Byron jumped and Jason shot up like someone in the tiny bed had kicked him. He snapped his fingers at Byron much the way I did when giving a command to my dogs and pointed. Byron didn't wait for a vocal command to follow. He pulled the covers up over his head like the cowardly lion he turned out to be and shook. With Stephanie sound asleep still on my other side, I was completely pinned in and couldn't move. I glanced at the electronic clock on the shabby table by the bed. The numbers changed as I stared through the darkness. 5:04
Jason crept to the door as it shook. The handle turned this way and that. The bolt strained to keep the thin wood in place. Finally the latch broke with much force and the chain lock was the only thing keeping the door closed. An arm reached in through the opening.
Jason kicked at the hand with more force than I'd have managed to muster. Still the hand kept coming. A face appeared - an unshaven, unclean, dirty and scarred face. Wild eyed, the man peered about into the room. Something about him looked lost or disoriented.
"Come on, Baby! What'd I do this time? Why'd you lock me out?" He slurred. "I only went to get some ice!"
"Wrong room," Jason barked at the stranger.
"Oh, Baby are you cheating on me? Damn it, I was only gone a minute and a half and you already got someone in there with you? Let me in, I'll KILL 'em!"
"Wrong room," Jason shouted again, but the arm kept reaching. Red lines raced up the strangers arm from little marks that looked like bug bites just on the inside of his elbow. His arm was think, unusually skinny. The long red streaks reminded me of when I had an infected toe as a kid. I couldn't understand how this guy could get an infection on the inside of his arm like that. Still, that thin arm continued to reach. It got a grip on Jason's pants and he flailed wildly. He tried to slam the door on the intruders arm, but the arm didn't budge. Finally the grip loosened and Jason tried to shove the arm back through the opening.
"Come on, Baby," we heard again, but this time coming from a girls voice. "You're at the wrong room," it said. The wildly reaching arm slowly disappeared and was replaced by a woman's face with sunken, shallow eyes and hair that resembled a broom. "Sorry 'bout that," she said to Jason. "He got lost."
Jason slammed the door closed and slid down with his shoulders against the back side of the door. He sat there leaning up against the blue portal breathing heavily. Byron still didn't move other than to shake out of fear. Stephanie snored away next to me. I was still trapped in the middle of the bed, not sure what to do.
Jason stood up and walked across to the bed. He shook Stephanie awake and started grabbing things up to shove them in bags and paused only long enough to zip up his mysteriously unzipped pants. Stephanie groggily opened her eyes, and Byron finally pulled the covers off of his face.
"Wait," Stephanie said as Jason snatched at things to throw in the car, "I need my pants."
Finally, Byron stood straight up in the bed. His little sister had been in the same bed as him without any pants on? His face turned green. Jason grabbed Stephanie's pants and handed them to her, As he did, her underwear fell out of one of the leg holes. Byron jumped up and raced to the bathroom where we all heard him retching in agony. That lasted at least 20 minutes.
By the time Byron came out, the three of us were ready to go. I was sitting on the floor blocking the door from being burst open again while Stephanie and Jason were sitting on the foot of the bed. Byron lunged. He and Jason tumbled to the floor together, knocking and kicking, screaming and shouting.
"How could you do this," Byron screamed. "She's just a little girl!"
"She knew what she was doing," Jason shouted back. Stephanie threw on her pants and burst into tears. She ran for the door, but I was blocking it. I refused to let her out. We already knew it wasn't safe out there. She tried to pry the window open, but it was far more secure than we had thought. Finally she made a mad dash for the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. The boys paused. Byron wrinkled up his nose and Jason mouthed the word "eww" under his breath. The smell of expelled chili and pizza could surely be smelled from quite a distance. Byron had been in there a while. The boys looked back at one another and started to fight once more.
"She's only 13 years old," Byron screamed. "And she's my little sister!"
"Yeah, and I love her," Jason screamed back. Byron paused. His face contorted into something I'd never seen another living being emulate, before or since.
"Then you're a pedophile!" Byron spat into Jason's face. Saliva dripped from his nose.
"She came on to ME," Jason yelled.
The sound of breaking glass stopped the boys in mid swing. It was a good thing - Jason really had the upper hand on Byron. He was beating him to a pulp. The sound had come from the bathroom. Both of them looked at me and I jumped up to check on Stephanie. It could have been anything in there breaking.
I burst through the bathroom door - it hadn't been locked. The room stank of bile. There stood Stephanie on the back of the crusty brownish toilet trying to squeeze her bulk through the small bathroom window she had broken with the hair drier.
"Shit," I exclaimed. I grabbed her by the ankle and pulled her back into the bathroom. When she landed on the toilet seat lid I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to where the boys were. "We gotta go." I unchained the door and began to march out to the car, Stephanie in tow. The boys followed closely behind us. Stephanie tried to break free of me and run, but I threw my foot out and tripped her. She sprawled face first into the dirt and began to cry.
"Get up," I said, coldly. She curled up in a ball and sobbed. The tears made clean streaks in her dust covered face. Gravel bit at her cheek. Byron grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet.
"You think you're an adult now? Yeah? Then start acting like it." He threw her towards the car and she collapsed again at the door. Even Jason was fed up with the childish act.
"Get your ass in the car," Jason said. Stephanie stood up and crawled over the seat into the back of the car, where she immediately curled up in a ball and sobbed some more.
Jason waited for me to get in the back with her and then jumped into the passenger seat. Byron sped off down the road leading toward the freeway.
"What happened in there," Byron asked.
"She broke a window and was trying to run off."
"We've got a lot to talk about," Byron said to Stephanie, "but it's not worth running away for." The irony of that sentence resonated in my mind for every mile I traveled after that point for the rest of my life. "Jason, you didn't pay with a credit card, did you?"
"No," Jason responded. "I paid cash and I gave a fake name."
"Oh yeah," Byron asked, beginning to nurse a swelling eye. "Which name did you use?"
Byron grimaced. Jason's dad had an unusual name. It wouldn't be long before the families figured out that they were on their way to Arizona. Byron visualized a group of squad cars waiting for them at the state line, ready to force them home and to pay for the broken hotel room window and busted lock.
Just about the time we reached the freeway entrance, squad cars went screaming past us on the other side of the road. Byron pulled off the shoulder to wait for them to pass. He watched the rear view mirror as they each turned down the road leading to the little blue motel.
Each of us faced forward and didn't say another word for the next 200 miles.