As we pulled into the roadside parking lot of the Lake View Inn, Gray sighed. "This kind of hotel makes me uncomfortable."
"Why?" I asked, knowing the answer, but wondering how he would put it into words.
"Because the hallway is out in the open. It makes me feel... vulnerable."
Vulnerable. Pushing open the door to the tiny office, I pondered his vocabulary. Not bad for a ten-year-old, I thought with a smile. Smiling made me feel better. I was apprehensive about the place, too. As a rule our family stayed for free at nicer hotels, thanks to points accrued on various credit cards—cards specifically chosen for this purpose. A thousand miles from our former home, at the mercy of lawyers and mortgage brokers and banks, our points ran out. We spent almost a week in a nice hotel as we waited for our pre-approved load to go through. Now that we were paying to stay in hotels with no closing date in sight, family morale was a bit low. Gray's word choice was a bright spot.
The lady behind the counter perked up when she saw me smile. She was pleasant, but very efficient, and seemed slightly irritated at my inability to answer her question, How long will you be staying?
The moment I asked her name—Mattie—and explained our plight, her demeanor changed. She rounded up a microwave and mini fridge from other vacant rooms for us, even thought I insisted we did not need them. But she had seen the grapes and the jug of milk in the back of the car when she was offering to help carry the luggage. Mattie was slight of frame, and obviously older than me. I refused to include her in the hauling of the bags, a precarious task that involved a rickety staircase. When it came to the appliances, though, there was no use arguing. She was insistent: our family would have them, free of charge. All that was required of me was to help schlepp them into the room.
"Are you from around here?" I asked over the top of the fridge, in an effort to be friendly. At this particular moment, I was tired. Tired from the move and all events leading up to it; tired from a week of life spent in a free, nicer hotel (the kind with indoor hallways and impenetrable doors); tried of trying to meet deadlines while simultaneously entertaining child and dog in a small, enclosed space. I was also annoyed to be hefting a fridge that I did not want, in order to store battered grapes and milk that had been trapped in a hot car for several hours and needed to be dumped anyway. My effort to be friendly at this moment was very real.
"No," she said with a shrug. "I'm not from around here. I had a bad run of luck a while back, lost my job of twenty years. I'm in my sixties, you know. So I decided to move somewhere beautiful."
"Are things working out?" I asked, genuinely interested now.
"Well," she said, "I found this job, and they let me live here." She smiled weakly at me. She seemed lonely. And with that she left us in the little room with the lake view—me, and Gray, and the dog—and I hung my head, utterly ashamed.
Gray interrupted the silence. "This room smells like maple syrup." He wrinkled his nose to show his displeasure.
"You're right!" I said. "Smells good, doesn't it?"
And we prayed for Mattie.