The final rise of the eastern sun.
The tranquil sunrise cast untold shadows across the city. The orange light was reflected in her dark eyes. Long shadows slithered onto her face and made her appear older than she was.
Ioni was settled at the local cafe, her nails tapping impatiently against the wooden table. It was now, just before the sun rose fully into the sky, that she called the Golden Hour. Even though people weren’t usually awake at this early hour, there were a few lingerers at the cafe door.
She let out a cloudy breath. It was chillier than yesterday’s dawn, she noticed. But Ioni wouldn’t let herself shiver. Shivering would show weakness.
She knew the waiter was coming to her table before he even stepped outside into the courtyard.
He was brown-eyed and proud. “Can I get you anything today?”
She didn’t want to have any trouble with the boy. “Coffee. Black.”
He nodded, smiling cruelly but cleverly disguised it with a wink.
Heels clicked against the pavement, and Ioni recognized them as Raquel’s. The waiter’s eyes washed over her, the corner of his mouth curving up more as a result of her blinding beauty.
“And anything for you, miss?”
Raquel shot him a vicious look. She grabbed the back of a chair and pulled it out from under the table. Plopping down in the seat, she made a dismissive gesture with her hand.
The waiter hesitated for a second, but his pride got the better of him, and he strode back into the cafe.
Ioni and Raquel were silent. The verbal greetings hung in the air, unsaid, and replaced by polite nods.
The courtyard was a small area surrounded by a thick wooden fence. There were rickety tables littered everywhere, and at the far end there was a tiny flower garden. In it grew fiery orange marigolds that shone brighter than the sun. Planted next to them were some dainty violet flowers that Ioni didn’t recognize. It was unusual coming across something Ioni hadn’t seen or heard of before. Omniscient. It was a word she liked to use to describe herself. All-knowing.
Snapping back into reality, Ioni found her eyes flicking over to Raquel, who was already staring at her. Both women said nothing. Years of feuds and fights and momentary peace were embedded in their hard gazes. Ioni was younger than Raquel, and maybe less experienced, but she was wiser. Raquel was also smart, but she was noticeably egocentric. This proved itself to be a problem when Ioni had an opinion about something and Raquel had the opposite opinion.
Someone cleared their throat aggressively behind them.
They whipped their heads around to see Tanner stumbling nervously through the courtyard. His hands were jammed in his sweatpants pockets, and his hair looked tousled by the wind. Through his round glasses, his green eyes first landed on Raquel, sweeping up and down her once, and then rested on Ioni.
“Ladies,” he acknowledged.
Raquel gave him one of her annoyed looks. She scooted her chair in while he took the chair next to her.
Ioni smiled tightly. “Tanner. Did you bring what I asked?”
He nodded quickly, his eyes darting anxiously to Raquel. Her expression was blank. Fishing into the large pocket of his coat, he revealed something that resembled a small white box. When the three of them looked closer, they could actually see what it was.
A camera. Small and white with a big black circle in the center.
“A polaroid camera,” Raquel remarked, clearly interested now. “Those things are so old.”
Ioni took the camera out of Tanner’s pale hands. “A picture is worth one thousand words.” She took a shot of the almost-risen sun, and immediately the camera started humming.
Tanner was staring at the camera with curiosity and satisfaction. Raquel could tell he wanted the old camera back in his safe possession, but Ioni had asked for it, so he got it.
“Ioni told me she needed the camera to capture our last day on this planet. She’s been writing a lot of letters and diary entries, but nothing compares to a picture of the actual sun rising for the last time.” His eyes were wet, glossing over as he gulped and watched the morning sun.
Ioni snapped out of her trance, observing the tiny photo be ejected from the camera. “The boy with the secrets,” she commanded, “where is he?”
“Jack mentioned he’d be late. Sorry. I forgot to tell you.” Tanner kicked one of the gravel stones.
Ioni liked to call Jack ‘the boy with the secrets’ because he was the most mysterious of all of them. They had only ever seen his face once before. It had been a deep shade of chestnut with cold gray eyes. He didn’t speak much, either. Tanner had no idea why he was even a part of their group. Raquel despised him just because Ioni had admitted him. He did what she asked. He supported their cause.
Raquel frowned deeply. “Jack spoke to you?”
Tanner tried to hide his guilty smirk by turning his head away and coughing.
Sitting up straighter in her chair, Ioni’s eyes flicked to Tanner’s. She sighed, placing both of her hands flat on the table. The boy with the secrets is never late, she thought. She wasn’t worried, just concerned. What was more important than their last meeting before the end of time?
Ioni knew the waiter was approaching them. She gave Raquel and Tanner warning looks. Be careful what you say.
The brown-eyed boy was balancing a tray with a blue mug on his forearm. His other arm hung limply at his side. He smiled his blazing smile towards Raquel. She closed her eyes in irritated embarrassment.
“Your coffee,” he put the mug on the rickety table with a clang. Some coffee spilled over the side, making little brown tracks where it ran down the side of the mug.
Ioni nodded a thanks without smiling. The waiter’s eyes swept past Raquel to Tanner. At first he was going to ask if he wanted anything, but yet again his pride got the better of him, and he stomped away.
Tapping her fingers against the table, she watched the black coffee swirl around. Tanner stared at her, his face twisted with thirst.
“Are you going to drink that?” he asked Ioni uncomfortably. She shook her head, sliding it over to him. Tanner was too thirsty to ask why she wasn’t going to drink the coffee she ordered. He took several long gulps and slammed the mug back down on the table.
Raquel glanced at him with disgust and noticed how his lower lip was now stained brown. “Go ahead,” she rolled her eyes, “drink like an animal. After all, it’s the last day you’ll be able to have coffee.”
Tanner’s eyes widened in realization. He sipped more coffee.
Ioni’s eyes looked far away. “What will you miss most about this world?”
Raquel’s lips parted in surprise of her question. “Nothing,” she said flatly. Then she hesitated. “That’s a lie. I will miss the amusing secrets of the humans. And laminating machines. They save important papers from getting wet.”
Tanner wanted to laugh, but he couldn’t. His heart ached. He would miss so many things . . . “I’m gonna miss coffee and jelly donuts. Parrots because they can talk, and cats because they are so graceful. I’m going to miss the sun and the moon and the stars. I’ll miss technology and iphones and robots. I’ll miss my rainbow keyboard.” He stopped. Talking about what he was going to miss made him miss more. Soon he was going to cry, and he didn’t want this group to see him cry. He was tougher than this. “And lastly, I’ll miss our meetings. They made me feel special.”
Raquel rolled her eyes, and Tanner wondered if he had gotten too emotional. Ioni was expressionless, still staring into nothingness.
All three of them were silent. Each one of them knew the other was thinking about what they were going to miss. Raquel was batting her eyelashes, looking through them to see the beautiful courtyard and garden. Tanner’s eyes were twitching, so he shut them tight and saw a burst of colors forming an image. It was of him, Ioni, and Raquel overlooking a world that was on fire. Burning down to a crisp with nothing left behind but flames. He didn’t think it would actually appear like this when they ended the world, but he knew it wouldn’t be pretty. Just seeing the image in his mind made him choke with tears. It’s not real, he told himself, not yet.
“Ioni,” Raquel said abruptly, “what are you going to miss?” She turned her chair with a squeak to face her.
Ioni’s eyes snapped to her, and Raquel felt fear sliding down her spine. She met her gaze.
Reflected in Ioni’s eyes was the world she would miss. The sky, the sun, the cafe, the courtyard, the garden, the little violet flowers. Raquel saw herself in the reflection, her light features and blond hair, always twisted into a bun that perched on her head. Would Ioni miss Raquel? Or Tanner?
Instead of saying all these things, Ioni was silent. She twiddled her thumbs, which was something she didn’t do very often. She didn’t want to appear vulnerable to them, so she decided to ignore her question. “I think this meeting is over. You are all welcome to go now. Tanner, please inform Jack that I’ll meet with him separately. I’ll contact him the details.” She closed her eyes, lips tight.
Raquel nodded once, and got up. She was always first to leave. The group didn’t want to be seen leaving together. It would be suspicious and awkward. She stepped back into the cafe without a goodbye.
Tanner was next. He took a last sip of his coffee and stood. Pushing his chair in, he waved at Ioni. She only smiled lightly. He edged back into the cafe.
Ioni tilted her head up to the sky. Her face felt wet as if she had nuzzled it into the clouds. It wasn’t because of tears, she reminded herself. It was because it was her last day.
She gulped, thinking about how she was both dreading and looking forward to the final setting of the western sun.