It's another sleepless night for me in this Tennessean hotel room. Across the room, I hear the soft breathing of the little four-year-old girl sharing my hotel room. The little girl, named Avary Harris, will soon become my niece if all goes according to plan. I roll slightly to read the clock on the bedside table, careful not to disturb my roommate, Bethany Fournier, sleeping beside me. I wince as pain shoots through my recently operated shoulder. I sigh, 4:03 A.M. the clock reads. I continue to stare at the ceiling, trying to quiet my mind enough to finally fall asleep.
On the bedside table, my phone lights up and begins to buzz. Who would be calling me at four in the morning? I think as I debate answering the phone. My eyes widen, Unless it's the hospital. I reach the phone and pull it off the charger, only seeing my boss's contact information appear on the screen. Letting out a sigh, I carefully sit up and answer the phone.
"Hello?" I say groggily, trying not to disturb Bethany or Avary.
"Hey Jasmine," Chuck Daron's voice says through the phone's speaker. "I hope I didn't wake you."
"Nope, I've been up for hours…quite literally," I sigh. I couldn't even remember the last time I slept through the night since everything happened.
Chuck chuckles on the other line. I hear him sigh, as he begins, "I really hate to do this to you Jasmine. It's already a week into this investigation, and the team isn't turning up anything about this crash, not even a possible lead. And since you already know more about this crash than any other employee here, I am asking that you jump on this investigation and take over as the lead investigator on American Airlines Flight 437."
I freeze. I tighten my grip on my phone to keep it from falling. I remind myself to breathe as I process the request. Did he really just ask me to do this? I think. I have been on numerous investigations during my young career, from simple mid-flight malfunctions to huge fatal crashes. But never in your NTSB investigator training do they prepare you for something like this. My mind begins to think back to that fateful day.
The airport was crowded that afternoon on April 7. People were bustling back and forth trying to find their terminals. Trying not to be swept away in the human current, I tried to see over the people, keeping my eyes peeled for our terminal number. 36B, I kept repeating to myself, 36B.
"Found it!" Jacob yelled from behind me. Darn you tall people, I thought jokingly to myself. He led the way to the terminal, and prepared to board our plane, a Boeing 767. Unfortunately, our seats were separated due to the limited seat availability when we ordered our tickets. Marie was seated next to the left wing of the plane, Jacob was almost directly in the middle of the plane, and Wynelle and I were next to the right wing. Wynelle and I found our seats and texted Bethany that we were aboard the plane, the one friend who couldn't make the vacation this year.
"As much as I'm upset I couldn't go, I hope you guys had a great time and a safe flight home," I got a reply back a few minutes later.
I smiled and wrote back, "We did, and we will, wish you could have made it!"
"Being a teacher sucks, be glad you changed majors," Bethany sent back.
I laughed as I typed back, "Well, someone's got to do it!" An announcement rang over the intercom to start turning off electronic devices for takeoff, so I said goodbye to Bethany, putting my cellphone on airplane mode, and got settled in for the almost eight hour flight home.
Within thirty minutes, at around 3 o'clock that afternoon, the plane was taxiing down the runway and in the air just a few minutes later. With my seat belt buckled, a book to read, and a friend to talk to, I was expecting a pleasant flight home despite the length. How could it have gone so very wrong?
"Jasmine?" Chuck questions over the phone. My mind snaps back into reality, again pondering his request. I really have no other choice, do I? I think to myself. I won't have peace until I find answers, until I know what happened to that plane.
I sigh into the phone. With the most confident voice I can muster, I reply, "I accept your request."
"Great, thank you so much," Chuck responds. I try my hardest to stay focused to everything Chuck was saying about getting me on the case, but to no avail. My stomach felt sick as the reality set in. I barely make out that the team will help me through the entire investigation with anything I needed, but how does that in any way help alleviate the weight of the task before me?
"You still there?" I snap back to reality again at the sound of Chuck's voice.
"Yeah," I respond. "What did you say?"
"I just asked when you would be able to start?" Chuck questions. "We'd like you on the case as soon as possible before leads grow cold."
I sigh. Realistically, I could start now while I'm here, I think. "Give me two days," I respond. "I'm already in a hotel in Tennessee until my best friend gets better and to monitor my shoulder, so I could jump on the crash site for now, and by the time we're ready to take the parts back to headquarters, I will hopefully be ready to head home too."
"Sounds good," Chuck responds with near excitement. "I'll keep you posted on any updates. Thank you for doing this so soon. Let me know if you need anything."
I gulp. "You're welcome. I will, and thank you, Chuck," I say before hanging up the phone. I plop the phone in my lap and rest my face in my free hand. I struggle to keep tears back and fight the urge to run to the bathroom and vomit.
"Hey," I hear a soft whisper beside me. I look down and see that Bethany was awake.
"I'm sorry I woke you up," I mutter, looking away as my throat clenches with emotion.
"It's okay," Bethany says. She sits up and puts a gentle hand on my back. "What's going on?" she asks.
I sigh. "Chuck just called," I muster with emotion in my voice. "He asked me to take over the investigation of Flight 437."
Bethany's face changes from concern to total shock and anger. "Can they legally do that to you?" she asks. "Can they actually ask you that question?"
"Apparently yes," I whisper.
"You said no, right?" Bethany says sternly. I look back at her and her face looks mortified. "You said yes!?" she whispers harshly.
"They aren't coming up with any leads and I need answers!" I snip back. "You know I won't have peace until I know what happened to that plane."
Bethany sighs. "I know," she says after a long pause. "I just worry what this investigation will do to you." I nod in response. Everything in my gut wants me to say, "I will be okay," but I'm not sure I can convince myself of that statement.
I glance at my watch to check the date. Today's Sunday, I think. That means… "I start on Tuesday," I whisper. "I'll go straight to the crash site and start the investigation there. Hopefully Wynelle can come home by the time everything can be taken to our NTSB headquarters."
Bethany nods. "And I'll stay with you until you can come home," she states. "I can help you with your shoulder, watch Avary and monitor her leg, go visit Wynelle, you have me until you can go home."
"Don't you have to teach and go home to Michelle?" I ask concerned, referring to Bethany's girlfriend.
Bethany shakes her head, "Allison is subbing for me," she answers. "She said she can handle it for as long as I need to be here, and the principle doesn't mind. The kids may miss me, but I can skype in if necessary. This is more important. And Michelle completely 100% understands. And if you need any extra help, she offered to come up as well."
I give a small, grateful smile as I feel tears rim my eyes. "Thank you, and tell Michelle thank you," I whisper as a tear rolls down my cheek.
"Of course," Bethany answers. She looks up at me and holds her arms out and I lean into them as I begin to sob on her shoulder. Though not a hugger, Bethany gently wraps me in her arms, rubbing my back as I sob. "We'll get through this," she assures. "You're not going to be alone in this. I love you."
"Thank you, I love you too," I choke as I move my ear to Bethany's chest to hear her heart beat. She gently places her hand on my head and strokes my hair. Though my sobs have calmed, tears still trickle down my face as the weight of the past week hits me again like a freight train.
"Why don't you get some rest, kiddo?" Bethany asks as she looks down to try and see my face. I simply nod and Bethany helps me lie back down, careful not to use my left arm. She pulls me into a hug one last time before she whispers, "Goodnight, I love you." She lies down herself as she pulls the sheet back over herself.
"Goodnight, love you," I whisper back. I feel my body try to drag me into the realm of sleep as my mind tries desperately to keep me awake. I glance back over at Avary, hearing her quiet snores as she slept through the chaos of the past five minutes. I glance back over at Bethany and hear her even breaths. I stare at the ceiling again, studying the shadows from the nightlight from the bathroom and making out the fan's shape in the darkness. Finally, my brain lost its battle and I pass out from exhaustion.