It was with a ponderous sigh that Richard St. James finally killed the engine to his car. He sat there for a moment, flexing his fingers and trying to drum up the energy to move. Richard knew he looked like a wreck, his short sandy hair rumpled, his green eyes resting above dark rings. But at last he had made it to the motel, and could get some sleep.
“Daddy?” chirped a voice from the back seat. “Can I get out now?”
Smiling softly despite himself, Richard turned to the back to see his son pushing ineffectually against the red button of his car-seat with his stubby fingers. His brow was furrowed in concentration, his blond hair falling over his eyes as he looked down at the lock.
“Sure thing, soldier,” Richard said. “Just give Dad a minute.”
Regan looked up at him and beamed, his hazel eyes scrunched almost closed with the force of his smile.
Shaking his head, Richard pocketed his keys and came around to the back. He opened his son’s door and then leaned in to unlock his straps. When that was done he started to lean back, but Regan held out his arms expectantly. Scooping him up, Richard set him on his hip and closed the door.
Unlike himself, Regan peered around with bright eyes and curious glances, taking in everything. The boy was not yet four years old, but was already stumping his teachers at his observation training.
Richard fished the keys back out of his pocket, wondering why he’d put them there in the first place, and popped the trunk. He hauled out his duffel, pushing the strap on the shoulder opposite of Regan. Next he dug out his son’s tiny back-pack and handed it to him. Regan made a happy noise and clutched it to his chest. His clothes were in Richard’s own bag, so the only thing in the back-pack was his purple elephant named, of course, Elly.
“You ready to get a room?” Richard asked.
Nodding, Regan’s eyes slid from his pack to the front door of the motel. “Yup. But I’m not sleepy.”
Richard said, “Of course you aren’t.”
A bell jingled above them as they walked inside, and a nicely plump woman with curly dark hair looked up from her magazine.
“And who is this adorable little man?” she asked, delighted.
Regan blushed, and hid his face against his father’s shoulder. It just made the lady coo some more.
“Regan,” Richard said, “don’t be rude. This nice lady asked you a question.”
Straightening up, he stuck out his hand toward the lady. “I’m Wegan, nice to meet you.”
She laughed. “Aren’t you just the cutest thing? I’m Loretta.” She reached out to shake his hand.
“Lo…Lo’etta,” Regan tried.
“That’s right,” she said. “Handsome and smart, aren’t you just the most.”
He ducked his head, turning red again.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, turning to Richard. “Get a little sidetracked around the young ones. What can I do for you?”
“We need a single room, queen bed, preferably,” Richard told her.
Smiling wide as she turned to her computer she said, “Little guy not sleeping on his own yet?”
Looking down at his son, he replied, “He does at home, but can’t quite manage it when we’re out and about.”
“I see,” she said, chicken-pecking at the keyboard. “What are you doing down these parts?”
“Father-son road trip,” Richard said. “We’re hitting as many states as possible, having our own fun.”
Leaning in, Regan said in a loud whisper, “We on a secwet mission, but I can’t say fo’ why.”
“Oh, my.” Loretta sounded suitably impressed, and Regan preened. “How exciting.”
“Hawley thinks I’m too small, but Daddy says I’m big enough,” Regan said proudly.
“Harley,” Richard said, “his cousin.”
Loretta flapped her hand. “Oh, what does Harley know anyway? I think you’re a very big boy. Why, you might even be bigger than your daddy someday.”
Regan gave her a toothy grin. Then he looked down at his back-pack, and then back up at her. “He…he says big boys don’t take teddys on twips, but Elly’s not a teddy beaw anyway.”
“You know what, Regan?” Loretta said, “Even big boys need their teddys every now and then. Not a thing wrong with it.”
He smiled shyly, and clutched his back-pack tighter. “Elly is an ellyphant.”
“Well there’s a world of difference between teddy bears and elephants,” Loretta said. “Everybody knows that.”
Grinning again, he settled back against his father, satisfied. Loretta spent a moment just looking at him in adoration before turning back to work. Finally she got everything printed off, and handed it to Richard to sign. He set Regan down on the counter while he did so.
Leaning in close, Loretta said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Maybe if you ask your daddy real nicely you can have this candy.” She held up a red and white peppermint.
Regan’s face lit up, and he turned to his father imploringly. “Oh, Daddy, can I? Can I, pwease?”
Richard tapped the pen against the side of his mouth. “I don’t know…”
Hazel eyes as wide as he could make them, Regan looked up at his father from the fringe of his hair. “Pwease, Daddy? Pweeeeeeease?”
“I’ll tell you what,” Richard said. “If you can say ‘please’ with the ‘L’ like we talked about, you can have it.”
Nodding frantically, Regan said, “Okay, I can do it.”
He scrunched up his face and said very slowly, “Puh…ellll…ease. Puh-ell-ease.” He peeked up at his father. “Did I do it?”
Richard smiled. “Close enough.”
“Yay!” He turned to Loretta. “Can I have it, puh-ell-ease?”
“Of course you can,” she handed him the candy. “You did so good.”
He grinned at her as he gripped both ends of the wrapper and started twisting.
“You need some help?” she asked.
“I can do it,” he said.
Chuckling, Loretta shuffled over to take the papers from Richard. She put them in a folder behind the desk.
“He seems like a good boy,” she said. “And talks pretty fair for his age. Three, four?”
“Three,” Richard said. “He does his Ls pretty well, but ‘please’ trips him up for some reason.”
Loretta nodded. “That’s normal. The Rs will come next, I bet?”
“I believe so.” They were both watching Regan now as he ripped the plastic off and shoved the mint triumphantly into his mouth. “He’s getting to the point where he realizes he’s not saying it right but can’t quite hear the difference yet. He really wants to say his name.”
A smile broke Loretta’s face. “That’s so cute.” To Regan she said, “How’s that candy treating you?”
“Ish good.” His reply was mangled around a mouthful of peppermint. Both adults laughed.
“Well, soldier,” Richard said, lifting Regan off the counter. “Let’s go hit the sack, huh?”
“That meansh shleepy time,” he told Loretta.
“You don’t say?” She sounded amazed.
“It’s a good thing you stopped by,” she said.
Regan beamed, waving at her as they left the lobby.