Killing Craig Roberts
Gray Matthews had ever been to the grave before so he walked aimlessly among the rows of stones in search of the correct name. The Cemetery guy on the phone told him "over by the Big Elm but before the service road" and Gray was in that general vicinity but it was still like looking for a needle in a haystack.
And then his eye caught sight of the light granite stone with the name ROBERTS across the front. He stopped for a moment, his heart suddenly beating in his chest as if he had just been transported back in time to the day of the accident.
After hesitating for a moment, Gray strolled closer to the stone and beneath the family name he saw in smaller letters "Craig Roberts – Beloved Son" with his birth date followed by his death date, twenty years ago on this exact date.
Gray felt his breath escape from his lungs and suddenly a chill ran through his veins even thought it was a pleasant summer morning.
Gray wasn't sure how long he stood staring blankly at the grave with an empty feeling in the pit of his bottomless stomach but he was so tranced-like that he didn't hear or sense another person approaching.
"Hello?" A voice said tentatively and cautiously, finally pulling Gray from his vacant thoughts.
He turned to see a woman around his age sheepishly standing a few feet behind him, clearly looking awkward for having disturbed him. She was wearing a black dress which struck Gray as a bit odd on such a sunny summer's day.
"Hello," he said neutrally.
"I haven't seen you here before," the woman said. "I come here quite often."
"I've been away," Gray replied.
"Oh," she said, taking a few steps closer until she was standing by his side. He was staring at the stone but he could feel her eyes on him. "You're Gray Matthews, aren't you?" She finally said.
Gray was surprised to be outed so quickly and easily. He threw her a look but he didn't respond.
"I'm Taina McMahan," she explained. She saw the blank look on his face. "I was the babysitter," she informed him.
"Oh," he said, looking uncertain and unsure. He had tried to block that day from his memory and he didn't recall a babysitter.
"Where did you go?" She asked.
"Career Navy," he answered.
"Why'd you come back?"
"It's home," he said.
"And you remembered this date?" Taina asked. "That's why you're here? On the anniversary?"
"Isn't that why you're here?"
"I told you I come often."
"Why?" Gray asked, bewildered by the idea.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "Elusive closure? Guilty torture? Insufferable regret?"
"You shouldn't do that to yourself," Gray advised.
"I can't help it," Taina told him. She gave him a long stare. "That was the last day I was happy," she revealed, turning her focus back to the stone. "I got my babysitting certificate. I considered myself well trained and highly capable. I was sixteen years old and I thought I knew it all."
"I was eighteen and didn't know nothin','" Gray replied.
"It was 3:45 in the afternoon," Taina recalled. "A sunny summer day."
"Much like this one," Gray said, glancing up at the blue sky.
"I was making lemonade. Craig was in the living room watching his show."
"I was driving to my friend Shano's house," Gray revealed.
"I think Craig heard a dog bark," Taina theorized. "He loved this mutt down the street. That's why he bolted from the house."
"I drove a junk with a busted air conditioner," Gray said, also staring blankly at the gravestone. "The windows were down. The radio was up. I was only two blocks from Shano's house."
"I heard the screen door bang," Taina recalled.
"I heard someone yell."
"Mr. Danvers, across the street," Taina said. "He was trimming his hedge. He saw it happen. Later he said it was like watching a movie in slow motion. He died a few years ago."
"I didn't see him until it was too late," Gray said. A flash of blue and then a bump."
"He was wearing a blue shirt and light blue shorts."
"I was doing the speed limit. Thirty miles per hour. Didn't matter."
"A car is a force at any speed."
"I slammed on the brakes and swerved to the left, up onto the curve," Gray reported. "But I had already hit him.
"His head hit the pavement hard," Taina said. "That's what Mr. Danvers said. He was thrown a great distance."
"I actually don't remember any of that," Gray admitted. "The neighbor. You. I remember hitting him. I remember stopping up on the grass. I remember hearing a loud noise and then I realized it was me. Screaming."
"I heard the screeching tires," Taina said, almost in a dream state. "I remember the blood-curling yell from Mr. Danvers trying to stop Craig from running into the street. I ran to the screen door and saw him lying in the road like a crumpled doll. Blood everywhere. I fainted."
"Someone came to the car. Asked if I was okay. Other people ran to the boy. I didn't dare look."
"Mrs. Irvine from next door was cuddling me when I came to," Taina said. "She helped me into the house."
"The cops were there in moments," Gray revealed. "Ambulance right behind them. Someone must have called 911. They rushed him to the hospital. Later they told me he was dead on arrival."
"Severe head trauma," Taina said. "I was hysterical."
"I was still in the car," Gray remembered. "The cops let me stay there until the ambulance left. I was shaking. In shock, I'm sure. The cops were sympathetic but professional. They put me in the backseat of a cop car and asked me questions. The neighbor's account helped."
"It was a terrible tragic sad unfortunate accident," Taina said.
"I was the driver," Gray stated.
"You were young." Her voice caught in her throat. "Craig was younger. He didn't understand the danger."
"It was early evening by the time the cops finished their investigation. My parents came and got me. I didn't want to drive and they wouldn't have let me anyway."
"They had to sedate me," Taina revealed. "I couldn't even give a statement until the next day."
"My father dealt with most of it," Gray recalled. "The insurance. Hiring a lawyer. Fixing the car. Dealing with the Roberts' family."
"I couldn't face them," Taina said, her voice quivering. "I stayed with my grandparents out in Ohio for the rest of the summer."
"I barely left the house until I shipped out for boot camp," Gray said. "I had reoccurring nightmares. I knew I'd be haunted for a very long time."
"I was afraid of everything," Taina sighed. "I'd shudder when I heard a dog bark. I never had lemonade again. I gave up babysitting. I cried when I saw a boy his age or with his looks out somewhere. I'd panic over the slightest of noises. I know people talked about it behind my back. I still had two years of high school left. There was this unspoken suspicion around me. Like they secretly blamed me."
"I'm the one who killed him," Gray said bluntly. "Luckily, nobody knew once I left. Shipmates didn't understand why I didn't like to drive or why I was sad a lot of the time."
"I went off to college," Taina said. "Sort of a do over but I pretty much had PTSD. I didn't know how to act around people because I was always afraid they were going to find out about me. I just wanted to be liked and accepted but I was sad all the time."
"There's no magic potion for people who killed someone," Gray remarked.
"I've never talked to anybody besides my therapist about this before," Taina realized, looking at him with amazement. "I wish we met years ago."
"I never talk about it at all," Gray admitted. "My family pretends it never happened."
Neither said anything for a while, both of them staring at the gravestone as if it was a beacon.
"Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?" Taina finally asked.
Gray glanced at her with surprise. "Sure," he decided, although he wasn't sure why.
"Let me just say the prayer I always say before we go," Taina requested as she knelt in front of the grave stone.