She hummed quietly to herself in the quiet, still house as the stovetop sizzled and the smell of cooking food wafted up and hung in the air. She breathed in deeply, enjoying cooking the last meal she would ever cook. She was thrilled that her son was home, that she would get to cook for her entire family one last time. She just hoped all the other mothers on Earth had this opportunity, too.
Callie felt particularly lucky that she had her entire family with her. Cooper had come home and she’d had the chance to see him one last time. A part of her wished he and his sisters would spend the rest of their lives with her and Evan, but she knew her two oldest had plans with special people and her youngest was going out with her cousin. Still, she wished she could have her children with her at midnight.
Her feet danced around the kitchen as she turned the stove and oven off and poured the pasta into a large bowl with the sauce sitting at the bottom of it. She had made her family’s favorites: pasta with a homemade marinara sauce, herb baked chicken, and roasted summer vegetables. For dessert, she had prepared another family favorite: lemon cake with a raspberry filling and lemon frosting. She had made it for all of her children’s birthdays up through their eighteenth birthday. She had only stopped there because both Abigail and Cooper had been away for subsequent birthdays, too busy with college to enjoy cake.
Her heart sank as she finished frosting the cake. Jenna would never get her eighteenth birthday cake. Her birthday wouldn’t come until the winter. Well, now it would never come. Instead her baby would be nothing but ashes on the date of her eighteenth birthday. Maybe this last cake could make up for that. She contemplated putting eighteen candles on it, but, considering Jenna’s emotional state that afternoon, she didn’t think it would be a good idea. The last thing Callie wanted was to put her youngest child into another crying fit. The girl had cried out enough water for the day.
Callie looked up from the cake as Abigail wandered into the kitchen, a yellow sunflower printed skirt swirling around her knees as her white sandals tapped against the tiled floor. Callie remembered that skirt. She’d given it to her when Abigail had graduated from college. Abigail had always been such a bright child and had been fortunate enough to have spent some time in her dream job. But Callie wished her little girl had been able to spend more time working at the paper to eventually become an editor, something she knew Abigail had dreamed of for most of her life.
“Hi, honey,” Callie said, putting away her spatula and the extra frosting. “What’s up?”
Abigail walked over to the island and hoisted herself up onto a stool. She leaned her elbows against the counter and propped her chin up in her palms to watch her mother finish the cake with a sprinkling of some granulated sugar for a sparkle. She didn’t say anything; she just sat there and watched, and Callie let her.
“Nothing much,” Abigail finally said as Callie put the sugar away. “I just miss watching you make dinner.”
Callie smiled. “I remember. You were just a little girl when you started wandering in here, wanting to help, but not quite tall enough to even stand on a chair to reach the counter.”
Abigail giggled. “Yeah. I kind of remember that.” A wistful look came into her eyes. “Iris used to do that to me, too, on the days when her parents would get home late and I had to make dinner for her. She’s such a sweet little girl. I can’t believe she has to die, too.”
“Oh, honey,” Callie said, coming around the island to wrap an arm around her daughter. “Iris is very young, but she lived a full life. She was always such a happy child. I’m sure her parents are making sure she has a wonderful, happy day.”
Abigail nodded as she fought off the tears that were threatening to form in her eyes. “Rose and Nick are great. Well, I mean Rose is a wonderful mother, not like you, of course, but really great. Nick’s kind of distant, but I know he loves his family. I saw them this morning before I came home. Iris looked so happy then. A little sleepy, but still happy.”
“I’m sure her parents are taking care of her.”
Abigail nodded and sighed before moving her elbows off the counter. “I’m sure they are. They’re great parents. They love her to death. Did you know they lost two children before Rose was able to carry Iris to term? They called her their little miracle.”
Callie smiled as she moved to the China cabinet in the dining room to take out some plates and silverware. “I did know. I knew Rose when she was pregnant the first time. Jenna was a little girl and we met when Jenna got sick and was in the hospital for a few days. Rose was there, too, when she lost the first baby. I wish we’d kept in touch. She was such an amazing woman, so caring and kind despite what she had just gone through. I’m glad they were able to have a beautiful daughter and ended up hiring you as Iris’s nanny.”
“Me, too. I really needed the money, and she’s the sweetest little girl ever, just like her mother. Anyways, Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Callie couldn’t help laughing. Ever since they were young, all three of her kids would ask that just about every night. Sometimes she had made up foods that didn’t even exist, other times she made up things that sounded gross just to get a laugh from their reactions, and other times she made their favorites.
“Pasta with herb baked chicken and roasted vegetables,” Callie finally answered as she set the plates and silverware in front of her daughter. “Come help me.”
Abigail nodded and hopped down from the stool. Together, she and her mother set the table and laid out the food in the middle of the round mahogany table. For their last meal together, Callie had spread out a lacy white tablecloth she had gotten when they had traveled to Europe for a family vacation the summer before Abigail had left for college. They used the fine china that Callie had forbidden her children from touching when they were young, the heirloom plates and platters that had been passed down in Callie’s family for several generations. The silverware was the finest they had, having been inherited from Evan’s great-great-grandmother, who had received them has a gift from some wealthy Russian family she had worked for. The glasses were made of delicate blown glass, bought in Italy, and filled with champagne.
“Dinner’s ready!” Callie called out. Tears prickled her eyes as she realized that was the last time she would ever call her family to dinner.