Second Chances

by Linda Bindner

Chapter 8 - Diego

Diego stood, alone in the stable, doing his best to keep from being sick to his stomach while leaning his hands on the wall partition of the stall that had housed the horse Victoria had taken. However, even leaning over and taking deep breaths did little to calm his heaving stomach. It was only the sound of crackling straw from behind him that made him finally lean back and stand straight, though the effort nearly made him fall over, instead. The twist and turns of the adventures of Zorro had never affected him so completely as simply standing up straight affected him now; he felt strangely tingly, weak, and cold at the same time sickening waves of heat kept radiating from his heart in his chest. Vaguely, he wondered if extreme heat was the first sign of a breaking heart, but he didn't particularly care enough to ask anybody about it. Rather, he turned his head to regard his father's expression of mangled regret.

I gather that Victoria got her memory back, Alejandro succinctly commented.

Diego heard his father's nonchalant tone, but wasn't fooled by Alejandro's seeming disinterest in the affair. He did his best to answer, anyway, to stem the curiosity that was bound to be universal. Yes, this morning... Last night, I asked her to marry me, she agreed, but, then, this morning... she just woke up and remembered... everything, he ended on a soft, sad voice that threatened to break unless he took better control of it. But Diego wasn't sure he cared enough to want to take better control of himself. He wasn't sure about anything anymore.

And that ended the engagement, Alejandro correctly assumed. I guess it was too much of an emotional moment for her, he whispered and sighed, the heavy sound washing through the stalls of the animals to seep into the walls of the stable. Without another word, he held aloft a white shirt belonging to him, knowing that it wouldn't fit his much taller son, but also knowing that it was better than wearing nothing. Equally as silent, Diego took the shirt and pushed his arms into the sleeves.

It was then that Alejandro happened to glance down at the floor, and he first noted his son's bare feet. He may have been able to remain silent about Diego's shirtless state of undress, but he was surprised enough by the sight of bare feet in the stable to say something about them. Diego! Alejandro began in stunned surprise. Where are your boots? Why on Earth are you barefoot?

Father, Diego began, as if explaining something very patiently to a small child. Victoria barely gave me enough time to throw on my trousers... boots were hardly my first concern.

Thus the conversation had been carried back to the subject of Victoria... again, Alejandro sighed. Well, Diego, what do you plan to do now?

Plan? Do? Diego barked something that sounded like a laugh that lacked humor. I have no idea. I was hoping you could offer some advice.

Me? Now, that request did surprise Alejandro, according to his stunned tone of voice. It's unfortunate, but I can't tell you anything to help you through something like this...

It was hard to stem the tide of tears that wanted to slide impetuously down his cheeks, but in deference to his father's views of strength and control, Diego did his best to hide the sudden depression that coated his very soul. Interrupting Alejandro, Diego stuttered, But... but... I've never... never gone through... something like this before...

Alejandro gave a start. Do you think that because your mother died, I somehow know..? He exhaled a shivery breath, then continued, Diego, I hope this isn't as bad as that feeling of total despondency that I felt then, but...

How do you expect me to feel? Diego bit out, galled at his father's words, then tried to calm his feelings of anger and despair so that he wouldn't take them out on his father, who certainly didn't deserve his rebukes. In a much softer voice, Diego went on, Victoria's gone... In fact, she couldn't leave here fast enough... she didn't even take the time to get dressed! And you think that I shouldn't feel just a little bit despondent..? His tone was bitter, now.

Diego, that's not what I meant, and you know it! Alejandro said in some anger of his own. He turned around once, a quick jerk of a movement, then put his right hand carefully down on his son's quivering back. Why don't you tell me what happened? he suggested. Perhaps, then I can help.

So he had heard nothing? Diego wondered in an abject, obscure, hazy kind of way. How much did his father really know? he asked himself. But he still had a difficult time caring overly much about the answer. What is... He had to clear his throat and start again. What is there to say? Diego asked rhetorically. I proposed marriage to Victoria last night, and she seemed thrilled to accept... Damn, his voice broke again! Then... then, this morning... He inhaled the comforting smells of horses, hay, and manure in order to remain calm. This morning, the minute she woke up, she... she appeared to have her memory back. Then she... she came to my room and said... she just couldn't go through with it, he finished brokenly. She couldn't marry me.

Alejandro sighed again, and this time the sound of regret in his breath was more evident. It's just as I feared, he announced.

As you feared? Diego exploded in a sad burst of sound. You mean that you expected this to happen? he half asked, half accused.

No, no, of course not, Alejandro said immediately, fully contrite. No, that's not what I meant at all, he assured, but then added, I can't say that I'm surprised, exactly, but...

Diego lifted his head, curious in spite of himself. What? he cried.

Alejandro attempted to explain, Let's face it, Diego, Victoria has been so enamored with Zorro for so long that it's no wonder she thinks she can't marry another man at all, let alone marry someone right now!

Diego scoffed, I'm not in competition with Zorro for Victoria's hand! he firmly said, though, if her were completely honest with himself, he would have to admit that he was, indeed, his own opposition.

Of course you aren't, Alejandro soothed immediately. But, you have to admit that there are certain extenuating circumstances connected to Victoria that can't be ignored, no matter how much we would like to pretend they don't exist! he insisted in a persuasive way. Then, he sighed once more. Diego, I know that you claim to be in love with Victoria...

There's no 'claim' about it! Diego emphatically said. I am, and there's nothing I can do to hide my emotions any longer.

All right, all right, Alejandro said with a calming wave of his hands. All right, that's an established fact, he added. Now, we both know that this new law of the King's will force Victoria, for whatever dubious reason the King has, to marry in less that two weeks...

Yes, I know that, Diego insisted. But I don't want to be second choice just because Victoria is being forced to marry someone be the middle of August or face going to jail because she can't afford to pay the fine!

That's not what I was going to say! Alejandro said.

Then what is it, Father? Diego asked in uncharacteristic antipathy. Because I'm not going to stand out here in a shirt that's too small for me and listen to... But, Diego stopped when he realized he was expressing his anger and heaping it onto his father again. Sorry, he apologized, though he didn't sound very sorry at all.

Alejandro went on, ignoring his son's apology. You're not second choice at all, he insisted. What I'm saying is that this is an opportunity for Victoria to calm down enough to think things through, to view her life in a way that she never has before...

I won't be her consolation prize! Diego said in a sense of firmness that was hard to refute.

Alejandro argued with him, anyway. Who said anything about being a consolation prize? he asked. What I'm talking about is allowing her the opportunity to re-evaluate a few things...

Then she's going to have to re-evaluate an awful lot of things for her to... Diego suddenly gave a start and stepped back once from the partition of the stall. No, he said, chopping the air in half with his hand, I can't do what you're suggesting. I can't...

Finally, Alejandro lost his hold on his infamous de la Vega temper. Then you can say goodbye to ever seeing Victoria again, because after she's thrown in the Los Angeles jail, she'll be transferred to the jail in San Diego and be out of your reach if you don't swallow that de la Vega pride of yours for once in your life and help out the woman you swear to be in love with...

That's not the point! Diego contended, losing his own hold on his temper as well.

Then what is the point? Alejandro asked. Do you want Victoria to go to jail over this? Hm? Is that what you want? Because...

No! Diego groaned. That isn't what I want at all! You have to know that!

Then act on what you're feeling! Alejandro advised. Give her some time to come to terms with this entire situation, and then go to her and hash it all out one day! That's all I'm suggesting here! He raised his hand again as if he wanted to place it in a soothing motion on Diego's back once more, but he chose not to at the last moment and said instead, After all, it's not every day that a woman regains years worth of memories when she wakes up at the crack of dawn to discover that she owns a tavern, knows how to cook food, serve food, run a business establishment, and claims to be in love with a bandit.

Doesn't claim to be in love with a bandit, Diego corrected, Is in love with a bandit.

Alejandro snorted. Oh, you think you know so much, he said, not unkindly. I've seen her watch you while we've been in the tavern lately, and her looks have not been all of brotherly affection, either!

Diego scoffed again. Oh, Father, now you're imagining things!

I am not! Alejandro automatically refuted. But you decide for yourself, he said next. Give her a few days, and mark my words, she'll be apologizing the minute she comes to terms with herself, and be begging you to take her back.

I doubt that, Diego felt he had to refute, but he also couldn't quite distinguish the spark of hope that his father's words ignited deep inside his soul, either. She'll be doing something besides apologizing... That's about the only thing that I can be sure of! he predicted anyway.

You think you know so much! Alejandro jeered again, then, sounding irritated at his son's claim that his prophecy was wrong.

Hmph! Diego snorted himself, a sound that he usually disdained as common, but was now illustrating how bothered he was at Victoria's apparent desertion. I know Victoria better than you think!

Alejandro used his son's words to further his own cause. Well, I know that she'll be back, and before you can start to get worried about it, he insisted with an equally adamant tone. Wait and see... that's all you have to do.

Diego sighed one last time, hoping his father was correct, but being the naturally suspicious person that he was, he had to doubt his father's very words. Still, he said, I hope you're right, Father. I certainly hope you're right.

Go on to Chapter 9

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