As the afternoon light wanes, Claire and Mia walk the kids back to their house to change and to wait for the aunt to come and collect them. It’s almost chilly now as the sun drops and clouds gather over the lake, and the kids are still in their shorts and T-shirts from the day’s sunshine. They hurry along the lake path under the shade of the casuarina trees.
Letting themselves into the large, two-story house, the kids disperse to various rooms to hunt out warmer clothes while Claire and Mia wait in the huge, open-plan living and kitchen area. Claire wonders what Mia makes of the sudden appearance of Claire’s parents, of what has happened to this day. For the first time since her mum and dad arrived, Claire makes eye contact with her.
“Sorry about my parents turning up,” she mumbles and crosses her arms over her chest.
“Why? It’s their house. And they seem nice.”
Claire shakes her head. That’s not what she meant.
But Mia doesn’t appear to be thinking about that. She leans back against the bench, shakes her head slowly, and smiles at her.
“What?” Claire pulls a face at her, rendered uncomfortable.
“You were amazing before, you know.”
Claire thrusts her hands in jeans pockets and sits against the back of the couch. “Yeah, well, so were you.”
“What? No. I just did basic first aid. I learned that at camp. But you, you were incredible.” She stares at Claire. “Knowing what to do, dealing with the kids, keeping Rhiannon calm.” She shakes her head again. “Seriously.”
Claire tries to shrug it off, blushing a little at such praise. “Well my parents taught me what to do in every single possible kind of emergency situation from the age of, like, six. They’re big on contingencies.”
“Whatever, it was amazing.” Mia smiles defiantly at her as if she dares her to protest again.
And Claire is just about to brush it off again when Will comes in wearing a woollen jumper that is far too big to actually be his. His legs and feet are still bare, and he’s carrying a large plastic dinosaur. He takes it to Mia and holds it up with a grin. It seems he’s forgotten all about Rhiannon’s accident.
It’s only then that Claire realises she hasn’t heard him say a single word yet. She wonders if he can actually speak.
They patiently encourage Will to put on some pants and, despite the rapidly cooling weather, all go wait out on the porch.
The house is situated in a beautiful spot, and the high veranda gives a more expansive view of the lake and the bushland around than her parents’ place. Mia sits at the picnic table with Will and the girl, Stella, and plays a board game Will dragged out with them. Liam parks himself on the steps leading to the garden, his freckled arms resting on his knobby little knees. Claire watches him stare out at the lake. He hasn’t said anything much since his parents drove off to the hospital.
“Your sister’s going to be okay, you know,” Claire tells him lightly and sits next to him.
He nods his freckled little face and frowns as though he may not believe her.
He nods again and hugs his knees to his chest.
“And you know what?” Claire nudges him gently with her arm. “She’ll probably have a cast put on her arm, so you’ll get to draw on it and stuff.”
But that’s not what’s on his mind. “Her leg was bleeding a lot.”
Claire bites her lip. Of course that cut frightened him more than the arm, she realises. All that blood. It looked pretty bad.
Years ago, one of the summer boys cut his foot open on a broken beer bottle on the shore of the lake. At eight she’d been horrified at the way the kid’s face blanched at the sight of the blood and how he left a trail of red on the path as he limped back up to the house.
“It was a bit of blood,” she agrees casually. “But don’t worry, she’s got plenty left. There’s lots of blood inside you, you know. She can definitely spare some.”
He turns to face her, curious now. “How much?”
“I’m not exactly sure. But I bet Mia knows. You should ask her.”
His freckles stand out against his pale skin even as the light wanes.
She nudges his shoulder gently. “Hey, don’t worry. It looked bad, but it really wasn’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was totally gross.”
He smiles. A small one.
“But it really wasn’t bad. She’ll be fine.”
He nods again, looking a little calmer. They sit in silence together as the sun drops further behind the trees.
“I wish I could have a cast on my arm,” he suddenly says. “Or maybe on my leg. Then I wouldn’t have to go to school for a few days, at least. That would be so cool.”