The Scholar (Emerson Pass Historicals 3) - Page 9

“He didn’t reciprocate those feelings,” I said. “Shannon was the one he wanted. Anyway, he was just a crush I had. All of the other girls in town had one on him.”

My parents exchanged a glance.

“Theo cared for you, though,” Mother said. “He made no secret of it.”

“Mother, no. Not Theo.” How could I explain that Theo would be the absolute last man on earth I’d ever marry? Even if he wanted me still, which I felt certain he wouldn’t. He’d gone off to medical school and would be returning to Emerson Pass to be Dr. Neal’s partner. Most likely, he’d met someone and would bring her here to marry.

“What’s wrong with Theo?” Father asked. “He was an excellent Sunday school student.”

“Yes, he always knew his verses. Flynn did not.” Mother seemed to have forgotten our dire situation, because she actually smiled. She’d always been fond of all the Barnes children. Like everyone else in town.

“Theo’s not for me.” I left it at that mostly because I couldn’t articulate what it was about him that I didn’t like. He was too much like me, perhaps. I could see the pain of his past in his eyes. Sensitive, all-seeing eyes. When he looked at me, I imagined that he could see into the deepest parts of me. The parts I wanted to keep hidden from the world. With someone like him, I’d never be able to stay separate. He’d insist on knowing me. I didn’t want to be known. Not even to my parents.

If they knew what my father had done, they might understand that the idea of a man’s touch terrified me. I should tell them, I thought. My secret that I’d kept hidden all these years. The words wouldn’t come. Instead, a darkness seeped into my very core. I was bad and damaged. No decent man would want me.

“I can try to get a job,” I said. “Maybe somewhere in town?”

“Doing what?” Father asked, not unkindly but with utter hopelessness.

“Maybe I could get a job as a maid?” I clamped my lips together to keep them from trembling before continuing. “Quinn might need another maid. Or I could assist Lizzie in the kitchen.”

“Even if you were able to get work, we have no

place to live.” Father put both his hands over his knees and took in a shuddering breath. “I’m not feeling well. I need to lie down for a while.”

I’d go see the Barnes family as soon as I could. Quinn wouldn’t turn me away. She would surely have some variety of work for me. Or maybe Mrs. Johnson needed someone to help her at her store.

“I’ll think of something,” I said. “I know I will.”

Mother only nodded, then rose to her feet and followed Father into the bedroom.



* * *

The first morning assisting Dr. Neal, I drove into town feeling robust and excited. I was home where I belonged and about to begin the work I’d studied long and hard to learn. Wildflowers decorated the meadows and scented the air with sweet perfume. The sun had already risen in the east and cast rays of morning light onto the landscape. The first part of June and too early for dust, potholes still held puddles of brown water. Mama had told me a sudden rainstorm had come just days before I arrived. Today, the sky was cloudless and a shade of deep blue I’d not seen in my travels.

My stomach fluttered at the first sign of the brick buildings of town. Dr. Neal’s office was just a block off Barnes Avenue, named after my father. He’d addressed me as Dr. Barnes when he’d called the house last night and asked me to come in first thing in the morning. Dr. Barnes? It still seemed like a title for someone else, not me. I parked near Papa’s office and straightened my tie, studying myself in the mirror for a quick moment. My thick, wavy hair had been tamed with a light pomade my sister Cymbeline had suggested. I ran a few fingers along my chin, feeling for any spots of shaving soap that might linger. All these newfangled soaps and lotions were all the rage. I had to admit they smelled nice.

I smiled slightly remembering how proud Mama and my sisters had looked when I went downstairs in one of my new suits. I opened the car door and placed my feet onto the ground. One foot after the other, as I’d done for the last four years.

Papa’s dream had been a thriving community when he’d first come here as a young man. He’d accomplished that, I thought, as I walked down the main street of town. We were nestled in the valley between two mountains and isolated from much of the world. Ice that covered the pond all winter had melted and reflected the blue sky. The Johnsons’ dry goods store had its doors open to allow the fresh air in while Mrs. Johnson hustled behind the long counter waiting on customers. I waved to her as I passed by, and she called out to me. “Good luck on your first day.”

“Thank you,” I called back. Dr. Neal was her son-in-law, having married Martha Johnson. Like many of the other young couples in town, they had a gaggle of children and another one on the way. Which was why we needed another doctor.

Through the window of the tailor’s shop, I spotted Mr. Olofsson bent over a piece of fabric. His shoulders had a permanent slump from leaning over his work for so many years. His wife was at the counter wrapping a package in brown paper for a customer.

I passed by the bank. Viktor Olofsson was inside, looking very official as he wrote into a leather ledger. He didn’t raise his head from his work. Although neither of Olofsson boys had followed in their father’s footsteps, they’d inherited his work ethic.

The boardinghouse had been sold recently, and the new owners had given it a fresh look with a fresh coat of paint and a porch swing and pots filled with colorful flowers.

I was just rounding the corner to head to the doctor’s office when I ran into Louisa Kellam. Or Louisa Lind, as she was known now, having been adopted by the pastor and his wife. The atrocities of her childhood before then had only been imagined by my siblings and me. Mama had always been tight-lipped about the whole affair, saying only that Louisa had suffered greatly before being adopted.

“Theo Barnes, is that you?” Her eyes widened from under the brim of her hat.

I smiled, taking her in as she held out her hand to me. “It most certainly is.” I lightly brushed my lips over her gloved hand. “I start work with Dr. Neal this morning.”

Tags: Tess Thompson Emerson Pass Historicals Historical
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