Author’s Note: Robert was ready to go. Really, he was.
“Are you certain about this, Mr. Winston?”
Robert let out a breath. If he was honest, he knew that he was not at all certain. He did not want to go, and he feared to admit the reason why he hesitated. He had no true reason to stay. He had let Violet talk him into staying for the reply to his inquiries, but he had to believe that he was not helping anyone with his actions. He had not come any closer to identifying the man who had taken his name, and another sleepless night had not brought an explanation for how that man knew him and why he had done this—why he hated Robert so much as to steal even his childhood from him.
“I think it is time.”
“Have you learned all that you needed, then? I know you spent most of your time with Mrs. Winston—”
“Are you suggesting that I was remiss in not speaking to others?”
The innkeeper blinked. Robert regretted his tone, the sharpness of it and his own pride manifesting itself in the way he’d spoken. He did not want to be told that he was wrong, did not want his own doubts reinforced, did not want to let those thoughts win and cause him to stay.
“I… I was just hoping that you had what you needed, sir. That is all.”
Robert sighed. He shook his head. “I do not know that I do, but I do not believe that I can stay any longer. I have not accomplished much since I arrived—it would seem the most I manage is to upset Mrs. Winston. If leaving makes her burden easier, that is what I must do.”
The innkeeper nodded. “If that’s what must be done, then it’s what you should do. It’s not for us to speak on it. You know the situation better than we do.”
Robert reached for his suitcase only to have it slip from his grasp when his bad arm went numb. He cursed as it hit the floor, tumbling open. The innkeeper came around to help him with picking it up, and Robert sat back, cradling his useless arm. Everything seemed to be determined not to let him leave, and he did not want to accept that. Perhaps it was his cowardice showing itself again, but he knew that he needed to leave.
“Would you like assistance to the train station?”
Robert looked at his arm. “I want to say no, but that is my pride talking. My more practical side knows that I am not always able to do as I please, as I want and expect myself to be able to do. I need assistance. It just galls me to need it.”
“You are still a very young man, and you expect to be able to do what young men do, to have that body that defies limits and has yet to feel age and infirmity. Unfortunately for you, your youth was taken by a war, and with it went your health. It won’t ever be the same.”
Robert nodded. He tried to accept that, but on most days, he wasn’t that good. He rose, about ready to ask for his suitcase back when the door to the inn opened, and both of them looked over at it. He was the one that cursed, though, again, and the innkeeper gave him another look even as he stepped forward to stop the other man before he got started.
“Father, what are you doing here?”
“I came to put an end to this foolishness.”
“I was about to return home. I had just—”
“Then she has dropped her claim?”
“No, she—This is no claim,” Robert said, shaking his head. Frustration was overcoming him far quicker than usual, and he did not want to fight with his father in front of the innkeeper. He had already disgraced himself enough. “She is not lying or trying to extort anything from us, and as I already said, I am leaving—”
“Nonsense. You are coming with me, and I will end this now.”