Author's note: This is the first in a series of stories dealing with Felipe and Ana Maria's courtship, kind of behind the scenes of my other stories, beginning with "A Real Hero" all the way to the After Zorro story "Sueños Roto."   I skimmed over major portions of their relationship but I always had these ideas of what happened between them in the back of my head.  Plus I just like to write about Felipe (and the more angsty the better!).

This first story is extremely tame in comparison to the content of the upcoming stories of this series.

Disclaimer: This story is an amateur, not-for-profit publication produced solely for the enjoyment of other Zorro fans and is not intended to infringe upon any rights by Goodman/Rosen Productions, New World Television, Zorro Productions, the estate of Johnston McCulley or anyone else.
 

"AT FIRST SIGHT"

June 1824
Felipe

     The day started out as a typical morning for the twenty-year old Felipe; breakfast, chores, and then an hour before lunch pouring over one of his legal texts with his father.

     Father.  To use that word sent a thrill through him.  Diego's adoption of him had occurred three months earlier but he still had trouble believing that he was a de la Vega now.

     After lunch, Felipe headed into the pueblo.  He usually went to Los Angeles two or three times a week to pick up the mail, hang around the tavern, and listen to the current news and gossip.  His supposed deafness came in very handy.  People would say things they wouldn't around Diego or Don Alejandro because they thought he couldn't hear them.  Because of his eavesdropping, Zorro had been able to defuse many a potentially dangerous situation.

     Felipe walked into the tavern a little after two o'clock and quickly sat down an empty table.  Not even a minute later, Victoria came toward him, a welcoming smile on her beautiful face.

     He smiled back at her shyly.  He had to admit that he had had a little crush on her when he was much younger.  But she had always been like a mother to him, despite being only five years older.  That plus Diego's love for her put paid to any infatuation he had had almost as soon as it had begun.

     The touch of Victoria's hand on his shoulder distracted him from his thoughts.  When she saw she had Felipe's attention, the innkeeper mimed drinking from a glass. Felipe nodded, and moments later, she placed a tall glass of lemonade in front of him.

     After she departed to wait on other customers, Felipe was free to take in the conversations of the people around him.  While he sipped his drink, he heard them talking about mundane issues; aches and pains, taxes, their children, livestock, and other commonplace matters.

     As the young man quaffed the last of his lemonade, the rumble of the stagecoach could be heard as it drew to a stop outside the tavern.  Felipe set his glass down on his table and looked over at the tavern door, wondering who or what the coach would bring that day.  It had been his idea, one that Diego had heartily seconded, to be around when the stagecoach came to the pueblo.  On more than one occasion, the coach had brought a troublesome passenger or two that Zorro had had to deal with.

    Felipe was still staring over at the door as a woman came through it.  She was carrying two bags as the stage driver walked behind her, struggling to bring in a large trunk.  The woman looked to be roughly Diego's age, maybe a little older, with a plain but not unpleasant face.  She was dressed in a dark blue dress with a matching bonnet that completely covered her hair.

     Then another woman walked in behind the driver.  Felipe was sure that his heart skipped at beat at that moment.  She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.  Probably just a few years younger than himself, she was wearing a very stylish blue dress that showed off her figure to great advantage.  Felipe felt his cheeks redden as he noticed her bosom.

     Quickly averting his eyes, he gazed up at her lovely face.  Her eyes seemed kind and innocent, with no trace at all of a conceited air that most women who knew that their looks were above average wore. Felipe's eyes then moved down to her lips.  A certain part of his anatomy started to stir as he imagined himself kissing those delicate pink rose petals.

     With an inward groan, Felipe turned his head away and watched as the older woman walked up to the bar where Victoria was stacking clean glasses.

     "May I help you?" she asked with a smile.

     "Si, I wish to speak to the innkeeper," the woman said.

     "I am the innkeeper," Victoria replied.

     Felipe could tell that the woman was taken aback.  Unfortunately, Victoria got that reaction quite often.  It surprised people that she, a young woman, was the owner of a respectable business.  Maybe it wasn't strange to the people of Los Angeles because everyone knew of her family history.  But to outsiders, it was an odd thing.

     He looked over at the object of his infatuation.  Her face showed a tinge of impatience and not just a little boredom as she glanced about the tavern.  Then her eyes met with his.

    Madre de Dios!  Felipe swiftly dropped his gaze downward, seizing his empty glass and pretending to drink from it.  Burning with embarrassment at being caught staring, he went back to his eavesdropping.

     "My daughter and I are seamstresses," the woman was saying to Victoria, "and until we can find premises, we need to know if it would be permissible to work from your establishment."

     "Are you planning to stay here in Los Angeles permanently?" inquired Victoria.

     "Si, if we find the pueblo to our liking," responded the woman.  She set her bags down and offered Victoria her hand.  "I am Señora Leonora Ortega and this is my daughter, Ana Maria."

      "Buenas tardes," said Ana Maria, offering her hand to Victoria as well.  Her smile lit up her whole countenance, making her even more beautiful.

     "Well, it would be fine with me," said Victoria.  "I have a special rate for long-term boarders."

     "Gracias," the señora replied.  "That would be most appreciated.  Until we can create enough clientele, I'm afraid we will have to be on a tight budget."

     "Of course," Victoria said with a smile.  "Just one room or. . .?"

    "Two, por favor," answered Señora Ortega.  "One for sewing, one for sleeping."

     "Mama," said Ana Maria, tugging on her mother's sleeve.  "The driver is waiting."

     "Oh, sorry, Señor," said the older woman.  She looked over at Victoria who had procured two room keys.  The innkeeper walked around the end of the bar and led the women and the coach man up the staircase.

      Felipe watched Ana Maria as she trailed behind the others.  She too was carrying two large satchels.  Once again, she glanced his way and smiled bashfully, a pretty pink blush lightly tinging her smooth cheeks.  She disappeared around the corner at the top of the stairs before he could turn away.  But he could feel the heat of his face rise.

     Until that moment, he hadn't known what the saying ‘love at first sight' meant.  Now its meaning was perfectly clear.  He was in love with Ana Maria Ortega.

    And she barely knew he was alive.
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Ana Maria

     The day that she arrived with her mother in the pueblo de Los Angeles, Ana Maria Ortega never dreamed would be a day she would never forget.  It had been a hot day and riding in the cramped stagecoach with her mother and four other passengers had not put her in the best of moods.

     Ana Maria hadn't wanted to move to Los Angeles in the first place.  It had all been her mother's idea.  She had wanted to leave San Diego but she wanted to go back to Culiacán, where they had lived until she had been twelve years old.  Ana Maria had quite a few friends there whom she hadn't seen since her mother and she had left five years earlier.

     But Señora Ortega had heard that Los Angeles was without a competent tailor or seamstress.  There was an old tailor, a Señor Reynoso, who was almost blind according to the rumors her mother had heard. The señora had thought it would be an opportunity they couldn't pass up.

     So Ana Maria was in a bad mood, having to move to yet another new town and try to make more new friends.  And the older she got, the harder that seemed to be.  She guessed when girls reached her age; seventeen; they weren't as welcoming to a new girl in town.  They would come to the shops where she had worked with her mother, talking among themselves while they stared rudely at her.  No one would try to be friendly like girls had been when she had been younger.

     It didn't help either that in the last five years, the Ortegas had lived in three different towns.  And now they were moving on to a fourth.  Ana Maria wondered if she would ever have a friend again.

     The stagecoach was slowing to a halt, shaking her from her dismal thoughts.  This must be Los Angeles, Ana Maria surmised as she stared out the coach window.  It didn't look that different from any other pueblo she had passed through since they had left San Diego.

     The two women exited the stagecoach then went to gather up their luggage.  They had quite a bit, four satchels and a large trunk.  The trunk contained fabrics and samples of their  work.  Señora Ortega hadn't known if she would be able to lay her hands on quality materials in Los Angeles, so she had stocked up on silks, wools, and cotton bolts of fabric in San Diego.

     This adventure had taken a big portion of their savings.  Ana Maria couldn't help but worry as her mother and the driver walked into the building called the Taverna Victoria.

     A very beautiful woman was working behind the bar.  Ana Maria had never seen anyone so lovely before working in such a place.  She hung back as the woman spoke to her mother.

     "May I help you?" she asked with a smile.

     "Si, I wish to speak to the innkeeper," Señora Ortega said.

     "I am the innkeeper," the woman replied.

     Ana Maria could tell her mother was shocked.  Respectable women didn't own taverns, not where they came from anyway.  She glanced around the room and saw that it was a honest, decent inn.  Then her eyes met those of a young man gazing intently at her.

     Madre de Dios!  He was quite handsome, Ana Maria thought.  And shy too, she noted as he avoided her eyes and pretended to drink from his already empty glass.  She also noticed his face was red with embarrassment and wondered why.

     He certainly had nothing to be embarrassed about.  Ana Maria didn't know what it was about him, but she somehow felt drawn to the young man.  It was his eyes, she decided.  They looked kind and gentle.

     She wondered who he was.  A caballero, she surmised by the way he was dressed, in a white linen shirt.  Only gentlemen wore linen, she knew, while those of the lower classes wore cotton and wool.

     Shrugging her shoulders, Ana Maria turned her attention back to the conversation her mother was having with the very lovely innkeeper.

     "My daughter and I are seamstresses," Señora Ortega was saying to the woman, "and until we can find premises, we need to know if it would be permissible to work from your establishment."

     "Are you planning to stay here in Los Angeles permanently?" inquired the tavern owner.

     "Si, if we find the pueblo to our liking," responded her mother.  She set her bags down and offered the woman her hand.  "I am Señora Leonora Ortega and this is my daughter, Ana Maria."

      "Buenas tardes," said Ana Maria, offering her hand to the woman as she smiled at her.

     "Well, it would be fine with me," said the innkeeper.  "I have a special rate for long-term boarders."

     "Gracias," Señora Ortega replied.  "That would be most appreciated.  Until we can create enough clientele, I'm afraid we will have to be on a tight budget."

     "Of course," the woman said with a smile.  "Just one room or. . .?"

    "Two, por favor," answered Señora Ortega.  "One for sewing, one for sleeping."

     Ana Maria noticed that the coach driver's face was turning red with the exertion of holding their heavy trunk.  "Mama," she said, tugging on her mother's sleeve.  "The driver is waiting."

     "Oh, sorry, Señor," said the older woman.  She looked over at their new landlady who had procured two room keys.  The innkeeper walked around the end of the bar and led the women and the coach man up the staircase.

      Ana Maria trailed behind the others.  She too was carrying two large satchels.  Once again, she glanced over at the handsome young stranger and smiled at him bashfully.  She disappeared around the corner at the top of the stairs before he could turn his gaze away, but she saw that his cheeks began to flame again.

     Maybe living in Los Angeles wouldn't be such a bad thing after all, Ana Maria conceded.  The young man downstairs interested her and she knew he returned that interest.  Most males frightened her, as they all seemed to want something from her that she didn't understand.

     But she didn't get that uncomfortable feeling from this young man.  His eyes upon her had made her feel  special, like she was somebody important.

     Ana Maria followed her mother into one of the rooms that would be theirs and set down the bags she was carrying.  She glimpsed over at the beautiful innkeeper again and wondered if she knew who the young man down below was.  But before she had a chance to ask, the woman spoke.

     "Just let me know if there's anything else you need," she said.  "My name is Victoria Escalante, by the way."

     "Gracias, Señorita Escalante," her mother replied.  "I'm sure we'll be just fine here."

     The señorita nodded then left the room.  Ana Maria took a step toward the door, intending to go after her and question her, but her mother's voice stopped her.

     "Come, hija, let's start unpacking," she said as she bent down to unlock the trunk.  "The sooner we get everything set up, the sooner we can start earning money again."

     Ana Maria sighed resignedly.  Any inquiries into the young man's identity would have to wait.  Her mother was right, they needed to start earning a living right away

     She just hoped she would find out soon who he was.  She had never felt this attracted to a man before.  She didn't know what it was, but it had to be too soon to be love, she told herself.  Love at first sight only happened in fairy tales.  Didn't it?

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FIN

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