LATE MAY 1827
The sun was just beginning to set on another busy day at the de la Vega hacienda. An extremely nervous Felipe was pacing in the library, stopping every so often to rest his head against the fireplace mantel.
It was in this position he was found by Diego and Don Alejandro when they returned. Tired and hungry, they had been up since dawn, moving cattle from one pasture to another and checking on their newly planted vineyard. Both men had been looking forward to a good meal and a quiet, relaxing evening with their family.
"Felipe?" asked Diego as he glanced around the room, seeing only his adopted son. Usually Ana Maria was in the library as well, stitching together another garment for the young couple's unborn baby.
Several moments passed before the young man realized his father and grandfather had entered the room. He lifted his head to look at them, his fear clear in his eyes.
"What's wrong?" questioned Don Alejandro. "Where are Victoria and Ana Maria?"
Felipe pointed in the direction of the bedrooms.
"Is it the baby?" Diego deduced. Madre de Dios, he prayed there was nothing wrong. The loss of another child; well he didn't think either Felipe or Ana Maria would be able to survive another such tragedy.
"Si," Felipe finally choked out. "Ana w-went into. . .into l-labor before lunch. They. . .They w-won't let me in."
Diego had to suppress a chuckle, recalling being in a similar state just over a year ago. He had been a nervous wreck when his son Alfonso was born. Maria, the de la Vega housekeeper, and Doctor Hernandez had also denied him access to the birthing room. Which had been just as well, he recalled with a bit of self-deprecation, as he had been hysterical with worry.
"Is the doctor here?" queried Diego, placing a reassuring hand on Felipe's shoulder.
"Si, he just g-got here," the young man replied. But before he could say anything more, there was a knock upon the hacienda's front door.
Don Alejandro hurried over to open it, revealing Leonora and Jaime Mendoza. Ana Maria's mother immediately headed in the direction of her daughter's room without saying a word.
Capitan Mendoza joined the de la Vega men in the library. He wore a huge smile on his face, clearly excited about the arrival of the baby, whom he considered his grandchild.
The men moved out into the courtyard so they could smoke cigars while they waited. Felipe' hands were shaking something awful as he lit his cheroot. He sat down on a bench, supporting his head with his hands. Every so often he would bring the cigar to his mouth to take a deep drag from it. It was obvious he was extremely agitated.
Diego sat down next to his son and tried to calm the young man's nerves. "Everything will be all right, Felipe," he offered cheerfully. "You'll see."
Felipe shook his head. "That's n..not..." he started to say but interrupted himself by putting his cigar to his mouth. "I don't know if I'm ready to be father," he blurted out. "I. . . I mean. . ."
"You should have thought of that long before now," chided Diego, "like last year when you got Ana Maria preg. . ."
Mendoza cut into Diego's scolding. "You're going to be a great father, Felipe," he declared optimistically. "I've seen you when you help out at the orphanage. The children all love you."
"T-That's different," Felipe pointed out. "I'm not responsible for them." He ran his free hand through his hair before resting it on the back of his neck. "Diego's right," he conceded with a heavy sigh. "I d-don't have much of a ch-choice now."
"Felipe," said Jaime, "you were lucky. You had two families who loved and cared for you. I don't know about your real father, but I do know you have two other great examples of fatherhood in your life." The soldier shook his head after he glanced over at Don Alejandro and Diego. "I wasn't so fortunate. I never knew my real parents. Then I was one of so many orphans, the priests never had much time to spend with us. And after I joined the army, my superior officers had other demands on them, they weren't cut out to be good father figures.
All you need to do, hijo," Mendoza continued, "is to teach your children right from wrong, encourage them in whatever they do but most importantly, just love them for who they are."
"I can do that," Felipe stated as he took in the capitan's wise words. He leaned back, visibly relaxing.
Jaime grinned as he looked around conspiratorially. "We haven't told anyone," he began, "because we're not sure yet. But Leonora and I might be having a baby of our own." He automatically stood a little straighter and puffed out his chest proudly.
"Congratulations!" The trio of de la Vegas shook the soldier's hand and slapped him on the back. They all knew how long Mendoza had wanted a family. And now it looked like his wish was finally going to come true.
The little celebration was short-lived however by the arrival of Victoria. She shot a worried glance at her husband before placing a hand on Felipe's shoulder.
"Felipe," she said in a voice that instantly told the young man something was wrong, "Doctor Hernandez wants to speak with you."
Felipe's heart began to pound as he jumped back off the bench and rushed into the hacienda. The other men started to tag along behind him, but Victoria shook her head at them before following after her adopted son.
The physician was waiting outside the bedroom door. "Felipe," he began gravely, "Ana Maria and the baby are both all right for. . ."
Felipe didn't wait to hear anymore. He burst through the door, hurrying to his wife's bedside. Glancing around, a very confused expression came over his face.
"I thought you said. . . The baby. . ." Felipe began, looking back accusingly at the doctor.
Hernandez and Victoria entered the room, where it was obvious that Ana Maria was still in labor. "I'm sorry, Felipe," The doctor apologized. "I should have said the baby hasn't arrived yet." The older man shook his head. "No, hijo, the baby is breech, coming out feet first."
Felipe knelt beside the bed and grasped Ana's hand. Then he leaned over and kissed her forehead. She smiled weakly at him.
"I'm all right," she tried to reassure him.
The physician placed his hand on Felipe's shoulder. "I need to speak to you alone, Felipe," he stated. "I need you to make a decision."
The young man glanced up at the doctor then back at his wife. "Y-You can say wh-whatever you need to in front of Ana," he announced with more bravado than he actually felt. "Th-This is her decision too."
Ana Maria nodded just as another contraction hit her. Felipe was alarmed by the pain it caused her, even though she did not cry out. He had not realized that having a baby would be so distressing.
Doctor Hernandez sighed wearily. These modern couples, he thought, slightly shaking his head. Felipe shouldn't even be in the room in his opinion. But times were changing and he was getting old. "Very well," the doctor acquiesced. "We have three options. One, we can deliver the baby just the way it is, in the breech position. But I doubt that will happen anytime soon."
He turned to look at Victoria and questioned, "Ana Maria has been in labor, how long?"
"Eight hours," she determined after she quickly glimpsed at the clock on the wall.
"Eight hours," repeated the physician, "and from what I can feel, the baby hasn't descended yet into the birth canal. My guess is that the baby is stuck." He again shook his head. "And if we don't do anything, it is possible both the child and Ana Maria may not survive."
Felipe's stomach lurched and he saw the fear on Ana's face as well. "Wh-What else c-can we do?" he asked anxiously, not caring that the stress of the situation was causing his stutter to emerge once again.
"There are two other choices we can make," explained the doctor. "We can try to turn the baby. This is the best option but it is not without risks. We might not be able to get the baby go head first or else it might turned back around again after we do reverse it.
The other possibility I would only use as a last resort," Hernandez continued. "We could take the baby by Caesarean section."
"Wh-What is th-that?" Felipe inquired. He vaguely recalled Diego mentioning it a long time ago. But any more thoughts he might have had on the subject were driven from his mind as Ana Maria was wracked by another labor pain.
"I would make an incision through her abdomen, using it to remove the baby from her womb. There is a great chance of infection however. The baby would be fine, but Ana Maria might not..." The physician did not finish as he saw Felipe's expression of terror.
Ana Maria placed a hand on Felipe's face, garnering his attention. "Do whatever you can to save the baby, querido," she whispered urgently. He vehemently shook his head. "Promise me, Felipe," she insisted. "Save the baby."
Felipe took a deep breath, seeing she could not be reasoned with and gave her a half-hearted nod. He kissed her hand. "I love you, querida," he murmured. He then rose to his feet and motioned for the doctor to follow him as he left the room.
"Tr-Try to t-turn the b-baby," he stammered. "If it c-comes to a choice between it and. . .and Ana Maria," Felipe added, tears welling up in his eyes. "Save Ana."
That said, he fled the room, pushing his way through the worried men who had gathered outside the bedroom, waiting to hear what was happening. Felipe ran across the hacienda, not stopping until he reached the library. With only a second's hesitation, he strode into the room, hit the hidden switch on the fireplace mantle then ducked through the opened panel.
It was there, half an hour later, that Diego found his son viciously swinging a sword at a practice dummy. The young man was about to run it through when Diego said quietly, "Felipe."
Felipe stunned by his father's presence in the cave, dropped his saber. "Wh-What. . .?" he managed to stammer out. His heart was racing as he feared the worst.
"They have turned the baby," declared Diego quickly, hoping to put Felipe's mind at ease. "Everything is progressing normally, according to Doctor Hernandez."
Felipe's shoulders sagged with relief as he sighed loudly. "Gracias a Dios," he muttered under his breath. "I need a cigar," Felipe stated in a louder voice. He patted the pocket of his shirt a couple of times before it registered that it was empty.
Diego chuckled as he walked over to the desk, where he withdrew two cheroots from a drawer. The two men lit their cigars, Felipe inhaled deeply on his before exhaling a large plume of smoke as he tipped his head back.
His adopted father decided to change the subject, wishing to distract the young man. "When are you supposed to find out about your bar exam results?"
"Any day now, I. . .I guess,"replied Felipe. He dejectedly shook his head. "I doubt I passed." He had taken the test two months previously in Monterey. The whole time he had been gone, he had worried about being away from Ana Maria. Felipe was positive that his anxiety had caused him to do poorly on the examination.
Diego had to suppress another laugh. His son was such a pessimist. "I'm sure you passed with flying colors, Felipe," he commented before again steering the conversation into another direction, seeing this topic did little to calm the young man,
"Felipe, I'm sorry. . ." Diego began to apologize for his earlier remark about getting Ana Maria pregnant but was interrupted by the sound of Mendoza's voice calling out their names.
Father and son looked at each other, then sprinted out of the cave. They both ignored the stunned expression on the capitan's face as they emerged from the fireplace.
"What's wrong?" queried Diego.
Jaime patted Felipe on the shoulder. "Everything is fine. Go see for yourself."
The young man needed no more encouragement. He ran to the bedroom he and Ana shared since their return to Los Angeles five months ago. There, lying on the bed, was his exhausted, beautiful wife. And in her arms was a small bundle.
Felipe found himself speechless as a smiling Ana placed the baby into his arms. Realizing he could not speak, she easily read the question in his dark eyes.
"It's a son, querido," Ana Maria declared. "A little boy."
A small sliver of disappointment ran through Felipe. He had had his heart set on a little daughter. But a son. . . He grinned down at the infant he was holding. Si, a son would be just fine.
He glanced over at Doctor Hernandez, who was putting away his instruments into a large black bag. "Is. . . Is. . .?" Felipe started to say, finally finding speech.
"Everything is perfect, hijo," the physician reassured him. "Ten fingers, ten toes..."
Felipe kissed his little son before handing him back to Ana, whom he also kissed. He smiled as he saw the tears running down her cheeks. The fear they had lived with the past year dissipated as they gazed at their healthy niño.
"I love you, querida," Felipe whispered huskily.
"I love you too, querido,"
replied Ana as he drew her into an embrace.
Z Z Z
It was a week and a half later, at little Diego Alejandro Felipe de la Vega's baptism, that Ana Maria learned of the possibility she could be having a little brother or sister. And it also was when she discovered it was not to be. She had pulled Leonora aside during the celebration that was being held at the tavern to congratulate her and found out instead the disappointing news.
"Mama, I'm so sorry," she said in a hushed tone before giving her mother a sympathetic hug. "You and Jaime must be. . ."
"Jaime doesn't know yet," cautioned Leonora. She glanced over to where her husband was laughing with some of his fellow soldiers. "I just wish he had not said anything to Felipe and the others."
"I'm sure he just got caught up in all the excitement of little Diego's birth," reasoned Ana Maria. "Don't be too upset with him, Mama." She looked at her mother's somber face. "You know how badly he wants children."
Leonora had to turn away, from the sight of both her daughter and her spouse. "I don't think I can have a baby, hija. It's been almost a year. . ."
"What does Doctor Hernandez say?" inquired Ana Maria.
Her mother looked at her with a bewildered expression. "Surely you have talked to the doctor about this, Mama," stated the young woman. "Perhaps he knows of something that will help."
Leonora did not know what to say. To discuss such intimate matters with a man other than her husband. Well, she didn't think she could do such a thing. She glanced again over at Mendoza and sighed. He was going to be so heartbroken after being so excited about the possibility of a child.
The older woman squared her shoulders. Maybe she should speak with Hernandez about this problem. When Leonora went to seek out her husband, he was holding her little grandson and making silly faces at the tiny infant. It nearly tore her heart in two.
It was much later that evening that Jaime
and Leonora stood in their bedroom, embracing each other tightly.
Tears of sorrow were streaming down the soldier's face.
Z Z Z
"NOT TO BE" - CHAPTER FOUR