Marian knew that that Hill man was trouble as soon as he’d arrived, and he hadn’t even had to open his mouth. The fact that he did, however, didn’t help his case one bit; if only he hadn’t tried to flirt with her when she only wanted to walk home, he wouldn’t have had the chance to put his foot in his mouth.
She could hear his footsteps behind her and smell the overpowering scent of his cologne, and if that didn’t annoy her enough (really, now what kind of man with any good intentions at all followed a lady? She didn’t care who he’d bamboozled; he was bad news), his cut-off attempts at flirting certainly did.
“I think you dropped your –“ he began, probably going for something inappropriate, and she couldn’t take any more.
“What is it?” she snapped, whirling around to face him. It was dark, but it wasn’t that dark, and she’d heard that gasp of shock a thousand times, more than enough to recognize it for what it was. “Did you have business with me?”
“I…n-no…I think I found the wrong person.” Hill’s face was crimson; undoubtedly he thought he’d bothered someone’s maid, narrow-minded man. “I was looking for the librarian, and I think maybe…”
“That would be me.” Her voice was pure acid, dressed in the hoity-toitiest tones she’d picked up from Mrs. Shinn. “Marian Paroo. I am the librarian.”
“You?” He goggled, paling as much as he’d blushed a moment before. “You…are you…sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I suppose you weren’t expecting a Negress, were you?” She’d been prepared to brush him off, but if this was how he treated a lady, no matter what her skin color, he would get the worst tongue-lashing she could muster. If these were the sorts of gauche manners the city bred, she wanted none of it. The stupid man was still goggling. “If you must know, yes, my parents were lawfully wedded, no, neither of them was ever enslaved, and no, I am absolutely and unequivocally not interested. Is there anything else, or will you stop blocking my path and let me give a piano lesson?”
The front gate was going to snap right in half if he didn’t stop leaning on it. “Miss Paroo…” Oh, wonderful. The lascivious grin had returned. Whatever he had up his sleeve, she was quite sure she would be able to resist it easily. “I don’t know if you’ve heard that I’m well-acquainted with the works of a certain –“
“Enough!” she said, cutting across him to slam the gate between them. He was apparently going the false sympathy route, when he’d likely been born to a family as narrow-minded as any. Hypocrites, all of these traveling men. “I’ll warn you, Mister Hill, that you’re to leave me and this town alone. I have no idea what you’re trying to prove with this nonsense about the billiard parlor, but I don’t believe a word of it.”
“Now, see here – if you’ll only listen to me –“
“Good night, Mister Hill, and good riddance.”
She sighed as she shut the door behind her. Amaryllis was here; the child had no skill whatsoever at the piano, but at least she called her “Miss Marian” and smiled at her just as she did at everyone else. “Mama, I’m home,” she called out, then to her pupil, “Good evening, Amaryllis.”
“Hello, Miss Marian!” the girl said with an engaging smile, and promptly sat down at the bench. “What will we play tonight?”
Marian’s mind was only half on her task as she coached Amaryllis through her warm-up exercises. It was no wonder, really, that Mama had married an Irishman. American men were terribly prejudiced, the lot of them, and she would have nothing to do with them as long as they treated her as some kind of curiosity.
Papa hadn’t. He had met Mama fresh off the boat, walking to a factory job somewhere deep in the South. He had met her eyes and blushed so redly that she had to laugh, and had agreed to follow him to the North and marry him.
He had seen only her deep brown eyes and her soft smile, and had fallen deeply, irretrievably (“an’ nivver looked back,” he proclaimed years later) in love.
Everyone else had seen the field slave’s daughter seduce the poor idiot Irish boy, and no, that would never do. Sometimes, not even in Iowa.
If only everyone saw me as the children do, she thought sadly, and pulled herself back to the lesson.
Maybe someday, things would be easier.