Author’s Note: All of a sudden, I was reminded just how alone Robert was in this thing. At least Violet has some support in her mother and aunt, but his family didn’t see the problem, and given the time period, he’s got no friends to rely on, either. Poor guy.
“Is there something else I can get you, Mr. Winston?”
Robert looked up from his plate and shook his head. He hadn’t managed to eat much of any of his meal, not able to think about anything but the fact that even more of his childhood had been usurped by a man he didn’t know. How could that man know so much of Robert when he knew nothing of him? That did not seem possible.
“Is something wrong?”
He looked up at his hostess and forced a smile. “I apologize. My mind is on other matters, and no, the food was excellent. I am not… Can I ask you something? Is there a reason you didn’t serve a drink with dinner?”
“This is a temperate town. When it was formed, the charter said no alcohol.”
“Ah, now, Mabel, don’t be that way,” the innkeeper said, coming around to the table. “Fact is, our neighbors down south are not temperate, and it’s damn easy to get a hold of the stuff if we want to, though plenty of folks don’t bother.”
“And the town is much better off for it,” his wife said, wiping her hands on her apron and walking away, her head held high. The innkeeper shook his head, turning back to Robert with a smile.
“Don’t mind Mabel. She’s been ready to fight with anyone and everyone since our son died in the war. He was the only one were blessed to have, you know, and losing him liked to have killed her. Not sure she’ll ever be the same. Haven’t seen her smile since the day we got word.”
“My mother went to her bed for a week when they were notified about me, and I was only wounded, not dead.”
“You were over there?”
Robert nodded. He had forgotten that he didn’t want to discuss that with a man who’d lost his son. He was no hero, and he didn’t know why he’d survived when this family had lost their son. “I was. Took a bullet a few months back and got shipped home.”
The innkeeper walked over to the cabinet against the wall and unlocked it, taking out a bottle. He carried it back to the table. He poured some in Robert’s water glass and pushed it toward him. “Does it hurt?”
“When the weather changes, mostly. The problem is that half the time I can’t feel it. It’s just numb. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off if they’d amputated it,” Robert said, reaching for the glass. He took a sip and looked at the other man. “Did you talk much with the man you knew as Robert Winston?”
“Some, not much.”
“Did he mention anything about his childhood?”
The innkeeper frowned. “Something you have in mind?”
“He told Mrs. Winston stories that were from my childhood. At least three of them, perhaps more. I keep thinking I should know him, but I haven’t figured out how. If there was something that he told you or anyone else that could help me find the connection… That’s what I need. I don’t want to push her any further. I… I managed to leave her in tears, twice, because it would seem that I have taken away all that she thought she knew of him.”
The innkeeper leaned back with his drink, sipping from it. “That is interesting. I guess I didn’t give much thought to whether or not you’d know this fellow. It’s an interesting problem. We had no reason not to think that he was the man he said he was, but then we don’t know him or you.”
Robert turned the liquor around in his glass. “I am starting to think he could have fooled people who did know me. If I had died overseas, would he just have taken my place?”
“Hard to say.”
Robert closed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I told you all that. It’s not the liquor—I can and have drank much more without a reaction—it’s more that I haven’t been able to discuss any of this with anyone but Mrs. Winston. The moment I started talking, I apparently couldn’t stop.”
“I think that young woman is a very good listener, but you need more than that considering that she is a part of what you need to talk out, if you’re going to talk about it at all. I’m surprised you came here alone.”
“Most of my friends are still overseas if not dead, and my family… Well, they blamed the whole thing on Mrs. Winston and did not care to look further than that.”
The innkeeper shook his head. “No. Never. Even with her husband abandoning her, she’s not that type of woman. She’s got integrity. She’s impressed me, not giving up after he left her and she found out she had a child. Plenty of women would have.”
“I find her very admirable as well.” Robert finished his drink. “Please do not say anything about me marrying her. This situation is far too complicated already.”
“It’s not my place to say anything about that.”
Robert rose, nodding as he did. “I think it’s best if I excuse myself and try to get some sleep. I… Thank you for everything. I appreciate it.”
“Of course. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.”
A thousand things crossed his mind there that he could ask for, many of them impossible or impractical, but even the ones that he thought he could have gotten stayed locked in his head. His eyes went back to the table, to the bottle the other man had left sitting there, and he shook his head as he turned away, not allowing himself to ask.
He had enough problems without adding drunkenness to them.