On his last day babysitting Mary, something happens to change Gabriel's life forever.
|Death Comes to the Bishops
“No, bad dog! Bad John!” Gabriel groaned in frustration. His mother and father were getting back in a few more hours, Mary was making a mess, and John kept snapping at everything that moved. He picked Mary up and turned her around. “Mary, I am going to go upstairs to grab something. You stay here and play with John. When I come back down, we’ll clean up so the house will look all nice and pretty when Mom and Daddy get home.”
Mary nodded, and Gabriel quickly slipped away up the stairs and through the master bedroom to unlock the medicine cabinet. His head was pounding, and it didn’t look like the rest of the afternoon was going to get any better. He downed two aspirin with water, washed off his face, and returned down the stairs.
Mary was waiting for him when he came back, dragging her doll in one hand and holding a half-empty cup of chocolate pudding in the other. The rest was smeared across her face and shirt. “Mary,” Gabriel moaned. “What did you do?”
“I was hungry.”
“Why didn’t you use a spoon?”
“I can’t reach.”
He sighed, picked her up, and carried her to the kitchen. John followed and curled himself up on the floor below her. Gabriel set her down on the counter before grabbing a spoon. He handed it to her, moving her fingers so she gripped it properly. “Here you go. Mary, will you be good and sit here while I clean up?”
“Because if you don’t then the house will be a mess and Mom and Daddy will be mad at me.”
“Oh. Will you put on my music?”
“Fine, but stay there.”
He washed the stray pudding off his hands before slipping her old, scratched disk into its player. The vacuum was already running by the time the familiar drumbeats started. Gabriel slowly tried to work four days of crackers, chocolate pudding, and watercolors out of the carpet. The phone rang when he was halfway up the stairs with his arms full of toys. He yelled back down the stairs.
“Don’t pick it up, Mary!”
The phone was still ringing as he unloaded his arms, and as he searched the entire upper story for the cordless receiver, and when he finally gave up and went for the old one on the wall of the kitchen. “Hello, Bishop residence, Gabriel speaking.”
“Hello, this is Darlene Johnson from American Air. Are you the son of Laurence and Bethany Bishop?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you the oldest child home right now?”
“Yes, ma’am, just me and my little sister.”
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. There was an accident with the plane your parents were flying on. It had some engine trouble, and it went down a short distance outside of the airport.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t think I understand you.”
“It’s not your fault, Gabriel. There was a plane crash, outside of the Houston Airport earlier this afternoon. I’m afraid that both of your parents were killed.”
“Oh. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.” Gabriel dropped the phone back on its holder and slid down to the floor. He hugged his knees and sat, staring forwards without focusing.
“Gabe?” Mary cooed after a few minutes. “Gabe, can I come down now?”
He pushed off the wall and picked her up from the counter. Then he lowered himself back to the floor and held Mary in his lap. “Mary, I gotta tell you something.”
“The person who called just now was from the airport. She said that Mom and Daddy’s plane was in an accident, and they died.”
“The engine, the thing that makes it run, didn’t work, and the plane fell down and crashed.”
“But what about Mom and Daddy?”
“They were on the plane, ducky. But the plane crashed and they got hurt, and they died.”
“You know how Grandpa Nixon died last year, and Mom went out to the funeral, and everybody cried a lot?”
“Well, that’s what happened to Mom and Daddy. They died, and there’s going to be a funeral, and everybody will be very sad, because they miss them.”
“Where did they go?”
“To the cemetery, but not yet. They won’t be there until after the funeral.”
“And then there will they be?”
“They’ll be with the angels, Mary.”
“But what about me?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. But for now, we need to get you in the bath and clean off all the chocolate pudding.”
“Okay. But make sure the water is warm.”
Gabriel picked her up as he stood and took her up the stair, balancing her on his hip. Once in the bathroom, he started filling the tub as she undressed, and he lifted her over the steep side of the bathtub into the warm water. Her washcloth was already sitting on the side of the tub and he soaped it up and handed it to her.
“Mary, I have to go for just a little bit, but I’ll be right back. Wash up, and be sure not to let the water go above your belly button.”
He left the steaming bathroom and hurried back down the stairs. There was a list of numbers by the phone, numbers to call in case of an emergency. Poison control, Mary’s eye doctor, the ambulance, the fire department, the neighbors. All fine and good, but not the ones to call when you discover your parents are dead. He searched through the list three times before he finally stopped on the number of John’s trainer, one of his father’s friends. He dialed the number, anxiously tapping his heel against the wall.
“Hello?” a chipper, female voice greeted him.
“Hello, is Bob there? This is Gabriel, Laurence’s son.” Gabriel’s voice cracked when he spoke his father’s name.
“Of course, Gabe, just wait a minute while I go get him.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Carter.” There was a long pause before a broad male voice spoke up.
“Hey, Gabe, what’s the matter? Joan said you didn’t sound so great.”
“Bob, there was an accident with Mom and Dad’s plane. They were on their way back from Houston, and their plane had engine trouble. The airlines called about twenty minutes ago.”
“You mean that they are –”
“Both of them?”
“Ah, I’m sorry, Gabe. Is there anything I can do?”
“I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind keeping Mary for a few days. It seems like there is gonna be a lot to deal with here, and I know that she would be my responsibility at least until I can get in touch with Mr. Carmichael, and I’m not sure who she goes to after that. I’d ask one of the neighbors, but, you know . . .”
“Of course, of course, no trouble. You want me to come over now?”
“In half an hour. She’s in the bath, I’ll just get her out and grab a few of her things.”
“Sure. Joan and I’ll keep her as long as you need us to. And John will stay too.”
“Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t think of it. This is a lot to throw on a boy.”
Gabriel couldn’t think of anything to answer, so just waited, and hung up after a bit before hurrying back upstairs. Mary was still running the limp washcloth against her skin, covered in bubbles. Gabriel pushed up his sleeves. “Hey, I’m back.”
“I know. I heard the door. Did I wash up good?”
“Yes, very good.” He took the washcloth from her hand and wiped it over the last bits of pudding on her face, and down her neck and back. She pulled the plug out herself as he turned on the water again to rinse.
“All done,” she cried, as the last of the water gurgled down the drain.
He grabbed a large towel from the rack and wrapped her in it. She wiggled around, enjoying the fluffiness on her skin. He carried her to her room and set her on the bed. “Finish drying off while I get you something clean to wear.” He sifted through her drawers and grabbed a clean shirt and shorts, as well as a pair of panties, and set them on the bed. “Here’s your clean clothes, you put them on, and I’ll get you some things.”
“You are going to go stay at Bob and Joan’s house for a few days. Do you remember Daddy’s friend Bob?”
“What one’s he?”
“He’s the one that trained John for you.”
“Well, I am going to have a lot to do here, so you will go stay at his house.”
“Do I get to play with all the doggies?”
She had dressed herself by the time he slid a few outfits into her tote bag, as well as some small toys, her glasses for when she went outside, shoes, and a few other things. He found her short white cane and grabbed John’s leash off the dresser. “All right. That’s everything.”
She went ahead of him down the stairs, holding the banister tightly. Gabriel set down the bag and got John’s leash clipped on when the door bell rang.
“Who is it?” Mary called out.
“Can Bob come in, Gabe?”
Bob opened the door and let himself in. His van was parked in the driveway. “Hey, Gabe. This her bag?”
“Yeah. She can hold John’s leash,” he said, helping he get a grip on it. “I am eternally grateful.”
“Forget about it. You sure there’s nothing else you need done?”
“I think I can handle it. Bye-bye Mary. I’ll be with you again in a few days, all right? And if you get lonely, Joan will help you call me. Okay?”
“Bye-bye, Gabe!” Mary called, already out the door and heading down the sidewalk.
“Take care of her?” Gabe asked, holding out his hand to Bob.
Bob embraced him in a tight hug. “With my life. Take care of yourself.”
Gabriel nodded silently, and shut the door behind Bob. He had barely gotten himself to the couch when the tears started.