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Small Bed, Big Heart

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Evelyn stares at the tidy, empty single-sized bed with tears in her grey eyes.

Rylen joins her, holding her hand until his knees ache from disuse. With a kiss to the temple, he disappears.

Greyson arrives in the shadow of his father's departure, bringing with him an apple that he shoves into her hand. “Mama,” he says, voice barely above a whisper. “Eat.”

So she does, a bite to appease him, before the apple falls away. Greyson stays, head buried into her side as his hands clutch at the middle of her shirt. The apple switches hands and her now free one pats his red curls, lingering on top of his head to thread the hair between her fingers, like how she used to do to Anthony.

Eventually, the two of them move onto the bed. McKenzie appears, climbing into bed on the other side of Greyson. “It's okay, Mama,” McKenzie says when Evelyn starts to cry again. “You'll see him tomorrow at work, won't you?”

Rylen returns, and the bed frame creaks as his weight adds to the mattress. “Mama's just having a tough time right now with your brother moving out.” His hand rubs at her shoulder, accompanied by a smaller one.

And it almost feels complete, her family struggling to all fit on the tiny mattress, but Evelyn feels Anthony's absence like a weight sitting on her chest. “Fourteen is so young,” she says as she catches Rylen's eyes overtop of the kids’ heads. Her mind struggles to picture her oldest son alone in the barracks.

“Evie,” Rylen murmurs, hand moving to cup her cheek.

“Mama, can me and Mouse sleep with you tonight?” McKenzie raises her head so that her chin digs into Greyson's side. “We've been getting better about not kicking.”

Rylen quirks an eyebrow. “They've been getting better,” he mocks, a grin drawing back his lips.

Despite her gloomy mood, she chuckles at the exaggerated expression on his face, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips. “We might end up on the couch again like last time.”

McKenzie sits up to shove at Evelyn, almost causing her to lose her balance on the edge of the bed if not for Rylen's gentle touch shifting into a hard grasp. “You’re both big meanies.” She sticks her tongue out at Evelyn, who mirrors the action. Letting go of Evelyn, Rylen reaches for McKenzie's ticklish spot on her sides, who shrieks with laughter.

Greyson scoots back into Evelyn, away from the chaos. Careful not to let the others hear, he whispers, “I'm sorry Ant went away, Mama.”

She kisses the top of his head before offering a quick squeeze, the best she can do as she white-knuckles the headboard to remain on the mattress. Maybe letting the kids sleep in their bed tonight is a good idea, helpful to take her mind off of Anthony’s absence. She wipes away at the dried tears on her cheeks.