Thank you so much for reviews! Here's chapter 2. There's so much aftermath that wasn't shown so I hope I've done it justice in this part.
Peter pressed the phone to his ear as hard as he could, but after a few seconds with only background noise, he began to panic.
"Carla…" he called loudly, and she finally spoke again.
"Don't worry..." she repeated. But how could he not?
A few faces in the restaurant had turned to stare at Peter now, but his attention was focused on Carla's voice and the worry on Simon's face.
Sitting back down at the table, he rested his free hand on his son's shoulder to reassure him as Carla continued. Her words were much clearer now.
"I'm in the ambulance, with Sally and Kevin. Sally's unconscious. We're nearly at the hospital."
Stroking Simon's shoulder gently, Peter tried to get his thoughts together. It sounded even worse than he'd feared.
"But you're OK?" he checked. There was another pause.
"My hand's cut. It's bleeding but they've bandaged it." Even over the sirens, he could hear the tremor in her voice.
"Oh love…". He longed to hold her, to tell her it was going to be OK. But he wasn't sure if it would be. It all seemed so sudden, so confusing.
"How did it happen? I thought you'd be home."
He heard a long sigh.
"You won't believe it. Anne had a knife…"
Completely taken aback, he thought he'd misheard. But as he asked again, the sirens stopped, and Carla rushed to end the call.
"Sorry – got to go. At the hospital." She sounded suddenly hesitant. "Is Simon….. Can you come here? There's a lot I need to tell you."
"Of course" he answered instantly, mentally calculating the quickest route. "We'll be there in twenty minutes."
She rang off, and Peter sat, stunned, hardly comprehending what he'd just heard. Why would Anne hurt Sally and Carla? Hadn't her son caused them enough pain already?
Seeing Simon's confusion, he pulled him in for a long hug.
"It's OK" he murmured several times, trying to comfort himself as much as his son. Then leaning back to face Simon, he explained properly.
"Carla's cut her hand. She'll be OK, but we need to go to the hospital."
And together they rushed to Peter's car.
"My girlfriend's here... Carla Connor?" he asked urgently. To his relief, the receptionist skipped the small-talk and immediately gave directions to her room.
As he hurried Simon along the corridor, the familiar hospital smells began to unsettle him. He'd spent too much time here lately, suffered far too much. Jono, Leanne's miscarriage, Stella. His own tram crash injuries. All pushed back into parts of his mind that he couldn't bear to revisit.
Most vividly of all, he remembered Carla's recovery in hospital last year. The inner hell he'd gone through that night, pacing the corridors, trying to hide his anguish from a wife whose suspicions were too close to the truth. Struggling to imagine a life without Carla in it.
With sudden gratitude, he realised that as scared as he was now, at least her life wasn't in danger this time. And he didn't have to hide his concern any more. Not from Leanne, Simon or anybody else.
Seeing her room ahead of him, he knocked sharply, and when they heard Carla's voice, they walked in.
She was sitting up on the raised hospital bed, her left hand clutched to her chest protectively. He immediately noticed the pallor of her skin, her swollen eyes, the slight stains where she'd just washed off her make-up. Yet her face relaxed into a wide smile when she saw them.
"What have you boys been up to then?" she asked.
With a squeeze on his son's shoulder, he encouraged him to answer.
"We went out for pizza" Simon said, slightly shyly.
"Oh, very nice" she answered. "What did you have?"
"Pepperoni. It was great." Simon carried on, more confidently now. "Dad brought you a slice."
Feeling the inadequacy of this after what she'd just been through, Peter walked over to Carla. Putting the pizza box down beside her, he sat on the edge of the hospital bed.
"Thanks." She smiled weakly, as she gestured to Simon to sit where he wanted. "Don't think I can eat anything right now though."
As Carla placed her uninjured hand on Peter's arm, he noticed the fear still lingering, her brittle smile, her weary eyes. "I'm just so glad to see you."
Finally able to comfort her, he drew her towards him, wrapping his arms around her tightly. As she leaned her head against his chest, he felt her move her bandaged hand aside so she could get closer to him.
He stroked her back gently, trying to ease the tension in her shoulders. Her heartbeat was steady, and he thought she seemed much calmer than over the phone. But from the way her arms tensed, clinging tightly to him, almost in desperation, she was far from her normal self.
He wished he could hold her for much longer, but as he looked over, Simon was fidgeting, looking embarrassed. Reluctantly he loosened his arms, kissing the top of her head softly as he pulled away.
"Can I see your hand?" he asked softly.
"It's covered now, but there's a bit of blood" she said, then looking at Simon she added. "Hope you're not squeamish."
"I'm fine" Simon answered instantly, with the brave defiance of an eight-year old. Peter nodded to Carla that it was OK.
Slowly she stretched her left arm out. Her entire hand was covered in a white bandage, but a few drops of blood had soaked through, in the centre and in a line right across her palm. From the awkward way she held it, it was obviously still painful.
"God Carla" he said, shocked. Simon looked disgusted and fascinated at the same time.
"Looks worse than it is" she assured them.
"Does it hurt?" Simon asked.
"Just when I move it" she answered. "The doctor says it's not deep and it's a clean cut. Bleeds more but it'll heal better."
"Will they keep you here long?" Peter asked, eager to get her away from this place and all the painful memories.
"He'll do a final check. Then we can go."
"What happened?" Simon asked.
"Oh…" she said dramatically. "Now that's a very long story." She caught Peter's eye.
"You don't have to talk about it now, love" he interrupted. "Not til you're ready."
"Well, I'll give you the short version.." She took a long breath, readying herself to face it again. Then she began speaking, slowly, almost without emotion, as if she'd rehearsed exactly what to say.
"I was at Anne's house, and I found Sally was unconscious. Anne got upset, and when I tried to call for help, she just panicked."
Carla paused for a moment, gathering herself. "She pulled a knife on me."
Peter couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had so many questions, but didn't want Simon to hear any of the answers. Why was she at Anne's? What was Sally doing there? How had things got so out of control?
Carla looked down at her injured hand as she continued.
"The first time I tried to get the knife off her, she cut me. But I managed to talk her into dropping it."
Then a slight smile came to her face, taking Peter by surprise. "So it ended all right. I'll be OK now."
She seemed less upset than he'd expected. He realised there was much more to this than she could say in front of his son.
Leaning over to see her face better, he tried to read her emotions. Her eyes were always so expressive, but there were depths that he'd never come close to understanding. Her fear was still plain to see, but there was an undertone of happiness, almost triumph. It made no sense.
"Anne didn't mean to hurt anyone, you know" she said softly. "It was all an accident." He sensed she was trying to explain something to him, but he didn't understand what.