7:00 pm – continued
As the last child left, Jenna felt like she was being smothered by her parents as they were trying to get out the door. She loved her parents, she really did, but they weren’t giving her a moment of peace. It was getting to the point where she was vacillating between wanting them to go and asking them to stay. But she knew she couldn’t ask them to stay. Her parents had a romantic evening planned, starting with a picnic in a park they used to frequent and ending with dancing in the café they’d had their first date in. Jenna kind of wished she had that kind of love and loved one, too, but, in all of her short life, she never did find someone worthwhile for her.
“Say good bye to Stacie for us,” Callie said as she very nearly squeezed the air out of her youngest child’s lungs. “Tell her we’re sorry to have missed her.”
“I’ll tell her,” Jenna squeaked out.
“Honey,” Evan said, putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You’re suffocating her.”
“Oh!” Callie cried out, immediately relaxing her grip, but not letting go. Fresh tears were filling her eyes as she studied her daughter. “I’m sorry, my baby. I’m just going to miss you so much.”
“I know,” Jenna said, her voice soft and her eyes starting to feel damp. She could feel her nose tingle and knew it was going to turn red very soon. “I’m going to miss you, too. But hopefully we’ll see each other on the other side of the explosions, in death.”
After a few more minutes of hugging and squeezing from her parents, Jenna was finally able to step back and look at her parents, to memorize their features. She stared at them long and hard as she fought to blink back her tears. After her parents walked out the door, she would never see them again. It was a thought she didn’t want to dwell on and did her best to banish it from her mind.
“I love you,” Jenna said, tears streaking down her cheeks. “Have a wonderful time. Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. Stacie will be here soon.”
Callie nodded and wiped her cheeks and eyes with the sleeve of her light summer sweater. “I know, sweetheart. You were always okay. We love you, too.”
Jenna approached her parents and gave each of them one final hug, enjoying their warm, loving embraces. Then she stepped back and shooed them towards the door.
“Now,” Jenna said, fighting to stay strong. “Go enjoy your evening.”
Callie nodded as Evan took her by her shoulders and steered her out of their house. He turned back one last time before he closed the door behind him, to look upon his youngest child, his baby. She gave him a small smile and wave as he closed the door.
Jenna only had a few minutes of pacing around before she heard a car pull up in the driveway. It was enough time for her calm herself for her cousin’s arrival. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she pushed back the lacy curtains covering the front windows and saw Stacie step out of her car. There was a cute guy in the front seat and Stacie’s best friends in the back.
She watched as Stacie approached the front door, looking amazing and dressed to kill. She quickly pulled open the door before Stacie could even ring the bell. No words were exchanged; the cousins just fell into each other’s arms, whispering their good byes.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Stacie asked, pulling away and holding her cousin by her upper arms. Her gaze was intent and her fingers dug a little into Jenna’s flesh, but Jenna didn’t mind.
Jenna nodded, putting on a brave smile for her cousin. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll be okay, Stace. I just feel like I really want to be in my own home at the end of the world.”
Stacie nodded, biting her lips to keep from crying. “Okay. But if you change your mind, call me and we’ll meet up at the stadium.”
Jenna knew she wasn’t going to change her mind, but nodded and agreed for her cousin’s sake. A pained look crossed Stacie’s face, but Jenna took a step away, letting her cousin know she didn’t want to be anywhere but home for the last hours of her life.
“Have fun, Stacie,” Jenna said, her voice choking up as she spoke. “By the way, who’s the cute guy?”
Stacie turned slightly and smiled. “That’s Ryan. He’s my new boyfriend.”
Jenna smiled. “Good for you. I love you, Stace.”
“I love you, too, Jen. One more hug for the road.”
The cousins hugged each other tightly one last time, neither willing to release each other just yet. They stood there for a few minutes as the seconds ticked by, Ryan, Ashley, and June waiting patiently in Stacie’s car. None of them were going to rush the cousins’ good byes.
Finally, the cousins pulled away and Jenna waved as Stacie drove the car off towards Perkins Stadium. Then she quietly closed the door and made her way around the house, touching everything that had meant something to her. She took a family portrait from before Cooper ran away and took it upstairs with her. Once in her bedroom, she picked up her favorite book and, settling the picture on her nightstand, snuggled back into the pillows on her bed and opened the book to her favorite passages.