The airport smells exactly like Benedict remembers it from last Christmas. It brings a wave of pain into his chest, an angry surging that washes over him. Being in his hometown always does that.
If he really thinks about it, Christmas in general does that to him. Just the thought of having to see his family, his mother and his father and his brother, makes him want to leave and run far from this place. He has an urge to draw his feelings, to clear his head with art, but his supplies are wrapped in protective wrapping in one of his suitcases.
He's brought two, just like he always does, a big one for clothes and art things and a smaller one for presents. Only the one with his clothes and supplies has come out by now, though, and he's beginning to worry. He closes his eyes, breathes deeply, just like he read online. In seven, hold four, out eight, hold four, repeat.
He forces himself to relax, reminds himself it's not that bad, and opens his hazel eyes to the light. Three suitcases are still circling on the belt, but none of them are his. He waits for ten more minutes, but no more bags are spewed out through the yawning mouth of the baggage claim onto the glinting beltway.
Relax, Ben. He tells himself as he turns to find someone to help him. A worker in a red and blue vest walks past, a middle-aged woman with her greasy blonde hair pulled up into a bun. His legs begin to feel wobbly, his breathing is becoming irregular again.
It's not that bad. Just go and tell her what's wrong. You can do it. He tries to encourage himself. Taking a few deep breaths he makes his way toward where she's stopped behind a desk with the words "Customer Service," hanging in tacky, blue plastic above it. He can feel his heart rate increase, so loud he's almost certain everyone can hear it, and he halts in front of the desk.
The woman looks up, smiles at him, pink lipstick and whitened teeth. The pin attached to her vest says "Angela."
"What can I do for you, sweetheart?" She says, all Southern drawl. Benedict clenches his fist around the handle of his suitcase.
"Um, I had two suitcases...and, um, only o-one came out." He says, feeling relieved as soon as he says it. His fingers itch for a paintbrush or a pencil or a marker or a crayon or a pen or anything he can draw with, really. His head is beginning to ache, pound against his skull like thoughts demanding to be left out.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! Here, do you have the number for it?" Angela asks, still smiling. Benedict starts when she says it, because where did he put that tag? He digs his hand into his pocket and is relieved to find it there. He hands it over to her, mumbling a thank you. Angela punches the number into a computer and stares at the screen.
"Well..." She says, "It seems like your suitcase decided to head to California without you."
"Oh...is there any way to...get it back?" He asks and Angela smiles again.
"Of course there is. We'll get it back to you, free of charge. Where will you be staying?" She responds and Benedict just. He can feel his breathing calming down, his legs begin to steady.
"I'm at my parent's house...I can...write down the address." He says and Angela pushes a slip of paper and a pen across to him. It takes everything that Benedict has in him not to draw something, but he manages to shakily scrawl out his parent's address. Angela takes it from him, tells him he'll have it in a week, and he leaves.
Rental car! Benedict reminds himself, quick walks to the rental car place, which is conveniently right by customer service.
"Hey, what can I do for you?" The red haired young man behind the counter asks. Benedict takes another deep breath.
"I'm here to pick up a car under the name Benedict Garrett." He blurts out. The guy repeats his name quietly, types it into a computer and nods.
"Right here! You got the Ford Focus." He says, and turns around to grab a key from a hook. "Here you go. Just sign right here on this paper and you'll be on your way."
Hurriedly, Benedict signs his name and takes the keys, mumbling his thanks. He glances down at his watch- 5:33. Shoot. He told his mother he'd be there by 5:45.
He pulls his phone out as he loads his bags into the truck and rings his mother.
"Hello?" She picks up on the third ring and Benedict sighs in relief as he pulls out of the parking lot.
"Mom, it's me. I'm going to be a little late, they lost one of my bags, I'll get there as fast as I can." He says in a rush. His mother sighs softly on the end of the phone.
"Not too fast, Ben, we don't want you crashing. Alex is already here and he's waiting for you, he has an announcement to make, but be careful." His mother sounds weary and Benedict scolds himself internally- he's always managed to do that to her.
"Okay, Mom, love you." He says, hardly hears her, "I love you too," before he's hanging up the phone. His headache is getting steadily worse and he taps his fingers against the steering wheel in an attempt to calm himself down.
It's no use, and he knows it. When he gets like this...he needs to draw, that's all. He can see a picture forming in his head, the ocean crashing against cliffs and a whirlpool in the middle of it all, sucking ships into it. He tries his breathing exercises, tries to clear the picture out of his mind for now, but it isn't working, blurring all his thoughts and he can't take it.
It's a relief when he pulls up in front of his parent's place, grabs his things, and rushes up to the front door. It's thrown open as soon as his foot hits the top step, his little brother standing in the doorway, grinning.
"There you are!" Alex cries and pulls him inside. Benedict plasters a smile on his face.
"Yes. Here I am. Sorry I'm late." He says as his mother and father hug him tight, tell him how happy they are to see him.
"Ben...this is Gemma." Alex says, pulls a petite blonde to his side. She smiles widely at him and stretches out her hand.
"Hi. I'm Benedict. It's wonderful to meet you, Gemma." Benedict shakes her hand, feels his insides relax when he remembers his manners.
"Gemma and I...we have an announcement for you." Alex says. Ben knows what's coming. He feels his heart sink, more family, more people to deal with.
In and out. Inhale and exhale. He reminds himself as Gemma and Alex smile at each other.
"We are getting married!" They say in unison. Ben grips his luggage tight, tries to steady himself with it.
"Oh, I'm so happy for you!" His mother says, crying. His father claps Alex on the shoulder, tells both of them how happy he is. Alex looks over at Ben and Ben tells himself to be happy for his brother.
"Congrats, guys!" He says. Gemma begins showing her ring to their mother and Ben...Ben fiddles around with the zipper on his carry on bag until he feels eyes on him and looks up to see Alex staring worriedly at him.
Sorry I didn't post last night! Here's Chapter Two.