The Crash: Chapter Fifteen

As Jason Jackson-Jones' daughter lies in the operating theatre after a car accident, possibly caused by his own firm's faulty parts, he's finally forced to admit how wrong things are going.  But has his honesty come too late to save his marriage?

Jason stood watching as Terri’s hand, in apparent slow motion, came up towards his face. It seemed he would have had all the time in the world to move and block her, but starting a physical fight with his wife in the emergency room would be embarrassing, to say the least, and besides, he dimly felt at some level that the blow was deserved. Maybe if he stood there and took it, the blow might diffuse some of the anger and guilt that had been bubbling in him below the surface of his mind ever since this sorry business with the steel quality started.
The slap stung more than he’d expected, and he reflexively brought his hand to his cheek and pressed it there as he watched Terri lower her hand and stare at him. She couldn’t have looked more stunned if the man she’d married had suddenly removed his humanoid mask and proved to be a three-headed green alien from the planet Zarg. 
Meanwhile, as the sting faded, Jason’s focus widened again until it included Bethany’s parents, who were watching him and Terri as if a scene from EastEnders was playing out live in front of them, which was after all how it probably looked. Jason wondered idly if anyone in the room knew who he was, and if anyone had connections with the media. When you were in the public eye even a little, as he was, being a well-known businessman and chairman of a trade association, you became very used to watching how your life looked to others and how it might be presented in the news. Right now, his wasn’t looking good. ‘Local businessman in hospital spat with wife’ wasn’t the headline he wanted to see in all the papers the next morning. Not that it should be the first of his worries. There was still Jess to think about. And the prospect that he might need to issue a recall on the faulty parts. Not to mention what Peter and the Gazette were going to say about this latest incident. 
Right now, Jason’s life wasn’t looking good at all.
Bethany’s Dad was the first to break the silence.
I’m sure that wasn’t called for,” he said in a soothing tone. 
I’m sure it was,” Terri said, her voice so tight that if it had been a spring it would have snapped and the two parts gone flying to opposite corners of the tiny, packed waiting room.
As the room came back into focus, Jason realised that Bethany’s parents weren’t the only people watching.
Let’s talk outside,” he said, and took Terri’s arm. She lagged behind as he led her out into the corridor.
Jesus. I’d leave you now, but I’m not going anywhere as long as my daughter’s lying in there. I can’t believe you knew she was at risk, and you said nothing.”
I didn’t know.” The defence came feebly, because he knew there was some truth to Terri’s accusation. He hadn’t known, but he’d suspected, and she knew it. 
But you were worried. And you didn’t tell us why. You didn’t trust us, and you put my daughter at risk.”
Our daughter.”
My daughter,” Terri spat back, sidestepping as an orderly pushed a trolley past. “You don’t deserve to be called her father. A father cares about his family. He protects them.” 
He remembered a play she’d dragged him to see once because Jess had a bit part in it as an old lady. What was it called? Something about a circle. At the end, two women were fighting over a child, and the judge made them both stand outside the circle, and told them that whichever woman was able to pull the child out of the circle would win custody. The woman who’d given birth to the child pulled and pulled because she wanted the fortune it was heir to, but the other woman, the one who’d brought it up, let go immediately. She couldn’t bear to see the child hurt.
He had an uncomfortable feeling that he’d chosen the wrong part to play. He’d been pulling and pulling, trying to keep hold of his business and his position as successful, providing parent. And in the end he’d pulled so hard, he was in even greater danger of losing both of them. It was easy to see, after the event, that he should have been the other one, the one letting go of everything he’d worked for because the most important thing was protecting his child.
Only he hadn’t known it was his child at stake. But there had been other lives at stake; other parents’ children. How was that any better?
I didn’t know,” he said again, trying to push back the guilt that had been rising in him since he realised what he’d done. “It’s easy to be wise after the event.”
Oh, you and your glib sayings. You can’t save our daughter with platitudes.” 
She was ‘our daughter’ again now. Apparently old habits of language died hard. Jason judged it best to say nothing about the change for the moment. If he drew Terri’s attention to the fact that she was softening towards him, she’d probably take it all back. 
I know,” he said, dropping his head. “I think I hoped that if I didn’t say anything, then it wouldn’t be true. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t all my imagination. Mine and the journalist’s. He is a vindictive so-and-so, you know. He’s always trying to find ways to make me look bad.”
No, he’s trying to find ways to sell papers. Why do you always make everything personal?”
It’s the same thing. He sells papers by making me look bad. Why can’t the papers ever print anything good?”
They do. You were in the paper when you became chair of APMA. And when you won that contract with Jenner’s.”
And now we’re probably losing the contract with Jenner’s.” He spoke with weary resignation. It didn’t seem to matter much any more. 
Terri stared. 
You didn’t tell me that, either.”
Yes I did,” Jason suddenly remembered. “The other night at dinner, I told you. My P.A. left, my Production Manager left, and I was about to lose a major contract. And you said something really intelligent like, ‘Have a glass of wine.’ Thanks a bundle.”
What was I supposed to say?” Terri asked.
Jason thought about it, but there didn’t seem to be an answer. Maybe there was nothing she could have said to make him feel better, but she could at least have taken an interest. But there was no point in arguing about it now. The past couldn’t be changed. If it could, he’d find a way to undo the last forty-eight hours, and then Jess wouldn’t be lying in the operating theatre undergoing who knew what terrifying ordeal.
As Jason opened his mouth to make the uncharacteristic admission that he didn’t know, a nurse hurried past them and pushed the waiting room door open. The petite nurse called, “Mr and Mrs Heston?” then headed back down the corridor without waiting to check that they were following.
Jason stood numbly as Bethany’s parents passed. As Natalie came level with them, Terri caught her hand and gave her a squeeze. Jason was surprised to find a lump in his throat. He’d never had the impression that Natalie and Terri got on very well, but it seemed there were some times when personal animosity was set aside in favour of motherly solidarity, and this was one of those times.
As the door swung slowly and noisily shut behind the nurse and the Hestons, Terri turned back to Jason and stared at him. Her outright shock and bewilderment had faded a little and now she looked tired and sad. 
"How could you know and not say anything?" she asked again, even though Jason had already answered the question the best he knew how. 
"I don't know," he said, his voice echoing the sadness in her eyes. "I wasn't sure. I hoped it was nothing. I wanted to believe it was nothing, so I did. And we still don't know whether it was the car. Anything could have happened. If I'd honestly believed they were at risk, I would have said something."
Terri said nothing but her dark eyes spoke for her, and they told him that she didn't believe a word he was saying.
"She could be dying. She might never walk again. She might be scarred for life. Not just Jess either. Bethany too. And you didn't say anything, because it 'might' not have been true. I just don't understand you."
"You talk as if it's all my doing. It wasn't just me. There are checks. If the car manufacturers think a part isn't up to standard, they needn't use it. They put the part in there. The garage sold it. There's a whole chain of people involved."
"But they aren't Jess's parents. We are. And what would happen if every single one of them thought someone else was going to deal with it, make the decisions, keep the public safe? Then nobody would. And then cars crash and kids die, or are paralysed, or scarred for life. Our beautiful girl." Terri's tirade degenerated into a torrent of sobs.
Jason reached out to rest a hand on her arm, but she shook it off and turned away from him, deliberately ignoring him as she made her way back into the waiting room, sank into a chair, and lowered her head into her hands. He wasn’t sure, but he had the distinct impression she was crying. After a moment, he sat down beside her and began speaking, trying to comfort himself as much as her: "Lots of people are in car accidents and recover perfectly well. It might not be much at all. Maybe a few cuts or broken ribs. They're very common nowadays because of airbags, but the airbags mean that most people don't have serious injuries or brain damage any more."
"Brain damage?" Terri's head snapped upright and she sniffed angrily. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation. You could have stopped it. And you did nothing."
Down went the head again. 
Jason could have kicked himself. He'd been trying to make things better, make it sound as if the damage wouldn't be too serious, and instead he'd just made it worse by drawing Terri's attention to a risk she hadn't considered.
He gave up and sat silently, looking at Terri's fingers tangled in her dark hair, and wondering if things would ever be the same again. 
After what seemed like an eternity, the door creaked open. The petite nurse was back. 
"Mr and Mrs Jackson," she called, and once again glided out of the door, gesturing for them to follow.

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