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Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Apocalypse

I call Dani at three in the morning.
"They came for my family," I say. "Finally."
She's silent on the other end of the line.
"I mean, I knew I wouldn't be on the list. And I knew all of them would. But still." There's a lump in my throat. Everything feels too close. Too tight. I want to scream. Throw something hard and breakable against the wall.
"Your family's safe now," Dani says. "That's good. They say the doomsday front might actually reach us tomorrow. So if they're still collecting people for Sanctuary, they're cutting it close."
I press the phone against my cheek, listen to Dani breathe.
"Are you okay?" she says.
I'm suffocating. I hate everything and everyone. "Well, the house is kind of weird. Too quiet."
"Come over," Dani says, her voice bright, resolute. "I feel like baking."
I can't believe how bright and sharp and silver the stars look at three in the morning between gaps in the clouds. A few flakes flutter through the warm night air. What people have been calling "goodbye flurries." White snowflakes mixed with hot black ash. When the goodbye flurries show up, you know the doomsday front is only a day or two away from your town.
I know that most of my neighbors are asleep in their beds, that only one in five people are chosen for Sanctuary, but still, it's easy to think that I'm the only living person left in the whole town.
Dani lives a mile away.
I sigh when I step into her kitchen, a haven of warm buttery light and the smell of melting chocolate, but it's not quite enough to help me shake off the feeling of the last three a.m. before the world ends and the scream wedged between my ribs.
"Good morning. Grab a measuring cup," Dani says, brandishing a wooden spoon and a stick of butter.
"Are your parents awake?"
"Nah. They'll probably sleep through the apocalypse tomorrow," Dani says. "Just you and me."
"Good," I say.
We start baking like there's no tomorrow.
We sit down in her living room and turn on the TV. The president appears, heavy jowls quivering as he preaches. "Is your name on the salvation lists? Have you secured your ticket to Sanctuary? Search your soul--God only saves those who repent of their sin and welcome Him into their hearts." Dani changes the channel to an infomercial for a vacuum cleaner, a perky woman skipping through her house as music tinkles and dust vanishes from candy-colored surfaces.
"Perfect," Dani says.
She pulls her feet up onto the couch and rests her head on my shoulder. I put my arm around her. We eat two plates of cookies, the chocolate chips still liquid on our tongues.
Dani raises a glass of milk. "Happy end of the world," she says.
"Here's to the apocalypse," I reply, and clink my glass against hers. We drink.
The last of the cookies are gone. Dani's asleep, head resting in my lap, glasses folded and placed on the table, surrounded by crumbs.
I run my fingers through her hair. I hold her hand. I watch the sun rise outside the living room window, the sky an unusual shade of green.
Dani's still asleep when her parents come downstairs. Her mom doesn't say a word when she sees me on the couch, just leans over carefully so she doesn't wake Dani and hugs me around the shoulders. "I'm glad you're here, sweetie," she says. "Are you hungry? I'll make some French toast."
Dani blinks sleepily and shifts away from my lap as the smell of eggs and cinnamon fills the living room. "Good morning," she says automatically.
"Morning," I say, the "good" sticking in my throat.
"No paper today, hmm?" Dani's father says, and chuckles. "Leah, I'm stuck on yesterday's crossword. Want to take a look?"
Dani rolls her eyes as I reach eagerly for the newspaper and pen her father hands me. "Nerd," she says, and she kisses my cheek.
I solve the puzzle in minutes, and we've just started in on the French toast when the first clap of thunder rattles the house.
"Here we go," Dani's father says.
"All right, everyone," Dani's mother says. She scoops up a plate of French toast. Dani's father grabs the flashlight and emergency radio from the counter where they've been sitting for weeks. Dani picks up a chessboard. I glance out the window. A few miles away, a black finger of funnel cloud reaches down from the sky, laced with lightning and fire.
The lights flicker and go out. The wind starts.
We build a pillow fort in the basement, huddle together, finish our French toast. Some of the syrup gets on the blankets.
"Can we turn on the radio?" Dani's mother asks, two hours later. "Not news. Music. I think some music would really help us all right now."
I want to ask if she's crazy, but then thunder rumbles, shaking the basement floor, and I realize I don't want to hear the storm anymore, either.
The radio clicks on with "Party in the U.S.A.", and it feels good to fill the space with sound that almost drowns out the wind. Dani starts singing along, even though she's entirely tone deaf, and then her parents and I join in. It's loud and we scream it at the top of our lungs. When we get to a part where we don't know the words, Dani pushes aside the pillow door of our pillow fort and pulls me out into the cold, dark basement, spinning me around and around in a wild dance. Her parents emerge from the nest of pillows and blankets, too, and Dani's father starts dancing while her mom sort of sways back and forth.
Dani pulls me close, face flushed and eyes sparkling, her hands on my hips, and we dance together, breathless and wanton, as rain and wind lash the ruin of the house above our heads and four voices belt the chorus in four different keys. When the song ends, Dani wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me, right there in front of her parents, who don't seem to mind at all.
No one really knows what Sanctuary is--an underground bunker or magical moon colony, a spaceship or caravan of unmarked white government vehicles. I try to picture my friends and family happy and healthy and unafraid. I try to picture myself there with them.
It feels so far away. So glossy and postcard-perfect and unreal. Something out of a Sunday school brochure, but I never decided if I believed in God, and I certainly don't believe in Sanctuary.
All I can picture is this: the wind dying down by fractions as the darkness of the basement grows absolute and the flashlight beams start to flicker. A dinner of bottled water and saltine crackers and pre-cooked tofu on plates still sticky with maple syrup from breakfast.
The pillow fort made into two piles of pillows and blankets for sleeping. Dani awake. Me falling asleep in her lap this time, her fingers combing the knots from my hair with infinite gentleness. "I love you," she whispers. "I love you I love you I love you." Her parents snoring softly nearby. The chessboard abandoned in the middle of our ninth game, ready for us to resume playing if we wake up tomorrow morning.
The evening of the first day of the end of the world. Four of us, still here.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

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