An Angel's Fix Pt. 06byphotodad©
"Heads down! Arms front!" The mantra shouted repeatedly by the flight attendant was starting to get strained and cracked, then grew quieter and almost to herself. Aside the fluctuating engine noise from the engines as the pilots feathered the throttles, the cabin was eerily quiet, Kim noticed. There were a few sniffles sprinkled with quiet Oh My God's, and Ashley was mumbling something in what Kim guessed was more than one language. Whatever it was, she didn't understand the words.
Kim for her part was quietly content. Her inner thoughts were amused at the oddity of that. In occasional nightmares, she was hysterical, running and screaming toward or from whatever threatened her slumber. Kim had always figured that's how she'd react in reality. But now that she was in a real nightmare, she felt that she had reconciled things with Ashley, and Ashley was at her side. This was as good a place and time as any for it to all end. That is, as long as it was quick.
"As long as it's quick," she breathed her last words before the left side wheels skipped down the pavement of the runway.
* * *
"What is with you Jill?" her cheer partner, Ken, asked. "It's like trying to balance a sack of corn up there."
She glanced again at her sorority section, and still four of her friends were missing. "They should have been here by now. Something must have happened," she frowned.
"Yeah, they're probably hung over like the rest of the student section," Ken retorted. He was in a foul mood, frustrated at the open spaces in front of them. Usually for a rival game, the stadium was packed a couple of hours ahead of the kickoff, but this year was CBS's turn for the game. ABC would have moved the game to prime time given the high ranking of both schools this year. But for some reason, CBS went the other way to an 11:30 start, meaning the louder and more rowdy students were still sleeping it off. Ken surmised that CBS had the SEC in their pocket, and the move in kickoff time was done to benefit the visiting Gators. It didn't help matters that their team also seemed to be sleeping in, as they were currently getting trounced.
The cheerleaders were divided in half so they could cover both sides of the stadium, moving counter-clockwise between cheers. The co-captain stopped their group to do a "Scalp 'Em" cheer.
"You don't understand," Jill continued as they started walking again. "Ashley and Kim are flying back from Atlanta this morning."
An off-duty deputy working field security nearby overheard that. "Did you say Atlanta? A call came over the radio that a plane from Atlanta is in trouble."
Jill's eyes went wide open. "But they're gonna be okay, right?"
FSU got a rare third down stop and the quiet crowd kicked up a few decibels. "They were sending twelve of our units to the airport, that's all I know," the deputy called into her ear with a shrug.
"Oh my God." Jill started shaking then sprinted along the retaining wall, heading for their bench on the opposite corner. She just had to reach her phone. Ken was close on her heels. With fumbling fingers, she swiped the lockout bar, but there were no texts nor any missed call notifications.
"They'll be here," he said while putting an arm around her shoulder. "Come on, let's rejoin our squad so you won't overthink it, okay?" he coaxed while gently guiding her away from their bench.
On the way back, she paused at the deputy, making him promise to give her updates when he saw her come around again. It usually takes them about 45 minutes to make a circuit around the stadium, but the 'Noles seemed to finally wake up. They were leading cheers more frequently now, and it seemed that every three minutes, Ken would hoist her to sit on his shoulder to do the first down cheer. And then the crowd started yelling, followed by a large roar. Jill groaned as she clenched her pom poms tighter, rightly expecting Ken's hands to grab her waist from behind. She halfheartedly bounced to give him an assist, and heard him grunt as she was lifted up to his shoulder just when the band fired up. The good guys had finally scored, but the last thing she wanted was another delay in seeing the deputy again.
Two quick turnovers were turned into scores, and when the crowd roared at the second one, Jill moaned "Fuck me!" She affected her now-habit perma-grin for the TV camera to take yet another shot up her skirt, but Ken grunted "Fuck it!" before the expected red light came on and pulled Jill toward the wall with him. She almost didn't notice his arms were still bulging from the previous exertions, or that he was practically panting to catch his breath. The celebration cheering ended and the co-captain came over with the others to ask what was wrong. The guys and gals gave her a group hug after she explained her fears, and the co-captain told the pair to sit out the halftime performance.
Now temporarily freed from her obligations, Jill strode the perimeter of the field to find the deputy. She was somewhat surprised that Ken tagged along. "You're my partner" was all he said when she asked why. Hopeful for good news, she found her news source, but her heart fell as she saw his shoulders heave in a heavy sigh when they made eye contact.
"The plane crashed," he told her. "The only other information I know is that they transported two females to the hospital in critical condition. I'm sorry."
A sharp chill went through her. "But what about the others?" she stammered.
"I'm sorry. I don't know."
"The two...how old?" Jill asked, praying against hope for an answer that matched her wish.
"Thirty something, not sure...hey...whoa!" He and Ken had to grab her since her knees had buckled. "Okay sweetie, okay. Put your nose between your knees," he said as they set her down on one of the back Gator benches.
He looked at Ken and Ken explained that she was expecting two of her best friends on a flight from Atlanta. Ken rubbed her back gently as she bent forward and sobbed. A team doctor from UF strode over and the deputy explained simply that she received very bad news and nearly passed out. He nodded, went away briefly and returned with a squirt bottle of water.
Handing the mascot emblazoned container to Ken he said, "I know it's not y'all's colors, but it's a clean, new one. Try to get her to sip some." He was genuinely thanked by Ken and then continued, "If she needs to go somewhere, my car's at the gate with the other doctors'. Let me know and I'll have one of our equipment managers take her," he offered before returning to his team duties. Jill finally took her first sip after much encouragement from the deputy and Ken. The officer stayed a while, but a scuffle broke out between two drunk guys in his section and he hopped the wall to take care of it. They did not see him again that afternoon. About mid way through the halftime show, Jill felt strong enough to make it back to their own bench.
There she checked her phone, already knowing in her heart that it didn't hold any answers. She straddled the bench and put the phone down between her legs, waiting for the dreaded call from Joe or Jasmine. Ken sat facing her and opened his arms. Her head fell forward and she allowed him to cradle it against his shoulder while she alternated between heavy sighs and deep sobs. Looking back later on, it surprised her that when she did, she faced him instead of facing away. Their teammates stopped by for water and to check on her, but Ken just shook his head slightly. They would move off, most felt deep pangs of empathy, while the others who knew Ashley felt the same fear and uncertainty Jill did, but to a lesser degree. For Jill, an eternity seemed to tick by.
Suddenly, she realized Ken had said something and it was aimed at her.
"What?" she foggily asked.
"Don't you hang out with a redhead?"
"Her name is Ashley," Jill blurted with a bit more irritation than she intended, but that's what she was feeling.
"Well, isn't that her?"
"What?!" She followed with her eyes where he was pointing. From this distance, she could make out a girl with red hair making her way up the stands, followed by a male and two females. Robotic, Jill got up and made her way down the length of the sideline to check it out. When she reached the closest wall, the four were squeezing down the row to their seats, backs turned toward the field. The game had started again and the crowd wailed and groaned as the bad guys returned a kick for a score. Jill just couldn't wait for any of the possibilities to turn and face her.
"Ashley!" she called, feeling like her voice was swallowed up by the thrum of the crowd. But instantly, the red head snapped in her direction. "What the hell?" she muttered while at the same time relief washed over her entire body.
"Leg up?" Ken was already next to her, fingers interlaced at knee level, ready to give her a boost.
Jill stepped into his hold and she felt like she was taking off to fly. She gave a little hop at the apex of his upward thrust, and just like that, she was over the wall and scampering up the stadium steps. Ashley had reversed course and was working to slip back past Joe, Jasmine, and Kim. When Jill reached their row, Ashley and Kim made it to the end and were greeted with strong hugs and rapid kisses from Jill.
Jill choked back the last of her tears and called over the crowd into Ashley's ear, "but I was told a plane crashed..."
Ashley and Kim looked at each other wearily and Ashley leaned into Jill and called back, "it was definitely our plane, and it definitely crashed!"
Jill was confused. Elated to see her friends, but very confused. "But how...? There's not a scratch or bump on you! Either of you!"
"My back hurts..." Ashley began.
"Mine too!" interjected Kim.
Ashley gave Kim an apology look. "OUR backs hurt a bit, but yeah, we're okay!"
Jill gave them an awed look and about that time the sorority sisters at the periphery of their huddle figured out the bits they overheard. Almost at the same time were multiple shouts, "Wait! Y'all were in a plane crash?! When?"
Ashley gave a large, almost embarrassed, smile and rolled her eyes. "YES! We were in a plane crash this morning! I'll tell everyone about it at the after-game party at the House!"
The other girls were placated at this assurance, but Jill was still transfixed on Ashley and Kim. "I just... I just..." she stammered. Joe and Jasmine had made their way over to join the huddle. She swatted at both of them, one for each hand. "Why the FUCK didn't you call me?!" she yelled, punctuated by the most angry frown any of them had seen.
Joe stoically replied, "Ash didn't let us. She pushed us to get here as quick as we could, and their luggage is still at the airport."
Jill looked at Jasmine sternly, but quickly softened when she saw that Jasmine was still visibly shaken from what she had witnessed.
Ashley used the pause to shift gears. "Okay, so who's ahead?" She glanced at the scoreboard and did a quick suck through her teeth. "Ouch, not us."
The abrupt turn did it's trick. Jill said, "we've made it much closer than it was." Just then the crowd groaned as FSU's quarterback fumbled the ball and Florida returned it for a score. "...Or at least we had..." she finished.
"Well, your team needs you!" Ashley prodded. "Get back down there!"
Jill did as Ashley bade. She hopped the rail and Ken caught her to soften the landing just as he routinely did when they performed basket tosses.
The game had flashes of hope for their school. Jill mostly returned to her standout form, and Ashley screamed for her team as if her life depended on it. But, more opportunities were missed, and pressure affected their quarterback to a point of collapse in skill. The final outcome was yet another disappointment for fans, as yet another national title chance within their grasp slipped away.
They were walking among the throng of grumbling fans toward the sorority house and at one point Ashley commented to Joe that he would have done better in the game. He looked at her in surprise but said nothing. Usually the post-game party at The House was rather low key and sparse of participants, as most of the members accompanied their flings at the respective frat parties. But word of Ashley's promise to relate the event of the morning got around, and the House was packed. She was pressed a number of times about what happened, but Ashley waved off each request by saying she wanted to unwind a bit. After a few beers were consumed by all and Joe had set out his last batch of what he called "well-dressed 'tato skins," Jill headed to the rear deck outside for a smoke. Close behind was Jasmine then Kim, who thought this would be an opportunity to patch things as directed by Ashley, who followed to be with her friends. Ashley's exit started a flood of young people heading out, not wanting to miss the story. Jill fished the pack out from the back pocket of her jeans, pulled a stick out and put it in her mouth. A guard hired by the sorority for these parties came up to Jill and said someone at the door asked to see her. Jill had almost put the lighter to the end when the request came.
"Of course," she grumbled around her cigarette before returning it to the box. She followed the guard to the front door and stopped short in surprise and confusion. "Ken?! What are you doing here?"
"Just wanted to see how you're doing, you know after...well...after..." Her partner hesitated while he studied her eyes, then chuckled. "I guess you're better than okay," he finished after seeing them dilated but sparkling.
"Yeah," she giggled lightly. "I've had a few. You wanna come in?"
He followed her to the back of the house, and it became very apparent the reason for the security and invite-only admission as they walked through the richly appointed mansion. Jill led him to her friends, took up her spot where her cup was still sitting on the rail, and made some quick introductions. She fished out her pack again, this time successfully lighting her vice.
"What the hell?!" Ken admonished.
Jill touched his hand as a signal to relax. "Just when I drink," she said after drawing and exhaling a puff. "I used to smoke more." She caught Jasmine's look of request and handed her the pack and lighter. Jasmine lit up, drew in a long drag, and sighed heavily as she slowly exhaled.
Her sigh caught Ashley's attention. "Jasmine!" she exclaimed with Joe standing behind her, arms wrapped lovingly around her belly. "I haven't seen you smoke since...like...well, ever!"
Jasmine scowled. "Shut up! After seeing what I did this morning, with blood splattered over you and Kim, I fucking want a damn cigarette!" She gave her stick a long draw in defiance.
Mary, the sorority president, came up to Joe, and Ashley gave his arms a permissive pat when he was told that the keg needed changing out. He left to do the chore, and Ashley responded to Ken's questioning look. "Joe works the kitchen here," she explained.
Ken had been sizing up Joe and Ashley since Jill introduced them, and not without Jill noticing. He'd seen them around Jill before or after practice occasionally, but this was his first personal interaction with them. The unspoken affectionate reassurances between the couple make it click in his head as to who they were. "Wait! You're the couple that was in the student paper last fall!"
Ashley looked at him blankly, but a nearby sophomore date of one of the other girls spoke up after taking a swig from his cup. "Yeah, y'all were in our paper after your high school game here last year. Joe was supposed to be our savior."
Buzzed, Jill spoke without thinking. "He might still be. He says..." she realized that the Thanksgiving conversation was not public knowledge and cut herself short. Jasmine just shook her head.
Ashley frowned, a bit incensed that she didn't know what Joe was thinking about. "He said what, exactly?" she asked, looking first at Jill, then Jasmine.
Jill worked herself out of the pickle. "So what did happen this morning? How bad was the crash?"
Ashley didn't have a chance to rebuke the subject change, as the crowd around them all but chanted for her to share the story. Between the views of herself, Kim, and Jasmine, they painted the picture of the events of the mishap. First was how the one wheel wouldn't come down, and the numerous passes over the runway to free it. Jasmine also related how on one pass, a guy standing on the bed of a speeding pickup attempted to grab and pull on the faulty gear. It didn't seem to work. After the hard bank came the actual landing attempt, and fire/rescue sprayed the runway with foam in preparation. The pilot banked slightly the other way to put the weight of the plane on the good wheel. Then he dropped the nose, keeping the weight on the front and left wheels for as long as possible. The plane sped down the runway, spraying the foam everywhere. As it neared the end, the right wheel touched down, and for a moment, seemed to hold. But, the plane was just running out of pavement, and the pilot had no choice but use the wheel brakes. The gear collapsed, dropping the right wing into the grass and jarring everyone inside. The wing dug into the grass and pulled the plane sharply right until it rested 90 degrees to where it was traveling. Jasmine shuddered when Ashley and Kim related what happened at the same time as the spin.
"It sounded like rain," Kim began.
"More like someone turning a fire hose on the plane," added Ashley.
Kim nodded. "Yeah, and at first I thought that's what it was. But then the ladies in the row ahead of us started screaming."
"It was an awful sound," Ashley lamented. Her voice had been hoarse from screaming at the game, but was now turning tighter as the event was rehashed. "Their screams came from their gut...I don't know how to describe it."
"But it wasn't a fire hose?" one of the junior sisters asked, breathless.
Jasmine shook her head, tears in her eyes. "The propeller," she croaked.
"It struck the ground and shattered, spraying itself, foam, bits of runway, grass and dirt against the side of the plane," Kim elaborated.
Ashley sighed, and it was clear the event had finally sank in her head. Telling the story was getting to her. "Some of the stronger and sharper pieces punched through and sliced up the ladies' legs ahead of us." The deck was silent now, and it was a while before Ashley collected herself enough to finish. "So, once everything stopped, I, Kim, and the flight attendant gave them first aid. Luckily she had several spare demonstration seat belts we used as tourniquets. I hope they can keep their legs," she mused as she ended.
"Prayer answered," Joe said as he came up behind her, wrapping his arms around as he previously did. "It was just on the news. Doctors are confident in full recoveries, and they're calling y'alls' actions heroic, as you saved their lives."
"Wow," said a fellow new member in awe. "How'd you know what to do?"
Ashley responded factually, "swim class...like everyone else, right?" There were blank looks all around. "In my class in California, they made us all learn Red Cross first aid and CPR before we got in the water. Doesn't everybody?" Several shakes of heads answered her. "Well, that explains some things," she grumbled.
Joe looked over her shoulder and her pained and somewhat angry face confirmed what he guessed. "Okay," he announced. "I think she's had enough for tonight, so we're gonna head on."
Ashley received many hugs and a few light pecks from the girls as they said good night. Then she and Joe disappeared through the back door to head for his car out front. Kim was prodded by Jill to finish up the story, and she related how the flight attendant opened the emergency exit and slide to evacuate most everybody. Once the plane had been cleared except for the pilots, flight attendant, the injured ladies, herself and Ashley, the EMT's boarded the plane and attended to the ladies. Then, firefighters helped her and Ashley out of the plane, since the slide had been removed. They were greeted by several officers who interviewed them about what they witnessed, and then escorted to a bus to shuttle them to the terminal. Joe and Jasmine found them very quickly, but their faces were as if they saw ghosts.