Rowan looked over to the couch, from the loveseat, where Harper was sitting up against the arm rest, having just woke. “Can you believe we’ve slept here three sleep cycles?”
“Hmm?” He rubbed the back of his head roughly, still groggy with sleep.
She however was wide awake, “Can you believe that it’s been three sleep cycles” she spoke slowly to the sluggish man.
“We should be out of here already.” He sat up and rolled his right shoulder.
She watched him wince with each rotation. “Your shoulder still bothering you?”
“It’s just, working on that stupid porch.” He huffed and shook his head, “those things are- it’s like the porch was set around the poles that are in the ground.” He chuckled, “-and now, Carmen’s been hanging the wet clothes out there, so I have to duck drips of water every time I step out.”
“You don’t think you can get them out?” She asked, feeling her hope dwindle, knowing her own bad news.
He shook his head and sat up, throwing the blanket off and bringing his legs over to the edge, his bare feet hitting on the wood floor. “I don’t know…” he pushed his hands through his hair again before he bent down to start pulling on his loafer boots, when he finished he threw himself back so that he slouched against the back of the couch. “What if this is all…”
“Don’t start giving up...” She leaned forward on the love seat, holding her folded hands between her spread legs. “Just don’t.”
“We’re fighting against a house that has been prepped for us to fight against it. Whoever put us here knew we wouldn’t just sit here and twiddle our thumbs, they fortified the house!” He threw his hands in the air then let them fall to his sides in defeat.
“So we keep trying.” Rowan insisted.
Harper sighed and shook his head against the backrest of the couch. “We’ve been at it for more than three ‘sleep cycles’.” He held up four fingers on one hand.
“I know, but we have the food and running water! We have the means-”
“-but for how long? How long before another one of us dies? How long will the supplies last?” He sighed and rubbed at his face in frustration. “We’re just playing into their hands.” He held his hands out in front of him like he were offering something up. “What if we give up and do nothing?” He finished and dropped his hands to his sides in a gesture of loss.
Rowan huffed, “Listen, we keep going and don’t let anyone know that you’re giving up. If you give up… everyone will start givin’ up.”
Harper shifted his gaze to look at her on the corner of his eye without moving his head away from the couch. “We’re fighting a fixed battle.”
“Just because the battle is fixed doesn’t mean the outcome is.”
“James, how’s it going?” Harper came up beside James who was working on breaking down the last locked door by himself, Carmen nowhere to be seen. Despite Aidan’s sacrifice, the door had remained locked- her theory had been wrong and she was dead because of it.
“The drywall is backed by red brick.” He pointed at where they’d gone through several sheets of drywall only to find brick lay behind it.
Harper laughed bitterly, “Are you kidding me? Brick?”
Sighing, he nodded and started to chew on his thumbnail, “Yeah, uh, we’ve been scraping at the mortar, if we can get one of the bricks to go, the rest will follow... I think.”
“Have you tried just… breaking the door down?” He shrugged a shoulder and motioned to the wooden door.
“Yeah, dude, duh…. But it’s reinforced… the hinges are on the other side of the door… and it’s got to be deadbolted… we’ve tried to get the door. Trust me.” James paused and diverted his gaze from Harper’s. “How do we know this isn’t just a closet or some shit… this could be nuthin’.”
Harper sighed knowing how frustrating the fact the door was still locked, after such a sacrifice was given. It was the only door left and even Aidan’s death didn’t open it. Rubbing at the back of his neck, Harper nodded. “Just… keep trying…” He walked away and towards the library.
“’Keep trying’…” James scoffed, making a sour face as he kicked the door with his foot, “stupid.” He insulted the door, muttering under his breath.
“I get that you’re frustrated…” Rowan started, watching as Harper paced the length of living room angrily.
“No, no you don’t ‘get it’.” He jabbed a finger at her pointedly. “You sit in that stupid library looking at stupid books for stupid clues that aren’t there!”
The red head huffed and crossed her arms. “Hey! Those files are-“
“No! Ha! No, they aren’t! Meanwhile,” he gestured behind her to the hall entrance where they both could see the front door from where they stood. “I work on the porch, throwing out my back and dislocating my shoulder- wasting my time and energy!”
“Will you calm down?!” She asked in a hushed tone when she saw Carmen pass by to go out the front door.
He laughed bitterly and turned his back to her as he walked towards the dining room arch. As he passed by, he punched his right fist through the drywall beside the wooden frame.
“Goddamnit!!” Rowan cried and followed after him into the kitchen.
“Hey, Car, where ya goin’?” James jumped the last three stairs into the foyer, landing beside Carmen who was coming from the porch.
Carmen noticeably flinched but only because she was anticipating their collision, when it didn’t come she smiled and paused to talk to him. “I was checking the clothes line.”
“It was a, uh- it was a good idea to dry them out there.” He smiled and stuffed his hands in his jean pockets, we was dressed in a simple t-shirt and jeans, no hoodie to chew the string of or pocket to place his hands.
“Thanks,” she smiled and began to walk back towards the kitchen.
“How long you think we’ve been here?” He asked, walking beside her.
The Latina’s soft smile dropped into a light frown. “I heard Calley say it’s been nearly a week today,” she lifted her eyes to the ceiling as she walked and her lips moved as she silently counted. “Yeah, four sleep cycles.”
James opened his mouth to reply but re-closed it and they both paused at the shouting coming from the kitchen, where they’d just about turned into.
“-if you keep pulling this bullshit, how do you expect me to trust you!?” Rowan fussed while Harper walked towards the refrigerator and pulled open the freezer section.
“At least I have a goddamn reaction to all this shit!” he responded, escalating the angry exchange. “The strongest reaction I have seen from you has been your hair-trigger defensive reflex!” In a sarcastic tone, he chanted ‘De-fense, de-fense, de-fense’, sounding like a fan in a sports stadium. He ignored her sour face and scooped handfuls of ice into a sandwich baggie. Then in a mocking falsetto voice “’Stay positive Harper, You can’t give up, everything is going to be okay’. Why the hell aren’t you angry?!”
“How does ‘being angry’ help us get out of here- or figure out what’s going on?!” She turned her back on him and started scrubbing a shirt in the sink angrily, hard enough she could nearly scrub through the fabric.
With a bag of ice in his hand, he slammed the freezer door shut. “Why does it bother you so much?” Harper walked up to her side so that his chest was mere inches from her right arm, holding the bag of ice on his swelling knuckles.
“Getting out of here?” She dropped the scrub brush and the shirt into the sink carelessly, water and soap splashing onto her as a result, as she turned around to face him. Despite the growl of irritation she otherwise ignored the water blotches on her blue cami she wore. “Or knowing what’s happening? Cus both of those are pretty important.”
“No, why does it bother you so much when I get angry?!” he made a dumbfounded face and leaned his hip against the counter edge, crossing his arms. She stared back at him as she tried to process a rational explanation but before she could come up with one, he continued. “I think you’re jealous-“
“Jealous?!- pah!” She laughed and threw her head back while turning her back to him.
“Yeah, jealous, that the only feelings you seem to have are; ‘annoyed’ and ‘defensive’.” He pointed, with his left hand, to his pointed index and middle finger on his right hand, despite the soreness he felt by flexing his fingers.
She glared at him before pushing past him to get out of the room, hiding her face from him.
Harper sighed and watched her leave, a look of regret passing over his face.
“You’re being a child!” She stormed out without turning back to look at him.
He waited till she was out of earshot, “You’re being a child…” – “you’re so angry…” he mocked her in a high pitched voice, making dirty faces.
“Oh, shit…” James smothered his laugh and Carmen smiled sheepishly, not sure if she should be amused or not.
In Matthew’s bedroom, Calley and Matthew were falling into their positions; Calley held the couch cushion out in front of him and Matthew clenched his fists, testing the resilience of his ace bandages he’d wrapped his knuckles. Calley dropped into a stable stance while giving Matthew a single nod as ‘go ahead’.
In cycles of three, Matthew landed punches to the center of the cushion. “One week has passed...” Matthew’s voice was tight as spoke because he spoke while hitting the cushion.
Calley grunted in response.
The door opened and James stepped in, “Hey, uhm, guys? Rowan’s not happy about the missing loveseat cushion.”
“Okay, and?” Matthew punched the cushion a few more times.
“Well, she, uh, wants it back.”
“Tell the princess, ‘it will be’.”
“James, will you close the door?” Matthew stopped punching and turned to face the lanky boy who looked even more awkward standing there, unsure of how to approach Matthew.
“Yeah, sure…” he stepped around the door so he could close it. When it latched he turned back to face Matthew.
“From the other side.” He stated bluntly and James stared back at Matthew blankly but obliged with no more than a small sigh of defeat.
After James had left, closing the door behind him, Matthew nodded at Calley. “Switch?”
Calley nodded and handed Matthew the cushion, waiting for the mustached to ready up, and took his turn punching at the makeshift punching pad.
Carmen and Louis, sitting cross legged on the white stoned porch, sat away from the dripping clean clothes that the Latina had just finished hanging. “-and so I said, ‘-wait, her?’”
They laughed together and it dwindled slowly when James popped in from the front door, “Hey, sweetie…” Carmen greeted, a carefree smile still on her face as she craned her neck up to meet his gaze until he sat down between the other two.
Nuthin’…” he replied casually then lowered his voice as he addressed them, “Did you guys see the, uh, hole in the wall in the living room?”
Carmen nodded and her smile dropped into a light frown. “Yeah, I think that was from yesterday- I didn’t notice it until this morning…”
“What hole?” The elder asked, his head tilted to the side.
Carmen looked indifferent to sharing what James and she had witnessed yesterday, so James replied for the both of them. “Well, Row’ and Harper got into it yesterday, and I think Harper punched the wall…” James confided then looked over his shoulder, half expecting the man in question to be standing there with a look of irritation on his face.
Louis glanced between the two of them, “Do you know why?”
“Why what? The fight?” James looked to Carmen for her input but she wasn’t looking, “I dunno…” he admitted as he shrugged and pulled his legs in to cross them like the others.
The white haired man’s lips thinned and his brows knitted together, in a look of concern. “Is Rowan alright?”
“Yes, she’s fine… lucky for her, the wall was there to take the hit for her.” Carmen’s eye twitched as she responded, finally bringing her gaze back up to look at them. She re-diverted her gaze to the stone bricks where she drew circles in the rock dust with the tip of her index finger. Both men glanced at her with curious looks but neither questioned her.
Silence fell over them like a thick blanket before James cleared his throat, “So what were you guys talking about?” His question brought smiles to their face.
“Just talking about the good ‘ol days, right Carmen?” She nodded and laughed quietly joined in by Louis.
Rowan leaned over the desk and shuffled through papers, her green eyes scanning each paper individually before tossing it in a stacked pile on her left, while she took from a cluttered pile from her right.
“Ahem,” Harper’s not so subtle, ‘clearing of the throat’, paused her efforts but she refused to look up at him.
“What.” She replied and placed another paper in the ‘discard’ pile.
“How’s it going?”
“Not bad, you know… just looking for ‘stupid clues that aren’t here’. She replied and opened a folded piece of paper before skimming over its words- quickly forsaking it.
Harper stepped up to the desk, glancing briefly at the plush chair she’d rolled a considerable distance away. “Rowan, listen…”
“No, you listen.” She straightened and turned to face him, her eyes fiery with opposition.
“Okay…” he nodded and looked her in the eye.
She blinked rapidly, her lips parting – surprised by his willingness to indulge her. “You-“ she sighed in defeat and shook her head. “Can we just agree that punching walls isn’t helping anyone?”
“Yes… and” he paused and lifted his gaze up as though debating on whether or not to continue, “I’m sorry I called you emotionally stunted.” He looked at her sheepishly, pouting his lips.
She furrowed her brows in confusion, “I don’t remember you sayin’-”
“I thought it.” He admitted and smirked.
“Oh, real nice.” Her eyes flitted to his right hand, “Your hand didn’t swell too much… that’s good.”
He looked at his hand at its mention, “Yeah, guess I’m tougher than I look.” He smiled which was returned by Rowan slowly.
Carmen and James scratched at the brick mortar around the basement door, with kitchen utensils, while Louis worked in the kitchen with Carey trying to break off the cage to the kitchen window, the sound of different objects ringing on metal bars drowning out the irritating scratching of metal on cement. Rowan was still mulling over books and papers, trying to find something of use in the expanse of useless reading.
Meanwhile, Harper and Matthew continued to beat at the foundation of the porch. “I’m telling you, Harper, this is all the way into the ground, we will never reach the end of the pole.”
Harper stood and wiped the sweat from his brow and arched his back to crack all the cricks, his spine popping and his muscles stretching with effort. “Then get a knife and start sawing!” He barked as he turned to face the other man.
The mustached man frowned and glared at Harper.
“If you got a better idea, please do it. ‘cus the last time I talked to James, he and Carmen weren’t getting anywhere with the wall, and the kitchen window is a dud too… we’re about out of options here, Matthew.”
“How can no one be getting anywhere?” He made a sour, disbelieving face.
“I dunno, James just said it felt like there was no major difference between when they first started and now… they’ve used a variety of tools so don’t bother with ‘they aren’t doin’ it right’.” He spoke with an exaggerated Boston accent at the end.
Matthew glowered at Harper, “Do you think this is a joke?”
“No, but apparently, you do.” Harper took a challenging step towards the other man. “If you want to give up, then do it.” He narrowed his eyes while staring the green eyed man in the face. “In the meantime, maybe you could let Oliver out of house arrest and maybe then we can get some real work done.”
“You really think that dumbass would be the least bit helpful?”
“Well I wouldn’t know considering he’s been locked up for a week.” Harper gestured lethargically. “Do you really plan on leaving him in there until we get out? It’s been four days since Daisy… well, you know. We still don’t even know if she was, in fact, ‘murdered’. We think she may have killed herself.”
“Based on what? What you think happened? What you think you can deduce just by,” he gestured wildly, “-looking at her body?”
“Is it so hard to believe? Aidan killed herself…”
“Well that’s different…”
Harper laughed, “How, exactly,is it ‘different’?”
Before Harper could cut him off, there was a crash from inside that did it for him. He jumped at the opportunity to get back inside. Dropping the lead pipe on the porch with a ‘clang’, as he ran out he nearly crashed into James as he ran from the hall to get into the living room.
Falling into what almost looked like an embrace, the two men make eye contact. “What was that…” he asked rhetorically. In unison the two shook their heads and separated from one another to join Carmen who was already inside, kneeling by Carey with his head in her hands.
The group of people formed a circle around Carmen and Carey, Louis having come from the kitchen while Matthew, Harper, James, and Rowan all came from the hall entrance.
“Holy shit…!” Harper heard the exclamation but couldn’t be sure who it came from, too focused on Carey’s contorted face as foam came from his mouth and his eyes rolled to the back of his head, his body seizing on the floor.
It was clear that the racket was caused by Carey pulling the bar over as he fell to the ground; every bottle and glass was broken. Carey had clenched his own glass so tightly that it shattered in his hand. The pool of alcohol was stained red by the blood dripping from his hand.
“What do I do?” Carmen cried, looking up from Carey’s face to anyone who would tell her how to help him. She received no answer, there was nothing to be done.
Unable to help the dying man, Carmen held his head in her hands. The rest of the group could only watch as the man expired in a matter of seconds, seizing on the floor and foam slipping from the corner of his mouth and down his cheek into Carmen’s hand.
In shock, even after Carey had been gone for some time, the group stared at the body. Calley, joining late as he came from upstairs, shook his head in disappointment and disgust.
“Sonofabitch…” Louis mumbled and his voice seemed to snap everyone back to the reality of the moment and the room erupted with pointed accusations. Their growing sense of camaraderie shattered with the overturn bar and yet another death.
“You were the last one to see him alive!” Carmen stood and pointed a finger at Louis.
Louis held up his hands in defense then pointed with one hand to Carey’s stilled body. “We were working on the window, he said he needed a drink… I didn’t think anything of it, I just kept working until I heard the crash!” he defended. Then looking back at Carey’s body, dropped his hands in defeat, clearly upset by Carey’s last moments.
“Who was the last one in here?” Harper asked, looking around at everyone individually.
Matthew shook his head, “That doesn’t matter… the drink could have been poisoned at any time!”
“Why does it matter what time it was poisoned?!” Louis argued.
“Crime of opportunity…” Rowan dismissed with the wave of her hand, her tone disconsolate.
James shook his head and held up his hand like a student in class, “How do we know it was poison? Is there even ‘poison’ in the house?”
“Any cleaning supplies or even kitchen items…” Calley shook his head glumly as he mused out loud.
“There’s rat poison in the kitchen!” Harper offered instinctively, not thinking how guilty it made him sound until it was too late. He caught a glimpse of Rowan’s wide eyes before she was shut out by Calley shifting to get a better look into the room.
Calley leaned back on his heels and looked down on the shorter man, “So you know where the ‘murder accessory’ is…” His voice was so low and sure it was condemning.
“I just saw it in passing while I was looking for the trashcan… I’m sure Carmen saw it too when she’s been cooking.” Harper let out a heavy breath of despair when the dainty woman shook her head.
“You’ve also threatened Carey more than once.” Matthew added.
“What?” Harper looked to Matthew.
“I know about what happened in the kitchen.” He stated plainly.
Harper, Rowan, and Carmen all looked at Calley with a variety of expressions, angry, disappointment, and shame. Calley feigned ignorance in response to their accusing looks.
“No-no-no…” Rowan stepped up beside Harper, “He was defending Carmen from Carey’s drunken attack. Harper protected her… that hardly counts as a threat.” She defended Harper.
“What about the hole in the wall?” Calley pointed to the wall where Harper had landed his fist not two days ago.
“That was because of me, not Carey.” She attempted but realized that her defense was only adding to Harper’s negative image. “Okay, that came out wrong-“
“We all knew he didn’t like Carey…” Matthew looked directly at Harper who stared right back, though his face was tight with apprehension.
Rowan laughed bitterly, “No one liked Carey. He was a drunk!”
“He can’t be trusted.” Calley inputed, his jaw clenched as his dark eye burrowed into Harper, as though trying to kill the suspected man with his gaze.
“Now wait a second!” She fumbled over her words, her eyes gazing upward in her desperate attempt at making sense of everything. “What about Carl…” her voice soft as though she was unsure but when she realized it made sense, she smiled and stood up straighter. “Yeah, Carl! We don’t know where he is… only that you said you couldn’t find her!” He pointed at Matthew.
Matthew laughed as did Calley. “Are you trying to blame me for something?” The mustached asked Rowan amusedly, though darkness was in his eyes.
“I’m saying we can’t rule out the possibility that Carl-”
“That Carl what? Pulled a disappearing act only to come back secretly and poison the alcohol? I don’t think so. How many times has Harper threatened Carey not to drink.”
Harper took a deep breath, “I don’t know if threa-”
Calley shut him down, “Shut up.”
“What, now he can’t defend himself?! What is this?” Rowan shouted, her tone rising each time she spoke, becoming more and more upset. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. You have no proof and we can’t just keep locking people up.”
“I didn’t see you jump to give Oliver a ‘fair trial’.” Calley crossed his arms and leaned back on his heels.
Rowan looked back at Harper warily but the man was defeated. “Well locking him up was for his own good, not ours. This doesn’t benefit anyone.” She continued to argue in hopes of winning them over. She glanced at Carmen, James, and Louis who were standing in a huddle near Carey’s head, to her left.
None of them looked up to make eye contact with her, finding the floor and walls quite interesting in their efforts to avoid Rowan’s searching eyes not wanting to look at the desperation in her face. They’d already decided their judgment of Harper.
“There ya have it,” Calley smirked and turned his gaze to an ever shrinking Rowan and Harper who looked like he could pass out, pale and sweaty.
“We still don’t have any proof, there are way too many variables here to pick Harper over anyone; everyone had equal opportunity and-and motive too! You can’t just-“
“It’s better safe than sorry.” Matthew cut in and Rowan sent him a glare so icy it could have frozen him where he stood.
“’Better safe than sorry’-what?” Rowan’s voice matched her outraged look.
“Oliver is locked up for killing Daisy, we now have another murderer amongst us. For our peace of mind and safety, Harper has to be locked up too." Matthew motioned for Calley to escort Harper away, his smug victorious look made Rowan sick to her stomach; Rowan popped her lower jaw to the side in irritation.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Rowan nearly choked on her harsh laugh but Harper stepped up ahead of her, accepting his judgement. “No,” she grabbed his arm at the elbow, “This is ridiculous!”
Harper hastily cut her off. “No, it’s okay.” He nodded at her with a grim smile before Calley forcibly grabbed Harper by the shoulders and shoved him in the direction of the library.
Matthew shrugged absently, “It’s for the best… for everyone.” He addressed Rowan before offering a sympathetic grin. She narrowed her eyes in judgment as she scowled at him, to which he shook his head and turned his back on her to follow after Calley.
With a sneer on her lips she lifted a middle finger in his direction then turned and glowered at the three she had considered friends.
“Rowan-” Carmen started, her voice small.
“Don’t, just, don’t…” She let out a defeated, disappointed sigh and walked away.
They stood in silence around Carey’s body as they looked around at one another. “We did the right thing, right?” James muttered, biting the corner of his bottom lip.
Louis scratched his head before removing his glasses and cleaning the lenses on his shirt. “Everything Calley and Matthew said was valid…” he trailed off as though unsure he believed his own reasoning.
“He’s got a bad temper…” Carmen added.
“It’s not like he ever hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it, like Carey.” James countered then seeing their negative reactions to his comment he added, “I dunno, ya know? I just… I liked Harper.” The kid mumbled and started chewing on his thumb.
They all nodded in agreement as they fell into silence. Louis frowned and looked down at Carey’s body, where the foam from his mouth continued to slide down his cheek and onto the floor. “What do we do with him?”
The other two shrugged and also looked down at Carey’s vacant face.
Oliver sighed and ran his hands across his chest, scratching incessantly. “I din’t do it!” He shouted at the figure standing by the bedroom door, the figure was shrouded in shadow so he couldn’t tell who it was, but his presence made him feel guilty. “I didn’t…” he insisted.
The mysterious shadow’s only response was to raise its hand and point to the dresser.
Feeling like he was losing his mind, he stood from the bed. Preoccupied with the “shadow”, he stumbled to the dresser blindly and began to toss its contents out of the drawers. Then he saw it; a worn leather pouch, identical to the photo in the short hallway. He felt an odd relief; like finding an old, familiar friend in troubled times. He seemed to be operating on auto-pilot, instinctively he unzipped the pouch. While pushing at his nose, he took in the contents; the syringes, a spoon, a baggie, and a lighter.
The figure remained by the door, its ominous presence seemed to be closing in, though it did not move.
Oliver broke into a heavy sweat as he started removing the contents and placed them in a row.
“Just,” she let out an exasperated sigh. “Let me talk to him, if he did it… he’d tell me…”
“Why, cause you’re so special, Princess?” Calley laughed in her face, “No, you ain’t talkin’ to him.”
“It’s been a whole day since you ‘arrested him’, you and Matthew haven’t done anything but keep him in there- You let me talk to Oliver, I can interrogate Harper just like I interrogated him!” She gestured into the library where Calley and Matthew kept him locked up.
“You’re too close to him.”
She raised her nose in the air in a gesture of defiance. “And what makes you think I’m ‘close’ to him?”
Calley remained complacent, almost amused, as he looked down on her. “You’re not seeing him.” His voice was that of no argument.
Rowan jutted her jaw and pushed her tongue against the back of her bottom teeth. “This is stupid- you’re stupid.” She muttered, turned on her heel and moved towards the hallway, stopping to look at the pictures for the first time since the first time she’d seen it.
They had changed. The pictures of the fire engine, hotel door, the picture of the girl, the cave mouth, and the case of needles, were all cracked in a spider web like pattern – identical to the picture of the Maple Street, the glass split into weaves of cracks and splinters. She stared between all the pictures, the six broken pictures were in no particular pattern and it disturbed her that she couldn’t figure out why.
Stepping away from the photos, so that she could lean up against the wall, she thought about what she and Harper had talked about last week; a picture for each person in the house. She played the matchup game in her head but counted off on her fingers; six pictures broke, - as she named the victims she lowered a finger for each name - ‘Greene’, Daisy, Aidan, Carey, and she counted Carl as a fifth despite never seeing a dead body. That still left one finger, one picture, unaccounted for.
A moment later she had a realization. Rowan pivoted to her right and ran back in the direction of the library. Before Calley could react to stop her, she dodged him and burst through the closed double doors to the largest room in the house. “Harper!” She shouted his name as she paused in the entrance of the library, her hair bouncing and falling around her shoulders as visible evidence of her rush.
All she could see, from her place in the room, was one of the dining room chairs placed in the center of the room with Harper sitting in it. He faced the far window, his back to her. Matthew stood in front of the tied down man, towering over him intimidatingly.
Harper’s head had been bowed, chin touching his chest when she ran in but at the sound of her voice, lifted and turned to look at her. Restricted by his position in the chair, Harper only managed to turn his head slightly, enough for Rowan to see his profile but no more.
It was enough.
Enough to know that Harper was still alive, that he wasn’t the sixth.
Matthew looked up just as Harper had turned in his attempt to see her, “What the hell are you doing?!” He barked, his eyes wide and lit with anger. His gaze shifted past her and she turned in time to see Calley reaching to grab her. She ducked his hand and side stepped around him to avoid being touched by him. “Get her out of here!” Matthew ordered unnecessarily; Calley was already attempting to kick her out but she was avoiding him like a child playing tag, dodging his attempts to nab her.
“I swear to god, if you hurt him-” Rowan pointed at Matthew furiously, “-get your hands off of me!” She shouted as Calley lunged forward and grabbed her shoulder, pushing her from behind, towards the door. “Matthew, I swear to god!” Even as she leaned back as an act of defiance to Calley’s escort, she jabbed a finger in Matthew’s direction threateningly.
The army man shoved her through the doorway forcibly. “What the hell ya doin’?” Calley barked as he slammed the double doors closed behind him. “I told you, you can’t see him!”
Rowan stumbled forward from his heave but recovered and spun around to face him again, “I was just checkin’ somethin’!” She yelled back and shook his grasp from her arm. With her fists at her sides, she stomped her foot, acting like a defiant child. “Why the hell is Matthew in there with him!” She demanded to know but Calley simply crossed his arms. “You’re an asshole.” She muttered and stormed away, stopping in the center of the foyer as she considered the possibilities of who the victim could be, if it wasn’t Harper, Matthew, or Carey.
Figuring if someone had died in the living, dining, or kitchen area, someone would have found out by now, she ran upstairs to the far room on the left. She burst through the slightly opened door to find James leaning over Oliver’s prone body. James stood up straight and faced Rowan with his hands up, “I-“
“James- what? What are you doing in here?” She questioned, though she didn’t keep eye contact with him very long - instead she stared at Oliver’s ashen face.
His eyes were opened and bloodshot and his mouth was opened slightly with foam still lingering on the corner of his mouth. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the side of the twin bed. To his left side was a surgical band, syringe, spoon, and lighter. Lying on the bed was an opened leather case with the rest of the supplies the damaged man had used to ultimately kill himself. “I thought he was getting better…” She whispered to herself, her eyes settling on a silver chain that was hanging out of his left hand, the arm he injected.
“Rowan…?” James’ voice brought her from her stupor and her eyes snapped up to meet his gaze.
“What are you doin’ in here, James.” She reiterated her initial question.
James held his hands up and stepped closer to Rowan. “I was just bringing him some water…” he shifted uncomfortably. “Uhm, where- where did he get the drugs from?”
She sniffled and massaged her temple with her fingertips. “I don’t know, James. I walked in here same as you.”
Calley walked in with anger etched on his face but it quickly dropped and he looked to Rowan in surprise. “Go get Matthew.” She ordered and he took it wordlessly, “Don’t get the others, please.”
“Wait, do or do not?” He double checked, “Cus your accent-“
“Do not!” She snapped, her eyes lit with irritation.
Calley scoffed and left in a rush.
“Like, how-“ The kid started.
“I- don’t. Know. James.” She held her hands rigid in front of her like she wanted to grab something and squeeze it till it popped.
The doors to the library closed and soon after both Calley and Matthew appeared in the doorway behind Rowan who was closing her eyes in an effort to calm her nerves.
“Where the hell did the he get heroin?” Matthew asked, his upper lip curled in disgust.
Ignoring his question, Rowan addressed him without turning to look at him. “I want to question everyone separately.”
“Why are you so obsessed with ‘interrogating’ people?”
She spun around, finding herself nearly chest to chest with the mustached man. She had to lift her head up significantly to meet his gaze, giving him her best glare to compensate for the ridiculousness of their height difference. “Why are you so ‘obsessed’ with locking people in rooms, going in to yell at them, then leaving them to die.” She countered, not only referring to Oliver but also Harpers possible future if left under Matthews care.
Calley drew in a breath to argue her but Matthew spoke first, “No-no-no, he clearly killed himself, there’s no reason to blame other people.”
“You aren’t curious to find out who gave him the drugs and where they found it?” She asked pointedly.
“He probably found the shit in here, somewhere.” Calley interjected, looking around the room.
Not bothering to face Calley as she replied, she simply diverted her gaze to the right to address him. “Do you two hear yourselves when you talk? We have a serious problem here and no one wants to investigate?”
“What problem? His death just freed up a room and less food consumption.” Matthew reasoned offhandedly.
“Wow.” She stared between them incredulously but them seemed unaffected.
Carmen’s startled gasp and Louis’ incoherent mumbling brought their attention back to the bedroom door where they stood. “Where did he get coke?” Louis asked, looking between everyone, including James who still stood gawkily by Oliver’s body.
“It’s heroin.” Calley corrected as though the matter of name was important. Rowan cleared her throat and gave Matthew a deliberate look.
“Everyone out of here-” Matthew started.
“No, wait!” Rowan called out and everyone stopped but Matthews challenging look made her reconsider. Everyone, catching the change in demeanor between the two, left and went their separate ways- Oliver’s death being ruled a suicide no one need become paranoid again.
Calley was last to leave, sharing a look with Matthew who nodded his dismissal so he could talk to Rowan who clearly had something to say.
Once they were alone in the room, aside from Oliver’s body, Rowan made her stand. “I need to talk to him.”
“I- just let me see him.”
“He’s a murderer.”
Rowan laughed heartily but with a bitterness. “You and I both know that’s not true. You needed the most convenient scapegoat and Harper was perfect for it, wasn’t he.” She tilted her head with confidence while Matthew looked down the bridge of his nose to look at her condescendingly. “Not only did everyone think he did it but it also helped to get him out of your way.”
“Rowan, honey, when was the last time you slept?” He put a hand on her shoulder which she ducked quickly and stepped out of his reach.
“I don’t know what your angle is… but when I find out. I’ll expose you.”
“Are you accusing me of something?” He asked, genuinely curious, but she refused to reply just shoved passed him to leave the room and go downstairs.
Matthew blinked and let his head fall back as he looked to the heavens for guidance, a long sigh escaping between his parted lips. Slowly he turned to follow her but stopped when he saw a figure standing at the top of the stairs, facing him.
The figure stood in the shadows of the hall, features hidden by the dark contrast against the light. He gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see the figure better. He took a step closer to the figure but stopped when the figure took an equal step forward.
A loud hissing noise sounded and Matthew turned to look at the bathroom just as Louis stepped out, still zipping up his pants. The white haired man nodded in Matthew’s direction, a grim smile on his face.
Matthew diverted his gaze back to where he’d seen the figure but it was gone.
“You okay?” Louis asked, pausing in his retreat for the stairs.
Blinking rapidly, Matthew nodded slowly before shaking off the haunted look and walking hurriedly past the old man.
Matthew walked into the kitchen from the hallway in the middle of a hushed conversation between the two women in the house. Rowan was filling a glass of water at the sink while Carmen leaned up against the counter to the red heads left, facing her so they could see one another while talking without too much effort.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,”Carmen whispered, appearing contrite.
“There’s nothing to say, Carmen. The damage is already done… they won’t even let me see him.”
Carmen sighed, “Can they really do that? You make it sound like he’s in prison.”
“He might as well be…”
Neither saw him, so he leaned up against the archway, and cleared his throat to announce his presence- both women startled and stopped talking.
Rowan glanced over her shoulder, despite already knowing it was him, looked him up and down and turned back to roll her eyes exaggeratedly to Carmen who shrugged and smiled.
“Everything okay in here?” He asked pointedly.
“Everything is fine, Matthew.” Carmen nodded once then recoiled when Rowan glared at her for speaking to him.
Matthew, seeing the physical reactions by the women, tilted his head further. “You sure?”
“Is there a purpose to your presence?” Rowan slammed the glass down on the counter, water sloshing over the sides, and crossed her arms as she pivoted to face him. Carmen stepped up behind Rowan as a sign of support but appeared more shy than hostile.
“Just bein’ friendly…” He said softly, though his face was twisted with annoyance as he stood away from the door and was now standing rigid.
“Well,” Rowan scoffed, “go be friendly somewhere else.” She replied and tilted her head, daring him to do something she could use against him. He’d said it before, ‘being friendly’, when they first met, and she’d believed him. Now he’d proven he wasn’t all friendly as he appeared.
Calley joined from behind Matthew, cutting short any rebuttal Matthew had prepared. Rowan took the opportunity to excuse herself, saying as much, and left through the dining room to living room exit – only to avoid walking past the two men blocking the hall exit.
As she stepped from the living room she nearly bumped into Louis and James who were on the stairs, “’scuse me…” she muttered and shuffled past them trying to get into the library but was stopped by a hand grabbing her bicep forcibly. Surprised, thinking it was either Louis or James grabbing her so roughly, she turned around quickly only to wrench her arm out of the grasp angrily. “What do you want?”
“Why are you so crass towards me?” He asked insistently.
“Crass?” She nearly laughed at his choice of words. “Matthew, you’re not the person I thought you were when we first met.”
“How am I different?” He tilted his head down, looking down at her as she looked up.
She scoffed and a look of disgust overtook her features but she remained quiet.
“You think I’m the bad guy here but when have you seen me do anything bad?” He pointed at the library, “You threatened me in there over ‘hurting Harper’… why would you ever think I would- could hurt him, or anyone for that matter?!”
“Uuh, Louis’ nose?” She gestured in the general direction she’d seen the man depart. “The fight upstairs, you may have not had a hand in it but you sure as hell didn’t try to stop it…”
“No, you can’t honestly think you’re innocent in all of this.”
She made a sound of displeasure in the back of her throat, her jaw set, before she replied. “How do we even know Oliver or Harper was involved in either death?” Rowan continued by changing the topic, looked up the stairs momentarily, “For all we know Carl or some other person in here doing it all… using secret passageways and shit.”
“You would believe that before believing that these men ‘cracked’?” He indicated behind her to the closed up library where Harper remained behind the locked doors.
“It’s a theory…” she diverted her gaze, “I like it better than accusing people with no proof.”
“It’s better safe than sorry.” He repeated his original ‘case’, proving he wasn’t open to other suggestion.
“Despicable?” he recanted.
“Stop echoing me!!” She shouted, pinching her eyes closed in her frustration.
“Everything okay out here?” Louis made his presence known in standing the living room entrance, concern etched in his features.
Rowan pushed her hair back behind her ears harshly, “Yes, Louis, thank you.” She dismissed him. The white haired man hesitated but obliged, eventually taking his leave though not before looking to Matthew warily. “I’ve known you for over a week… at least.” She continued, “I think ‘despicable’ is an appropriate word.
All you’ve done is create an animal house. Between… instigating fights, your unsanctioned accusations at others, and your Caesar like rule over Calley and Carey.” She counted off three fingers.
“Order is necessary for survival.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, is that order…or is that survival?” She thrust her thumb over her shoulder, in the direction of the closed library, referring to Harper’s imprisonment.
Carmen passed by, muttering an apology as she went out towards the front door.
“For the rest of us, yes.” Matthew blinked rapidly, ignoring Carmen as he continued their discussion.
They stared at one another for a time, trying to determine how to proceed before she finally made a step backwards, with one hand still holding the glass of water she wrapped her other hand behind her back to grasp the door handle.
Matthew’s eye twitched, “You won’t listen to me, no matter what I say… will you.” It wasn’t a question but she replied nonetheless.
He nodded once and took a step back from her, nearly bumping into Carmen who was returning from the porch with an armful of clean, damp clothes. She muttered apologies as she fled upstairs as quickly as possible while he disappeared in the hallway.
After he’d departed, Rowan shook her head in disapproval as she turned and opened the door properly.
As she stepped into the library the first thing she noticed was the rearranging that seemed to have taken place. She’d noticed the dining chair in the center but hadn’t taken notice to the rest of the furniture. The desk and office chair were now pushed back so that it was against the large, wall sized, window. A wooden, dining chair sat in the middle of the room with the back facing the door. Even from the back, she could see Harper tied in the uncomfortable looking chair with his head hanging down towards his chest. Slowly, with glass in hand, she walked up to the chair and stepped around to face him.
She nearly dropped the glass and walked straight back out to confront Matthew. “Liar.” She cursed Matthew’s name.
Harper’s chin touched his chest, his breathing labored. Even without lifting his head up to the light from the window, Rowan could see the discoloration of his face.