Starlight Dreams

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

Brothers and Sisters

 

Little Minta peered through the door, surreptitiously looking over the newcomers.  Somehow she knew they had something to do with Papá’s first wife, but she wasn’t sure how.  She listened to them talking about Papá, telling Grandfather that he was going to get better.  She breathed a deep sigh of relief, and rubbed away the tears in her eyes that had threatened to spill down her cheeks.  Minta caught the word ‘abuelo’ and her eyes widened in shock.  Abuelo?  Why are they calling him that? she wondered. 

Sunlight shone on the young woman’s face and Minta saw the same features as she had seen on the other Minta.  She furrowed her brow and then noticed grandfather watching her.  He smiled and motioned for her to come to him.  Nervously, she walked to Grandfather’s bed.  The two messengers watched her closely, smiles on their faces, their eyes friendly. 

Nieta, we have received good news.  Your father is doing quite well.”

“Yes, Abuelo, I heard.”  She turned to the two messengers.  Gracias.”

“Minta, I want you to meet Alejandro and Maria Isabella, your half-brother and sister,” he said. 

Minta’s mouth dropped open as they greeted her.  Brother, sister?   She didn’t hear what they had to say to her, she didn’t hear their warm and friendly voices, all she heard was the inner voice telling her that Papá would no longer have time to read to her, hold her in his arms, laugh with her and tickle her when she snuck into his bedroom and ambushed him in his bed.  There would be no more time for rides to the little lake or to gather flowers for Mama’s grave…no more time.  These two newcomers would be taking it all away from her. 

“No!  I just want to see Papá!” she shouted, turning and running through the open door, jerking it closed behind her.   She ran down the veranda, ignoring the muffled calls of her grandfather.   Instead of going into her own room, she stopped at her father’s room, quickly opening the door and going inside.  As she shut it behind her, she felt the warm presence of her father, despite that fact that he was somewhere above them, in something that Abuelo had called a space ship, something like a sailing vessel that floated through the sky. 

She climbed up on Papá’s bed.  As usual it was made up, the covering smooth and unwrinkled.  Minta almost wished that it wasn’t, and then she would feel more like Papá was just going to walk in the door.  She looked toward the fireplace, gazing at the dead coals.  Because she was feeling contrary, and also because she felt a bit of a chill from the partially opened outer door, she jerked back the covers and slipped under them.  The pillows still carried a slight scent of Papá, a bit of leather, a tiny bit of sweat, of shaving lather and of the soap he used to bathe with. It was comforting to her and she felt her eyes closing.   The night had been so long and she had spent so much time worrying and not enough time sleeping.  Soon she was dreaming of horse rides and her papá’s lap. 

                 

                                                =================== 

 

Mari watched the little girl run out of the room and she felt her heart tighten.  She had thought of how wonderful it would be to live here together—Mother, Father, little Minta, Grandfather, her and Jandro.  All of the de la Vegas together.  Sighing, Mari looked down at her hands. 

“My child, this is such a shock for my little granddaughter.  It has been a shock for me.  First her father is hurt and almost killed and then she finds she has a brother and sister.  She has been the sole object of our affection for over seven years.  Everything she has known is upside down right now.  It will take time.”

Mari nodded, pondering how she might feel under similar circumstances.  She thought she understood the little girl’s feelings a bit better.  But how to overcome those feelings was something that Mari couldn’t figure out. 

Con permiso,” she said to her grandfather, feeling a deep need to talk to the little girl.

Jandro and Mari gazed a one another for a moment.  Jandro felt the pinch of hurt that his half-sister had welcomed them in such a fashion, but he knew that if anyone could break through the barrier of fear and anger that the little girl had erected, it would be Mari.  His sister had a way with people, just as he had a way with animals.  He nodded and smiled slightly, silently wishing her luck, before turning back to his grandfather.   

Mari walked along the veranda, peering into the open door at the end.  From the furnishings Mari knew this was Minta’s room, but the little girl was not there.  The older girl stepped inside anyway, intrigued by the china doll that lay reclining against a pillow.  Its dark curls matched the dark eyes that were fixed on her.  The dress was meticulously put together, each lace ruffle just so.  There was another doll, one made of leather and cloth.  That one appeared to have a few stains, even though it, too, was dressed in fine detail.  The second doll had the appearance of being more of a comfort doll, much like her stuffed brisal was her comfort toy when she was younger, and her replicated horse doll was what had sat on her bed on Rantir to remind her of the other place she came from.  She had brought the brisal, but had given the horse to Wis’ son before they left. 

On the wall was a picture of a woman with black hair and smiling deep brown eyes.  The woman’s skin was light, but highlighted in a way that seemed to hint of the outdoors.   Her dress an exquisite shade of blue-violet, with lace, ruffles, pearls and other decorations that Mari couldn’t recognize.  This must be Minta’s mother.  The Rantiri girl studied it, seeing little Minta’s features in the woman in the painting.  Mari felt the beginnings of tears.  To only know one’s mother by a painting and stories.  How hard that must be, she thought.

Mari tiptoed from the room and checked the one next to it.  By process of elimination, she determined that this must be Father’s room and she quietly turned the knob and poked her head in.  On the bed, curled up in a compact ball, lay her little sister.  Quietly, Mari walked to the bed and gazed at Minta.  The face looked so serene and peaceful, very much like the face in the painting in the other room. 

Suddenly the eyes were open and staring at her.  A frown replaced the peaceful countenance.   “What do you want?” Minta asked, her tone unfriendly.

“I just wanted to talk to you,” Mari said with a smile.  “You are my sister, after all.”

“I just want my papá back,” Minta said, repeating the words she had used in Grandfather’s room. 

“And he wants to be back here with you,” Mari said.  The little girl said nothing and Mari wondered what to say next.  “Was that your mother in the painting?” she asked, pointing to the room next door.

“What did you go into my room for?” Minta demanded.

“I was looking for you.  The door was open,” Mari explained.  “I did not touch anything.”

The brown eyes studied her for a moment.  “Yes, that was my mother.  Conchita Innocencia Maria Alvarez.   She was very beautiful,” Minta said, almost defiantly. 

“Yes, she was.  You look a great deal like her.   She looks like she was a wonderful person, too.”

“Papá says that she was, so she must have been,” Minta said in a soft voice.  Mari could have bitten her tongue for having brought that up.

“I am sorry that you lost your mother like that, Minta.”

Minta looked up at Maria Isabella.  Why had they come?  Why couldn’t they have just stayed home and left her and her papá alone.  She tried to be angry with the older girl, but the eyes that looked back at her were kind.  Had this older girl wondered about Papá like she wondered about Mama?  Minta didn’t say anything; she looked away and pondered. 

“A few years ago, I was looking at a picture of Father, wondering what it would be like to have his arms around me, to feel his strong hands lift me in the air…” Mari said.  “I wanted it so badly, it was like something hurting inside.”  Mari touched the blanket and then picked up the pillow and held it to her face.  She felt the softness of its use, and the scent of its user.  Then she thought back to her first meeting with her father yesterday.  The smell of blood and antiseptic, the look of death and pain and love on Father’s pale face, all at the same time— and it closed in on her.  Mari squeezed her eyes shut, allowing only a single tear to escape and roll down her cheek.  Little Minta had never been able to see her mother.  Another tear escaped, sliding slowly down to her chin. 

“I feel so grateful for the chance that I had to see Father,” Mari said softly. 

Minta looked up at her half-sister and saw the tears.  “What did he say?” she asked, moving a little closer to Mari. 

“He said he loves us,” the older girl whispered.  “He would not let the doctors do anything to help him until he had told us that.”  Mari paused and squeezed the pillow in her hands a couple of times before she said anything else.  “I had a fear…I wondered what Father would really think about suddenly having two more children.”

“You thought that maybe Papá would not like you?”  Minta asked, thinking, knowing how her papá was, that such a thought would be inconceivable.  And she was suddenly ashamed of herself for wishing that Maria Isabella and Alejandro would go away.  If Papá loved them, could she do any less?   She couldn’t help but think, however, that she would never have her papá to herself the way she had before.  A quick surge of jealousy shot through her again, but she pushed it away. 

“I knew what Mother told me about Father, what kind of a person he was, but there were still doubts.  I was still scared that he might…not want to see us.”

“But he did,” Minta said. 

“Yes, he did.”

“What do you think your mama will think about me?” Minta asked, her voice small and trembling. 

“You are Father’s child.  And I know my mother…she will love you as much as Father loves us.”

“Will she sing to me?”

“I’m sure if you ask her, she will, but she does not have a very good singing voice.  I have been told that Father’s voice is very nice.”  Mari smiled at the little girl and little Minta smiled back shyly.

“Will she hold me in her lap and read to me?”

“I am sure she will do many things with you, Minta, but I will let you in on a secret…”

“What?”

“We do not know how to read and write your language,” Mari said.  “Mother did not have a chance to learn more than just a little bit.  Father will have to teach us, then we can both read to you.”

“I know some words.  I read to Abuelo sometimes,” Minta said proudly.  “Papá taught me.  I know he’ll teach you, too.”  Somehow she couldn’t stay angry with this older sister of hers.   She was nice, like Papá, and there was something else as well.  She just didn’t know what it was right now.

A short time later, Bernardo peered in the door and smiled, motioning for them to come down to lunch in the sala.  Downstairs, Grandfather Alejandro was seated at the head of the table, cushions helping to soften the hardness of the solid oak chair.  The table, although not set lavishly, had more than enough food for them all. At the older children’s puzzled looks, Grandfather pointed out everything--tortillas lightly steaming on a platter in the middle of the table, while a bowl of beef and beans sat nearby, its scent of chilies making Mari wonder what she was in for, and nixtamal, or parboiled corn, and baked pumpkin.  Bernardo poured champurrado into China cups for each of them. 

Jandro sneaked a peak at Mari, his eyes wondering about her progress with their younger sister.  She nodded slightly, smiling.  Jandro’s face brightened considerably.  He had felt the slight touches of worry the entire time he had been with Grandfather.

Minta’s stomach growled and Mari looked at her with a slight smile.  Then suddenly her own stomach growled in sympathy.  Minta began giggling.  

“I would say, my children, that this is a signal to begin eating,” Alejandro said, his face showing relief that the children now seemed to be getting along. 

Halfway through the meal, a hearty voice sounded from the patio and everyone looked up.  Alejandro motioned for Bernardo to open the door for the newcomer.  “It is Sergeant Garcia,” he said in way of explanation to Jandro and Mari.  When the mute opened the door, it was like a booming surf had just rolled in.  The loud voice greeted them all, almost loud enough to shake the tableware.  The corpulent man obviously saw the table spread out with ample lunch, but surprisingly, he ignored it. 

“Ai, Don Alejandro, you would not believe what I heard on the way into the pueblo this morning,” he puffed. 

“Sit down, Sergeant.   Have some dinner,” Alejandro offered, knowing that any further conversation would have to wait until Garcia had given his announcement.  He figured that it must be very important indeed, since the food on the table was being ignored for the most part. 

Gracias, Don Alejandro,” he said, settling himself into a creaking chair.  Mari looked at it, wondering if it would hold the obese old man.  The sergeant gazed at both her and her brother briefly, but his eyes seemed to linger on Jandro the longest.

“Sergeant, what is your news?” Alejandro reminded the big man.

“I gave a man a ride into the pueblo this morning.  His horse was almost dead on its feet.  Anyway, he claimed to have seen Zorro in a valley southeast of here, badly hurt.  He said that Zorro did not try to get up, but just lay there.  He went into the cuartel to report it to the comandante.  I thought you might like to know,” Garcia said. 

As Garcia reached for a tortilla, he did not see the quickly suppressed looks of alarm that each of the others at the table gave to one another.  By the time he had filled his plate and was eating, everyone had gotten over their initial shock and had returned to a semblance of normalcy.   “Sergeant, I am very sorry to hear that, if it’s true.  Who was this individual who saw all of this?” Alejandro asked.  His mind worked furiously, wondering how they were going to cover for Diego this time.  Especially since several people had already asked his whereabouts. 

“Ah, a peon who had been caught by the rustlers and beaten by them.  He managed to get away from them,” Garcia said. 

“But was he close enough to really see if Zorro was hurt?” 

“He said that the rustlers had beaten him so that he passed out, but he woke up long enough to see Zorro.  But, no, Don Alejandro, he did not say how close he was,” Garcia answered. 

Jandro exchanged glances with his sister.  He knew exactly who this man most likely was.  He was probably the rustler he had hit over the head and neglected to tie up. 

Mari reached under the table and gently squeezed Minta’s leg in reassurance.  Garcia munched on his tortilla, occasionally glancing over at Jandro.  “You remind me of someone,” he finally said to the boy.  He alternately spooned in bites of the pumpkin stew and corn.  Occasionally Garcia gazed at Jandro.  There is something about the boy. Then it came to him, “You know,” he began, waving a tortilla like a baton, still gazing at Jandro, “when I was much younger and was first sent here to serve in Los Angeles, I remember young Don Diego.  He was a tall lad, even then, tall and wiry and filled with dreams.  You remind me of him,” he said to Jandro.  “In fact, you look so much like him you could be his son.”  The old sergeant used the rolled up tortilla to scoop up some of the beef sauce.

Alejandro sighed, realizing the implication of the sergeant’s statement.  If Garcia could tell that the boy was Diego’s son, then anyone could.  Of course, it was so very obvious that he was surprised that tongues had not already begun wagging.  The children had told him that they had visited the pueblo already.   Oh, well, I might as well get this over with.  Better announced from me than from whispering tongues, the old man thought. 

“Sergeant Garcia, this is Maria Isabella and Alejandro de la Vega y Morlif-Brocnor, Diego and Minta’s children,” Alejandro said, introducing them.   “My grandchildren, this is former Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia, a very close family friend and for a long time, the sergeant of the guard and acting comandante of the cuartel in Los Angeles.” 

Garcia looked at them in shock for a moment and then began choking on his food.  Bernardo slapped him on the back until he could draw a decent breath.  “Don Diego’s children?  By the saints, this is a day of surprises!” he exclaimed. 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
Chapter One
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