The penguin never stopped changing colors but it always kept its smile.
Will Hudson sat on his back staring at the ceiling and thinking about tomorrow. He wondered how Emma would do when he wasn’t there to hold her hand. Odds were high that she’d pitch a fit, but she’d live. Eventually she’d get back to the habit of not needing Daddy by her side in order to fall asleep. She was four, not one, and she needed to be a little more independent like her twin sister.
Sometimes he’d fall asleep next to this bed staring at the Dreamlite show above him. There were two of them, actually. A penguin and a unicorn. Will wished he had come up with an idea like this. A new spin on night-lights. Putting lights into stuffed animals that shoot up on the ceiling and immerse the kids’ rooms into some kind of dreamlike night-sky fantasy.
Maybe they need a writer to make a series of books based on the animals.
Will thought that actually wasn’t a bad idea. Of course, publishing for the most part had been put on hold lately. Just like a lot of things. When the end of the world starts to happen, people don’t see the real urgency for things like publishing new books.
He started to slide his hand out of Emma’s grip but she grabbed at it even harder. He let out an impatient sigh, then settled back in.
There was a list of things he needed to do tonight. As always, his urgency level was at a ten. Just like it had been for the last few years. Three, four years? Well, definitely four years. Definitely since the twins had been born. But even before.
The penguin kept grinning as it danced with the unicorn. Good for them. It was better that he kept his urgency level and let the rest of the family—at least the girls—feel like everything was okay.
Everything is okay. The girls are healthy and we have a home and we are all alive.
There were lots of families who couldn’t say that these days.
Still, those same clouds always seemed to cover him, turning even the most sparkling lights above into grays and black. He closed his eyes and wondered if he was making the right decision. To leave his family now, in the midst of the chaos happening all around them. The Chicago area hadn’t been hit too bad—there had been some bad tornadoes in central Illinois last summer, and the winter so far had been brutal. But it was nothing like the rest of the country. Especially both coasts.
Random nuggets of thoughts fell all around him. There were too many to focus on individually. They all added up to a hailstorm battering down over his head.
Soon he heard the faint breathing from the bed next to him. Will slowly pulled his hand away from her grip and then moved up on his knees. He could see Emma’s sweet, round face positioned straight up toward the lights. Once again, Will felt this tug at him, this sad little pull that told him not to leave her. To not leave them. Especially tonight.
He moved over and gently kissed her forehead above her closed eyes. Then he moved a few feet across the room on his hands and knees to the other bed. Ashley was buried in the blanket, her blonde locks covering the portion of her face that stuck out of it. Will brushed those locks back and then gave her a kiss too, staring at the beautiful angel beneath him. She shifted and pulled away like she always did. Emma was the affectionate one, Ashley the feisty princess. Their big sister, Claire, was the comedian and the commander of the troops.
God watch over them. Watch over all of them while I’m gone.
The thought felt strange. Prayers like these had stopped coming. They used to be regular. But a lot of things used to be regular. They didn’t seem so urgent now simply because they didn’t seem to do any good.
If you ever hear these prayers please hear them now.
Will stood up and then began to walk out of the room. Feeling another wave of dread washing over him.
Another wave . . .
He wondered how many times the word “wave” had been uttered in the last six months. Many times. Too many times.
They said the west coast had been due for a tsunami like the kind that hit Japan back in 2011. That’s what everyone had been saying since last summer, but Will could never remember hearing one person ever mention it before both of the tidal waves struck. Maybe because it didn’t concern him. Or maybe because he lived in a Chicago suburb, far away from the desolation in southern California and Washington.
Most people don’t expect the worst to happen until it already does.
Will looked back at the twin beds and the two precious lives sleeping in them.
Most people don’t happen to be novelists who always imagine the worse.
He slipped out of the room and pulled the door behind him, telling himself he’d see them again very soon.
Novelists can also lie to themselves very easily.