“Please,” I whispered, cradling his face in my hands. “Please, Thom. Please don’t leave me. Not like this.”
His face was flushed with fever, eyes tired and ringed by circles so dark they were almost black. “I don’t know if I have a choice about that.” His fingers were like ice as they brushed my cheek. “I never stopped loving you, Mar. I promise I never will. Kingdom come, end of time, end of everything. I’ve always loved you and I always will.”
I threw my arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder. His chest convulsed as he hugged me tightly, the sound of his raspy breath in my ear, his silent tears dropping one by one into my hair. I kept holding on long after our tears were spent and the sky grew dark outside. I didn’t want to let go. The road had been so long, so hard, but it still didn’t seem long enough, the brief flashes of joy amidst the suffering bittersweet in their brevity. I couldn’t let him go, not now, not ever.
“The end already came, Thom,” I said. “Do you still love me?”
He stirred, lifting his chin from the top of my head and meeting my gaze, wear etched in the lines of his face and pain behind his blue eyes. “I said so.”
I nodded, swallowing past a lump in my throat. “Promise you’ll always be with me.”
He opened his mouth to protest but closed it again. He nodded somberly, taking my face in his hands, his fingers warming against my skin. “I promise.”
I shivered. His eyes were like blue witchlights glowing in the dim, as if he were already some kind of spirit still barely clinging to flesh. My throat tightened and I briefly wondered what I had just done to him.
He kissed my forehead gently. “We’ll have a future together,” he said, his voice a bare whisper. “One way or another. Love finds a way when fate plays its hand.”
“You don’t believe in fate,” I said. “You’ve always said you don’t believe in fate.”
Thom squeezed his eyes shut.
The dream left me shaken and weighed heavily on my mind right up until the moment I got called into work for one last shift at the store before I finished packing up and headed east. An Ivy League graduate program awaited me in New England, and despite everything I’d leave behind in Michigan, it was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to turn my back on.
By early afternoon, I was up a ladder in the storage closet, reorganizing things into a more orderly, logical arrangement. I had the music turned up loud enough to drown out the awful muszak the store played at corporate’s direction. The task was just the thing to get my mind off of everything—off the dream, off my guilt at leaving my brother here alone, and off of Thom, who’d gone off to Chicago to avoid saying good-bye.
I still loved him even if he couldn’t bring himself to love me anymore. That was why the dream had hurt so much, bothered me so much. After I left to head out east, we’d probably never see each other again.
Belting out lyrics to a song I’d heard a dozen times in the last week at the top of my lungs, I was stacking toilet paper on the shelves of the storage closet when I realized I wasn’t singing along with the radio anymore—I was singing along with static.
“Damn it anyway,” I muttered, putting the last couple rolls on the shelf haphazardly and climbing down from the ladder. Of course it would flake out when I’m up a ladder. Bloody radio.
The thing was probably as old as I was and got staticy often enough, but it usually wasn’t the full-on static across the band that I was hearing. I started to fiddle with the tuning dial, leaning against the shelves inside the small space, chewing my lower lip. I don’t remember them saying that the fragments from that asteroid were going to screw with radio signals—satellite, yeah, but radio? I mumbled a few more curse words as I continued to play with the tuner, only to find static across all the bands.
“Damn it,” I muttered again, annoyance growing with each passing second. “What the hell is going on here?”
The world exploded.