On the Precipice of Burst Bubbles

Only the occasional squeaking shuffle of the security guard interrupted the airport’s sleepy silence. James had purposely sat as far away from the clock as he could once he retrieved his suitcase in order to maintain a stringy grip on his nerves which contrasted starkly with his white knuckled grip on the handle. His phone sat in a neighboring, equally uncomfortable seat with the ease of an old school diva on a chaise lounge in dark, dormant slumber. The early hour itched with him with weight, as hefty as Atlas’s burden, or perhaps it was the Texas heat long past the sun’s bedtime that had him shifting his shoulders in discomfort. With a resigned groan, James let his head fall flat against his hands that still held fast to the adjustable handlebar, which caused it to stagger down in height.

It had been nearly five years since he had come home…nearly five years of running, skirting, and outright hiding but he had finally depleted his resource of excuses, of lies. Like a credit card, they were brutally declined by the people he had left behind when they rang up the two life events one couldn’t politely put aside: a funeral and a wedding. His twin sister, Katherine was finally getting married (though their cousin would say settling for) to her high school sweetheart…that was planned. What hadn’t been scheduled was the death of their father four days earlier, mere weeks before he was to walk his daughter down the aisle. The only plus side James could see in this entire situation was that at least the family would already be together for both events so there was no more need of travel, in fact the only reason they hadn’t had the funeral yet was because they were waiting on him.

After high school James had gone overseas to attend college…or at least that’s what everyone thought. There was some truth to it as he did take a few classes, but with other expenses building up he had to put a temporary hold on his diploma in order to pay off those. Once he had at least half those bills paid and gained another part time job, he started online classes that would go towards his degree in animation. He had a couple semesters left before he could graduate…after that, he wasn’t sure what he’d do. Ultimately, it would likely depend on how this little trip went if he ever came back to his hometown.

Straightening up proved temporary as he soon slouched in the opposite direction and his shoulder hit the top of the chair in a jarring manner. His hands remained fast to the handle, prompting the suitcase to shuffle with him. In the fluorescent lighting, James almost missed the flash of his phone and he snatched it up with a ferocity Gollum would be proud of. It was a text from Katherine…they would be here in ten minutes to pick him up. The news ejected a jittery sigh that reverberated throughout his ribcage and sounded more like a gasp than anything. Tilting his head back so it hit the wall, the phone was pressed against his thigh, screen down. The two of them had been close growing up but as the years passed they drifted like sea debris, yet underneath it all there was still a weird understanding that remained. James just didn’t know how understanding she’d be when she found out. Out of his entire family, she had been one he was closest to.

Like an old house, the foundation of his family was brittle, crumbling and the only thing that kept it together was a fresh dose of DIY repair work that never fully fixed the problems. Theirs was built on secrets, taut-lipped silences, and festering, lingering emotions that bubbled in cauldrons like poison but refused to pop. On the outside it was as pretty as a makeup tutorial’s final product, pretty, polished…normal. Bubbles would burst before he even left the airport terminal and he could only hope the noxious fumes wouldn’t kill them all. The death of his father was being packed away in a manner similar to an attendant shoving an oversized suitcase in the overhead compartment, all the while using their entire weight to keep the door closed. James didn’t even want to contemplate it, as his thoughts and worries were laser focused on the living that he couldn’t spare a strand for the deceased. Eclipsing all of this was a cloak of anxiety that threatened to suffocate him, as though the clasp had been pulled too tight as it hugged his throat. The Bermuda triangle never looked more appealing.

He didn’t look forward to the questions, the accusations, the tears, the anger, the confusion, the rejection, the inevitable hurt. His mother would be disappointed, his future brother-in-law disgusted, and his younger brother may feel betrayed, Katherine…well, that’d be the wild card and this was just his immediate family. But most of all, he couldn’t stand the thought of being near Sarah again. She had been someone he hated from the beginning, although no one else appeared to get the message, and growing up he couldn’t get away from her. She wore existence like an ill-fit costume, awkward and uncomfortable in all that she did. Her presence lingered like the ghost of a bad odor at the back of his mouth to this day…but his family had insisted she was good for him. The click clack of Kohl’s heels registered only a moment before stopping just a few feet away, causing his head to snap towards the sound. James recognized Katherine in her mossy coat, her brows furrowed as she gazed at his face.

“Excuse me Sir, but have you seen a young woman? You see, my sister’s plane landed not that long ago but I can’t find her anywhere.” His stomach dropped harder than cement shoes as he struggled to find a suitable answer. At long last…Sarah had caught up with him.

—by Jennifer Wonderly

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