“The war,” Isak said.
“To bake?” Emma asked. “But whatever for?”
Isak smiled. “Before we left Sweden, we lived next door to a bakery. I’d wake to the smell of baking bread or treats. I always thought that must be the best way to live, surrounded by delicious smells and making something that gave happiness. I figured if I got out of there alive, I’d come home and do what I’d always wanted.”
“Good for you,” I said.
“What about you?” Emma asked me. “Did you make a promise to yourself if you got home?”
“I did, actually. When we were over there, I had a natural aptitude for helping the injured. I knew then I wanted to become a doctor.”
“It’s your calling,” Isak said. “Just like my brother here with his big brain working with numbers all day.”
“You’re all lucky to have a calling that you can act upon.” Cymbeline’s obvious bitterness made her tone sharp. “Women are supposed to be quiet and have babies.”
“You can have a calling and still have babies,” Fiona said softly.
“If your calling’s music, like yours is,” Cymbeline said. “If its athletics or competition, then no. I wasn’t allowed to do any of the things I wanted because I was a girl. I still can’t.”
“What do you want to do?” Viktor asked.
“I don’t know. Race someone down a slope or across the ice. Like in one of those winter competitions.”
In addition to the summer Olympics next month in Paris, there had been news recently that winter sports would have their own Olympics.
“You’d be magnificent,” Viktor said. “If there was such a thing as a competition for women.”
“I’d have liked to beat you just once,” Cymbeline said. “But like most things I want in life, it’s not meant to be.” Cymbeline and Viktor had competed every winter at our frozen pond in town for as long as anyone could remember. Why Cymbeline thought she could beat a boy taller, stronger, and several years older than her was beyond anyone’s comprehension. What made even less sense? The outcome of their races actually made her angry. Since they were young, she’d referred to Viktor as her nemesis.
Viktor had thought the races were just fun between friends. Cymbeline had carried it into academics as well, trying with all her might to beat his scores in math. On that, they’d come out in a dead heat. My sister’s efforts had earned her nothing at all. It wasn’t fair.
“I’d have let you beat me if I thought I could get away with it.” Viktor gave her a lazy smile. “But we all know how that would have ended up.”
Fiona tittered softly. “Wise man.”
Cymbeline shot Fiona a scathing glare before turning back to Viktor. “If you’d ever done that, I would never have forgiven you.”
“Then thank goodness I didn’t.” Viktor gazed back at her.
“Isn’t it strange how we’ve all come home?” Louisa asked. “Despite our time away.”
“Not surprising,” Viktor said. “This is the best place on earth.”
“True,” Cymbeline said.
“What about you, Li?” Viktor asked. “Did you miss home when you were away at school?’
Li, who almost never made noise unless it was through one of his instruments, looked up from tuning his guitar. “I missed home, yes. And all of you.”
“We missed you too,” Cymbeline said. “Fiona especially. Even her piano sounded lonely without your violin.”
Li and Fiona shared a smile.
Li had recently returned to Emerson Pass, having spent several years in Chicago studying music. Because of Li’s Chinese heritage, he’d assumed he wouldn’t be able to attend university. However, Papa had connections at a conservatory in Chicago and had succeeded in securing a spot for Li. After graduation, Li hadn’t been able to find work with an orchestra. He didn’t say why, but we all knew the reason. No one would hire a person of Chinese descent.
Papa had advised him to come home. He could earn a living through giving music lessons and playing at parties, town festivals, church, and weddings.
“I am very grateful to your father,” Li said. “As so many of us are.”