Family gatherings with the Roberts family were always large during the summer; so large that every bed, couch and spare bit of floor was taken. Uncle Erick was told to sleep in Jenny’s room. Aunt Susie was ousted from her bed and even Ben, the dog, was forced to give up his spot on the couch. Before everyone arrived, Aunt Susie made us clean up the kid’s rooms. The mess of toys that gathered in the corners of the beds and under the sheets were also forced somewhere else. We piled them in corners and threw them in closets, out of the way.
At night the seven of us kids rolled out sleeping bags and squeezed in pillows anywhere that would fit us. Of course the oldest cousins squabbled over who got to claim the couch. (This was only settled after a nine part rock-paper-scissors game.) And soon our eyes started to droop and we fell, one by one, fast asleep.
Usually we woke early. The parents wouldn’t be awake for an hour at least and we would have to wait until they were up to turn on the television. It always took forever. That morning, still bleary eyed, we woke to find Uncle Erick already sitting at the kitchen table. He leaned over his coffee mug and did not answer when we said good morning.
As the day progressed, he got more like himself. But his silence reemerged once night fell. And after dinner, I sat next to him and asked why he was acting weird. I didn’t know how better to broach the subject, so I simply blurted it out.
“Why are you acting weird?”
Uncle Erick tried to smile, “It’s nothing, sweetie. Just a bad night’s sleep.” I looked up at him with a sassy pout and eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“Sure,” I answered and then went back to play zoo with my cousins.
We probably wouldn’t have even thought of it again, if it weren’t for that night. One by one, again we closed our eyes and drifted off to sleep. Around the middle of the night, my cousin Jenny and I both woke with a start. From across our pillows, we looked each other in the eye, both sure we’d heard the same loud bang. No one else seemed to be awake. Then I noticed Jenny’s eyes grow large as they focused on something right behind me. I was too scared to turn around, even under the cover of my sleeping bag.
I heard Jenny whisper beside me, “Uncle Erick?” Slowly I pushed down the top of my sleeping bag to look. Uncle Erick was setting up a bed on the floor, the blankets trailing behind him.
Continue to Part 2