“Oh, no, it’s all right.” Alexander was referring to the stray bullet from Pa’s gun that had killed Mr. Cole. A stray bullet meant to scare me. “I never told you how sorry I was about what Pa did.”
“None of that was your fault. You were a powerless child.”
“Days will go by when I don’t think of him. I’ll start to believe I’m done with all that. Sometimes, it’s as if I don’t remember those years at all. As if they hadn’t happened. Then, out of nowhere, a detail will stop me cold.”
“The hardships we endure are always part of us, I’m afraid. Perhaps they make us better, in the end?”
“I’d like to think so.” In truth, I didn’t think this was always true. Some hardships made us cold and hard. As mine had.
“You and your mother can stay here as long as you need to,” Alexander said.
“Thank you. We’ll not be in the way.”
“You’d never be in the way. We all care a great deal about you and your mother.”
Walking around apologetic about my existence was as normal to me as breathing. “How will we ever get on our feet? I’ve no skills. Neither does Mother, other than being a pastor’s wife.”
“Life will unfold as it should. I know it must not seem that way to you now, but you have to trust God will lead you in the right direction.”
“I don’t know how I can ever repay you and your family for everything you’ve done for me. I’d like to. Very much.”
“You will, someday, when you least expect it, you’ll be of service to someone who needs you. That’s the way we repay the generosity of others.”
I gazed across the meadow. How would I ever be of service to anyone? I had nothing to offer. I could see no future other than continuing to need the charity of others as I had all my life.
* * *
After the last of the mourners had gone and Louisa and Mrs. Lind had returned to the cottage, Papa asked me to meet him in his study. Mama had gone upstairs to put my little sisters to bed. Cymbeline and Fiona were snuggled together in the library reading. Flynn had gone home to Shannon.
Papa poured us both a drink, and we settled in the leather chairs.
“What is it, Papa? I can see you have something on your mind.”
“Do you mind that Louisa and her mother are here?”
“Not at all. Why would you ask?”
“I remember how smitten you were with her when you were younger.” Papa scrutinized me, his inquisitive eyes taking in every one of my nuanced movements. I’d never been able to hide from him. He knew me as well as Flynn did. “I know you were crushed when she had feelings for your brother instead of you.”
“I was crushed. But that was all a long
time ago now.” My chest had ached for Louisa and her mother all day. Seeing them at the graveside had been enough to break anyone’s heart. However, nothing remained of my boyhood feelings for Louisa. I was fond of her, of course, but only as a chum from our school days.
“Before the war does seem like a lifetime ago,” Papa said. “So much has happened since then.”
Mama appeared in the doorway. “May I join you?”
“Yes, please.” Papa beamed at the sight of her. They appeared to be as in love as they’d ever been.
She came in to stand next to Papa’s chair and put her hand on his shoulder. “Theo, how are you holding up?”
“Very well. A sad day, though,” I said.
“Would you care for a drink?” Papa asked.