6:00 a.m. – continued
Quietly, Nick made his way down the hall and paused at Iris’s door, a mahogany door covered with pictures she and Alice had colored. It was slightly open just so he and Rose would be able to hear anything if something were to happen to the girls. They’d spent half of the night listening to the girls cry as they spent their last night together, both believing they were both going to die that night. In spite of what he had told his wife, his heart twisted as he thought that one girl was going to die and the other was going to live.
Two days before, Alice’s mother, Grace, had come to him and Rose, in tears. Alice knew she was going to die, but Grace didn’t want her daughter to die a painful death. She didn’t want her little girl to suffer. She had spoken to a lot of other parents with young children and they all had felt the same way. Since Iris was the same age as her daughter, she thought Nick and Rose might have some ideas of how to make sure their children didn’t suffer, certain that the other couple was going to do the same. If they had a good plan, being as bright and loving as they were, other parents would follow the same path. Nick had told her to put Alice to bed and make sure she fell asleep, perhaps even going as far as giving her something to knock her out if she refused to fall asleep. Alice wouldn’t even know when the world exploded and would die peacefully, not feeling a thing.
Rose had held Grace for a long time after that, letting the other woman cry. It had been too hard for Nick; he hated crying. So, he had gone to take a walk. Grace was gone by the time he got home. Rose didn’t say anything about what had happened, but had, instead, informed him Alice would be staying over on the last full night. Nick hadn’t argued.
Now Nick pushed open the bedroom door slightly so he could poke his head in. A night light cast a rosy blush throughout the room. There was Iris’s bed, a little round table with child-sized chairs filled with stuffed animals, a bookcase filled with books, and a toy chest filled with toys. Iris was snoring lightly as she slept, her arms sprawled out at her sides and her golden curls knotted around her head. Her mouth was open and there was a faint trail of drool across her pillow and down her cheek. Alice was sleeping more quietly on the air mattress next to Iris’s bed, her arms wrapped around the pale pink pillow, her long dark braid streaming behind her. She was curled up in a fetal position, appearing for all the world to be a little lump under the pink sheets and comforter. Neither girl stirred as he peeked in on them and then closed the door, careful to still keep it slightly ajar.
Leaving his daughter’s bedroom behind, Nick continued down the hall and walked into his study. It was mostly empty now, most of his work and books having been packed up and sent ahead to the starship’s location, which even he didn’t know. Now was the time to pack up the last minutes things.
Down in the kitchen, Rose was humming softly to herself as she pulled pots and pans from cabinets. It was the last morning and the last breakfast they were going to have on Earth. For Alice, it was going to be her very last breakfast. Rose wanted to make it a good one. She had thought Grace would want to cook her daughter’s last breakfast, but it had been more important to the other mother that Alice spend as much time as she could with her friend. Besides, she would still be able to make lunch and dinner for her little girl.
On the menu that morning were eggs, both scrambled and hard boiled; pancakes and waffles; sausages, corned beef hash, and ham; and hash browns. As always, there was cereal and toast available, but she really hoped Alice would enjoy her last home-cooked breakfast and have a little of everything. Iris didn’t yet know that she wasn’t going to die as Rose and Nick had decided to not tell her so their little blabbermouth wouldn’t spill the beans that some people were going to be saved. They’d been telling her they were packing things up so their stuff would be in a safe place and wouldn’t hurt them any more than the explosions were going to. But Rose hoped Iris would enjoy her last breakfast on Earth anyways.
She placed a handful of eggs in a pot of water to boil them and then turned to peeling and shredding some potatoes for the hash browns. Still humming to herself, she enjoyed a little dance as she washed her peeled potatoes. She didn’t know where or how she would be cooking tomorrow, or for the rest of her life for that matter, so she was determined to enjoy her custom made kitchen for as long as she could. It had been designed specifically for her and to make her life easier when it came to cooking.
Rose started at the sound of her daughter’s voice. Iris was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, hand in hand with Alice. Alice was rubbing her eyes with her free hand and yawning, strands of hair sticking out from the braid hanging down to her waist. Iris also looked a little sleepy, but slightly more awake than her friend. Both girls wore shimmery nightgowns, having asked for them when Grace and Rose had taken them shopping a few months before.
“Sweetie, are you okay?” Rose asked, hurrying over to the girls and kneeling in front of them. She took their free hands into her own. “Are you okay?”
Iris nodded and yawned. “Daddy opened the door and woke us up. The hall lights are too bright.”
Rose smiled and sat back on her heels. “Do you want to go back to sleep? You can curl up on the couch if you want.”
Iris and Alice shook their heads.
“We’re awake,” Alice said, a long, wide yawn belying her words. “We’re a little sleepy, but we’re awake. Are you making breakfast?”
Rose nodded. “Uh huh. Do you want to keep me company?”
Both girls nodded eagerly. Rose smiled at them and stood with a slight grunt. She wasn’t getting any younger.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Why don’t we sit at the island?”
The girls followed her over to the large marble covered island and breakfast bar where three stools waited. Rose helped both girls onto two of the stools and let them swing around on them, careful to keep a close eye on them. The side the girls were on was raised, which was a good thing since the other side had the stove top.
“Are you thirsty?” Rose asked, shuffling over to the refrigerator.
“Do you have orange juice?” Alice asked, rubbing at one eye.
“Sure thing, sweetie.”
Rose took out the gallon of orange juice, half full, and poured out two glasses. She placed the glasses before each girl and Alice eagerly picked it up right away and gulped down half the glass while Rose put the juice away and got out the milk for her pancakes and waffles. Bringing over the ingredients she needed to make the rest of their breakfast, Rose smiled at the girls.
“Did you two sleep well?”
Both girls nodded, Iris’s tousled curls bouncing wildly around her face. But then the little girl’s face clouded and Alice looked down at the counter top.
“What’s wrong?” Rose asked, pausing her stirring to look at them, her eyes filled with concern, her heart hammering in her chest.
“We don’t want to die,” Iris whispered, tracing a finger in swirling designs on the marble.
Rose’s heart broke, knowing the inevitable fates of both girls. She immediately abandoned her pancake batter and went around to embrace both of them. They both turned towards her and let their tears come as much and as hard as they pleased.
When Nick walked into the kitchen, following the smells of the food, he stopped short and found his wife holding the two girls as they wept loudly and wetly. Rose met his eyes, sadness in them, and he took a step back.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed to his wife.
She attempted a smile, but it didn’t work. Instead, she turned and rested her head on Alice’s as she tried to comfort both girls.