Jane Hertenstein: Shelter in Place

Every anniversary we remind ourselves just how lucky we are. You see, a few days before Darby and I were to marry, it seemed the world was coming to an end.

To begin with, my maid of honor’s flight was delayed then cancelled. She was supposed to arrive at four in the afternoon. I had left for the airport early in order to avoid street closures. I thought I’d given myself plenty of time, but of course I-90 was bogged up as I approached downtown and the 93 interchange. Typically, race day traffic is light.

When I got to the airport, the atmosphere was eerily subdued. I checked the flight-board: Cancelled. I got a text from Brianna—so very sorry.

Not as sorry as I was. I got the attention of the lady behind the counter. ‘Do you know when flight 5590 is going to be rescheduled?’

Her face had the look of someone who’d had ice dropped down her pants. ‘We’re not sure. Everything’s on hold for now.’

‘You’re kidding, right?’ I rolled my eyes.

She left, I assumed to get her supervisor, but a minute later I saw her crying in a corner by the frozen luggage conveyor. Someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind. ‘Haven’t you heard?’

Out of the corner of my eye I spied a cop in a bullet-proof vest with a police dog checking out trash barrels. I shook my head.

‘There’s been an explosion at the finish line.’

‘Were people hurt?’

The man had the same unnerved eyes as the woman behind the desk. He nodded.

I wandered over to a TV in the lounge. Over and over again, CNN played footage of the blasts: stunned runners falling to the pavement and bystanders running scared. Every once in a while, the roll of images was punctuated by glass being blown out in a Boylston bar. The crawler at the bottom of the screen was clogged with dire messages to stay alert. I clutched my shoulder bag under my armpit and held one hand over my mouth.


Darby was in the living room when I walked into the house we were renting. His face told me everything. We sat together on the couch for a long time in anguished silence. Anything I could say would sound stupid. I had no idea of how the world worked.

Marriage at the moment sounded risky. Possibly selfish. Finally, I voiced it: ‘Do you think we should cancel the ceremony this weekend?’

He shrugged. ‘I honestly don’t know.’

Just then my phone toned that I had a new text. It was Brianna.


‘Of course you shouldn’t cancel. This is just a case of last-minute jitters. That’s why I’m here. To get you through this crazy-ass time.’ Brianna raised a bottle to her lips. ‘So let’s toast this motha.’

Out-of-town friends emailed me to say that they were praying for the bombing victims and their families, and for me. It felt weird to be included on that list.


My mother walked in. ‘Isn’t it awful?’

So we all went shopping. While at the mall we kept coming across T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with the words: Boston Strong. Mom had a list of places to go and things we needed. The details of the fast-approaching day were beginning to overwhelm me. I remember standing in front of a monitor at Chili’s, where we were waiting in line to be seated for lunch, and the police commissioner or FBI or someone like that came on the screen. The Obamas were in town visiting victims of the bombings at area hospitals. My mother, not a fan of the President and First Lady, said, ‘Shit! Now traffic is really going to be tied up.’ Meaning their motorcade would further shut down streets, further adding to the downtown chaos. Boylston was sealed off. It was still a crime scene.

I couldn’t help it – I started crying. Mom and Brianna crowded around me.

‘She’s just tired,’ they told the hostess.

‘I’m not,’ I wailed.

We were seated immediately.

After ordering a salad, I called Darby from the bathroom. ‘Come and get me out of here.’

He was finishing up at the office since he would be leaving for our wedding and honeymoon. ‘It just feels wrong,’ I told him.

I was confused by his reply. ‘Nothing made sense before this happened, and nothing ever will.’

I wiped away a tear balanced on my upper lip. Before hanging up he said, ‘Stay strong.’


We finished up everything on our list by late afternoon. Darby met us after work at a local watering hole. We all made a pact that we would not mention the bombings or even pronounce the word. It worked – for a while.

Then my doubts started again. ‘Brianna would you mind if I didn’t come to my bachelorette party?’

‘Fuck, yeah, I’d mind. Listen, I know certain events have overshadowed your party, but let’s just get through this, okay?’

She hinted that there was going to be a surprise—which wasn’t a surprise. I knew she and Susan, my other bridesmaid, had hired a male stripper. I offered Brianna a weak smile and glanced over at Darby. He was licking the grease off his fingers after consuming a plate of deep-fried oysters.

I don’t know if he was metaphorically saving me for the wedding night, but it had been ages since we’d last had sex. I attributed everything to stress—and the bombing. Sorry, not the bombing, the b-word. The thing that wasn’t to be mentioned.

Except it was everywhere. On the TV, in the newspapers, firing up the internet. ‘Intelligence’ said they were close to finding the perpetrators. Some journalists used the word ‘terrorist’.

Brianna and I made a list of karaoke songs we wanted at the party.


The next day, the day of the bachelorette party, a policeman wearing riot gear appeared at the door. He looked like a Ninja Turtle in his tactical helmet.

‘M’am.’ He lifted the visor. He was sort of cute. ‘We’re asking all residents to shelter in place.’

Brianna stood behind me; she seemed disappointed. ‘This isn’t him.’

His forehead crinkled and his eyebrows knitted together. I noticed that his eyes were a moonstone hazel.

‘There’s a manhunt going on,’ he said.

‘Is that what they’re calling it now?’ Brianna had a sarcastic tone to her voice. ‘That’s so clever.’

His brow furrowed further, making him, if that were possible, even sexier. But it was too early. The party hadn’t started. It was only three in the afternoon. The bathtub wasn’t even filled with ice yet.

‘Does this have something to do with the bombing?’ I asked, even though I’d promised not to think about it.

At the same time, my mother called me on my cell. ‘Shit!’ she exclaimed. ‘The entire town is on lockdown. Traffic is a mess. The MBTA is totally shut down!’

‘Mom,’ I said, ‘this isn’t Boston. We’re in the suburbs, so I’m sure this isn’t going to affect us.’

The hunky SWAT guy overhearing me shook his head. ‘One of the bombers has been tracked to the Watertown area.’

‘Just great,’ Brianna breathed out loud.

‘Keep your eyes open,’ he advised, before flipping the visor down.


So no strippers. We scaled back the evening.

The pizzeria we’d ordered from called to say they too were in lock down. We tried to find a place that would deliver. Needless to say, I started drinking soon after the cop left—at first to settle my nerves and then because there was nothing else to do. By 6 p.m., everything was funny. Brianna and I giggled over the suspect’s foreign sounding name. Our tongues tripped over the multiple consonants.

Darby called to see if I was alright. He’d spent the night at the hotel his brother was staying at downtown. They were planning their own revelry.

‘We’re sheltering in place,’ he drawled.

‘Let me guess,’ I said. ‘At which bar?’

‘All of them,’ he answered.

It was hard to believe we would actually be getting married the next day. This was my last day of singledom before crossing the threshold into domestic life. I kept reminding myself how special this day was. I wanted to live in the moment, but the moment was infinitesimally scary, and perhaps it might be my last. I sniffed a tear and told Darby that I wished he were with me.

‘Ahhh babe.’ He tickled my ear with a minute’s worth of phone-sex before saying he had to go.

Brianna and I belted out the lyrics to Beyoncé’s ‘All the Single Ladies.’ ‘Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh,’ we bellowed. Until we were interrupted by the sound of sirens.

Sabrina, who I hadn’t even invited but who showed up with Susan, suddenly said, ‘Shush, everybody quiet down.’ We had furtively sneaked them into the house as if admitting them to a speakeasy. It definitely added an element of suspense to the party. ‘Quiet!’ She was peeking between the slats in the blinds.

Outside was a kaleidoscope of flashing kinetic colors. We were surrounded by a battalion of tank-like armored vehicles. Over a loudspeaker we heard, ‘Come out. We know you’re in there,’ followed by a pop-pop-pop. The alcohol in my blood froze. I ran to the bathroom and threw up a bucket of buffalo wings. It felt like my stomach lining was turning inside out. Then my phone rang.

‘They got him!’ Darby hooted. He was out on the street by Fenway with a crowd of people celebrating the capture of the bombing suspect. ‘This is a great day for America,’ he shouted.

I knew he was drunk. I muttered something and hung up.

None of this was how I expected it to be. I rested my pounding head on the rim of the toilet seat.

There was more banging at the door. The girls screamed, all of us wound up tight. I stumbled through the living room and looked through the peephole. It was the cool-dude policeman. I opened the door.

‘I just wanted you ladies to know that you are free to move about.’

Brianna repeated his message in an alluring airline stewardess voice, which cracked everyone up.

I stepped out onto the stoop and closed the door behind me. ‘Thanks so much. For everything.’ It sounded lame when I said it, but I meant it. I felt really glad to be alive on a spring night in Boston. It was surprisingly warm.

‘Can I offer you a beer?’ I asked him.

‘Maybe later. I’ve got to get back to my squad.’ He started walking away, then turned back. ‘Let me get your number.’


And, so we married. Every anniversary of the bombing we are reminded that life can suddenly be cut short, that senseless tragedy can mess up the best laid plans. Sometimes when out on Boyleston Street, Lance and I will stop and pull each other close, telling each other that we’re lucky.

Jane Hertenstein is the author of numerous short stories and flash. Her work has been included in Hunger Mountain, Word Riot, Flashquake, and Rosebud as well as earning an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train. Her literary interests are eclectic, evident in the titles she has published: Beyond Paradise (YA), Orphan Girl (non-fiction), Home Is Where We Live (children’s picture book), and a recent ebook Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir. Jane lives in Chicago where she blogs at Memories.