The Scholar (Emerson Pass Historicals 3) - Page 31

“I’ve completely lost my bearings. I was the pastor’s daughter. Now who am I? Where do I belong?” I paused to catch my breath. “I look at your sisters and all of them, even little Delphia, are so full of life and vigor. They’re forces in the world. I’m only a shadow, waiting for direction.”

“I don’t see you that way,” Theo said softly.

“How could you not?” What did he see when he looked at me? A frightened little mouse? Did he laugh at himself that he’d ever considered himself in love with me?

“I see a beautiful, clever, interesting young woman. A person I admire greatly.”

“Admire? Why?”

His mouth lifted in a half smile. “Louisa, you survived when most would have given up.”

“That doesn’t make me special. Most people adapt to whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Especially children. I wanted to live. I wanted to grow up. So I did whatever it was I had to do.” I shuddered, remembering Pa’s drunken face leering at me over my bed on the floor near the stove.

Come with me. He’d yanked me off of the floor and hauled me outside.

I blinked away the memory. Not right now. Not in front of Theo. I tucked the thought away.

“Mama always talks about how brave you were to defy your father’s wishes to attend school.”

“I wanted to go to school more than anything in the world. I knew deep down that learning would be the only way I would ever escape that life.” I crossed my arms over my chest and peered at the tips of my shoes. “I was terribly ashamed that first day. I was the only one in rags and probably smelled bad. I wanted to turn around and run home.”

“What stopped you?”

“Miss Cooper. She looked right at me as if she could really see me. I’d been accustomed to being invisible. That’s how it is when you’re poor, you know. No one sees you. Or, if they do, they pretend not to.” Tears pricked the corners of my eyes.

“She did the same for me,” Theo said.

“Until the war?”

He grimaced. “That’s correct.”

“And now? Are you better?” I asked.

His expression turned thoughtful. I waited for him to answer without interrupting. Theo Barnes was a man who took his time with words. “I found a sense of purpose at university.” He knelt to pick up a piece of hay from the rough boards of the barn. “But still, this darkness overcomes me sometimes. It’s like a black cloud that brings the worst moments of my past to the front of my mind. I can’t escape.”

I wanted to reach out to him but kept my hands at my sides. “It’s the same for me. I’ll be going along fine as can be and suddenly a memory feels as if it will bring me to my knees.”

“I wonder if it ever changes.” Theo scratched the back of his neck.

“What is it you remember that haunts you so? Besides the war?”

Again, he took a while to answer. “My mother. I was the one who found her that morning. I was only six years old. I thought she was asleep in the snow. I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have to hear about all of this.”

“Considering what I went through at the hands of my real father, nothing you say will shock me.”

“I wish that weren’t the case. I wish you were innocent, with nothing troubling you like it is for my younger sisters.”

“If that were so, do you think I would be like your sisters? Free? Happy?”

“I do, yes. Or if you were the type who could forget all the bad moments, like Flynn. He remembers nothing about our mother. Jo and I remember everything.”

“I know what it’s like to remember too much,” I said.

“Flynn refuses to speak about the war or anything painful from our past. I’ve no idea what goes on inside him.”

“I’d have thought twins knew each other’s thoughts,” I said.

“Not always. Especially when you’re as different as Flynn and me.”

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