The Scholar (Emerson Pass Historicals 3) - Page 47

“Papa helped Li with music school,” Fiona explained to Emma and Neil.

“And what about you, Fiona?” Emma asked. “Will you go to music school next year?”

“I don’t think so,” Fiona said. “I shouldn’t like to leave home and my family. Anyway, Li and I like playing together. We have a whole town to perform for.”

“They taught themselves how to play the piano.” Cymbeline directed her gaze at Neil instead of Emma as she explained the origins of Li and Fiona learning to play piano. “From some book Fiona found in the piano bench.”

“Papa thinks the book belonged to his mother, but no one knows for sure,” Fiona said.

“Fiona played first.” Li looked up from the guitar with a faraway look in his eyes. “I heard her playing one day and found the music very beautiful. I actually came upstairs without permission.”

“You didn’t need permission,” Cymbeline said.

“My grandmother didn’t like me to go up without being invited,” Li said. “She always said staff belonged downstairs.”

“Jasper always says that too.” Cymbeline rolled her eyes. “We live in America, not stuffy England.”

“You were our friend and always welcome,” Fiona said. “But I understand your grandmother’s ways. She saw it as disrespectful.”

Li tweaked one last string on the guitar. “Fiona was only a little thing, and her fingers flew over the keys.”

“I could see on his face that he wanted to play, so I scooted over to make room.” Fiona smiled at the memory.

“Then she opened the book to page one and helped me to learn the basics,” Li said.

“He caught up to me very soon. We’ve been in competition ever since,” Fiona said.

I looked over at the Hartman siblings to see if our old family stories had bored them to tears. Right as I did, Emm

a stifled a yawn.

“No one cares about all this,” I said. “We’d enjoy some music, though, wouldn’t we?”

A chorus of affirmations went around the circle. I got up to toss a few more pieces of wood onto the fire.

I knew the rest of the story. After he learned the piano, Li had asked his grandmother for a violin. She’d been unable to afford one, but Papa had ordered one from a store in Denver. A year later, Fiona had asked for a guitar for Christmas. Soon, they’d taught themselves to play it as well. There were many afternoons before the war that the sound of their practicing filled the house. Sometimes, it was hard for me to tell which of them was playing at the piano.

Now, Li accompanied and Fiona sang. It was music I’d never heard before. Fiona said it was folk music that Li had learned while in Chicago.

“There’s no kind of music they can’t play,” Cymbeline said in my ear. “Jazz, blues, classical.”

Where had she heard them play jazz or blues? I’d follow up on that later. Right now, I was only interested in holding a certain fair-haired girl’s hand.



* * *

On the way home, I couldn’t stop smiling. Having the gang back together, or most of us anyway, had reminded me of the bond we’d all shared back in school. In a matter of minutes, it seemed no time had passed since we were all youngsters in Miss Cooper’s very first class.

The night air was crisp. Theo had given me his jacket, which kept me warm as the roadster rumbled down the dirt road toward the Barneses’ property. The collar smelled of him. I’d have liked to wear his jacket for the rest of my life. That way he would always be close to me.

“Do you remember how your sisters shared their lunches with me?” I asked. “During those first months of school?”

Theo’s profile was in shadow, but I could still see his mouth turn upward into a smile. “I do. They asked Lizzie to start adding an extra sandwich to their lunch boxes.”

“You were all so kind to me. As much trouble as I’ve had in my life, most people are good.”

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