I woke up in a bed that wasn’t mine, which can happen when you’re eight years old and not paying attention. I felt a lot better when I recognized the bedspread. We had the same one at home, and they’re the same in every room at the Holiday Inn unless you ask for a special one because you’re allergic to nylon or something. Mom and I weren’t allergic. That’s how I knew I could be relieved I wasn’t kidnapped.
There was a fully-dressed sleeper on the other bed. I could tell he was a stranger because he had too many gold necklaces in his chest fur to be my friend, and he was finished growing.
The stacks of money around the room didn’t matter to me because what you really need in situations like these is coins. Vending machines don’t like paper money. Even if they almost agree to take it, they’re grumpy about it. They spit the dollar back out at you a million times until you don’t even care about grape soda or crackers anymore.
I filled my pockets with quarters from the dresser, and used a plastic motel logo cup to prop open the door in case I needed to come back and pee. Nobody wants to end up with their pants down in the bushes behind a motel.
You should always know where the nearest restroom is, and where the nearest exit is. I learned that from flying on planes to visit my dad. Flight attendants pay special attention to kids traveling without parents because they feel sorry for you being all by yourself worrying about things.
The hallway to the room I woke up in was outside. That’s the difference between a motel and a hotel. Motel is a nice word for not-a-hotel. Hotels have halls on the inside of the building, elevators with lots of buttons, and fancy rolly carts covered in carpet so your stuff doesn’t fall off.
I spent 75 cents at the vending machine, and headed home with my grape soda and orange crackers. No one answered the door when I got there, which was kind of scary because we lived in the last room on the end. Our side of the building was next to a creek, which was fun during the day because you could catch tiny turtles, but at night it was dark, and that makes your imagination perk up when you don’t want it to. I stood there at the door kind of stammery and pretended to myself I wasn’t afraid. But sometimes no matter how brave you are, your heart beats too fast and you have to change your plan.
I found my mom in the lounge in her tall and white plastic boots. She worked there as a cocktail waitress. She got flustered right away when she saw me because kids aren’t allowed in the lounge and I was drinking grape soda in the middle of the night. It’s okay to eat crackers whenever you want to. She was also very worried someone might see the door propped open, see the stacks of money in the room, and take it.
She said some other upset sentences about the motel manager’s boyfriend getting mad at him over some deal, but I stopped listening because grape soda smells so good. It tastes exactly how it smells, which almost never happens. That’s how it can take your brain away from grown-up conversations that don’t make sense, or are boring. You can just stand there acting like you’re interested, but all you really care about are the bubbles that make magic on your tongue.
I think she knew I wasn’t listening because she took the soda can. That was fine with me. I had two whole pockets full of coins she didn’t know about. Besides, the first sip is always the coldest and the best anyway. She told me to get myself right back up there to that room and close the door, and then get myself home to bed, which was exactly where I wanted to be to start with. I got the key from her and left.
I found my way back to the room by looking for the half squished cup in a doorway. I put it in the trash without making any noise, turned off the lights so the stranger could sleep better, and closed the door behind me.
I was so thankful to finally get back home to our room, and our flowers. We made them together the day before with both beds covered in colored tissue paper and the fuzzy wires that look like extra long caterpillars. Our cassette of Stevie Wonder was on real loud and cheerful in the background while we cut the petals into different shapes and sizes. We took our time making each one.
When we decided we had enough blooms, we arranged them in some of those same plastic motel logo cups. They’re really good cups. You can use them for door stops, turtle cages, flower holders and all sorts of things. Then we sprayed all our flowers with perfume so they smelled like real bouquets. We took turns smelling them and saying how pretty they were before choosing the perfect place to put each cup.
Right in the middle of making our flowers You are the Sunshine of My Life played. My mom dropped everything, took my hands, and danced me around in little circles while she sang every word to me.
When the song was over she hugged me for a long time, and then kissed my face.
That’s how flowers can make your heart feel safe and happy.
They’re still the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen.