UNKNOWN KILLER'S POV
"This better be good." Shay sat on the steps that led up to Xan's house. His hair was bedhead-messy but he wore a bandana on his head to hide most of it. He didn't dress up for the event, pajama pants and an ordinary white tank top against him, with his signature leather jacket balancing only on his shoulders rather than having his arms through the sleeves.
The mismatch shouted he didn't view the meet-up as important and that he didn't want to be here. To the extent that I know him, he probably did that on purpose and he held no shame in it either. "I was very happy asleep at home before you made me drive all the way here," he added.
It wasn't directed at anyone specifically, and thus I saw that nobody cared enough to answer him directly either.
"Where's the wife?" Talyn was already at the top of the stairs. She twisted the knob of Xan's locked door, shifting back to prepare to catch the key from the home's owner who was following behind her. In a swift motion, he read the situation and did what she wanted, it creaking quietly as it opened.
"She came home for lunch a few hours ago when that call was ongoing and she went back in to finish her shift. It should be an hour or so until she's done. I told Cheyenne to pick her up and bring her here. Since Talyn is here after it was specifically mentioned this was a conversation that included Vixen, Xan and my wife and I, I assume it's okay he tags along too?"
Mentioning that was obviously not just about Cheyenne coming unexpectedly. It was Shay's way of kindly but not so kindly admitting his intolerance for Talyn's presence. She knew that herself, and her and her team laughed it off, especially considering the technicality that Cheyenne was on their side. His brother, yeah. Twin brother in fact, but opposite team.
"Of course it's okay," Talyn chirps, not caring to look him in the eye. She has Vixen's arm hooked around hers, and she's whispered incomprehensible words into her ear that couldn't be heard by anyone else. She's excited, and out of that excitement she drags her along in a house tour of a floorplan she doesn't own.
After them, the rest enter, close on their heels. Each peek around here and there before we settle ourselves in the living room, our hands at our sides, afraid to break something.
Despite Xan not having to work to make money, everything he owns is more expensive than all our paychecks combined and that's stomach-churning, considering that some of us have better than good careers set and going or a thorough education.
"Drinks, anyone?" Xan calls from the kitchen with an attempt to be hospitable. His guests eyes bulge from their sockets when he says it. I get it. Last time they drank anything from somebody, they were fast asleep on the carpet. It's funny to me because Wednesday hasn't even approached yet and they're having heart attacks.
Xan feels the tension through the wall. "God. Guys, please. Nothing is in my drinks, and it'd be stupid to pass them up because I get the very best of the best. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for you peasants," he reassures. The tension remains. A heavy sigh reaches us. "I'll pour and drink from the bottle in front of you to prove it to you."
The atmosphere lightens.
Shay's suddenly smiley. "Cool. Yes, I'll have a drink. I deserve that much since you made me come here in the middle of the night. Is this problem you're presenting me with a wine or tequila problem?"
"Is this problem you're presenting me with a wine or tequila problem? The first thing your mom said to you when you were born." Vixen sees the opportunity and takes it. I swear, if I had to be a close friend of hers, I would kill myself. How people put up with her is more of a mystery than I am.
"I'm letting you off this one time only because you're sad, but that doesn't mean that that's going to click, Vixen, exactly like I said last time you did that." Xan returns, and it's safe to say he brought one of everything, setting it down on the flat surface between us. He takes a separate trip for the glasses. "Tell me what you want and if I need to take a sip or shot or whatever, I will. I'm at home anyway so I can get as wasted as I want to."
The youngest's index finger is dangling in the air, asking for the attention she just had a moment ago. "And also I'm not of drinking age."
"Awh, cute. Vixen needs a juice box," Talyn teases. "Xan, could you fetch Vixen a juice box?"
"I'm eighteen, Tal. Just because I'm not of drinking age doesn't mean I'm not an adult. I can take care of my own juice box business. Xan, can you get me a juice box?" The girl laughs, and it's contagious to her crowd who have an odd sense of humor. The man of her concern is back up to his feet, whipped to her every request. Who was he calling a peasant moments ago? He's the very epitome.
She focuses her attention on Talyn since he's left. "Did you just see me fricking adulting like a pro, being a very decisive person all by myself? Each of you underestimate the goodness of a Caprisun. Stick that in your juice box and suck it Talyn! Suck it!"
I wonder how often people facepalm because of her. Nobody does now though. She hasn't been here very long and all of her association is already used to it. Must be nice to be able to pull that off. She has a whole lot more going for her than she thinks she does.
Time is ticking slowly. That's what the watch on my wrist is informing me with, and it's tiresome. I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home, is ringing in my head. It rings in my head until the doorbell does.
Bree and Cheyenne are here earlier than expected. What a pleasant surprise. Maybe they can throw something good into the mix. Maybe that's exactly what I needed to be able to breathe.
But I also know I'd be a dummy to get my hopes up. Nobody can see me. Nobody is going to grant the wishes that I have, and if they could see me then it's for certain that they wouldn't.
"Hi Chey!" Talyn lets go of Vixen's 'apple juice orange juice trama' and greets one of the newcomers, as Bree is held in Shay's embrace, a kiss planted on her cheek.
While my dinner is threatening to come up after watching affection, the blonde girl, whose highkey been feeling like a third-wheel is up and out of her seat. "Tagged along, did you?" She acts surprised. "Got lonely back home?"
Cheyenne's forehead crosses. "I honestly feel more lonely here in a crowded room than back at home," he admits openly. It's the most relatable thing I've heard someone say, and strangely enough, it's out of the one who hardly speaks. "I have Alexa. I'm not lonely."
Nevermind. If 'Alexa' is the name of a girl then I'm actually going to vomit. There'd be too much love swirling in this house. As spacious as it is, I'd be claustrophobic.
"Alexa?" Talyn has the same question as I do, except when she says it, she sounds jealous. If I could assign her high pitch tone to an emotion it would be the most ruthless of them all. That's interesting, but the love triangle possibly expanding its branches is not.
His answer is a moment of truth.
"Yeah, like the machine robot thing that you get answers out of. I'm in the middle of my novel and the climax is packed. I wish I had a doctor friend who could tell me all about the human anatomy and stab wounds and gun shots and internal bleeding when I need the littlest bit of extra research, but since I don't, I have Alexa, the next best thing."
Now that logic, I can live with. So much that in this room, I think he's the one most likely to want to be friends with me. He's so invested in his writing it's in his DNA, I wouldn't doubt he'd take any risk to get the answers he needed. With firsthand experience, I could give it to him easily.
It's the rare thing Talyn and I agree on, but of course, not for the same reason. Regardless, her look is calmer and her fiesty is out of the way. Either one, we both like it better that it was a machine and not a woman.
Yet something about it, Bree doesn't like. She's pale, and when she come out of the hug, her one and only mission is to talk about the present and what to do in it. "Anyway," she dramatically steps into the room to get heads turning and a new blossoming subject. She gets both. "What did you guys need me here for?"
"Xan and Vixen need couples counseling," Shay blurts out.
Xan looks happy with the explanation. Vixen is a hermit crab back in her shell. Gently, as if her head were barely peeking out of it, she speaks up for herself. "We do not need couples counseling. We're not a couple! He just happens to be an option on a very limited list of shelter and what I'm going to do with myself since I can't get a job that would let me pay rent."
"Okay? I see, I see. And how would you like me to help you with that?" Bree clasps her hands together, her left's fingers like puzzle pieces to the right. Her shoulder is grazing Shay's a bit, a humble brag that the stars had aligned for them, but even with the alignment their love doesn't have the power to give the not-couple to open their mouths.
Duh. It hasn't and it never will.
Talyn gives Vixen a nudge, and when she still doesn't say a word, the same old dominant personality does it for her. "Just tell us your story, maybe? Tell them what's worth it and what's not and help them make their own decision."
"Alright, yeah. We can do that. We can do that, can't we, Disyembre?" Shay seems to be convincing himself of going through with the request more than he's convincing his wife. Funny that any convincing needs to be done, anyway. Usually that's something couples love to talk about.
Am I wrong?
"Yeah, for sure, for sure," Bree situates herself differently, clicking her tongue on every third second. If I'm just seeing what I want to see, it would explain a lot, but it doesn't change that between them there was no spark whatsoever, at least in my mind.
I could be wrong. After buying herself some time, she does get into the story.
"I met Shay through Facebook. It was nothing special really, just a 'by-chance' discovery, but the best 'by-chance' discovery I ever made. I was searching for my relative's account who lived in another province and who I hardly know at all. I unfriended her because she gave birth, and we all know what mothers tend to do after they have a child when it comes to social media, but I was a little bit curious. I wanted to see a picture of her son once. Not a million times. Her name was Shaylena, and while searching for her Shay's name came up.
"I thought he was attractive, so I stalked his account for a couple days or a week or whatever and eventually I built up the courage to shoot my shot. At first, we didn't talk very often. I'd message him and I wouldn't get a response for a while, but overtime it became more and more common and soon enough we didn't go a day without contacting each other."
"Yes, and then," Shay took over abruptly. "I asked her to marry me. It was only via video call, so when we did all the paperwork to get her out here to the US, I thought it was best I did it again, properly, in person. I decided to do it late in the evening, so that I could exaggerate what it looked like when she messaged me for the very first time because of the timezone, for irony's sake, and we agreed the wedding should be at night too, for that reason, since it held meaning and also so her family could tie into the wedding online at a time convenient for them. That's pretty much it."
"How did--" Vixen is fidgeting with the zipper on her jacket. Up, down, up, down, it makes me dizzy having to watch it. "How did you know it was worth it? How did you know you wouldn't hurt each other?"
Xan exhales. He doesn't like her question. "Jeez, Vixen. You do know I'm not going to hurt you, right?
Her crossed arms talk sarcasm before she does. "I totally feel more secure hearing a possible suspect to someone capable of murder telling me he's not going to hurt me. Gee golly, thanks!"
"Gee golly, thanks! The first thing your mom said to you when you were born."
She softens. Her ears are tickled by a copycat, but her sarcasm is still there as strong if not stronger. "That's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Guys," Bree takes a stab at the spotlight again, not able to bear watching it get sidetracked. "What's your thought process right now? I know a murder going on isn't settling for any of us, but I think there's more to it than that. There's something beneath the surface at least one of you isn't saying out loud."
"Hey, I'm an open book," Xan claims. "Especially with this. All my thought process is right now is 'don't ruin this. If she needs me, I can't let her push me away. No matter what'."
"And you, Vixen?"
"I--" she's caught off guard. This has unfolded into a therapy session that Bree was doing not half bad at, but that made it more shocking. "I-- well, honestly I keep telling myself that I can't do this. That I won't. I can't move in with him and I can't get attached. I hate that the moment everything falls apart I need him-- I need someone. I hate that I'm not capable of doing anything without him."
"You're in love, girl! You've found someone who makes you more, who makes you feel blessed. Be proud! Be happy! I'm not going to tell you what to do, but if I were you, let it be!"
Ew. Ew. Ew. I had faith in her to not make this sappy. Not so much, but she had more chance on her than the rest.
Talyn slowly applauds. "It's settled then. That was easy. Easy peasy."
"We done?" Shay is already standing, and he receives a blizzard of nods, which he takes as permission to go to the door, leader of the pack.
Bree isn't part of it. She's discreet about it, but she stays back from the crowd, clear by her body language she needs to get it done fast. "Xan, Vixen," she calls in a whisper and the duo whips their heads back mid-conversation, heads bowed for what they knew was a secret, eyebrows raised out of curiosity.
"Don't be afraid to move in together. I'm confident the killer behind this is on our team, not yours and I have reason to believe that. They hold a lot of secrets. Trust me, the love you guys have for each other is more than what Shay and I could ever have, and that's only the start of what they hide," she tells them. Her husband shouts out to her from the doorframe and she let's him know she's coming. "Keep this between us. Talk more tomorrow after my shift?"
Dumbfounded, her listeners nod, and I'm left realizing I've been left with information she didn't intend to tell me.
What mess can I make of this?