She called it her “lost hour.” For the past year, her first and only year of college, it had been the one hour of the day where she didn’t quite know what to do with herself. She was always done with classes by four in the afternoon and had never taken an evening class. Four o’clock in the afternoon was well before the cafeteria opened for dinner, and before she cared to get any course reading or paper writing done. Usually, she spent the hour doing whatever she wanted. Sometimes she would surf the Internet, looking up stupid stuff that got stuck in her head. Other times she would read a book purely for pleasure, like a suspenseful mystery or a heartwarming romance that had her wondering what she was doing wrong because she’d never had a boyfriend before. Occasionally she took a nap and didn’t wake up for almost two hours. More often than not, though, she watched a movie on her computer, sometimes with her roommate, but mostly alone. That would occupy her until the cafeteria opened and then she would finally get some work done and go to bed around midnight.
Today was the last day that she would get to live and this was going to be her last “lost hour.” She had no idea what to do with herself. Everything she used to do seemed to be a complete waste of time. But she didn’t know what to do now. For months on end she had engaged in one of those activities every day at four in the afternoon.
And four in the afternoon on the last day of Earth found her lying across her bed, staring up at the ceiling of her childhood bedroom, her hands laced across her stomach, her red hair spread over her pillows. She could hear her wall clock ticking away the minutes, the seconds, counting down to Earth’s execution. She could hear her youngest sister squealing and running around the house, running into and knocking over things, no doubt chased by some of her older siblings while her mother halfheartedly called out to them to calm down. Marlene only did that for face; she wouldn’t dare stop any of her children from having fun today, no matter how old or young they were. Jared was, after all, a few years shy of thirty.
Valentine’s eyes filled with tears as she thought of her youngest sister. Fun-loving, ADHD diagnosed Natalia had just finished seventh grade and had stopped taking her medication. She was only twelve and was going to die. Her birthday had just been a month ago and Valentine had sent her a stuffed monkey, which had a place of honor on Natalia’s bed. Nat was still so young; she shouldn’t have to die yet. She should be enjoying her life, much as she was doing now, running around, laughing and screaming, living her life.
And here she, lonely depressed Valentine, was, just lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She wasn’t out with the rest of her family, enjoying herself, having fun, playing with her youngest sister. She was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to her siblings having fun. Wishing she was anywhere but there.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like her family; she liked them well enough. They were just enthusiastic, impractical, disorganized…loud. And she had enjoyed Cooper’s calm, peaceful company so much. He had spoken so highly of his siblings. Of course, he resented them, especially his older sister, but she thought that was normal. Cooper had said he was proud of his older sister and her accomplishments. He loved his younger sister because they had so much in common. Her siblings, on the other hand, were just a riot. Literally. She liked to believe it was because there were so many of them.
Marlene and Brian were certainly able to afford the large family. Marlene had come from money and had never worked a day in her life. Brian had made his fortune as an astute businessman, making his first million within two years. None of their children would ever have to work, even if the world wasn’t going to end that night. Valentine hadn’t even had to go to college if she hadn’t wanted to. Nathan hadn’t needed to go to college, but had wanted the experience. He had practically wasted his time there, though, with a degree in modern languages, languages he could barely speak and understand. He had just barely earned his degree with a host of poor grades, having enjoyed the drinking more than the learning. Jared hadn’t had to go to law school after graduating at the top of his college class, but, ever the overachiever she had grown up admiring, had gone to satisfy his curiosity. He never had any intention of taking the bar exam, though. He drew the line there.
But Valentine was different. Valentine was going to make something of herself on her own. She had gone to college believing all of the world’s scientists, the brightest people on the planet, would be able to do something about the asteroid hurling towards Earth. She thought they would have been able to do something and she would have a shot at becoming a world renowned anthropologist studying indigenous cultures in Asia. They had been so sure they would be able to prevent the asteroid from striking Earth.
Those scientists had been wrong. She had been wrong. The best and brightest people on Earth hadn’t been able to do anything about the asteroid. The world was going to die, shattered by a gigantic asteroid. There was nothing anyone could do. Her college had kept going just to keep the young minds they were cultivating from freaking out. It had helped most of them for the most part. A portion of the student body had immediately left to return home, but most were so stunned and shocked that all they could do was keep their usual daily schedule.
She remembered when the world poll had come out. The first world poll. The one asking them how they would like to die. Every man, woman, and child had received a small card and had been directed to a polling site to cast their vote. She remembered staring at the two choices: asteroid or via worldwide explosions. She had stared at them until the words had been burned into her mind, indecision making her gnaw at her lips until they had bled. In the end, she had picked explosion rather than asteroid. She was too furious with the asteroid to let it kill her.
The second poll had been worse. It had asked the world when they wanted to die. People were free to write in a date and time that would occur prior to the asteroid’s arrival. They cast their votes a second time and Valentine remembered there had been a much more somber mood in the crowd she had been a part of, waiting patiently to cast her vote. She had selected noon on the date the asteroid was set to arrive, but, apparently, she had been outvoted. They would instead all die twelve hours prior to the date and time she had wanted. That was twelve hours less that she would get to live. The thought almost made her weep.