Chapter 22 - It's a (Very) Close Call

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Mia stood in front of the baggage carousel with only sleep in mind. She ran her thumbs down the shawl collar of her cream cardigan, clasping her hands together midway just above her navel. She pulled the garment together to cover the bottom half of her white camisole as she shivered from the flight she had just got off. The air conditioning wasn't helping either, but she made do with what she had while a stream of cargo began to merry around the conveyor belt.

Her skin felt dry, and perhaps it was actually dehydrated. Mia scrunched her nose to find that it stung at the jerk of her cheeks, a reminder to moisturize the moment she'd get a chance. She felt it throughout her chin as well, and now she began to doubt her skin type altogether. It was a meaningless thought, but she kept her mind running, afraid she'd
space out so deeply that someone would steal her two suitcases once they passed by. She even imagined it vividly with a complete script, as silly as it was.

There was a hum in her ear as she waited: a whirl of chatter from the overhead speakers, busy beeps, and wheels rolling against the cold, rubber floors. She could taste iron on her tongue, and it baffled her as she convinced herself that it came from staring at the monitor overhead for so long. Had she picked up its flavor? Bonkers, she thought, and it took her a minute to realize that she had been chewing on her lips far too enthusiastically. Mia knew she was anxious, but not to that extent, and it made her palms sweat and her face warm.

This shouldn't be new to me, she pondered again, but it is.

"Excuse me, Miss?"

A man stood next to her with his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker. From his accent Mia could tell that he wasn't English; perhaps Portuguese, or Italian. She wasn't certain, but she turned to him anyway, flashing him a weak smile. "You're okay?" he asked.

She was distracted by his green eyes, a pair she'd rarely encounter in real life. His blonde hair was slicked back, and his square jawline was naked of any facial hair. Clean, smooth; his olive skin was unblemished. It gave him a particular charm despite his dressed down appearance.

"Yes," she replied, shyly. "I am."

"Sure? You..." He pointed to her lips. "You are bleeding."

Mia touched her bottom lip and glanced at her fingertips, although she had already known about it moments ago. A patch of red smeared on her skin, a tiny spot the size of a grain of salt. She nodded.

"They've been really dry. The air up there, you know? Makes them chapped." She could feel a sharp ache around the wound now, and almost by instinct, she ran her tongue over it, trying to suppress a grimace. It only hurt more.

"Yes, chapped," he repeated.

Mia tried her best to maintain an adequate level of politeness, but she wasn't in the mood to. Just as her patience began to falter, she caught sight of her luggage in the corner of her eye. Excusing herself quietly, she ran up to the carousel and tugged on the black handle of her large, white suitcase. It inched toward her slightly, but not enough to pull it out of rotation. The foreign stranger watched her from behind until he lent her a hand, effortlessly placing it next to her.

"Thank you," she said. "It's very heavy."

"Not difficult." He smiled at her and pointed to another suitcase that passed by, identical to the previous one. "Yours, also?"

She nodded, and he fished it out the same way as before, rolling it toward her nonchalantly. She thanked him again. She took each suitcase in either hand and began to walk away, lowering her chin as not to make eye contact with any more strangers.

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