He nodded again, and she turned away, distracted by the sound of the front grille opening. Miss Emelyn was the only person expected that early.
Maurice's face was now scrunched up, as though he had much on his mind. Sherryn blinked, cleared her throat, and muttered. "I'll be back."
In the passage outside, she leaned against the wall, stunned by her reaction to the boy. She tilted her head upward, willing the tears to go away. A moment later, she stared at the veined tiles, sighing at the idea of a five-and-a-half-year-old boy having to worry about his future. Teary and miserable, she re-entered the room.
Maurice sat up, finger in his mouth, while he picked at a scab on his knee.
Sherryn watched him, imagining that she was seeing Reece in the past he preferred not to talk about. Had he been haunted by the same concerns at Maurice's age? No. She recalled that he'd lived with his mother almost up to her death. She put aside her thoughts and focused on the child.
"Did you sleep all right?"
He spoke around his finger. "Yes."
"I'll be leaving in a little while, but—"
She swallowed hard when his eyes clouded with anxiety.
"I won't be out for long," she added, rushing her words.
Under the crumpled tee-shirt, his shoulders relaxed, thin and delicate as the wings of a hummingbird, making her want to cry again. Instead, she concentrated on making him comfortable.
"Miss Emelyn is downstairs. I'm going to ask her to come up to give you a bath and something to eat until I come back, okay?"
He apparently decided he could trust her, so he nodded.
"Catch you later," she said with a smile.
His lips curved, and Sherryn's tears threatened again, because it wasn't the smile of one of her happy I've-had-a-privileged-life children. It was the tentative approach of one who had seen abuse, like a dog who hoped for kindness, but had been kicked too many times.
She waved at him from the door, and he gave her a funny little wiggle of the hand that warmed her heart and an instant later, made her want to murder her worthless husband.
Downstairs, she greeted Miss Emelyn and asked her to take care of Maurice, adding that they would talk more when she got back. While rounding up the children and their assorted bags, lunch kits and folders, she wondered what explanation she'd give Miss Emelyn, who was like a mother to her and Reece.
She rushed outside after the children, dreading the ride she had to take with them.