Continuation of a story about two people, in love, who share similar yet distinct stories.
She didn't hear the car until it turned up into the driveway. But when she did hear it, she knew she was caught in the act, sitting there on Brian's own front steps with Ben in her arms. She turned quickly to see him jump out of the car and slam the door.
"They were playing hockey," she said right away, but he marched straight up toward the garage. "Brian," she yelled, "these kids--they were playing hockey across the street and this one here," she pointed with her head, "this one fell and skinned his knee."
Brian wouldn't look at her.
"Real blood," she said again, angrily this time. "Brian, I had to patch him up."
He wouldn't look.
"Maybe you should check the Band-Aid," she said. "You used to play basketball, and you know how boys get hurt and all that, and how to make 'em better." She struggled to her feet, Ben still in her arms, and started to walk towards Brian because there was only one way to take this on. She couldn't let him go in the house now, walk away. She was afraid to think of what she'd risk. She stood at the edge of the grass, nearly breaking under the boy's weight, but at least she'd stopped Brain. "Check it out?" she said. "Please?" The other boys stood beside her.
Brian pretended to wipe something off his hands and onto his pants.
"These guys don't even know who I am," she said. "I promised them you'd have a look when you came home." That was a lie.
He looked at her, angrily.
"Please," she said. "He's been hurt real bad."
His face was gray and stiff as clay. She carried Ben right up to the garage door. "He says his grandma lives just down the block, but just look at him for me, will you?" she said. "Please?"
Finally, he looked down at the boy in her arms, his stern eyes in a kind of blur.
"I put two Band-Aids on here, Brian," she said, taking a step up on the driveway and offering him the bandaged knee. "You think that'll do, or you think we'll have to run upstairs and get him crutches? Maybe a wheelchair?--you got a wheelchair, Brian?"
"Yeaaahh," one of the boys said, "a wheel chair. That'd be great."
Brian was now looking at the boy. "Kid's all right," he said. "I got to take a shower." He started into the garage.
"Wait," she said. "You got to help." He had to do was touch him, she thought,--maybe if she could get him to touch his own boy. "Don't leave," she said, because she didn't want him alone right now.
Brian stopped, half-turned.
"I need you," she said, and backing up into the grass. Ben was still recovering from his crying jag. She put him down and pumped his leg with her hand. "Still works," she said. She had to get Brian beside her. Maybe he wouldn't hold the kid, but she wanted him to touch the boy--just touch him.
"No surgery, I guess," she told Ben, and then she looked down at the skates. "You ought to have those things laced tighter," she said. "I bet you guys wouldn't ever fall if you had those strings snugged up." She leaned over and pulled them as tight as she could and started turning the laces into a bow, and that's when she thought of it. "Brian, I need you to put your thumb here for me," she said. "If you just hold it here for a minute I can tie this up tight and maybe he won't fall again." She knew he'd be angry. "I can't get it tight otherwise," she said. "Please?" Then she looked up to his face, dead as clay. "Please," she said again.
Brian took a few steps into the grass, knelt beside them on his haunches, then reached over and brought a thumb down on the knot.
"Look at this," she pointed with her left hand at the edges of the Band-Aids. "You think they're down good enough?"
Brian turned to his son and grabbed Ben's ankle with his hand. He slid himself closer to get a better grip, then pushed down at the ends of tape over his knee. That's exactly what she'd wanted. That's exactly what she'd wanted from the very start.
"It doesn't hurt," Ben said to his father. "Not like first. You got roller blades?" he said. "They're wild."
Brian shook his head, his hand curled around the boy's knee.
"She your girlfriend?" the kid in the Wolves jersey said, leaning over. "She told us you were going to marry her."
"I did not," Rachel said. "Don't believe a word these guys say."
"She said you were going to marry her," Ben repeated, and all of them laughed.
"You guys lie," she scolded.
"Hey, Grinch--what're you doing out?" The kid in the Wolves jersey pointed at Brian's cat. "He ain't supposed to be out here," the boy said.
But Grinch was out. There he stood on the edge of the driveway, his pink nose sniffing at Ben's skates, his tail flitting up in the air as if he were having the kind of good time every house cat has a right to once in a while.
She let go of Ben and picked up Grinch and carried him up the stairs to the front door. "I'll get Grinch," she told them, "but for you guys, no more roller-blading until you're 21 years old."
"Naaah," the redhead said, and all four of them took off down the driveway.
Brian slapped the grass off his hands as he got to his feet and watched the boys go.
"I'm sorry," she told him. "He was crying--you could tell that, couldn't you? He was. There was nobody home. I didn't have any choice."
He brushed the grass off his knees, then looked at her squarely. What she saw in his eyes was a kind of emptiness she hadn't seen before--it wasn't anger at all, but it was something different. "I don't think you understand," he told her, and then he walked away and into the house.
Nothing he could have said could have hurt her more deeply.
Tomorrow: the conclusion.