"A LITTLE LESS THAN KIND"
"I just don't see why it has to be you," said Zafira in a scornful tone. She was wearing a riding habit of a dark burgundy wool that Diego had given her the month before for Christmas as she stood in the foyer of the de la Vega hacienda. She held a riding crop in her right hand.
"No one else is qualified," Diego retorted sharply. "No one else has had the education I have received."
"Oh, yes," she said mockingly. "No one should ever forget that Diego de la Vega went to university in Spain. He's so much smarter than the rest of us mere mortals."
"Zafira. . ." he pleaded, glancing over his shoulder into the library where Felipe was pretending to be diligently working on some geometry problems that Diego had given him to do. "This is not the time nor place for this discussion."
"It's never the time or place," she stated angrily. "I'm going out. You clearly don't need me here. You have your little protégé to take care of," she added with a sneer. She hit her left palm with the crop, obviously wishing she was using on something. . .or someone. . .else.
Then with a swirl of her long skirt, Zafira swept out of the hacienda, slamming the door in her wake. Diego just shook his head before going back over to where Felipe was sitting. The lad shot him a look of sympathy.
"Well, let's get back to our lesson, shall we?" Diego suggested in a calm voice that belied the churning emotions that filled him. It had been months since he and Zafira had gone riding together and her request that he join her this morning had surprised him. He wondered at the motives behind her invitation.
Did she wish to reconcile the differences between them? He highly doubted it, given her behavior at his refusal. Diego sighed wearily before smiling wryly at Felipe . "All right then," he began, "the Pythagorean theorem. . ."
[parts of the following scene taken from "Family Business" written by Philip John Taylor]
Morning had just slipped into afternoon when Diego decided it was time to call a halt to Felipe's lessons. The youth had been doodling on his paper for the past twenty minutes, little pictures of horses and of the hacienda that were really quite good, Diego thought with a modicum of pride.
"So the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the hacienda roof," Diego declared, mainly to see if the boy actually was paying attention.
Felipe, with his long limbs sprawled on the settee, continued to scribble on his paper.
"Right, Felipe?" questioned Diego, his voice full of sarcastic amusement.
The young man started at the mention of his name, then look up shamefaced as Diego plucked up the paper full of sketches and held it up in front of him.
"I think that's enough, don't you?"
Felipe nodded enthusiastically as Diego handed him back his paper. Diego then closed the text book they had been using.
"You know, with Father away in San Bernardino, we really should check on things in the breeding barn," he suggested, feeling the need, as no doubt Felipe did as well, to get outside and do something physical.
The lad nodded again and jumped up to his feet. Both he and Diego walked out of the library toward the hacienda's front door. Diego turned the handle then pushed open the heavy wood door and was taken aback to see a woman standing there. He had not heard anyone knock and by the stunned look on Felipe's face, that he hadn't either.
"You are Don Diego de la Vega?" queried the woman who appeared to be in her early to mid-thirties. Diego gave her an assessing stare, taking in her light brown hair and blue eyes.
"I am indeed," he finally said, realizing he was being rude. "Buenas tardes."
The woman then looked over at Felipe and her breath caught in her throat. "Then you must be Jose."
Diego also glanced over at the youth, his expression certainly mirroring the confused countenance Felipe wore. "Oh, no," he said, "this lad's name is Felipe."
The woman shook her head stubbornly. "No, it is Jose," she declared firmly before adding, "Derenoso. And I am his mother."
Diego and Felipe stare at each other in astonishment. Diego's heart did a little flip when he saw the look of hope that was flaring in the young man's dark eyes. The thing that he had wished for then had dreaded was happening. A relative had finally stepped forward to take Felipe away from him.
"Oh, who's this?"
Zafira's overly polite voice proceeded her as she stepped up onto the front stairs. With her cheeks pink from the brisk January wind and her hair coming loose from its pins, she apparently had just arrived back from her ride.
"I am Señora Yolanda Derenoso," said the woman before Diego had a chance to open his mouth. "I'm here to reclaim my son."
"Your son?" inquired Zafira. She glanced from Diego to Felipe. "Oh, don't tell me, the boy here is your son? How happy you both must be to have finally found each other again! Come in," she offered, taking the woman's arm.
"Yes, por favor," said Diego cautiously. "We all want to hear your story." Only Felipe noticed his emphasis on the last word and looked up at him sharply.
They stepped back inside the hacienda, Zafira leading the señora into the formal parlor. "Maria," she called out to the housekeeper who was passing by a nearly archway. "Coffee, por favor."
Diego noticed that there were pieces of hay and a large grass stain on the seat of Zafira's skirt. But if she had taken a fall, she did not show it, he mused. Maybe she had sat on patch of damp grass somewhere, probably contemplating how miserable her life was with him, he surmised bitterly.
"I want to hear what happened to Jose," said Señora Derenoso as she sat down in a chair opposite Felipe. Zafira sat on the boy's right. "My story can wait."
The housekeeper brought a silver tray which bore an urn of coffee and four cups. After everyone had been served, Diego got to his feet, leaving his beverage untouched.
"I was seventeen," he began, pacing the floor as he spoke. "My tutor and I were on our back from my uncle's, my cousin Rafael's father's, funeral in Guadalajara. Quite by chance, I ran into one of the last battles of the August Revolution." He stopped as he saw his face reflected back to him in the glass door of a nearby cabinet. "It was a total victory for the government troops.
"We weren't allowed to travel through the area, but we could hear the cannons. Their smoke filled the small valley. It was chaotic, people were running in every direction. The soldiers completely overran the rebels."
Diego paused again as he remembered the horror he had felt at the time. Swallowing hard, he continued. "We, my tutor and I, we walked across the battlefield three days later, in the hopes of offering the injured our help." He shook his head as he recalled his naivety. "There were no survivors. Just one small, terrified little boy sitting against a tree. I picked him up and. . ."
He couldn't finish as he caught a glimpse of Felipe's face in the glass cabinet door. The anguish that he saw there made him understand that the youth was also reliving his own dreadful memories.
The señora took a sip of her coffee then cleared her throat. "We had been staying in the village when the fighting broke out," she declared flatly. "We had piled what we could of our belongings into a cart and tried to escape. A cannon ball hit near us, overturning the cart. I was knocked unconscious."
She looked over at Felipe before going on. "Your father was dead beside me, Jose," she said. Diego winced at her use of the lad's real name. "The cart had fallen on my leg, I couldn't move. It was two days before they rescued me."
Diego glanced at her pointedly. How convenient, that she was rescued the day before he had searched the area. And if that were true, how did the rescuers miss Felipe? Of course, the boy's lack of hearing and speech at the time probably had prevented him from calling attention to himself, Diego grudgingly conceded.
"Thankfully, Felipe remembers very little of it all," he said, only hoping that his statement was true. "He was lost, frightened, unable to speak of what he'd seen."
"And so you brought him here?" Señora Derenoso asked.
Diego turned and walked back over to where the other three were sitting. "No. I first made inquiries at every single village in the territory," he explained. "No one would take him in. Heaven knows they had enough trouble of their own." He reached out to touch Felipe on the head. The youth looked up at him then over at the woman across from him. Diego saw that his eyes were threatening to spill with tears.
"This young man has shared my most intimate secrets," declared Diego as he crouched down in front of Felipe. Zafira made a disgusted sound with her tongue. Diego glared at her and she closed her mouth. "He's been like a son to me. And yet I'm not his real father."
Felipe glanced up, the honor he felt from Diego's statement evident on his face. "The choice is yours, my friend," Diego said. "But whichever road you take, know that you're still in my heart." He stood up and took a step away from the young man.
"Is this your mother?"
"Of course she is," Zafira blurted out, apparently unable to contain herself any longer. "Si, their coloring is different. He must take after his father there. But just look at their faces. There is no doubt they are mother and son."
"Zafira, this is not your concern," Diego ground out. "Let Felipe make up his mind on his own." He was extremely angry by his wife's outburst. Not only because it was rude but she had a point. He had seen the similarities between the two of them himself, the shape of their noses, the angle of their chins. Even their eyes were the same shape, albeit different colors.
Felipe stared up at Diego and then over at the señora, then back at Diego again, the uncertainty plain on his youthful face. He turn to Señora Derenoso once more and Diego knew then that the lad had made his choice. As Felipe mouthed the word ‘mother', Diego could feel his heart crumbling into a million pieces. The woman reached across the space that separated her from Felipe and took his hand. The smiles on their faces tore through Diego's gut like a knife.
He made the mistake of turning away from the reunited mother and son and instead saw the gleam of triumph in his wife's eyes. Diego had to choke back the bile that rose in his throat. Dios mio, no. The idea hit him like a blow to the stomach. Had Zafira put the señora up to this? Was this just a ploy to remove Felipe from the hacienda?
"Con permiso," he said abruptly before
turning on his heel and leaving the parlor. He noticed, however,
the stricken expression that had come over Felipe's face then. Diego
closed his eyes for a second then continued on his way out of the hacienda.
Z Z Z
"Diego, there you are," said Zafira as she stepped out into the courtyard. "I thought you were probably off pouting somewhere."
He rose up from the bench he had been sitting on and regarded his spouse coolly. "Zafira," he began, not sure how to put his question into words but then deciding to just blurt it out. "Did you have anything to do with this?
"What do you mean?" she asked, her voice full of confusion. Then her eyes widened as she realized what he was asking. "You think. . . You think I hired that woman to come take away your precious ‘son'?" She glared at him angrily before continuing. "For your information, I didn't. Although if I had thought of it, I might. . ."
She didn't finish as Diego grabbed her arms and pulled her over to face him. "You. . . You. . ." He couldn't think coherently, let alone form a sentence. He pushed her away.
Zafira easily extracted herself from his slackened grip. "You're pathetic, Diego," she said with a nasty laugh. "You sicken me how you dote on that brat. You've always spent more time with him than with me. I should have guessed that you preferred boys. . ."
"Callarse! Shut up!" The churning of Diego's stomach became even more agitated. That his own wife thought that. . . That he . . . It made him sick just to contemplate it. And that she thought he did such things with Felipe. . . He had to put his hand on his mouth to stop from retching.
"You really are pitiful, Diego," Zafira said contemptuously. "I thought you would like to know that Yolanda and the boy are leaving. I wouldn't want you to miss saying goodbye to them."
She spun around and went back inside the hacienda. Diego closed his eyes. Dios. He knew that Zafira despised him but until now, he had no idea of the depth of her hatred.
Taking several deep breaths in a vain attempt
to calm himself, Diego then walked to the other end of the courtyard to
the front of the hacienda.
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "Family Business" written by Philip John Taylor]
It was nearly half an hour later when Diego, Felipe, and Señora Derenoso entered the tavern. Diego immediately spotted Victoria who was looking upstairs and frowning. He remembered then that her brother, Francisco, was in Los Angeles for much anticipated visit. He wondered why she seemed so worried.
Her expression changed little as she turned and saw him. "Is something wrong?" she asked, looking from him to Felipe.
"Felipe came to say goodbye," declared Diego.
"Goodbye?" Victoria's voice became a bit shrill with shock. "Where is he going?"
"To Mexico City," he explained. He indicated the woman standing behind Felipe. "Señora Derenoso is his mother."
Victoria's mouth dropped open as Felipe and the señora gazed at each fondly. "Are you sure?" she queried quietly.
"No," replied Diego honestly. "But it is Felipe's decision. And he wants to go with her. Their wagon is waiting outside."
Victoria put a sympathetic hand on his arm and even though his heart was breaking, his loins stirred with the desire he always felt whenever they touched each other. "I'm so sorry, Don Diego. I know how much he means to you. I'm going to miss him too."
"Gracias, Victoria," he said through slightly clenched teeth. He didn't know how much more of her empathy he could take before he did something foolish. Like take her in his arms and kiss her senseless. He pulled his arm away from her small hand and turned away, gesturing to Felipe and his mother to go outside.
Once they were all out in the plaza, Diego assisted Señora Derenoso into the wagon. He turned to face Felipe, trying to mask the agony he was going through and saw the small flash of hesitation that passed over the excited young man's face. Surreptitiously, the youth pressed a piece of paper into Diego's hand.
"One last time," Diego commented with a lump in his throat, "then you are Jose forever."
Felipe threw his arms around Diego's middle. Diego hugged him then patted him on the back.
"Goodbye, Felipe," he whispered, struggling to keep the tears from his eyes.
Felipe climbed up into the wagon, sitting down beside his long-lost mother. The boy's eyes remained locked with Diego's as the conveyance rumbled out of the pueblo with Señora Derenoso at the reins .
Diego knew without looking that Victoria was standing behind him. Then he heard a man's voice, one he could not place but yet it sounded familiar.
"Amazing," declared the man. "That boy bears the most uncanny resemblance to the son of my friend, Emilio Alvarado."
The man's words barely registered to Diego though as he recalled the note that Felipe had given him just moments earlier. He unfolded it and for a second or two, the black ink blurred on the white paper. Blinking several times, Diego then read from the note.
"You gave me a home when I had none," the neatly penned words began as he murmured them to himself. "Love when I thought it was lost. I shall never forget you. Give my regards to Z. Felipe."
Diego felt like he had been punched in the stomach. He would never forget Felipe either. He looked up in time to see the wagon pass under the pueblo gate. He turned away, his hot tears burning his eyes.
Adios, Felipe, he thought morosely
as he went over to where his mare, Esperanza, was waiting in front of the
tavern. He hoisted himself up into the saddle and urged the horse
out of town. Every hoof beat was like a hammer to his heart.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX