“My entire family will be here for supper. Shall we announce it to them?”
“If you want to.” I immediately filled with self-doubt. Would they approve? There was only one way to find out. I must face it all with bravery. After all, Theo was risking his own happiness by agreeing to marry a woman uncertain of her abilities to be a good wife. The least I could do was be by his side when he told them our plans.
Mother was sitting on the window seat in the cottage when I came out of my room dressed for supper. After Theo had come by to talk to Mother, I’d wandered out to the back porch. Fiona had been there with a giant pile of peas to shell. I’d happily pitched in, glad to have a task for my nervous energy.
Now my mother stared out the window with an expression of such bleakness that my stomach plummeted to the floor.
“Mother?” Had she told Theo no? What was wrong?
She startled at the sound of my voice. “Hello, dear.” She reached out to me with her hand. I went to sit beside her.
“Are you feeling unwell?” I asked.
“Missing your father.”
“Oh, Mother, I’m sorry.” The pain of his absence hit me all over again. “I miss him too.”
“You gave him a lot of joy. I hope that gives you comfort.”
“It does. I was blessed to be the daughter of such a good man.” I shut my eyes as a vision of my real father came to me. His breath had always smelled of cheap, stale whiskey. His skeletal face still came to me in my dreams.
Mother took a second, seeming to corral her thoughts in a different direction through sheer will. “Theo came to see me. I can see how much he cares for you. He’ll make a good husband. If only your father could be here to see all his dreams for you coming true. You’re sure, though, right?”
It was ironic that I’d had to come home to fulfill my father’s dream for me. We could have saved all the money they’d spent on school if we’d known Theo was the one for me. Now that I knew Theo the way I did, I couldn’t imagine it being anyone else. Who else would understand me the way he did?
Was this love?
“For your wedding day, I’ve something old for you.” Mother held out her hand, which contained a delicate lace handkerchief. “I sewed this years ago. It was a part of my mother’s wedding gown. I’ve carried it with me most of my life for good luck. Now, God willing, it’ll give some to you.”
“Won’t you miss it?” She’d often told me how much it comforted her to touch the lace during times of trial.
“No, I don’t need it anymore. I’m at the end of my life, not at the beginning as you are. My luck has come and gone.”
The finality of her statement scared me. Was she giving up on life now that Father was gone? They’d been around fifty when I first came to live with them, which meant she would be sixty-four. Wasn’t that too young to leave the earth? Ye Mother seemed to be deteriorating before my eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her too. “Mother, are you feeling all right?”
“Yes, perfectly fine. If not a little sentimental. But I’m going to skip dinner tonight and go to bed.”
“Can I get you anything before I go?”
She lifted her wrinkled cheek. “Just a kiss, darling girl.”
I did as she asked, taking in the familiar scent of talcum powder and rosewater. “I love you, Mother. I hope you know how much.”
“I do. You’ve been the best surprise of all.”
Dinner that evening in the Barneses’ formal dining room started out in the usual way, with a prayer. During which, Alexander asked that he give Mother strength. The threat of tears kept my head bowed for a second after the chorus of amens. This family might be loud and interfering, but I loved them for their kindness and thoughtfulness. Someday soon I hoped to feel more like I belonged.
The maid served us all the first course, a cool cucumber soup so delicious I had to count in between bites or risk embarrassing myself.
The entire family was seated around the table, including Josephine and Phillip and Flynn and Shannon. Talk meandered from work updates to gossip from town, including those who were against Phillip and Flynn’s clearing of part of the forest for another ski run.
“Why are they against it?” Cymbeline asked.