A small woman hunkered on the floor, tears rolled from her red eyes while she screamed and cried. “No, not my Arthur. You’re lying.”
Two airport people tried to get her up off the ground, but she fought them, kicking out her feet and punching everybody who touched her.
Carter watched everything going on around him. Airport people ran from one end of the terminal to the other. Police talked to people, lead other people away, and whispered to themselves and people, people like him, just waited. Waited to find out . . .
Another burst of sirens startled Carter. He turned and looked toward the huge window. He swallowed hard, trying not to throw up as he watched the firefighters rushing to get to something off where he couldn’t see it. Fire engines and ambulances raced back and forth outside the windows. People in all different kinds of uniforms ran around yelling and bumping into each other.
The sky had started to turn dark and storm clouds gathered, blocking out what little sun was left. Carter turned and looked for Gloria, Mrs. Walden, his best friend Adam’s mom. Adam and his parents had brought Carter to the airport to pick up his parents who had been in England for almost a month. They’d been at the airport for almost an hour before things had gone wrong. Carter had never been this far into the airport before, and he wasn’t sure he liked it. Especially now.
A voice boomed out of the speakers in the ceiling. “We would like to ask everyone to please remain calm. Agents are working as quickly as possible to answer your questions.”
This just made people more upset. Women cried louder and men began shouting.
“Are you alone?” A young woman wearing a blue and white uniform laid her hand on his shoulder and Carter jumped.
For a minute, he thought maybe his heart would pound right out of his chest, but when he looked up at her, the look on her face made him feel a little better. If only someone would tell him what was going on.
“I’m here with my friend and his parents. We came to pick up my parents. They were in England. I’m sure Gloria went to get them to tell them where I am.”
“I want to know where my daughter is!” The man across the walkway yelled so loud, Carter stepped closer to the agent.
Not understanding what was going on, Carter stood as quiet as he could and just waited. A moment later, Gloria walked up and the agent moved away to talk to the angry man.
“Carter, sweetie, I need you to come with me. We’re going to go to a private room where it’s a little more quiet.”
“Is that where we’ll meet my mom and dad?” His stomach flip-flopped when she didn’t answer.
“If you can just come with me, sweetie, we’ll figure things out.” Gloria tried to pull him along with her, but Carter dug in his heals and jerked his hand away.
“I’m not a baby! I know something bad has happened, but if we just find my parents and go, all these people can figure their stuff out.”
Before she could say anything, a group of agents and two police officers walked up to the angry man who’d been yelling. They leaned in and talked softly to him. Suddenly, he raised his head back and screamed. Everyone around stopped and looked at him. The agents grabbed his arms and kept him from falling to floor. Carter swallowed hard; he figured something bad had happened to the man’s daughter.
“I just want my mom and dad.” The longer they stood there, the more upset people were getting. “Gloria.”
“Come with me.” Gloria took him by the hand and led him away from the crying man.
Carter pulled away and spun toward the window. For the first time, he could see exactly what was happening outside. Up until now, he’d figured that something had caught fire and the planes couldn’t get through. He’d heard the explosion, but never in a million gazillion years did he think that something like this could have happened.
He ran to the window and pushed past all the people gathered around. He shoved his elbow into people until they stepped back and let him through. When got to the window he saw everything. Several lanes away a plane–or half a plane–burned. Flames shot up from every direction while the firefighter fought to control the hoses gushing water up into the air.
The plane burned. Carter watched it burn until he couldn’t do it anymore. He leaned over and gagged, spewing his lunch all over the airport chairs lining the window. When he stood back up, he realized the horrible truth. No! No! No! Slowly he turned around and looked for Gloria. He found her standing several feet away, her hands over her mouth and tears rolling down her cheeks.
No! No! No! Carter turned back to the window, but immediately wished he hadn’t. They were far away, but he could see the rescue workers carrying dozens of huge black bags away from the burning plane. He’d watched enough television to know that each of those bags had a body in it. He wondered which of the bags held his mother and father.
Maybe all the time he’d been waiting he’d been trying to convince himself that his parents would walk down the hallway and they would all just go home. But now . . .
“Carter, please. Come with me, honey. Jack and Adam are waiting for us.”
“I have to know.”
You will. I promise. There are people who are waiting to talk to us.”
People? Talk? What the heck? The inside of his chest started to heat up and his chest got so tight he could barely breathe. The taste of puke in his mouth made him want to barf again, but he hated throwing up, so he fought back the burning in his throat. Deep breaths, his mother would tell him. In and out. In and out. She could always make him feel better.
Carter turned away from Gloria and looked out the window. The sun had almost completely disappeared and now he could see the ashes and flecks of burning stuff floating in the air. Tears filled his eyes as he watched them float away. Like the fireflies. Fireflies, the dang fireflies. Why did he have to think about them now?
Too tired to stand up anymore, Carter let himself fall down to the floor. People around him stepped back, most of them looking sad and angry, but then they began to move back in toward him.
“No!” he scooted back away from the closest person. “Don’t touch me!”
“Carter. Please let me–“
“I said don’t touch me. This is my fault. I did this.”
Gloria rushed to him and landed hard on her knees on the floor. She reached out, but he just opened his mouth and screamed. She jerked back liked she’d been–burned.
“I was made when they left and I wanted her to spend that last night watching the fireflies with me.” Carter, sobbing now, kept shaking his head. “She said she had too much to do. She said I was old enough to do it on my own.”
“Oh, Carter, your mother–“
“Mother is dead. Isn’t she?” Carter wiped his sleeve across his face and frowned at the wad of snot that streaked across it. What a baby! She’d been wrong; he wasn’t old enough. He needed her. He couldn’t do anything without her. Nothing.
“We need to go and talk to the people handling all this. They’ll be able to tell us everything. They will answer all your questions.” Gloria reached out for him, but he ignored her hand.
“They can tell me all kinds of stuff, but they can’t answer all my questions.” Carter pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs.
She brushed his hair back out of his eyes and for a minute he forgot that she wasn’t his mom, then he looked at her. She didn’t look anything like his mom. His mom had beautiful long red hair and she had the funny little freckles on her nose and cheeks that he would count every chance he could, just to see if there were more or less than the time before. His mom had the brightest green eyes that sparkled whenever she looked at him, or his dad, or when she laughed. Gloria looked nothing like his mom.
Carter raised his head and looked her square in the face. “Are my mom and dad dead?”
Gloria started to cry. “Oh, Carter, I’m so sorry. They said no one on the plane survived. They said that when the plane flipped, most everyone probably died right away.”
The dozens of people milling around and waiting for the news of their family and friends all stopped and looked at Gloria. All of a sudden Carter felt really bad for her. A lot of the people he’d been listening to didn’t know anything about their families. Gloria had just told them all they were all dead. Gloria looked around as all the other just stared at her. Man it had to suck to be her.
No, Carter thought, it sucks to be me. I don’t have a mom and dad. I had a mom and dad when I woke up this morning. But now . . . I don’t have anyone?
“Carter, we need to go. You can ask all the questions you want.”
“I told you, they can’t answer my questions.”
Gloria tugged at his hand and he let her pull him up off the floor.
“Gloria, can they tell me why my mom and dad are dead?” He knew the answer. He wasn’t stupid. He was actually pretty smart. But, he thought, not smart enough to tell your mom you love her and that you aren’t really made at her because she is too busy to watch fireflies in the backyard. When he thought about it, Carter figured he was actually pretty dumb. Now he would never be able to tell his mom he loved her.
As Gloria led him through the crowd of people who had gone from really mad to quiet and sad, he looked back at the window one last time. The number of bags on the ground had tripled. Carter’s heart hurt, really really hurt. Mostly because he had no idea which of the black bags had his mom and dad inside them.
That’s what Carter had left, he realized, two big black bags. Nothing else.