Siena jerked when her phone rang on the small table next to her recliner. She blinked, wiped her eyes, and picked up her phone.
“Hello?” she said.
“You really are sick,” Brenna said. “I thought you made it up to get out of the bachelorette party.”
“Why would I make it up? Jane is my oldest friend.” Siena sniffed and looked around her den in the failing light. She snapped on the lamp next to her chair. “Was my oldest friend. I’m out of the wedding. Jane was furious when I told her I couldn’t come to the party because my doctor told me to isolate until next Wednesday.”
“I’m sure she understands a lot more now.”
“What does that mean?” Siena stood stiffly and reached for the drawstring to her blinds, surprised to see a light rain was falling. She didn’t know it was supposed to rain tonight. Then again, she had been dozing on and off for most of the day. So much for “fun Friday.” She’d been miserably in and out of consciousness all day.
“Nothing, I’m just sorry that all of this happened, especially now. You and Jane have been friends since middle school. It’s a shame that friendship was shattered by a cold.”
“The doctor said it’s the new respiratory virus going around.” Siena sat back in her chair. “Shouldn’t you be on the way to the airport for the bachelorette party? You don’t want to miss your flight for the ‘girls’ weekend’ in Las Vegas, even if it’s just the two of you now.”
There was a pause on the line. “I wanted to check on you. I bought you some chicken noodle soup and a sandwich from your favorite deli. Can you open the gate?”
“I want to check on you. You’re alone on that big estate this weekend, with your parents in the mountains and your brother taking his family on that business trip.”
“I’m 29 years old. I’m fine, except being feverish and full of mucus. I’ve lived in these woods my whole life, and in this house by myself since I graduated college.”
“Humor me, please. You sound really sick. Can I come in long enough to deliver your food?”
“Give me a minute,” Siena tapped open the security app that controlled the gate surrounding the family estate she lived on. Sure enough, the security camera showed the top of Brenna’s dark SUV sitting outside the gate. She entered the code and the gate swung open. The SUV inched inside the gate in the misty rain. The gate slowly swung closed behind it.
Siena stood and pulled her pink bathrobe around her tighter. Deep coughs wracked her body, and her stomach growled. Twilight had settled over the twenty acres of the family estate. She walked around, closing the blinds on her windows as she peered out of each window. She faintly glimpsed the shadow of her parent's house up the hill through the trees, and her brother and sister-in-law’s home closer by but still shrouded by swaying trees, looking for Breena’s headlights to pierce the gloom. She usually relished the quiet of the woods, but something about it felt oppressive this rainy evening. Maybe it was the mucus weighing her down, but she shouldn’t feel it all the way into her soul.
It was ten minutes before the glow of headlights emerged in the trees to her driveway and the crunch of Brenna’s tires on the gravel announced her arrival. She opened the door as Brenna rushed through the mist to her porch. “Did you get lost?” Siena’s phone fell out of her bathrobe pocket, clattering on the porch.
“I drove slowly. It’s been a while since I’ve come back here in the dark. Shorter days, you know.” Brenna bent to pick it up, checked it for damage, wiped it with the fringe of her coat, and handed it back to Siena. “It’s ok, but be careful. You know how clumsy you get when you don’t feel well.” She walked into the house and went straight to the breakfast nook between the den and kitchen, setting the bag on the table. “I suspected that you haven’t eaten. You get like that when you’re sick. Eat up. You need your strength.”
Siena pulled out a chair and sat unceremoniously. “Why? I’m isolated for four more days, and I’m out of the wedding. My days are wide open and back to normal,” she inhaled the steam from the soup.
“You need your strength to heal and move on,” Brenna pulled out the chair across from Siena. “You’re lucky you got out of Jane’s warpath. She’s been a bridezilla ever since Kalon put that ring on her finger. Then again, she wasn’t the nicest person before. I’m surprised you two were best friends.”
“I wouldn’t call us best friends,” Siena said. “More like ‘the friend I’ve stayed in touch with the longest.’ She’s always had dramatic mood swings.”
“Like kicking her oldest friend out of the wedding party because she got sick and couldn’t fly almost all the way across the county for a bachelorette party?”
Siena lowered her head. “Like I said, she’s dramatic.”
Brenna laughed. “She isn’t a nice person. You’re just such an introvert that this is the first you’ve seen of the storm.”
It was Brenna’s turn to lower her head. “If she was so moody then why did you stay friends with her?”
Siena looked up from the brief relief of the soup. “Because it’s easier to be her friend than her enemy. She destroys her enemies. She hasn’t changed since middle school. Her firing that poor girl at the company picnic for flirting with Kalon last spring reminded me of how she put peroxide in the head cheerleader’s shampoo in the locker room in middle school and turned over the punch bowl at the senior prom when she was runner up for prom queen.”
Brenna laughed sharply. “If her Daddy couldn’t buy it for her, she’d bully people to punish them for not giving her what she wants. It must be nice to be from a family that has enough money to bankroll everything from junior high cheer squad to your online business because you ‘don’t want to work for strangers.’”
Siena gestured around her with her plastic spoon. “I guess, but I can’t talk. I inherited this.”
“Just the property and the house, and you aren’t a witch about it. You work hard and are honest.” Brenna looked down, the sound of the rain steady now on the roof. “You’re quiet, an introvert. Maybe that’s what protected you from the worst of what Jane was.”
Siena pushed her soup aside. “I’m happy to see you, but I’m surprised you’re still here. You’re going to be late. Doesn’t your flight leave at seven o’clock?”
“I’m not going. It’s over. Forget about Jane.”
“What are you talking about? Brenna, you’re scaring me.”
Brenna’s phone pinged. She pulled it out of her pocket, glanced at the message, stood, and slipped it back into her pocket. “Somebody had to do something. She wasn’t going to stop until she destroyed everybody.”
Siena stood. “What are you talking about?”
Brenna smiled but it looked forced, almost sad. “Jane wasn’t anybody’s friend. She used people to get what she wanted, and then she disposed of them. The only difference between you and everybody else is that she couldn’t gain any power over you. Introverts live in their heads, and nobody can touch you there. You might be the only person she couldn’t intimidate because she could never get what you have, which is true contentment and joy with what you have.”
A horn sounded outside.
“Who is that? The gate is closed.”
Brenna opened her arms and engulfed Siena in a tight embrace. “It’s over now. Forget about Jane. Forget about me. Move on.”
Brenna walked out of the door, closing it softly behind her. Siena looked out of the window, surprised to see Brenna walk to the passenger side of her car. In the brief glow of the dome light, she saw Kalon’s face behind the steering wheel. It winked out as Brenna closed her door and they backed out of her driveway.
Siena took a deep, rattled breath and hit the manual switch to the property gate next to her front door. She stumbled back into the kitchen more flu medicine. Maybe that would clear her head so she’d know what to make of what just happened.
The buzz of her phone woke Siena Monday morning. She stretched and turned, pushing aside crumpled tissues and her thermometer. Sunday had been the worst day for her symptoms. She spent the whole day in bed, alternating between shivering and sweating, wracked with deep coughs and congestion clogging up her throat.
Her hand finally reached for the phone through the mess on the table. She sat up and freed it from the charger. “Hello?”
“Siena, this is Jane’s mother. Have you seen or talked to her?”
Forget about Jane.
Siena pressed mucus past the lump in her throat and coughed. Thankfully, it seemed to be thinning and her head didn’t hurt so badly this morning. “The last time I talked to her was Thursday evening. I got sick with that new respiratory virus, and my doctor told me to isolate myself until Wednesday. I called her to tell her I couldn’t go to the bachelorette party.”
“Kalon hasn’t heard from her either, and she was due home yesterday. She never showed up. The people at the airport said she never boarded her flight to Las Vegas Friday night.”
Could they have dumped her here? Twenty acres is a lot of space, and nobody would suspect a gated estate.
Siena coughed. “Have you talked to Brenna? She was supposed to go.”
“I just got off the phone with her. Brenna got sick Friday afternoon and she also had to cancel.”
A creek runs behind the property. It was raining Friday night. If they dumped her there, she’d float away.
“What did Kalon say?”
“He said he saw last saw her when he left for work Friday morning, and he hasn’t heard from her since.” Jane’s mother paused. “Nobody has heard from her. Was anybody else invited to the bachelorette party?”
“Not that I know of,” Siena said.
Jane’s mother sighed. “The police don’t want to file a missing person report yet because her car is at the parking lot at the airport, but her name isn’t on any departing flights. They think she paid cash for a ticket somewhere else and will turn up.”
Siena swallowed more mucus. “It’s possible. She was impulsive, and she was angry at me for canceling. If Brenna canceled too, then Jane might have decided to go somewhere else on her own.”
“That’s true.” The line was silent for a moment. “Maybe I should give it more time. She is impulsive. She may come home like nothing happened and laugh at us for getting so stirred up.”
“Thank you, Sienna. That makes me feel better. Please call me if you hear from her, or if you think of anything that might explain this.”
Siena logged off the call and slowly got out of bed. She stretched. She felt a bit better physically today but was still in a mental fog. She opened the curtains to her bedroom and looked into the woods around her house.
I can’t go out there. I’m too sick and weak.
It wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been. She’d had some strange dreams these past few days, probably a combination of her illness, the medication, and snippets of things she watched on television during the occasions when she was awake.
Siena walked into the kitchen and opened the blinds on her windows. Shafts of sunlight flowed through the trees, bathing the colorful trees in the light of a new day.
Forget about Jane. Forget about me. It’s over.
Siena stepped on the lever for her trash can, revealing crumpled tissues and napkins. The heater came on, warm air from the overhead vent blowing the top tissues aside to reveal the white wrapper and disposable cup from her favorite deli.
No. I picked up supper there on my way home Thursday.
Siena pulled her phone from her bathrobe pocket and checked the security app.
You dropped your phone, and Brenna picked it up.
The only video was from the mail being dropped off Friday and Saturday morning.
The manual switch beside the door doesn’t activate the camera, only the gate.
It was the virus. The fever. The medicine. Jane probably flew somewhere for a personal bachelorette party on her own and cut off contact to spite them all for canceling on her. She was being dramatic again. She’d turn up when she was ready.
Twenty acres was a lot of land to cover, especially behind a gated estate bordered by a creek where nobody was home but one sick, heavily medicated, introverted woman.
Jane wasn’t the only one playing people. Brenna and Kalon might be having an affair for all she knew. Who better to turn to when you need help with your lies? The head she had been living in these past few days was seriously compromised by illness, medication, isolation, and perhaps even deceit.
Siena released the lever, allowing the trash can lid to thump shut. Maybe it was best that she got sick this weekend. Living in her head might be isolating, but protected her from the drama of the outside world.
It might be best to stay there.
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Interesting twist! Thank you
Love the mystery, the confusion, and the use of modern events to connect to the reader!