“So they should understand why you’d want to move out when your landlord is going through your things.”
“They think I should tolerate it because he means well.” She emphasized the last two words sourly.
“They’ll think differently now that he’s started to burn your possessions.”
“Just my paintings. They don’t think those are very important.”
“So, they don’t care about your feelings after all.”
Rose opened her mouth, closed it again. Wiped a stray hair from her face. “Of course they do, it’s just… Emory’s older.”
“So he gets to behave badly but you don’t,” Cab said, wanting to be clear.
“When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous,” Rose complained. “And it’s not. I’m supposed to be nice. Everyone is supposed to be nice.”
“But everyone isn’t nice.” He glanced over at her. “Emory sure as hell isn’t. You have to take care of yourself. There are a lot of people in this world who wouldn’t think twice about hurting you, Rose. Bad people.”
She stared at him for a moment. “You think I don’t know that? I feel like I play by a different set of rules than everyone else. It’s like, we’re all taught what’s right and wrong, but I’m the only one sticking to it. Everyone else does exactly what they want, but if I try it, all hell breaks loose. You think I haven’t tried to leave? You think I haven’t tried to quit that stupid job and do something else? Even when I sit at home painting I feel guilty because everyone says it’s a waste of time.”
“Everyone? Or just your parents?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “You know I’m the county sheriff, right?”
Rose nodded. “Of course.”
“I believe in law and order. I believe that human society in general wants the best for its people, but I also believe that as a whole we take shortcuts. In the interest of making it easy to keep the peace, we make as many people as possible compliant. Especially women and children. You’re raised to say yes even when you mean no. You’re raised to be nice even when the situation calls for anger. That makes you vulnerable.” A muscle in his jaw jumped. “Much too vulnerable. You have to learn to say no and mean it. You have to have the strength of mind to identify what’s best for you and fight for that. You can’t say yes to everyone in order to try to keep them all happy. Women who need to please men end up their victims.” He realized he was lecturing her. “Put yourself first, Rose. Take a look at your life. Decide what you want to keep and what you want to change. Then do it.”
“No buts. I’m serious. That’s what adults do, Rose; they make choices about their lives. You have to make choices, too.”
She regarded him suspiciously. “Why are you so interested in what I do with my life all of a sudden?”
“Because I’m interested in you.”
Rose concentrated on a set of taillights far ahead of them for several minutes, trying to digest everything that Cab had said. Could someone like him even understand what it was like to be someone like her? Look at him—he was tall, strong, powerful… he even had a badge. Every trapping of authority was his for the taking. And look at her. Small, weak, feminine. No one gave a damn what she thought. It was true, she needed to make some decisions about everything from where she lived to how she earned an income. It was true, too, that she let people ride roughshod over her instead of standing up for her own desires. Thank God she’d already started on the tree house. First and foremost she needed an art studio that was hers alone. Preferably one with a lock no one else had the key for.
Second, she needed a new home. Maybe she’d talk to Autumn about renting a room for the winter. Living out of town was inconvenient for work, but at least she’d be close to her studio.
She automatically tried to clear that thought from her mind, but stopped and considered the last thing he’d said. He was interested in her. The knowledge sent a shiver of awareness through her. Well, she was interested in him, too. No matter how stupid that made her.
Which brought her to the third thing she needed to do: break up with Jason. She twisted the ring on her finger unconsciously. Tomorrow. She’d call him tomorrow, no matter that she hadn’t settled her living arrangements or gotten a new job. After what happened tonight she was done with Emory, anyway. Might as well get the worst with Jason over, too.
Cab was still waiting for her response to his declaration, but she didn’t know what to say. She cast a covert gaze over at him, found him looking back at her.
Fila was used to the cold; she’d never been properly dressed for the weather in her small village. Still, each time she disembarked from a train and found the next one, she grew more uncomfortable, both with the temperature and the way she was dressed.
When she’d first pulled her burqa from over her head, she’d felt a rush of adrenaline. Wearing this skimpy skirt was like stepping onstage to act a part she’d been rehearsing for years. Now it felt like the production had dragged on far too long. Her costume was wilted, her makeup rubbing off. She was tired, scared. Out of her league.
Her clothes attracted attention, too. Lots of it. Men eyed her hungrily. Woman walked past and wrinkled their noses. Out of the big city and away from her group of chatty, temporary friends, she stood out in her garish, unsuitable colors. It was time to change disguises again.
She stepped out of the train station in Chicago and fought down a wave of fear. The bravado that had gotten her this far was fast disappearing. She was hungry, thirsty, and had no idea how to navigate this town. She traced her way to a ladies’ room—her life now seemed made up of ladies’ rooms—and faced herself in the mirror.
No wonder everyone was staring.
She washed off her remaining makeup carefully, took out her hairpins, adjusted her wig and repinned it carefully. What could she do about her clothes?
A movement in the mirror caught her eye and she looked up to see a woman about the age her mother would have been had she lived.
“That’s better,” the woman said, and Fila knew she was referring to the way she’d washed her face and tidied her hair. The woman was dressed in a sensible, knee-length, brown tweed skirt and a cream-colored sweater. Over them she wore a dark wool dress jacket. On her feet she wore trim suede shoes. She looked… safe, Fila decided.