Elvira and I simply held hands while we watched the sunset. I very much wanted to hold her but I didn't want the boat to tip again. It was nice seeing her laugh in earnest, though, and I couldn't wait to be the reason behind her laughter some more
"Can I try?" she asked enthusiastically when I got the oars ready
I looked at her doubtfully. "Are you sure?" I asked. "It's rather difficult."
She clicked her tongue. "You sound like my father," she said with a pout.
"All right," I said, laughing. "Let me know if it gets too hard, though."
She took the oars excitedly and I watched, amused, as she pulled them out of the water. Her face was concentrated as they went back under.
"Oh dear," she said as she struggled with the oars in the water. "Yes, I think you're right."
I laughed and put my hands on hers. Carefully, I pushed and she pulled. She bit her lip as she focused on lifting and dipping the oars. She giggled when we picked up speed and we got to the dock just as fog started to roll off the water. Bryant was waiting, a grin on his face, when he saw his sister's still damp dress.
"You've never been good in a boat," he laughed as he helped her out.
"The boat flipped!" she said excitedly. "It was amazing, Bryant! The water was cold but, at the same time, it was warm!"
He laughed and kissed her cheek. "I'm glad you had a good time. Head back to the house. I need to speak with Mr. Buckley."
She nodded and looked at me shyly. Bryant turned his back and I blushed as I kissed her gently on the lips, careful not to go too far this time. She laughed breathlessly as she walked back up the street. When she was out of earshot, her brother's face looked murderous. I took a step back.
"It's not you," he said quickly and I frowned.
"Then why do you look so angry?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "This stays between you and me," he said firmly, staring into my eyes. "My sister is not to hear of this."
"All right," I said. "I don't like keeping secrets from her, though."
"You will when I tell you," he groaned. "My mother was lying to her."
"What do you mean?"
"About apologizing for all she's done over the years," Bryant said, his voice muffled as he covered his face. I knew he was crying. "She told me this morning that she hopes Daniel impregnated her so that she'd be forced to marry him."
My knees gave out and I sat down heavily on a stack of crates.
"Please tell me you're lying to me," I breathed and he sat beside me.
"No, Thomas, I'm not," he said in a low voice.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "But why!? Why is she like this to her!?"
"I don't know," he said, wiping his tears away. "I've asked but she won't answer. I can only imagine it's because Elvira is more beautiful than she is. Over the years, my sister became more beautiful as my mother grew older."
"You think your mother grew jealous?"
Bryant nodded, crying some more. "I don't know what to do, Thomas. What if she does get pregnant? My mother will force her to marry Daniel. Elvira will not have a say in the matter."
I looked at the ground in dismay. I thought of poor Elvira, forced into a loveless marriage with a man who raped and abused her. He would surely do it more once they wed. I frowned, gripping my hands into fists.
"Then I'll take her away," I said and Bryant stared at me with wide eyes. I glared at him. "I won't let Elvira live like that. She deserves love, Bryant. I may not have money but I-I'll find a way to make her happy."
To my shock, Bryant laughed, his tears stopping.
"Is this your way of asking for my sister's hand in marriage?"
I laughed, too. "Perhaps not yet," I said. "I care much for her but I can barely provide for Megan."
Bryant shook his head. "Money doesn't matter to Elly, Thomas."
I nodded. "She told me. Sort of. She said that money isn't everything."
He put his hand on my back. "We have a few months to figure it out. If she's not pregnant, will your feelings change?"
"No," I said immediately. "When... when will we know if she is or isn't?"
"I've arranged for the doctor to visit in a month," he answered. "For now, he's been told that she's ill and has missed her monthlies. From there, I'll swear him to secrecy. I'll pay him off if I have to."
"I'm sorry for this, Bryant," I whispered.
He shook his head. "The only person that should be apologizing is Daniel. Which reminds me, my brother isn't pressing for a trial." I groaned. "She's going to keep him in the jails until we find out if Elvira is pregnant." He sighed. "Either way, he'll be out."
"So he can do it again," I said through clenched teeth.
"No," Bryant said firmly. "He will never touch my sister again! I will need your help in protecting her, though."
"I will do everything in my power but...."
"You worry for your sister," he said quietly.
"Daniel has show that he has no qualms bringing her in on his awful schemes. And Megan loves going to school. She was most upset when I told her I didn't want her going again."
"Perhaps we can convince Mr. Pink to stay out of retirement until Megan's out of this term. Then we can go from there."
"How long is each term?" I asked, rubbing my eyes and feeling exhausted.
"Two months," he answered sadly.
I nodded and stood. "I need to get Megan from Ivan and Candace. Thank you for letting me take Elvira out today and for telling me this news."
He looked sad. "Are you going to stop pursuing my sister?"
"Of course not," I said with a frown. "It will be a few days, though, before I can visit her. Does your mother know you've told me?" He shook his head. "Then I shall put on the façade of ignorance. For now."
He held his hand out but I hugged him. He hesitated then cried quietly in my shoulder.
"I'm so scared for her," he admitted.
"I know," I whispered. I was, too. "But we'll protect her. Somehow, we'll find a way to protect her."
He walked with me to Ivan's then said good night. I knocked and Megan was ecstatic to see me.
"I drew you a picture," she said happily as I put her on my shoulders after saying goodbye to Ivan and Candace.
"That was very kind of you," I said, trying to make my voice as happy as I could and accepting the picture.
"You're wet!" she said, ruffling my hair. "Why are you wet?"
I laughed in earnest. "I took a swim, silly."
"Did you see Miss Elly?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," I said. "Would you like to visit her this weekend?"
"Yeah," she said, bouncing on my shoulders and I laughed, making a mental note to let Bryant know.
When we got home, I kissed her cheek as I put her on the floor. I hung it up on the wall, making her beam in pride and she yawned.
"Can you read me a story?" she asked and I nodded, going to the small amount of books that Ivan had given me.
I picked a fairy tale that was devoid of dragons and fire and sat on the side of her bed. She made it maybe three pages in and I chuckled. I kissed her forehead and tucked her in, keeping her door cracked. Lately she had been worried that I would disappear so I left it cracked and my door open in case she woke in the night.
I got into bed and stared up at the ceiling.
"Money isn't everything, Thomas."
I shut my eyes. "I'll keep you safe," I whispered and turned on my side. "I swear to it."