The Dead Room
ah… ah… Pretending?’
    ‘That you wished I was dead.’
    A cold, sick sweat broke out across her skin. ‘I… I… ah… don’t… ah… ah…’
    ‘Ever since he died, it’s like you can’t stand being around me – and don’t say you don’t because you and I both know it’s true. I’m more like Dad, and Carter’s more like you. If I was dead, you would have moved on.’
    To what? Jamie wanted to say. To where?
    ‘I know you wouldn’t have kept the house,’ he said. ‘I know you wanted to leave here but didn’t because of me. I had to beg you to stay.’
    ‘Not… ah… not true.’
    ‘About the house or that you wished I was dead?’
    She started to speak, stammering the words as usual.
    Michael, either sick of waiting or not wanting to hear what she had to say, opened the door. She tried to grab his arm but he had already stepped out of the car.
    ‘Michael, don’t… ah… wait –’
    He shut the door and walked away. She stared after him, blinking back tears.
    She didn’t hate him and she didn’t wish he was dead. Jesus! How could he have said such appalling things? Yes, after Dan’s murder, she had wanted to pack up and move. Michael had put up a fight, but even if he had wanted to move, it wouldn’t have mattered. The house couldn’t be sold. She had called a number of real estate agents. They were interested until they recognized the address.
    But you don’t like me. You feel something… it’s like you can’t stand being around me – and don’t say you don’t because you and I both know it’s true …
    Michael had never been a touchy-feely kid, not even as a baby. He had rejected her breast, preferring the bottle. He screamed after he finished eating, wanting to get away from her. Michael didn’t cry when Dan fed him. They had a special connection, Michael and Dan, the two sharing a bond and a secret language spoken mainly through gestures, nods and grunts. And now Dan was gone, leaving Michael marooned in some strange wilderness without a guide or compass.
    Jamie needed to be busy. She took Ben’s mobile phone from her pocket, wanting to reconnect the battery and take a closer look at what was stored on it. Maybe there would be something –
    A knock on her window startled her.
    She whipped her head around and saw a tall, lanky man with short white hair and thick-framed glasses. Her 68-year-old parish priest, Father James Humphrey.
    She rolled down the window. ‘What… ah… why… ah… you here?’
    ‘I help out with the sports programme.’ His soft voice still carried traces of his Irish brogue. His grandparents had come over on the boat, and all the Humphrey children – nine brothers scattered across the north-east – had kept the accent alive.
    He seemed to be waiting for her to say something – or maybe he didn’t know where to start. She hadn’t seen him or gone to church since Dan’s murder.
    ‘I… ah… can’t talk… ah… now. Got… ah… busy day.’
    ‘What happened to your face?’
    ‘Accident,’ she said. ‘Fell.’
    ‘Against a man’s fist?’
    Her face flushed.
    ‘My brother Colm, God rest his soul, was a boxer. I recognize a shiner when I see one.’ Humphrey’s kind and gentle eyes were free of judgement. ‘What happened, love? Who hit you?’
    ‘Accident,’ she said again. ‘I have… ah… go. Appointment.’
    He nodded and shifted his gaze to Carter’s car seat. ‘Are you still seeing the therapist?’
    ‘Yes.’ Humphrey had given her the name of a therapist who specialized in helping victims of trauma. The woman, Dr Wakefield, agreed to work pro bono. Jamie had visited the woman for a month and then stopped going.
    Humphrey looked back at her.
    He knows , she thought. He knows I’ve lied to him, I can see it written all over his face .
    ‘Have to… ah… go. Goodbye… ah… Father Jim.’ Jamie put the minivan in gear and drove away.

    Darby placed last night’s security tapes on the passenger seat of her car. There

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