[A/n]: Is it even Twelve Shots of Summer if I don't write something angsty about the end of the world? For the prompt, "Kill."
Somehow I knew visiting her would be a bad idea, but I couldn't bring myself to care.
I knock on her door.
It opens. I wasn't expecting it to. Does she think this doesn't matter anymore?
"It's you," she says.
I don't say anything. I don't know what there is to say. It has been seven years but there is too much distance between us.
"Come in," she says.
I wasn't expecting that either.
She makes me a cup of Earl Grey tea with milk. I drink it. Even if there was poison it would matter only a little. And I don't think she's that vengeful. It's a maybe I would bet the last few days of my life on.
She is watching me closely.
"I drove here," I say finally, "as soon as I read the news articles."
"Did you?" It's not really a question. "Was there traffic?"
"No. Interestingly enough, people are staying at home." A pause. "Listen," I begin, "I'm sorry. I didn't think there was any sense in scaring the public-"
"Ah yes, scaring the public," she says. "If people don't want to think about the future, that's fine. Maybe it was better this way."
"We could have done something," I tell her, but the words are empty and she knows it. "If we'd started early enough."
"Is that what you tell yourself?" she says. There is a teacup in her hand but she isn't drinking it. I listen to the anger in her voice and begin to halfheartedly entertain the notion that she's poisoned me.
"Actually," she says, after a beat, "I don't think you tell yourself you could have done something. You don't want to think you could have changed things. You wouldn't be able to live with that idea, I bet."
"You could have had seven years of frenzy," she says. "Seven years of panic and a shot of maybe saving something. Maybe we would have tried and failed to start a new colony on another planet. Maybe NASA would have come up with some genius strategy involving a giant slingshot. Maybe we would have succeeded. Probably not. It's hard to think about existential doom for seven years straight. Isn't it?"
My mouth goes dry.
"You did think about it, didn't you?" she asks.
"You said there was such a low chance of this happening." The word are hard to say. "It wasn't likely, it wasn't probable, and we thought you had overestimated by too much-"
"I probably did overestimate," she says finally.
"I left everything behind to come visit," I say. "Everyone around me is panicking. It's overwhelming in the city."
There is a long silence.
"You can stay here," she says, the words dropping like stones. "I have enough food for both of us to last three days. I thought it would be chaos in the streets. But things have been quieter than I thought. It's just… still. Like the end is coming."
My heartbeat pounds in my ears. How has she lived with this for the past seven years?
"Okay," I say. We had lived together, once. "Okay."
My hands are shaking when I make omelets. She can barely hold her fork.
Time seems to slow. I don't know what to do anymore. I try to numb my thoughts by watching another episode of Friends, but I can't laugh at any of the jokes. I look at my phone through my old photos. Then I look at the clock and hours have gone by. I wonder what I am doing with my life. I go to find her and see a similar panic in her eyes.
We do not say much. There is not much to say.
She catches me looking at our old papers in the evening. The evening air is still and brittle, the sky a brilliant twilight blue. Crickets chirp and fireflies flicker in her backyard.
"I've tried not to look too much at what I wrote," she says at last. "It hurts."
I am silent.
"Even then I didn't believe it would actually happen," she continues. "It was like I was reading about just another journal article. Science for the sake of science. I wanted the truth to be known. It was only after-"
"I know." She takes the papers from me, the ones I had dug up in my apartment when I read the news articles, and neatly whisks them away.
The equations whirl relentlessly through my head. I want to go back and change everything. I could have seen what was before me. But I didn't, and that will never change.
I do not get any sleep that night. I find her at 5 am in the living room, curled up under a blanket, staring into space.
"I need to talk to you," I tell her. "I shouldn't have done what I did. I should have taken your side in the lab. We should have stuck by you when that paper came out."
"Distant doomsday predictions? No one wants to hear them when tomorrow still exists," she says. "I don't know if it would have changed anything-"
"We should have changed the probability, then," I say. "Made it higher so people would actually pay attention."
"Faking science is never a good idea," she sighs. "But did it matter either way? I couldn't get a reference from that lab, so it closed off physics and astronomy to me for good."
She has every right to say that. But it still stings.
"I bet it was fun," she says absently. "You researched all sorts of things. The formation of stars, their deaths, their dances with one another. Good stuff for popular articles. Things people want to read about."
"I never asked what happened after you left." I hadn't been able to.
"I moved here. Took up a job teaching high school instead," she says. "I could have fought. I know I could have tried to join another lab. Replicate what I thought I saw. But I didn't. I… was crushed after the project was ended. I felt I had failed everyone somehow. I told myself you all were probably right even though it ate at me every day. It's partially my fault too."
"It's my fault." I say.
"No," she says, "it's mine."
The day is growing lighter outside. Morning is coming. Neither of us can fall asleep until after midday.
"You know what?" she says. It's mid-afternoon. The sunlight is beaming through the windows and burning shadows on the floor. "You know the real reason I asked you to say. I told you to stay because I didn't want to die alone."
I don't have an answer to that.
She lets out a short laugh. "The end of the world has been reduced to the length of a long weekend," she says finally. "A vacation none of us will return from, huh?"
"Maybe we won't die," I say, even though both of us know what happens to matter that enters a black hole. "Maybe it's better to think we might be wrong."
"No, I won't pretend anymore," she says. "If it's the end of the world, I want to know."
I rise and stride outside. I've made my final calls, said my goodbyes. My phone has at least seventy notifications from the news outlets I follow, and nothing has changed. I don't want to look at the news; I know enough to know what comes next.
I look up and into the perfect blue summer afternoon. It all seems so normal. Nothing would indicate a black hole is hurdling towards us.
"I don't want to panic in my last moments," I say. "I don't want to be afraid."
"I'm terrified," she says, setting up two lawn chairs. With a jolt I realize she means to sit and wait outside until it's over. "But I know what you mean."
I can barely hear her over the pounding of my own heartbeat as I nod. I tell myself I am more alive than I have ever been.
So she and I sit back in silence as clouds pass and wind rustles. We don't know when it's coming, but we wait for the end of the world.