She couldn’t stop looking out the window, her hands toying with the emerald drop necklace she wore. She couldn’t stop chewing on her lower lip, either. The anxiety was mounting in her and she almost couldn’t stand it. Her children were coming home today, the last day she would ever get to see them again. It had been two years since she’d had all of her children under one roof, two long years that she hadn’t even seen Cooper, much less heard anything from him. Oh, he’d check in every year on her birthday, never his father’s, to let her know he was still alive, but that was it. He never sent a card; just called for two minutes to say happy birthday and that he was okay before abruptly hanging up. She was starting to hate this waiting. It was already nine o’ clock.
Her husband came up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders. Upstairs, they heard the water in the shower come on.
“Abigail settling in okay?” Callie asked absently as she twisted the silver chain around.
“Yeah. She just said she really needed a hot shower.”
“He should be here soon, shouldn’t he?” she asked anxiously, twisting the chain ever more tightly around her fingers.
“He never said when, Callie,” Evan said gently. “Come on, sweetie. We have to get ready for Daniel’s wedding. Cooper will get here on his own time. He probably won’t like it if he catches you pacing in front of the window. You know how the littlest things set him off.”
Callie nodded and smoothed her hands down her cream colored terrycloth robe before sliding her hands into the pockets, keeping them warm. Her anxiety always made them feel like ice cubes. “Okay. I’m going to go do my hair. Let me know if you see him, okay?”
Evan watched as his wife ambled over to the staircase and took her time walking up them. He made a shooing motion with his hands when he caught her stopping every few steps to glance out the window. She gave him a sheepish look and then hurried up the last few steps. He smiled and shook his head, making his way over to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
“Morning, muffin,” he said as he entered the kitchen and found his youngest child perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, munching on a bowl of milk and cereal, the box in front of her, held by her left hand.
“Morning,” Jenna replied around a mouthful before devoting her attention back to the cereal and the cereal box.
Evan shook his head as he made his way to the coffeemaker. At seventeen, Jenna was just about every bit a normal teenager, except for the fact that she didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d inherited the same blue eyes her brother and sister had and the same auburn hair, but everything else reminded him more of his late sister, a petite woman with delicate, elfin features and a small frame. Jenna was just as petite with an enchanting ethereal beauty, but she claimed her male classmates were gross and she and her friends had decided to wait until college.
Only, college was never going to happen for them. No, instead they were slated to die with the rest of the world at midnight tonight. There would be no college, no boyfriend to be grilled by her parents, no career, no family, no future.
Evan couldn’t help but sigh. He’d convinced Callie to let him get a shotgun when Abigail was born. Of course, there were no bullets, but the boyfriends wouldn’t know that. Unfortunately, neither Abigail nor Jenna had ever brought home a boy. That shotgun still sat out in the shed, still packaged up, never used. When Abby had been a baby, he had daydreamed about using it, about how he would have positioned it, what he would have done with it, what he would have said to the sweating boyfriends. Just pipe dreams now.
“What time’s the wedding?” Jenna suddenly asked as he was pouring out his coffee from the pot.
“Ten-thirty. We leave in a half hour.”
She nodded and turned to get off of the stool. She shuffled over to the sink, bowl and box in hand, her blue slippers scuffling over the tiles. After depositing the bowl in the sink and the box back in the pantry, she shuffled out of the kitchen, pulling the hair tie from her hair to let it fall, stick straight, to just below her shoulders.
Evan rested his hip against the counter and savored the first few sips of his hot coffee before a noise at the front door startled him. He heard footsteps thundering down the stairs and the upstairs shower shut off. Two female voices reached his ears before two doors slammed closed and the shower started up again. Then he heard the front door open, banging against the wall, followed by his wife’s cry of delight and a muttered male voice.
“Coop must be home, then,” Evan said to himself. “The girls have swapped places in the bathroom. And Callie is definitely not finishing getting herself ready for the wedding.”
He took one last sip of his coffee, savoring that sip and the quiet that would soon be shattered for the rest of the day, and then placed the cup on the counter and left the kitchen. He silently promised he would be back to finish that cup, but the more logically oriented side of his brain told him he would be lucky if he ever saw that cup again, much less the pot of coffee.
When Evan walked into the living room, he was met by the sight of his wife tearfully squeezing the life out of their only son. Cooper looked like he was suffocating, his arms pinned to his sides and his fingers spread wide. His face was contorted in pain and he was trying to squeak out something. Other than that, his wife’s hair was artfully done up with half her hair wrapped into a bun secured with red rose pins and the rest of her hair curled around her shoulders. His son looked like he could use a shower and a good shave. A haircut wouldn’t hurt, either, but there wasn’t enough time for that.
Cooper slowly turned his head and met his father’s eyes. Evan could see both an apology and a plea for help in those dark blue depths. His son was also mouthing the word, “Help.”