He was startled awake by the silence. Spider-Man was over; he always fell asleep before the end. In the creepy sliver of light peeking through the curtains, he knew things didn’t look like they should. And it smelled funny, like when his Grandma left his Paw Patrol tee-shirt in the washing machine too long. His bed made a big squeaky noise when he sat up and he knew that he wasn’t in his bedroom. Panic and fear took over and then his thoughts. Scary thoughts that had no place in the head of a four year old. But they stayed there. Like Nick , the mean kid next door who never seemed to know when to go home.
The bed next to him was empty, the covers bunched into a ball on the floor. His Mom was there before, watching Spider-Man with him. But really she was just playing on her phone. His eyes scanned the room, landing in the corner where the light creeped from under the bathroom door. Untangling from the covers, his little feet hit the floor just as a slamming door outside shook the room. Then voices, loud and laughing, passed by the window, making shadows on the wall as they stumbled into the night. He ran to the window and climbed onto the metal humming box; his Mom said it would make the room cool. Peeking through the curtain, he saw the voices, still loud and laughing, getting into a car. His tummy felt wavy and then calmed a little as he realized his Mom wasn’t one of them. He ran to the bathroom door, peered through the crack. His mom spent a lot of time in the bathroom; he probably should have looked there first. He knew better than to bug her by knocking, but if he could just see that she was in there, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so much like crying. His tummy did the twirly thing again; he could see his clothes were still on the floor and now so were the sweatpants his mom was wearing earlier. Gently, he pushed the door open, knowing he’d be scolded for disturbing her. But he was wrong.
He hated crying and being a sissy, but sometimes being brave was extra hard, especially in a weird place like this. The room at the motel was old and tiny. And now he knew that his mom was nowhere in it.
She was more like his sister, really. Landon was born when she was 21 and still trying to find her way in the world. As a child, she struggled to feel okay, never really measuring up to what other people felt was normal. At 18, her vulnerability didn’t go unnoticed by Landon’s father. She was captivated by his rough good looks and bad-boy attitude. He treated her like an adult, introduced her to adult things. Nothing else mattered when they were together, not even Landon. Living with her parents made it easy for her to come and go; to put off parenting until she was ready. She knew that Landon didn’t really mind; but then again, he had never known anything different.
He climbed back onto the box by the window and pulled the curtains open. There was no one out there now, just the eery yellow lights that tried to brighten the parking lot. The road out front was dark; he couldn’t even see the plastic play house that excited him when the man dropped them off at the motel. 45 minutes was a long car ride, and his legs felt like they needed to run. But his mom was in a hurry and promised he could play there tomorrow. Now he didn’t even want to. He just wanted to go home. He wanted his Grandma. And his cat.
Thoughts of his Grandma made the wavy feeling move from his tummy to his chest and into his throat. Grandma never got angry when he went looking for her at home. Most of the time he didn’t even have to. When he couldn’t sleep, he could call her name and she’d appear almost before her name left his lips. She would curl up in his bed sometimes and stroke his hair, singing quietly in her sweet, soft voice until he drifted off to sleep. Even her smell- like cookie dough and coffee- was comforting. Grandma made him feel safe. The wave left his throat and turned into a noise he didn’t recognize, scaring him even more before he realized it was his. He was crying now, giant heavy sobs that made his tiny body shake. He didn’t care if he was a sissy; he knew this was bad. Even at four, he knew that he had never been all alone, and certainly not in a creepy, smelly place like this.
He took a few deep breaths and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his pajamas. He had to find his Grandma.
Because he was certain that she’d never be able to find him.