Agent Isabelle Lacoste had been watching the whole thing, sent there by Chief Inspector Gamache, who understood that the two men would give away all they knew. And the Chief wanted to know whether someone in the bistro, on hearing it, would then give themselves away.
* * *
“Tell me,” said Gamache.
He was leaning forward in his chair, elbows resting on his knees. One hand held the other lightly. In a new, but necessary, gesture.
Beside him, Inspector Beauvoir had his notebook and pen out.
Clara sat back in the deep wooden chair and held on to the wide warm armrests, as though bracing herself. But instead of hurtling forward, she was plunging backward.
Back through the decades, out the door of their home and out of Three Pines. Back to Montréal. Into art college, into the classes, into the student shows. Clara Morrow slammed backward out of college and into high school, then elementary school. And nursery school.
Before skidding to a stop in front of the little girl with the shining red hair next door.
“Lillian was my best friend growing up,” said Clara. “She lived next door and was two months older than me. We were inseparable. But were opposites, really. She grew fast and tall and I didn’t. She was smart, clever in school. I kinda plodded along. I was good at some things, but sort of froze up in the classroom. I got nervous. Kids started picking on me early, but Lillian always protected me. Nobody messed with Lillian. She was a tough kid.”
Clara smiled at the memory of Lillian, her orange hair gleaming, staring down a bunch of girls who were being mean to Clara. Daring them. Clara standing behind her. Longing to stand beside her friend, but not having the courage. Not yet.
Lillian, the precious only child.
The precious friend.
Lillian the pretty one, Clara the character.
They were closer than sisters. Kindred spirits, they told each other in flowery notes they wrote back and forth. Friends forever. They made up codes and secret languages. They’d pricked their fingers and solemnly smeared their blood together. There, they’d declared. Sisters.
They loved the same boys from TV shows and kissed posters and cried when the Bay City Rollers broke up and The Hardy Boys was canceled.
All this she told Gamache and Beauvoir.
“What happened?” the Chief asked quietly.
“How do you know anything happened?”
“Because you didn’t recognize her.”
Clara shook her head. What happened? How to explain it.
“Lillian was my best friend,” Clara repeated, as though needing to hear it again herself. “She saved my childhood. It would’ve been miserable without her. I still don’t know why she chose me as a friend. She could’ve had anyone. Everyone wanted to be Lillian’s friend. At least, at first.”
The men waited. The midday sun beat down on them, making it increasingly uncomfortable. But still they waited.
“But there was a price for being Lillian’s friend,” said Clara at last. “It was a wonderful world she created. Fun and safe. But she always had to be right, and she always had to be first. That was the price. It seemed fair at first. She set the rules and I followed. I was pretty pathetic anyway, so it was never an issue. It never seemed to matter.”
Clara took a deep breath. And exhaled.
“And then, it did seem to matter. In high school things began to change. I didn’t see it at first, but I’d call Lillian on Saturday night to see if she’d like to go out, to a movie or something, and she’d say she’d get back to me, but didn’t. I’d call again, to find she’d gone out.”
Clara looked at the three men. She could see that while they were following the words they weren’t necessarily following the emotions. How it felt. Especially that first time. To be left behind.
It sounded so small, so petty. But it was the first hairline fracture.
Clara hadn’t realized it at the time. She thought maybe Lillian’d forgotten. And besides, she had a right to go out with other friends.
Then, one weekend, Clara had arranged to go out with a new friend herself.
And Lillian had gone ballistic.
“It took months for her to forgive me.”
Now she saw it in Jean Guy’s face. A look of revulsion. For the way Lillian had treated her, or the way she’d taken it? How to explain it to him? How did she explain it to herself?
At the time it had seemed normal. She loved Lillian. Lillian loved her. Had saved her from the bullies. She’d never hurt Clara. Not on purpose.
If there was bad blood it must have been Clara’s fault.