This is a work of fiction.
The drive to the airport was a long one, and by the time we arrived, I was thoroughly sick of hearing Freckles ask, “Are we there yet?”
As I stepped out of the van, I had the strange feeling that my phone was going to ring and it would be Stacey, asking me to check the mail like she had whenever yesterday had been.
I’d never been on a plane before. Until that day, I’d lived my whole life traveling in cars, trucks, vans, and busses, but never by plane.
My honeymoon had been a week at a local hotel. That had been all we could afford at the time if we wanted a house and a family.
My parents took my sister, God rest her soul, and me on road trips in the summer. Deborah and I always had great fun, but were happy to go back to school.
“Grandma, I’m thirsty,” Freckles said.
I handed him a bottle of water. Now that we’d arrived, he seemed in no hurry, and frankly, neither was I.
“There’s no bathroom on the plane,” Sammy said, just as Freckles was putting the bottle to his lips.
“You gotta sit for, like, five hours.”
I was pretty sure there would be a bathroom of some kind, but I needed to be completely sure before I could say so.
“Of course there’s a bathroom,” Curly said, giving Sammy a dirty look.
Oh, right, Stacey and Abe had taken the boys on planes a few times over the years.
“Not on this one,” Sammy said.
“I’ll find out for sure,” I said. “Let’s load our bags onto one of these carts.”
As we walked into the airport, Lydia took hold of my hand, and I could feel her trembling slightly.
The woman who checked our tickets assured us that there was always a bathroom on every plane, and Freckles finally had a drink of water.
Things went okay until we got to the metal detector.
“It’s radioactive,” Sammy said, pointing.
Lydia looked scared.
“Curly, can you go first please?”
The boys went through without incident, but when it was Lydia’s turn, she looked at me with pleading eyes.
Why hadn’t the man standing right there contradicted Sammy? Was it actually radioactive?
“How does this thing work?” I asked him.
Okay, so it was sort of radioactive, but at least I had an idea.
“It’s as safe as going to the dentist,” I said, “but without anything in your mouth.”
She nodded and stepped in.
“She’s got a gun,” Sammy said.
“Sammy, don’t be ridiculous.”
“We need to take you into another room,” the man said.
He motioned to a man and a woman, who came over.
“This girl needs to be searched.”
I could not believe he was taking Sammy seriously.
A man in line behind us said, “Good catch.”
What did he mean?
“Curly, can you wait with your brothers please?”
He nodded, but looked scared.
“Please come with us,” the male officer, or whatever he was, said.
Lydia clutched my hand painfully as we walked down a hall and into a small room.
“You’ll need to undress,” the man said.
He hadn’t even told us his name.
The woman frowned at him and said, “I’m Claudia, and this is Jason. He’ll sit over there and I’ll be the one to make sure everything’s okay.”
The offending object was a quarter.
Jason left without a word, and as Lydia was putting her clothes back on, Claudia whispered to me, “I’m sorry. We’ve had problems with drug lords using little black girls.”
“It was in her pocket. Why not start there?”
“Well, um, you know, you can never be too careful.”
Sammy was smiling. Curly was not. Freckles looked happy to see us.
“What’d she have?” Sammy said.
“Nothing significant,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“Not until you tell me what she had.”
“Sammy, I’m not going to talk about it. Let’s go.”
“Unh unh.” He folded his arms and acted like he was superglued to his chair.
Our flight was called.
“Let’s go,” I said. “We need to board the plane.”
“Not going until you tell me what she had.”
What was I going to do? I couldn’t just ignore him, but I didn’t want him to control me.
“A quarter,” Lydia whispered.
“What? I can’t hear you. Besides, you’re a liar. I’ll only believe Grandma.”
“Sammy,” Curly said in a near-whisper, “be quiet.”
He turned and headed for the gate.
I took Lydia’s hand and we followed.
“Can I have the window?” Freckles asked.
I certainly didn’t want it, so he got that seat, with Sammy next, then Curly, then Lydia, and then me.
“How’d you manage to escape from jail?”
It was the man across the aisle from me, and at first, I wasn’t sure who he was talking to, but then I figured it out. It was the same man who’d said, “Good catch.” He was talking to Lydia.
What bad luck to be sitting with him.
Sammy smiled at the man.
“She was packing, but they let her off because she’s only a kid.”
“Are you serious?”
“Of course he isn’t,” I said. “Please mind your own business and don’t talk to me or my family anymore.” I glared fiercely at him.
He saw that I meant it, shrugged, and opened a newspaper.
What was I going to do about Sammy? His behavior was spiraling out of control. Had losing his dad affected him so deeply that he could no longer love? But what about Kristin? I was pretty sure he did love her, and he certainly loved his brothers and his mom.
Did he love me? I wasn’t sure.
Was he just acting up because he was growing up?
But his behavior really didn’t seem like that of a normal twelve-year-old.
Not all of it, anyway.
He really seemed to hate Lydia. That was what it was. Hatred. He didn’t just not really like her because she was a little kid who’d been added to his family, he truly, actively hated her, but why? Was it purely because Abe had been shot by a black man and Sammy now hated all black people? I thought it was. Sammy didn’t want Freckles to play with Dan, and then what about Andy? Had he really tried to touch Sammy inappropriately? And of course, there was Chuck. He probably fit Sammy’s mental image of the man who’d killed his father. Had nobody talked to Sammy? Reassured him that Chuck was nothing like the man who had shot his dad? I was starting to think not, but even if somebody had, Sammy might need professional help to recover from his grief and to learn to meet each person on an individual basis. I’d have to wait until we got back, and then I would talk to Stacey. No matter how busy she believed she needed to be looking for a job, I was going to make certain that Sammy didn’t sit in whatever toxic brew of negative emotions he was stuck in, but got the help he needed, and got it fast.
The flight was uneventful. I spent it worrying about Sammy, and somewhere over some place, I realized that Sammy hadn’t started to play with TJ or Tilly. I knew he liked dogs as much as his brothers did, but he’d completely ignored them so far, and hadn’t even wanted to help us walk Tilly or carry TJ. Did he miss Popeye, the dog Abe had gotten, so much that he couldn’t befriend another? Poor Sammy. I really needed to talk to him in a positive way, instead of just yelling at him when he was mean or lecturing him about things.
“Welcome to Los Angeles. It’s 95 degrees, there’s no wind to speak of, and the humidity is 99 percent.”
We stepped from the cool plane into a miasma of wet heat and car fumes.
The first thing we needed to find was a pair of airconditioned hotel rooms.
To do that, I realized that we’d need a car or a van.
“Well, let’s go and rent a van,” I said, trying not to let my voice sound as heavy and unenthusiastic as the air.
“Can I drive it?” Freckles said.
“No,” I said, and smiled at him, “but you can help me pick it out.”
“A van?” The agent looked at me like I’d gone crazy.
“We don’t have any.”
“Do you have any vehicles that hold five people?”
She tapped some keys.
I thanked her and found anothr rental agency.
“Sorry, nothing that’ll carry five,” the man said.
I really didn’t want to take taxis everywhere, but it looked like we would have to.
I thanked him and we walked to the nearest hotel.
“We’re all booked up,” the clerk said.
The next hotel had only one room available.
Instad of walking around or having a taxi wait for us, I took out my phone and checked the Internet until I found a hotel that had two connecting rooms available. I also contacted rental car agencies and found a van.
Then I called a taxi.
By the time we’d checked into our rooms, we were all hungry.