She stood back. She stood close. She tipped her head from side to side.
No matter how she looked at them, they were awful.
“That’s okay, you don’t have to like them,” said Bean. “I don’t care.”
It was also what the young Clara had said, when watching the all-too-familiar sight of people struggling to say something nice about her early works. People whose opinions she valued. Whose approval she longed for. I don’t care, she’d said.
But she did. And she suspected Bean did too.
“Do you have a favorite?” Aunt Clara asked, side-stepping her own feelings.
Bean pointed to the open door. Aunt Clara closed the door to reveal a painting there. It was, if such a thing was possible, more horrible than the rest. If the others were neolithic, this one was a large evolutionary step backward. Whoever painted this almost certainly had a tail, and knuckles that dragged on the ground. And through the paint.
If Peter had taught Bean the color wheel, he was a very, very bad teacher. This painting flaunted all the rules of art and most of the rules of common courtesy. It was a bad smell tacked to the wall.
“What do you like about it?” Myrna asked, her voice strained from keeping some strong emotion, or her dinner, inside.
From the bed, Bean waved a finger toward the painting. Clara realized that with the door closed Bean would see this painting last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
What was so special about it?
She looked over at Myrna and saw her friend examining it. And smiling. Just a grin at first, that grew.
“Do you see it?” Myrna asked.
Clara looked more closely. And then something clicked. Those funny red squiggles were smiles. The painting was filled with them. Lips.
It didn’t make the painting good. But it made it fun.
Clara looked back at Bean and saw a large smile on the earnest face.
“Clearly the artistic gene hasn’t been passed to Bean,” said Myrna as they sat in the cab back to the hotel.
“I’d give a lot of money for Peter to see what his lesson has produced,” Clara said, and heard Myrna grunt with laughter beside her.
* * *
“What did you two get up to today?” Reine-Marie asked Annie and Jean-Guy as they ate dinner on the terrace in their back garden.
“Dominique and I took the horses through the woods,” said Annie, helping herself to watermelon, mint, and feta salad.
“And you?” Armand asked Jean-Guy. “I know for sure you didn’t go horseback riding.”
“Horse?” said Beauvoir. “Horse? Dominique says they’re horses but we all know there’s at least one moose in there.”
Reine-Marie laughed. None of Dominique’s horses could be considered show-worthy. Abused and neglected and finally sent to the slaughterhouse, Dominique had saved them.
They had that look in their eyes, as though they knew. How close they’d come.
As Henri sometimes looked, in his quiet moments. As Rosa looked. The same expression she sometimes caught in Jean-Guy’s eyes.
They knew. That they’d almost died. But they also knew that they’d been saved.
“Marc and I did some yard work,” said Jean-Guy. “What did you get up to?”
Gamache and Reine-Marie described their afternoon, trying to figure out why Peter went to Dumfries.
“And why the 15th arrondissement in Paris,” said Reine-Marie.
“Dad, what is it?” Annie asked.
Armand had gotten up and, excusing himself, he went into the house, returning a minute later with the map of Paris.
“Sorry,” he said. “I just need to check something.”
He spread the map out on the table.
“What’re you looking for?” Jean-Guy joined him.
Gamache put on his reading glasses and hunched over the map before finally straightening up.
“When you went riding, did you stop in to see Marc’s father?” Armand asked his daughter.
“Briefly, yes,” said Annie. “We took him some groceries. Why?”
“He still doesn’t have a phone, does he?”
“Just wondering. He lived in Paris for a while,” said Gamache.
“He spent quite a bit of time there, after Marc’s mother kicked him out,” said Annie.
“I need to speak to him.” Armand turned to Jean-Guy. “Ready to saddle up?”
Beauvoir looked horrified. “Now? Tonight? On horses or whatever those are?”