I could still smell smoke in the air when we got out of the car, Hannah's Jetta parked along the side of the highway, the crash somewhere to our right. Apparently the pilots had tried to land on the highway, then realized that there would be too many casualties, and headed for the forest instead. Good for all the cars. Bad for everyone on board.
I had prepared myself for anything and was still surprised when we pushed through the trees and saw the plane. It looked surprisingly intact. I understood why Nicole was in one piece; the back half of the plane was all there, minus the right wing. The front half - the nose - was worse. Crumpled. I stared at it and sent a quick prayer upward, the pilots in my thoughts.
We were let through the security perimeter, and were then stopped by a firefighter with a big stomach and hard face who was adamant that we not set foot on the plane, damn Nicole's Birkin. I swallowed any explanations of a Birkin's expense or the heights of Nicole's fury before I looked like an idiot. Instead, I asked him when he thought I would be able to go on board.
It was a long moment before he responded, his words preempted by a long, aggravated sigh. "One hour." He finally said. "And then only one of you is getting on, and I want you there less than five minutes, you got that?"
I nodded, thanked him, and stepped away before he changed his mind. Turning back to the wood, my eyes skipped over people. They were everywhere, trudging through the trees, collecting pieces of the plane, tagging things, pointing, yelling working. There had to be twenty of them, a combination of firefighters and police. I couldn't believe, with all of them, that Chanel hadn't been seen, that she hadn't run up to one of them, her tail wagging, tongue hanging out.
Before us, past the row of emergency personnel, there were about fifty acres of trees. On the other side, another highway. I had called a veterinarian while we were en route to the crash site and had grabbed five tins of Caesar's, the puppy crack that Nicole had banned, from a rest stop. I could see the cars and tractor trailers speed down the highway, just past the trees. I clutched the bag of Caesar's and hoped that Chanel hadn't made it that far.
Carter called me twice during our search. I silenced the phone both times, my voice already hoarse from calling Chanel's name, the entire situation too long to explain.
I felt a moment of relief when I silenced it the second time and he didn't call back. Climbing over a fallen tree limb I compared, for the tenth time since embarking on this relationship, the difference between him and Vic. Vic would have - had I ever ignored two of his calls - power-called me until my phone died from the battery drain. At the tenth missed call, he would have someone at Verizon trying to track my phone. By the twentieth missed call, he'd be there, in front of me, half-furious at me for ignoring his calls, half-panicked that I was either dead or cheating on him.
It was refreshing that I could ignore Carter's calls and not have him freak out. Yet another reason that he was better, in so many ways, than Vic. I pushed both of them out of my mind and walked deeper into the woods, hearing Hannah's faint call from somewhere to my left. I turned right and shouted Chanel's name as loud as I could, waving the Caeser's opened meal in the air.
By Alessandra Torre
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