For the first time in days Tuesday afternoon, a little boy who has been through far more in 72 hours than any child every should have to endure, smiled.
He smiled when his grandmother held him. And she smiled - a real smile - for the first time in days, too.
The boy smiled when his great-grandmother who watches him so much held him. He smiled when he ate pizza - his favorite - and he smiled when his aunt held him.
But little Zaylen Carlik White could not smile at his mother, 25-year-old Shrece Robinson. Because those same people - his granny and great-granny and auntie who love him so - are readying to bury his mother today.
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Zaylen's father, police say, killed Zaylen's mother Saturday night.
"Finally, my grandson is home where he needs to be, with me and my mother and his family that will never, ever let anybody hurt him," said Zaylen's grandmother and Shrece Robinson's mother, Estelle Robinson.
"No child should ever have to deal with what he did the last few days. But he's home now, and we are never going to let him go."
Zaylen's father, Carl White Jr., grabbed Zaylen after the shooting and took off into the wee hours Sunday, heading southwest into the night.
The hours after Shrece Robinson was gunned down lasted forever for Estelle Robinson, her mother, Lena Robinson, and her surviving daughter, Ladrena Robinson.
No one knew where White and Zaylen were, or even if Zaylen was alive.
A trucker who saw a sign for an Amber Alert issued by police spotted the truck driven by White, called the police, and followed him for dozens of miles before cops could swoop in near the Georgia state line.
White, a convicted felon with a history of booze and guns and drugs, was pulled over - vodka bottle in hand, little Zaylen standing unrestrained in the back seat of that SUV.
"I can't even think about my nephew riding in the truck," said Ladrena Robinson, Zaylen's aunt. "If he was scared. What he saw."
After White was arrested for drunken driving and child endangerment in Aiken - but before he was charged with the murder of Shrece Robinson in the driveway of his Rock Hill home - the family at least knew Zaylen was safe.
But they had to wait to get him home because the S.C. Department of Social Services took temporary custody of Zaylen to ensure his well-being after his father was booked into jail for drunken driving - and now much worse.
And while the family dealt with police over Shrece Robinson's death since Sunday - and the arrest of Carl White Jr. on murder charges after police say he confessed - they had to wait to get Zaylen home.
It was bad enough to cry and struggle with the murder of Shrece, a nursing student at York Technical College who also worked a full-time job at a Chester brick and stone factory. They also had to fret over Zaylen.
"We worried about the stress of that little boy, seeing all those strange faces ever since the police found him with his father," Estelle Robinson said. "He must have been so scared."
Ladrena Robinson, Shrece's younger sister and also a student at York Tech, said few in the family have slept since the shooting - mourning over Shrece's death, worrying over getting Zaylen home safely.
"We knew Zaylen was safe," Ladrena Robinson said, "but you never can really believe it until you see him and hold him in your arms."
On Tuesday, DSS workers brought Zaylen from Aiken to Columbia, then to the Rock Hill DSS office. Then the family brought him to the Rock Hill apartment that his mother had shared with his grandmother.
"Look who I have here - the man of the hour!" shouted Estelle Robinson, who held that little boy so tight as she rushed down the sidewalk with Zaylen in her arms.
Cousins and other family gathered, giving hugs and support.
Inside that apartment, Lena Robinson, the great-grandmother, waited for her hug - a wait that had kept her sleepless since the shooting.
Ladrena, the aunt, came in from the other side and both kissed little Zaylen at the same time. No child has ever looked so happy or smiled so wide.
"It seemed like he would never get here," said Lena Robinson, 73. "He stayed with me when his mother was at work and at school.
"She was such a good mother to that boy. She worked so hard, studied so hard at school. And he loved his momma, too."
Before picking up Zaylen Tuesday, Estelle Robinson and Ladrena Robinson had to drive to Chester, to the funeral home, to make sure Shrece looked how they wanted her to look for the funeral.
Next Sunday, June 5, Zaylen turns 2. The family will have a cake, and dozens of people will reassure him that his mother loved him so much and wanted to be there - but cannot.
They will not say what Zaylen will learn, someday, when he is older and can be told why his mother, and his father, were not at his birthday party.
Only when Zaylen is older will his grandmother and great-grandmother and aunt who love him so much tell him that his mother comes to no parties because she is dead - and his father can attend no parties anywhere because he is accused of pulling the trigger that fired the bullets that killed his mother.
Wilbur "Bubba" DeGraffenreid is a cousin and friend of the family all their lives, more than 60 years.
He stood under a funeral home tent Tuesday outside that apartment and spoke for everybody who has ever loved a child so unconditionally that the love cannot even be spoken - but shown and felt as it spreads through muscle and bone like electric shocks.
"The little boy is back where he belongs - home with his family that loves him," DeGraffenreid said. "He's been through too much for a little boy to ever have to see.
"They are going to bury his momma, and his grandmother is going to raise him and love him. Right now he just needs love - and this family will make sure he gets all the love in the world."
Want to help?
A bank account for Zaylen Carlik White has been established at Wachovia. Visit any branch to donate to a fund in his name.