[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