The next day the limo was almost an hour late picking them up to go to the wedding venue. They were surprised to be guided to the reception area. Camille was standing at the front, in casual clothes. All of the Wallace family and Mina’s friends were conspicuously absent, while all of the Hightower guest were shifting uncomfortably in their chairs like nervous horses. Mina was nowhere in sight.
A video was playing behind Camille, or maybe someone was queuing images but they kept pace with Camille’s monologue.
“What the heck is going on?” Kris murmured.
“I don’t know,” Kyle shook his head; he had a very, very bad feeling about it.
“Come on, let’s find out and find Mina,” Kent responded. His palms had suddenly started sweating. Mina’s last text message to him, ‘I have a surprise for you’, suddenly seemed more ominous than teasing.
Camille glanced at them with dead eyes; she looked like she hadn’t slept in days but she kept talking in a flat voice as though they weren’t standing in the door staring at her in confusion.
“And this was the day Kenton James Hightower, asked Willamina Grace Wallace to be his one and only. She told me he was the love of her life. WAS…They did so much together; church and charity volunteering, vacations, school programs. They seemed like such a lovely and loving couple.” As the pictures flashed of Kent and Mina’s life together, tears began to fill Camille’s eyes as she repeated and emphasized another word. “SEEMED.”
Kent hurried toward Camille with his brothers following, she turned away and pointed at the screen, “While Kent was with his brothers in Vegas for his bachelor party of cigars and cards, Willamina tried to send me this image, but her phone died because she never could remember to plug the stupid thing in till it was dead.” Camille’s slight laugh sounded pained, almost like a sob. “She always forgot to charge it.”
An image of a white stick with two lines appeared, it was picture of a positive pregnancy test. Everyone began murmuring happily, some were clapping. But Kyle was alarmed by the fact that even facing away from them, he could see Cami was crying. She wiped her face and turned back to the audience, her voice cool and aloof.
“Have a seat, boys. You’re all just in time for the good part. Anyway, as I was saying, her phone died right after she took the picture so we both logged into our shared Cloud images account and found out the truth about the love and devotion of the Hightower men.”
The Hightower brothers froze as an image from inside the Velvet Rope Club came up. The three of them were reflected in a mirror surrounded by topless women that had been blurred out. The following images were also blurred but obviously compromising. Very compromising. Kent felt like he couldn’t breath as he gaped at images of something he couldn’t remember doing, something he would never do. Kyle felt like someone had hit his chest dead center with a sledge hammer as he suffered the same sickening sense of shock.
“How the F*!?” Kris blurted out, his eyes the size of saucers.
“So devoted.” Cami’s voice had dropped into a deeper disgusted tone.
Cami was looking at them as Kyle dragged his eyes from the screen to hers. The hatred and pain in her hazel eyes was so violent and shocking, he took a step back. There was no trace of the love they had held a mere three days ago, when he had kissed her goodbye and gotten in a cab.
“These were the last images my sister saw of her ‘faithful fiancé’, groping some whore made up to look just like her,” She spat as she made air quotes around the last two words.
Kent had actually dropped to his knees and his expression was one of horror. His chest heaving like he was sobbing but no sound was coming out except the repeating whispered words, “Please, Cami, please, let me talk to her.”
The images melted one to another as Camille held out a small plastic bag to him. “I am afraid that won’t be possible. Here’s your grandmother’s ring back.”
Kyle snatched the baggie, not even looking at it as he snarled, “You have no right to do this! Kent can talk to her if he wants to. She is his fiancee.”
Camille laughed bitterly, her answer haughty. “No, he can’t.”
A strange fiery image appeared over her shoulder, paused as if waiting. “As you all know, my sister Willamina had a particularly kind and forgiving heart… HAD!” Cami emphasized the word with frigid venom. “Yesterday morning, she decided to fly to Vegas herself and rescue Kent from his whore-mongering brothers because she claimed he wasn’t that kind of person, but as you all saw, he is. I spared y’all the X-rated ones. You’re welcome.”
She bowed to the audience then continued almost casually, “I honestly don’t think I will ever be able to unsee the more interesting ones. But Mina saw those images, got in her car after a sleepless night to drive to the airport. She had gotten a ticket to Vegas, I guess she wanted to learn the truth first hand. And then this happened.”
This wasn’t an image on the projection screen, it was a video. As it began playing, the sound of a helicopter vibrated the room with a man’s voice. The image was a traffic chopper video feed of a multi-vehicle accident. Several of the cars were burning.
“News 2 Eye in the Sky reporting on the multi-fatality accident on I-45 Northbound. Several cars appear to be completely engulfed, we have confirmed fatalities. I don’t see how anyone could make it out of those flames alive with the entire overpass engulfed. Fire and rescue crews are on the scene and the highway patrol is diverting traffic to...”
The image froze and a red circle appeared around one of the burning cars. The audience began to stir and murmur with dread foreboding.
Camille’s voice was as cold as December in the arctic. Her hazel eyes colder as they held Kyle’s deep blue ones. “As you can see, Mina and her baby never made it to the airport.”
Pandemonium broke out. With a keening cry, Kent started vomiting. Kris was on one knee trying to comfort him. Camille stared down at them with contempt, and Kyle realized he did not know this woman who stood in front of him. The hazel-eyed beauty that had made him believe the world could be wonderful had been replaced by an angel of malevolence. He clenched his fist to keep from striking her; he had never wanted to hit a woman until that moment.
Something sharp poked his palm, looking down, he was horrified. The ring had poked him a jagged piece had pierced the plastic. The ring itself was charred black and fleshy bits still clung to the metal, but in sick contrast, the diamond still sparkled brightly.
“What the hell...” Kyle stared at it in horror.
“I had it cut off her finger so I could return it. I am sure a good jeweler could clean it up and repair it so Kenton can give it to his next bride to be, if he can find another virgin to seduce and deflower.” Her voice was an angry hiss as she glanced back at the two brothers kneeling on the floor.
Kent looked up with devastated eyes as the reality set in that Mina was lost to him forever and she died believing he had betrayed her. She had died with his unborn child. Kris had his hand over his mouth, his normal tanned skin, pasty pale. At their expressions, Cami almost wavered in her resolve to avenge her sister, but instead she said flippantly, “Good luck with that, Kenton, the trying to find one Kristoph hasn’t gotten to yet, that is.”
She turned back to Kyle. Her hard eyes bore into his with such intense hatred it physically hurt. His throat was dried out, but he managed to rasp, “Gawd, Cami. I’m sorry...We’re sorry. We...”
“You’re what, Kyle. Sorry you got caught? Bullsh*it! I stayed up and watched the images flooding in until almost 3AM. I watched for hours after you got my text. I saw you look at it and ignore it. I saw everything you all did through the shared cloud account. You’re sick, Kyle. You and your brothers are just sick, and I never want to see you again.” The icy judgment in her voice could not be refuted. “By the way, I’ll restore Kent’s access so you can download your mementos of your vacation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make arrangements for Mina and none of you are invited.”
“Please Cami, let me figure this out,” Kyle begged over Kent’s sobs.
“No need, Kyle. There’s nothing to figure out, no lie you can tell to make an excuse. A picture is worth a thousand words and I have 328 of them.”
Then the only woman Kyle Hightower had ever truly loved turned on her heel and walked out of his life.
Kyle and Kent sat, stunned, with a partial bottle of scotch between them and two more empty on the table. The images on the computer screen would haunt them for the rest of their lives. The images from the shared Cloud photo storage were so much worse than Camille had shown at the reception. She was right when she said they should thank her for keeping the x-rated ones out of it. The brothers had had sex with their girlfriends’ doppelgangers and documented the whole tryst on Kent’s missing phone.
“I don’t remember any of that,” Kent choked out, “I don’t remember doing any of it. And Mina saw it all. She basically watched me cheat on her the same night she found out we were having a baby, and I don’t remember.” He flung his glass at the wall and it exploded.
Kyle closed his eyes, he had begun to figure it out and the truth was going to destroy their family. He had remembered bits and pieces, the club, dinner, a decadent chocolate dessert that had a slight off flavor. He could remember flashes of a blue butterfly tattoo just below two full breasts. Not a real tattoo but a fake temporary tattoo. The texture had been rubbery under his fingertips, not smooth like Cami’s and not over her heart with wings that spread up onto her breast and seemed to move with her heartbeat and gasping breaths as they had made love. He knew he would never see the real thing again. In his muddled state, his mind and youngest brother had encouraged him to believe it was her and he had treated the impostor the way he longed to treat Cami every night for the rest of their lives.
Kent had fallen into the same trap, with the woman who bore a striking resemblance to Mina. “I wish I was dead too,” he muttered again.
Kristoph came, looking his usual smug, and glanced at the mess the broken glass had made. He stopped in front of his brothers and sneered, “Management isn’t going to be happy if you keep putting holes in the walls.”
“Then we’ll buy the damned building,” Kent mumbled.
Kris just chuckled, “Hey, you guys need to cheer up. You dodged a bullet, both of you. Cami’s a vicious, ice cold bit*ch and Mina, well he*ll, you almost got stuck with an instant family, Kent. That’s guaranteed alimony and child support.”
“Shut up, Kris!” Kyle snarled, as he shot to his feet and shoved Kris away.
Without a word, Kent just got up, took the bottle and went back to his room. He looked at his younger brother once before closing the door firmly.
“He loved her, really loved her, and they wanted kids,” Kyle pointed out, then his eyes narrowed dangerously. “Why’d you do it, Kris? Why’d you set us up and take those pictures?”
“I don’t know what you’re...” Kris started, but he took a step back as Kyle stalked toward him.
“Bullsh*it. Look at the pictures; you’re only in a few of them because of the reflection on a mirror. I could see you holding the Kent’s phone. Why’d you use his phone and not your own? Did you gamble it away? A fuc*king three thousand dollar iPhone?” Even though his father had always taught them profanity was a sign in ignorance and lack of education, Kyle didn’t care.
Kris’ eyes clouded with guilt for a moment before he became belligerent and defiant. “I lost it, okay! I had a real bad run of luck and I lost everything. I didn’t know his phone did that. I didn’t mean for Mina to see the pictures. I didn’t mean to hurt her like that. She was nice to me.”
“But you’re okay hurting Kent like that? Hurting me? I found him sitting on his bed with a gun this morning. Gawddammit, Kris! Mina and her baby are dead. She died believing he betrayed her because of those pictures, and because of the bachelor party you planned, Cami hates me and I don’t blame her. I wanted to marry her and she has blocked me from every way to contact her. How could you do that to us? We’re family!” Kyle demanded hotly.
“Look, it was just supposed to be a few pictures for blackmail. I need my share of dad’s money. I got debts, they were going to kill me,” Kris sounded desperate. “I thought I could trade the pictures for my money.”
Kyle gritted his teeth, “You wouldn’t have died, we would have taken care of you. You’re our brother.”
“And you won’t give me what’s mine!” Kris shouted back. “Because I’m not a real Hightower!”
“No! Because you are an idiot 22 year old, who barely got through high school, and got Dad to pay for your college, in spite of the fact, you never go to class. You drink, do drugs, screw anything with a skirt, gamble, and pretty much are a selfish ass! Since dad died, Kent or I are always bailing you out, and he’s tired of it and so am I. Your bookie came to our hotel suite that morning, and we paid him in full. Now, you are going to tell us what happened that night or so help me gawd, I’ll kill you myself!” Kyle’s deep blue eyes were almost black with rage. He had backed Kris up against the wall Kent had dented when he threw the glass. Their shoes crunched on the broken glass.
“Look, I don’t know what they gave you, but the girls said you’d get a little frisky and pass out. You were just supposed to get groggy so I could take some compromising pictures to make you give me my share. I grabbed Kent’s phone to get the pictures, I didn’t know about the picture sharing. Things just... I was drunk and high too, so I didn’t stop it, and everything just went further than it was supposed to. I stopped when I realized that you guys were actually screwing those prostitutes that looked like Mina and Cami. You were on this oversized couch, side by side, like you didn’t realize where you were or what you were doing.”
“We saw that part but don’t remember it. What else happened? What the hell happened after? Did we keep going or what?” Kyle was shaking with the effort to restrain himself.
“No, I stopped you guys. I took you both back to the hotel and got you showered and then in bed. I acted like nothing happened because when I looked through the pictures, I realized I couldn’t do it.” His brown eyes pleaded with his brother to believe him. “Then we got to the wedding and Cami had the pictures... I didn’t mean for Mina to see them. I didn’t mean for her to die thinking that way about Kent. Oh gawd, I’m so sorry. I just needed the money and it went too far...” Kris was sobbing.
“Kent paid your bookie in full... again! He took care of you and you destroyed everything he loved, everything he ever wanted,” Kyle shouted as his fist put a hole in the wall next to Kris’ head, rather than hit his brother.
“I... I...” Kris stammered. “I’m s-sorry.”
Kyle seized his collar and yanked him until their noses almost touched, “I want you gone, Kristoph. Go live with Mom, or with the devil for all I care. We’re done. Go away and nev...”
A loud bang came from Kent’s room, they ran for the door but it was locked.
“Call 9-1-1.” Kyle shouted at Kris and put his shoulder into breaking open the door, grateful for football practice drills on how to properly tackle. The door splintered on the second hit of his shoulder, and Kyle staggered into the room.
The TV was showing a replay of the accident that killed Mina while the announcer was talking about how the overpass would have to be replaced and how long it would take, but Kyle didn’t care about that. All he cared about was that his brother was lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. He could hear Kris losing it as he began to do CPR on Kent, he couldn’t let his brother die, not like this.