“Diego,” Don Alejandro thoughtfully said that evening as he and his son were riding back from having dinner at the tavern. “I'd like to talk to you.”
Diego obligingly reigned in Esperanza till Alejandro drew alongside him on Dulcinea; the horses continued their sedate walk towards the hacienda. “What is it, Father?”
The lightness of Diego's tone was reassuring in that he suspected nothing of the importance of the forthcoming conversation. Encouraged, Alejandro was about to continue, when Diego beat him to it.
“Does this have something to do with the cattle sale next week?” A conciliatory expression crossed Diego's face. “You already traveled to Monterey to check the territorial sale prices, and the vaqueros have rounded up the cattle meant to be sold.” Suddenly he smiled. “Felipe told me that when the two of you were in Monterey, you saw...”
“That doesn't matter,” his father interjected, suddenly impatient now that he had decided to speak. “The sale will be fine. This has to do with... something else.”
Misgiving was loud in the simple question. “Yes.” Alejandro gulped a breath, then let it hiss nervously between his teeth. “Do you remember that day you told me you're also... him?” He would have whispered that last word except they were currently doing the one activity that insured their privacy.
Diego gave a rueful smile. “Of course I remember it, but...”
“But...” Alejandro interrupted again, a guilty look now twisting his features. “Ialreadyknew,” he divulged in a rush.
Diego clearly understood his father's words, despite the way they'd been spoken. He now sat, stunned, an unmoving lump on his horse, his face contorted with complete incredulity. “You already knew?” he repeated in a voice that sounded lost, as if this wasn't the first time that day he'd heard this confessed.,. a clearly ridiculous idea. Alejandro exprected him to explain what his empty, almost desperate tone meant, but instead, he carefully asked, “How long... have you known?”
At a loss, Alejandro could only reply, “I hardly know how to answer that.”
Diego helplessly repeated, “'You hardly know...' What does that mean?”
Don Alejandro sighed a sad, recriminatory gust of air, and slowly said, “It means that... I've known for...” But his voice trailed off into another pensive silence. Only the clop of the animals made any noise in that silent time between day and night until Alejandro's voice issued out of him almost against his will, “The knowledge came on so gradually; sometimes the idea seemed so ridiculous... and at others, so obvious.”
It was clear the Diego must now be considering the Alcalde, and Alejandro didn't blame him; Diego always needed to think about the Alcalde, every minute of every day. For the first time, he understood how wearing that must be.
“Was it so obvious that others figured this out, too?”
Alejandro's graying hair swung madly in the fading sunlight as he shook his head. “Not that I know. But then, I didn't exactly go around advertising what I knew, either.”
Diego sighed his own gust of air, not quite sounding reassured, but not sounding angry, either. It settled Don Alejandro's nerves just a bit.
“What you're saying is that there was no one thing that led you to believe...?”
Alejandro's snort exploded so loudly that it caught Diego by surprise, not an easy task. “No, I should say not. Most times, I thought I was going crazy.” He looked squarely at his son. “But I'm an old man - it's almost a given that I'll go crazy someday.”
Diego groaned. “Not the 'I'm an old man' routine again.”
The expression in Diego's eyes definitely said more than he was saying aloud, probably noting that his thoughts were on his father's very tiresome secondary desire to see his grandchildren someday. Well, at least I now know why I don't have any, was the thought that ghosted through Alejandro's mind even as he insistently protested, “This isn't meant to be a guilt trip.”
Diego practically rolled his eyes in mock relief. “How refreshing.”
Alejandro did his best to take on the look of the reprimanding parent, but couldn't quite squash the grin that wanted to burst out of him. “Yes... well, how was I to know that you had the proper interest, just not the proper conditions?” he feebly asked. Then he shook his head again, as if to clear it of all these extraneous thoughts. “But I want to talk about what I know, not... you know.”
Diego seemed amused at his Father's vagueness. “Yes, well... moving on.”
“I always meant to tell you about... when.”
“You just said that you don't know when.”
Alejandro's sigh was reluctant now... and condemnatory? “I sort of know... when. I did know what discovery meant for you. So I... might have... possibly... said some things that might have... hurt you... especially if we were ever with anybody... so it would seem ridiculous that you were... you know.”
This was clearly something that Diego had never considered before. The blankness of his face increased even as his surprise grew. “Let me get this straight,” he requested after a moment. “You're telling me that you...”
“I purposely hurt you, yes,” Alejandro now boldly clarified.
Diego woodenly continued, “So that my disguise was... better?”
Alejandro gave a halfhearted shrug. “Better... more believable... that was the idea.”
A moment of quiet went by as Diego internalized what this meant. Alejandro had no idea what he was thinking, and that bothered him. He didn't think he'd ever truly get used to the fact that his son had this secret life that he could barely even imagine - he'd rarely felt so estranged from his son than in that moment. It was ironic that he'd had to learn of Diego's secret before feeling so isolated. “I just wanted to tell you... so that you know... so that, maybe, there's no hard feelings between us?”
“There never were any hard feelings between us.” The brief but pained expression that shot through Diego's eyes belied what he'd just insisted.
Alejandro was on the verge of arguing with him, saying that he knew better, when he realized that there was no benefit in arguing: what did he want Diego to do, anyway? Agree with him? Lie and disagree? He was doing that already. The old caballero was amazed that Diego's lie sounded so sincere - how many other lies had he so convincingly told? It was a chilling thought.
There was so much he most likely would never know, and even if he knew it, he probably wouldn't fully understand. That was the moment the enormity of his only child's secret hit him. He sighed again in regret, not for the dangers facing his son every day, but for the life he could have had now, but didn't. He may be sad about the early death of his wife, his current lack of grandchildren, and enraged about the injustices of two crooked Alcaldes, but he'd never really had anything to regret before.
Now, he did. Truly, Alejandro had never felt so old.
Go on to part 4.
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