“You’re right.” Theo breathed in, then out, seeming to pull himself together. “Cymbeline, when I’m frightened, which I was tonight, I get angry. I’m sorry if I was too hard on you. As far as whether you tell Papa is up to you. As Louisa says, you’re an adult.”
I looked over at the profile of Theo Barnes. How tricky it must be to be a husband, brother, or father. He’d reacted out of love and fear for his sister. They were burdened with looking after the women they loved. Sometimes that was impossible. There were bad people, natural disasters, accidents. All out of a man’s control. The pressure on men to provide and protect was as intense as our helplessness was to us. As far as my fathers, one was a monster and the other close to saintly. Yet they’d both held me back from the education I’d wanted.
Neither gender had it easy. We all did the best we could with what we had. None of us were faultless or without sins. Jesus loved us anyway. Just as we should love one another.
“But what I don’t understand,” Theo said, “is why you aren’t in love with Viktor. That, little sister, makes no sense whatsoever.”
Cymbeline answered with a sniff.
“Isn’t that why you needed air?” Theo asked. “Because he brought Emma out?”
“Maybe,” Cymbeline answered from the back.
I thought I knew what held Cymbeline back from the
idea of a relationship with Viktor or any man. She was afraid to give up her freedom. Would Viktor allow her to continue to look after her little sister at the dance hall, for example? Or would she have a baby right away and be contained to the house as all our married friends were? Had any of them experienced the kind of joyful evening we’d just had? Joyful, that is, before Cymbeline’s dangerous encounter.
I remembered a bird who had rammed into the windows at the church and died from the impact. She’d been sailing toward her own reflection, thinking it a friend, but it turned out instead to be her impending death. Were women that way? Soaring the skies, thinking we were free, until tricked into a glass window? Was marriage our glass window? Did we have any choice?
I, for one, did not. Cymbeline, though? She might be able to remain single, taken care of by her father and brothers, and have some semblance of freedom over her own life.
I stole another glance at Theo’s profile. His expression was still one of gloom. As awful as the men had been who accosted Cymbeline, Theo was as good. Would we be able to have a marriage where I could still spread my wings and fly if I wanted to? Or would we be like most?
I closed my eyes, suddenly tired. I had no idea what the future would bring, only that I must make the only choice available to me. I filled with gratitude that it was Theo who had come to me.
* * *
The next morning, I found Papa in his study reading the newspaper. Recently, Emerson Pass had gotten its own paper. Not that there was much news in town. The articles were mostly written by the owner, a young man around my age who had come from journalism in one of the cities in the east. He’d come west looking for adventure. If his aim had been fascinating journalistic opportunities, I had a feeling he was disappointed.
“Theo, you’re up early. Isn’t it your day off?” Papa asked as he set aside his paper.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Something troubling you?”
“Yes, in fact, it is.”
“Why do I have the feeling I’m in trouble?” Papa asked, chuckling.
Was I that transparent? I sat down in the other leather chair. “I’d like to know why you’re allowing Fiona to play in town at a place illegally serving drinks where grown men frequent? Not to mention Cymbeline, who we both know doesn’t always have the best judgment.”
Papa tented his fingers under his chin. “Let me tell you what I know about women.”
I waited, wondering where he was going with this.
“Unlike horses, who can be tamed, the more you try to rein women in, the more they want to run or rebel. Your sisters have their own minds and aren’t afraid to let anyone know. They’re especially that way.”
“But Papa, they’re so young. And pretty. The men in this town are not all like you. There are roughnecks out there.”
“Li is with Fiona at all times. Cymbeline can take care of herself. Plus, she has Poppy looking out for her.”
“I respectfully disagree,” I said.
“That’s your right.”