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As the movie credits scrolled onto the screen, Lane clutched her armrests as if her life depended on it and angst-filled her abdomen. She turned and studied Charlie as he scooped a handful of buttery popcorn from the oversized bucket on his lap. She smiled as she watched him shove the kernels into his tiny mouth, several pieces landing on his Spiderman shirt. The last time she saw him, he was obsessed with Pokémon. This time, it was Spiderman. She leaned her head against the seat, hoping there would be some sort of encore. Do movies have encores? No, that’s only concerts, she thought. Lane had spent half the movie staring at Charlie and the other half, staring at the screen, wishing it would never end. Why are children’s movies so short? she wondered with a sigh.
She took the pack of half-eaten Sour Patch Kids off her lap and offered them to her son, trying to buy more of his love with sugar. She had used the last of her tip money on the snacks. Whatever she could do to make Charlie happy. Make him love her. When he didn’t take his eyes off the screen, she shook the sugary box closer to his face. She watched as his eyes lit up in delight and he grabbed the box, swapping the popcorn for the candy.
People sitting around them began to get out of their seats, leaving remains of candy wrappers, popcorn boxes, and paper cups behind them in their wake. Don’t people have any regard for the employees who work here? Lane thought as she took her phone out of her bag to check the time. It was 5:15 pm, she had fifteen more minutes until Charlie’s dad came to get him from her. She tried not to waste the space in her head on the leftover trash in the room and focus her attention on Charlie.
“What’d ya think kiddo?” she whispered to Charlie, lightly poking him in the stomach playfully. He used to love being tickled as a baby. Always giggling and wiggling. The happiest baby in the world, people always told her.
With a mouth too full of sour candy to respond, Charlie gave his mom a thumbs up, indicating he enjoyed it. His big, brown eyes glistened in the dim light. She leaned over and tousled his dirty blonde curls and then allowed her hand to linger on his head, slowly lowering it down his back. She wanted this touch, this moment, to last longer. Longer than the two hours in the movie. Longer than her court-appointed time with him.
“Unsupervised visitation granted,” the judge had announced, after an excruciating six months of having someone she didn’t know supervise her with her child. Someone watching her eat with him at McDonald’s. Watching her walk with him in the park. Watching her push him on the swings. The child she had spent nine months carrying. At least this was better than that.
“It’ll be over before you know it,” her mom had assured her. “Just clean up and get yourself straight.” As if that was the easiest thing in the world. It should be, shouldn’t it? Lane had thought.
It wasn’t as if Lane wanted this. She wanted more than anything in the world to be with her son. To be a good mother. But sometimes, her demons were stronger than what her heart wanted. Sometimes, she hated herself more than she loved her son.
The lights began to grow brighter, and Lane glanced around, noticing that she and Charlie were the only people left in the theater. Charlie leaned over and took his bottle of water from the cup holder, taking a long sip.
“Mommy, everyone’s gone,” Charlie acknowledged, pointing towards the empty seats. He rubbed his eyes, leaving a residue of salt and butter behind. Lane wished she had a baby wipe to wipe his face clean; she used to keep a pack in her purse. Always dabbing at his face, wiping his runny nose. But now she didn’t need them anymore, did she? What was the point if she only saw him every other week for two hours? She took the sleeve of her shirt and dabbed at his face, trying her best to make him presentable for his father.
Lane looked down at her phone again: 5:27 pm.
“We still have three minutes, baby,” she assured him, leaning her head against his shoulder, trying to savor the last few minutes she had with him.
“Are daddy and Kara picking me up?” Charlie asked, poking her forehead with his greasy finger.
Hearing Kara’s name, Lane tried not to wince. Tried to keep a smile on her face.
“Yea, baby,” she said, placing her hand over his.
“And you are going back to your house?” he asked, scratching his head.
“Yea, baby,” she said again. Charlie hadn’t ever been to her halfway house. She didn’t want him to see her there. As soon as she got a year of sobriety, she’d get her own place and try to get more custody. Get him a room of his own. A bed with a Spiderman blanket.
Her phone began to buzz, and she looked down, knowing who it was.
“Is that daddy?” Charlie asked, pointing towards her phone.
“Yea, baby,” she said. “It’s time to go meet him outside.” She tried to hold in the tear creeping out from the corner of her eye.
“I can’t wait to tell him about the movie!” he hollered, getting up from his seat as he ran towards the exit. “Come on, mommy, let’s go!”
Lane’s hand instinctively reached up to catch him. Get him back. Just one more minute. She retrieved her hand and placed it on her forehead where he had poked her earlier. A simple touch she would think about all week. She grabbed the empty popcorn and candy boxes from their seats and followed Charlie towards the exit. One day she would get him back.
One day she would get him back.