He sat in the upstairs room, gazing out the window at the street below. The summer day was hot, but he had no desire to go outside and play.
He could hear them below, frantically looking for him, but it wouldn't do any good. He knew how to move silently and he knew how to be invisible.
He'd found that room, hidden behind a panel in the closet, when he'd been trying to figure out how a house with four rooms upstairs could have six upstairs windows when there was only one in each room. So he'd kept it to himself, his own little secret, and ran to it when things got too bad.
The memories that were his-and-not-his kept coming. It had been overwhelming today. He knew all he had to do was hold on until they came home.
He really didn't like it here. He wanted to go back to the huge house with the stained glass windows and the warm woman's touch in his mind. Here, there was nothing but emptiness while they were gone.
And their work made them be gone all day long, every day. He rarely got to see them. They kept telling him they were trying to go home and they'd take him home as soon as they could.
But in the meanwhile, he kept getting left with babysitters. Occasionally, one would try to teach him some math and he'd end up educating them.
So now, they had one of four rotating ones. The big guy with the gold symbol was fun. He was helping him learn more about tracking and practical stuff. Every time he learned, he'd show his uncle, who would tear up and hug him so hard he couldn't breathe.
He liked to be hugged that way.
The first time he'd told her that there was more to life than maths, the pretty blonde who came by had looked at him kind of strange, but then she'd nodded. He realised he'd upset her in some way, but he didn't know how.
He really didn't like the one with the loud voice. All he wanted to do was watch TV and teach him about sports. But they were all the wrong sports.
The other one was a couple -- a man with glasses and a woman with long, dark hair. They were kind, they took good care of him. They were harder to fool -- the woman was a lot more savvy than she pretended to be -- but he'd managed it today.
Today, he wanted his family. That's all he wanted. He wanted his family and nothing would--
He stood, smiling as he saw their car pull up and the three get out. He raced to the secret room's door and bolted from it.
"--don't understand," the man with glasses was saying as he appeared at the front door. "There's no evidence he left the house, his shoes were still there and you know he doesn't go out without his shoes, but we can't--"
But nobody was listening any more. His father pushed the aviators on top of his head and said one word, "Rodney."
And he ran across the porch and down the steps, launching into his father's arms. "I'm sorry I hid," he sobbed. "But I couldn't take you being gone any more!"
"Shh, buddy," his father said, rocking him as he held him close. "Shhh, it's okay. Nobody's mad. We're just glad you're safe."
"As for us being gone," his mother said, sliding her fingertips down his bare arm, dark against pale, "that is no longer a problem."
He frowned at her and looked back at his father, who was smiling. "You're coming with us, Rodney. We're going home. Now."
"Now?" he gasped. "Now?" he asked again, looking at his mother.
"Now," his uncle said, sliding a large hand over the boy's curls. "They finally agreed that you'd be happier at home, as we all would."
He broke into the first genuine smile they'd seen for weeks. Then it faded. "I need to get 'Lenka."
"I will get 'Lenka," Mama said as she moved to the dark-haired woman's side and took his sleeping brother from her arms. "And your clothing."
"Not while holding Torren, you won't," his uncle teased, lifting the sleeping toddler himself. "Now go get them."
While they waited, his father sat with him on the bonnet of the car, talking to him about what they would do when they got home. Then his face lit and he held out both arms for ''Lenka' as his mother returned.
As he waited for them to buckle Torren into the car seat before it would be his own turn to be put in one, he held the yellow-furred stuffed cat close and pointed to the house. "See that, 'Lenka?" he asked it. "We're not gonna live here anymore. We're going home and we're going to stay." Then, in a moment of uncertainty, he turned to his father. "Right?"
And his father, aviators back in place over tearing eyes, ruffled his hair. "Yeah, buddy. We're going home to stay."
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