The next morning Diego came back, this time alone. The tavern was not open yet, but Victoria’s kitchen was bustling as if nothing had happened. Well, maybe not entirely, because girl’s eyes were red, and her movements lacked their usual enthusiasm and verve. Earlier in the morning she had gone to her mother’s grave with a flower and had spent some time there.
“Buenos dias, how do you feel? Are you opening today?”
“Buenos dias, better than yesterday, thanks. And my father thought that work would make me cope better, and he was right. Hungry?”
“I’m glad you have something to focus on. If I don’t cause you any inconvenience, I’d like to eat something. The guys are up already?” Victoria placed a plate of tamales in front of him and started cutting vegetables.
“Yes, they got up and went somewhere. I don’t know where, but if they don’t return soon, my father will be angry.” Victoria stopped cutting and looked at him.
“I know they still consider me as a child. I wanted to talk to them yesterday and they sent me away. I don’t know what they think and how they deal with it. I have you and they …” She sighed and went back to the vegetables.
“You remember how hard it was for me going through my mother’s death and I was only twelve years old. I couldn’t talk to my father then. Maybe Ramon and Francisco don’t know how to talk to you either. Give them time and space.”
“Maybe you are right.”
Diego ate breakfast, rolled up his sleeves, and together they began to prepare for the patrons. Alfonso soon came, took orders and poured drinks in the main room. During the hard work, none of them was aware of the prolonged absence of the two brothers.
xxx Zorro xxx
At the beginning of siesta, Alfonso finally noticed it. He asked Victoria and Diego who washed the dishes, “Have you seen Ramon and Francisco somewhere? With today’s crowd and condolences, I hadn’t had time to wonder if they have returned.”
“I haven’t seen them since morning.” Victoria dipped another pile of the plates into the bowl.
“Maybe they went somewhere into the hills?” the caballero suggested, wiping the cup off.
Alfonso shook his head. “If they went to vent their anger, they should be back by now. And they shouldn’t leave us alone with the tavern. If it wasn’t for your help, Diego, it would be hard.”
The young man shrugged. “De nada. Should I look for them?”
“No, stay with Victoria. I will look for them myself. I will try to come back at the end of siesta.” Alfonso was already halfway out the door.
“Senor Escalante, I will stay as long as I’m needed. Maybe I can’t carry six plates at once, but I will try to replace you properly if necessary. Maybe the boys will need more time with you.” Diego regretted that his father did not return until the next day. Victoria’s father also looked like he needed a conversation or drink. As two widowers, they would understand each other.
“A caballero instead of a waiter?” Alfonso asked doubtfully.
“A friend instead of a waiter”, Diego answered firmly.
Senor Escalante did not protest.
xxx Zorro xxx
Alfonso did not return for dinner, he did not even return for closing the tavern. Diego was doing generally well, though he got a few orders wrong. However, the patrons were understanding and nobody questioned his services. The friendship between the Escalante and de la Vega families was widely known, and Diego’s support and help for Victoria from the moment of the execution were accepted despite the class difference. Everyone felt sorry for the family.
Finally, the last patrons left and Diego bolted the door with a sigh of relief. He swept the room and adjusted benches as Victoria finished cleaning the kitchen.
“I never knew your parents were working so hard. In the end, all my orders got mixed up.” The caballero sat down heavily on the kitchen bench.
“Years of practice, I suspect. Besides, it’s easier for more than one person. Diego, you did a wonderful job, nobody complained, so don’t worry about a few mistakes.” The young man could work like this all day long if he was rewarded with such a smile in the evenings.
After a quarter of an hour, her duties were also done. Diego immediately noticed a change in mood. “What’s wrong?”
“As long as I’m busy, I don’t have time to think. Now I have nothing to do.” Victoria struggled with tears but lost. Diego gently dried her cheeks with his thumbs.
“Come here.” The girl hid her face in his shirt, and his strong arms embraced her tightly. Diego rocked her gently until she stopped crying. When he felt his friend falling asleep, he took her in his arms carefully and carried her to her room.
When he laid her on the bed and covered her with the quilt, she woke up. She grabbed his hand. “Please, don’t leave. I had nightmares last night and I always feel safe and calm with you. Stay, please.”
Seeing her pleading look, he scanned the room for a chair but found none. She backed off and patted the free bed space next to her. Diego was still hesitating. “It could be improper. If your father comes back and has the wrong impression …”
“Come on, Diego, we’ve known each other for how many years? You are my best friend and I need a friend. Besides, my father saw us together in bed, when the situation was reversed.”
The young de la Vega sat on the quilt. “I know, but then you were 9 and you were a girl, and now …”
“Shut up and hold me.” His sudden reserve raised her pressure. Diego smiled at her flare of temper and embraced her. Victoria put her head and arm on his stomach. His gentle stroking on her back quickly lulled Victoria to a peaceful sleep.
xxx Zorro xxx
Alfonso returned with empty hands, found that picture. He walked quietly to the open door, leaned against the frame, and watched. If it was anyone else, the boy would just fall down the stairs. However, Senor Escalante knew and trusted Diego.
Over the years, he had seen a growing friendship and a deep understanding between the two young people. He was aware that his beloved daughter had slowly grown from childhood into a beautiful young lady who would soon attract attention. For some time he also suspected that the caballero harboured more feelings than just friendship. He had to admit, however, that the young de la Vega masked himself well.
Now he had the opportunity to see him without the mask. One arm hugged Victoria and made small circles on her back. His other hand was tucked into her hair and combed it tenderly. He looked at her with longing and love. Alfonso could tell because he was looking at his Isabella the same way just a few days ago.
He took a step forward and Diego noticed him. He tensed and explained himself, but was quickly silenced by a wave of the hand.
“Shhh, don’t worry, I’m not going to throw you out. I know you are a gentleman and you won’t take advantage of her.”
The young man relaxed a bit and whispered back, “She asked me to stay because she had nightmares. I just couldn’t refuse. And I promise I haven’t done anything, nor will I do anything inappropriate.”
Alfonso asked quietly but seriously, “I know and I trust you. Now is not a good time for courtship. She needs a friend now. You can stay here until the morning if it will help her. But first, you must answer one question to me, son.”
Diego nodded in anticipation and suspense.
“Do you love her?”
The answer was easy, but telling his beloved’s father, less so. Finally, the caballero looked him straight in the eye with a very determined expression. “I do. I love her and would do anything for her. If one day she reciprocates my affection, I will come and ask you for her hand, senor. But now she is in mourning and we are both too young for courtship.”
Alfonso was more than happy with the answer. “Good. That’s all I wanted to know. Goodnight.”
He closed the door as he left, but saw a sign of relief on the face of his probably future son-in-law.
Picture of Victoria comes from www.newworldzorro.com
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 1 Echos of revolution
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 2 Wounded man and compassion
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 3 Death of Isabella Escalante
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 4 Return of the male Escalantes
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 5 The funeral
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 6 Absence and the first promise
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 7 Escape is discovered & the second promise
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 8 Hard beginnings
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 9 News about the family
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 10 Birthday’s present & goodbye to a friend
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 11 Return and Zorro
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 12 The Devil’s Fortress
- Diego’s promise to Alfonso Escalante – chapter 13 The funniest mistakes