1:00 a.m. – continued
Callie’s fingers moved from her hair to the top button on her sky blue blazer. Luke turned to her as he picked up his papers, all in a jumbled mess, and finally straightened them on the desk top. He gave her his lopsided smile, but his beautiful green eyes looked haunted. He was so handsome, Callie’s husband would have felt threatened but for the fact that Luke was gay and in a very happy, committed relationship. They had gone to the engagement party just three months before. They had a wedding planned for that night, that last night of Earth’s life, their kiss timed to co-occur with the fireworks. It was a small family affair for those who wanted to be with the happy couple at midnight, so Callie wouldn’t be celebrating with them. But the engagement party had been fun.
“It’s a shame you only had eight months on air, sweetie,” he said, his smile still in place, forced though it was. But that was Luke; always trying to look on the bright side.
Callie had to admit his optimism sometimes made her want to smack him and yell in his face that life wasn’t fair and to get that silly grin off his face. Instead, she gave him half of a smile, lifting one side of her lips with a regretful look in her eyes. She paired it with a shrug, her left shoulder going up with the left side of her mouth. Her husband, Evan, thought it was the cutest thing in the world. She vowed she would do it as much as she could for their last day together.
“It was great to finally have this chance. After a decade of being behind the cameras, I’m just glad I got the chance to be on the other side, no matter how short of a time it was. Thanks for making it so much fun, Luke.”
“No problem, Callie. It’s been fun. You’re a great girl.” He gave her a bright grin. “Much more fun than Stephanie.”
Callie gave a light laugh, covering her mouth with long fingers. She remembered Stephanie. The woman had been a horror for two years, her contract rock solid in addition to her being the boss’s granddaughter. Callie shook her head. Stephanie had the phoniest smile any of them had ever seen, was a monster to everyone off camera, and ordered everyone around as though they were her personal slaves. The team had pleaded with the boss to move her to other shows after the two year contract was up. They made the case that some other network would likely greatly benefit from having her on their staff. She was ultimately moved to a competing network that didn’t care she was the granddaughter of another network head and she ended up being relegated to an early morning show. By then, her grandfather had gotten wind of her spoiled ways and was refusing to bail her out once again. They’d heard she’d committed suicide two weeks before and had shed gator tears for the benefit of her grandfather, who would die wondering if it had been him and his choice to let her live her life as she pleased and deal with the consequences on her own that had driven her to take her life.
Luke stood up and held out a hand to Callie. “Come on, sweet pea. Let’s get us to that office party.”
Callie smiled and took his hand. He hauled her up and they walked off the set, rounding around the cameras to join the rest of the crew as the last light focused on the set clicked off. A large, decadent spread was laid out across two long tables covered with silver tablecloths. Callie made a beeline for the end of one of the tables where the chocolate desserts were clustered and piled a paper plate high with them. Chocolate always made her feel better. It was way better than alcohol. She moved off to the side so she could take a big bite out of a chocolate covered strawberry without being in anyone’s way.
Luke and one of the fact checkers, Elyse, joined her. The spirited young woman, no older than twenty-four, likewise had a plate piled with desserts, but not all of them chocolate. She wriggled her nose to adjust her glasses and grinned.
“Delicious, aren’t they?” Elyse said, holding her plate up to inhale her foods’ sweet scents. “Ahh, I love sugar.”
Luke cast a look at the two women, his plate full of fruits and vegetables. He shook his head. “Oh, that I could eat all of that and keep my figure like you two.”
Callie elbowed him. “Why don’t you? It’s our last day. Enjoy yourself. Indulge.”
Luke shook his head. “Will’s got this fantastic day planned out, filled with some of the richest, most decadent delectable little bites in the world. I love being almost married to a chef.” He sighed, a dreamy look on his face. “He said something about chocolate with breakfast. My mouth is watering just talking about it.”
Elyse sighed and sank her teeth into a chocolate chip cookie dough brownie. “Sounds dreamy,” she said around the mouthful. “My boyfriend’s planning on taking me to get married today. He said he wants to die knowing I’m his wife. Isn’t that just too romantic?” She sighed again, stars in her eyes, as she took another bite. “Jason’s just too wonderful.”
“What about you?” Luke asked as he crunched into a carrot stick, sticking a pinkie out in Callie’s direction.
Callie shrugged and broke off a piece of her double chocolate chocolate chip cookie with frosting and little chocolate sprinkles on top. “Evan and I just want to enjoy the last day we have left with our family. Abigail’s finally coming home from the city today. She said she wants to spend the last day with her family and lifelong friends. We’re hoping we at least hear from Cooper. It’s been two years since he left home and we haven’t heard a peep from him. But we’re hopeful. We’re having lunch with my parents, and then I think they want to be left alone, too.” She looked up at her friends and colleagues and smiled. “Thanks, you guys. It’s been great.”
Luke smiled at her and Elyse wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“Yeah,” Luke said softly. “It’s been great.”
Elyse playfully elbowed his side and he feigned an injured look. “Okay, you guys, I’m going to go mingle. This party’s not going to last forever.”
With a little wave, she scooted off. Luke grinned at his former co-anchor and wriggled his fingers at her. “She’s right, you know. See you later, sweetie.”
Callie gave him a sad smile, knowing she just might not see him again. He walked off, whistling, leaving her to stand by herself for another few minutes to savor her cookie. Then she took a deep breath and made her plunge into the crowd.