Baggage Claim

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Baggage Claim

“Uh, Brian Thornhill,” he said, leaning onto the baggage clerk’s desk.

The clerk typed something in and frowned, reaching across for a steno pad and pen. She wasn’t that attractive, but Brian found himself looking down her blouse out of boredom. Her eyes flicked up to his, and he looked away.

“Wait over there.”

He complied, slouching over to a clutch of orange fiberglass egg chairs and plopping down in one. The worn interior felt like sandpaper against his arms, and he sighed. The noisy pattern on the carpet managed to catch his attention. He gazed at the Gaussian distribution of yellow dots on the gray carpet until his eyes went fuzzy, and the dots began to dance like fireflies. His mind went slack, strangled by boredom.

An hour passed.

“Brian?”

His first thought was that he hoped he wasn’t drooling. He looked up and saw a delicate, beautiful, familiar woman standing before him.

“Sandra Cates?” he asked. He had always admired her in high school, but that was years ago and thousands of miles away. No wedding ring adorned her finger.

“I thought that was you over there! Hey!”

They embraced, and his body stole a bit of warmth from hers. It had been awhile since anyone touched him, much less hugged him, and it felt nice. He pulled back.

“Thank god! I was about to pass out in here!”

Sandra gave him a thin-lipped smile. “I know, right? So what’s the scoop? Why are you out here in LA?”

“Just visiting my folks. They live up in Napa.”

“Great,” she said, more acknowledging than expressing an opinion. Sandra waved to the baggage clerk, who gave her a curt nod. “Just a minute, and I’ll be right back.”

He watched her as she sauntered away to the front desk. She leaned over the counter, and her wool pencil skirt rode up a bit. He didn’t want to stare, but she wasn’t facing him, so he figured it was safe. She had gotten a lot prettier in the interposing years since the last time he saw her. Her curves were more defined, more womanly than they were back in drama club together. He followed the line of her thigh until it disappeared into her clothes.

The baggage clerk looked right at him and rolled her eyes. Brian found a way to be interested in the payphones out in the hall until Sandra returned.

“So why are you in LA?” he asked her.

“This is my town! I audition for movies all the time. I’m in demand, you know.”

He had a good laugh before realizing she wasn’t laughing, too. An icy feeling in his spine told him she didn’t appreciate it.

“For real?” he asked, but he could definitely see it. She was gorgeous, even when she looked annoyed. “I mean, of course. You always were the prettiest girl in class.”

“You’re sweet.” She took on a blushing posture, but no red filled her cheeks.

“I’m a little surprised to see you here, down with us little folks, then.”

“Well, we all have to come this way sooner or later. Everyone has baggage.”

“Well, of course, but—“

“Brian Thornhill—Abandonment Issues!” shouted the baggage clerk, her acidic voice dissolving the conversation. She hoisted a plastic bag of emotional viscera over the back counter and onto the front desk.
The two friends stared wordlessly at one another. A light smile played about Sandra’s lips, and her gaze dropped to the hideous carpet.

Brian couldn’t quite form a sentence, and he didn’t want to leave her alone. What if she left? “Uh.”

“You going to get that?”

“Just a sec.”

Sandra wouldn’t be impressed. He tried not to jog as he wound his way back to the counter. When he arrived, the clerk nudged the bag toward him—its blue, pearlescent depths churning with the fear that his high school friend was about to leave. He leaned down to the clerk.

“You couldn’t have said something cooler? Made me sound like a bad boy or whatever?” he hissed.

“Sir, I work in baggage, not the movies. I suggest you ask your girlfriend what to call it.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

The clerk popped a crooked smile. “I don’t know how I missed that part. Now are you going to sign for this or do I have to dump it on you?”

“Thanks for nothing,” mumbled Brian, scribbling his name onto the form.

He hauled his baggage back over to where Sandra stood waiting. She stared at it. Was she gauging the size? The color? Some emotion between genuine surprise and malice balanced upon her face, as though she might topple into laughter at any moment. He sighed and offered a shrug.

“Brian Thornhill…” she breathed.

“What?”

“What a girly set of baggage.”

Brian blinked. “Come again?”

“You played ball. You listened to loud music. I thought you were cool. We used to talk about you so much back in school.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my problems!”

“Yeah, if you’re a tween with daddy issues. Where’s the spark, Brian?”

Brian clutched his bag tighter in his hand and let out a long sigh. “I know. It’s not really cool, and I get that. Sorry.”

Sandra’s hands came to rest on her hips. “Why are you apologizing?”

“Look, maybe it seems pathetic to be apologizing for my own issues, but—“

“It is pathetic. I’m attacking you and you’re apologizing for it. Do you really need the company that badly?”

“I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty lonely.”

Her perfect, glistening lips twisted into a grin, and she took a step closer. “You know what we need to do? We need to get you to the Standard and get hammered. I’m going to show you a good time tonight, and who knows, maybe you can get over your little… problem.”

The clerk raised another bag and called into the room, “Sandra Cates O’Malley! Pathological Dishonesty!”

Created: Jan 24, 2012

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