“I believe that too.”
“How many of us were there in that first year of school?” I asked.
“I believe close to twenty,” Theo said. “I’ll ask my mother. She kept journals from those years.”
“It was awfully nice to see everyone tonight.” I stretched my arms overhead. The air felt good against my skin. “This car is really the bee’s knees, isn’t it?”
“I have to agree. Papa surprised me with it as a graduation present. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted it—worried it seemed ostentatious. However, my base instincts have won over.”
A car as a gift. What a strange idea. If not for the Barnes family, Mother and I were homeless and uncertain of where our next meal would come from. Alexander was able to gift his son a car with no thought to cost. How would Theo and I seem like a match in his eyes? Would he discourage Theo from pursuing me? I didn’t want to think he or Quinn would think such a thing, but who knew? They knew me when I was a ragged child in need of rescue. Would they ever be able to think of me as their son’s wife?
I was getting ahead of myself. Theo hadn’t proposed marriage. Not after two dates.
“Poppy’s smitten with Neil. Why hasn’t she ever married?” I asked out loud, as if Theo would know.
“She’s a strong woman.”
“She needs a strong man,” I said.
“Me? No, I’m a mouse. A nothing.”
“Absolutely not true.” Theo took my hand and kissed my fingertips before letting me go. “And anyway, I meant you needed a strong man. Your strength is undeniable.”
I breathed in his idea of me. Would I ever feel strong? Run, mouse, run.
I pushed aside the memories. Think of the good times instead. Think of tonight. Think of this man sitting beside me.
By the time we reached the Barneses’ garage, the moon hung high in the starry sky. He killed the engine and then came around to assist me. I breathed in the scent of oil and gasoline emanating from the car’s engine.
After he gathered up our basket and blanket, we made our way across the driveway toward the cottage. When we came to the edge of the lawn, he set aside the basket and reached for my hand and pulled me around to face him. “Thank you for allowing me to take you out tonight.” Theo skimmed the side of my face with the back of his index finger. “Did I pass the test? May I take you out tomorrow?”
“There’s no test you couldn’t pass. You’re not the question here. I’m the one who might not pass.” I’d long since taken off my hat and now held it in my dangling hand. The ribbon fluttered in the breeze and tickled my wrist. “I’m the broken one.”
Light from the moon shone in his dark eyes. “You’re not broken. Cracked perhaps, but put back together with the strongest glue. I’ll remind you of that every day of my life if you’ll let me.”
“Every day of your life? You want to marry me?” I clamped my hand over my mouth. Why had I said that? He hadn’t said he wanted to marry. Or had he? What was wrong with me? Two glorious nights and I was already imagining what it would be like to be a Mrs. Barnes.
Theo smiled down at me. “I know how I feel. How I’ve always felt. I would marry you tomorrow if I could. But I’ll wait for however long you need. We can have the longest courtship in the history of man if you need one.”
“Why me, Theo? Of all the girls in the world, why me?”
“It’s always been you.” Theo brushed my cheek with his thumb. “Only you.”
I lifted my face toward the sky. The man in the moon was obvious tonight. As a child, I’d seen him on nights such as this and felt less alone. Now, here with Theo, it seemed the moon shed magical dust over me, covering me in a sheen of possibilities.
“What will your family say?” I asked. “What if they don’t approve? Will you change your mind?”
“They will approve.”
“I have nothing to offer you,” I said. “They’ll know that.”
“You would be enough. Just as you are.”
“Do you think everyone in town would wonder why handsome, rich Theo Barnes would want to marry Louisa Kellam?”
“Louisa Lind,” he said gently. “You’re not a Kellam. And so many questions.”