Second Chances

by Linda Bindner

Chapter 6 - Diego

I've got it! Diego said that night as he entered the garden at the de la Vega hacienda.

Got what? asked Victoria, who was resting after her rather emotional day at the tavern.

Diego crossed over to her as she sat in the iron chairs in the garden, surrounded by roses, and reading a book. How you can keep the tavern and still work without having to serve anybody, Diego answered.

Victoria hesitated. To be quite honest with you, Diego, I can't say that I want to go back to work at the tavern.

Diego sat across a tiny iron table from her. Just hear me out... You don't have to make up your mind tonight.

Victoria heaved a sigh of doubt, but placed her finger in her book to save her page, then lowered her arms and set her book in her lap so that she could listen to him better. All right, go ahead, she invited.

Diego was not put off by her reluctant manner. All right, what if you stay in the kitchen and cook the food that's served to the customers, but don't serve it yourself? Then, when you're finished cooking, for the meal or the day or whatever, you can visit those customers, but you won't have to remember orders or recall who gets what, or anything... Diego smiled hopefully at her. What do you think?

Victoria considered the idea. That's a possibility. Then she turned to him. But I'm not going back to the tavern to serve again! I'll sell the tavern and buy a nice little house to live in before I serve again! she emphatically threatened.

Diego swallowed somewhat painfully; the thought of the Tavern Victoria without Victoria..! Diego shuddered at just the thought, but he had to be fair and admit that she had the option of selling if she wanted to take it. If that's what you want to do... But my idea has some possibility, too. At least, it's something you should think about before you consider selling the tavern and buying a house.

But I'll have to sleep at the tavern to watch over the staying customers, Victoria commented.

True, Diego said, and some of the excitement that he had felt earlier when he'd first thought of the idea began to leave.

And I don't think I want to sleep at the tavern anymore, Victoria admitted with a sad sigh. Either I have negative memories of my time at the tavern, or I have no memories at all! She shook her head. The idea of sleeping there..! Ugh! I feel much safer here than in town!

Really? Diego questioned, thrilled at her response, but hoping he didn't sound too ecstatic at her admission.

Really, Victoria repeated him. It's far more peaceful here than in the pueblo, and there, I would only be a plaza apart from that man...

The Alcalde?

Yes, him. I'll never know how I managed to be so near him and not go crazy with fear for so many years.

Diego looked at the pebbles from the path under his boots. I have to admit that I thought of that, often.

Suddenly, Victoria appeared contrite. Oh, I'm sorry! she exclaimed, and he looked up in utter surprise.

You know, I don't think I've ever heard you apologize before, he said, stunned.

I'm sorry! Victoria wailed, then they both laughed. Before, I couldn't ever apologize, and now, I can't seem to stop! Victoria laughed.

When they had both calmed a bit, Diego continued, You could hire a manager to stay at the tavern if you don't want to sleep there any longer. Father and I could help in finding a house for you to buy, if that's what you want to do.

Actually, began Victoria, and carefully placed the book she'd been reading on the table between them. I wanted to talk to you about that, if you don't mind.

She wanted to talk? That was never a good sign; It was Diego's experience that the speaker often mentioned ideas that were bound to be unpopular. Go on, he said, but held his breath the second he closed his mouth.

I've been thinking... began Victoria.

Yes? Diego encouraged.

Well, you know about this new marriage law, she said.

Diego tolerantly smiled a bit. Yes, I've heard something about it, he joked.

Victoria eyed him critically. You're joshing with me, aren't you? She smiled back at him. But, what I want to talk about is... what point is there in buying a house when I won't be able to live in it for more than a few weeks? I'll have to leave again in August when the law goes in to effect and I marry... someone.

Yes, Diego pensively said, that's true. He did his best to not outwardly shudder at the idea of Victoria married to someone else, but it was extremely difficult.

Victoria hurried on, as if now that she had started discussing this topic, she didn't wish to lose what courage she possessed. And I don't want to stay at the tavern, whatever the law says. I... I... wondered... and you can say no if that's what you want... if... maybe... I could stay here?

Diego stared at Victoria, wondering, himself, if she could read his mind. But, he proceeded cautiously. That... that's... that's what I had in mind, too. But you'll have to marry either me or my father, then, and marriage is a big step, no matter who decrees it necessary.

Victoria paused in her argument to gaze at the fading sunshine as the sky darkened into night. Yes, I suppose it is. But, at least I would be safe from the Alcalde.

Diego smiled. And tavern fights, he said with a laugh.

Yes, and tavern fights, she agreed.

He was silent, then, watching her as she watched the twilight encroach, thinking about her last words; since when did Victoria worry about being safe? Sometimes, it was hard even for him to feel like he fully understood this newer Victoria.

You know, this is one of my favorite times of day, I think, Victoria said, somewhat wistfully. This, and very early morning, before anybody else is up and about. You feel like you're the only person alive in the entire world, and that nothing can harm you once the night is over. She continued to gaze over the wall surrounding the hacienda and closing them in with a sense of security. Then, she turned and smiled at Diego. I'm sorry, I guess I'm running on a bit tonight.

Diego smiled again. And there you go with the apologizing thing once more.

Victoria laughed lightly with him. You're right, I guess. Then they paused, and were silent for a moment. Finally, Victoria said, But, Diego, you didn't come out here to laugh at me for apologizing so often. Admit it; someone came to complain about me at the tavern today, and you don't want to tell me about it. She smiled then. You don't have to protect me from it, you know. I was awful, and I know I was awful. Don Alejandro and Felipe were just too nice to tell me how truly bad I was.

Diego laughed helplessly for a moment. No, honestly, Victoria, Father isn't the reason why I came out here to talk to you... Though, now that you mention it, he did tell me about what happened this afternoon and about what you did.

Ugh! Victoria snarled again in embarrassment. That poor man - and Felipe! He didn't sign a word about how bad I was, either! But I know that I was only guessing at orders, even then. It's a wonder either of them received what they wanted for lunch.

Diego hesitated, then admitted, They didn't, but that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about, either.

Victoria was horrified. They ordered something else today? She turned towards the sunset, letting the warmth of the setting sun bathe her face as she appeared to wonder for a moment if she felt relieved that the two men had chosen not to say anything to her at the time, or incensed that they had thought her fragile enough not to mention anything at all to her. It was obvious that she was still trying to decide how she felt when Diego spoke again.

I wanted to know if you remember this? he asked without any introduction to the new subject.

Victoria turned from watching the sunset to look at Diego. He was resting his arm on the table between them, holding an emerald ring surrounded with so many more precious stones that it winked in the fading light. The ring was pinched between his thumb and index finger.

Oh, how pretty that is! Victoria exclaimed before carefully lifting the ring from his grasp so that she could examine it a little closer. She held it up to the light, and it sparkled like fire in the early twilight that had settled over the land.

Do you recognize it at all? Diego softly inquired.

Should I? Victoria asked, gazing at the ring. Who does it belong to? Was it your mother's, and that's why you're showing it to me?

No. Diego took a great, shivery gulp of cool air, then plunged on as he said, Well, yes, it was... At last, he admitted, It's yours.

That statement surprised Victoria. Mine? she asked, her tone one of complete incredulity. How is that possible? Did your mother give it to me for doing something nice for her? Were my parents wealthy, and you never told me?

Diego kept his eyes trained on her. No, not exactly, he quietly said.

Surprised again, Victoria whipped her head up to regard him. But it used to be important? she asked.

Umm... Diego said, nervous now and almost wishing he hadn't said anything about the ring that he had been carrying in his vest pocket for almost a week. It belonged to my mother until she died...

It must have been so sad for you when she died, Victoria commented, and looked as sad as she thought he had felt at the time.

Silence seemed to wrap around the two in the garden until they felt as if they were the only people alive, just as Victoria had described. At last, Diego looked up from studying his fingernails, and whispered, I still am. And he was sad, a gut wrenching kind of sad, but it was not for his long-lost mother's death, which was sad enough, but because it was obvious that, just as Victoria couldn't recall the tavern, or the pueblo, or anything associated with it, she couldn't remember his proposal, either. More than any other memory loss, this felt far more personal to him, and far more devastating.

Victoria looked back at the ring in her palm. She stared blankly at it for a moment, obviously trying hard to force a memory, any memory, that would demonstrate both her returning recollection and her ability to understand how important the ring was to him. But there was nothing in her mind for her to even work with. She turned to him, shrugged nonchalantly, and said I'm sorry, I just don't remember it.

Fully uncomfortable now, Diego wished nothing greater than that he still had the ring stashed inside his vest pocket. That's all right, he choked. I thought seeing it would somehow help you to remember... he finally told her, his voice all but a matching whisper.

Victoria stared at the ring for several more uninterrupted minutes. Then she held out her palm, ring and all, and with an innocence that was entirely wrenching to her companion, asked, Would you like it back?

At her question, Diego's heart began pounding inside his chest so fast that it hurt. It was difficult to speak over the noise it was drumming in his ears. Did her query mean that she didn't want the ring at all, or that she didn't understand what he was asking her? Uncertain, Diego continued, Umm... no, that's not what I mean, exactly.

Then what do you mean, exactly? Victoria asked as gently as she could.

At this point, Diego was beginning to sweat. He tried to work up the courage to continue, and failed. With an agonizing feeling twisting his stomach, he slowly took the ring back and said, Never mind. His voice rang with the sadness he felt. It was also an emotion that he was clearly trying to hide with a false cheerfulness. It wasn't important. He smiled forgivingly, but even that gesture hurt when what he really wanted to do was cry.

Victoria looked at him closely, but apparently didn't see anything in him other than the sense of benevolence that his words indicated. If you say so, she told him. Then she rose and stood before him for a moment, the last rays of the sunlight striking a shining twinkle from her hair. I think I'll go to bed; the day was a bit trying! Then she laughed. It was more than trying; it was downright horrible! But I know you and your father only want me to give everything from my old life a try. Then, she turned thoughtful. I only wish I could remember that life and those things that seem so... integral... to the person I used to be, she said with a faint pucker to her forehead.

That's an understatement, Diego said to himself as his heart continued to crumble at her cavalier attitude towards something that meant so much to him.

Victoria shook her head and threw off her contemplative mood. Well, good night, she said with a smile, then disappeared into the hacienda.

Diego sat, unmoving, staring at the ring, lost in a depressing swirl of thoughts, until he distinctly heard his father ask the location of his son to a retiring Victoria on her way to her room. Then, he hastily shoved the ring into the pocket of the vest he was wearing to hide it from his father... if Don Alejandro ever saw that ring, he would easily recognize it as the ring he had bought for his wife before she died, and though it wouldn't necessarily lead the caballero to linking the ring, Diego, and Zorro's identity into one thought, he would ask Diego why he had the ring in the first place, and that would, in turn, lead Diego to having to lie in answering his father's questions in order to cover his current intentions as well as protect Zorro's identity... It was much easier to hide the ring than to suffer the consequences of not hiding it...

Diego had just enough time to drop the ring into his right vest pocket before his father entered the garden in search of his only son. The older caballero sank with a sigh into the seat Victoria had just vacated, then spent a moment just staring at Diego. Finally, he asked, Well, since you have so much more medical knowledge than I do, Diego, what's your verdict on Victoria's memory? Will she ever regain what she's lost, or has she lost it all for good?

Diego drew a deep breath and tried to steer his mind towards what his father was asking rather than his own troubles. It was a difficult task, as he would rather uncharacteristically wallow in self pity than discuss Victoria's condition with his father, but he endeavored to hide his depression just as he had hidden Victoria's engagement ring. I don't know, he truthfully admitted. What has been published about amnesia is relatively sparse... there is much we have yet to learn about the way the brain works...

All right, Diego, interrupted Don Alejandro in a sense of affectionate exasperation, don't get too technical in your answer... a simple 'yes' or 'no' will do.

Diego sighed again, but the sound was only half in irritation at what his father had said. I don't know, then, he said now that he been pressed to give a response of some kind. Wryly, he wondered if Dr. Hernandez ever felt so pressured to give some kind of an answer to patients about whether or not they would recover from whatever ailed them. Giving some kind of a time frame for recovery was a daunting responsibility that went with being a doctor that Diego had never considered. No wonder Dr. Hernandez was always so conservative in his answers; he didn't want to be wrong in his prediction, and then be blamed for giving exactly what a patient had asked for, then being put on the defensive when his requested predictions did not come true! It was a conundrum about the medical profession that was new to Diego, and almost momentarily lifted him from his depression because of his natural interest in the subject.

But he couldn't hide his feelings of depression from his father forever. Do you have something else that you want to share with me, Diego? Alejandro carefully asked.

No, Diego said, evasive, I don't think so.

Alejandro shook his head once and made the ends of his hair move against his shoulders. That's not what I see in your eyes, he told him, though he was gazing at the heavens rather than at Diego's face. There's more that happened, he predicted, maybe much more.

Diego sighed once again, and didn't bother to cover the sadness that eeked into the gesture this time. Perhaps something else did happen... or didn't happen... and that's what's bothering me, now, Diego admitted at last while he thoughtfully perused the darkening sky in a mirror of the posture that Alejandro had given only moments before.

What happened? Alejandro asked after a quiet, contemplative moment had passed.

I really don't want to talk about it, Diego said a second later, his eyes still fixed in the stars above them.

Politely, carefully, Alejandro asked again, Does it have a personal nature to it?

Diego hesitated. At last, he admitted, It does.

Does it have anything to do with that new marriage law that has everyone in the pueblo all stirred up? asked Diego's father in a patient, tired kind of voice.

Diego hesitated even more. It does in a peripheral way, he said after another silent moment had gone by.

And does it have to do with Victoria? Alejandro gently prodded.

Diego let out a sigh again. Father, why don't you just get to the point? he requested.

I want to know if you asked Victoria to marry you? Alejandro inquired in some finality, now that Diego had asked for the point he had in all his probing.

For a fourth time, Diego sighed. No, he said, a sense of firmness in his own voice, now.

Why not? Alejandro went on.

Why not? Diego echoed in a tone of incredulity. Because... Because... Why hadn't he asked Victoria to marry him when he'd had the chance? he wondered. He knew that he'd suggested they not marry, at least each other, but having Victoria at his hacienda, at his side, all the time, had a far greater pull on his heart than he had ever anticipated that it would. He increasingly found that he didn't want to wait until the Alcalde's prescribed two weeks were up to secure Victoria to him in matrimony, the way they had planned. He wanted to ask her to marry him now, since she didn't have any memory of Zorro's original marriage proposal. And it appeared that she remembered nothing about it, Diego told himself, and the telling had a sorrowful twist to it. It wasn't as if she remembered Zorro proposing to her at all; she didn't even recognize her own engagement ring! It was as if the event had never happened.

Suddenly, Diego was bombarded with the sense of opportunity that this situation presented; here he was, in his guise as 'Diego,' feeling depressed that Victoria didn't remember his alter-ego's proposal to her, when, truthfully, this was the chance that he had been waiting for - Zorro had initially proposed to the woman that he, Diego, was desperately in love with. There had been no way for Diego to compete with Zorro, and he would never have tried, but this accident of Victoria's had happened, wiping away any memory of the original marriage proposal, thus, in all practicality, wiping everything away that had to do with Zorro, leaving the path clear for any claims that Diego wanted to make on her. If he proposed as himself, Diego felt like a heel and that he was taking advantage of this rather bizarre situation, true, but, then, why shouldn't he take advantage of it? Why defer to Zorro when it was Diego who had always wanted Victoria for himself? It wasn't as if she would miraculously regain her memories if Diego proposed marriage to her himself. And, she had to marry someone by mid August in order to comply with the new marriage law, anyway...

But what if Victoria wasn't in love with him?

Scarier yet was the question, what if she was?

Either way, Diego had little to lose by asking her as himself... either, she said 'no' to his proposal, and things would not be any different than they were right now; Zorro could no longer be considered Victoria's fiancé as of now, since she had no memory of the event of his proposal. If she said 'no' to Diego's proposal, he would be no worse off than he already was; she didn't remember him as Zorro, so, according to her, there had been no original proposal. On the other hand, if she said 'yes...'

Suddenly, Diego knew what he had to do. If you'll excuse me, Father, there's something that I must do, Diego said, then stood in a rush of energy.

Certainly, Alejandro said in an agreeable tone as he steepled his fingers in a thoughtful pose. I'm always happy to have these little conversations with you. His tone now indicated that he strongly suspected that he knew exactly where Diego was hurrying off to and what he was hurrying off to do.

But Diego wasn't aware of his father's slightly sarcastic tone. He wasn't quite cognizant of his father's presence at all; he was too consumed with what he wanted to say to Victoria. With a single-minded sense of purpose, Diego strode into the house, leaving his father in the garden, and walked to Victoria's bedroom door. There, he paused.

Should he knock? What if his knock woke her? Of course, he could hardly propose to a sleeping woman. But what if she wasn't asleep yet, but was getting undressed? And how could a gentleman enter a woman's bedroom, anyway? Perhaps he should wait until the next day...

Stop stalling, he told himself firmly, and took hold of his scattered, frightened emotions. Then he took a deep breath, and with a thudding heart, knocked lightly on her bedroom door.

The light noise had barely ceased when suddenly, Victoria opened the door to reveal that she was wearing a nightgown and dressing robe that had belonged at one time to Diego's mother. Ironic, Diego thought, considering that he wanted to offer his mother's ring to her as well. Pretty soon, she would have everything that had once been in Diego's mother's possession, if she...

Diego had to order himself to take better hold of his emotions and to stop allowing his thoughts to wander so much.

Diego! Victoria exclaimed. Didn't we just talk in the garden? she asked. Was there something more that you wanted to say?

Immediately, Diego apologized for appearing at her bedroom door at such a late hour of the day. Please, I ask you to forgive me showing up like this... I mean, it's hardly proper to appear right outside a woman's bedroom door, but...

Victoria interrupted him. No need to apologize, Diego! she negated just as quickly. Looking utterly delighted that he had more that he apparently wanted to say to her, she smiled, and the gesture of joy lit her eyes until they blazed. It's a good thing I had one candle lit and that I hadn't gone to bed yet! Please, come in!

It was just like times of old, in some ways; he had always been welcome in her bedroom at the tavern disguised as Zorro, and now, she seemed even less inhibited by inviting him in. Um... Diego began, feeling uncertain about the propriety of their surroundings. Perhaps she wouldn't find it a bit odd that he be in her bedroom, but again, his father, as a stickler of propriety, might find it more then a bit odd. Perhaps you would like to come to the library with me? he asked, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. It will only be for a moment, Señorita, I promise.

Victoria appeared nonplussed at his suggestion. All right, she said, then joined him in the hall after first collecting the candle that sat on the top of her dresser and pulling the door to her bedroom shut behind her. Lead on.

Go on to Chapter 7

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