“Where are your boots?” Gary asked, looking down at the younger of his two boys.
Michael shrugged without looking up. He had searched everywhere he could think of, but he hadn’t found them. If Mom were here, she would know where they are, he thought with a bitter pang.
“You better find them or we’re going to be late.”
Michael watched his father’s feet as they padded back down the hallway to his bedroom. Gary’s socks didn’t match but Michael didn’t say anything. These days, Gary was always rushed and frustrated. He said it was because he needed the boys’ help, now that it was just the three of them, that he couldn’t do it all himself. And he said that at six and nine, they were old enough to take on more responsibility.
Michael didn’t really know what that meant. He also wasn’t sure where to search for the boots. Instead, he stayed seated by the door, running his fingers back and forth through the carpet’s beige pile. The tracks his fingers left in it gave him some comfort.
“Psst,” his brother whispered from their bedroom door down the hall. Michael looked up to see Jeremy’s face peeking around the doorframe. He winked, disappeared for a second, then stuck his hands out to drop two boots onto the hallway carpet.
“Jerem-y!” Michael whined. He jumped up and raced to nab the boots before his father saw them. Gary would not be happy about boots on the hallway floor. The hotel had warned them they would be charged for any extra cleaning or damage when they checked out. Whenever that’ll be, thought Michael.
He scurried back to his spot by the door, grumbling at his brother under his breath. When Gary emerged from his room a few minutes later, he found both boys standing dressed and ready at the door.
For a moment, his preoccupied frown cleared. He even almost smiled. “Well, look at the two of you, all ready and waiting. It’s taken a few weeks but I’m happy to see you’re getting the hang of it.” He looked over his shoulder, making sure he had everything, scowled at the dishes piled in the kitchen sink, then turned off the lights and led the boys out into the main hallway.
The building was quiet and still, all sounds absorbed and deadened by the ubiquitous beige carpeting. In the elevator, Michael watched the numbers light up in reverse order: 5, 4, 3, 2… His stomach rumbled audibly as a bedraggled man in a worn business suit stepped into the elevator. Michael wondered why someone would take an elevator down one floor.
The doors opened with a bing that echoed off the glistening beige stone walls and floor of the lobby.
The rumpled businessman headed out into the pale winter dawn, while Gary and the boys turned left toward the breakfast room.
“We don’t have time to sit down this morning,” Gary said. He said the same thing every morning before the boys could ask about the hot buffet. “Grab a muffin and a drink and then we better get going.”
Five minutes later, the three of them said their goodbyes under the hotel’s glowing green “Extended Stay” sign.
Gary rushed off to his office while Michael and Jeremy trudged down the street to school. As they sipped their milky sweet coffees and picked at the blueberry muffins, they reminisced about the big breakfasts their mother used to make for them, wondering where she was at that moment and whether she still made French toast.