OK... so this is just an idea I had after watch 2.5, about how Pete would feel about Alex. I wanted a chance to get inside his head, and so here it is.
I never meant to hurt Alex. God knows, that was the last thing on my agenda. I never meant to leave forever, it was supposed to be a spontaneous holiday to clear the air. But somehow, one way or another, it ended up in divorce.
Everyone thought we were the dream couple. We met at university, I was in my final year and Alex was a fresher – Psychology and Criminology, Christ Church College, Oxford. Her degree was being paid for by her godfather, whilst I had a partial scholarship and was working in a bar to cover the rest of my tuition fees. She was funny, bright and intellectual, and had the kind of looks most women would have killed for. It was – despite the cliché – love at first sight. For me, anyway.
She took some convincing. A few drinks at the university bar, a couple of sparring matches at the debating society and a few trips down the river with friends persuaded her she felt the same about me too. Midnight walks through the college grounds, nights out on the town, stolen kisses at the back of dark lecture halls... I suppose I led her astray somewhat. Evan never did like me, although looking back he was entirely justified. I introduced young, naive Alex Price to alcohol, sex and soft drugs, a world outside the protected bubble she had grown up in.
I was willing to do anything for her. I followed her like a puppy-dog to her lectures and tuitions, carrying her books, fetching her snacks and books as she wrote out papers, buying her drinks and dinner when we went out clubbing. I was a fool, blinded by love, totally enamoured with my Lexi. When she asked me to extend my degree, stay at university longer to stay with her, I agreed without thinking. When she asked if she could move into my poky flat in the suburbs, barely big enough for one, I said yes.
I never foresaw what happened next. When Alex told me she was pregnant, I didn't want to believe it. She was only twenty. She had such bright prospects ahead of her – she wanted to be a police officer. She couldn't have a child. Neither of us could – we lived in a one-bedroom flat and struggled to pay the rent as it was. Our decision was unanimous, although not easily made, and helping Alex through the turbulent period after the termination was one of the hardest things I have ever done. As time passed, she came to regret her decision, waking each night screaming in my arms, blaming me, blaming herself.
There was only one way I could think of to help her through her grief, frustration and anger. At the graduation dinner, as she flushed with pride and mild embarrassment at being the centre of attention, yet still with an underlying sadness and frustration at the world, I proposed, and to my surprise and great joy, she agreed.
Looking back, I see why she said yes. It was not out of love, or genuine care, it was because I was her first – and ultimately last – serious boyfriend, I had led her astray and educated her in the way of the world, and she did not know how to let go of me. I had been there for her during great trauma – although, she probably reasoned, a trauma that had ultimately been my fault – and she felt she owed me for this support.
The ceremony was small and wholly unremarkable, but for me it did not matter. The greatest joy was being able to take her into my arms afterwards and call her mine, completely, solely mine, and hear her sharing my name.
Maybe that was the mistake. Because as soon as she became Alexandra Drake, her career seemed to take off, with her being promoted through the ranks so fast it was hard to keep track of where she was working and for who. She gained a false idea of her own importance, valuing herself and her career above married life, or my wants and needs.
It was then that the arguments started. And about then that the words of that mysterious woman, the investigating officer on the burglary of my parents all those years ago, returned to me.
"Whether it's Suzie, or a girl called Alex. Be especially nice to her."
And so I tried. Lord knows I tried. But the more I tried, the more she seemed to push me away, the more I tried to spoil her, the more she seemed to resent me for it, resent being "provided for". We began to argue more, about trivial matters. It was like she couldn't switch off "Work Alex", couldn't stop the professional façade.
It came as a complete shock when she announced out of nowhere that she was pregnant again. It was about that time that I started to drink more, using the excuse of working on my novel to go up to my room and down a few glasses of beer or whiskey. In the evenings I'd lose it completely, shouting at her, screaming she was holding me back. In the mornings, when I sobered up, I'd be sweet as sugar to her, telling her I loved her, buying her gifts, flowers, chocolates, all the things the woman over ten years ago had told me to do.
But it continued. After Molly was born, I tried to stop. But the final straw, the thing that drove me away from them both was one action – my own, I won't try to blame Alex, or implicate her. She'd found it hard, having Molly after the termination in our student years, and I'd tried to be supportive. She was ludicrously overprotective of the infant, fussing constantly, worrying more than entirely necessary. But just after Molly turned six months old, we both got drunk. Drunker than we both intended, at first. We had a blazing row, throwing cushions, baby toys, and finally, when nothing else came to hand, I threw the first thing I made contact with.
Which happened to be my beer glass. It struck Alex – turning away from me, even in her inebriated state attuned to her daughter's cries – on the back of the head and she crumpled to the floor. I stared at my hand, appalled at my actions, horrified with what I'd done. I knew she wouldn't remember anything in the morning, thinking she was just hungover. I knew that I needed to get out before I hurt her further, or worse... Molly.
That night I left. I flew to France, staying in Paris for a few weeks, learning how to control my drinking and my temper. By the time I returned, I felt confident I could control myself around Alex, control her too so that the outbursts from us both, the blazing, heat-of-the-moment arguments would become a thing of the past.
Before I could go back to her, I knew I had to see my parents. It was the meeting that would change the rest of my life. My mother told me about Alex's breakdown, about how she had failed to speak for days, how she sobbed for hours and woke screaming each night. She warned me not to go back, that I'd only make it worse. And I took her word for it and left, with a stolen photograph of Alex and Molly in my pocket.
I had just arrived at work when the phone rang. After Alex's words to me all those years before, I had tried my best when I arrived in Canada, working my way up the ladder in a publishing company until finally the legend "Peter Drake, CEO" adorned the plaque on my desk. It wasn't much of an achievement, in reality, Chief Executive of a tiny company, but it was a start.
I knew when I answered that something was wrong. It was my mother, and she never phoned me – except at birthdays or Christmas, and then she was on the phone for very little time in order to keep the bill down. She was crying, and my heart clenched.
"Peter… it's Alex. Something… something's happened…" she whispered, and the breath left my lungs.
No, no, no, no, please, no…
The truth was, I had never really got over her. Although I was with Judy now – kind, sweet, caring Judy, so unlike Alex it was almost comical – and had been for eight years, I knew that deep down inside, I would always love my Lexi. I clutched the phone tighter to my ear, desperate for reassurance, for her to tell me she was going to be fine…
"She's been shot…" Mum said, her voice shaking with emotion. "She might not… might not pull through…"
I couldn't hear any more, I couldn't think or breathe or cry. I just sat there, staring, not understanding anything. Shot? How…?
"Peter? Are you there?" Mum asked, her tone frantic.
"I'm here… I'll be right there…" I assured, and without thinking I slammed the phone down and drove for the airport, needing to reassure Alex that although I had abandoned her once before, I would not let her down again.
The plane journey was agonising. Every second I sat there was a second wasted, every hour excruciating. I needed to see Alex, and I needed to see her soon. Thoughts jostled for position in my head, a constant barrage of guilt and denial and the never-ending "what ifs".
What if I hadn't left her?
What if I had gone back?
What if… we had never met?
I shook my head, trying desperately to sleep, read, anything to make the time pass faster, but it was fruitless. Sleep and concentration failed me – all I could do was wait.
Seeing her lying there like that… words could not describe it. I found Molly and Mum crying in the corridor, Molly hysterical with Mum trying her best to comfort her. I knew what it meant without them saying a word. I couldn't face them until I had seen her and so I went in, unhindered.
She looked so peaceful, just lying there. Like she was asleep. When I took her hand in mine she was cold as ice to the touch, and I rubbed it gently, trying to warm her up. The years since I had seen her had taken their toll on her skin – it was less luminous than it had been and lined with stress. I wanted to see her eyes – those sparkling hazel orbs I remembered so well – but they were tight shut, and so I ran one finger over her eyelids lightly as my farewell to them.
I had been a fool to lose her, to turn away from her. We could have worked it out, but we just didn't try hard enough, and now she was… dead. Thinking the word made it seem so much more real, so starkly threatening and final, that it was difficult to hold it in your grasp.
Alex and "dead" were two words that were at odds with each other. She had been so alive, so worldly-wise and aware that to think of her as dead was as strange as thinking of the sea as dry. She had been my life, and even after I left, I had continued to think of her as "my" Alex, the woman I feel in love with – the bright young student she once was.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I kissed her forehead once, gently, with a sickening sense of finality, before leaving the room.
It was time to face up to what I'd done all those years before.
My little girl needed me.