for the most part. The wrinkles looked the same as when Bailey and Connor had left, but he tried to convince himself that the indent was somehow from a live-and-well Heather who had slept through the night and was now just out having coffee somewhere.
Connor pulled himself away and knocked on Billy’s door. There was a series of grunts, a cough, and footsteps. Billy opened his bedroom door, half naked, half awake, and only half present in reality. He wasn’t expecting Connor of all people, but as the memory of the night prior slowly dissolved its way back into Billy’s mind, there were other things to be confused about.
“Brunch is at two,” Billy said, turning away.
Connor grabbed the door to stop it from closing.
“I’m not looking for food,” Connor said. “Ben needs you to help him pick out an outfit for today.”
Billy perked up but remained cool in tone.
“Is that a gay joke? Because I actually have a terrible fashion sense,” Billy said. “I slept in these sweatpants, and I fully intend on wearing them for the rest of the day.”
“His words, not mine,” Connor said. “Let’s go.”
Connor walked away, and Billy – feeling the urge to follow overcome the need to clothe himself further, both feelings relatively hazed over in his morning state – quickly followed after. Connor head straight to his room and flopped into bed, deciding now that the proper strategy was to cover his ears with pillows. Billy saw the open door to Ben’s room and stepped inside. The light was warm, the vibe was warm, and he was suddenly very aware of his lack of a shirt. Ben had yet to look up from whatever he was reading, so Billy took the moment to grab a nearby blanket and wrap it around his shoulders, the motion of which brought Ben aware.
“Oh good, did Connor find you?” Ben asked, making to stand up.
Billy sat down in the chair before Ben could get up completely. As Billy became more awake, he remembered how he and Ben had parted ways the night before. Billy looked out the door at the room Chris was sleeping. The door was shut tight. Ben looked at Billy’s. His hair was messy in a not even cute way. The skin under his eyes were morning-gaunt, and the whites of his eyes were tinted pink. Ben couldn’t relate more.
Billy looked back at Ben. He jumped up out of the bed and went to his suitcase.
“So I don’t have a lot of choices right now,” Ben said. “But I also have no idea what’s appropriate for a matinée. Here I was thinking a matinée was just a kind of movie screening. I guess I should have picked that up from being a stolen French word: matinée, soirée. Do you think that a noirée is a thing?”
Ben looked up. Billy was looking at him with a tired smile. It was clear he was trying to give the performance of paying attention but was too tired to do so sincerely. But that was just for a moment. When Billy’s eyes met Ben’s, his face shrank to a look of concern.
“What happened between you and Chris,” Billy asked.
Ben looked away and down to his suitcase, trying to remember. His memory was spotty, not because of drinking, but because part of him didn’t want to remember. He certainly hadn’t killed Chris like Billy had initially requested, but when he thought back, all he could conjure was the face of shock, anger, and disappointment on Chris as he left.
“I told him that what he did was wrong,” Ben said, thinking hard. “And I think I challenged him to a fight?”
Ben turned back to Billy who was still staring at him.
“Oh shit,” he said. “I didn’t know drunk Ben got that crazy. Do you think you can take him on?”
“I mean, I took that weight training class senior year of high school,” Ben said. “But overall, I don’t think Chris is really in the mood to throw down hands.”
Billy got up and walked over to Ben, choosing to sit at the end of the bed while Ben was on the floor.
“Is it a little to Robin Scherbatsky to say I think that’s really hot?” Billy asked.
Ben stared back without speaking, morally opposed to How I Met Your Mother references of any kind.
“It’s a little messed up and shows that you only care about what I do for you and not who I am,” Ben replied.
Billy laughed and got up, walking away from Ben.
“So are you admitting now that the ‘you can ask me for anything at any time’ and ‘I’m here for you’ were all just talk?”
“You’re one to speak with the amount that you talk.”
“Nope. Nope. This is why don’t work together.”
Billy walked over to the bed and picked up the sheet of paper curiously. Ben jumped up and ripped it out of his hands quickly, stuffing it into his pocket.
“Journaling from France,” he answered without being asked. “How’s Heather?”
“I’m not sure,” Billy replied. “If it’s anything like when I got my stomach pumped sophomore year, I’m going to go with alive, but terrible.”
Billy pulled out his phone. No messages from Heather, and her bitmoji remained squarely next his on the Snap Map.
“And how are you?” Ben asked.
“My stomach wasn’t pumped, but I am regretting not sleeping more,” Billy said. “I’m worried enough for Liza and Heather that I don’t know if I’d be able to go back to sleep, but I could definitely like, use a shower.”
Motion at the door garnered the attention of both Ben and Billy. It was Paul, looking just as exhausted as everyone else, but more clothed. He motioned towards Connor’s room.
“Did he tell you two?” Paul asked.
Paul felt immediately unwelcome. It was not as harsh as Ben’s presence the night before, but he attributed that to their apparent fatigue rather than change of heart. Their faces twisted into a ‘you don’t belong here but at the same time we don’t have the energy to really try to evict you from our moment’ sort of looks. I reality, neither Ben nor Billy were truly displeased to see Paul in particular, it was more the arrival of another person that lead to their behavior.
“Tell us what?” Ben asked.
To the extent of his knowledge, Connor had only spat out a few successful rhyme pairs and left.
“Oh dear, you two better sit down, and Billy, you should go talk to Liza soon.”
Confused and concerned, Ben and Billy sat down on the bed, and Paul took his place in the chair. Paul explained how Chris had falsely accused Heather, and how he and Chris had been fooled by Bailey and Connor, and now they had been put up to it by his brother. The two sat quietly, taking in Paul’s words. They, of course, were privy to the fact that Heather was still alive and (un)well, but the shock was still real. For all they knew, Heather really could have died that night. Billy got up. Liza was probably awake by now, and he needed to get her take on the scenario. He turned to Ben.
“Would you like to come with?” Billy asked.
“Of course,” Ben replied.
Paul muttered something about needing to help Chris with homework and let Ben and Billy head away. Once gone, Paul knocked on Chris’s door. Chris opened it. He looked tired and held a pen in his hand.
“Thank goodness,” Chris exclaimed. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Paul entered the room. Chris had a laptop open, several sheets of paper strewn about his bed, and a look of exhaustion on his face. This one was not just fatigue exhaustion. This was ‘I have no idea how to write a eulogy’ exhaustion. Paul picked up one of the sheets of paper. All it had written on it was ‘introduce yourself. State basic information about the deceased. Positive information.’
“WikiHow only get you so far, eh?” Paul asked, setting the sheet down.
Chris collapsed into the bed, placing his face yet again into another pillow. He had known Heather for most of his life, but in this moment he felt like she was a complete stranger. He couldn’t count the number of hours he had spent pining over his unrequited and unvoiced childhood and adulthood love for Heather, but when he tried to type anything, all he could see was Heather downing that bottle of vodka, and when he tried to put pen to paper, all he could see was Heather’s back storming out of the ballroom. It was a kind of writer’s block you couldn’t really find a solution for with a Google search, maybe in therapy, but definitely not a search engine.
“Well, think back to AP Lang,” Paul said. “Who’s your audience and what’s your purpose.”
Chris got up out of the bed and picked back up one of his sheets of paper. He pressed down his pen and wrote as he spoke.
“My audience is all of you. But I’m guessing Liza is the most important there,” he said.
Paul nodded encouragingly.
“And my purpose is to honor the deceased?”
Chris looked at Paul for validation.
“That’s a good start, but we’re mostly looking to please Liza,” he said. “So you might want to emphasize personal fault and vindicate the shit out of Heather. Like, don’t even mention alcohol.”
Billy approached his aunt’s bedroom door. He could hear several voices inside chattering loudly. He knocked and footsteps pounded their way nearer. Billy and Ben were greeted to the face of Andy opening the door. Billy was about to hug his mother when he saw Heather in the room sitting on the bed behind her.
“Heather!” Billy yelled.
He ran up to his cousin and embraced her with open arms. Heather hugged back, but lightly. She too was exhausted, from the sleep deprivation, binge drinking, and subsequent stomach pumping. Liza shushed him, but Billy didn’t care. Chris and Paul and anyone that shouldn’t hear were far from earshot, and he was happy to see his cousin fully conscious and not vomiting.
Ben turned to Liza.
“Paul told us,” he said. “About Jon and everything.”
“Yes, we were made aware of that last night. My mind’s made up about Jon, but I’m still on the fence about his friends,” she said. “As for Chris and Paul, well we’ll see how they perform at brunch.”
Billy sat down on the bed and Ben took his turn hugging Heather. He too was happy to see her conscious and smiling, albeit a half smile.