And he’d felt her hand in his. Only once.
In the hospital. He’d come back up from very far away. Fought through the pain and the dark to that foreign but gentle touch. He knew it didn’t belong to his wife, Enid. That bird-like grip he would not have come back for.
But this hand was large, and certain, and warm. And it invited him back.
He’d opened his eyes to see Annie Gamache staring at him with such concern. Why would she be there, he’d wondered. And then he knew why.
Because she had nowhere else to be. No other hospital bed to sit beside.
Because her father was dead. Killed by a gunman in the abandoned factory. Beauvoir had seen it happen. Seen Gamache hit. Seen him lifted off his feet and fall to the concrete floor.
And lie still.
And now Annie Gamache was holding his hand in the hospital, because the hand she really wanted to be holding was gone.
Jean Guy Beauvoir had pried his eyes open and seen Annie Gamache looking so sad. And his heart broke. Then he saw something else.
No one had ever looked at him that way. With unconcealed and unbound joy.
Annie had looked at him like that, when he’d opened his eyes.
He’d tried to speak but couldn’t. But she’d rightly guessed what he was trying to say.
She’d leaned in and whispered into his ear, and he could smell her fragrance. It was slightly citrony. Clean and fresh. Not Enid’s clinging, full-bodied perfume. Annie smelled like a lemon grove in summer.
He’d embarrassed himself then. There were many humiliations waiting for him in the hospital. From bedpans and diapers to sponge baths. But none was more personal, more intimate, more of a betrayal than what his broken body did then.
And Annie saw. And Annie never mentioned it from that day to this.
To Henri’s bafflement, Jean Guy stopped rubbing the dog’s ears and placed one hand on the other, in a gesture that had become habitual now.
That was how it had felt. Annie’s hand on his.
This was all he’d ever have of her. His boss’s married daughter.
“Your husband’s late,” said Jean Guy, and could hear the accusation. The shove.
Very, very slowly Annie lowered her newspaper. And glared at him.
“What’s your point?”
What was his point?
“We’re going to be late because of him.”
“Then go. I don’t care.”
He’d loaded the gun, pointed it at his head, and begged Annie to pull the trigger. And now he felt the words strike. Cut. Travel deep and explode.
I don’t care.
It was almost comforting, he realized. The pain. Perhaps if he forced her to hurt him enough he’d stop feeling anything.
“Listen,” she said, leaning forward, her voice softening a bit. “I’m sorry about you and Enid. Your separation.”
“Yeah, well, it happens. As a lawyer you should know that.”
She looked at him with searching eyes, like her father’s. Then she nodded.
“It happens.” She grew quiet, still. “Especially after what you’ve been through, I guess. It makes you think about your life. Would you like to talk about it?”
Talk about Enid with Annie? All the petty sordid squabbles, the tiny slights, the scarring and scabbing. The thought revolted him and he must have shown it. Annie pulled back and reddened as though he’d slapped her.
“Forget I said anything,” she snapped and lifted the paper to her face.
He searched for something to say, some small bridge, a jetty back to her. The minutes stretched by, elongating.
“The vernissage,” Beauvoir finally blurted out. It was the first thing that popped into his hollow head, like the Magic Eight Ball, that when it stopped being shaken produced a single word. “Vernissage,” in this case.
The newspaper lowered and Annie’s stone face appeared.
“The people from Three Pines will be there, you know.”
Still her face was expressionless.
“That village, in the Eastern Townships,” he waved vaguely out the window. “South of Montréal.”
“I know where the townships are,” she said.
“The show’s for Clara Morrow, but they’ll all be there I’m sure.”
She raised the newspaper again. The Canadian dollar was strong, he read from across the room. Winter potholes still unfixed, he read. An investigation into government corruption, he read.
“One of them hates your father.”
The newspaper slowly dropped. “What do you mean?”