A Quiet Finale

We’ve been expecting it.

It was first released as a conspiracy theory; I remember rolling my eyes when I heard about it. But, I don’t know, it got the attention of some pretty respected astronomers and research bloggers. This one scientist in particular, Lilah Tanner, released a paper on it. Breaking it down, she carefully explained why this was completely plausible.

She said Earth was… Crooked. That we’re slowly going off orbit. With any luck, it would take centuries.

But that’s the thing. Luck doesn’t exist. All we have is karma, judgement. The way people hurt each other, the gross things we did, this was only a matter of time.

A meteor shower that would normally narrowly miss us is going to hit us head on. Tonight. In three hours. If there’s any survivors, they’ll likely die off in the aftermath.

This was meant to be kept from me- from us. Lilah wasn’t into that, though. So she stopped supplying the government with information, and started supplying the public. She didn’t go missing. She didn’t die- Though she will tonight. If it were any different, maybe the government would ‘silence’ her or whatever. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. So they left her alone, and she’s holed up in LA with her fiancé and parents.

I’m okay with all this. I never did anything with my life. I’m a high school dropout, an orphan, an only child. Hell, I never even got around to coming out as gay, not that I have anyone to come out to. So I’m going to go home. I’m going to reread a few books, I’m going to get drunk, and I’m going to go to sleep.

Who knows.

Maybe I’ll wake up.

I slam my foot on the brakes and groan. Yeah, I know I should have gotten the whiskey beforehand, but I didn’t really account for every single person in the city to be out right now. To be honest, I pretty much expected the whole stereotypical apocalypse scene- Empty roads, grass magically turned to dust, buildings collapsed… I don’t know.

When there’s an opening, I swerve off the main road and onto a slower one, asphalt steadily turning into rubble. I find myself in a road lit only by the sun forcing its way through the arching, thick-leaved branches. I know this road- It leads to a prestigious, gated neighborhood named Andromeda. My apartment is just a few turns away.

As I drive- Much faster than the speed limit, ha! -I take in my surroundings. It feels like I’m in a storybook, one of the pure ones, instead of the ones with killer bears and poisoned shit. Like maybe when I die I’ll find out Heaven exists after all and it’ll just be full of people who don’t hate anything, and I can have a little house to myself away from all the commotion.

Is that what I’m expecting? Heaven, a God?

My car flips.

I’m sure of it- Suddenly I’m flying forward and it feels like I’m on a rollercoaster I didn’t realize I was waiting in line for. There’s a throaty, ripping scream and some shrieks, all of which I can’t place the source of.

When everything finally stops, calms down, heavy silence filling the road, I feel like I’m not breathing. My body is completely still but it doesn’t hurt.

Am I dead?

That’s what happened. The meteors came down early? Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the time- Yes, my clock must have been broken. And so now I’m dead, painless.

“OH GOD, NO!”

I jump. The girl’s sobbing is what gets me scrambling out of the car- Which hadn’t flipped after all, I notice, as I see the girl helping out a pre-teen boy from their flipped car. I must have blurred what was happening.

The boy limps badly as he finally gets to his feet. Blood drips from the girl’s forehead. I stand there, not knowing what to say or do. I’m suddenly aware of the raw burning in my throat, and my body is stiff and aching.

When the boy notices me, a sharp scowl on his battered face, he tugs on the girl’s sleeve. She turns, surprise registering on her face. She swallows as her bottom lip trembles. “Please tell me it’ll work again.”

It takes me seven solid seconds- Yes, seven, I counted -to realize she’s talking about my car. I glance back at it, wincing. “Uh… I don’t think so.”

A wail escapes from the girl’s lips, my gaze snapping back to her in surprise, and the boy just rolls his eyes. “No, no, we need to get home!”

“Give it up,” he mutters, rubbing his shin and wincing, though she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Maybe- Maybe if we walk we can make it on time!” She looks to the boy for confirmation- Her brother, I determine, as they have the same rich auburn, wildly curly hair and feminine features -paling as she sees his leg. The blood is soaking through his dark jeans. “Oh, God!”

She hurries to the backseat of their car but the boy says dryly, “I never packed it.”

“WHAT?!” She whips around. “What did you say?!”

He sighs, shaking his head. “I never packed it. I didn’t think we’d need it.”

I can tell she’s about to yell at him, so I step forward and say, “Um, you mean the med kit?” A first aid kit had been distributed to every household once Lilah started getting all blabbermouthy. I’d been given mine before leaving for my last shift at work and tossed it in the back of my car. “I have one.”

“Can we use it?” The girl asks, seeming nervous.

“Well, it’s the least I can do for hitting your car,” I point out, and she blushes.

“That could have been us.” She rubs the back of her neck nervously. “I’m not really sure what happened there.”

I carefully dig around the backseat for the kit through all the glass and broken things. I gingerly pick up the unscathed whiskey bottle, take a second to thank God, and tuck it in my waistband. I find the first aid kit and turn to them, to find them arguing quietly.

“-have to!” The girl glares, an awkward expression on someone with such a cutesy face. “We can’t just leave them alone!”

The boy shrugs. “What else are we going to do? There’s no point.”

“Mom and Dad are waiting for us,” she urges. “And what about Reuben?”

He scoffs, and I move forward before they can continue. Awkward. “Got it.”

She sighs, looking at me gratefully. “Thank you. Do you…?”

I look around for a moment, catching a small, rundown shed a little while away. “Let’s do it in there,” I say, pointing at it. “He needs to sit down somewhere.”

“Oh!” As she wraps an arm around the boy’s waist- Much to my amusement as he scowls -she hurries to say, “I’m Eloise. This is my little brother, Elijah.”

I pause as we start walking, slowing my pace to allow Elijah and Eloise keep up. I could say anything. I could be anything. I have to hide my smile.

“Nash.”

It eats up a good ten minutes to get to the shed. Elijah and Eloise, still bleeding pretty badly, lean against the wall and watch me with small frowns. It’s dusty and dark inside, the only light coming from the makeshift windows, which are just two square holes. There’s a trunk pushed against one wall that I can’t get open, and a door at the back wall. I curiously pull at it, pleased when it opens to reveal a dirt encrusted white folding table and a couple of lawn chairs.

Elijah watches me set them up, impressed. “Nice.”

He plops down on one of the chairs and rolls his jeans up. Eloise gasps and I kneel in front of him. There’s a pretty deep gash bleeding real bad and I’m not a doctor or anything, but considering 1) I can’t see bone and 2) We’ll be dead in two and a half hours, I’d say he’ll be alright.

I clean up the blood the best I can and soak a cloth in some alcohol. When I touch it to the gash, Elijah lets out a cry and his leg twitches; He kicks me square in the chest. I fall back, coughing, as Eloise tries her hardest not to laugh.

“That hurt!” I snap as I sit up, glaring at him.

He points at his leg. “This hurts, you asshole!”

“Eli!” Eloise scolds, but she’s still smiling.

He grumbles to himself. “Just deal with it,” I mutter, and I continue.

He deals with it. He doesn’t kick me again, though he constantly curses me out, and when it’s finally wrapped, his eyes are watering and his hands are shaking. He stands and drags the free chair into the corner, sitting as far away from me as possible. I look back to Eloise, dry blood flaking on her forehead, and pat the seat.

She giggles and sits. I straighten up and lean closer, carefully cleaning up her forehead. When I’m finished, she takes the last chair and joins her brother. They talk in soft voices and with them distracted, I eye them carefully.

Eloise looks to be just out of college. She’s over-dressed, in pastel pink shorts and a pink-and-white band T now stained with blood, knee socks and a big pink bow. Her hair is straightened and put into pigtails. She talks in a soft, patient voice, her facial features arranged into compassion.

Elijah, on the other hand, scowls at everything she says, his arms crossed over his chest. He’s wearing a black hoodie that goes down to his mid-thighs and soft-looking jeans. He’s taken off his combat boots, now crumpled pathetically in the corner.

I sit in the window, bringing my knees to my chest and looking outside. The sun is starting to set.

I’ve always liked sunsets; They were accomplishments. A beautiful black pallet congratulating me for making it another day. Sunrises, too, a welcoming into a new chance. I close my eyes and smile as the warmth dissipates from my face. Last night, I’d stayed up all night to watch my last sunrise, my last golden ocean. It was delirious and tangible and wonderful. Now I’m watching my last sunset, my biggest accomplishment.

This is my reward. This is what I get for surviving my life.

A quiet world.

“Do you know if the busses are still running?”

I look to Eloise and Elijah groans. “I doubt it,” I say.

Eloise nibbles on her lower lip. “How’s your leg feeling?”

“I’m not walking all the way home,” Eli deadpans.

Eloise’s eyes are starting to water again and I quickly turn away. I’ve never been good with other people’s emotions. Sure, I know how to calm myself down. I know what to do when I’m getting worked up. But other people? It’s not the same. We’re not the same.

One time this girl I worked with, Ro, was sobbing in her car. I pretended not to notice as I crossed the parking lot, but she got out of the car just as I was passing it. She looked at me, frantically wiping away at whatever was left on her face, looking like she expected me to say something. We stood there for what was probably only a few seconds, our gazes locked, until I turned and went into the building. It’s not like we’d ever had a conversation before, but she didn’t even look at me after that. I still don’t know whether I was grateful or hurt.

“Why don’t you stay here?”

Their gazes snap to me. Elijah looks at me with a strangely grateful expression, Eloise’s face crumpling. “What?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Elijah says with a shrug.

“We never even said goodbye!” She cries.

He laughs. “I did.”

She falls silent. Elijah, unfazed, looks around the shed impassively. “You what?”

He glances back at her. “I said goodbye. Why didn’t you?”

“We were supposed to come back,” she says weakly.

He shrugs again. “Well, look how that turned out.”

I’m convinced Eloise is about to have a full on breakdown when the door opens.

Eloise and Elijah both jump to their feet, Eloise blocking Elijah almost entirely, while I start so hard I nearly fall out the window.

He looks just as surprised to see us as we him. His chest rising and falling heavily as he pants, he tilts his head to the side and adjusts his backpack. He glances between us with sparkling black eyes. His black skin glistens with sweat.

“Who the hell are you?” Elijah asks incredulously, peeking around Eloise.

“Grace,” he answers easily. His eyes land on the table I set up and he grins. “Nice.” He strides over to it and sets down his backpack, starting to pull things out; Tupperwares full of food, a few books, a navy blue blanket, his own first aid kit, and a makeshift clock counting down. The numbers, the colour of purple ink, read out 02:04:36.

“Morbid,” Elijah comments, looking impressed.

Eloise’s eyes light up. “Please tell me you drove here.”

He barely looks up. I realize he probably hasn’t noticed me. “Nope. Sorry. I ran.”

I’m twenty one, and a boy has never given me attention- Platonically or otherwise. My parents died when I was three, so I grew up in the system. I’ve never paid attention to anyone and no one ever paid attention to me.

At the time, it was nice. Now I’m regretting it.

“What are you doing here?” My voice cracks somewhere in the middle and it sort of sounds like what laminated paper does when you shake it a lot, and Elijah is trying not to snicker, but it does exactly what I wanted it to: Grace’s gaze lands on me. I try not to recoil.

“I’ve been planning this for weeks,” he laughs. “I found this place a week after Lilah Tanner came out with everything. I’ve been sneaking everything out since then. Oh, which reminds me.”

He pulls a key out of the pocket of his jeans and strides over to the trunk I couldn’t get open earlier. He unlocks it and takes out a few battery-operated lanterns, setting them up around the room. Now that I can see better, I’m able to easier assess him. A bandana tied around his head holds his hair back and the sleeves of his jacket are ripped at the elbows. He’s wearing faded black jeans and mid-shin high combat boots.

“You don’t… Have a family?” Eloise asks with furrowed eyebrows.

“I do.”

She averts her gaze and asks quietly, “Are they on their way?”

He looks at her curiously and shakes his head. “No, they’re back at Andromeda.”

“You just… Left?”

He laughs. “Yeah.”

Elijah snickers and shakes his head while I watch them speak curiously.

Why?”

His eyes twinkle in amusement. “That’s a long story.”

While Eloise endlessly tries to make sense of his departure, Elijah drifts over to me. “Black and white,” he mumbles.

I look at him. “What?”

He gestures towards them. “Look at them. Eloise would never even think of leaving our family. I don’t know what this guy’s reason is, but he looks pretty happy. And Eloise…” She’s looking more and more horrified with each answer. He shrugs. “Black and white.” When I don’t answer, a short chuckle escapes his lips. “Hey, I haven’t made a pun that good in a while.”

“So that wreck out front,” Grace says, his eyes, miraculously, landing on me, “that why you’re here?” I swallow and open my mouth to speak, but nothing really comes to mind, so I just nod. He notices, I can tell by the slight pull of his lips, but he doesn’t comment on it. “It looks pretty gnarly. I’m surprised you guys are okay.”

Nobody answers, but he’s undeterred. “Have you guys eaten?” He takes off the lid of one of the tupperwares. “I can share, if you want.”

Eloise nudges Elijah forward. “Go eat.”

They get food as I settle back onto the windowsill. Eloise and Elijah drag their chairs to sit by me and Grace squeezes onto the windowsill with me, smiling sheepishly. My face flushes.

I’ve never had people willingly be around me before. It’s not like I’ve been bullied or harassed- At least, not more than the average amount -but you have to give to have the chance to take.

The survived whiskey presses against my back. I reach back and set it on the ground; If there’s a palpable conscious after death, I want to remember this.

Eloise once again introduces her and Eli, ruffling his hair as he scowls. Grace nudges my foot with his and I look up, startled.

“You’re not going to eat?”

I look away and then back. “Uh, I wouldn’t want to take all your food.”

A bright grin spreads across his lips. He digs around in his backpack, leaned against the wall below him, for a moment. “I always come prepared.” He pulls out another tupperware and plastic fork, offering it to me.

I take it, and his smile only widens. “Thanks.”

“I never got your name,” he says curiously.

I hesitate. What had I told them? “Nash,” I say, a little uncertainly.

“Nash! That’s a cool name.” I don’t know much about social cues, but he seems genuine. “Your parents are smart.”

I hesitate, before looking away and saying, “Were.”

He laughs. “Oh, come on, don’t talk like that! We still have a little bit of time.”

I shake my head. “My parents died when I was three.”

They fall silent. I don’t know why I said it, but the way Grace looks at me, like he’s really, actually thinking about how to respond, I can’t regret it. Finally, he guesses, “So you weren’t adopted, then,” and I nod. “I was wondering why you didn’t seem so upset by this.”

I’m way too aware of Eloise’s and Elijah’s stares, so I keep my gaze on Grace’s, his beautiful, sparkling black eyes. “I guess I just don’t… I don’t feel like I’m leaving anything behind.”

“I never thought of that,” Eloise mumbles, and I look at her in surprise. She’s looking away, her face crumpled. Empathy, maybe?

“Me, too! I mean, my parents are alive, so it’s not the same thing, but I get it.” Grace smiles.

No, no, that’s empathy. So Eloise is… What? Sympathetic?

“What’s up with your parents?” Elijah asks with furrowed eyebrows.

“Oh, they suck,” Grace says cheerfully. I look at him bemusedly. He looks between us for a moment before seeming to realize we want more; I guess we’re all still getting used to being blunt. It’s not exactly instinctual to know that everything we say will be wiped from existence in- I check the clock -an hour and fourty five minutes. “Well, they’re… Controlling.” He nods a little, as if congratulating himself for choosing the right word. “They had this… Plan for me. You know, they think I can read people. They call me perceptive. So they’re always having me exercise it, so I can get famous.”

“How would you get famous off that?” Elijah asks incredulously.

His cheeks flush pink. “Faux-psychic. They had me try it a few times and, well… I guess they thought I was good.” He clears his throat and looks away. When I first saw him, I didn’t think he was capable of feeling anything but energetic or outgoing, but now he just seems nervous. Guilty, even. Or… No, not guilty. No, hurt? “I could tell it was about to take off, so I decided to run away. You know, I’ve thought about leaving for a while, but I always decided on waiting until after high school. But my mom started talking campaign designs, and I…” A frail laugh shoots from his mouth. “Well, then Lilah happened.” Something flashes across his face, and it gives me a headache trying to read it.

It’s silent for a moment, then Elijah whistles. “Damn, your parents are crazy.”

“Don’t cuss,” Eloise sighs. “You know what Mom would say if she were here.”

He arches an eyebrow, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. “Really? You think she’d scold me for my mouth right now?”

A pinched scowl comes across her face as she blushes. “Maybe! I don’t know. Probably!”

“So you guys have a cool family, huh?” Grace asks. We’ve shifted so that our shins are pressed together. It’s nice.

The siblings look at him. Elijah shrugs but Eloise nods vehemently. “Yes. We got really lucky.” Elijah rolls his eyes, and Eloise frowns in, if I’m not mistaken, annoyance. “You don’t miss them at all?”

“What’s the point?” He shrugs, looking away. “It’s not going to change anything.”

She quirks an eyebrow. “What about Reuben?”

His face flushes red, and Grace asks, “Wait, who’s Reuben?”

Elijah shoots her a glare but she says, “His dog. Not even the family’s- His dog.”

Grace hums, amused. “I kinda figured you as a cat person.”

“Well, I’m not,” he snaps, and then blushes.

“They must really miss you right now.” Grace frowns deeply, as if he’s actually upset by this.

Eloise’s face crumples and she shrinks in on herself. Elijah hesitates, before wrapping an arm around her waist. “Yes,” she whispers. “I’m sure they do.”

“They were on their way home when I…” I look away, suddenly feeling guilty. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s uncomfortable, even unnatural. “They’re going to stay with us, now.”

She looks up and nods slowly. “Yeah.” She smiles even though a few tears have leaked down her cheeks. “Yeah, we are. You’re a good guy, Nash.”

I blink. “What?”

Elijah snickers and Grace smiles, but Eloise just shakes her head. “You’re a good guy,” she repeats. “I mean, helping us, letting us stay here…”

“Uhm, well, Grace- Grace is the one letting you stay…” I look away. I’m uncomfortable again, and I still don’t know why. “And I’m the one who hit you, so… Well, of course I’d help.”

“Moron,” Eli mumbles.

“That’s not true!” Eloise laughs. “We don’t know what happened. I wasn’t really paying attention, either, you know. I was just worried about getting home before the…” She closes her eyes and starts again. “You didn’t have to help us. A lot of people wouldn’t.”

Having been on my own my entire life, my only interaction from coworkers and an occasional cashier, I don’t know much about myself. It’s strange how much you can learn about yourself from other people. I’ve never had much chance to be kind, considerate, hospitable. It’s just the one distinct time but… Does this mean I’m considerate?

I don’t know what to say, so I just let a little bit of my smile show through and say, “Thanks.” It seems to be the right answer- She relaxes and wipes away any remaining tears.

A good fifteen minutes of our time is offered to silence. Elijah sprawls himself over the folding table, the clock balanced on his chest, while Eloise settles herself in her chair with Grace’s blanket and one of the books he brought. Grace himself seems to be like a cat. Our shins pressed together turns into him leaning against my legs, then my chest with my legs on either side of his body. When he first does it, shimmies for a moment until my legs open and he can lean back, I don’t really know what to do. I freeze up and it takes me a second to figure out what I’m feeling. A liquid warmth slithers through my chest, and I realize it’s satisfaction. I’m afraid to ruin it, but I drape my arms over his chest, and he relaxes.

“So you keep to yourself, then?”

I blink down at him. “What?”

He shifts onto his stomach, his chin poking into my chest. “Well, where were you heading before the wreck?”

I look away. “Home.”

“And there’s nobody waiting for you.” I look at him, and he clarifies, “Because you’re not leaving anything behind.” I nod slowly. “So you keep to yourself.”

“Um… Yeah.” A little laugh bubbles from my lips. “That’s about right.”

“I don’t see why,” he says. “You’re so cool.”

I pause for a moment, assessing his face. He doesn’t seem sarcastic. Still, I ask, “What?”

He laughs. “What? I know you heard me!”

A lock of wavy black hair slips out from under his bandana. I want to pull it off, to run my fingers through his hair, push it back and feel his skin.

After a moment, he shifts uncomfortably. He sits up. “What?” He asks nervously.

My eyes snap to his. “What?”

“You…” He giggles. “You were staring.”

“Oh. I-”

“Hey, guys! Look!”

Our gazes snap to Eli, leaning out the window opposite and frantically waving us over. Eloise, Grace, and I rush over.

“Don’t we still have time left?” I ask, suddenly panicked.

Grace already has the clock in his hands. “An hour and fifteen minutes.”

Eloise pulls Elijah behind him. I don’t know why I have the urge to do the same for Grace.

The three of us squeeze together with Eli huffing in the background. The sky is blacker than I’ve ever seen. Outside, there aren’t even shadows; Just the unending black velvet. So high in the sky I’m sure I’m imagining it the first few times, little bolts of gold blink at us.

“Lightning?” Eloise asks.

“Maybe,” Grace murmurs. I’m too entranced to say anything. The sky winks at me, like it’s trying to tell me something.

“Nash?” Grace rests his hand on my shoulder, and I jump. There’s a little smile on his lips. “We thought we lost you there,” he teases.

I blush. “I was just…”

“It is pretty,” Eloise says softly, stepping back up to the window. “I wasn’t really thinking of that…”

Elijah rolls his eyes. “We know, you were thinking about it killing you.”

“What if it… Doesn’t?”

We all look at her. “What?”

She looks back out the window. “What if it doesn’t kill us?”

“You’re confused because it’s pretty,” Elijah spits. “That’s disgusting.”

“Elijah,” Grace says nervously, but he shakes his head.

“What are you thinking?” Eli clenches his fists. “You need to see Lilah’s reports again?”

“Maybe she’s wrong!” Eloise cries.

“She’s not wrong!”

“Hey, do you really want to argue right now?” I jab my thumb in the direction of Grace’s clock. “If you’re right, you can tell him that tomorrow. But Lilah was a genius. She was probably right. Why would you want to spend the last night arguing?”

Eloise blinks at me, Elijah looking impressed. I shift around nervously. “What is it?”

Grace slings an arm around my shoulders. “You are unpredictable,” he muses.

I know I should think of some response, something cute or interesting, but with his hand brushing against my chest and my shoulder digging into his side, my mind blanks.

“Unpredictable?” Eli scoffs. “More like fuckin’ weird. The hell, Nash?”

“Regardless,” Eloise stresses, “he’s right. I’m sorry, Eli.”

He glances at her and sighs. “Yeah, yeah. Sorry.”

Eloise and Elijah drift over to the chairs and engage in soft conversation while I settle onto the nearest windowsill. I pull my knees to my chest as I look into the velvet. Grace sits in front of me, his legs planted on either side of mine. It’s enough to turn my attention to him, and I see the same black velvet in his eyes, his skin.

“How did it happen?”

My gaze flits between his eyes. “Murder.” He hooks his legs around me, his shoes now pressed against my back. His body brings warmth to the growing coldness inside. “I don’t know much. Just that I was home with a babysitter when someone came at them with a knife.”

“Robbery,” he guesses, and I nod.

“Yeah. It, uh… It went well for them.” I shift. “Not me.”

“You’re such a quiet person,” he says softly. I tilt my head to the side curiously. “Not your voice. It’s… A vibe you carry.”

“A quiet vibe,” I murmur.

“You never had the chance to find something you care about.” I don’t know when we leaned in, but suddenly his forehead is pressing against mine, and he tentatively brushes his fingertips against my temple. “You stay by yourself. You don’t know you have another option.”

“It was… A wall.” I push my hand against the skin on his arm, under his sleeve. “I knew it was there. I just didn’t know how to get there.”

“It’s not over yet,” he urges. “You still have time to be loud.”

“What about you?” I whisper. “You had a plan. This wasn’t apart of it.”

He smiles. “No. It wasn’t.” His fingers push through my hair and it’s so nice. I’ve never been uncontent with the end of the world, but if it ended now, like this, I might actually be happy with it. “I was… Really angry at first. I felt cheated. But either way I get away from them, right?” He pauses. “I’ve always believe in reincarnation. Now I’m not sure. If there’s nobody left over, nothing living, how could we be born again?”

“Maybe it… Isn’t the end.” I glance at Eloise, still talking softly with her brother, and back to Grace. “Maybe she was right, in a way. I don’t know, if there is a God, or something similar, maybe He has a safety net. A reset button.”

“‘A reset button,’” he murmurs with a small chuckle. “I like the way you think, Nash.”

I can do it right now. With fifty nine minutes and twenty two seconds left, I can lean forward, the last couple inches, feel his lips against mine. My heart is in my throat and a vague image of it falling into his mouth while we kiss invades my mind, and I have to file the idea away.

“Hey, assholes!” Elijah snaps, Eloise smacking his arm. Grace and I look at them in confusion. Elijah points to Eloise’s forehead. “She’s bleeding.”

“I got it,” I mumble, disentangling myself from Grace.

I grab the first aid kit and she drags the chair over to the table. I kneel in front of her and carefully remove the bandage.

“God, that hurts,” she hisses.

Elijah rolls his eyes. “Don’t be a baby.”

She scowls. “Yeah, I’m the baby. Except you were the only one screaming like a girl.” She winces as I press an alcohol wipe to the gash.

He face turns bright red. “I was not! I didn’t scream.”

“She’s right,” I mumble, smiling. “You were shrieking.”

Grace giggles as Elijah crosses his arms over his chest. “At least I wasn’t crying!”

She nudges me. “He was about to.”

He huffs. When the bandage is secured, Eloise stands and wraps her arms around her brother. “We’re just messing with you! It was scary. There’s nothing wrong with being scared.”

Elijah’s face crumples in a similar way Eloise’s does when she’s sad; A distinct fear settles in his eyes and he wraps his arms tightly around her. Eloise seems surprised, but she doesn’t comment.

“How much time do we have left?” Elijah asks quietly.

“Fourty five minutes,” Grace says.

He takes in a long, shuddering breath and buries his face in Eloise’s neck. “Okay.”

I’m the only one who seems confused; Eloise is surprised and Grace looks relieved. I didn’t see Elijah as scared- He was completely apathetic. Disinterested. Was he just hiding it? How hadn’t I noticed? I decide not to bring it up.

“I just…” Elijah shakes his head.

“You can tell us,” Eloise urges. “You can say whatever you want.”

He tightens his grip and whispers, “I don’t want to die.” Eloise’s eyes water and Grace steps closer to me, taking my hand in his. I don’t know if he needs the comfort or if he thinks I do, but I don’t mind. “I just want it to happen already. I hate this fucking waiting.”

“I know,” Eloise whispers. She brushes her fingers through his hair. “I know. It’s okay. It’ll all work out.”

“How can you say that?” He pulls back, his eyes watering now, too. “You don’t know! Don’t promise anything you can’t!”

“He’s right,” Grace mumbles. “We shouldn’t lie like that.”

Eloise nods. “I know. I’m sorry. I just- I just don’t know what to say.” She closes her eyes for a long moment, before opening them and striding over to him. She takes Elijah’s face in her hands and meets his eyes. “Whatever happens, I will not leave you.”

The tears finally spill out onto his cheeks and he hugs her furiously as his body starts to shake. Grace tugs on my hand and we step into the blackness.

“What are we doing?” I ask in confusion. It’s so dark the only indication I have that he’s with me in his hand in mine and his voice.

“I felt creepy watching them.” He laughs. “Let them have their moment. Besides, you’ve been staring at this since the second it happened. I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

I maneuver his hand to grip my shoulder and pull my shoes off. The grass is crisp and dry against my skin. I take his hand again.

We walk forward and the grass turns to something jagged- Concrete. The road. We stand in the middle of the road, facing away from the dim light coming out of the shed, my arms draped around his shoulders and his around my waist.

“Is this what it’ll be like?” I whisper. I’m afraid if I speak loud enough the darkness will shatter around us and I’ll emerge back at work, serving boring customers crappy fast food.

“Maybe.” Grace’s voice vibrates against my lips.

I hesitate. “I wouldn’t mind.”

“Me, neither.”

I can’t see him move. I can’t feel myself leaning forward. His lips brush against mine, cool and soft, and something in my psyche clicks.

I haven’t done anything in my life. This is something I’ve told myself every day, with no longing to change it. I haven’t just been quiet; I’ve been silent. And this is my chance to my loud- My last chance.

Maybe I don’t need to take it.

Maybe I can be happy just being quiet.

We kiss for longer than I can count. Some part in the back of my mind I’m thinking this is how it’ll end, with my body pressed against Grace’s, with his hands up my shirt.

“How long would you say we have?” Grace whispers against my mouth.

“I- I…” What did he ask? He chuckles, his hands drifting down my back. “Oh,” I breathe.

We end up lying on the concrete, my head on his chest. Grace runs his fingers up and down my arm as he hums softly.

“Nash isn’t my real name,” I say.

He pauses. “Really?”

I nod, even though he can’t see. “Yeah. It’s Dylan.”

“Dylan,” he murmurs. I jump as his lips press against the top of my head. “I like that.”

“I like Nash better,” I admit.

He laughs. “I’ll call you whatever you want.”

We have ten minutes left when we finally collect our clothes and get back inside. Eloise jumps up, throwing her arms around me and then Grace.

“God, guys!” She snaps. “Where were you?! We were so worried!”

“I can guess,” Elijah says with a grin. My face flushes.

“Come on, it’s about to start.”

She takes our hands and leads us over to the windowsill. The four of us squeeze in together, Eloise’s arms around a trembling Elijah and Grace’s around me. When the clock hits 00:08:12, something crashes in the distance. It sounds like a gunshot, only ten times as loud. It starts slow, with Grace kissing my shoulder and neck and Eloise whispering to Elijah. They slowly build up and I press my lips to Grace’s hand, and one lands so close it almost knocks us out of the window.

Grace rests his hand on the side of my face kisses me softly. I let my eyes flutter shut and rest my head on Grace’s shoulder.

With one last crash, the lanterns go out and the quiet claims us.

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