5:00 pm – continued
It wasn’t long before Callie and Abigail heard stampeding footsteps echoing throughout the house, a sound Callie had sorely missed over the years. It was mere moments before Evan, Cooper, and Jenna trooped into the kitchen.
“Smells good!” Evan announced as he went over to his wife and gave her a gentle kiss.
Callie smiled up at her husband as their children sat in the same seats they used to sit in when they were growing up. Taking his hand, she led him over to the table so they could take their own seats. She knew they were all anxious about this meal. It was full of family favorites, foods everyone loved, but, at the same time, it was going to be their last meal.
“This looks really good, Mom,” Cooper said, licking his lips and already digging into the pasta. “You know, one good thing about this end of the world business is that we’re getting really good food. I’ve heard there’s going to be some gourmet food at Perkins Stadium, too.”
Jenna shot her brother a glare as she stabbed into her chicken breast. “Is that all you can think of?” she demanded. “Just food? Coop, the world is going to end at midnight. We’re all going to die at midnight!”
“Shh,” Abigail said, putting a hand on her sister’s shoulder.
Jenna shook off her sister’s hand and morosely played with her chicken, waiting for the pasta to make its way over to her. She slumped down slightly in her seat, her chest rising and falling quickly. They knew it always took her some time to calm down, and very little time to flare up.
Abigail cast her sister a hurt look before turning to glare daggers at her brother. “I was only trying to help, Jenna, and you are so not helping anything, Cooper.”
Cooper snorted as he shoved a forkful of pasta into his mouth. “So what? It’s true.”
“Okay, kids,” Evan said before Abigail could open her mouth for a retort. “That’s enough of that. You had enough arguing growing up. This is the last meal we’ll ever have together as a family. Do you really want to spend this time arguing and bickering like you’re little kids your mom and I need to send to the corner?”
Abigail, Cooper, and Jenna passed glances around at each other. A panoply of emotions flickered over their faces, from triteness to indifference to a mild curiosity with a glance at the cake sitting on the counter. None of them wanted to end their lives without a slice of that cake. And none of them wanted to see the dreaded dark corners of the sunroom, where Callie would pull the covers across the windows and close the doors leading back into the house. Slowly, all three of them shook their heads.
Evan nodded curtly and calmly cut up his chicken. “Then behave yourselves and just enjoy this last time we’re going to be together as a family, okay?”
Silently, his children nodded and spent the next few minutes finishing passing around the food until everyone had a little bit of everything. Then they spent another couple of minutes enjoying their last home cooked meal, none of them sure of what to talk about. Thoughts of their last night alive and their imminent deaths were likely at the forefront for everyone. Callie knew that’s what she was thinking about. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but it was inevitable. It didn’t make for great dinner conversation, so no one said anything.
“So,” Evan finally said, wiping at his mouth, his plate bare in front of him. “What’s everyone up to tonight?”
“I met this guy in the coffee shop this morning,” Abigail began as she worked on cutting up the rest of her chicken into small pieces. “His name is Grant. Apparently, we went to the same high school at around the same time, but he’s a few years older than me. He works at the piano bar.”
Callie nodded. “He’s the pianist there, isn’t he? Nice guy, great musician. Your father and I went there a few times. You two are meeting up at the stadium?”
“Yeah. We’re meeting up with our friends first, then we’re getting together over there. Apparently, Ellie met Grant’s roommate, Rob, and they seemed to have hit it off. So, it sounds like she’s going to have someone with her at midnight, too.”
“Sounds exciting,” Evan remarked. “Wish I could meet this guy in person to make sure he’s good enough for my little girl, but I guess there’s no time for that. But I trust you, cupcake, so I’m sure he must be a nice guy. What about you, Coop?”
“I met this girl on the train last night. She’s pretty nice, a little younger than me. She’s got, like, a million siblings, so they live in a huge house on the nice side of town.”
“What’s her name?” Callie asked curiously.
“Valentine. She said she was born on Valentine’s Day, so that’s what her parents named her.”
Abigail snorted. “I bet that’s not the only reason. She’s got some pretty spectacularly red hair.”
“You saw her?” Callie asked.
“Yeah. Turns out Coop and Valentine went to the same coffee shop I met Grant at. She looked pretty, if a little too red.”
Callie sighed, ignoring her two oldest children as Cooper glared at his sister and Abigail stuck her tongue out at him as though she were five again. It was nice having all of her children at home, but they always acted like such…children when they were home. Instead, she said, “Oh, how I wish you two had met these people before now. But I’m glad you’re having romances, at least. And about time, too.”
“Hey,” Cooper said. “I’ve had plenty in the past couple of years.”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Care to share?”
Cooper met his father’s eyes and swallowed before turning his eyes back to his food. “No. Not really. What are you up to, Jen?”
“Eating,” his younger sister said.
The rest of the family couldn’t help themselves; they all exploded into laughter. Cooper frowned, but tried not to explode. He just rolled his eyes and bit his tongue. Callie knew he wouldn’t want to incite her and Evan’s wrath again and risk losing dessert. He didn’t always take all the joking as the rest of them did. She knew that he sometimes took it a little too personal, as though they were laughing at him.
“No,” he said, impatiently jiggling his leg under the table as he spoke. “I meant tonight. What are you doing tonight after dinner?”
Jenna shrugged. “I’m going to hang around here for a while. Then Stacie’s going to come by,” she said vaguely.
Callie shook her head. “Poor Stacie. I still can’t believe her boyfriend dumped her.”
Jenna didn’t say anything. Callie still didn’t know she was planning on staying home all night, intending on dying in her own home, the only home she’d ever had. She really didn’t want her parent to know, thinking her plans would break their hearts. She didn’t want to do that; she couldn’t, not on the last day. She hated deceiving them, but she felt it was the right thing for her to do so they wouldn’t worry about her. She was glad they could jump onto another topic now that she had brought up Stacie.
“It is very sad,” Abigail said, casting a curious glance at her sister. “I hope she meets someone special tonight. I mean, her brother just got married this morning. Oh, man, poor guys. What a short marriage.”
Jenna nodded in agreement, perhaps a little too quickly. “They’ve been so perfect ever since they met. I wish they’d been allowed to marry earlier.”
Callie reached out and touched her daughter’s hand. She thought Jenna was acting a little shifty, but then weren’t they all on edge? It was almost six o’clock in the evening.
“I think we all do,” Callie said quietly. “Now. Who wants dessert?”
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