By Nolan Taylor
“Can you hear me okay, hun?” Jolene’s mother asked with her voice muffled by her weak WiFi connection.
“Yes, Ma,” Jolene replied. “And you don’t have to sit that close to the screen, either. I can see you just fine.”
“Okay, hold on, dear,” the older woman said, and she readjusted in her seat. “You know I’m new to this. I didn’t grow up with face chat.”
“It’s FaceTime, Ma,” Jolene said with a sigh. “And I know. You’ll get used to it, though.”
The mother and daughter had been quarantined separately for three weeks now. Betty had only just figured out how to set up her camera according to the instructions Jolene emailed.
“Well, you look different, dear,” she said. “Did you dye your hair? It seems lighter. Was it always that blonde?”
Jolene had positioned herself in front of the window of her apartment. Her lights were turned off behind her, and the setting sun gave her a stunning, yet ominous white glow on the computer screen.
“No, the lighting just makes it look that way,” Jolene told her. She prided herself on not being one of those people. She had the mental fortitude to not make irrational changes to her appearance in a time of crisis. She relieved stress in other ways.
“Huh…all right, then,” Betty said. Her already over-sized glasses appeared massive on Jolene’s computer screen. She looked more like a gray-haired bobble head than a person.
“Are you sure you’re holding up okay, honey? This has all been so chaotic and, well, I’ll be honest, I’ve been worried about you. You always hated being out of contro—”
“I’m fine, Mom,” Jolene cut her off sharply. Off camera, she squeezed the ends of her long sleeves in tight fists.
“Okay,” Betty replied with clear skepticism. She sat perched and leaned halfway forward in her chair. “You still taking all your meds?”
“I told you I don’t need them anymore, Ma,” Jolene said. She refrained from looking over her shoulder.
“Did Dr. Freidman say that?” Betty asked with a raised brow. She leaned closer to the computer screen.
Jolene mumbled and pushed her hair out of her face. “Yeah…she did. She said I should be fine.”
Jolene hadn’t told her mother that she stopped seeing Dr. Freidman two months prior, or that she ran out of her prescription on day five of lockdown.
“Okay then,” Betty said.
Jolene wasn’t entirely sure if she had convinced her mother, so she changed the subject. “They have us all working entirely from home now,” she said, in a cheerier tone. “It’s much safer for everyone this way.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Betty said. “Is Davis doing that, too? Where is he?”
“Didn’t I tell you?” Jolene said and sat up a little straighter.
“Wait,” Betty interrupted. “What was that noise?”
“Oh.” Jolene hesitated. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Betty leaned in closer. She turned one ear to the monitor as if that would help her hear better.
“Well, anyway,” she went on, “Davis decided he needed to be with his family right now, so he drove home to take care of them in quarantine.”
“Really?” Betty said. Her wrinkles accentuated a slight frown at this news. “So, you’re there all alone?”
“Yes, Mom,” Jolene replied. She had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. “I promise, I’m fine. Nothing to worry ab—”
“You two still getting along okay?”
“What?” Jolene spoke louder to cover the noise.
Betty had never questioned Jolene’s relationship before. Now was not the time for her to start.
“You and Davis, honey,” she said. “Are you two still getting along okay? I just saw on the T.V. that a lot of people are breaking up while in lockdown. Too much time together, I guess.”
Jolene leaned forward slightly and tried to read her mother’s face through the screen. She couldn’t tell if this was a genuine concern, or if Betty somehow knew something was up.
“No, no,” Jolene reassured her. “We’re still good. I’m actually gonna talk to him as soon as we’re done here.”
“All right, all right,” Betty said with a slight nod.
“What was that, honey?” Betty demanded.
“Um,” Jolene hesitated. “Let me go check. Something in the kitchen, I think.” She muted her microphone and left her laptop by the window.
Her mother still squabbled on the other end as Jolene disappeared out of the living room and into the hallway out of her sight. There, she flipped on the hallway light and fished a key out of her pocket. She almost dropped it, her hands shaking, as she went to unlock the hall closet door.
When she did manage to turn the lock, Davis’s rope-tied body slumped to the ground.
He moaned behind the duct tape on his mouth and attempted to kick himself free, but it was no use. Jolene had ensured he wouldn’t escape.
“I told you to keep it down,” she hissed at him.
Adrenaline coursing through her, she dragged him helplessly to her bedroom, locked him there, and took three deep breaths before turning back towards the living room.
When Jolene returned to her laptop, Betty asked, “What was it, hun?”
“Oh, the trash had just fallen over,” Jolene replied. “I was gonna take it out later tonight.”