‘I see. I can understand how close you must have been,’ she said softly.
‘We were, very close, right through school and on into university. Claire studied law at Liverpool while I went to Cambridge and did medicine so we didn’t see much of one another, but it didn’t make any difference. We just picked up where we’d left off whenever we met up.’ He shrugged. ‘It seemed only natural that we should get engaged once we had qualified. Both our families were thrilled, as you might expect, and set about planning our wedding.’
He tailed off, not sure how to tell her the rest. What would Molly think once he told her the truth? Would she blame him, as he blamed himself? Even though it shouldn’t have mattered what she thought, he knew deep in his heart that it did.
‘We were both working incredibly hard, trying to establish our careers,’ he continued before his courage deserted him. ‘Claire had been accepted for pupillage at a leading firm of barristers in London and I was working as a junior registrar at a London hospital in A&E. Although we shared a flat, we actually saw very little of one another.’
‘It’s difficult to find time for a relationship when you’re starting out on your career,’ Molly agreed, and he sighed.
‘That’s what I told myself, especially when we fell out, as we seemed to do with increasing frequency. I told myself that we just needed to get through the next few months and it would get easier once we were married, but the situation grew worse, if anything. It got so bad that I avoided going home some nights, just to get a break from all the arguing. And then one night Claire phoned me at work and told me that she needed to speak to me urgently. I wasn’t off duty until eight p.m. so I arranged to meet her at a bar we sometimes went to.
‘It was one of those nights you learn to dread, as it turned out. Dozens of patients, all with major complications. There was no chance of my being able to leave on time so I phoned Claire and explained that I couldn’t make it. She was already there, waiting for me, and I could tell she was upset when I cancelled, but there was nothing I could do about it.’
He broke off, steeling himself to tell Molly the rest of the story. He had reached the real crux of his tale, the part that he found it the most difficult to voice. He took a steadying breath before he continued in a voice that was devoid of any emotion.
‘That was the last time I ever spoke to her. She left the bar a short time later and was hit by a taxi while she was crossing the road. She died instantly. One of the bar staff said at the inquest that she had been crying when she had left—and that was all down to me, Molly. If I hadn’t been so curt with her then she would never have stepped in front of that cab.’
MOLLY HAD NO idea what to say. She was so stunned by what Sean had told her that her thoughts were in a complete turmoil. And then, slowly, one thought rose through all the confusion in her head: Sean wasn’t to blame. It had been an accident, a tragic and terrible accident.
‘It wasn’t your fault!’ She got up from the sofa and went to kneel beside his chair. ‘It was an accident, Sean, awful, I know, but you can’t blame yourself for what happened.’
‘No? So why does it feel like it’s my fault?’ He shook his head. ‘No, if I hadn’t been so offhand with her then Claire would never have got so upset. She’d told me that she needed to speak to me urgently and I should have realised that it had to be something really important.’
‘Do you have any idea what she wanted to tell you?’ Molly asked hesitantly then immediately wished that she hadn’t when she saw how tormented he looked.
‘Oh, yes. It came out at the inquest.’ He took a deep breath but she could hear the torment in his voice. ‘Claire was pregnant when she was killed—roughly eight weeks, according to the coroner. I had no idea but it makes no difference, does it? I’m not only responsible for Claire’s death but for the death of our baby as well.’
Molly couldn’t think of anything to say. The sheer horror of what he must have been through was simply too much to take in. And it was obvious that Sean had misinterpreted her silence. He laughed harshly as he stood up.
‘I can tell by your expression what you think, Molly, and I don’t blame you. I mean, what kind of a man doesn’t even suspect his fiancée is pregnant, especially when she’s sending out all the right signals?’