Reunion of Death – Part Four
continued from part three
Tears were rolling down Matt’s cheeks at this point. Seth got up and brought him a tissue. No one said anything. Rita dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief and Holly also looked visibly moved.
“The police came to my door, of course, several times after she had been reported missing. I was already in California by that time, but they still tracked me down as if I had staged some elaborate kidnapping of Sarah or something. Eventually they stopped looking. Her parents stopped calling. And I dove into therapy. I figured she had killed herself by jumping into the Mississippi or something so horrifically tragic or awful but so clever in a way that they hadn’t found her or something. I mean, how else could she have just disappeared?”
He looked at Seth as if the two had discussed it ad nauseam.
“She certainly wasn’t the kind of girl who would just pick up and move to another country or change her name or anything.”
No one spoke for several minutes. Philip uncrossed his left leg from his right and crisscrossed them, saying softly and slightly under his breath:
“Well at least you ended up well off, right?”
It was loud enough that Matt heard him and said softly:
“The will has been disputed by her nieces and is still in probate. I probably won’t end up with much at all, actually, after the lawyers and such, considering I’m the straight husband who went gay on his wife and drove her to suicide.”
No one dared look at Matt at that point except for Rita, who finally seemed authentically, completely sympathetic.
Matt sighed deeply, got up from his chair and looked at everyone in the room. He almost whispered: “Now you also know why we moved back to Missouri. The whole thing has nearly bankrupt us.”
Seth had his arms crossed and, from across the room, nodded his head in agreement. After breathing in deeply, Matt said:
“Now you know. I’m going to bed. I’ll see each of you in the morning.”
With that, he turned and walked out of the room.
It was momentarily quiet in the lounge amongst the reunioners until Christina let out a long, disgusted sigh. The rest of the group seemed to share in her sudden distaste for Philip. Alexis muttered something under her breath and Paul sat shaking his head. Rita seemed unchanged, yet also somehow moved by the tale of Matt’s wife’s disappearance. She stared out the window at the pouring rain without blinking. Paul and Seth each seemed satisfied in their own right. For Paul, it was finally hearing the truth about Sarah though a confused look on his face remained for the rest of the night. As for Seth, it was the relief that the information was finally out there. Holly, in her diligent way, said nothing.
Soon Seth excused himself to go check on Matt then to bed himself. The remaining five members chatted amongst themselves while Philip sat there in the corner: listening and absorbing all of the little bits of gossip and information that he could. A smirk sat on his face for a long while until Alexis, Holly, and Rita excused themselves to also go to bed and he kissed his wife “goodnight” on the cheek. The remaining three decided to stay up, sip whiskey, listen to the storm, play cards, and catch up.
After an hour, Paul laid his cards down, got up from the table, and bid his fellow guests adieu:
“Guys, I need to lay down. I also need some time to think…” His voice trailed off as he spoke.
“Oh?” Christina asked.
“It’s probably nothing.” Paul stopped, looking down at the ground. He looked back up at Philip then Christina and said softly: “‘Night.”
After some mild chit chat, Christina walked over to the fireplace and turned the gas handle off. They each followed suit in saying their “good nights”, with Philip exiting the room first. Christina scanned the room for the overhead switch, and when she located it by the door, she walked over to shut off the lights. Christina could hear the rain thudding outside a lot more clearly now that the room was completely silent. She looked around at the walls and the ceiling, almost in admiration. Then, a cheeky smile formed on her face as she noticed the storm outside the window coming down in sheets. Suddenly, she flipped the light switch off and walked out and up to her room in darkness: the rain pounding like a rallying drum calling for to retreat for the night.
Unsurprisingly, Matt was the first one awake for the day and would have sprang out of bed like a leopard had it not been for his naked partner sleeping like a corpse in bed next to him. He tried his best to throw on some clothes and freshen up without waking or disturbing Seth.
Soon he was in the kitchen cooking eggs, bacon, and a formidable breakfast with a certain pep to his step. The realization of the relief he felt due to unloading some of his secrets and baggage on his classmates hadn’t completely sunken in yet. He was cheerful, despite the fact that it has rained all night and didn’t seem to show signs of letting up.
Holly, in usual form, was the first awake. Unlike Matt, who had snuck out of his bedroom and fixed his hair in the hallway mirror while walking by, Holly was dressed in full war paint. Hair done and makeup on, she seemed ready to divide and conquer a small village. She virtually came skipping into the kitchen, beaming with energy.
“Good morning, sunshine,” She said (A little too perky for Matt’s liking).
“Morning, Holly.” A voice from behind her called before Matt could even utter a word. There was Christina, bright eyed and bushy tailed just like Holly, and Matt found it humorous that she had somehow stolen Holly’s “first person awake” thunder. This thought was supported by the sour look she showed on her face for a millisecond before spinning around and planting a smile on her face to show Christina “face”.
“Good morning, Xtina. Did you sleep well?
One by one, the guests sleepily woke up: a few of which against their better judgment. The storm spat out some loud thunder here and there, which rattled the windows and echoed throughout the entire house, shaking the guests awake in their beds. Seth was almost the last one to appear downstairs, but he felt like he deserved the extra time he spent sleeping in that morning. Matt, unbeknownst to Seth, completely agreed.
Nearly all the guests were present at breakfast time, minus Philip and Paul. Matt reassured everyone that they should go ahead and eat: he would make new eggs and have fresh cinnamon rolls for the boys when they awoke. Seth may have been the one behind their Airbnb listings, but Matt was the master of the kitchen. He had prepared an elaborate spread for them to eat: each dish with its own painstakingly annoying little detail that made it pop compared to the next. Matt was very anal like this in life: almost eccentrically detail oriented and meticulous. Not a thing would sneak by his kitchen without him knowing about it.
Eventually, Philip was the last one down stairs, rubbing his forehead with his fingers as if the whiskey he had the night before hadn’t treated him that kindly the next morning. Matt had just brewed a new pot of coffee, and cinnamon rolls had just come out of the oven.
“Morning, Phil. Did you see Paul on your way down?” Matt asked.
“No I did not, Matthew. And good morning to you.” He saw that Alexis had long since finished her breakfast, and he took a seat between she and Seth to begin polishing off his first meal of the day.
There was idle chit chat amongst the guests, mostly disappoint at the rain keeping their plans at bay. Matt and Seth had really wanted to show off the house and the land it sat on, but no one was too fussed about getting out into the storm, as it was anything but perfect. The lights flickered on and off three times in the less than ten minutes it took Philip to finish his breakfast, and the lightning and thunder only seemed to be intensifying. Seth was getting a little internally worried that they would really have to come up a way to entertain everyone, especially if the power went out for a significant amount of time during the day.
Luckily for him, the guests all seemed to go their own way once Philip was finished eating. Rita stayed and help clean up the dishes. Alexis went to go read in the library. Philip wanted to shower. Christina also wanted to shower, though especially not with Philip! Holly wanted to catch up on some legal reading in her room, and the boys decided they would help Rita tidy up the kitchen. Once the whole place was spic and span, the three of them moved in to the lounge, where Rita and Seth sat on the sofa, staring out the window at the blackness outside.
After a half an hour of chitchat, Matt was feeling drowsy. He excused himself from his lover and former classmate to go nap before lunch. There was, after all, hardly anything to do anyway with the rain. Seth smiled at Matt as he walked out of the room.
“He really is quite lovely, isn’t he?” Rita asked Seth.
Though sweet, he found her comment to be odd and partially insincere sounding. Despite what he was thinking, he smiled over at her and at least verbally agreed:
“Yes, yes he is.”
He turned away from her to look back out at the weather engulfing their home. He silently prayed to himself that a tornado wouldn’t come and sweep them all away. He certainly wasn’t sure he wanted to perish with these people who were already strangers to him, let alone also each a little bit odd. Then again, he concluded, a tornado would at least provide the household with a little bit of entertainment for the day.
Just as he was smiling to himself about this little bit of humor, a huge flash of lightning, followed instantly by an even bigger crash of thunder, made the whole house shake and made Rita jump a bit. Within seconds, the power in the entire house was out. Had it been a normal summer day, they would’ve been fine with having to spend the day in the “dark.” But the darkness from the storm would guarantee there would be little sunlight to work with. His worse case scenario realized, he breathed in, got up from the sofa, and went looking through the credenza for the matches and candles.
Just as he found the candles, Seth realized that the matches were actually in the kitchen. He heard creaking upstairs and wondered how long it would take each guests to make their way downstairs and “into the light.” But before he could even make it to the kitchen, he stopped in his tracks and the horrific noise he heard. Somewhere, not too far away upstairs, a woman was screaming at the top of her lungs.
Seth dropped the candles on the banquet table and started running out into the hall and up the stairs. He turned around and saw Rita through the darkness making her way to the sound of the screams as well. It was Christina yelling, he realized that, and she was shrieking bloody murder.
At the top of the stairs, Philip walked out of his room in nothing but a towel and dripping wet. Holly was hurrying from across the hall. There, in front of the door and entryway to Paul’s room, stood Matt and Alexis staring in. Christina was no where in sight, but his instincts told Seth that she and Paul must be playing some kind of joke on the rest of the reunioners. When Seth reached them, he was nearly out of breath, but looked up to realize Alexis had her hand over her mouth and was shaking her head as if unable to process what she was seeing.
Matt embraced him as soon as Seth reached him, and held him tightly. Finally, Seth could see what Matt and Alexis were staring at. (Holly, Philip, and Rita had also joined behind them). There was Christina on her knees at Paul’s bedside. Paul laid face up in the bed, and Seth could barely make out the look on his face that he wished he could forget. Paul’s eyes were wide open, as well as his mouth, and his skin was a yellowish blue color, visible to Seth even in the darkness.
Before they could do anything more, Philip said:
“Oh my god. Well, Rita: you’re a doctor. What the hell is wrong with him?”
She pushed through the crowd and shooed crying Christina out of the way. The ghastly sight in front of Rita didn’t sway her from looking him up and down and taking his pulse at the wrist. She held onto Paul’s wrist for nearly a minute and then simultaneously put her other hand on top of his head.
“Well?” Seth asked?
“I’m calling 911!” Holly yelled. She came back after less than a minute from being away in her room and said: “Shit! Does anyone have cell phone service? I have nothing. Not even roaming.”
“No,” Christina said wiping tears from her eyes. “I didn’t have service all night.”
“Well, somebody needs to call!” Alexis shouted.
“I’ll get the house phone!” Seth yelled. He ran into his and Matt’s bedroom and returned swiftly with the cordless house phone shaking his head. “It’s dead. The storm must have knocked out the telephone wires.”
“And Paul?” Matt asked. “Rita? Is he ok?”
Rita sighed out a deep breath, turned and face the other six, and said softly: “I’m not sure. But I really don’t think so.”
Just like the lights in the house and Matt and Seth’s dreams of having a perfect reunion committee stay, Paul, it seemed, was also very, very dead.
previous: Reunion of Death – Part Three
first chapter: Reunion of Death – Part One
more by KOELEN ANDREWS
photograph by Jay Mantri