“Mrs. Beazley!” Alice couldn’t have been more startled to find Lucien’s housekeeper at her door.
“Dr. Harvey, please, call me Jean.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, which worried Alice more than her unexpected arrival.
“All right. Jean. You can call me Alice,” she offered in return. “Come in.”
She knew that word would get around Ballarat of her police interview, but she hadn’t expected it to be common knowledge only a day later. “Did Lucien send you?”
Jean folded her hands in her lap after they sat in Alice’s den. “No. He doesn’t even know I’m here. Frankly, it’s not his business.”
“I know we don’t know each other that well, but I wanted to come and make sure that if you ever need someone to talk to, you’re aware that I’m here.”
Alice seemed more bewildered by the show of support than pleased. “Well, I appreciate it, of course. Lucien was very kind.”
“I’m sure he was. But he can only understand so far. Not the way another woman knows.”
She’d never really had female friends, so Alice couldn’t say she considered them supportive creatures. They could be just as cruel as men, in different ways. “I’m not much like most women.”
“Well.” Jean smiled again, her nose crinkling this time. “I suspect that’s a good thing.”
She looked down at her feet, realizing she’d forgotten half her purpose there. “Oh, and I brought a roast.”
“I like to cook,” Jean explained. “I thought some comforting food might not go amiss today.”
“You’re quite welcome.”
“So…” Alice wasn’t sure how to ask, but she couldn’t avoid the question. It was so out of the blue, food and sympathy from someone she’d barely spoken to in passing. “You just came here to offer your support? And dinner?”
“Is that so strange?” Jean’s tone was gentle. She didn’t seem surprised by Alice’s skepticism. “We have to look out for each other. We can’t very well expect men to protect us, when sometimes they’re the ones we need protecting from.”
“I suppose not. I’m just not used to…” Support, let alone understanding. Sympathy from strangers. Basic human decency.
Jean saved her from having to finish the thought. “After yesterday, I can only imagine how you must be feeling. But I’ve got an ear, and a shoulder, if you need one.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Well.” Jean stood, handing Alice the roast. “I should go. Leave you to your day.”
“I don’t have plans,” Alice replied with a shrug, holding the roast like it was an alien thing. “I’m just sort of…waiting.”
“It must be hard.” Jean patted Alice on the arm. “Would you like me to stay?”
This was already too much, though she was grateful for the visit. She hadn’t realized just how kind Jean Beazley was.
“No, thank you. I’ll be fine.”
“All right.” Jean stepped back, regarding her carefully. “If you’re sure.”
“Yes, though I appreciate it. All of this.” She lifted the roast a little for emphasis.
“It’s nothing, really. When it was me, I could’ve used someone, you know? It’s the least I can do.”
The implications were striking, impossible to miss. “You too?”
Jean smiled a little at Alice’s surprise. “Yes. Me, too.” She brushed a hand absently down the front of her blouse. “I was young, and my family…well, they didn’t understand. It made it harder.”
Alice remembered her own childhood, so sharply it might as well have been yesterday. “It’s always hard.”
“It is.” Jean nodded, no longer smiling. “So, you see…I’m here. Anytime.”
It went against her nature, against everything harsh and cold that she had experienced thus far in life…but Alice believed her. And it was a relief.
“I’ll remember that,” she promised, offering Jean a smile of her own.
It reached her eyes.