(Chapter 8 continued)
He shifted uneasily in his chair. “My mother and I have a complicated relationship. It works when she thinks I’m under her thumb and when I acquiesce to her.”
“What kind of relationship is that?”
She seemed horrified. He assumed she had a lovely relationship with her own mother. How could he possibly accurately describe his relationship with his mother?
“It works,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but my mother has always been distant.”
Elaina frowned, one hand reached out to turn the tea cup around and around on the table. “I suppose I can’t expect every mother and child to have a healthy relationship.” A sharp laugh escaped her, her eyes riveted to the spinning tea cup. “I should know that. Bradley’s relationship with his mother was anything but healthy.”
“But you and your mother get along,” Robert said, seeing an opening to get to know her better and taking it. Anything to get off the topic of his own mother.
A soft smile lit her face as she finally looked back up at him. “My mom has always been my rock. She’s a quiet lady, always getting right to the point. But she has a unique way of looking at the world. Her love of life is infectious. She’s always right, Robert, but she never rubs it in my face. She worries, but she lets me be free, to make my own choices. My parents trust me. They raised me well. I’m what you would call well-adjusted, from a solidly middle-class family. I’m an only child, so my parents put everything they had into me.” Her eyes abruptly fell from his and her voice softened. “I know I disappointed them when I didn’t wait for a library job. I was so consumed with wanting to get on my own two feet that I went with the next best thing.”
“Working for Bradley?”
She grimaced, refusing to meet his eyes. “I was desperate, and sad the library didn’t have any immediate openings. I felt like I needed to prove myself. I made mistakes. And, yet, my parents welcomed me back. And now here I am. Companion to Robert Roderick. Slipping right back into the lap of luxury.”
“You’re always free to go any time.” It hurt to say the words.
He saw her jaw clench. “I hate feeling like I’m using you for my dream job. Walking out of here has crossed my mind too many times to count in the last hour alone.” Slowly, she lifted her gaze. “But I get the feeling you and your mother need me.” She took a deep breath. “Maybe it sounds crazy, but I believe life has certain things in store for us. I like to think I’m supposed to be here. I mean, I could have just flat out refused to go with my friends to the party. I could have turned around and walked away. But I didn’t.”
He stared at her. “Maybe you’re a little weird, but definitely not the weirdest companion I’ve ever had.”
She laughed suddenly, a light, happy sound that had him smiling in response.
“My mom has a different way of looking at life. I think I get it from her.”
“Tell me,” he quietly urged.
“You know the story by Hans Christian Anderson? The one about the mermaid?”
His heart pounded. It was the right opening he had been looking for. Now he just had to choose the right words.
“Yeah,” he said carefully, his tone measured, his enthusiasm carefully held at bay. “My mother used to tell me stories when I was a small child. That was one she told me a lot, but sometimes she twisted the story so the mermaid lived. Sometimes she married the prince, sometimes she didn’t.”
Elaina nodded. “My mom looks at the world a lot like the mermaid. She sees it as big and wonderful. She’s cautious because you never know what life holds, but she delights in it. I think she’s so wise because she sees everything.”
“Did she tell you a lot of fairy tales?”
Elaina smiled. “She did. They gave me my love of books.”
Robert smiled back, his heart beating evenly for the first time since he’d first laid eyes on her.