The Long Way Home

Page 55

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After feeling quietly smug about Peter and his petty jealousy, was she no better? Worse, in fact? Jealous and hypocritical and judgmental. Oh, my.

But there was more. Somewhere else her thoughts were leading. Something else was running for cover.

Her friends were in an animated discussion about the paintings and why Peter had mailed them to Bean.

“I asked that an hour ago,” Jean-Guy protested. “And no one listened. Myrna asks it now and suddenly it’s a brilliant question?”

“The cruel fate of the avant-garde, mon beau,” said Reine-Marie, then turned back to Myrna.

“So what do you think?”

As they discussed it, Clara held her lemonade, the glass slippery with condensation, and examined her feelings.

“Clara?”

“Huh?”

She looked at Myrna, who was smiling at her in obvious amusement.

“Where’d you go?” Myrna asked.

“Oh, just enjoying the garden. Wondering if I should put up more sweet pea on that trellis.”

Myrna now looked at Clara with less amusement. Like most people, Myrna Landers did not like being lied to. But unlike most people, she was willing to call them on it.

“What were you really thinking?”

Clara took a deep, deep breath. “I was thinking about Peter’s paintings and how they made me feel.”

“And how was that?” Reine-Marie asked.

Clara looked at the faces watching her.

“Unsettled,” she said. “I think the paintings frightened me a little.”

“Why?” asked Gamache.

“Because I think I know why he mailed them to Bean.”

They leaned toward her.

“Why?” Beauvoir asked.

“What makes Bean different from most other people?” Clara asked.

“Well, we don’t know if he’s a girl—” said Reine-Marie.

“—or she’s a boy,” said Gamache.

“Bean’s a child,” said Beauvoir.

“True,” said Clara. “All true. But there’s something else that distinguishes Bean.”

“Bean’s different,” said Myrna. “In the Morrow family where everyone’s expected to conform, Bean doesn’t. Peter probably identifies with that. Might even want to reward that.”

“And sending those awful paintings is a reward?” asked Beauvoir.

“Of sorts,” said Myrna. “The act is often more important than the actual object.”

“Tell that to a kid who gets socks for Christmas,” said Beauvoir.

“Ask a child who gets a gold star in their workbook,” said Myrna. “The sticker is useless, but the act is priceless. Symbols are powerful, especially for kids. Why do you think they want trophies and badges? Not because they can play with them, or buy things with them, but because of what they mean.”

“Approval,” agreed Reine-Marie.

“Right,” said Myrna. “And Uncle Peter sending Bean the paintings made Bean feel special. I think Peter identifies with Bean, sympathizes with the child, and wanted to let Bean know it’s okay to be different.”

Myrna looked at Clara, waiting for her approval. Waiting for the gold star.

“That could be the reason,” said Clara. “But I actually think it’s far simpler than that.”

“Like what?” asked Beauvoir.

“I think Peter knew that Bean could keep a secret.”

Bean had kept the secret of his or her own sex. The pressure to tell must have been enormous, but Bean had told no one. Not family. Not schoolmates. Not teachers. No one.

“Peter knew the paintings would be safe with Bean,” said Reine-Marie.

“But if they’re secret, why didn’t he keep them himself?” Jean-Guy asked. “Wouldn’t they be safest with him?”

“Maybe he believed he wasn’t safe,” said Gamache. “That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?”

Clara nodded. That was the feeling in the pit of her stomach. Peter needed to keep these paintings secret.

She looked toward her house.

But what was hidden in those odd paintings? What did they reveal?

EIGHTEEN

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat,” said Armand Gamache as he took a seat on one of Ruth’s white preformed chairs.

“You make it sound like a fur ball,” said Ruth. She slopped Scotch into a glass, not offering him any. “Something horked up. My poems are finely honed, each fucking word carefully chosen.”

Rosa was asleep in her nest of blankets beside Ruth’s chair, though Gamache thought he noticed the duck’s eyes open a slit. Watching him.

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