"Sarah, no! You can't go up there." Her captain grabbed her by the arm.
"Why not Captain? Looks like they could use all the help they can get." Sara tried to shake her arm free, but her boss had a good grip on her. She sighed when he began towing her away from the scene. Sara couldn't help but wish that she wasn't quite so slender. She could hold her own in a fight but she wasn't about to hit the captain. Suddenly she realized he had just used her first name. The captain never used first names.
"Where are we going?" Sarah stopped walking beside the captain, locking her legs. "What is going on?"
He sighed and then looked around. Sarah couldn't understand what the secrecy was about. They were standing beyond the police tape and screened behind some parked cars. This was a private as it could get when a bus full of kids crashed during morning traffic. People were everywhere with cameras and the news crews had begun to arrive in the last ten minutes.
No one was watching where they stood to one side of the accident scene. Cops were everywhere along with firemen and paramedics, but this sort of thing had them all scrutinized. Sarah knew that, all cops knew that, and acted accordingly at scenes like this. It wasn't easy but it was part of the job.
"Sarah, I need you to stay calm and wait outside the police tape. You can stand over by the ambulances but I need you to stay out of the scene."
Sarah pulled her arm from his grip and then crossed them over her chest. "What! Why?"
"That bus was going to the Rainbow Center," he said quietly. His expression was sad.
"Going to the. . . ." Sarah's arms fell to her sides. She stared at him blankly, and then her head cranked around to look for the bus. "Is that?"
"Yes. The school said the bus was coming back from a field trip to the zoo."
One hand was up covering Sarah's mouth, trapping the sob inside. Melody had been so excited to go to the zoo that day; she loved the penquins. She'd woken up with the sniffles and Sarah had almost kept her home. If she had. . . She pressed her trembling hands against her chest where it felt like a gaping hole had just opened.
"Have you found her already then?" she whispered.
"No. But it's not good, Sarah. The bus fell off the freeway overpass about fifteen feet. None of the kids had seat belts. You need to--"
The captain cursed. He didn't shout after her, that would just draw attention they didn't need.
Sarah ran under the yellow caution tape; her blue uniform ensured that she wasn't stopped. She was forced to slow down when she got near the bus. The smell of hot metal and rubber filled the air. There were sounds of machines working on the cars to get them open and rescue personnel everywhere trying to get people onto backboards and into the row of ambulances that ringed the outer perimeter. She ignored all of that and started wenching on the back door of the bus. It finally came open, and she crawled inside.
"Melody! Melody! Where are you, honey? Answer Mommy," Sarah called.
She heard a whimper and stopped. Looking under the seat, she saw a little boy with blood dripping from a gaping cut on his forehead. She sat up and looked around, then crawled back over the glass on the seat and stuck her head out the broken door. She saw two firemen standing nearby and called out to them.
"Hey! I've got another kid. I think we can get him out this door if you come help me." Sarah didn't wait for them, just turned back and began checking on the kid. He had a pulse so she began moving past him, looking for Melody. She stopped for a minute to help the firemen load the moaning child onto a small backboard and move him out of the bus before she kept looking.
There was a crew in the front of the bus but Sarah knew that Melody liked to sit in the very back. She got down the floor and started looking under the seats. Her daughter's long blond hair was the first thing she saw.
"Melody!" Sarah screamed. She shoved the backpack on the floor out of the way and squeezed in between the seats. She was reaching for Melody to scoop her up when hands caught her shoulders. "No! Let me go! My daughter needs me."
"You could hurt her, ma'am. You can't pick her up. Let us help your girl."
Melody fought to get free but the firemen pulled her away. "No!"
"Let us do our job. We'll get her out safely."
He pulled her all the way out of the bus and left her standing next to the open door, twisting her hands together and watching them anxiously as they moved her precious baby girl onto the backboard and then carried her out of the bus. Sarah ran beside them as they raced for the ambulance. She knew she should stay at the scene and help the other children, but she couldn't. She had to go with Melody. She sat next to the gurney and watched her daughter take shallow breaths, unable to focus on anything else.
"Shit! You're bleeding everywhere too." The paramedic started to pull on her hands, trying to get the glass out so he could wrap gauze around the bleeding lacerations. She pulled away from him.
"No. Help Melody."
"I have done everything I can do for her. Now let me help you. You got her out of the bus, and I think she'll be okay. Let's get you fixed up so you don't scare her with all this blood when she wakes up."
Sarah numbly allowed the paramedic to clean her hands. The only thing running through her head was a fervent with that her little girl be okay. She held onto that phrase, repeating it in her mind like a mantra, as if it would make it come true. It kept her going through all the tests until she was able to sit down beside her daughter's bed in the ER, her little face swathed in bandages. The doctor stood on the other side of the bed.
She saw the sympathy in his eyes and cringed, waiting for him to speak. She had to be okay. She had to.
"Melody's a little banged up but she is going to be just fine."
Sarah put her head down on the bed and finally gave into her tears.