“Rose?” Cab prompted.
“I asked how your work is going.”
“Fine,” she said faintly, as the realization overtook her. Jason didn’t want to marry her any more than she wanted to marry him. He’d been using his actions to show her that for months. She didn’t have to worry about breaking his heart. All that was left was to return his ring.
Cab held the door for Rose and Mia, then hesitated as the women said their good-byes.
“Could we have dinner again soon?” Mia asked Rose.
“Sure—how’s Friday?” Rose said. “Same time, same place?”
“Sounds good. Bye, Cab!” Mia headed for her ancient Chevy Impala, and Rose turned to him.
“Thanks for joining us,” she said, putting her hand out.
Cab took it, shook, and tried not to hold on for an extra moment. Her hand was so small, his big one swallowed it up. It was soft, too. Womanly.
He let go. “Thanks for having me,” he said. “Must get lonely sometimes with Jason gone so much.”
She smiled a little, but it wasn’t a happy smile. Trouble in paradise? His earlier question about North Dakota seemed to throw her off.
“Yeah, well. You have to do what you have to do, right? I keep busy.”
“Walk you to your car?”
She glanced up at him and his heartbeat sped up. Did she know he was hitting on her? He was trying not to, but somehow he couldn’t stop himself. Jason was a damn fool to leave her alone so long.
“Sure. It’s over here.” They walked through the shadows of the parking lot to Rose’s truck. He couldn’t help noticing the pile of lumber in the back.
“What are you building?” he said, peeking over the side.
“Just fixing something at the carriage house,” she said and bit her lip. Cab narrowed his eyes. That was a tell if he ever saw one. Most people had a tell; a little quirk that broadcast they were lying. Why would Rose lie about a building project?
“Oh, yeah? A big project?” he pressed.
She wasn’t going to give up anything, was she? Rose didn’t seem the type to get into trouble, but you never knew with women. Men he could usually peg pretty quickly. Women?
They didn’t make logical decisions for one thing. Men put two and two together and got four. They bought exactly the right tools to get the job done and they did what was necessary and then stopped. Women, on the other hand, put two and two together and came up with a reason to buy two hundred Hummel angels and store them in a fancy cabinet for the next fifty years. They got in stranger’s cars and ended up dead.
Rose might be lying because she planned to build a catapult. Or she might simply lie because she didn’t want his interference. Women were like that, too.
“Got all the tools you need? I’ve got a bunch kicking around if you need to borrow any.”
“Thanks, but I think I’m all set.” She fumbled in her purse for her keys. “Good to see you again, Cab. Good night.”
He thought about her driving home alone, parking in the carriage house driveway, walking up the front steps and inserting her key in the lock. There was shrubbery around her front door. Anyone could hide in it.
“Was there something else?” Rose asked when he didn’t walk away.
“What? No… nothing. Good night, Rose.”
He forced himself to walk nonchalantly back to his vehicle, and when Rose pulled out of the parking lot he hung back to let another car pass before he followed. He kept his distance, slowing down to a crawl when she turned in to her place. Pulling off the road several houses down he watched her exit her truck, walk up the steps and let herself inside. Only when her lights came on did he pull out, execute a U-turn and head on home.
He didn’t park the car, sneak up to the house and check the door handle to make sure she’d locked it.
But he wanted to.
At twelve, Fila had been a typical American kid and was well aware her mother never wanted to set foot in Afghanistan again. Like her father, her mother had moved from Kabul to the United States in her twenties. The daughter of a government official, she’d been raised more liberally than most, and as soon as she reached the States she’d thrown off all vestiges of her homeland’s restrictive traditions. Fila, born and raised in Connecticut, was aware of her heritage, but not concerned with it. All that changed when her great-grandmother died and her father insisted they travel to Afghanistan to pay their respects. Both her mother and father had lost their parents in the past decade. Fila assumed he craved a connection to what was left of his family.
“We have to go, just for a week,” he said over and over again to her mother, and in the end her mother had given in. She spent the remainder of their time in the United States alternately packing and cramming Fila’s head with every memory she had of how restrictive Afghanistan was to its women, the expectations her relatives would have for her, and how much she regretted ever having to bring Fila there.
“I’d leave you here if I could,” she said, “but your father insists.”
“It’s okay,” Fila said. She was excited about the plane ride and their exotic destination despite her mother’s stories.
As soon as they boarded the plane, however, she wished she had stayed home. They were split apart, Fila and her mother in one row, her father in a different one, and all Fila’s mother’s fears sprung to the surface. She spent every minute of their time in the air telling Fila more stories—horrible ones about public floggings, death by stoning, wife-beating, child marriage, until Fila thought she’d never sleep again.
“If anything happens to us while we’re there,” her mother said, taking her hand and gripping it tight, “if anything happens to your father and me, promise me you’ll do anything you can to get home. Get to the embassy, kick up a fuss, do whatever it takes.”
Fila, terrified now, promised her she would. By the time they reached Kabul she’d been consumed by fear, exhausted with the effort to calm her mother, and sure they all faced certain death.
For the first few days, however, all went well. They were welcomed by dozens of relatives with tears and laughter. Fila understood almost nothing that was said, having never learned Pashto. She understood her relatives’ smiles, though, and their hugs and glad exclamations. Surely there was nothing to fear.
Two days later, however, her grandmother’s funeral procession was attacked by armed gunmen and her parents were among the victims. Snatched from the chaos by Taliban radicals, the next few weeks were so terrifying Fila couldn’t bring herself to remember them. In the end her captors claimed they were also her relatives, and brought her to their home in a nearly inaccessible mountain village. They tried to beat out of her every American habit she held in a kind of Taliban experiment: could they transform an infidel into a proper Afghani woman?