“I want to get married right away. Let’s not wait.”
My heart sped up by about a hundred beats per minute. “What do you mean by right away?”
“Before the end of summer. As soon as possible.”
My mind raced ahead. I’d need a house for us. In the meantime, we’d have to stay at the big house. It wasn’t ideal for starting out as newlyweds. “We won’t have a home of our own ready. Will you mind? Your mother can remain in the cottage.”
“I won’t care as long as you’re wherever I am.”
“Louisa, you mean that?”
“I truly do.” She looked into my eyes and what I saw there was the future. Our future.
I kissed her before telling her the inevitable. “My family will expect a ceremony.” I was unsure how much of the pomp and circumstance Louisa could endure. She wouldn’t want all the attention. However, my family had expectations. “Mama will want you to have a wedding gown and photographs taken.”
“I understand,” Louisa said. “But I don’t want to marry at the church. Not without Father.”
“The courthouse?” Mama would not like it, but it was understandable that it would be too painful for Louisa.
“A party here afterward? Will that satisfy them?” Louisa asked.
“Yes, that will have to be good enough.” I leaned down and kissed her again. “You’ve made me a happy man.”
“I hope to.”
I went in search of my parents. Papa and Mama were in the library having their tea.
“Theo, you’re looking dapper.” Mama made me think of a cherry blossom with her hair in a low bun at the nape of her neck and wearing a pale pink dress. “I love your new suit.”
I thanked her. The light linen suit supposedly kept a man cool during warm months. However, at the moment, the fabric did nothing to discourage perspiration from gathering at the back of my head. I tugged at the tie around my neck.
“What can we do for you?” Papa asked.
I looked up at him. “Nothing, really.”
“We can see something’s on your mind,” Mama said.
“Louisa and I want to get married sooner rather than later. Will you host a reception for us?” It just rushed out of my mouth. I followed my question with a gulp of whiskey that subsequently burned a line of fire down the back of my throat.
“What’s the rush?” Mama asked.
“We don’t want to wait.”
“I remember being that way about Quinn. I couldn’t wait to marry her.”
“Yes, me too,” Mama said. “It’ll be tight, but I think we can get everything organized. Lizzie’s a wonder, as you know. But what about a dress for her?” She answered her own question. “Annabelle will have to make something simple.”
Papa’s gaze had shifted from me to the spot where the portrait of my birth mother had once hung. Now it was replaced by a painting of the five original Barnes siblings. Mama had had it painted the year after she’d married Papa. Flynn and I had been ten, Jo fourteen, Cymbeline seven and Fiona four. Flynn and I wore sailor suits. The girls wore matching dresses in white. We’d stood in the warm garden all afternoon. At one point, Fiona had dropped over in a dead faint. Cymbeline and Flynn had fidgeted the entire time until finally, in frustration, the painter sent us all away, painting from his original sketch instead of the live version.
“What is it, Papa?” I asked.
“I’m thinking of Ida,” Papa said. “How difficult life was and how she left you all alone without a mother.”
“Are you comparing Louisa to Mother?” I asked.
Papa shook his head. “No, not at all. I’m reminding you that every marriage has challenges from time to time. I want you to know you can always come to us with any of your worries. If I hadn’t had Jasper and Lizzie back when you were all small and before Quinn came, I would have been in trouble.”