“HEY, pal, I saw that seat first!”
The throng of people suddenly bucks to the side, their chatter rudely interrupted by someone pushing and shoving against them. They yell “watch it!”s and throw disgusted glances at the people who fall on them, but only a few actually get a glimpse of the culprit behind it all.
A couple of innocent victims yelp in surprise and tumble out of the way as Murphy Brown bursts forth from the middle and leaps to freedom. She barely gives her feet a chance to hit the ground before she bolts toward the chair. A man hollers in pain as she trips over his foot. She stumbles, but doesn’t look back, because the chair is there right in front of her, right within her reach, and it’s glorious and glowing and heaven help anyone who wants to stop her from getting to it.
She feels a rush of adrenaline when her fingers brush against the armrest. Finally, her prize is hers and hers alone, and she ignores the cringing and groaning from the people around her as she falls into the seat. Breathing a sigh of relief, she folds her hands and slides down a little.
The man in front of her sighs and adjusts his balance on his crutches.
She raises an eyebrow at him. “Hey, I told you: I saw it first.”
“MURPHY! How could you?!” Corky frowns as she storms over. As soon as she reaches them, she turns to the man on the crutches, puts a hand on his arm, and apologetically says, “I’m so sorry about this, Mike.”
“What?” Murphy asks as she stares suspiciously at the man. “How in the world do you know this guy’s name?”
Corky’s mouth drops. “He was sitting right across the aisle from us, Murphy! I was talking to him for the entire flight and you didn’t even notice?!”
“Geez, it’s not my fault,” Murphy shrugs. “You had the same dinner I did; you saw how small they were! That is not enough food to feed anyone, so I don’t know how you can expect me to be anything other than hungry and inattentive.”
“Oh, Judas Priest! You’re still whining about the meals?” Jim takes one look at the scene in front of him as he and Miles approach and frowns. “And you’ve taken a seat from an injured man?”
“I did not take this seat,” Murphy declares. “I saw it first. And as for the food, if they’d given me the peanuts I’d asked for, then I wouldn’t-”
Miles’ sudden burst of laughter interrupts her. “You… you asked for ten bags!” he exclaims as he stares at her in disbelief. “You looked the flight attendant straight in the eye and you said, ‘I would like ten bags of peanuts, please’!”
“I know! I said ‘please’ and she laughed at me!” Murphy shakes her head. “You try to be polite and look at what it gets you.”
Corky lets out an aggravated sigh. “WOULD YOU JUST GET OUT OF MIKE’S CHAIR ALREADY!?”
“It’s not his chair!” Murphy doesn’t notice her hands balling up into fists. “It’s mine; I saw it first!”
Corky rolls her eyes and dramatically points down at Mike’s crutches. “LOOK AT THESE. WHAT ARE THESE? THAT’S RIGHT, THEY’RE CRUTCHES! HE’S STANDING HERE IN CRUTCHES AND YOU WANT TO TAKE HIS SEAT FROM HIM!”
Murphy leaps to her feet and glares at Corky. “AND I STILL SAY HE’S FAKING IT!”
Before she realizes the mistake of getting out of the chair, Murphy suddenly finds herself being shoved to the side. Her mouth drops as Corky stands in front of her and spreads out her arms.
“GO, MIKE, GO!”
“HEY!” Murphy tries to weave around Corky’s self-made barricade, but it’s already too late. Mike scrambles into the chair and catches his crutches just before they can go clattering to the floor. He breathes a sigh of relief and nods his thanks to Corky, who folds her arms, turns to Murphy, and smiles triumphantly.
“Fine, Murphy huffs. “I don’t have to stay here. I can go sit at another gate.” She turns to Jim and asks, “Where’s Frank?”
Jim immediately rolls his eyes. “Oh, Lord, we’re stranded in an airport; where else would he be right now?”
“And that’s when I said to the guy, I said, ‘Hey. I’m not scared of you.’”
The woman gasps and puts her carefully manicured hand to her chest. “But he was pointing a gun at you.”
Frank smirks and puffs out his chest a little. “I know.”
Bracelets jingle as the woman playfully smacks her hand against his shirt. “Well, you can’t just stop there; then what happened?”
Frank’s smirk breaks into a grin and he laughs. “Well, obviously that made the guy mad.” The woman gasps again. “But I said, ‘Look at these cameras behind me. If you shoot me, your face’ll be all over television...’” He takes a moment to pause for dramatic effect. “’...but it won’t be on anything but ‘wanted’ pictures.’ I could tell that got to him because the gun started shaking a little bit, so I stepped a little closer to him, I put my hands up and I said-“
Frank cringes. Oh, man, not right now, he thinks. Don’t come over here right now!
He tries to ignore her, but her voice is close. He guesses that she’s standing right next to him, and his guess is confirmed when she smacks him (not playfully) on the arm.
“Uh, Murph,” he says through a forced grin, “I’m kind of in the middle of something here...”
The woman sitting next to Frank looks Murphy up and down, and then scowls at Frank. “Oh.” Her voice drips with disapproval. “I didn’t realize that you were seeing someone.”
Frank’s eyes widen instantly. “Wh-what? You- you think I’m-" He gestures once toward Murphy and then laughs. “No, are you kidding? I could never- I mean, we’re not- she’s not-"
He quickly glances over at Murphy, who’s tapping her foot and staring at her watch.
“I’m not seeing anybody!” Frank finally blurts out. “Really!”
“Yeah,” Murphy says to the woman, “'cause he’s married with three kids. Now beat it!”
The woman scoffs, and her glass of wine clanks loudly against the wood of the bar. She quickly scoops up her bag, hops off her stool, flicks her hair and turns her nose up. Frank’s mouth is open the entire time, but no words come out. He can only reach out pitifully for his lost cause and watch her walk away and out of his sight.
“Thanks a lot, Murph!” he exclaims. “I was really hitting it off with her! And what’s the big idea with telling her I’ve got kids?!”
Murphy unceremoniously hops onto the now vacated stool and leans an elbow on the bar. “Yeah, yeah,” she says. “Did you even bother to look at her? She would’ve made you bankrupt in a couple of years.”
“Hey! Don’t judge a book by its cover; just because she has nice hair and nice clothes doesn’t mean that-”
“Oh, please, she probably spends thousands of dollars on her nails alone. But that doesn’t matter right now. Have you heard anything about our flight?”
“Have I heard anything about our-” Frank almost laughs, but puts a hand to his forehead instead. “Have you looked out the window lately? Here, let me help you with this!”
He takes her by the hand and quickly drags her off of the stool. She rolls her eyes as they walk briskly toward the little black fence separating the bar from the rest of the airport. Once they reach it, Frank points directly in front of them. They’re standing across from another gate, and snow spirals down outside of the window behind it.
“Gee,” Frank says, “I wonder what that white stuff falling out there could be.”
“Gee,” Murphy replies, “It’s probably your dandruff. OH WAIT, YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH HAIR FOR THAT.”
“Murph, we are snowed in. There’s no way we’re getting out of here until tomorrow morning, if even that.”
Murphy sighs. “I know, I know. But I keep thinking that maybe, maybe if I don’t think about it too much, there’s still a chance.”
“Still a chance?” Frank asks as he stares at her in disbelief. “You haven’t been looking at the monitors, have you?”
Murphy can already feel her heart sinking into her stomach. “No.”
“Oh, man.” He takes her by the hand again and leads her out of the bar, past a few gates, and finally stops in front of a row of large black monitors. He gives her a moment to look them over and soak in the rows upon rows of red “CANCELED”s on display. There’s not a single hint of green among the bunch, so he takes a deep breath and braces for impact.
Somehow it doesn’t hit her until she reaches the “Washington-Dulles” line and the red letters beside it. Her face goes white, the world comes crashing down, and the only appropriate response she can think of is a loud, aggravated, “Aw, GEEZ!”
Of all the games that Corky had to pick to play with the kids from their flight, she had to pick the one that evoked giggles, screams, and copious amounts of clapping. Murphy brings a hand to her temple and begins to massage it slowly.
And how the hell did Patty Cake even work with ten kids? How were ten kids even allowed on their flight to begin with? Weren’t there supposed to be standards for that kind of thing? Some kind of anti-children-aside-from-Avery regulation? No, the FAA isn’t that smart. If they were, then they wouldn’t allow connecting flights to go to Chicago in December.
She glances over at Frank, who’s curled up and sleeping on the chair beside her, using his coat as a pillow on the other armrest. Her eyes venture over to Jim, who seems perfectly content and engrossed in his newspaper. Finally, she stops at Miles and glares at him.
“This is all your fault.”
She doesn’t say his name, but her tone of voice is all too familiar and it catches Miles’ attention just the same. Sure enough, when he looks up, she’s got her eyes locked on him in an angry gaze.
“Me?!” He asks in disbelief. “How is this my fault?! I don’t have any control over the weather!”
“No, but what you do have control over are the trips that we take and if you hadn’t dragged us all the way to Seattle so we could sit around and smile and shake hands with a bunch of sponsors, THEN WE WOULDN’T BE STRANDED IN CHICAGO RIGHT NOW.”
Miles opens his mouth to retaliate, but Murphy jumps in once more. “And whose bright idea was a connecting flight, anyway?! You do know that the planes can go across the country in one shot, don’t you?”
“Well, I’m sorry that our new sponsors have a nice hefty chunk of a stake in our little news program, and I’m sorry that I had to drag all of you along with me so I could convince them that you are all lovely people who are still very much worth sponsoring, and I’m sorry that the network’s doing budget cuts again so we all can’t go on a magical cross-country flight, but even if we could, I doubt I’d want to do it because you’d just drive all the flight attendants crazy with your DEMANDS FOR FOOD!”
Miles’ eyes are wide and they swirl with flames. He breathes heavily, but doesn’t say anything more. Murphy sighs and rests her chin on her hand. Nothing like one of Miles’ wild rants to take the fun out of baiting him. Most of the fun, anyway.
The kids’ screaming and cheering begins anew, and Murphy cringes. Corky practically skips over to them and as she settles back into the chair, she’s all smiles. Just looking at her makes Murphy’s teeth hurt.
“Oh, those kids are so much fun!” Corky happily exclaims. “They’re so friendly and they’re very good at their games; I had no idea that Patty Cake could be so intense!”
“Yeah, neither did I,” Murphy mutters as her hand travels to her temple again.
As she grits her teeth and rubs her forehead, she catches some movement out of the corner of her eye. When she looks up, she sees two of the kids, a boy and a girl, standing there and staring at her with their big eyes. She isn’t sure what to make of them, so she stares back. The kids cock their heads to the side in perfect unison, taking things from “curious” to “Twilight Zone” in a matter of seconds.
“Uh. Can I help you?”
“Are you Murphy Brown?” the boy asks.
She hesitates. “Yes.”
“The real one?” the girl asks.
“No, I’m her stunt double. Yes, I’m the real one.”
“Yeah, cool,” the boy says. He pauses before he adds, “Our mommy says you’re crazy.”
Jim lowers his paper. Corky looks up and stares at the kids. Miles coughs. Frank continues to sleep.
Murphy doesn’t really have much of a chance to say anything, as the boy keeps talking. “She says you give women a bad name.” He’s very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but he sounds more like a robot than anything else. Maybe he is a robot. Maybe this is all a ridiculous nightmare.
“Yeah,” the little girl says just as calmly. “She says you make women look like that word that rhymes with witches.”
Jim’s paper rustles loudly and he catches it just before it falls out of his hands. Corky’s mouth drops. Miles falls out of his chair, and Frank’s eyelids begin to flutter open.
Murphy stands up very slowly, and begins to roll up her sleeves. “Where’s your mommy, kids?” She grins and cracks her knuckles. “I’ve got some things I’d like to say to her.”
Corky immediately grabs onto one of Murphy’s arms and pulls her back down into her chair. The kids wisely take this opportunity to dart away.
The phone rings three times before he picks up.
“Hi, Eldin,” Murphy says. “It’s me.”
“Ah, hello. You know, I was just watching a little bit of that channel where they do the weather all the time, and not only do we appear to have a giant letter L hovering above us right now, but it also appears that you’re in the middle of quite the blizzard.”
“Yeah.” Murphy rolls her eyes. “It’s like it was waiting for us. We landed, the snow started falling, and here we are. They’ve canceled everything; now we’re just crossing our fingers that we can get out of here tomorrow.”
“Ouch. Did you make it into a hotel, at least?”
“No,” Murphy says as she dejectedly leans her forehead against the wall. “We tried. Did you know that threatening to toilet paper the trees outside of the hotel doesn’t get you a room?”
“Is that so? Well, I’ll just have to jot that little life lesson down in case I forget it. Do you have to stay in the airport tonight?”
“Yes.” Murphy lightly bangs her head against the wall. “With everyone else who couldn’t get into a hotel.”
Eldin laughs. “Do they hate you yet?”
“What? They don’t hate me.” Murphy takes a moment to turn around and look back towards the gate. She catches sight of a pair of moving crutches and immediately whirls back around. “Hate’s such a… strong word,” she offers. “I think they dislike me.”
“Ah, well. They said the snow was supposed to let up sometime during the night, so hopefully those poor people will be spared any further torture by the morning.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Murphy grumbles. “Let’s talk about something else, please. Like Avery.” She grins. “How’s Avery?”
“Oh.” Eldin’s voice is suddenly flat and humorless. “Well…”
“What?” A twinge of motherly panic begins in the pit of her stomach. “What, what happened? What happened, Eldin, tell me NOW.”
“Whoa, whoa! I’m trying, but I’m getting a little interrupted!”
“Well, you’re not speaking fast enough!”
“It’s nothing to worry about,” he says calmly. “He’s just got a little bit of a fever. He took his medicine before he went to bed without any fuss. Although that may have had more to do with the fact that according to him, you once told him that Joycelyn Elders comes to arrest children who don’t take their medicine. I’ve been checking in on him every so often and his temperature’s already going back down. He’ll probably be over it by the time you get back.”
Eldin only hears snippets of voices in the background for a moment. He’s not really surprised by the silence, and has a fleeting image of Murphy standing there in front of the pay phone with her shoulders dropped and her hand just barely keeping a grip on the receiver. And of course, that’s exactly what’s happening. She stares blankly ahead and doesn’t say a word.
“So,” she finally says, “it’s going down?”
“The fever?” Eldin responds. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m telling you, it’s gonna be gone by the time he wakes up tomorrow morning.”
Murphy nods slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”
Eldin hears the snippets of voices again and sighs. “There wasn’t anything you could’ve done here. It’s not like you can control the weather.”
“I know,” Murphy tells him. “I know. And it’s not like he’s never been sick before.”
She turns around and gazes out the window a few yards away. The snow’s still falling and the window sports a thin patch of white frost along the bottom. She sighs inaudibly and averts her eyes.
“All right, well, I think I’ll try to get a little sleep,” she finally says. “We’re gonna have a long day tomorrow no matter what happens.”
“Yeah, all right. Don’t give anybody a heart attack.”
“Good night, Eldin.”
He chuckles again. “Hey, we’ll see you soon.”
“You’d better count on it.”
She slowly hangs up the phone and turns around. As soon as she does, she jumps in surprise.
“GEEZ, Frank! What the hell are you doing just standing there?!”
“What?! It’d been a while since you left to call Eldin; I just wanted to make sure everything was okay!”
“So you thought it’d be a good idea to stand right behind me the whole time?!”
“I just got here!”
Murphy sighs and leans her back against the wall. “Well, everything’s not fine.”
“What?” Frank asks, slightly taken aback.
“Well, I mean, everything is fine, but...” She looks at the floor and laughs weakly. “Avery’s got a fever.”
“Oh...” Frank quickly finds Murphy’s dejection to be contagious. “But he’s okay?”
She nods slowly, but doesn’t say anything. Frank moves toward her and she meets him halfway. They put an arm around each other’s shoulders simultaneously and start the trek back to their gate.
As they walk, Murphy says, “It really doesn’t get any easier.”
“Is it supposed to?” Frank asks.
Murphy chuckles. “Probably not.”
When they return to their gate, they find a sea of bodies draped in coats, sleeping bags, and there are even a few lucky bastards with blankets. But the only thing that matters is that there are no available spaces on the floor and there is only one empty chair.
Frank watches Murphy’s hands ball up into fists. Before he can say anything, she’s already storming forward, and unfortunately stomping on some of the people unlucky enough to be in her path. He cringes at their cries of pain.
She clambers up onto the only available chair and stands on it. No one seems to take notice, however, so she claps her hands and says, “Can I have everyone’s attention, please?”
People gradually begin to stir and blink sleepily. Some don’t rise quickly enough for Murphy’s liking, so she continues clapping. “Come on!” she cheerfully exclaims. “Rise and shine!”
Hundreds of pairs of angry eyes are fixated on her, and she grins. “Hi.”
“Hi,” the owners of the angry eyes grumble in unison.
“Murphy, what in the Sam Hill are you doing?” Jim calls from over in the corner. Murphy ignores him for the time being and continues smiling sweetly at all the tired and grumpy individuals before her.
“Look at yourselves.” She coats on the sugar as best she can. “All crammed up against each other all over this hard and probably germ-filled floor…” She shakes her head and sighs. “This is so space-inefficient!”
A few people give each other puzzled glances, but for the most part, they continue to stare at her. They are clearly not amused.
“How about we all work together to make our night here a little more comfortable?” she offers. “How about everyone on the floor gets up, arranges themselves in a neat and tidy grid formation, and then lays down? Why, that would not only save space, but it would-”
“Allow your greedy ass to have a nice big spot on the floor, huh?” someone shouts. Everyone nods and grumbles in agreement.
“…No, I’m only trying to-”
“Look,” a familiar voice says. To her horror, she spots Mike on the floor to her right. “Why don’t you just crumple up your coat, put it behind your head and wedge yourself in like the rest of us?”
The nodding and grumbling grows louder.
“Hey! Hey, I’m trying to help us all out here!” Murphy shouts. “I don’t see why we can’t work together to ensure that there’s a comfortable space for all of us!”
“You’re full of crap, lady!” Someone else yells. A chorus of “yeah”s accompany the voice.
“And she was full of crap for the whole flight!” A woman declares. “I heard her call button going off every 5 minutes!”
The crowd’s voices grow even louder.
“I was sitting in front her!” A man shouts. “I thought there was a five-year-old behind me, what with how much my chair was getting kicked!”
“Well, that’s just great,” Murphy growls. “If you’d jerks would rather concentrate on the past, then-”
She’s suddenly interrupted by a giant ball of paper smacking her squarely in the back of her head. She whirls around with her eyes blazing.
“ALL RIGHT, WHICH ONE OF YOU TURKEYS THREW THAT?!”
The “turkeys” all stand up in unison. Murphy’s eyes widen and she backs up… except there’s nowhere to back up.
“Fine!” she exclaims as they all begin to close in on her. “You don’t want to be smart about space, that’s not my-”
The crowd lunges. Hands reach up and fingers flex like claws. Two people manage to latch onto her wrist and waste no time pulling her down off of the chair.
Off at the edge of the clamoring, Frank stares in horror as Murphy completely disappears into the enraged crowd. He frantically tries to find an opening so he can dive in after her, but arms quickly swat him away.
He’s so baffled by everyone’s angry energy that he almost doesn’t notice an opening forming beside him, an opening from which the crowd unceremoniously shoves Murphy out. She stands there for a moment, blinking slowly. Frank breathes a sigh of relief when he finally observes that she appears to have escaped unscathed, save for slightly tousled hair.
“FINE!” She turns back to face the crowd. “Violate health regulations! See if I care!”
She starts to march away, but stops and turns around again.
“Could somebody at least throw out my-”
She’s interrupted by her own duffle bag flying out of the crowd at breakneck speed and slamming into her stomach. She barely has any time to catch her breath before Frank snatches up the bag, grabs hold of her arm, and starts running.
Under the slightly-dimmed lights of the terminal, one might need to squint a little to spot anything out of the ordinary. This, then, provides excellent cover for someone hoping to stay hidden behind a scrawny fake tree.
A shadow slowly creeps out from behind the false plant and remains undetected by the sleeping masses. The leaves rustle slightly, but no one stirs.
Murphy peeks out from between the leaves. She tries to spot Miles or Jim or Corky (despite the fact that those dirty traitors did nothing to help her earlier), but can’t distinguish between anyone’s faces in the dark.
She’s so focused on straining her eyes that she doesn’t realize that her iron grip on the tree branches is about to betray her. When she moves to the right, the tree moves with her, which dangerously tips it. Its pot clanks against the floor and the leaves rustle loudly.
The movement among the bodies is swift. Like some kind of horrific black wave, they all rise together and begin moving toward her.
Murphy quickly returns the fake tree to its original position and bolts.
Things are quiet at the very last gate of the terminal. The floor is still littered with snoozing individuals and bodies are slumped in chairs, but at least there’s enough space to accommodate everyone.
A ray of sunlight filters in through the window. It materializes right on top of Frank’s eyelids, startling him awake. He flails around for a few seconds and sits up, rubbing his eyes. His movement drapes the sunlight on top of Murphy’s face, and she groans and swats at the air.
“Hey…” Frank squints tiredly at the window. “Hey, Murph, look.”
“No, really, look. The sun’s out. Planes are moving.”
“Mmm. That’s nice.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Frank sighs contentedly and settles back down on the floor. As he repositions his coat, he starts to hear travelers bustling about. Good, he thinks. Everybody’s gonna get home.
He finds so much comfort in the clicking of heels against the floor, the rolling of suitcase wheels, and the hum of departing planes. He and Murphy both find so much comfort in these things that they are only able to discern two words coming over the loudspeaker: “final boarding call” and “Washington-Dulles.”
Even though they hear them, it takes them a few moments to realize what they mean. Once they figure it out, their eyes snap open and they shoot up off of the floor. Their faces are white as sheets and they try not to breathe so they can hear it again.
“Once again,” the woman says over the speakers, “this is the final boarding call for-”
They don’t need any more encouragement. They can feel their flight, their passport to freedom, calling to them, and they trip over each other trying to get up to catch it.
No one pays any attention to them as they barrel down the walkway, passing gate after gate in a blur.
“Which one was it?!” Murphy winces under the weight of her bag.
“You’re asking me?! You’re the one who got us thrown out in the first place!”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t my fault!”
“Wasn’t your fault?! How can you say that and still-”
“JUST FIND THE GATE!”
Frank silently agrees. They continue to run, ducking and weaving through a maze of travelers and their luggage.
And then finally, out of the corner of their eyes, they see it: a bit of dirt scattered on the floor right next to a fake tree.
“THAT’S IT!” They waste no time darting into their gate.
Their very empty gate.
There’s no one there but the gate agent. She gives them a pitying look and points at the window. The plane is still there, but it’s slowly pulling away from the gate.
Murphy and Frank silently approach the window as their hearts plummet into the pits of their stomachs. Their ticket to freedom continues to back away without them on it.
Murphy puts a hand on the glass, as if that can somehow call it back. She hears a soft thunk beside her as Frank’s head makes contact with the window.
“We missed it,” she quietly says.
They watch the plane until the very last bit of the tail disappears from view.
“We really missed it,” Frank mutters.
“Yeah,” Murphy sighs, “and they left without us.”
“They left without us, too,” someone says behind them.
They both whirl around. Their faces light up and their hearts soar.
“That’s the thing about deciding to go get some breakfast instead of boarding your plane,” Miles continues. “It doesn’t wait for you to finish.”
“Funny how that works,” Corky says with a smile.
Murphy’s arm twitches as she resists an impulse to pinch Frank. She figures that checking to see if he’s dreaming wouldn’t really help her.
“Why didn’t you guys just… get on the plane?” Frank asks. “There’s always another flight; we would’ve been right behind you and you could’ve gotten out of here sooner.”
Jim shrugs. “It’s just like you said, Frank: there’s always another flight.”
“Plus, we figured it would be a little safer to wait. I think Mike was starting to use his crutches as weapons.” Corky looks at the ceiling and sighs.
“You really didn’t have to do this,” Murphy says.
“Of course we did,” Jim tells her. “Who’s going to make sure that you don’t break your call button?”
“Geez, I wasn’t that bad. I only pushed it…” Murphy trails off as she watches everyone exchange extremely skeptical looks.
Miles steps forward before anything can get too out of hand. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
Murphy's smile breaks into a grin. “Okay,” she says. “But I get a window seat.”
A few gates down, the agents’ ears perk up at what they swear is a loud collective groan.