I felt the sickening lump in my stomach threaten to shoot itself out of my mouth as the rest of my family cried in morbid celebration around me. That lump had a name: guilt. And it was 100% deserved.
“I can’t believe it,” my mom sobbed, “thank God you’re safe, you made it out, and it’s okay now.”
Nothing was okay.
“Brea, you are the luckiest girl on Earth, to be alive right now, to be home with the rest of us,” My father turned his ocean gray eyes to mine, relief flooding their salty waves.
I was anything but lucky.
“Sis,” whispered 8 year-old Mia, a strand of honey hair grazing the top of her eyelashes, “did the subway station really blow up?”
And now, when it no longer mattered, when it was too late to save so many lives, my voice decided to surface at last. “I’m home. I’m home, safe, alive, and not blown up. I want to be alone.”
The gray February sky of New York nodded to me somberly, the door clicking closed behind me. I had dashed all ten blocks home, escaping the sound of his voice, just to leave and go back. Criminals always return to the site of the crime. I guess I was no exception.
“How to make home-made explosives”, the bold title read, with a picture of little sacks of gunpowder beside it. Geren had wanted them, for his science project, he said, just a little experiment on how certain chemicals react when burned. Nothing big, nothing too dangerous. Just a little science experiment.
I heard wails nearing me, and a little girl thumped her head into the back of my leg, her tearstained face crying for reprieve. “Mama…” she whimpered, “Mama…”
My hands reached for her shivering fingers, steering her towards one of the many policemen patrolling the area, helping families reunite as workers dug people out from the broken wreckage of what used to be the 57th Street subway station. She was too tired to resist.
“Mama…” she cried again, but there was no Mama around to scoop her up into her arms, and there may never be that Mama again. All because of me.
“Here, Geren! I found the recipe for you, and even made one myself! I haven’t tried to see if it works yet, but I’m sure it does!”
Cold green eyes stared back at me, and snatched the sack from my eager hands. “Thanks, but I don’t need you anymore. Get lost, Brea.”
Shock. Disbelief. Denial. Despair.
The little girl wrapped her skinny arms around my leg, shying away from the policeman. I bent down and placed my warm blue ski hat over her tangled mass of hair, calming her with gentle words to stay with the kindly officer. A little act of kindness to the canyons of hurt I had caused today. It was worth next to nothing.
All around me, New Yorkers rushed like beavers across the streets, fixing the dam that had failed them. In a few weeks, it would look like everything was back to normal. But there were still those hundreds of lives that could never be returned.
“Hello stranger. I am calling to inform you that in approximately two minutes, this subway station will explode. Why am I telling you this? Because I am not an unreasonable person – I believe in giving everyone a fair chance. It is your choice whether to believe me or not, and it is your choice as to what you do with my warning. Good-bye.”
And there, before me, lay the abyss that had once been the station, and was now an anthill full of frantic people. I stopped before the orange caution tape, and watched as tears were shed, both of anguish and relief. My throat filled with sand, and guilt invaded me once again. Just one word, one warning, anything would have been fine.
Geren. The voice was unmistakable, his intentions obvious. Why had I ever trusted in him? He was rehabilitating, I had argued, he went through such a devastating trauma. Give him some time, and he’ll turn around. But time had finally run out. Just then, as the phone lay limp in my hands, my eyes caught a small packet lying a few columns away. And another. And another. It couldn’t be…
But it was.
And instead of shouting out to the world, screaming “Hey guys! This place is gonna explode in two minutes! Everyone run!”, I had fled, a betrayed bunny covering its own excuse for a tail. Not one word, not one excuse, not one else unharmed.
Eyes full of bitter green flecks crossed my sight, and the lump in my stomach turned to hard, burning tar. There was a flash of sandy brown hair, broad shoulders, and his signature black backpack. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was predictable.
But this time, instead of losing to the tortoise, I raced over to someone, anyone with a badge and a hat, anyone who could stop him from hurting more people. My hands grasped a stiff sleeve, and I looked up into the face of a man who could do something about this. Stop him, I wanted to beg, stop him and end my guilt, end this horrible day with something good. Please. And this time, my voice didn’t fail me.