David was the nicest man Annie had ever met—maybe the nicest man in the world. It was part of what had attracted her, in the beginning. Other men she'd dated found her too intense, didn't like her intelligence or her stubbornness. One old boyfriend had told her, over his shoulder on the way out the door, that men didn't want to marry a ball-buster. They'd wanted her to minimize herself for them, cut off the pieces that were unappealing, and that was something she didn’t want to do—something she wasn't sure she even knew how to do.
And then there had been David, who accepted her as she was, liked her as she was. He was easy-going, almost placid, letting her intensity, her fierce drive, wash over him, absorbing the ebb and flow easily. It was peaceful, being with David, at least at the start.
But the problem with being married to the nicest man in the world was that sometimes he just didn't understand.
“I don't know,” he was saying now, as Annie hung up her suit jacket, the hanger making a vicious metallic clink against the closet rod. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
Annie tossed her blouse on the bed, not caring for the moment about wrinkles. “Overreacting? After that—that insult? I’m infuriated. Honestly, he’s lucky I didn’t dump his coffee cup over his misogynistic little head.”
“I'm sure it was an oversight. Would your boss really overlook you on purpose?”
“Yes.” She didn't bother trying to explain to David what it meant to be a woman in a male-dominated field. He didn't even have a good grasp on garden-variety office politics, let alone structural sexism.
“If it was me, I'd just move forward like it was an accidental oversight. The next time a case like this comes along you can let him know you want in.”
Annie turned around, halfway into her pyjamas, to stare at her husband. He was calmly hanging up her blouse, smoothing away the wrinkles with his hands.
"First of all," she said, staring at his back as he re-hung her suit jacket so the lines fell more cleanly, "I made it pretty damn clear I wanted this case. Second of all, even if it was an accidental oversight, that's still a problem, because it would have been harder for him to overlook a man."
“Oh—well. If that's what you think happened, do what you think is best, of course. Want a glass of wine?”
She swallowed back the emotion bubbling within. Of course David never really argued back, even when she was raring for a fight.
The problem with being married to the nicest man in the world was that sometimes she felt like a massive bitch in comparison.
“Sure,” she said finally. “I'm tired. Can we order in?”
When he left to pour her wine and call for food, she went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. David was her husband, she reminded herself. She loved him, and he loved her, and it was ridiculous to be frustrated at someone for being too damn nice.
Her conversation was a bit stilted through dinner. David didn't seem to notice. Afterward he settled down with a book, and Annie put on a sweater and went out to the terrasse to call her father. He would understand. He always had good advice.
She settled into a lounge chair with her cell phone and her second glass of wine. The air had a bit of fall chill to it—another few weeks and they'd have to bring the furniture inside. She sighed and looked up at the stars and dialled the B&B in Three Pines where her father was staying for a murder investigation.
Unfortunately, she recognized the voice who answered, and it wasn’t her father.
Jean-Guy. Annie frowned. Of course he'd be staying there as well. He was her father's second-in-command. He also happened to be the most infuriating man in the world—or at least, the most infuriating man she’d ever met.
“It's Annie. Can I speak to my father?”
“Annie.” Did his voice have an edge to it? Or was she overreacting, the way David had said she was when she’d spent the entire drive home from brunch on Sunday fuming about Jean-Guy provoking her into an argument?
“Yes, it's me. Is my father there?”
“Ah, no, actually. He's out at a dinner party.”
Just the way her day was going. David was being a nincompoop and her father wasn't available and she was stuck talking to Jean-Guy Blowhard.
“A dinner party, and you weren’t invited? What a shock, since you’re such pleasant company.”
He snorted. “As though I’d go to another one of those. I’d rather be on all-night stakeout. Fucking Anglos. Têtes carrées, more like têtes cassées.”
“That’s rude!” Annie exclaimed, to cover up the fact that she’d almost laughed.
“Come on, it’s at least a little bit funny.”
“In your dreams. Do you know when my dad is coming back?”
“I have no idea. They get up to some weird stuff at these dinner parties. Can I give him a message for you?”
“What's wrong?” Jean-Guy asked, sounding genuinely concerned, and for a second she felt bad about calling him a blowhard in her mind earlier.
“Nothing's wrong. I was just hoping to talk to my dad.”
“Give me a little credit, Annie. I'm a homicide detective. I know how to read people even when they aren't being as obvious as you are right now.”
“I'm not obvious!”
“Yes, you are. You're not the sort who hides what you feel.”
“I’m—“ Annie cut off the automatic objection. He was right, tabarnac, she wasn't the sort to hide what she felt. “I was just hoping to get his opinion on something, that's all.”
“Anything I can help with?”
Oh yeah, like she wanted to open her weaknesses and insecurities to him.
“No,” she said shortly.
“Annie.” His voice was deep, almost soothing. She hadn't thought much about it before, because in person his physical presence was more distracting and his behaviour was just so aggravating. But tonight, with just her phone and her glass of wine and the stars, she could admit that he had a nice voice. “I may not be Armand Gamache but I know how he thinks better than most people.”
“Fine.” She took a fortifying sip of wine. “But don't judge me, okay?”
“Would I judge you?”
“Yes, absolutely. You judge everyone.”
A pause—he clearly wanted to refute that statement but couldn't because it was true. “No judgement. I will be an impartial fountain of wisdom.”
Annie snorted at that one. “No, you won't. But what the hell. There's a situation at work that I'm pissed off about and I’m not sure how to handle it.”
“And look at me, not making a comment about the great Annie Gamache admitting she doesn't know something!”
“Tais-toi, I'm talking. So there's this case that came in, and I have been very clear to my boss that if a case came in on that subject matter I wanted it. I even told him that I was excited that this case was coming. And then today it got assigned to a more junior associate, completely passing me over.”
“What the hell!”
His angry interjection made something in her settle. “Right? It’s insulting. It’s offensive. It’s—demeaning. Either they passed me over unintentionally—probably because I'm a woman—or they intentionally gave the case to someone else—either because I'm a woman or because they don't like me. Or both. Or, I suppose, the third option is that they don't think I'm a very good lawyer.”
“Are they fucking idiots?” Jean-Guy demanded, and Annie felt herself smile. “You're obviously the best lawyer they have. Whether it's on purpose or not, they should have given you the case.”
“How do you know I'm the best lawyer they have? You haven't met any of the others and you've never seen me at work.”
“Yes, but you forget that I've argued with you a thousand times, mon amie. I know what you're capable of. Therefore I'm pretty sure you're the best lawyer they have.”
That surprised a laugh out of her, despite her anger. “Well, I certainly think so. So I started—crisse de câlice. I wanted to go into my boss’s office and do something drastic. Trash his desk, or something. But as a competent professional, I resisted, obviously.”
“Obviously.” Jean-Guy sounded amused now. “I’d have paid to watch that though.”
“You’re not helping, Fountain of Wisdom. I started to draft my resignation letter but I’m too angry. Everything I wrote was too emotional, and I’m worried they’ll just write me off as some hysterical, PMS-ing woman instead of taking me seriously. And David—“
She stopped herself short, not wanting to bring that confused bundle of feelings into a conversation that was quickly beginning to feel cathartic.
But of course Jean-Guy couldn’t let anything go. “And David what?”
“And David thinks it was probably just an oversight and I should let it go.”
“What?” Annie leaned forward in her seat. “What was that ‘hmm’? Do you agree with David?”
Jean-Guy snorted. “As rarely as I can. Look, you and I both know that this is total bullshit.”
“Such fucking bullshit!”
“Of course you feel insulted. It was insulting that you got passed over for a junior colleague! If it was on purpose it’s downright offensive and even if was an accident it’s terrible that your boss can forget you so easily.”
“I mean, right!”
“But,” said Jean-Guy firmly, and Annie wanted to reach through the phone and punch him in the too-handsome face.
“Ostie, here we go,” she said instead.
“Are you sure you want to go straight for the most extreme option? It would be satisfying in the moment, but would it be worth it in the end? You’d be out of a job and your firm would just become more of a boy’s club without you there. And you know they’d probably manage to cover it all up so it looks like they never did anything wrong.”
Annie sighed and collapsed back in the lounge chair. “I hate that you have a good point.”
“I always have a good point,” he said, so smug that she rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know if it’s bad enough that I have to leave immediately, but after this I definitely can’t pursue my career goals here. I don’t think I can trust my boss again after this.”
“So start looking for another job, and in the meantime do what you need to do to get through the day-to-day at your firm.”
Annie curled deeper into the lounge chair, looking up at the stars before sipping her wine again. Over the line, she could hear distant rustling, probably Jean-Guy settling in as well.
“That easy, eh? Do you think I should confront my boss and demand to know why I wasn’t put on the case?”
“Confrontation is a strong approach. Sometimes people startle when you confront them.”
“Of course the homicide investigator would start with that.” Annie rolled her eyes again, but this time it was more in amusement than annoyance.
“Well, it’s not that much different than an investigation, is it? You want to know what’s in his mind, the same way I do when I’m talking to a suspect or a witness. You get the best information out of someone if he doesn’t know you’re questioning him. See if you can be subtle about it.”
“I'm not very subtle,” she said, and his laugh warmed her all the way from Three Pines. “Do you have any advice for someone whose major talent is bluntness?”
“Taking into account your character flaws—“
“Oh, look who’s talking!”
“Obviously you need to talk to your boss. But, here—talk to him like it was a mistake. Be very oblivious. You thought you mentioned you wanted a case like that, is there someone else you need to tell for next time, something like that.”
“Asshole,” Annie muttered, not sure if she was directing the sentiment at Jean-Guy or at her boss. “I can probably do that. It’s like making an argument in court. Not lying, just showing a specific light on the facts.”
“Right, think of it that way. If it really was an oversight he’ll be very apologetic, or maybe he’ll try to pass the blame, I don’t know him. If not—you can see how he reacts, what he says. If he gives you some excuse or tries to offer you something else, that will tell you one thing, or if he acts like you never told him you were interested, that will tell you another thing. And then you can go from there.”
“That makes sense.”
“I do make sense sometimes,” he said dryly.
That was the problem with talking to the most infuriating man in the world. Sometimes they understood each other a little too well.
They were both silent for a moment. Annie looked up at the night sky and wondered why they could never get along in person.
They’d started out okay. She’d actually developed an embarrassing crush on her father’s new protégé when he’d first come around. Jean-Guy had been in his mid-20s then, handsome and confident, and obviously intelligent if he was working so closely with Armand. Of course the nerdy, too-intense 15-year-old Annie had been smitten. So she’d started making what she’d thought were knowledgeable observations about the law, trying to get his attention. And he'd said something absurd in response, she couldn't remember what anymore—and she'd realized he was an arrogant ass and called him out, and they'd gotten into a fierce debate right there at the dinner table, and that had been the pattern of their interactions for the past dozen years.
Turned out that arguing non-stop for a dozen years could teach you a lot about another person.
“Thanks,” she said now, hugging her sweater tighter around herself. “That actually is helpful.”
“Surprise, surprise, I can be helpful.”
“Entirely due to my father’s mentorship, I’m sure.”
A brief chuckle came down the line. “I just thought—doesn’t Armand call you the lion of the family?”
She was instantly suspicious. “Yes…”
“There's a stuffed lion in here, a toy, I have no idea why, and I've been looking at it the whole time we were talking. Wait—“ A few seconds of quiet, and then he was back. “Soft, too. Looks new. Maybe someone brought it back from the fair.”
That was… surprisingly sweet. She shook her head to distract herself from that thought. “A lion or a lioness? Lionesses don't have manes.”
“Then it's a lion.”
“People think that lions are the most powerful animals, but actually, it's the lionesses who do all the work. They hunt and they feed the pride and they take care of the cubs. The lions are basically glorified studs. Sitting there sunning themselves and occasionally getting the lionesses pregnant.”
“Now that's the life,” Jean-Guy said, and she could imagine him leaning back in his seat, smirking at her in the way he did right before he said something sure to rile her up. “You get your own little harem and you don't even need to do any work? Sign me up.”
Annie snorted. “Yeah, like Enid would let you get away with that.”
“Well—if it had been an option open to me, before Enid. But unfortunately we human males rarely have that kind of opportunity.”
She found herself laughing even as she rolled her eyes. Talking to him like this, with his voice deep and intimate in her ear, under the stars, it was so easy to imagine a male body strong and solid next to hers on the lounge chair, an arm around her shoulders, a muscled thigh pressed warmly against hers—and where the hell had that thought come from?
“Do you know how I got that nickname in the first place?" she asked, probably talking too quickly, to distract herself from that mental image. “According to my dad, when I was a baby the only song that would put me to sleep was 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. You know it?”
“I think so. Is that the one that goes—'In the jungle, the mighty jungle'…”
She couldn't stop herself from signing along, over the phone with Jean-Guy, the song too deeply entrenched in her psyche. If any of her neighbours had their windows open they must think she was losing it. Or drunk.
“I should let you go,” she said once they wound down. “But this was helpful. Thanks, Jean-Guy. I mean it.”
There was a short pause before his voice came down the line, sounding a bit guarded, now that they’d stopped being silly. “De rien. It sounds like you're feeling a bit better.”
“I am. Thank you. Let my father know I called.”
“I will. Bonne soirée, Annie.”
“Bonne soirée, Jean-Guy.”
She hung up and sat another minute in the lounge chair, picturing him in his B&B, relaxing with a scotch and a stuffed lion on his lap, and warmth curled through her.
“Well,” she muttered to herself, before going inside to join her husband, the nicest man in the world. “This is an unfortunate development.”