To the Tropics – 9/23

Darren grabbed the suitcase in his sweaty grip as his turbulent stomach bounced against his ribs. The clattering wheels scraped against the tiles as he dragged the towering bag another foot. He stopped, sighed and set the rectangular sack on the pair of casters. His shoulders drooped and he kept his eyes downcast.

It won’t be so bad, he thought.

“Are you alright?” Becky shifted her pack on her shoulder and glanced away from scrutinizing the line coiling around them. Her forehead wrinkled even as she continued to bounce on her flip flopped and freshly painted toes.

Darren shrugged and rubbed at his nose. Be a man, he silently scolded.

“This is hour what, fourteen?”

She rolled her eyes but giggled.

“It won’t be much longer,” she said sweeping her arm toward the counter like a game show mistress revealing a prize.

Darren peered at the queue curving along the roped aisle like a sleepy eel. Through the shadows of hunched forms, baggage and thick lettered signs he picked out the counter across strips of industrial carpet.

His heart bashed against his chest as if fighting to break free. He dropped his gaze back down to his sneakers where the muted reflection of the dangling artwork resembling a flock of birds looming above his head flapped against his shoelaces. His entrenched feet seemed to float with the drifting wings.

If only it were that simple, he thought.

He squeezed his eyes shut as the line sludged forward another few steps. With a deep breath he lifted his head and hauled their luggage to the bend in the roped off path. The bulging sides swayed and he grappled to keep the tower upright.

“You sure you don’t want me to deal with that?” Becky tilted her head. “It’s mostly my stuff.” Her voice softened and she reached out to lay a hand on the one he had tightly gripped around the top handle. “I guess I over packed.”

He shook his head and heaved the sack back onto its pudgy base.

“I got it.” He forced his jaw to unclench while he stared at the tattered case. The canvas sagged under the weight of Becky’s entire summer wardrobe but stayed put. He wished he had the same command on his wobbly knees.

They trembled even more as Becky leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.

“We’re going on our first vacation,” she said with a broad smile and a glimmer in her hazel eye like flickering sunlight on waves. “Relax. It’s supposed to be fun.”

“Sorry.” Darren raked his hand through his hair and gestured toward the line. “One more foot until the end.”

“You sound so morose,” she chided with another titter.

They shuffled forward with the rest of the horde.

Darren sniffed and his stomach grumbled with a new demand like a dog sniffing something unfamiliar. He sent his gaze through the crowd and picked out a container of greasy fries in the stubby hands of a child occupying a stroller. Another sweep failed to pin point the savory aroma of cooked lentils and the perky scent of coffee.

“You want the trail mix?” asked Becky. She began to pull around her pack but he shook his head.

“No, it’ll give me something to do while we’re in the air.”

“I didn’t pack that much,” she said with a grin.

A wave of nausea tempered his appetite as they shuffled forward again

“Almost there,” said Becky. She danced aside to reveal the three groups waiting in front of them.

“Great.” Darren tugged at the folded label on the bag.

Bet you can’t wait to leave either, he reflected.

“Hey.” He looked up to find Becky pointing to a flat panel display hanging from thick cables. “How about we go there next time?” He followed her finger to where the Taj Mahal shone bold and white, accompanied by the word India in flowing script. Then the image faded out to the Eiffel Tower and a crisp lettered France. “Or there?”

Darren forced down the lump in his throat as he watched the advertisements for destinations, half a world away, rotate while Becky’s grin spread. He stuffed his damp hands into his jeans and strained to breathe. A shiver raced across his back and he gritted his teeth.

“You know, Beck…”

She beamed. “Only two more.”

“Listen,” he shoved the bag forward and to the side then stepped up next to her. He took her hand and winced as she frowned down at his moist fingers. “I think I should tell you something.”

With fluttering lashes she gazed up at him as her smooth brow creased again.

“I have an issue.” He glanced around at the line of fellow travelers and lowered his voice. “With flying.”

Her mouth gaped open. “You’re telling me this now?”

“I thought I could handle it.” He grimaced then motioned at the line.

She kept his hand as they stepped up into second place and dragged along their baggage.

“It’s only what, four hours to Honolulu?” he asked.

“Six, including the stopover”

Darren drew in a sharp inhale.

“Are you going to be alright?”

A nervous chuckle wobbled through his throat. “Maybe I’ll start the Mai Tai’s early.”

She squeezed his hand and kissed his cheek again. His heart beat quivered as her eyes grew wide, like a doe in the center of a dark highway.

“Next!” shouted an attendant.

“Come on.” She cradled his hand, guiding him forward and across the strips of carpet as if he might break.

A terse smile greeted them at the counter along with a winged pin stating the attendant’s name as Jane. Darren heaved the bag onto the weigh stand as Becky deposited their tickets and ID’s into Jane’s expectant fingers.

Jane looked down at the text then clucked her tongue.

Darren exchanged a glance with Becky then stared at the woman with their trip in her hands.

“I’m afraid you’ve been delayed.”

Becky sagged onto the counter. “What?”

“There’s a storm down in Houston and you’re first plane’s been held up.” Jane clacked on her keyboard with glossy nails then gave a saccharine smile. “I can check your bag though.” Her hands flowed on with the process before Becky’s gaping mouth twisted into a grimace. A ticker punched out a long luggage tag while Jane asked the requisite safety questions and they grunted their responses. Threading the strip through the top handle Jane sealed the loop and tossed their luggage onto the conveyor belt rattling behind her stand.

“How long is the delay?” asked Becky. Her voice shook and Darren watched her eyes begin to water.

Jane punched another round of on her keys.

“It looks like the departure time’s been pushed back three hours.” Jane looked up and the corners of her mouth lifted again, “For now.”

Becky groaned then lifted her hand to her mouth as if stopping the sound could somehow fix the weather.

Darren reached for the tickets and plastic offered back by an undaunted Jane and guided Becky from the counter

“Next,” shouted Jane.

Becky’s head swayed and she hugged herself with trembling arms. “What are we going to do? We’re might miss our connection.”

Darren smiled as he stomach settled and his heart obtained a steadier beat. “Mai Tai’s and trail mix, anyone?”

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