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Normal by Death

Normal by death (a novel) - epilogue

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] The wedding was a lovely if quiet affair. They only had their close friends and their kids present, barely 25 people. They had a delicious dinner at Nathalie’s favourite Mexican restaurant, which had gone to the trouble of preparing a tower of chicken fingers and fries for the kids. They’d rented the whole restaurant for the evening, had pushed the unused chairs against the walls and hired a band to play the best dance music from the 1980s. It was kind of weird to mix Depeche Mode with tacos, but whatever, right? The bride was radiant, and that’s all that mattered.

“You make me very happy, Mrs,” Marc whispered in her ear. It gave her goosebumps, to hear herself called that.

“Ditto, my husband,” she whispered back.

****

Jeff adjusted well to his sentence in prison. The quiet life and predictable routine suited him. He had never written so much in his life. Nathalie had helped him get equipped with one of those laptop/tablet gizmos, and he got to use the internet and check his Facebook page on a regular basis.

He did not see Nathalie all that often. She normally came to visit once every other week, but she never brought the kids with her. Jeff understood. Maybe when they’re bigger they’ll get to know more about their extended family, and maybe at that point they won’t see their uncle as a monster.

The person he saw the most was Martina Labrecque. They had become friends in the months following his verdict, and they were now working on a book project together. He joked that it was great because she would have to do all the publicity interviews and be the one on TV all the time, leaving him to write quietly on his own, as he preferred. A good way to use all that PR experience, now that she’d left her job with the government before they could fire her.

They’d started a foundation, called “Love is a Four-Letter Word,” that aimed to help parents avoid the traps and pitfalls that Jeff’s and Martina’s parents had not. Martina was the public face, director, main speaker, and receptionist – she did pretty much everything, including about half the writing.

She and Jeff chatted by phone most days. Lately he’d teased her a lot about her love interest, an accountant named Marcel, who fell in love with her after watching her on a television panel one weekend.

“You’ll see,” Jeff kept saying, “he’s just getting ready to pop the question, so you’d better be prepared.”

Martina was ready for a lot of changes in her life, but marriage was a terrifying prospect. “I know you mean well, Jeff, but I wish you’d leave my love life out of it, OK?”

“You’re just scared…”

“Yeah, so?”

“So you shouldn’t be. You finally have a shot at leading a normal life, you have the heart of a good man to call your own, why would you deny yourself the simple pleasures of a happy domestic life just because you’re scared of screwing it up?”

“Because I’m scared of screwing it up?”

“Either that or you have a bigger problem with cats than I realized…”

“Ha, ha.”

“Seriously, Martina, you have to get ready for it. Don’t lose that man just because of your fears, OK? After all, you’re the only one who can live a normal happy life. I sure can’t. So you have to do it for both of us.”

“Yeah, I’ll think about that.”

****

Claire’s health had worsened significantly in the months following the end of Jeff’s trial. The job she had found at the local Tim Horton’s was getting too hard for her physically, and the manager was getting nervous her HIV-positive status was going to become widely known. She was in a tough situation; she wasn’t allowed to fire Claire because of that (there are laws against discrimination on the basis of HIV status), but at the same time in a small town like this things were different…

It got solved for her when Claire handed in her resignation letter one sunny Saturday. “I’m sorry to leave you,” she said, “but I am too weak to come to work much longer.”

“I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Claire,” the manager said in a manner that showed how genuine her feelings were. “You’re a good girl. You don’t deserve that.”

“Thanks. Maybe I look better than I really am…”

Claire died three months later, her mother weeping quietly by her side. And now we, too, are together, happily ever after.

THE END

Normal by death (a novel) - chapter sixty-eight

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] The courtroom was packed to the rafters, and so was the overflow room. Journalists were ready to tweet the verdict. The accused was wearing his best suit, and he’d just given himself a fresh shave.

He was ready. For anything.

“Have you reached a verdict?”

“We have.”

“Tell us.”

“We find the accused, Jean-François Toussignant, guilty on both counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his parents.”

Silence in the room. Jeff’s jaw tightened visibly, but otherwise he did not move. He took a deep breath and prepared to hear his sentence, which he already knew. He would spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

He was OK with that. Because for the first time in his life, he felt free.

[epilogue]

Normal by death (a novel) - chapter sixty-seven

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “Sylvie, I’m sorry to bug you again…”

“You are forbidden to say that! I’ll be right over to pick up the kids.”

“Thanks so much. They’ve reached a verdict.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I think so. It’s going to be over soon, one way or the other, right?”

“God, I hope so.”

“Something else I wanted to ask you…”

“Yes?”

“Another favour…”

“OK, what is it?”

“When this is all over and we are back to normal, would you like to come shopping with me?”

“Sure! You know me, I love shopping. What are we buying?”

“A wedding dress.”

“GET OUT! For you?!?”

Nathalie burst out laughing. “Well, who else?”

“Yeah, stupid question. Oh, honey, that is great! Congratulations! I’m very happy for you. And of course yes, I’ll help you pick your dress!”

“You’re an angel. We have to go…”

“I’m on my way!”

[next chapter]

Normal by death (a novel) - chapter sixty-six

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “You did what you could, dear,” Ruth Lieberman poured her daughter more tea. “So stop brooding already. You can’t control what happens next.”

Rosie sighed. “I know, Mom. It’s not that. I mean, yeah, I worry about the job I did. I really did my best to present the best evidence I could, and I think what I have is pretty convincing. I don’t really think the jury will find holes in my case. It’s just…”

“What?”

“I don’t know. The way this accused is taking it, it’s disturbing me a bit.”

“Disturbing you? How?”

“He’s so calm, so resigned, so… graceful. I could tell when I started asking him questions at the beginning of my investigation, that he really hated me. I think he could see where this was going, and he knew he had been caught. So it would make sense to be mad at me, right?”

“Well, yes and no. I actually believe that if he wants to be mad at someone he should be mad at himself for having his own parents murdered. What a creep!”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“What is it, you’re going soft for this man?”

Rosie bristled. She was a cop, she wasn’t supposed to go soft for anyone. But she had to admit her mother had the beginning of a point.

“Hmm. Going soft might be too strong, but I guess you could say I’ve come to see him in a different light since the trial began. Through everything he sat there quietly, answering questions politely, showing respect for the process, and as far as I can tell he seems at peace with his situation. That shows a great deal of emotional maturity, I think.”

“Pfft, I’ll bet you he falls apart when he finds out the jury sent him to jail for the rest of his life.”

“You think?”

“We’ll find out soon, I think.”

Rosie wanted her mother to be wrong. She wouldn’t tell her to her face, but she did.

****

Ruth Lieberman was right about one thing. They did find out soon. After six hours of deliberations the jury announced it had reached a verdict.

“What do you think it means?” Jean-François Toussignant asked his lawyer.

“I don’t know,” Paul Smith lied.

[next chapter]

Normal by death (a novel) - chapter sixty-five

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “I know you’re exhausted, Nathalie, but there’s something I want to tell you.”

Oh boy, exhausted wasn’t the word. She was beat. So much she didn’t care if the sun rose next morning or not. She was drained. She couldn’t even manage to answer him, she just nodded.

“I’ve never been so proud of you, you know that? You have been so strong these past two weeks, you put me to shame. You are so precious to me; I want to hold you and never let you go.”

She managed a smile. “Well, now, let’s not go crazy, it’s not that bad.”

He looked at her, saying nothing.

“What?”

“Well, it’s just… I actually do want to go crazy.”

“Oh, really. What crazy do you have in mind? Because at the moment, the only crazy thing I’m thinking about is how much I’d love a cream soda…”

“Cream soda?!?” What the hell was that about?

“Yeah. Cream soda. I used to love them as a kid. I’d probably hate them now; it’s nothing but awful sugar and artificial flavours. But still, I want one.”

There was suddenly a spark in his eye. “Oh yeah? What would you give to get one right now?”

“Anything you want.”

“OK, that’s a deal. Marry me.”

“WHAT?”

“Marry me.”

“You’re serious?”

“Never been more serious in my whole life.”

“But why?”

“Is that a no?”

“No! It’s not a no. Oh gosh, I’m screwing this up, am I…”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am at some point hoping for a yes…”

She threw herself at him. “You’re crazy!”

“I know.”

“And yes, I will marry you.”

[next chapter]

Normal by death (a novel) - chapter sixty-four

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “So what did you think of the statement?” It was Jason Martel again on the phone, hoping to get a good quote from Martina for his news hit on the 6 o’clock program.

“You know, I think this man is very brave, to put these details out there like that. I know it’s a hard thing to do; I found it extremely difficult myself. It’s like getting undressed in front of a million people, all of whom are examining you for warts. Very uncomfortable.”

“Do you think people will feel more sympathy for him after his statement than before?”

“Hard to tell. If I had to guess I would say those of us who already felt some measure of sympathy will feel more sympathetic. But will people who see him as a cold-blooded murderer change their minds because of this statement? Probably not.”

“I know you can’t predict what the jury will say,” Martel asked, “but what is your wish for Jean-François Toussignant? What do you hope happens to him?”

“Oh boy, that’s a hard one.”

Martina had to think for a minute.

“You know, in the end, I wish he finds peace.”

****

“So, Jason, what’s next?”

“Next, Michael, is the verdict from the jury. We don’t know how long the jury will deliberate, experts say it can be anywhere between a few hours and several days. Most of the people I’ve asked today offered as their best guess a verdict before two days, so we shall see. If he is found guilty he will automatically be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years.”

“You’ve spoken with Martina Labrecque, the woman behind the hugely popular Facebook page supporting Jean-François Toussignant, what did she have to say?”

“She told me she found him very brave for talking about those details in public. Having gone through such an ordeal herself on her Facebook page, she says it is, and I quote, ‘like getting undressed in front of a million people, all of whom are examining you for warts,’ which she says is very uncomfortable.”

“I can imagine that. What else did she say?”

“She added that her wish for the accused was for him to find peace. So a very emotional day here at the Laval courthouse. I spotted several people crying during the statement from the accused. I don’t know what the verdict will be, Michael, but one thing I know for sure, very few people are left indifferent by this case.”

“I’m sure that’s true, thank you again Jason and we will talk to you again when the verdict comes in.”

“You bet.”

****

“Claire?”

“Yes, mom?”

“I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”

“Sure.” Claire knew when her mother said “for a minute” she really meant “for a long time” so she took the precaution of going to the washroom before heading downstairs.

“Yes?”

“Listen, Claire. I’ve been following this horribly sad trial of the man accused of having had his parents murdered in the nursing home.”

Uh ho.

“Yes, and?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking. I know I haven’t been the greatest mom to you.”

Claire sat there, saying nothing. She knew not saying anything would be taken as a form of agreement with her mother’s statement, but so what, her mother had been far from perfect.

“And so I’ve been wondering if it was possible for me to be a better mom from now on. I realize it’s late in the game, but better late than never, right?”

Wow, this was getting weird.

“This man, this Toussignant guy, he talks a lot about how important it is for children to grow up feeling loved, and even though you are pretty much grown up now, that doesn’t mean your need to feel loved has disappeared.”

“Mom, this is a bit awkward…”

“I know, I know. It’s not easy for me either. But I think what this man is saying is very important. I almost lost you once and I don’t want to risk that again, so I’ve decided to try my best to be better at showing you how much I love you. I guess considering our past history, being better than I used to be shouldn’t be too hard, eh?”

[next chapter]