Three of the little boys across the street were huddled on the grass. She got up to get a better look. One of them was lying down, banging his arm up and down. Just that morning she'd heard some new government report claiming that roller-blading injured eighty-some thousand people last year.
She pulled back the curtain to get a better look. It was number 31. She figured some Ozzie and Harriet type mom would be out in a flash in her checked apron, so she looked back at her chair and picked the cat off the table once again.
But it was Ben, she thought--it was Brian's Ben. She went to the front door and looked out again. No one had come. She stepped onto the front porch and listened to the boy wail. In Tucson, a kid on roller blades was killed when he got hit by a car, she remembered. She thought of phoning the people next door, but she didn't know any last names. He could be hurt.
She told herself that Ben being Brian's son was the only reason she hesitated, and that was wrong. If it were any of the other boys, she'd be over there already. Two boys were standing over him, pointing, the other one coming out of the garage with a bucket.
"You okay?" she yelled, pulling her arms across her chest as if she were cold.
Three of them looked up. "Ben's hurt his knee," the redhead said.
Brian's flesh and blood. Ben. Denial.
She ran across the street just as the kid with the water was about to splash some on. Number 31 held one arm up over his forehead, his right knee flapping.
When she got up close, the cement burn, red and wet, round as a half dollar shown from his knee. She leaned over him, and he started to pull himself together. He had his father's eyes, she thought--the same dark eyes. “Wow," she said, "you think that hurts now?--you just wait 'till later if you don't let me fix it up."
"He's not so bad," one of the boys said.
She squatted beside him. "I can handle this," she said. "Just call me Nurse Rachel from ER. I'll get a bandage--something to clean it up." She looked up at the house. "Anybody home here?" she asked.
The kid with the bucket shook his head.
"Bring him across the street and put him on the front step, all right? We'll call that the hospital." Then she looked at the three others. "You know--like football. You guys help him limp across the street like on TV."
Suddenly their shoulders squared.
"Hey, you guys know who I am?--I'm Brian's girlfriend, okay? Just in case you want to know. You all know Brian?" She looked straight at Ben, who nodded. "I'm his girlfriend. That means I'm okay, right? You can trust me. Brian does."
"You gonna' marry him?" the kid in the Wolves jersey said.
"Mind your own business," she told him. "Just get Ben over to Brian's house and I'll fix him up good."
She ran back across the street, flew into the house, and headed to the bathroom, where she opened the medicine chest. Aspirin, suppositories, a dozen little vials of prescription medicine, Pepto-Bismo, Alka-Seltzer, tooth floss, six new brushes still in their packages--some deodorant. "Bingo! Band-Aids," she yelled when she found an old tin box, and something in a spray can--"for scrapes and abrasions," it said. She balled a face cloth in her hand and held it under water, then grabbed all the goods and pulled the light chain behind her. It was Brian's kid.
There they sat on the front step, Ben valiantly holding back tears.
"You guys ought to wear knee pads," she told them, circling in front of them. "You can roll around all day long on the cement and not get hurt." The moment she touched him, her fingers froze. Something of Brian there was here, something almost her own, the boy's own blood on her fingers. You had to talk about things like this.
"This'll be good as new in a day or two," she said, dabbing the face cloth over the scrape. "And by the way, who are you anyway?" she asked Ben. "You don't live in this neighborhood."
He was still trying to draw some calm between deep, whooping breaths.
"He's Ben Dillard," the boy in the Wolves jersey said. "He lives over by the lake, but sometimes his grandma takes care of him." He pointed to the butterfly house.
"Ben Dillard, huh?" she said. "You can take a lot of pain, Ben--I can tell," she said. She poked her finger into the cloth and tried to get whatever dirt was in the wound. "My goodness you can take a lot of pain," she told him, and the boy set his teeth like John Wayne. "I'd bawl my eyes out if I were you," she told him. "You're almost a man."
Ben set his lips firmly.
"You're probably the toughest guy around," she said. "I bet you can take almost anything." She tried to get him to look at her. "Hey, tough guy," she said, and when he did, when his eyes rose to hers, he did something that froze her for just a moment: he turned away, dropped his eyes exactly like his father. Just exactly like his father.
"One little shot of this stuff ought to cool it off," she said, and she sprayed his knee full of something that came out of the old can in a runny white foam. She waited for a moment, then ripped open a couple of Band-Aids and flattened them over the burn.
If it were any other kid in the whole town she would have done just as much to dry his tears--he was, after all, still bucking his stuttering breath, wearing a wholesome fat lip. She would have lifted any one of them up into her arms because any woman would have. So she did--she took him in her arms. He was a child, a hurt kid. "Here," she said, "let me have a closer look." She cradled him so his skinned knee poked up close to her face, held him across her lap in a way she knew he didn't mind, his long, skinny limbs hanging limp in her arms.
"You're going to be fine," she said. "First, I thought we'd have to cut off your leg, but those Band-Aids will hold it all together." She looked into his eyes. "Might burn for a little while, but soon enough you won't even know you fell," she told him. "Hey," she said, "look at me here once, Ben--"
"C'mon," she said, sweetly, and, almost as if it were a burden, the boy raised his eyes just like his father would have. "You going to live, you think?" she said.
Ben sniffed deeply.
"Then tell me as much," she said. "People who are going to die can't usually talk. You got to make them talk and then they'll live."
He made some hiccup movements, tightened his lips, and mumbled something. So she squeezed him hard. "If it wouldn't have been for me, you'd'a' died," she told him, and finally he caught the joke.
"How long's he got to keep that on?" the kid in the Wolves jersey asked.
"'Till he's 21," she told them.
None of them laughed.
"I'm kidding," she said, "all right?"