Aftermath

"Honey, are you all right?"
Stewart Cameron's wife was concerned. He could see it in the creases of frown on her forehead, and the slight pressure in her lips. She was so beautiful. He had always thought her attractive but tonight she looked more beautiful than ever. For once it didn't matter that she was wearing those baggy tracksuit bottoms he hated so much and was dishevelled and flushed because she had been out running with the dog.
"Yeah. Sure. Fine, Marion. I'm fine." He wondered what it was in his face that told her that he was not all right. Could she see that there was now a terrible secret hanging over him? Was his guilt so obvious? "How are the kids?"
Her frown deepened. Had that come out too abruptly?
"They're fine, Stewart. Just as they were when you last asked me, which was about five minutes ago when you walked through the door. Darling, what's wrong? You look dreadful."
He couldn't tell her. She wouldn't understand how he could have just driven away. A twelve-hour day with no break, clinching that deal with Hong Kong. Then a single drink to celebrate. Just one. One! One never did any harm. It had just been one drink. There was no way one drink could have affected him. It could not have been his fault. But would a judge believe that? The judge would not give a damn that the little girl had come streaking out onto the road without warning. Straight from between two parked cars, sliding along the road on her shoes as if the tarmac were icy. The judge would not care that the streetlights there had been broken, flickering erratically, or that the road was slippery from rain. He would only care that a little girl had died, not that her parents should have been taking better care of her. She shouldn't have been out at that time of night anyway. The judge wouldn't see that.
Nor would the press. He could see the headlines now: "HOTSHOT CEO'S DEADLY DRINK DRIVING"
"I'm just tired, darling," he said. He did not have to try to sound exhausted. He was also overdosed on the bitter tang of adrenaline. The combined effect was like drinking bad coffee to cure a hangover. "I'm just going to go and check on the girls."
"But I just did that, Stewart." She stayed at the bottom of the stairs for a few seconds, watching him. She would have her hand on her hip, a puzzled, irritated expression on her face. He knew her so well. Tonight it seemed that he knew her better than he knew himself. The man who left the house that morning could not be the same man who had driven his silver Freelander into a little girl at forty miles per hour in a twenty zone on the way back. He could not be the same man as the one who had kept driving, refusing to look in the mirror at that fragile curtain of blonde hair spread across the road.
The man who had kissed his gorgeous wife and beautiful children goodbye after a normal family breakfast would never have done such a thing.
As Cameron reached the top of the stairs he heard the dog come clicking along the tiled hallway floor, whining to be let out. His wife said a few words to the animal and he heard her open the door.
He went into the children's bedroom. His twin girls were sleeping, their faces angelic. His shadow fell across them and made him think of a bird sheltering its babies under its wing. He took a step into the room in order to kiss them. As he did so his body moved out of the light, allowing it to fall in a solid block across his children.
Blonde hair spread across the pillow, framing their slumbering faces.
Cameron could not breathe. The image of the little girl in the road tore against the back of his eyes with an insistent, vicious demand. Tonight someone's mother and father would be weeping. Tonight someone's mother and father would be screaming, consumed by a grief that he could barely imagine.
What if it had been one of his girls? How would he feel about a bastard who could drive away and leave her for dead in the road?
It hadn't been his fault. It hadn't. He couldn't afford to go to prison. He had to be here. For his little girls. He had to be here for them. He knew what happened when a father wasn't there for his children. He remembered all too well what it had been like when his father had left his mother to raise the family by herself. Overnight they had gone from having a comfortable, even luxurious existence to scrimping and saving. He remembered how his mother had changed from a rich socialite to a single mother working two jobs to make ends meet. Before she had been gentle and caring and indulgent. Afterwards she had been haggard, exhausted and emotionally fragile.
He was not going to let that happen to his wife or his children. It had not been their fault. They shouldn't suffer. It hadn't even been his fault.
So why did he feel so guilty?
He went back downstairs, meaning to fix himself a stiff drink. He was shaking. He needed something to calm his nerves.
Marion came back in from the garden, the dog trotting ahead of her. "Darling, what happened to the car?"
Cameron froze, his hand partway to the bottle of Scotch. His blood solidified in his veins. "What do you mean?" His own voice sounded very distant. It seemed to be coming from another room, filtering through the noise found inside a seashell.
"There's a huge dent in the front wing, and something that looks like blood. Did you hit a deer coming through the woods again?" It had happened the month before.
"Oh, yes. Yes. That's right. I stopped to see if it was still alive but it ran away. I suppose it must have been fine." He had changed his mind about the Scotch. He felt too sick to drink anything. He was lying to his wife. The woman he adored. The woman for whom he would do anything.
"Oh, honestly Stewart. You should drive more slowly along that stretch. You know those animals are completely unpredictable and have no road sense. You can't rely on them to look before crossing the road. Now the poor thing's probably lying in the dark somewhere, dying a horrible, painful death." She sighed. "I'll contact the insurance company in the morning. The premiums are going to go up again."
"I'm sorry darling," he replied, barely hearing himself. He was caught by his reflection in the glass of a framed photograph on the wall. The photograph depicted his wife and children playing on the beach in Bermuda.
He would do anything for them. Anything. Including live with the pain and the guilt in silence for the rest of his life.
The doorbell rang.
"Who could that be? Are you expecting anyone, sweetheart?" Marion went to the door without waiting for a response.
He wanted to say no. He wanted this to be just another Thursday night. No plans, no visitors, just a quiet night in with a film and a glass of wine while the girls slept peacefully upstairs.
But in truth he could not deny that he was expecting... no, dreading someone.
And the voices at the door confirmed his worst fears.
"Mrs Cameron? I'm Detective Inspector Morrison and this is my colleague DC Grainger. Is your husband at home, please? I see that's his car in the drive. It's got a nasty dent in it. Do you know how that got there?"
"Yes, Stewart's here. He hit a deer on the way home this evening. May I ask what this is about?" She was starting to sound irritated. He recognised the sharp edge in her voice. Marion could be utterly magnificent when she was annoyed.
"We're investigating the death of a six-year-old girl in Epping, Mrs Cameron. She was hit by a vehicle and the driver did not stop. We have an eye-witness who was able to give us a description of the vehicle and part of the registration number. May we please come in?"
Cameron tore his gaze away from the photograph and turned to face his wife. Not the policemen. The policemen brought the threat of prison, but that didn't matter any more.
He had left a little girl to die in the street because he was afraid of losing his family.
His wife's face told him that
he had not lost his family: he had thrown it away.

Sam Fleming

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