Ch. 28 Photographic Evidence

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***Russell

Russell stepped out of the plane and made his way down the hall. He let himself follow the crowd of passengers blindly and somehow arrived at the baggage claim to wait for his suitcase to appear. He found himself analyzing every detail of the greying paper on the wall. Beth stood nearby and her case was one of the first to arrive off the belt. He grabbed it before she could and set it down for her.

"Thanks," she said. And paused. "Do you want me to wait? We could get a taxi together or something."

"I can drive you, if you want. I left my car here."

"Oh, thanks. That would nice."

He nodded and stared the belt, not knowing what else he could possibly say.

"Oh, while we are waiting, I wanted to give you this," Beth said and handed him a USB stick from her camera bag. "It's just a collection of some of my favorite pictures from the trip, ones that I'll most likely show Jerry, plus there's a couple of you on there, that I thought you would enjoy having."

He took it from her hand—it was trembling—shadows clouding the edges of his vision. "I have something I wanted to give you, as well. I picked it up in Hanalei, but never found the right moment. Here, I want you to have this." He took a small silver colored box from his carry-on bag. Her surprise was evident; it was a jewelry box.

She fumbled for the box, juggling purse and luggage handle, but finally managed to open up.

"Why did you get me this?" she asked, amazed.

"It was beautiful on you. I thought you would like having it as a souvenir. Let me help you put it on." He took the gold necklace from the box and undid the clasp to place it around her neck. The plumeria flower pendant fell an inch below her collarbone—the only thing missing was the perfume of the genuine flowers.

"But it was so expensive, you shouldn't have bought this for me," she said, touching the pendant. Damn. How could she ever wear it without crying?

"It was my pleasure to buy it for you."

His suitcase was one of the last ones to come out the hatch, and they started heading for the car in silence. Off to the left, near the front doors to the parking lot, a teenage girl screeched and then Beth was hit from the side by a flying body.

"Beth!" the girl who had run into her yelled. "You're back! I've missed you so much! Oh, my gawd, let's get lattés!"

"Ray?" Beth asked. "What are you doing here? It's Monday in the middle of the day. Don't you have school?"

"Yeah, but Mom got me out to come get you. She's over there, watching the other doors. Did you...guys have fun?" Ray asked, taking in Russell with her glance.

He felt heat rising in his neck and face as he realized that this was the younger sister who had supplied the condoms. It was an awkwardness that he did not have the energy to deal with.

"Well, Beth, if your mother and sister are here to take you home, then I'll be on my way," he said. It came out colder than he intended. "I'll see you tomorrow at work?"

"Oh, okay. Bye, then," she said. She put out her hand as though to shake his and he gave her a quick half hug and pat on the shoulder instead.

He hurried to leave, once again oblivious to everything around him. Get to the car and drive the car home, he told himself. He smothered the feeling that he was forgetting something at the airport. He arrived at his car and put his luggage in it. He smothered emptiness consuming him as he sat in the driver's spot. He turned the key in the ignition and navigated the parking lot to the exit. And he smothered the insane urge to turn back. He wasn't looking for anything at the airport; what he was looking for was at the house. His reason for breaking things off with Beth was in a drawer next to his bed.

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