A Plane On A Milk Carton
by Hecate

Ana's mother calls her the morning after the plane vanished. "Ana was on there," she says, and Elena tries to keep on breathing. Ana was on there, and when they haven't found the plane three days later Elena has to fight down the urge to put Ana's picture on the whiteboard. Missing: one plane, she thinks, and forces down hysterical laughter.

One week later, the media goes even crazier and so does the rest of the world. A plane, just gone, and the faces of those left behind and of those vanished fill the TV screens and newspapers around her. Elena knows armies and secret services are out there, searching for them, and she watches the news and she waits for change and she dreams of Ana at night.

The woman in her dreams has a smile that's too bright to be Ana's and a voice that sounds as if it's coming through the phone. Distanced, made of tin; and when Elena reaches out for Ana in her dreams, she wakes up.

She sleeps badly and she dreams hard and her eyes get darker with every passing day. Danny worries and he sits down beside her after 9 days, offering her a coffee before he speaks. She drinks it quickly, the taste bitter and black and so familiar to her now, and answers his question.

"Someone close to me was on The Plane," she says, and she can hear the capital letters in her voice. Danny does, too, and he nods, taking one of her hands in his, warm and steady, and she closes her eyes for a moment.

She starts writing the letters that evening, long letters and short notices of things she has to tell Ana when she's back. Things she needs to remember because Ana would want to know later, would want to know now; and she adds a greeting from her daughter to the end when Isabelle asks her to. Elena remembers then that she's not the only one missing Ana, and she calls Miss Cortez and listens to her crying down the phone. Elena tells her that Ana is alright, that she will come back, because that's the thing you say and because she has to believe it herself.

She tells Ana about Danny in her third letter because she told Ana about Danny years before. Elena remembers Ana's throaty laughter every time they talked about him, every time Elena managed to screw things up between them. "You're making things really complicated, girl." She was right, of course, and they both smiled. Later they didn't smile anymore and Elena remembers Ana's arm around her, hard and warm, and she remembers the alcohol burning down her throat when they sat and talked about Danny. She wants to tell Ana that things are looking better now. She wants to tell her the story of the rat and she writes it down, her tears making the letters run.

"I miss you," she ends every letter and sometimes Elena thinks she can her Ana answering her the same. "I miss you," made of tin and distance; and Elena curls herself together in front of the TV. She doesn't want to sleep. She doesn't want to dream.

12 days and it's her birthday. A Sunday, and her daughter tries to make her breakfast and they watch cartoons together until Elena falls asleep again and she dreams of darkness, screams and fires. She wakes in the middle of a punch and Isabelle stares at her, her eyes wide. She mutters an apology and forces her body up, her eyes hurting when she tries to concentrate on the Roadrunner flickering over the screen.

She wants to ask Danny out, but she feels guilty about it so she doesn't. Ana has been gone for 23 days and Elena's life shouldn't go on as before. Even though the world goes on as if nothing has changed, just with new faces and fates added to the TV screens and magazine covers. A mystery that refuses to be solved, and it's already a part of the world now for those who aren't waiting for someone to come home. Elena wonders how long she can wait, how long her life can be on pause before the button comes unstuck.

The other passengers become familiar to Elena, their stories everywhere, their relatives haunted by reporters. They're distanced friends now, and she mentions them in her letters, asks about them. Sends greetings. Danny brings her coffee now every morning and she writes about his smile, too.

She has a fight with Danny at the 27th day and she carries it back home with her and almost destroys the locks when she opens the door of her apartment. Danny calls her later, his voice alive even through the phone, and it makes her miss Ana even more. She tells him about Ana and he listens, quietly, and he wraps his arms around her when he sees her in the morning. They go out together the next day and she knows Ana would be happy.

When a pregnant girl is missing Elena remembers Ana's baby that never was and she loses herself in the case until Danny kisses her, his arms around her, his lips soft and hard and she thinks she can hear Ana applauding. But when Danny pulls away she sees that it was only Sam walking by, her shoes clicking on the floor. She smiles at Danny anyway and for a moment Ana's absence hurts less than it could.

Isabelle likes Danny, and Elena smiles in relief and watches them together, their discussion about some cartoon character's fighting techniques so alien to her that she almost feels isolated. But their smiles and laughter pull her in and she tries to ignore the blueprint of Ana and Isabelle that hangs over the moment.

She dreams of Ana again, of course, and she tells her about Danny while Ana watches and smiles. The woman in her dreams tells her she misses Isabelle and asks Elena to say hello to her. She doesn't.

Elena wonders if she's dreaming after 30 days because the plane is still missing and this can't be happening. It doesn't make sense. She finds people every day. Some of these people don't want to be found, but this plane just stays gone. It can't be real and she wants to wake up. She wonders if she would be missing Danny in the morning after this dream, and she promises herself that she will call Ana and ask her advice.

It's day 31 and she stops thinking it's a dream.

Danny and Isabelle anchor her in her life and she holds on to them. When Danny finds her letters, she lets him read them. He tells her to greet Ana for him.

Sometimes they drive to work together and Danny turns off the news when they talk about the plane. "People are stupid," he comments the latest theory and she nods, yes, they are; and wonders if a plane would fit on a carton of milk.

Elena wakes up screaming in the 48th night and she almost tries to crawl into Danny. He holds onto her for the rest of the night, whispering to her, and when the sun finally finds its way into the room, it feels lost and lonely. But Danny is warm beside her and she doesn't need the sun as long as he's holding her and she can stay awake.

She tells Ana that she's in love in her next letter and she can almost her Ana's "Oh, reaaaaally?" in her head, irony dripping from Ana's words. "Yes, really," Elena writes, and adds her usual greetings.

She counts the videotapes she has used up for things Ana might want to see after 55 days, and when Danny comes by she's surrounded by them. He sits down beside her and helps her putting them in some order, his hands flying over her body sometimes in silent reassurance.

"It might be easier letting her go if I knew where she's gone."

Danny kisses her softly then, a tape of CSI in his hands. "I know."

Elena finds a picture of her and Ana in a book she read months ago and she stares at it for a hour before she puts it carefully back into the book. They're laughing on the picture, and Elena can almost remember the stupid joke Ana's partner had made behind the camera. The memory won't be disturbed between the pages of the book and she buys a second version of it the next day.

Danny, Isabelle and her go for a picnic three days later and when she comes back, tired and happy, she hasn't thought about Ana for the whole day. She feels guilty and relieved and she wonders what Ana would say. Probably nothing. Ana wasn't the kind of girl that needed 24-hour attention. Then she notices that she thought of Ana in the past tense.

She stops writing her letters after 64 days. She dreamed of darkness and of Ana the night before. Ana, with her real smile; Ana, with a voice so close to Elena's ears. "I miss you," Elena told her and Ana nodded. "I know."

"You're not coming back, are you?"

"No. But you'll be ok." Ana pulled her close then and whispered in her ear: "Just keep going girl. You're doing fine."

Elena woke up then, the pain sharp and sudden, and for a moment she thought she was dying. For a moment she was dead.

Then she lived again. She lives now.

Elena sleeps better with Danny at her side, and she feels better when she sees him and Isabelle in the morning. Life goes on and a plane is missing, and there is a hole in her life that she has to get used to. She smiles at Danny when he asks her how she feels.

"I'm doing fine."

It's almost the truth.


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