Night had fallen by the time the car with Florida tags pulled into the Microtel off Interstate 77 Exit 49A.
Milton Beamon, 58, had spent the last hour pacing the lobby, taking deep breaths and anxiously patting his belly.
"There she is!" Beamon exclaimed to about 20 relatives in the lobby.
Beamon hadn't seen his sister, Deloris, since they were children in Eastern North Carolina, when their mom left with her to join a boyfriend in Florida. As a child, Milton Beamon cried most nights wondering where they were.
Now, 52 years later, Deloris was pulling into the hotel with her husband, Baptist pastor Gilbert Stewart.
When Deloris entered the lobby, she and Milton embraced. And didn't let go.
"OK, y'all only get two more minutes," one relative said finally.
Beamon and his sister, only 13 months apart in age, had looked for each other all their lives.
Their search ended a few weeks ago, when genealogy buff Kina Cartee of Denver discovered Deloris' picture during an Internet search for Beamon's sister.
Cartee works at the Statesville Housing Authority, where Zelda Turner, the sister of Beamon's wife, Chris, also works.
As chance would have it, the night before Cartee discovered Deloris' photo, Cartee met Rochelle Stevenson for the first time. Stevenson, the Beamons' daughter, owns Beauty By Rochelle on West Broad Street in Statesville.
Hmmm, Cartee thought, Rochelle sure resembles the picture of Deloris. And Deloris lives in the same area where Milton Beamon's mom, Geraldine, was last thought to have lived.
"I just thought (Rochelle) kind of favored (Deloris)," Cartee said as she waited with the Beamons in the Microtel lobby Feb. 18 for the Stewarts to pull in. The Stewarts had left Florida at 5 that morning and were delayed only when they hit commuter traffic in Charlotte.
"It was a stroke of luck and a needle in a haystack," Cartee said of her find.
Milton Beamon said he and his sister have talked daily by phone since Cartee's discovery, "just talking and laughing and acting silly, and catching up on 50 years of history."
Milton, a maintenance supervisor at Mitchell Community College, said he'd thought about his sister all through the years.
And Deloris had never stopped thinking about her brother.
"I used to talk to you every night, whether you knew it or not," Deloris told Milton at the Microtel, before everyone then headed to a nearby steakhouse. "Every night."
Deloris, 59, said she intensified her search for her brother in the months before their mother died in 1992.
Eventually, she said, "I had pretty much given up. My head had given up, but my heart wouldn't let me."
After their long embrace at the hotel, Milton Beamon pointed to the lipstick pressed on his white shirt.
"This shirt will be folded and framed," he said.
The lipstick wasn't just right on his heart, he said: "It's straight through my heart."