“Enjoying the first night in the new house?”
“Ah!” I jump slightly, but calm when I see that it’s only him, and I glance down at the sleeping form of Nicko, making sure my little start didn’t wake him. It didn’t; he is fast asleep, nestled in the blanket I myself am wrapped in, as well.
“Sorry, Saul; did I wake you?” I ask, shifting my position to make room for him as he makes to sit. It’s an awkward process, for he’s not wearing the prosthetic.
“No. Just wanted to check up on you. Anyway, the bed is awfully cold without you.”
Smiling slightly, I stare ahead at the flickering potbelly stove, nestled comfortably between the wall and his shoulder.
“So what brought you out here? Did Nicko cry?” asks Saul.
“Not really. He started to, and I couldn’t sleep anyhow. And hardly any of the furniture is unpacked yet, so on the ground I went.”
My husband chuckles, throwing an arm round my shoulder and squeezing the nape of my neck ever so slightly. “Bah. Who needs sleep, anyway?”
“You,” I tell him pointedly. “You have work in the morning—construction, then playing at the recital-”
“A few minutes sitting here won’t make any difference. I’m tired every bloody morning no matter how much sleep I get.” Nicko stirs and murmurs something in his sleep, and Saul grins, reaching over and touching our baby’s face first, then moving up to his curly yellow locks. “Got my hair,” he says.
I nudge him with my shoulder. “You say that every time you see him.”
“Is it a sin to be proud a’ my hair?”
“Technically, pride is a sin.”
“Oh, shove off, Crow, you-”
“Took the words right out of my mouth.”
I nudge him again, and he laughs.
Suddenly, I hear the soft pitter-patter of naked feet going down the stairs in the attempted stealthiest that only a small child can emulate. They pause just outside the doorway and if I listen hard, I can hear my son’s stifled breathing in the hallway.
“Caleb,” calls Saul in the tone of a seasoned father, and there’s a sharp intake of breath. “Caleb, I can hear you, chief. Come on.”
After a petulant sigh, my oldest son’s unkempt black fringe and large, shrewd eyes come into view, dimly lit by the flickering pilot light of the stove. His narrow shoulders are hunched slightly and he looks a bit sheepish as he drags in his stuffed rabbit and blanket.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he says, regarding us from the far side of the room.
“It’s awfully late for you to be up, darling,” I tell him, straightening a bit. “Aren’t you tired?”
He nods. “I am. But I had a bad dream. I got frightened.”
“All right, then, Cal, come on over. You’ll camp with us tonight,” says Saul.
His young, round face bursting with elation, Caleb runs forward, slips a bit, and lands in a heap between the train of my nightgown and Saul’s sleeve. Giggling, he draws his blanket up around him, clutching the old, familiar rabbit tight, the rabbit that his namesake had clutched more than twenty years ago.
“The whole family’s here,” Saul laughs, ruffling the boy’s hair first, then touching our baby’s. I burrow in closer to him, careful not to jostle Nicko, and revel in the warmth and togetherness of this moment.
“Goodnight Mum and Papa, goodnight Nicko,” says little Caleb. “Mum, can Nicko understand me?”
“Maybe not yet. But he can hear you.”
“Does he love me?”
“Of course he does. Do you love him?”
Caleb peers up at the bundle of flaxen curls and pale skin that I cradled in my arms, and his mouth pulled into a small, gap-toothed smile that made his green eyes flicker. “Yep! I do. ‘Cept he does cry a lot. And poops. He’s stinky but I love him.” He paused for a moment, looking between I and his father. “Mum, do you love Nicko more than me?”
“I love you both in different, equal ways, little bird,” I murmur.
“And you, Papa?”
“What your mother said.” At the boy’s dubious expression, Saul leans down and kisses him roughly on the forehead. “But you’ll always be my first man.”
Satisfied, Caleb settles back down, burrowing between us, curling into himself, and soon he is asleep. And here we are, a small, huddled, tender young family, kept warm by love and a pilot light.
art, writing, characters (c) me