From a Stranger
It was a beautiful, clear day in Broadchurch, but the town was still marred by the all-too-fresh memory of what had happened a few short months ago. Of what had happened to Danny Latimer. I was there for the weekend, visiting a cousin. It was such a nice day that I went down to the beach—I grew up in a coastal area, so beaches always held a special place in my heart. I wasn't much surprised to find the beach deserted (tourist season had ended, after all), but I was surprised to see a man standing alone beneath the cliffs, staring out to sea.
Once I got a bit closer, I could recognize him. My cousin had showed me all the newspaper clippings from the Latimer investigation, and there had been several pictures of Detective Inspector Alec Hardy. I felt a pang of sympathy for the man. He had a hard, cold reputation, and no one seemed to like him much. On top of that, he had a painful history and increasing health problems.
"Sir? DI Hardy?" He turned and looked at me, and I could almost hear him sigh. Of course, he would have been the object of much attention—good, bad, and otherwise—during the past months. Something of a tourist attraction, I'd imagine, and my American accent was unmistakable.
"What is it?" He asked, too patiently. In spite of the situation, I felt a thrill at hearing his accent—I've always envied Scots.
I held out a hand. "Sir, my name is Anne Summers. I'm just visiting in town, but...I heard about what you've done here."
"And what, pray tell, is that?" He quite pointedly ignored my hand, but I just as pointedly left my hand where it was.
"You solved the Latimer case. You brought closure, which has helped this community be able to move on." Whatever he'd been expecting me to say, this was obviously not it. I forged ahead, emboldened by his shocked silence. "Despite risk to yourself, you saw the case through to the end. That is, in my opinion, one of the most admirable things a person can do."
After a short pause, he grasped my outstretched hand and shook it firmly. I smiled and, before I could lose my nerve, suddenly pulled him into a hug. He struggled for a second, taken by surprise, then went completely still. I let him go a few moments later and stepped back.
It took him a minute to find his voice, but when he did, he displayed an impressive level of indignation. "What do you think you're doing?!"
I met his fierce glare with indifference. "Mister Hardy, didn't you know that giving or receiving hugs is beneficial to one's health and happiness? Besides, it wasn't that bad. I know someone who would have crushed you—she's in marching band, so she has to have a strong grip—and would've done so quite happily, for an extended period of time."
"What—but you can't just-"
"I'm not going to apologize, if that's what you're looking for. You needed a good hug. You need lots of good hugs."
"Why would you think that?" He challenged.
"Because of what you do," I shot back calmly. "Anyone who has seen as much of the darkness in people's souls as you have needs a release. Otherwise, the darkness will start to eat away at them and eventually, they'll just become hollow. Hollow and numb."
He didn't answer, merely turning his gaze back to the waves. "That darkness already has its claws in you, and it has had since Sandbrook. Since you took the blame for a loved one. You're hollowing out, I can see it in your eyes, and if you don't face up to your life-"
"What do you think I do every day?" He turned to face me again, eyes full of pain and anger.
"I think you shut away your emotions and tell yourself that's the way to deal with it," I retorted bluntly.
"You- what do you know about my life? About me?"
"More than most people in this town know. I've been doing some reading, sir. All due respect, I'm not stupid. It didn't take much to piece together what the papers didn't say straight out. And what they missed. Besides, I'm good with people. I can just...tell."
"Oh, god. Another bloody psychic? Well, 'tell' this: if you don't leave me alone, I'll have you charged with harassment."
I shook my head forcefully. "No. Not a psychic, by any stretch of the imagination. Intuitive, clever, whatever. And you might scare other people off by being so grouchy, sir, but I'm not going until I've said what I need to."
He gave in with very bad grace. "Two minutes."
I nodded, acknowledging his terms. Two minutes should be plenty of time. "Sir, I hold you in the highest regard. But you do need to learn to relax. Quit being so hard on yourself. I know that there's actually a likeable person in there somewhere. Don't you dare let the evil in the world tear him apart. Look for the good in yourself and others when you can, and hold on to it. Lastly, if you ever need to talk to someone—or shout at someone—just call me. I will always listen, and I can promise that nothing you say will ever reach anyone else's ears."
I'd held his gaze while I spoke, but now I looked away to write my number on a scrap of paper. "Here. You don't have to ever call, or speak to me again. But please at least hold on to this." I held it out.
Hardy stared at me for a moment, then heaved another sigh and took the paper. "Fine. Now will you please leave?" I started to open my arms, but he held up a hand to forestall me. "Ah, ah—without another hug, thank you."
So I turned and walked away, leaving a solitary man on the beach, his thoughts lost amid the crashing waves.