“Only a stray tear or two.”
“May I ask why?”
“Of course,” she answered so he could not guess that her tears had welled up when she had seen Lillian flirting with him. “It is no secret that I always end up having a stray tear or two on Mothering Sunday.”
“Because you miss your late mother?”
“Because I don’t remember her.” She stared at the ground. “Gregory has memories of her, but she died shortly after I was born.”
He sat beside her without asking permission, startling her because his manners usually were perfect. She understood when he said, “I am sorry. I have few memories of my own mother, but the ones I have I treasure. When I was a child and someone remarked that one of my actions resembled my mother’s, it was the finest compliment I could be given.”
“When Gregory says something like that, it’s often to remind me that our mother had a reputation as something of a saucy minx. He is certain to mention my resemblance to our mother if I speak without thinking.”
“I think I would have liked your mother, then.”
She raised her eyes to his earth-brown ones. “How can you know that?”
A smile curved along his lips. “Because I like when you speak without thinking. It shows me you are discerning and profound.”
Vera smiled in spite of herself. “Profound? Nobody has ever described me that way.”
“Maybe they would if you revealed that side of yourself more often.” His words sounded as if he considered each one carefully before he spoke it. He grew serious, so serious she prayed that he was not about to impart more bad news.
“I think our parishioners prefer their vicar’s sister to be in the background,” she said. The words were bitter on her tongue and even more bitter in her heart. How she wished she could serve the parish and God in more ways than planning when the church should be cleaned and deciding which family would provide the bread for communion ! She understood it was important to have someone in charge of the annual calendar of events and to make sure that no one felt left out or overburdened. Still, she wished there was a way that she could speak up in church and share her love for God without having to remain half hidden behind Gregory.
“That is,” Edmund said in the same deliberate voice, “because they see you in no other way. If you were to reveal the true Vera Fenwick, they might view you differently. As I do now.”
She faltered, not sure how to reply. “What do you mean?”
“Rather than answer that, let me ask you a question.”
“How long have you been writing your brother’s sermons?”
She pressed her hand over her heart that seemed to have forgotten how to beat. Her breath burned in her lungs, but she could not release it when she was not certain she could draw another.
Somehow, Edmund had discovered she did that task. He had come to get the truth. For him to leave the feast as he had must mean that he was very displeased that she had helped her brother. She stared at his face that was as hard and unyielding as the stone bench. Frantic thoughts exploded through her head, each gone before she could grasp it, but one fact was frightfully clear. Even though she had done only as Gregory asked, her actions could cost him his living...again.
* * *
Edmund could not name a single emotion that whipped across Vera’s face, because he did not want to believe he was seeing despair and fear. She gaped at him as if he had become a monster.
For a long moment, she was silent; then she whispered, “How did you know?”
“That you wrote today’s sermon? The words your brother spoke sounded like ones you have used.” He rested one shoulder against the side of the arbor, taking care not to get too close to the thorns. “And I saw you mouthing the words during the service before he uttered them. Either he had practiced his sermon in your presence so often you had memorized it—and that was unlikely with all that has happened this week—or you knew it because you had written each word.”
“Please, don’t think that Gregory is slacking in his duties.”
He was taken aback by her response, because he had assumed her first question would be if he had enjoyed the sermon. His astonishment made him stumble over his words. “I—I did not m-m-mean to suggest that. I have seen how hard the vicar works, especially since the two of you have been staying here.”
“Yes, he does.” An odd urgency filled her words. “He works very hard, and when I can help, I do. The parishioners want the vicar to listen to their concerns. I cannot help with that. I cannot preside over marriages or baptisms. But I can write a sermon for him now and then. After all, I have learned much about faith and God from my brother.”