The polls have closed, and the results are in!
Soon the book will be real.
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. 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.
You’ve stretched my heart and made it wide
And put your own real deep inside
You fill me up, with such a joy
Oh Billy, Billy, Billy, boy
With all that you and I’ve seen through
I’m all ways coming, back to you
I know it’s hard, it’s always been
‘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. Liza explained how she had picked Heather up from the hospital this morning and snuck her into the house.
“I had her covered in a blanket and everything,” she said. “I was a little bit disappointed that everyone was still sleeping.”
Heather reported feeling generally fine. The actual stomach pumping, from what she could remember, wasn’t the most pleasant, but the fear and confusion of it all was worse than the actual pumping. The procedure itself just felt cold and constricting.
“So what’s the plan?” Billy asked.
“Liza initially suggested zombie makeup,” Andy replied. “Which I vetoed immediately for obvious reasons.”
Liza scoffed. It would have been really cool and totally like that one scene from Hamlet.
“Ultimately we decided that Heather will show up fashionably late right after Chris’s speech,” Liza said. “She’ll be waiting outside the dining room listening and hopefully it’ll help you deal with whatever you may be thinking about that boy.”
Heather chuckled a little. She had quite mixed feelings. Everything from leaving the ballroom with Connor to waking up in the hospital was fairly spotty. She did have fleeting images of Chris screaming as she had never seen him before, and she could feel the memory of the cold vodka bottle on her lips, but the further time progressed, the further they felt like memories of memories. She trusted her mother’s accounts, wild as they may have been, but she still felt unsettled. Unsettled about being unsure. Unsettled about having brought these people home. Unsettled about not knowing what to do.
“Speaking of which,” Liza said. “We should start preparing the dining room. Billy, Heather, you can come with me to help. Ben, if you would do your best to prevent the rest of your little friends from wandering about the house, that would be much appreciated.”
Liza threw a blanket over Heather’s head which she quickly threw off, and the three left to go set up. Ben made to leave but was stopped by Andy’s voice.
“Why don’t you hold on for a moment,” she said.
Ben turned back, concerned in part that Chris or Paul might start to move about the house and in part because he had never been in a room alone with Billy’s mother before.
“I want you to know first that I am not Liza,” Andy said. “I am not going to walk you through a cellar, and I am not going to go all daddy with a shotgun on you. That’s what we have Heather’s other mother for.”
Ben nodded and let his hand drop from the door knob. He stood, hovering awkwardly. Andy gestured to a chair and he sat, Andy taking the side of the bed.
“So, to cut to the chase, what are your intentions with my son?”
Ben’s eyes bulged and he slapped his pockets making sure that his song lyrics weren’t anywhere near. Andy laughed and dismissed Ben’s reaction.
“I’m kidding. I kid,” she said. “But I still do want to get to know you. I didn’t really get that chance when you two were a thing in high school.”
Ben made to speak but Andy kept talking.
“It’s fine. Heather told me you weren’t out or anything, so I wasn’t going to press. Plus you two weren’t necessarily the quietest boys 16-year-olds if you catch my drift.”
Ben wanted nothing more than to evaporate. Andy saw this on his face and immediately corrected herself.
“Oh god, I meant the drinking. Not, that. I mean, did you? No sorry. Which is not to say that you can’t. Oh goodness,” Andy stumbled. “What I’m trying to say is that you were loud drinkers, and that if you are allowed to do the do with my son.”
Ben’s face didn’t change.
“Oh I’m definitely note getting this message across properly.”
“I just. I feel like I missed out on really knowing you. I love my son, and from what I can tell, he really loves you to,” she said. “And that means I love you too.”
Andy smiled over at Ben who was still a little horrified, but also a little bit heartened by the encounter. He smiled back, choosing not to vocalize any of his current thoughts.
“Well, why don’t you get up and go lasso those troublemakers,” Andy said. “That may have been too kind of a word. They’ve done some truly horrific things. Regardless, go about your business, and forget I said anything about the sex stuff.”
Ben exited the room swiftly.
Liza, Heather, and Billy entered the dining room to find it already beautifully decorated. A ten-seat table had been brought in with places set for eight: Liza and Andy, Billy and Ben, Paul and Chris, and Bailey and Connor, all with hand written name tags. Liza assumed that Jon was not going to show. The end seat remained empty. Across from it, Liza had a nametag left for Heather and a bouquet of flowers laying in place of a plate.
“Thoughts?” Liza asked, introducing the room as if she had done any work other than write a check.
“Yeah, I thought you wanted us to help?” Billy said.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t trust you around my good dishes, much less shift things around,” Liza said. “Andy wanted some alone time with your Ben.”
Liza gave Billy a wink and Billy gave Liza an open faced stare.
“Oh don’t be worried,” she said, bumping Billy with her hip as she passed. “He’s competing with Chris for suitor of the year award. I think he has a good chance.”
This didn’t really calm Billy, but his anxiety was more retroactive. It had been at least five minutes since they left Liza’s, and he couldn’t imagine his mother interrogating Ben for any longer.
“He’s a good kid,” Liza said, walking over to the kitchen. “Terrible choice of friends and objectively terrible dancer, but I think he nets positive.”
Billy smiled. There was definitely an expose he didn’t like having his affections out there and known by the masses, but he was comforted to know that at the very least, Liza approved. Also, given the circumstances, he was hardly the center of attention, which was also comforting.
Ben ran through the house back to the guest quarters. Paul and Chris’s doors were both open, which gave him an initial fright, but upon closer inspection her found that they were both in Chris’s room chatting around Chris’s laptop. Further down were the rooms that Connor and Bailey were staying in, doors firmly shut. Ben guessed that the two were probably still asleep. This was correct.
He strolled into Chris’s room and the two looked up. Paul looked a little annoyed, not at Ben but at Chris, and Chris still looked scared and pale.
“What are you two up to?” Ben asked, taking a seat.
The two didn’t say anything to Ben initially. They hadn’t left on the greatest of terms during their last encounter, but a lot had happened since, and Paul at least was willing to let Ben’s words from the night prior to stay in the night prior. Chris was less willing in his silence – Ben had straight up thrown down the gauntlet – but right now he just needed help. The two started speaking at the same time, both just as eager to let Ben know that they had been duped, and it wasn’t really Chris’s fault, and that Liza wanted Chris to write a eulogy. This of course, shouted out by two at once, didn’t really work, but Chris quickly faded out and let Paul explain.
Ben knew all this information already, save the eulogy, but stayed silent to hear their side of the story. It was not unlike Connor’s explanation, just weighted a little differently. Ben peered over. Chris had about half a page on a word document typed out, single spaced. It couldn’t have been more than two hundred words.
“Do you plan on having your laptop out during the speech?” Ben asked.
Chris hadn’t thought of that. It did seem like a stupid idea. He threw himself back into his pillows. Paul gave Ben a ‘I worked hard enough to get him this far, look what you did’ look and pulled Chris back up.
“Keep those emotions for the speech,” Paul said. “Start writing down what you like and just spit the rest out from the heart.”
“He’s got a point,” Ben agreed. “Liza’s looking for sincerity. Maybe it’s best if you just say what you feel.”
“That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Chris.
His words were met with a pillow thrown by Ben. It missed.
“Most bisexual,” Ben shouted.
Paul picked up the pillow and thwacked Chris on the head.
“Or pansexual,” Paul said.
Liza entered the dining room reprising her black dress from the night before. Normally was not one to repeat an outfit, but it hadn’t gotten enough use, and the black had a good funeral vibe to it. Prior to her arrival she had talked the plan over once more with Heather. Once everyone was in the dining room, she would be safe to leave Liza’s bedroom and wait outside. Then after a Chris gave his speech, she could enter at her leisure.
Connor, Bailey, and Ben were the only ones present when she walked in. Neither Connor nor Bailey looked as if they belonged judging by both their physicality and choice of fashion. Ben, instructed by Liza through Billy, also wore all black, whereas Connor had shown up in athletic wear and Bailey in floral sundress. The contrast was made greater by the lack of conversation. All three had taken the initiative to not bring their phones, which may not have been a problem on any other day, but in the given circumstances the crutch might have been helpful. Ben also barely knew the two to top things off. The three sat silently and stared at the bouquet of flowers on the table. A small damp ring of water had formed on the red tablecloth around the end of the bouquet where the stems poked out, darkening the cloth ever so slightly.
Seconds after Liza, Billy entered. He was trying his hardest to wear all black but had to settle for a grey dress shirt. It fit with the rest of the room. He took the seat next to Ben and started the usual ‘how are you’ ‘I’m doing well’ robotic chit chat that one does while waiting for their two friends to arrive and perform a eulogy for the unintended and not actual death of one’s cousin. Andy, also in black, entered shortly after and sat down across from her sister.
Billy had started to wonder whether not setting an actual clock time for the brunch would have been a good idea, when Chris and Paul entered. Ben breathed a sigh of relief. Chris had not brought his laptop. He was wearing navy, which wasn’t ideal, but it was something. The two made for their spots marked with the tags, but Liza stopped Chris before he could sit.
“You can sit there as we eat, but I would like you to speak from the head of the table,” she said.
Paul sat down, and Chris – following Liza’s instruction – did not. He walked to the front of the table where the flowers lay. The seat had been removed, but four small indents remained in the carpet where they had been. The flowers smelled sweet and strong. While the dining room carried the ambient smell of baking grease floating from the kitchen, a four foot radius around the spot smelled only of flowers. Chris wasn’t sure whether he was imagining it or not, but with the sweet smell came a cold. It was like the cold one experiences when surrounded by plant life, cooling everything around them in their respiration, but Chris acknowledged to himself that it could have also been his unpreparedness, his anxiety, or an inconveniently placed vent.
He reached into his pocket. The room was silent enough that Chris was keenly aware of the volume of the paper as he unfolded it. All eyes were on him, Bailey and Connor less so; they were more looking past him than at him. Andy and Liza sat the closest to him, which brought with it a certain fear but a comfort when he stared forward and their faces blurred into the growing haze of his periphery.
“Hello everyone. I know most if not all of you here today, but for those who may not know me, I’m Chris, friend of the family. I first really met Heather in elementary school when I had class with Billy. My mother has always been a part of Liza’s book club, but it wasn’t until school that I really got to know the family. Heather was two grades above me, but we had recess at the same time. She was terrible at basketball but the best foursquare player in the whole school. I remember getting frustrated that she would always be king, not because I didn’t want her to win, but because it meant that there was less time to talk.
“When I was in fourth grade she went off to middle school. I was deep in my hating girls phase, but I still stayed close with Billy and Ben and Paul. Freshman year of high school I got to see her again, and I was so happy. But I kept my distance probably because she was older and I was self-conscious. This summer though, I felt like I got that time back. I wish I could say it was just like back when we were kids again, but it really wasn’t. But not in bad way. As a kid, Heather was a calm, kind, and crazy smart kid that I always looked up to. She was always telling me about all the crazy adventures she was doing: track, horse riding, gymnastics, I think at one point she even went through a paintball phase. I don’t think she ever grew out of those phases, they just transformed into who she was today, somebody just as strong, as kind, and somebody who deserved better.
“For as long as I’ve known her, I have never heard one person speak ill of Heather, which makes it all worse that she was done to death by lies and defamation. It’s far too late to reverse what has been done, what I did, and what was done by others. No amount of posthumous redemption can bring her back, though I hope what little I can provide can bring back and keep strong her memory.
“I was asked to speak with sincerity, which is not something I do very often. In an effort to fill in the gaps of my own inability, I found this poem on Pinterest that I think expresses my feelings better than I might ever be able to.
“Pardon, goddess of the night,
Those that slew thy virgin knight,
For the which with songs of woe
Round about her tomb they go.
Midnight, assist our moan.
Help us to sigh and groan
Graves, yawn and yield your dead,
Till death be utterèd,
Chris folded up his outline, placed it in his pocket, and bowed his head. Everyone remained silent. Even for those who had been to a funeral before, this was not a familiar scenario with set standards of how to react. Chris walked around the table and took his chair. Liza did not stop him, which to Chris was a win. The silence awakened the rest of the senses, making the smell of brunch all the more inappropriate feeling. A conflicting state, one does not generally associate the smell of bacon with feeling sad.
Liza looked around the room, both at her guests to see how they reacted, and also at the door where Heather was hidden. It did not matter what Liza thought about the speech. Frankly, Liza had no set standard for what she expected. The night prior she had dreamed of two scenarios. The first of which Chris performed a speech of pure self-defense. Heather burst in immediately wearing full-on dead makeup. She climbed onto the table and screamed in Latin, vomited on Chris, and renounced her love and friendship for him. In the second scenario, Chris performed a speech that brought everyone to tears. Heather burst in and fell to her knees, crying, apologizing for everything. Chris, in shock, fell down to meet her. Andy announced that Heather had been alive the whole time, and then suddenly there was a double wedding marrying Heather and Chris and next to them, Billy and Ben.
But that’s not what Liza felt. None of that came over her with Chris’s speech, and from the looks of it, nobody was coming through the door either. The entire time Chris spoke, she just felt empty, vengeful, and hungry. Liza waited for as long as she could handle the silence and stood up. Her chair slid backwards loudly.
“Well,” she said. “Thank you for those kind words, Chris. I will need more time to process them, but we can spend some of that time eating.”
Liza walked towards the kitchen when the door opened. Heather stood in the doorway wearing a silky white dress. She and Liza had gone back and forth between a zombie look, a phoenix look, and a deconstructed ghost look, and this one felt the most appropriate. Plain, simple, and the polar opposite of what she had been wearing the night prior. Bailey and Connor were the first to gasp. There was the immediate shock of the unexpected, a fear of retribution, but more lasting was the alleviation of guilt. Not all of the guilt, they still drove her to drink that much which would stick with Bailey for at least the next couple of years, but at the very least the cosmic guilt of Heather’s death that up until this point, neither of them could properly comprehend.
Chris didn’t react. He saw Heather, but didn’t really. He saw her outline. He saw her figure. He saw her face, and he saw her eyes that were puffy and tinted red. But in that moment she was just an image. She was a spectral that didn’t belong in that space at that time. It was like going on vacation to Rome and coming across your piano teacher, or like finding your ninth grade science teacher on Tinder. It didn’t belong, and it didn’t feel real.
“Chris,” Heather started.
The moment sound came from Heather’s mouth, Chris brain suffered a hard disk error and he passed out. It wasn’t something he felt coming on. It was a ‘straight to black’ faint, like one experiences after chugging the greater part of a bottle of vodka post-defamation.
When Chris awoke, he was back in the bed he had slept in the night before. His head ached, and when he rubbed his forehead, he winced. There was a bruise and the skin was lightly raised. He moved his hands to his eyes and rubbed them trying to piece together his memory. It didn’t feel like morning; his head hurt, and he was starving. Chris surveyed the room and caught a glimpse of Heather sitting in a chair, staring at her phone. His memory flooded back in and he sat up quickly, too quickly. Chris started to see spots in his vision and had to blink them away.
“From what I’ve been told, I don’t owe you much,” Heather said. “But at the very least you should get an explanation.”
Chris nodded and Heather launched into a mixed story of what she remembered and what she had heard from others, how she had made it to the hospital safely, and how Liza had brought her back into the house. She explained how she had heard him give his speech and how when she walked in, he had passed out and knocked his head on the table quite hard.
“They’re all still eating actually,” Heather said. “Liza wanted to leave you on the ground, but I convinced Billy and Ben to help carry you here.”
Heather fell silent. Her eyes were still red, but the lines on her face suggested that the redness came from anguish and fatigue rather than remorse. Chris remained silent too. He had done enough talking for the weekend.
“In retrospect it was a little foolish for Liza to think that I would be able to come to terms with everything after hearing one speech, and frankly this all was a little foolish,” Heather said.
She stared at the ground, breathing slowly, trying to think, but unable to make herself focus.
“You know what? Let’s go eat,” she said.
Heather stood up. Chris nodded and scooted off the bed. He walked towards the door and wobbled in his gait. Heather grabbed his hand briefly to steady him. She dropped it quickly. The two walked to the dining room without speaking.
The room was full of low-energy conversation when they arrived. Plates were passed from hand to hand. Liza was deep in same anecdote Heather had heard a thousand times about the one time she had seen a mountain lion on a mountain hiking trip to which Andy, Connor, and Bailey were listening politely. Billy and Ben were verbally sparring back and forth in a playful manner while Paul tried his hardest to feel included. They ignored him, smiling at one another.
Everyone looked as appropriate when guests arrive. Heather and Chris stepped into the room and quietly sat down. Liza smiled at her daughter.
“We kept some waffles warm in the kitchen for you,” she said. “Would you like some?”
Heather nodded. Liza turned to Chris.
“Yes please,” he said quietly.
Liza left the room, leaving it significantly quieter save the chewing and the light talk between Billy and Ben. The meal progressed in a similar manner until the food was gone and everyone was in need of another nap that they knew they shouldn’t take. Chris offered to help clean up, which Liza initially refused, but Andy said that she would help too. Paul volunteered too to break the tension.
Heather dismissed herself from the table and Liza followed after.
Henry and Henrietta showed up at the office. Both were exhausted from the night prior and did not want to return as early as they were, but the text they had received from Darlene felt urgent. When they arrived, Darlene looked exactly as she had when they left her. Like, exactly. It was very likely from her appearance that she had just stayed the night in the office. Darlene led them into the conference room and sat down.
“I appreciate you for coming in on such short notice,” she said. “I think it’s time that we go through our first employee performance evaluation.”