Freshly-minted passports and two first class tickets on the night train to Florence rest on the bedspread. A pair of vintage cordovan valises stand packed by the door.
“So, you wish us to leave for Florence.” Bedelia picks up the passport in the name of Beatrice Fell and examines it. “Tonight.”
“The FBI and Interpol will know to look for me in Paris, given my family history. We have stayed too long already,” Hannibal explains. “I will pose as Dr. Roman Fell, a scholar of Florentine literature.”
“And I am…?” Bedelia asks, a sharp gleam in her eye.
Hannibal matches her gaze and holds it, steady. “My wife.” He scrutinizes her face as if it was a priceless medieval incunabula. Bedelia’s features remain glacial, untranslatable. “Unless, of course, you object.”
“It seems the simplest explanation for my presence in your life.” She folds her passport closed and places it in her handbag.
“One more thing.” The small box in Hannibal’s breast pocket burns like a hot coal. He retrieves it and opens it with uncharacteristically fumbling fingers. Inside, two wedding bands rest on black velvet. Hers, a sparkling diamond; his, an unadorned gold ring. “Is it suitable?” he asks, a slight tremor in his baritone voice.
“It’s a beautiful ring, Hannibal,” she answers, gently, reassuringly. “Thank you.”
Hannibal plucks the diamond ring from its box with nearly trembling hands. He feels bashful, schoolboyish, before her, like another man from a different life. He nearly drops the ring, and suddenly has a newfound respect for those who choose to perform this deed in public. There are no witnesses there save for the pigeons cooing outside on their balcony.
She notices his discomfort and asks like the psychiatrist she is, “I’ve never known you to be nervous. Why now?”
Hannibal is silent, gazes down at the ring, too small and fragile even in his surgeon’s hands. There are so many answers to her question, but Hannibal offers only what he considers to be the least revealing one. “Because I have never performed this particular ceremony with anyone. And at middle age, I thought it likely I never would,” he says with almost a laugh.
Bedelia returns his half smile. “I could say the same.”
She extends her left hand, ring finger tilted slightly upward, expectant. “With this ring, I thee wed,” he pronounces with proper gravity. Hannibal takes her hand in his and slides the wedding band onto her finger. It fits her perfectly, as he knew it would, the marquise-cut diamond flashing in the light, emphasizing the slenderness of her delicate hands.
Solemnly, wordlessly, Bedelia retrieves the groom’s ring. She takes his left palm in hers, her fingers tiny, soft, and quick as they place the band of gold on his own hand. He squeezes her fingers lightly. They are “married.”
To his surprise, Bedelia brings his left hand to her cheek, and presses her soft lips to the tender place where his palm meets his wrist. He lets his fingers tease a lock of hair, and she briefly closes her eyes. The sunlight streams down behind her like a halo, lighting up her perfect Florentine Madonna face. She is the most fascinating woman he has ever known, and she has never been more radiant than in this moment. His throat tightens. “May I kiss the bride?” he asks, hoarsely.
She nods and he bends deeply to kiss her, right hand pressing up against the small of her back, left hand cupping her chin, inching her lips to his. He brushes his lips against her chastely, once, twice. The third time she opens her mouth, inviting him inside. Their tongues meet, and she moans into his mouth.
Her plum lace dress joins his blue leather jacket on the floor. They miss the evening train to Florence, but neither cares.