He snapped his cell phone shut and slid it into the pocket of his skintight jeans. The last piece was in place; it wouldn’t be long now. But the waiting was agonizing. Unbidden, the memory of his only ride on a roller coaster flooded over him, like a thousand tiny needles piercing his face and body: eight years old, trapped in that rickety little car with no escape, the feeling of breathtaking terror that mounted as it click-click-clicked its slow, inexorable climb to the top of the sky.
He shook his head to cleanse his mind of the memory, then abruptly grabbed his long brown hair and pulled it tightly into a ponytail behind his head. He held it there and exhaled again more slowly, trying to quiet his pulse. He couldn’t afford to lose it now. With the lift of his arms, his worn T-shirt rode up, and he absently admired in the little mirror above the dresser the reflection of the coiled snake tattooed on his slim, muscled belly.
He started pacing, the motel carpet crunching under his feet, and found that the action helped. Despite his anxiety, he moved with a loose-hipped grace. Back and forth he walked, considering his plan yet again, looking for flaws. No, he’d set it up just right. It would work. It had to work. He stopped to look around at the dimly lit motel room. “Room” was using the term loosely—it was little more than a box with a bed. His eyes fell on a switch on the wall. Just to have something to do,he went over and flipped it on. Nothing happened. He looked up and saw only a filthy ceiling fan. The sour smell of old cigarettes told him that it hadn’t worked in years. There were stains of undetermined origin on the walls that he thought were probably older than he was. The observation amused him. Neither the stains, nor the foul smell of decay, nor the hopeless dead-end feeling of the place fazed him at all. It wasn’t that much worse than a lot of the places he’d lived during his seventeen years on the planet.
In fact, far from depressing him, the ugly room made him feel triumphant. It represented the world he’d been born into, and the one he was finally leaving behind… forever. For the first time in a life that had nearly ended at the hands of a high-wired crackhead while his so-called mother was crashing in the next room, he was going to be in control. He paused to consider the memory of his early near demise—not a firsthand memory since he’d been only two months old when it happened, but rather a paragraph in the social worker’s report he’d managed to read upside down during a follow-up visit at one of the many foster homes where he’d been “raised” for the past sixteen or so years. As it always did, the memory of that report made him wonder whether his mother was still alive. The thought felt different this time, though. Instead of the usual helpless, distant ache—and rage—he felt power, the power to choose. Now he could find her… if he wanted to. Find her and show her that the baby she’d been too stoned to give a shit about had made it. Had scored the big score.
In just a few more minutes, he’d say good-bye to that loser kid who lived on the fringes. He stopped, dropped his hands to his hips, and stared out the grimy window as he savored the thought of having “fuck you” money. He planned to extend a vigorous middle finger to the many foster parents for whom he was just a dollar sign, to all the assholes he’d had to put up with for a meal and a bed. And if he did decide to find his mother, he’d show up with something awesome for her, a present, like a dress or jewelry. Something to make her sorry for all the years she’d let him be lost to her. He pictured himself giving her whatever it was in a fancy, store-wrapped box. He tried to picture the expression on her face, but the image wouldn’t resolve. The only photo he had of her—taken when he was less than a year old—was so faded, only the outline of her long brown hair was still visible. Still, the thought of being able to play the Mac Daddy puffed him up, and for a moment he let himself go there, enjoying the fantasy of his mother really loving him.
The knock on the door jolted him back to reality. He swallowed and struggled for a deep breath, then walked toward the door. He noticed his hands were shaking, and he quickly rubbed them on his thighs to make them stop. He slowly released his breath and willed his face to relax as he opened the door.
“Hey,” he said, then held the door open and moved aside to let in his visitor. “What took you so long?”
“Lost track of the time, sorry.” The visitor stepped inside quickly.
“You have it all?” the boy asked, wary.
The visitor nodded. The boy smiled and let the door close behind him.