"You've had bigger wounds, Peter, but just because a wound is small doesn't mean it's not serious," Edward said. It made me look at the shirt he was holding against the wound. It was almost completely soaked with blood. That had happened quick; fuck.
Micah was back with an armful of nice linen napkins and Bram. "Rodina is double-checking on the ambulance. I thought you'd need the napkins sooner." He looked at the now-dripping shirt and just held out the napkins to Edward.
"I can hold them on my wound," Peter said.
"Just sit still, Peter. The more you move, the faster you bleed," Edward said.
Donna was just standing there staring at everything. Her uselessness was beginning to piss me off. She whispered something and then said it louder. "This is my fault. If I hadn't told Dixie, this wouldn't be happening."
I agreed with her, so I lowered my face and looked at Peter's leg in my hands, which was weird, so I looked up at Nathaniel's broad back kneeling just ahead of me, and then to Peter's face. He was pale; his brown eyes looked darker even than I knew they were, because his skin was a bad color. He was naturally darker than either Edward or me, but in that moment we both had more color. I prayed, Let it just be shock and fear; don't let him be pale from blood loss.
"I'm sorry, Peter, Ted."
"I can't believe you told Dixie, of all people, Mom. She would never help you feel better about anything. She's one of those people that turns everything into some kind of drama. How did you think confiding in her would be a good thing?"
"I thought she'd understand, because her husband cheated on her, too."
I looked up at her then. We all did.
"Ray is a cheating son of a bitch," Peter said. "He doesn't have a girlfriend; he has hookups."
Donna stared down at him, looking shocked. "How do you know that? How do you know any of that?"
"Because their son Benji has been in martial arts with me for years. Everyone thinks the kids don't know about stuff, but it's kind of hard to miss when Benji's dad would pick us up for carpool smelling of perfume and it wasn't the kind that Benji's mom wore."
"Dixie told me that Ray cheated on her a couple of times but swore he'd stopped."
"We drive ourselves to class now, so maybe he has sworn off other women, but all of the kids in carpool knew that he was fucking around."
She corrected him automatically. "Don't say fucking, Peter."
"Is that really more important than what I'm telling you?"
"No, of course not, but I didn't know it was that bad."
"Because when you saw Ray at parties he was all cleaned up and presentable and stayed by Dixie's side. Anyone can pretend for an afternoon or an evening dinner party, Mom. Outside of that she was hostile to him, she knew, and he knew she knew, but he didn't stop and she didn't divorce him. Benji chose a college out of state so he didn't have to deal with it."
Donna looked horror-struck. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Tell you what? That Benji's dad would drop us off smelling of his aftershave and pick us up smelling like perfume? You wouldn't have believed me when I was little, and by the time I got big enough to explain it so you might have believed me, I'd given up trying to tell you a lot of things. Besides, it would have embarrassed Benji if you had tried to talk to his parents about it, and you would have taken me out of their carpool. You'd have told the other parents because you'd have felt it was immoral or a bad example for the kids. You'd have tried to make it better and it would have just been worse. Like today."
"Peter," Edward said, that one word a sort of warning for him to mind how he spoke to his mother.
Peter glared at him. "Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me she wouldn't have done exactly that."
Edward met the weight of his son's gaze but said nothing. He kept holding more napkins against Peter's leg, and they started to turn red. Where the fuck was the ambulance?
"So this is all my fault," Donna said. "The fact that you and Anita are having an affair, or maybe you really aren't, but you let me believe it, because I wouldn't believe the truth. Which sounds ridiculous."
"Benji's mom hates his dad, and she shows it when there are no grown-ups around. Was it her who started convincing you that you couldn't live with a man that cheated on you?" There was sweat beading on Peter's forehead now as he glared up at his mother. His big hands were gripping the bottom of the chair as if he needed to hold on to stay in it. When had he started the death grip on the chair?
Bernardo moved behind Peter, putting a hand on either shoulder. He was careful not to move him more, but he was there in case the kid's death grip on the chair failed. The napkins were filling up with blood. Was it my imagination or was Peter's leg heavier than it had been a second ago?
Edward said, "Peter, look at me."
Peter did what he asked, and lowering his head was better; some of the color came back to his face. He was still sweating, though.
"You're right, Peter," Donna said. "Dixie was trying to convince me that I couldn't marry Ted unless he gave up Anita."
Peter looked back at her, but his head leaning back wasn't good. Bernardo pushed his head forward and a little down. "You don't have to look up to talk," he said.
Peter swallowed hard, as if his mouth was dry. "Would water help?" Micah asked.
"Ice chips," Edward said.
"I'll see what I can find." Micah started down the hallway at a slow jog, with Bram at his heels.
Peter said, "Why didn't you ask Ted to give up Anita, if you really believed they were lovers?"
Peter tried to look up, but Bernardo held his head and shoulders downward. "Easy, kid."
I must have looked surpri
sed, because Donna said, "Ted didn't tell you that, did he?"
I went back to staring at Nathaniel's back. I so wanted out of this conversation, out of this moment. Where the fuck was the ambulance?
Edward said, "I told Donna that Anita was my partner. She was the person I trusted most at my back in an emergency. The one I trusted to bring me home safe to you, Becca, and her. I asked her if she really wanted me to give that up."
"I couldn't ask him to give her up then, because all I could think was that if something happened to Ted on the job and Anita wasn't there to save him, it would be my fault. I couldn't stand that, so I thought I could live with the affair, and now I know there was never a real affair."
"Donna," Nathaniel said, "you're being so sexist."
"What? How have I been sexist?"
"You admitted that if Anita had been a man, you would never have accused them of an affair. If she'd been another man, you would have just thought they were partners."
"Yes, I did say that, but it's not just that she's a woman."
"When I look eager about going out with Anita, it's about the job, not some imaginary affair, Donna."
"No, it's not just that."
"What then, Mom? What is it? What made you believe it?" Peter asked.
She was quiet for so long I thought she wasn't going to answer, but then, finally, in a voice that was low and embarrassed, she did. "It's because she's a beautiful woman."
That made me look up at her. She was blushing, so she was embarrassed. Good, she should have been.
"There's just something about you, Anita. It's like you give off this sexiness like you enjoy it and you'd be good at it." She blushed harder, because now I was looking at her and letting her see what I thought of her reasoning.
"Don't look at me like that, Anita."
"How do you want me to look at you?"
"Like I'm not crazy, like I didn't let my insecurities wreck my wedding and injure my son."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I did the best I could. I looked away from her.
"The ambulance is coming," Nathaniel said.
"How do you know?" Bernardo asked.
"I can hear it."
"Me either, but if Nathaniel says he hears it, he does," I said.