Monday, December 15, 2008
The Final part of Rosalita
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And now for Rosalita...
She had her hand in a strange man’s hair. He looked down at her and chuckled, but his eyes were as wide as hers.
“Excuse me,” a woman behind her snapped. Rose whirled around to see a woman in an intricate scarlet dress glaring at her. Her black hair was swept up by a large comb, letting a few curls dangle free around her pinched pale face. “I don’t know who you are, peasant,” she snarled, eying Rose’s jeans and long sleeve thermal shirt, “But one does not dance with the governor uninvited. Particularly when I am his date.”
Rose blinked. “And who are you?”
The woman gasped. “You should be shot for such disrespect,” she hissed. “I am a lady of this terrorist. Armato, are you going to let her speak to me in such terms?”
A large hand touched her elbow, and Rose turned into Armato’s intense gaze. His brow furrowed. He narrowed his eyes as he studied her face. Finally, he blinked and took a step forward. “It’s you,” he whispered. “The girl in my dreams.”
Forgetting about the other woman, Rose inched forward so her head almost touched his chin. She gazed around the room, then examined the man in front of her. Blue eyes, black curls and a blue velvet coat. She looked around the adobe walls, the Mexican tile floors filled with couples swaying to the music of guitars and violins. In a moment of horror, she realized what had happened.
“Oh my God,” she whispered. “I’m in the nacimiento. With you.”
“You stupid child,” the woman behind her spat. “This is the governor’s palace, not a nacimiento.”
“Damita,” Armato addressed the woman in scarlet. “Please take this lady to my sister for a proper dancing dress.”
The woman’s shriek could be heard for miles. “I am not a servant,” she retorted. “I am a lady and your future wife. How dare you order me to dress up one of your conquests? I know your reputation, Armato,” she sneered. “And let me assure you that once we’re married, it won’t continue.”
Rose lowered her eyes, her cheeks turning red. She felt as though she had been slapped with a brick wall. Of course he was engaged. Not only was he engaged, but he was a womanizer. The figure she had been mooning over for her entire childhood was engaged to a snotty bitch, and now she was stuck in the nacimiento with them both. This was someone’s idea of a Christmas joke, she thought bitterly. A really bad one. She felt Armato place his hand on her shoulder and resisted the urge to shrug it off.
“First of all, Damita, we are not engaged, nor even dating,” he replied in a low tone. “I have repeatedly told you and your father I do not find we are a good fit, as you might say. Secondly, this woman”—
“Child,” Damita hissed.
“This lady,” Armato corrected, “is a guest at my Christmas ball. I assumed as one of the leading ladies in society, you would have jumped at the chance to be generous and hospitable. Of course, I should have known better. Excuse me. I will take her to my sister myself.” Taking Rose’s hand and threading it through his arm, he left a gaping Damita staring at his back.
“You’ll regret this,” Rose heard her mutter as she flounced away, her skirts rustling with importance. “Oh Armato, you’ll regret this.” Rose whirled around, but she was already threading to the crowd with the smile of a woman scorned.
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” Rose asked.
Armato rolled his eyes. “She’s as power hungry as her father, the former governor,” he replied. “If she wasn’t a woman, you can be sure she’d be plotting for my position.”
“Why couldn’t a woman do your job?” Rose asked, eying him.
“They could,” he said with a smile. “Probably better than I could. But Texas is a traditional state, and this is a conservative county.”
“What year is it?” Rose asked, dreading the answer.
“You don’t know?” he asked, then caught himself. “Of course not, you live in a dream. It’s 1874.”
Rose thought she might faint. She clutched onto his arm as he steered her through hundreds of curious eyes. They walked out of the ballroom and down a hall lit by iron sconces, the candlelight trickling through the punched out designs. Armato pushed a wooden door open and they stepped into a small library. Amidst thousands of books, Rose could see a head of tousled dark curls.
“Adalia,” Aramato called. “Come meet”—he looked at her helplessly.
“Rosalita,” Rose replied, feeling like her full name was more formal in this old society. “Rose for short,” she added, blushing as he grinned.
“Gorgeous,” he whispered, gazing down at her. For a moment, Rose felt her breath stop in her chest. All she could see was his blue eyes twinkling in the soft lamplight of the room. The chiseled face was more handsome in person than it had been on the little wooden doll. She reached up, then jerked her hand away. He took her hand and touched it to his cheek with a nod. She flushed again, realizing he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“I’m real,” he whispered, confirming her worst suspicion.
Rose heard a cough and repressed giggle and turned. A girl her age was trying not to smile as she curtsied. “Adalia,” she introduced herself. “I’m Armato’s sister.”
“Why weren’t you at the ball?” Rose blurted out. Inwardly, she cringed. Why couldn’t she ever keep her mouth shut?
Adalia rolled her eyes. “They’re incredibly dull,” she muttered. “Besides, all the older men want to dance with me and talk about their horses and land and how I’d make a wonderful wife for them. And then all the ladies want to talk to me about is my brother. I’d rather read.”
Rose laughed. “I like you,” she said sincerely. “I’d never seen you before when I was—” She clamped her mouth shut, knowing there was no way she could explain that these people were wooden figurines who lived her grandmother’s attic save for one month of the year.
“I thought you could get her a dress,” Armato interrupted, smoothing over the situation. “Damita’s set to have her face a firing squad if she doesn’t look like a respected lady.”
Adalia snorted. “That woman is the devil.” She turned to Rose, her eyes sparkling. “Come with me,” she ordered, closing her book. “I’ve got the perfect dress for you.”
“I’ll see you in the ballroom,” Armato murmured, holding the door for the ladies as they stepped into a hallway. Adalia slipped her arm through hers and dragged Rose down the hall. She snuck a glace behind her and saw Armato watching her, his face filled with the look of a little boy waiting for fresh cookies from the oven. Rose blushed. Adalia looked at her strangely and Rose realized she’d asked her a question.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” she asked. What had gotten into her, she wondered. She was falling for a wooden figurine. No psychologist in the world would believe this.
“Where are you from?” Adalia repeated, eyeing her jeans and thermal shirt. “I’m quite curious. Perhaps Africa or Australia?” she asked hopefully.
Rose laughed. “It’s a long story,” she murmured. “So is it true your brother is a player?”
“Of what?” Adalia looked confused. “He engages in horseshoes and rodeo stunts, of course. He has not time for much else.”
Rose bit her cheeks to keep from giggling. “I mean, does he date a lot of girls? Damita said he was a…rouge,” she finished, hoping that sounded like something a girl in 1874 would say.
Adalia smiled and shook her head. “No, for the longest time he’s said he knew who he wanted to marry and was waiting for her to walk into his life,” she said, obviously amused. “I always told him he was just too smart to marry these vultures. Particularly Damita. Be warned of her,” she advised Rose, her voice switching from light to serious. “She is not one to be messed with. And be particularly wary of her father, Don Mato. If she is the devil, then he is pure evil.”
A shiver snaked down Rose’s back as she followed Adalia into a elegant bedchamber. “He doesn’t sound like a nice guy.”
“Many people have disappeared,” Adalia murmured. “Many have been subjected to a life of torture under his debt. And Damita is following in his footsteps.” She held up a dress and smiled. “And now, for something fun.”
Half an hour later, Rose stepped onto the ballroom floor to gasps. The same hundreds of eyes that had watched her curiously now lowered as she walked by, bowing with a respect and awe she had never gotten in high school. Adalia had swept her hair into a tousled up do of curls and draped a velvet choker with a single ruby pendant dangling from her throat. Then she had helped her into a white dress with a wide square neckline, tiny lace sleeves capping her shoulders and baring her arms.
“It’s the newest fashion,” Adalia had told her, after helping her smooth the lacy white skirts that flounced all around her.
Rosalita had gaped at herself in the mirror. “I look like I’m getting married,” she whispered in horror. Adalia had snorted and shoved her onto the dance floor. “With any luck, you will be married,” she teased, giggling when Rosalita sucked in her breath with panic.
Alone on the floor, Rose turned and plastered a smile on her face. Raising her head, she began to make her way across the dance floor. If she had to look like a lady, she might as well act the part.
The crowds of people parted to the middle of the dance floor where Armato stood speaking to a man with dark eyes and a goatee peppered with grey. His eyes bugged out and a smile stretched across the face. Leaving the man in mid-sentence, he stepped toward her.
“Rosalita,” he whispered, bowing slightly. “You look…. magnificent.” Rose blushed. She had never felt more beautiful.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
The man behind him glared at her. Rose flicked her eyes up towards him and Armato started as if he had been asleep.
“Forgive me,” he said smoothly, his politician’s manner kicking in. “Rose, this is Damita’s father, the former Governor Don Mato. Don, this is Rose. She’s a…guest of mine.”
The other man forced a laugh, though his eyes burned into Rose with a smoldering dislike. “I might have to worry about you, lady,” he drawled. “You might turn Armato’s head away from my own daughter.”
Rose said nothing, merely simpered. The music began and the Don bowed and exited the floor. Armato took her hand in his and his arm wrapped around her waist.
And then nothing else mattered.
For hours, they twirled around the dance floor. As they danced, they talked. They talked about Rose’s school, her grandmother, how Armato became governor and how he was raising his sister after the death of his parents. They talked about their hopes, their dreams and their worries.
But most of all, they danced. The guests had all left and only the guards and servants remained, silently scurrying around them with brooms and dust rags as they repaired the damage of the party. As the dark night began to slide into early morning, Rose leaned her head against his shoulder.
“And to think you were hiding in my grandmother’s attic,” she murmured.
Armato laughed and ran his fingers through her curls, pulling out the pins Adalia had so carefully arranged. Rose melted against him as his calloused fingers stroked the back of her neck.
“You know, I dreamed of you,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” Rose murmured sleepily, nuzzling against the velvet of his coat. She felt so safe and warm here. She could just stay here for hours, for days, swaying gently to the sounds of hushed conversation and one lone drunk guitar player.
“Sometimes,” Armato murmured into her hair, his warm breath tickling her skin. “I would dream of you standing in a ballroom. The light shone down on you and everyone stared. You had these eyes of fire, a spirit in you that no one else did. And then you would look at me. Before I could say a word, you would vanish.”
Rose said nothing for a moment. “Strange,” she murmured, feeling his hand tighten around hers.
“And I told myself,” he whispered, “That there was no one for me except you.” Rose felt her knees grow weak and leaned against him. She raised her head and stared into his icy blue eyes. With a shy smile, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.
It was her first kiss. And it was the best kiss she would ever have.
Suddenly, a scream interrupted them. A maid came running in, her skirts flailing around her as she barreled toward them. “Governor!” she shouted. “The Don is coming!”
Armato blinked at her in irritation. “Why?”
“He’s coming with men, sir,” she burbled, on the edge of hysterics. “He’s coming with men to overthrow you.”
“On what charges?” Armato drew up to his full height and Rose blinked back tears. “I’m the governor. There is a process. This is America, not Mexico.”
The magic was gone. The moment they held of love and hope had been replaced by pure terror. She looked up at his strained face and felt a pain stab through her chest. The smile in his eyes had faded. The eyes she stared into were those of worry and frustration.
“No real charges, sir,” the maid admitted. “You know it’s because…” her eyes slid to Rose and she gulped. “He claims his daughter’s honor, sir. He’s got people talking of a revolution, a protest.”
“What about her honor?” Armato asked. “I did nothing to her.”
“That’s not what Damita is claiming,” the maid murmured, refusing to raise her eyes from the floor. “She claims you…forced her attentions, sir. Then after you got what you wanted, you refused to marry her and took another…love, sir. She’s also claiming you left her…a gift.” The maid bowed her head, her face burning red.
Rose gasped. “That slut!” she bellowed.
Armato shook his head, fury etched in every line of his face. “This has gone too far,” he muttered. “Way too far.”
“He has been to the villages and told the men lies about you, lies about your honor,” the maid admitted miserably. “He’s told them you steal from the poor, hold children as slaves…the most outlandish things!”
“And they believed them,” Armato repeated, looking as though he might be sick.
The maid nodded. The fury burbled inside of Rose and she gritted her teeth. She may have only known him a night, but she knew Armato better than that. In that moment, she realized she had to save him. She looked at his hand, limp in hers. His eyes were filled with devastation and sorrow.
“But it’s Christmas,” he whispered, his eyebrows knitted together. “How could he do this on Christmas?”
“I’m sorry sir,” the maid whispered, wringing her apron in her hands. “What do you wish me to do?”
A grim smile set on Armato’s face. “If he wants a fight, we’ll give him a fight.”
The maid squeaked and nodded, turning and yelling in Spanish. The servants and guards burst into a frenzy of chaos. Rose turned in Armato’s arms.
“Come with me,” she pleaded. “Come back to my time. You can bring Adalia. Then you don’t have to fight anyone.”
He shook his head and Rose burst into tears. “You know I can’t, mija,” he whispered, leaning his forehead to hers. “I must finish what I started, and you must be safe.”
Rose shook her head, her breath catching in her throat in tiny sobs. “I’m not leaving you here alone,” she informed him. “I’m not going to let you face that liar alone.”
Armato’s lips pressed tightly together. “Can’t you see,” he growled in a raspy voice. “You’re the best thing in my life. You’re the love of my dreams, the hope of my heart. To lose you…” he trailed off, shaking his head.
“I will find you,” he promised. “I’ll come back on Christmas.”
“Next year?” Rose cried, her voice cracking. “That’s ages from now.”
“I don’t know when it will be,” he whispered miserably. “I don’t understand the rules of magic. I don’t know how you came to me and I don’t know how I’ll come to you. But I will. I have to. I must do this first. If I didn’t, I would not be worthy of your love.”
“Then how can you promise you’ll come back?” Rose shouted, her voice furious and desperate at once. “How can you leave me like that? How can you find me if we don’t know how I got here?” Her shoulders shook with sobs. His fingers slid under her chin. She snapped as he forced her chin up, trying to capture her gaze.
“I promise,” he murmured. “I promise.”
He lowered his lips to hers and Rose closed her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. The air around her grew cold and she felt as if she was swirling in the middle of an ice storm.
When she opened her eyes, a sob tore from her. She was standing in the middle of her grandmother’s nacimiento, holding the figure of the governor in the blue velvet coat with the wooden curls an inch from her lips. Pressing her fingers to her lips, she gazed around the empty room. A fresh batch of tears ran down her cheeks as she fingered the waistband of her jeans.
Curling into a ball, she clutched onto the tiny wooden figure and wept. Every Christmas after that, she would stay up all night on Christmas Eve holding onto the tiny figure. And every Christmas morning, she woke up on the couch alone.
Now, wary and older, Rose glanced up at the man who had stolen her heart at seventeen. Her lips curled in a snarl. “Do you know how long I waited for you? Ten years! Ten years!” she repeated, glaring at him. “In your time, I would have been an old spinster by now.”
“Old or not,” Armato grinned, “I’m here now.”
“Every Christmas I hoped you would come, and you never did,” Rose accused, jabbing her finger into his chest. “What took you so long?”
He smiled and took raised her hand, kissing it. “I never stopped dreaming of you, mjia.”
“What makes you think I’m available?” Rose hissed. She would not feel weak. She would not feel emotion for this man that had broken her heart years ago. She had wasted years of Christmas mornings on him, of dreaming of his eyes and kiss. “What if I’m engaged?”
Armato’s face fell. “Are you?”
“No,” Rose pouted. “But I should be. Just to spite you.”
“I came as soon as I could,” Armato pleaded. “I had a huge battle with Don Mato and Damita….and then I had to find a healer who could find a way to get me back here. It’s a long story,” he warned.
Rose glared at him.
“Please,” he whispered, his eyes filling with tears. “I can explain. For the past ten years, all I have wanted is to dance with you. It’s true. I can tell you everything.”
His lip quivered and Rose felt her heart, hardened from years of empty hopes, soften. She returned to swaying to the music, tightening her hand around his.
“So tell me,” Rose whispered. His blue eyes met hers with a hopeful glance. “After all, you owe me a lot of dancing.”
He grinned as he pulled her closer. “I owe you a proper Christmas, love.”
“Then you best get started,” Rose whispered, leaning her head on the same blue coat she had years before.
And with that, they began to twirl across the floor, as they would for many Christmases after.
All she had wanted to do was dance.