Second Chances

by Linda Bindner

Chapter 3 - Victoria

That had been two days ago. Two days of Victoria's month-long grace period were over. Diego wanted to explain the situation to Victoria again, discuss it with her, understand her options, but she remained oblivious to anything going on around her.

Then, on the afternoon of the second day, when Diego sat beside her bed, but had nodded off to sleep in the quiet and heat of siesta, Victoria awoke and was lucid for the first time since the accident.

Her eyelids fluttered first, and then she licked her lips when she opened her eyes to see a strange, white patterned ceiling above her.

The stark whiteness before her eyes reminded Victoria of the white of the bandage wrapped around her head. She had vague memories of something called 'changing the bandage' and 'changing the cold compress' under that bandage. Every hour, for an entire day, she had been woken to undergo 'changing the bandage,' and she also recalled the pain and the feeling of something lumpy that accompanied that particular activity. But everything else was fuzzy to her. She tried hard to think beyond an image of the bandage that was even now wrapped around her head, but she could remember nothing more than the fact that her head was injured, and because of that injury, she had to wear the bandage and keep it in place.

Victoria grimaced as she recalled the injury she had sustained to her head, but even an extensive search of that memory didn't uncover the reason behind that injury or what had caused it. Carefully, she reached up with an arm clothed in the white of a nightgown (It must be borrowed, she judged,) and probed the bandage wrapped around her head. She recalled being surrounded by people, being angry about... She couldn't quite remember what she had been angry about in the first place... But the feeling of something hard hitting her on the head was perfectly clear. The bandage she was aware of now must be to protect whatever had happened to her head, she deduced.

Next, she cataloged what she knew about herself, simply because that took no movement, and she didn't think she was ready to move just yet and end this wonderful feeling of warmth and protectiveness that the bed was lending to her. So she quietly stared at the ceiling and thought.

She was... Vickle... no, Victoria... That was it! Victoria... Victoria...um... Escalante! That was her name! And she was in this place because... because... She couldn't remember, and the harder she tried to remember, the less she could recall, so she gave up. Still, she felt ridiculously proud to have recalled the information of her first and last names so readily. Next, she turned her attention to her surroundings. That was when she discovered that there was someone sitting beside her bed.

That 'someone' was a man with dark hair that hung over his forehead in a particular manner that she found both endearing and familiar, and a mustache. That was also familiar, but she couldn't decide just why she was so accustomed to seeing it. Maybe if she simply looked at him, it would come to her? So, Victoria calmly studied him for a moment as he continued to sleep, searching her memory for any clue as to his identification.

He was young, quite handsome, and looked plenty strong enough to rival other men their age. The fact that he had chosen to sit beside her bed indicated that he cared for her a great deal, at least enough to be with her in her time of trouble, whatever that trouble was. She thought it was odd how she instantly knew how old they both were, but not who he was, so, as a way to distract her mind, she next turned her concentration toward figuring out his first name.

Victoria settled deeper into the curve of the pillow under her and contemplated him. She had begun to think of this recollection that she was attempting as a kind of game, which in turn made her feel more comfortable. Thus relaxed, she found she had very little trouble in recalling his name, and simply plucked it out of her mind.

Diego de la Vega, she whispered, calm and collected as she reminded herself what to call him. But try as she might, no matter how calm she was, no matter how relaxed, she couldn't remember why she knew him. Was he her husband? He was far too young to be her father, so she could strike that off her mental list of possibilities. So, who was he? Someone who cared for her, obviously, but there was no wedding ring on his finger, so he couldn't be her husband, could he? Quickly, she glanced at her own left hand, but there was no wedding ring visible on her finger, either, so this man... this Diego... couldn't be her husband... How did she know what weddings, husbands, and wedding rings were, for that matter, she asked herself, causing another distraction to uncovering who he was. But that was the main problem - who was he? What was he to her? Unable to formulate a satisfying mental reply to herself, she cleared her throat, and without even thinking about it first, said, Diego, quite distinctly, and quite loudly.

He woke up with a start. The chair he was sitting in gave a creak and a groan of protest as he moved. That was all she heard before his soft voice overrode any other sounds.

Victoria..? Victoria... You're awake! He ended his short statements on a note of wonder and gratitude. He jerked forward in the chair, smiled a huge smile, then held up one finger. Wait... wait right here for a moment... Before he had even finished his comment, he was off the chair and had crossed the room to yank open the door, then disappeared into... someplace Victoria didn't know about. A long enough amount of time passed for her to just begin entertaining the thought that he might not come back, and for some unidentified reason, that thought made her sad, when he reappeared at the door. I had to tell Father and Felipe that you were awake and to run for Dr. Hernandez, and I didn't suppose you would appreciate it if I just yelled for them. I hope you don't mind.

Victoria tried to keep up with everything he said, but she had trouble recalling who the people were that he mentioned, and got lost when he started talking about yelling. But she didn't mind, as her thoughts were consumed by trying to figure out why the names he had mentioned were well-known to her... Had she heard them before?

An instant later, she saw the image of a young man in her mind, and she somehow knew that she had remembered the servant boy called 'Felipe.' Next, she tried to recall a 'Dr. Hernandez,' and saw a vision of an old man with gray hair, but as he didn't immediately appear, she deduced that she would have to wait to make sure of his identity upon seeing him. She was just trying to search her mind for a 'Father' when an older man with shining, silver hair entered the room.

Victoria! he said in a light, quiet tone. It's so good to know that you're awake! He stopped at the foot of the bed - how did she know that it was called a bed? - and held out his hands. I won't stay long and overexcite you... but it's so good to have you back with us, and I'm so glad to see that you're awake! Okay, I'll go now, like I promised... Even as he put a voice to that assurance, he beamed a smile that looked astonishingly like the one on Diego's face. In parting, he added, If you need anything, just ask, please... It's so good to see you awake! Then he was gone.

That's Father for you... He always could talk your ear off, Diego said as he sat again in the chair that he had just vacated. He looked at her again, and smiled. How do you feel?

Victoria decided right then and there that, whoever he was, she liked the sound of his voice, to say nothing of his smile... If she could make him smile like that all the time, she would be perfectly content. I feel... How did she feel? She shrugged. I feel fine, I guess.

Hardly a blink of an eyelid later, he remarked, Victoria, you just shrugged your shoulders... Can you move anything else?

My arm, she replied with certainty, remembering how she had felt her bandage upon first waking up. Experimentally, she moved her arms and held them up above her head. Both arms, she corrected herself, though how she knew how to move her arms, she couldn't say.

How about your legs? he asked next.

To demonstrate her abilities, Victoria bent both legs up under the blankets covering her.

Toes?

She wriggled her toes, and the blanket wriggled with them.

Fingers?

Next, Victoria moved the fingers of both hands, showing off her abilities in a building sense of excitement and incredulity.

Diego breathed out, a hiss of air between his teeth. Excellent, he softly said.

Victoria could see the relief in his face, but he didn't say anything about it, so she didn't, either. But it did make her wonder again about the relationship she must share with him, and it's history. However, she didn't know how to broach the subject she was curious about, so she said nothing, only smiled.

Diego grinned back. How is your memory? he asked abruptly, changing the subject. You know my name... how about the names of the others?

Victoria cocked her head on the pillow. That's the interesting thing... I know who you are, what your name is... but I have no idea why I know these things.

Diego lost the smile that he was wearing and Victoria instantly saw a light go out in his face, kind of like the sun setting or disappearing behind a cloud (how did she know about sunlight?). It left her feeling just a tiny bit colder.

That is strange, Diego commented, and rubbed his chin. The light of genuine happiness may have fled from his face, but an even more substantial sense of perplexity had replaced it. Finally, after thinking through the event to his satisfaction, he leaned forward. Tell me, what do you remember?

Well, thought Victoria aloud, I remember you, your name, but not anything we've ever shared together... are we friends, relatives, cousins, brother and sister?... and I remember the name 'Felipe' and who the name belongs to... but just why I know that is, again, a bit vague...

Just then, Dr. Hernandez and Felipe entered the room, wearing the same bright smiles that had been on Diego's face. Victoria was relieved to note that she found the doctor to be familiar right away.

Diego stood. Dr. Hernandez, thank you for coming so quickly!

It's no trouble! exclaimed the doctor as he placed his black medical bag beside Victoria on the bed. Awake, I see! he said to his patient. And what can you tell me about yourself?

Well... I... Victoria stammered, but she was rescued from having to answer when Diego stepped in and spoke. She sent him a grateful look, then listened intently to what he had to say.

Motor control seems to be normal... at least, so far... we'll know more when Victoria tries a little walking as she heals a bit more... Again, she just woke up, so we haven't been able to test coordination skills... It seems that her memory is only partially complete, though... His voice trailed off as he continued to let the doctor do a cursory examination of Victoria.

Well, stated Hernandez, let's just take a look at those stitches while I'm here... He unwound the bandage from Victoria's head, carefully peeling the last layer of cloth away from the back of her head. Hmm... muttered the doctor. Then, he smiled tolerantly. I've found that most patients would rather have me say 'Hmm' than say nothing and have to guess at what I'm thinking about their condition. Don't take it the wrong way, though, he cautioned.

Diego looked like he couldn't help but speak a moment later. So, what are you thinking about Victoria's condition?

Hernandez smiled again and began rewrapping the bandage. I'm thinking that these stitches look good enough to remove by the end of the week...

That's wonderful news! Victoria enthused. They're starting to itch.

The doctor chuckled. I don't doubt that they are, he said kindly before turning his attention back to Diego. You say motor control is normal? His attention swung back to Victoria. That means your ability to move around.

Yes, answered Diego, though the confusion that he had felt before the doctor's arrival settled once again over his features. Everything appears to be normal except for her memory...

Dr. Hernandez turned to Victoria. Do you know who you are?

Victoria Escalante, she promptly replied.

And what year is it? Hernandez continued.

1822, Victoria answered crisply - she knew that was the right answer!

Then, Hernandez pointed to Diego. Do you know who he is?

Victoria took a deep breath, and sighed. I know his name is Diego de la Vega, but I don't know why I know that.

The pleasant look didn't slip from Hernandez's face, to his professional credit, but worry crept into his eyes as he pointed at Felipe who stood on the other side of the bed. And him?

That's Felipe, Victoria said immediately. I know he's a servant here...

Until his adoption went through, Diego corrected. He's my son, now.

Victoria's face lit up. How wonderful!

Felipe grinned, and Diego smiled a bit as well. We think so.

Not to get us back on topic or anything... Dr. Hernandez said. But we were discussing what you remember..? he prompted.

Victoria quickly replied, I'm sorry... I remember Felipe, who he is and what his name is, but... Again, she searched her memory, but saw only a blank wall of mist when she tried to prod a little deeper. I can't seem to recall just why I know what I know...

Do you remember Don Alejandro? Dr. Hernandez asked next, choosing not to comment on what Victoria had revealed.

The image of the man with the silver, shoulder-length hair came to her mind the minute the doctor said the name. Yes, he was here very briefly a little earlier... Why was he here?

The smile again left the doctor's face. He's Diego's father...

Victoria interrupted him, So that's why you called him 'Father.' I was wondering.

Diego had to grin once more. Sorry, it never occurred to me that you always called him 'Don Alejandro' before.

Next, Hernandez turned all their attentions to the task at hand by asking, And do you remember Zorro?

What had he asked? Victoria wondered. Something about a fox? Who? Victoria inquired, curious herself. Is that someone I should know?

The smiles and grins slipped a bit more at her reply, Victoria noticed, but Dr. Hernandez went on, How about the Alcalde, Ignacio DeSoto? he asked. Sergeant Mendoza?

Victoria thought for a moment. Well, I remember a man named Mendoza... didn't he like to eat a lot?...

You would remember that, Diego commented under his breath, but Victoria heard him speak, as her ears had been attuned to the sound of his voice from the moment he opened his mouth and said her name when she awoke.

Victoria went on, But as to the other name... DeSoto, did you say?... no, there's nothing I can remember at all about him.

Dr. Hernandez and Diego shared a look that spoke volumes about how concerned her response made them, but neither set words to their opinions and only looked at her again.

Padre Benitez? asked Hernandez.

Victoria brightened. I remember him! Then she wrinkled her nose. Something to do with... No, she said, shaking her head. That's silly.

What's on your mind, Seņorita? Hernandez asked.

Victoria remained silent for another minute. Then she blurted, Grapes.

To her relief, the others smiled indulgently. She remembers the padre's grape arbor, Diego said, then he turned to Victoria. You're right, Padre Benitez has an excellent grape arbor; he'll be flattered that you remember it as well as him.

That's good news! Victoria enthused. I'm so relieved that you don't think I've gone crazy!

Dr. Hernandez smiled again. We could never think that, Seņorita. But before I leave, I think it's important to know what you recall about Zorro or the Alcalde, Ignacio DeSoto. Anything?

Victoria concentrated hard, but again that blank, misty wall seemed to be blocking her memories. No, nothing, she said at last with an accompanying shrug.

Hernandez looked at Diego, who looked back, both men wearing the same grim expression on their faces. The doctor went on, Perhaps this lack of memory has something to do with strong emotion of any kind. He looked at Victoria. Tell me, do you remember what happened right before you were struck on the head?

Once again, Victoria concentrated. I... remember... fear? she guessed at the emotion that flooded her mind. Worry?

Anything specific? Diego asked noncommittally.

Victoria tried to remember anything, but... No, there's nothing there. Why? Am I supposed to remember something?

Diego's eyes met the doctor's with the same grim, inscrutable expression. Hernandez turned to his patient. You need to rest, now, I think, and...

But why can't I remember? Victoria asked, sounding upset.

Don't worry, Hernandez said quickly. It's my guess that a heightened emotional state is somehow playing a part in what you can and cannot remember... It's also my guess that your memories will return in time, if you have patience...

If you say so, Victoria answered, not fully believing him, but she had a bigger problem than whether or not she believed the doctor... A huge yawn suddenly overtook anything more she might have said; too tired to hide the fact that she was growing wearier and wearier by the minute, she finally gave in to the temptation and let the gesture of exhaustion show through the conversation she was sharing with them.

As I said, Hernandez immediately reiterated, You need your rest. Diego, Felipe, can you show me out?

Certainly, Diego said, and, after saying to Victoria, Be right back, he followed the doctor through the door and into the hall.

The disappearance of the three men signaled to a suddenly spent Victoria that she needed the rest the doctor had earlier prescribed. Before she had been alone for a minute, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Go on to Chapter 4


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