When her phone rang she answered absent-mindedly, then sat up and took notice.
“Oh hi, Pats. Yes. They’ve just arrived. He seems fine. This Sam has a good way of handling him. He makes everything seem normal. What’s he like? I didn’t look that close. They are all in the bath together now. You want me to sneak a peek? Right. I’ll behave. He’s nearly big enough to be a Cracksman, just not quite as hefty. Dark hair and skin. Not your regular middle-class Caucasian doctor. Do I like him? I dunno. I have barely exchanged two words with him. I don’t not like him, and Rod and Bill like him a great deal. The jumper? Oh yeah, I get that. It’s a symbol. Bill was disoriented, nauseated, and still a bit scared. Sam gave him something soft and warm, the added bonus being that Sam obviously uses Eau Sauvage too, so it smells like Jim. It’s about being safe, so he gets to keep it. Yeah. That makes me inclined to like Sam too. When they’ve had a nice bath, I’ll feed them and we’ll put Bill to bed in the camper and hit the road home. There’s three of us to share the driving. But don’t expect us until tomorrow evening at the earliest. Firstly, because I’m guessing we’ll be taking it cautious and going for the vibe of a pleasure trip for the little man’s benefit. And secondly, because Rod and Sam are absolutely exhausted, and I ain’t much better. So we may not get far tonight. Yeah. Safe is better than fast, even if you are dying to see him. Are you OK? Jim and Jamie? Yeah. I’ll have Bill call his Dad soon. Now have a big glass of wine, and relax. All is well.”
She ended the call just as Rod appeared with a towel tied around his waist. She noticed, not for the first time, what a magnificent specimen of man flesh he was, and wondered idly why she didn’t find him sexually attractive. He grinned at her speculatively.
“Me neither,” he said “though you are a belting looking woman. I think we’re too much like brother and sister.”
“Maybe,” she grinned back, “or maybe I like my men with more brain and less brawn.”
“Cheeky cow. Now. Clothes. I need to pick up me and Sam’s bags. But what have you got for Bill?”
Anna picked up a neatly folded pile of small garments.
“Got the requested jammies plus day gear. Which do you want now?”
“Sam said day gear. Let’s try for as normal as possible.”
Then his face hardened.
“Sam is in the bathroom treating the poor little sod for assorted scrapes and bruises. Them bastards treated him very roughly. I ain’t sorry for what happened to them.”
“Why did they mistreat him? Didn’t they realise that Jim would kill them for hurting one of his kids.”
“They never meant for Jim to get him back alive. And it would have gotten much worse for the poor little sod before they ended him if the cavalry hadn’t been close at hand.”
Anna sat down with a bump, and a tear ran down her cheek.
“Oh Rod. How can people be so evil?”
Bonnie came and rested a concerned face on her lap.
“Easily, love. But I’m sorry for dropping that one so tactlessly.”
“Never mind. I’ve figured it out for myself sooner or later. Do Jim and Pats know?”
“Aye. They’re dealing. But I’d better get the clothes to Sam before he comes looking. And he ain’t your brother…”
He grabbed two suitcases in one hand, and the child-sized clothes in the other, and scooted off. As he opened the bathroom door, Anna heard giggles, and silently called down blessings on the head of Rod’s big dark friend. She wiped her face and blew her nose, then stroked Bonnie.
“Would you credit it Bon Bon,” she said softly, “people willing to kill a child. No? Me neither. But I’d better pull myself together hadn’t I?”
Bonnie waved her tail in agreement.
“I’ll get the table ready for supper, shall I?”
The tail waved again, and Anna stroked the soft ears.
By the time Bill erupted from the bathroom, followed closely by Rod and Sam, Anna had herself together and was just finishing laying the table. Bill launched himself at her legs.
“Just have a sniff, Anna,” he said proudly. “I smell like Daddy now. Sam gave me a dab of his stuff.”
Anna bent to sniff the curly head.
“You do indeed. Did Sam tell you what the smelly stuff is called?”
“It’s Eau Sauvage. That’s French and it means wild water.”
“Yes. Of course I’m sure. Since when did I bullshit you?”
“Since never. But it’s a very silly name.” Then he thought for a minute. “But I guess I should have expected that. Mummy’s special smell is just called number five…”
“It is indeed perplexing,” Rod agreed. “My stuff is called Aqua de Parma. That’s Italian and it means water of Parma. Just as silly.”
“What’s your special smell called Anna?”
“Poison. That’s English and it means poison.”
Bill’s small face was alight with laughter.
“Are you poisonous Anna?”
“Only to people I don’t like. Food is nearly ready, but I promised Daddy you’d call him before we eat. He’d like to hear your voice.”
“I’d like to hear him, too.”
Anna handed the small boy her iPhone. He smiled and sat on the floor next to Bonnie before making the call.
“Hello Daddy. It’s me. I’m very fine now. I have had a big bubbly bath and I smell like you, because Sam gave me a dab of his smelly stuff. Yes. He is very kind, and he understands stuff without me telling him. I wish you were here, too. You and Mummy. But I have Uncle Rod, and Anna, and Sam, and Bonnie. In a minute we are going to have our tea. And then we are driving home in the campervan. I get to sleep in Anna’s bed. Maybe even with Bonnie. I love you too Daddy. Bye bye.”
He handed the phone back to Anna.
“Daddy’s voice sounds a bit like he might cry. I hope he is all right. But he will be, because he has Mummy to take care of him. I’m glad he has her, because I don’t know what I would do without you guys taking care of me.”
Then he burst into tears and turned to bury his head in Bonnie’s fur. When Anna would have bent down to him, Sam stopped her with an upraised hand.
“Let him cry for a bit. If he doesn’t stop in a while you can cuddle him, but he needs to get it out.”
After a couple of minutes, the small figure on the floor gulped and sniffed, and Sam handed him a large handkerchief. He sat up and blew his nose loudly.
“Better?” Sam asked.
“Yes. But why did crying make it better?”
“Because you have been through a horrid experience, and now you are safe you will feel a bit wobbly sometimes. It’s human, and nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You sure? Because I bet the twins wouldn’t cry.”
“Maybe not,” Rod said, “but the twins ain’t hardly human.”
Bill giggled at this sally.
“Thank you. I do feel better now. Less scrunched up inside.”
Sam crouched down beside him.
“Good man. Now listen carefully. If you feel like a cry, you have one. If you feel like you need to run and jump and shout swear words, you tell us and we’ll make it happen. If you want to talk about what happened to you, we’ll listen. You did have a very horrid time, and we’re here to help you get over it as well as to keep you safe. You got that?”
Bill hurled himself into Sam’s arms.
“It’s like I told Daddy. You understand. Thank you.”
Sam stood up with his arms full of Bill.
“You are entirely welcome, little man.”
He smiled at Anna and Rod.