Since Dennis had risen at 5am that morning he hadn't had a sit down and he was determined to enjoy his first one. He sank slowly into the armchair by the fire then rested back. A happy sigh escaped his lips, but as he shut his eyes the front door slammed loudly.
"Uncle Dennis! Are you home?!"
Dennis kept his eyes shut, hoping that somehow his nephew would not investigate but leave when he heard nothing. No such luck, as the boy rushed into the room and jarred Dennis in the chair as he sat on its arm.
"We're going camping for a school trip next week, but we need to bring our tents and I don't have one. I asked mum but she said we can't afford one, then I saw Aunty Jenny on the way here and she said you might have one."
Dennis let out a long, exhausted sigh before finally opening his eyes. "I probably do somewhere."
Thomas grinned at his Uncle and jumped to his feet. "Can we go and find it now? It might need repairing, like my friend Peter's did. He has a proper kit to fix it and everything. Do you ha-"
Dennis rubbed his temples as the boy talked, then finally interrupted him to snap, "Thomas! I've had a very long, very tiring day at work and right now I would like some peace and quiet!"
Thomas stared at his uncle. He'd seen him yell at others before, but he'd never before yelled at Thomas. The boy thought they were as close to best friends as any two friends could be.
Dennis regretted his tone as soon as he'd spoken, but before he could apologise, Thomas rushed from the house and almost toppled Jenny in the process as she walked into the hallway.
"I hate him!" Thomas yelled as he raced towards his own house, now only a street away.
Puzzled, Jenny watched him until the boy was out of sight before walking inside.
"What was that all about?"
Dennis had shifted forward in his seat and now had his head in his hands. "Why the hell is everyone suddenly home so early? Can't a man get a bit of rest in his own home?!"
As Thomas had been, Jenny was silent for a few seconds, but she'd seen Phil earlier and he'd described, in a little too much detail, what had happened to her husband that day, so instead of snapping in return she simply gave a nod. "Sorry."
Dennis turned his head to glance at her, almost but not quite apologetically, and asked, "Have we got anything for a headache?"
"I'll get you something." Jenny slipped from the room.
"Where is he? Why does he think he has the right to speak to my son that way?!"
Jenny opened the door half an hour later to be confronted by an angry Alison who tried to push past her into the hall.
"Can you talk to him about it later, please? He's-"
"I don't care if he's busy working. So was I when my son ran in and burst into tears saying he wants to move away because his Uncle hates him."
"Alison, I really don't think now is the time to talk to him about it. I'm sure he's very sorry and he will come over later to apologise, but-"
Alison finally managed to get past Jenny and now stared at her incredulously. "Apologise?! I don't want an apology from him, I want an explanation for his behaviour! He can't play friends with his nephew one minute and then decide to take something out on him the next!"
Jenny rushed to stand in front of the closed door that separated Alison from a hopefully sleeping Dennis. "Look, I think everyone is a little worked up right now and you might say things you regret, so perhaps it would be better to leave it for a while?"
"He's asked you to say that, has he?" Alison folded her arms and glared at Jenny.
As the blonde went to reply, the door behind her opened.
Dennis walked out, ignoring his sister to mumble something to Jenny before he walked towards the door, but Alison barred his way.
"If you're going to try and ignore me you can think again!"
Jenny stepped anxiously forward and put a hand on Alison's arm. "Please don't. Not today."
Alison shrugged her off, eyes focused on her brother. "Why not? He can't behave like that and expect to get away with it! Wh-"
Dennis turned sharply towards her and gripped her hand tightly to pull it off his jacket. "I came home for some peace and quiet, not to be cross questioned. If your son can't take no for an answer, that's not my fault. Do you know what I've been doing today? Have you even bothered to think or did you just storm over here to have a go at me?"
"Oh, what happened to you today? Did some sheep get out, did you step in horse muck? NOTHING could excuse you for speaking to him that way, you know how highly he thinks of you!"
Jenny looked down and flinched as she saw Dennis take a deep breath before replying in a low voice. "What I've been doing today is investigating the death of a young girl who no one cared about. She was neglected, barely fed and when she died she had 5 old broken bones. In between discovering her body myself where it was left in a ditch and trying to find her parents, I visited my own daughter in hospital. Is there anything else you want to know?"
Alison lowered her head and remained silent.
"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the hospital."
Alison remained quiet long after the front door slammed, but eventually turned to look at Jenny. "Jen-"