Jean wasn't expecting anyone home for a few more hours—Matthew, Charlie, and Lucien were all chasing some murderer or other—so she was surprised to hear a knock at the door. Abandoning her half-folded stack of towels, she headed for the door, swinging it open to find Alice Harvey standing outside, hands clasped tightly around the strap of her purse.
"Alice!" Jean greeted, brightening instantly upon seeing her dear friend. "Please, come in."
Alice smiled, seeming to relax under Jean's welcoming presence, and followed her in, pausing to hang her coat on the rack. "Thank you. I'm sorry to show up so unexpectedly, but I was leaving the morgue, and it occurred to me that you would be home…"
"Oh, please," said Jean, brushing away Alice's apologies with a wave of her hand, "it's no bother at all. Come have tea," she said, already heading for the kitchen.
Thrown off by Jean's hospitality, but not hearing a question in what Jean had said, Alice simply followed her into the kitchen, sitting at the table while Jean made them each a cup of tea.
"So, how are the wedding plans going?" Jean asked as she worked. "You and Matthew must be just overjoyed."
"We are," Alice replied shyly, ducking her head and fiddling with her engagement ring. "Overjoyed...and a bit overwhelmed," she admitted with a chuckle. "Planning a wedding is no joke."
Jean nodded in agreement. "Oh, yes," she said, two teacups before she moved to the table, wordlessly gesturing for Alice to sit across from her. "Well, if there's anything I can do, please let me know."
"Right. Well, that's actually why I'm here."
"Oh, what can I do?"
Alice swallowed. "Well, I was wondering...you- Well, I got you a present," she finally said, reaching for her purse. Before Jean could respond, she was pulling out a large, ceramic bowl with a curved notch in the side and setting it on the table. "It's a crochet bowl. It um," she attempted to gesture vaguely with her hands, "it holds your yarn ball, and this little notch lets the yarn come out, so you can crochet, or knit, and the yarn stays in place." When she was finished, Alice froze, watching Jean's face and hoping for a positive reaction.
She didn't have to hope long. Jean's face broke into a wide smile, and she picked the bowl up, turning it this way and that to get a better look. "Oh, Alice, it's lovely! I've never even seen one of these before." She looked up at her, eyes shining with sincere gratitude. "Thank you. But what does this have to do with the wedding?"
"Ah. Well, I haven't been to many weddings before, but I'm trying to do everything right, and a lot of people say that you should buy a gift for your...bridesmaids." Her voice seemed to shrink on the last word, but she got it out, hands twisting in her lap. "I know, bridesmaids are traditionally unwed, but...and I understand if you're not interested, I just-"
"Alice." Reaching across the short distance between them, Jean placed her two warm hands over one of Alice's own, her expression full of love. "I would love to be your bridesmaid. Of course I would." Her words were full of kindness, but they also held something like incredulity; her eyes seemed to ask, why wouldn't I?
Alice shifted in her chair under Jean's gaze, sipping her tea. "Thank you," she said softly. "I don't know why I was so unsure of myself, honestly. I suppose, well, you have so many friends…" she trailed off.
"I have many acquaintances," Jean said. "You are one of my true friends."