The Scholar (Emerson Pass Historicals 3) - Page 38

You must fight. I heard the words again.

Almost blindly, I trudged out of the house and out to the road. Morning light had come. What day was it? Was there school? I could think only of finding something in town in the trash bins outside of the butcher shop. Or maybe some fish heads. The last time I’d gotten some, I’d also had popcorn. Lord Barnes had given me half a bag when they’d picked me up one day. That was a good day. There could be more of them, couldn’t there?

I had no idea how many good ones awaited me. After Pa’s death, Miss Cooper had promised me that she and her family would always look out for me. They had indeed done so. I’d never told her how I’d heard her voice that day in the woods. If I’d have told her that, I would have had to tell her the rest. No one could ever know the depths of Pa’s evilness. I didn’t understand as a child how heinous his crimes against me truly were. My mistake was thinking that I could ever be normal.

But maybe, just maybe, Theo’s goodness could bring me a little closer.

The sound of Mother’s footsteps in the other room brought me back to the present. I rose from the bed and padded to the window in bare feet and drew back the curtains. My tired eyes protested the brightness of the morning. I could hear Mother’s movements in the other room and smell the coffee. Time to get on with it, I thought.

I washed in the small bathroom, then donned a summer dress in a light yellow linen. By the time I joined Mother in the sitting area, I felt somewhat refreshed.

“Darling, you slept late,” Mother said from the table by the window. Her Bible was open to Luke. “I was afraid you were ill.”

“No, I slept poorly is all.” I kissed her cheek. “Did I miss breakfast?”

“Yes, but I brought you a little something, and Lizzie was kind enough to have a pot of coffee sent over.” Mother pointed to a plate with several pieces of bread and a slice of cheese. A ceramic coffee pitcher and two cups, along with cream and sugar, were on a silver platter.

I took the plate and joined Mother at the table. As I took a bite of the delicious sourdough bread, I inspected her. Her eyes were puffy and her skin pale. She hadn’t slept well, either. I assumed she had been crying. How would we ever get along without Father to anchor us? I half expected him to come in through the door with a story of his morning.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. “Did you sleep?”

“Not much. I tried. It’s strange to be here. I expected to wake up at home.” Her voice caught, and tears dampened the creases around her eyes. She appeared older than she had just last week. Would the rest of her life be in mourning?

“I did too. We lived in the same place for so long, it’s only natural to feel this way.”

Mother got up and poured us both a cup of coffee. “What will you do today?”

I sipped from my cup before answering. “I thought I’d head into town and see if I could find some work. We can’t stay here forever.”

“I suppose you’re right. But what work can you find that will keep us afloat?” Mother did not ask this unkindly, but there was more than a hint of skepticism.

“I don’t know.” I set my cup back in its saucer. “Did I ever tell you what Quinn said to me after Pa died?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “She said her family would always look out for me and promised to find me a family of my own.”

“I can remember the conversation with Alexander like it was yesterday.” Mother glanced out the window, perhaps pulled by the sounds of Delphia and Addie playing on the swing that hung from a branch of a tree. “We were so happy to bring you home with us.”

“Quinn did everything she promised,” I said. “And now here we are again, relying on the kindness of the Barnes family.”

“We’re blessed to have them take us in.” Mother looked down at her cup of coffee. “I wish we didn’t have to take advantage of their generosity. I wish for many things lately.”

The sadness in her voice spurred me to tell her about last night. “Theo kissed me.” I blurted this out without reasoning through the consequences of such a confession.

“When?” Mother had gone quite still and peered down at me with glittering eyes. Was she angry or disappointed or shocked?

“Last night. Twice.” The confessions spilled out one after the other.

“What did you feel?”

“All fluttery inside,” I said. “And warm. Almost like I floated on air.” I squinted over at her and braced myself for whatever chiding would come. “Are you mad I was alone with him? That I kissed him back?”

For a long moment, I watched and waited. A muscle in Mother’s cheek twitched. She smoothed the tablecloth with a flattened hand. “I’m not angry. I’m happy. You know how much I think of Theo.”

My eyebrows shot up in amazement. “But isn’t it wrong to kiss a man you had no intention of marrying?”

The light in her eyes dimmed as if I’d switched off a lamp. “You have no intention of marrying him? But why not?”

“I mean, I didn’t at the time of the kiss. The

entire experience was like a sudden streak of lightning on a clear night. Like it came out of nowhere. We were talking and I told him so many things that I’d not shared with anyone and he did the same—about the war and finding his mother dead in the snow. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was almost as if we were in our own world with nothing else to worry about or to answer to. When he kissed me, it seemed like the most natural thing I’ve ever done.”

Tags: Tess Thompson Emerson Pass Historicals Historical
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