Jesse peered into the dark room. His hand still clutched tight in his Uncle’s. Uncle Gabe hadn’t let go of it since they got here.
Uncle Gabe flicked the light on and sighed. “I know it’s not much, kiddo, but we’ll get your stuff. We can buy some nice sheets and some toys. Liven it up a bit.”
The room was painted off-white, with a large bed with a metal bed frame in the centre of the room pushed up against the back wall. There was a lamp on the bedside table and a dresser with nothing on it. It wasn’t at all like his room at home which had been painted with oranges and reds, had pillows and a nice duvet on his bed, and had all his toys.
He looked up at Uncle Gabe. “Why did the policemen take Mommy away?” he asked.
Uncle Gabe squeezed his hand and Jesse tried to pull it free without luck. Uncle Gabe’s face did a funny scrunchy thing and he wouldn’t look at Jesse.
“It’s… It’s something we’re sorting out, okay? Don’t you worry about it. You’re just going to be with me a few days and then everything will be back to normal.”
“It’s because Mommy hurt Dad, right?”
Uncle Gabe’s face did that scrunchy thing again and this time he let go of Jesse’s hand. Jesse pulled his hand back and rubbed it, holding it near his chest so that it couldn’t be grabbed again.
“Let’s get you into some clean pjs and into bed. It’s late.”
Mommy hadn’t answered him either. She had hugged him and told him not to look. Her hands had blood on them and she had got it all over the front of his pyjamas.
“‘m not tired,” Jesse said. He hadn’t slept on the car ride, either. It had felt long. Uncle Gabe had tried to talk to him at first but it had been silent most of the way. He hadn’t even turned the radio on.
“It’s late, champ. You’ll nod off once your head hits the pillow.”
Jesse dressed himself in the clean pyjamas from his bag. Mommy had packed it while the policemen watched her. One of the policemen had sat with him in the lounge room and had showed Jesse his badge. Uncle Gabe showed up not long after.
The bed was cold. The mattress hard. But Uncle Gabe pulled up the covers and tucked him in. “If you need anything my room is just across the hall. Just come get me.”
Jesse nodded. He wouldn’t be going to get Uncle Gabe for anything.
With the lights off it was almost pitch black. Jesse didn’t mind sleeping in the dark. He wasn’t afraid. But at home he had a nightlight on the dresser. It was a basketball and if he touched it, it changed colors. He had got it for Christmas last year.
He tucked Mr Wolfy under his arm and rolled over, staring at the blank wall.
He wanted to go home.
He did slip into a sleep at some point because he woke up at dawn, just before the sun started to rise. There was that first dawn light coming in through the blinds and he could just make out the objects in the room.
He yawned and rolled over, kicking the blankets off. Uncle Gabe had showed him the bathroom when they arrived. He slipped out of bed and his feet hit the cold wooden floor. He curled his toes and hurried across the room and slipped out the door.
Everything was silent and Jesse stuck to the edge of the hallway, feet silent as he tiptoed his way to the toilet. He usually wasn’t allowed out of his room at night.
He used the bathroom and winced at the sound the flush made, hoping it wouldn’t wake Uncle Gabe.
He slipped back into the hallway and saw the light on in his Uncle’s room. Cold dread swam over him. He had woken him up.
Jesse froze in the hallway as the door opened and Uncle Gabe stuck his head out and spotted him.
“You okay?” he asked.
Jesse paused. Uncle Gabe wasn’t yelling at him. He nodded slowly and his shoulders relaxed against the wall.
“You need a drink or something? Let’s get you some water.”
Jesse tensed up as Uncle Gabe passed him in the hall. But he didn’t grab Jesse, just walked past him out towards the kitchen. Jesse watched with wide eyes before slinking after him.
The kettle was on the stove when he got to the kitchen and Uncle Gabe was getting a mug from the cupboard.
“You want a hot drink, buddy? I can get you some hot chocolate.”
Jesse shook his head, peering over the bench at his Uncle.
“Alright, here you go then.”
A big glass of cold water was placed in front of him on the bench. Jesse reached up and took it carefully and sipped from the glass, careful not to spill a drop.
He watched as Uncle Gabe made himself a coffee. Sugar but no milk. He didn’t have a little bottle like Dad did to add into the mug. It smelled of coffee and nothing else.
“Do you want to go back to bed?” Uncle Gabe asked.
Jesse looked at him. He should have to go back to bed. He wasn’t allowed to get up before seven.
When he didn’t answer, Uncle Gabe sort of smiled at him, but it didn’t look right, like he wasn’t really smiling.
“Come on, kid. You can watch some cartoons. That always cheers me up.”
Jesse’s eyes went wide. He never got to watch cartoons. He followed Uncle Gabe eagerly into the lounge room. There was a big leather sofa and a huge TV on the wall. Everything was very clean and bare. Uncle Gabe patted the spot next to him on the couch and took Jesse’s glass from him carefully, grabbing a coaster and setting it on the glass coffee table in front of the couch.
Uncle Gabe switched on the TV and flicked to the right channel. Jesse looked at the remote with all its buttons. He’d never seen anyone with cable TV before. He knew there was all kinds of channels and shows that weren’t on normal TV.
“Here you go. You watch what you want.” Uncle Gabe held out the remote.
Jesse took it carefully, watching his Uncle closely. He’d never used the remote before. He wasn’t allowed to touch it at home. But his Uncle was handing it to him. Not that he would change the channel. He would just watch what Uncle Gabe put on. He’d never seen these cartoons anyway.
“You relax and watch some cartoons. I’ll just be in the kitchen if you need me, okay?”
Jesse nodded. He sat stiffly on the couch, not wanting to make any mess. It looked expensive. Their couch at home had patches and dirty marks and stains. There were no stains on this couch.
Gabe smiled at him again but it was like the other smile. Jesse watched him leave out of the corner of his eye before he felt his back and shoulders relax.
He turned to face the TV and some of the tightness left his chest.