"New moon," he says. He's not really sure why; it was just something he'd noticed. Trying to break the ice, likely. He's not seen her in fifteen years. His former step-sister. Their parents were married for just two years. He was 17 at the time of the divorce. She was 13.
Melanie nods in response, preferring not to speak, keeping her eyes on the gently lapping waves and the smooth sand of the beach caressing her toes. Once upon a time she had a crush on Benoit. It quickly dissipated after the four letters she'd written to him following the divorce went unanswered. From then, she shut him out of her conscious mind, walling him behind justifications of interest due to the mere convenience of having lived together.
She'd picked him up at Charles de Gaulle four hours earlier. And, like Jericho, those walls came tumbling down. The drive to Le Havre was filled with awkward silences and what little conversation there was remained safely in the realm of small talk. She feels 13 again and hates herself for it. Melanie regrets not listening to her attorney. She should have avoided Benoit altogether. Or at least until after the trial. Or, perhaps, when there was a moon in the sky.
"I've missed you." He's repeating the lie. Benoit spoke it earlier as he tossed his luggage into the trunk of her Peugeot 207, but only after he caught her too-wide smile shift into a thoughtful scowl. The expressions were instantaneous transitions, dependent on whether or not he was looking directly at her. Benoit knows why, too. He should have written back.
The false smile returns, though less forceful this time. Both are glad for the dim light, lest the deception be more evident.
Benoit fakes a chill. "I should get to the hotel."
She takes his hand, not for affection, but to lead him quickly to the car. She knows his hotel isn't far from her home and there is unspoken regret for not having remained in Paris. A sudden thought that Le Havre is too small.
"Should she be here?" Benoit's family lawyer speaks perfect English, almost without accent. Hervé Gauloise is, in fact, the reason Benoit and his father moved to the United States. Hervé himself had spent over a decade there. He would always talk about the women. But an American woman is not the subject of his current question.
Benoit nods. "She's fine."
Melanie sits to Benoit's right and slightly behind. She smirks at Benoit's defense and glares at Hervé. She's never liked him. Even before he convinced Philippe to take Benoit to America.
Hervé notices her expression and ignores it, preferring to get right to business. He grabs a file from the top left drawer of his ornate solid oak desk and sets it down. "The evidence against your father is overwhelming." Hervé planned to pause - to let it sink in properly - but Benoit responds quickly, almost disinterestedly.
"So I've heard. I didn't even know he came back to see Émilie."
Hervé does not ignore Melanie's subtle wince at her mother's name. Years away from field police work mutes an old instinct to pursue questioning. Instead, Hervé's compassionate side chalks it up to reactive mourning.
"Neither did I. Philippe didn't even phone to let me know he was in France."
"And they found him with the gun?"
"No. He was at the beach, covered in her blood. Many drugs in his system. Hers, too."
Benoit fumes quietly. His father had been sober for over seven years. He'd even given up cigarettes. No alcohol, no marijuana, no cocaine. None of this made much sense to Benoit, but he's been around the world enough times to know that nonsense isn't unusual. Still, he should know his father well, if anybody.
He turns to Melanie. "What has your lawyer said?"
Melanie glances at Benoit; makes brief eye-contact. Had Benoit been paying more attention to her instead of the case, he'd have noticed the flutter. "You know I cannot tell you that."
It's a stirring memory. Hiding under the bed, staring at Benoit exiting his shower. She'd seen other penises before, innocently enough, but the sight of her step-brother's - and his quick, absent-minded stroking of it - is an image that has never left her mind. She still remembers the color of the towel he wrapped himself with. A shade of maroon. Almost the color of blood.
The moon waxes crescent as Benoit and Melanie sip coffee at a sidewalk cafe. The angle of the moon makes it appear that the crescent is stabbing Benoit in the neck. Melanie smiles, though without malice. It's simply a beautiful image.
"You did not know your father came to see my mother?"
Benoit shakes his head. He's not in a talkative mood. Since he read the brief, his mind has been a whirlwind of emotion and information. Unleashed and aimless. Just... spinning. He hadn't even realized that Melanie kissed him on the neck when she dropped him off after the meeting with the lawyer.
Her smile disappears. She doesn't want it to, but neither does she want to appear callous. Benoit's father is facing life in prison, after all. As she watches Benoit half-heartedly finish his coffee, she takes note of the irony. She'd been sure that he would have the emotional edge in their reunion. His departure from her life had hurt her deeply and she was afraid that his return would scar her further. But he's a wreck. And she's in control. As she'd learned a few weeks ago, control can be exhilarating.
"Perhaps we should walk along the beach."
Melanie stands and offers her hand, affectionately this time. He takes it, though his thoughts are elsewhere. His blank stare at nothing in general makes this obvious. She'll have to rectify that.
*Continued in With the Fade of the Tide, Part II