Flowers For The Living by Mia Rodriguez

One very sunny day, the kind that makes you want to whistle to completely enjoy the outdoors, Violeta and Arturo rushed towards the Zepeda home in a huge hurry. They didn’t stop to enjoy the fruits trees dropping their gifts to the ground or the colorful butterflies sputtering about. They didn’t give anyone a good morning as they were walking past them, and they didn’t bestow even the tiniest of a smile to the smallest of children. In fact, what they were doing was contributing to the maddening noise in the world.
Flowers For The Living
Flowers For The Living by Mia Rodriguez
“It’s all your fault!” exclaimed Violeta, her voluptuous body as rigid as a tree and her long, straight, shiny, jet-black hair glistening in the sun while her pretty face barely contained it’s fury. The wavy, medium-brown haired young man furiously shook his head at her, his handsome features as furious as hers. “My fault? You distracted me! If someone is at fault, it’s you!” Arturo retorted, his dark-brown eyes sparking. “Why did you have to contact me?” “Why did I bother to try to explain anything? The past is the past and your head is made out of rocks.” Violeta’s charcoal eyes burned with fire. “Don’t be calling me a rock head!” “You don’t listen!” “Stop calling me names!” Violeta snapped, hurt in her voice. “Stop trying to make me feel bad!” “Stop this incessant noise,” demanded Ymelda Zepeda. She and her mother, Doña Chamita, were seated outside their home on an old tattered wooden bench that was gray from the extremities taking its toll on it. Violeta and Arturo looked at them with surprise since they hadn’t realized they had arrived at their destination and that they were actually being addressed. “What took you so long to get here, dear-ones?” Doña Chamita questioned. “You can see us?” asked Arturo. “Of course,” Ymelda stated, insult in her tone. “I told you they’d be able to see us,” declared Violeta. Doña Chamita nodded. “We expected you here yesterday,” “The accident discombobulated us,” explained Violeta. “It took us a while to realize we were dead,” Arturo expressed sadly. Chapter 2 If you are part of the how-much-are-you-worth crowd on the planet, you wouldn’t think Ymelda and her mother were much, their monetary value being so little. Their home was no better than a shack that only stood up because of some inexplicable reason. They owned very little—a few outfits, shoes, chipped dishes and cups and assorted and mismatched utensils. Their valuables, or rather what they valued the most, were the many memories and hard-won wisdom inside their hearts. Even though there were those who looked at Ymelda and Doña Chamita with pure disdain because of their chosen profession of being shamans, most of the villagers in Milagros accepted the eccentricities involved in the particular world of this mother and daughter. They accepted that the compartmentalized box containing pieces of life most human beings carried inside of them didn’t belong with these otherworldly creatures. Their animals never acted as these villagers thought beasts should act, there flowers grew at the strangest times and in the strangest places, and odd breezes floated outside their home when there was not even a sign of the slightest movement in the air. The villagers accepted that even by shaman standards these two were different. “You two need to stop bickering,” Ymelda demanded. She was only in her early thirties but savvy way beyond her age. Doña Chamita nodded patiently. “Dear-ones, it’s time to listen to each other.” “But how can I possibly listen to him? He killed me,” stated Violeta. “Killed you? The accident killed both of us!” Arturo exclaimed. Violeta vehemently shook her head. “First you kill our relationship! Now you’ve killed us both!” His face completely scrunched itself. “But—” “You’re the one who stuck his engorged dumb stick into Rub—” “Stop! Stop this right now!” ordered Ymelda. Because of her brusque personality, people usually didn’t see her beauty—her shoulder length caramel hair and almond shaped eyes of the same color and slender but not skinny physique. “She’s—” Arturo started to say. “Please stop this right now, dear-ones,” entreated Doña Chamita with the calm patience of a woman in her seventies who had seen much in her life. Every gray strand of her once caramel hair, placed in a tight bun, was a testament to a life of insight. “And you, Violeta,” said Ymelda while pointing her index finger at her, “what kind of way is that to talk in front of my mother?” Violeta shifted her feet in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry, Doña Chamita. I didn’t mean to disrespect you.” “I’m not going to tolerate such disrespect for my mother at my home,” Ymelda stated. “Is that clear?” “Yes, ma’am,” Violeta and Arturo said in unison. “Let’s try to untangle this, dear-ones, so you can move on to where you’re supposed to go,” commented Doña Chamita, her eyes—the same caramel hue as her daughter’s— sat on the ghosts with serenity. “Violeta, you speak first,” stated Ymelda. “Arturo betrayed me in the worst way.” “I did not—” “Let her speak, Arturo,” declared Ymelda. “All I know is that you don’t want to tell the truth even now when we’re dead!” Violeta exclaimed. “You’re nothing but a poor excuse for a human being, a giant liar, a—” “Stop!” Ymelda snapped. Doña Chamita sighed in frustration. “Dear-ones, let’s not start that again.” “But she’s—” started Arturo. “You two are giving me an acute headache,” announced Ymelda. “Go home until we can talk to you.” “Home?” Violeta asked. “Yes, both of you get going so I can get my stability back,” demanded Ymelda. Doña Chamita nodded, crossing her arms over her plump body. “Dear-ones, it may be best if we talked to you another day.” “But I don’t want to go to the house I had to share with my husband,” blurted Violeta with frustration in her voice. “Weren’t you happy with Norberto?” Arturo asked. Violeta stared at Arturo a few seconds before answering. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no, I wasn’t happy with him.” “Can’t say that I’m sorry, Violeta.” “That’s a nice thing to say to me,” retorted Violeta. Ymelda threw out an exasperated breath. “You two leave right now.” “But I can’t go back to Norberto,” asserted Violeta. “If I may make a suggestion,” expressed Doña Chamita. “It would be good if the both of you stayed close by, so why don’t the two of you go next door?” “You mean to Arturo’s house?” asked an incredulous Violeta. “I built that house for you,” murmured a hurt Arturo. “Go to that house!” Ymelda exclaimed. “And we’ll see you later.” As they walked quietly next door, Violeta turned to Arturo who was deep in thought. “I wonder why they didn’t offer us a cup of tea. Doña Chamita makes the best in the village.” “We’re dead, Violeta,” Arturo murmured softly. “We can’t taste the tea.” Violeta started to sob for the first time since the accident. “I forget.” Arturo put his arms around her, embracing her as much as he could and found that even if they were like vapor, he could still feel her beating heart. She didn’t take his arms away but instead, cried softly on his shoulder. Chapter 3 All in all Ms. Potranco had to say that so far her trip into the interior of New Mexico was pleasant. Her car was running well and the scenery kept changing. One minute she was in the desert and another in a grassy green area. Having lived in El Paso at a border between Texas and New Mexico for most of her life, she was more apt to travel into Texas. Ms. Potranco just wasn’t the adventuresome type. She liked smooth edges, stubbornly preferring even numbers over odd ones. Surprises held no interest for her and in her head everything could be quantified. After all, she was a scientist—a science teacher to be more exact. She had been teaching for almost twenty years, and though the rewards of showing young high school minds how time on earth made sense never ceased to satisfy her, this year was different. Lately her life had started becoming illogical to her. Instead of getting her usual oatmeal at the supermarket, she had had an all-consuming desire to grab the sugary children’s cereal. While watching a documentary on television, she had a sudden impulse to switch the channel to a mindless romantic comedy. When her students started telling ghost stories on the last day of school when no one really worked but had parties, instead of scolding them for their unquantified superstitions, she listened carefully. On the first day of summer vacation, she decided she needed to get herself together. Instead of getting a part time accounting job like she did every summer, she made a decision to spend her time with science. She'd study the advances being made in new discoveries. “You're going to do what?” asked Iris, her best friend since they were children. “I'm going to study, and I don't need any criticism from you,” stated a defensive Ms. Potranco, her dark-brown, opaque eyes narrowed. The flaxen-haired, baby blue-eyed Iris sighed deeply. “But Lila, it's the summer. Your daughter is at her father's. Why don't you do something fun for a change?” “What would you suggest?” questioned Ms. Potranco. “How about a trip to Europe?” “I don't like air travel.” “Then take a trip to Mazatlan. You can go by train.” “I don’t like burning under the sun.” “How about a trip to the interior of New Mexico?—we do live next to the land of enchantment after all.” “An excursion to New Mexico?” Ms. Potranco scratched her head, her wheaten-brown hair touching her shoulders. For some inexplicable reason, the idea sounded good to Ms. Potranco. “A friend told me about this house for rent in a place called Milagros. It's close to Albuquerque and only a few hours from here by car. No flying necessary! You could drive yourself there. How does that sound?” This was how Ms. Potranco found herself driving into the interior of New Mexico with an unaccustomed careless spirit, and enjoying the new smells and interesting scenery. She reasoned in the top level of her mind that this trip would do her research some good since she would have no distractions to keep her from it. In the back of her mind, way deeper than she could get her conscious into, she felt a relief that her increasingly disconnected life was connecting to something. The directions Mr. Sandoval had given her were excellent as she was able to go straight to the door of the rental home. Her eyes squirmed a bit upon seeing the pumpkin-orange home. What kind of color is that to paint your house, she wondered. But so far she had seen residences in all kinds of bright colors—pink, green, blue, and so forth in Milagros. Her own abode being beige and white never surprised her senses. In fact, she never put much thought into the color of her home until now. This place makes my neutral-colored house look downright bland, she said to herself. And the vivid hue of the dwelling wasn’t the only splash of incredible color—bright wildflowers of many kinds grew all over the property, creating an indescribable beauty of nature in all its freedom. How luminous. Really breathtaking. She was staring at them when a man came up to her. “Good evening,” he expressed. “Good evening,” she returned. “Are you Ms. Lila Potranco?” “Yes, you must be Señor Lauro Sandoval.” The balding, short, stubby pleasant man nodded. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, shaking her hand. “I hope you haven't been waiting for long.” “No, I've only been out here for an hour or so.” “You've been waiting out here for an hour?” asked Ms. Potranco, surprised. “Yes.” “Why didn't you wait inside?” “I prefer to be out here,” he rushed. “I don't blame you for preferring the outside. It's beautiful out here.” He nodded in deep thought. “I'll help you with your bags.” Lauro hurriedly placed the suitcases inside the living area, his eyes nervously darted around. Ms. Potranco grabbed her purse. “Let me pay you,” she said, taking out some bills. “Thank you,” he shot back as he took the money and handed her an already made receipt. “Let me show you where I live in case you need anything,” he burst as he hurried outside. “I live in the green house over there,” he explained as he pointed a few houses down. “Don’t hesitate to contact me if there’s a problem.” “Thank you,” Ms. Potranco said. “But I’m sure everything will be fine.” Lauro’s eyes shifted to the rented house as his face showed a worried expression. “Hopefully,” he murmured. When he stepped away, Ms. Potranco couldn't help scratching her head in bewilderment. What a strange man, she said to herself. He seemed uncomfortable in his own rental home. As she stepped back into the house, she surveyed it carefully. It was actually a very pretty place with flower design floor tile, solid wood furniture, and open spaces. The living room had a sky blue sofa with the cocktail tables being of oak wood and glass. Empty vases sat everywhere. She assumed the owners liked flowers and yet, Lauro Sandoval didn't seem the type. The master bedroom had a full size bed with a cherry panel headboard while the two extra rooms had twin beds. What she liked best was the kitchen. Along with a modern gas stove, it actually had an old fashioned wood one. All in all she guessed it would be very peaceful in her rental home, and she would be able to get a lot of work done. As she put her clothes away in the master bedroom, a vase tumbled off the chest of drawers and shattered on the floor. Ms. Potranco swore she wasn't anywhere close to it. Before she could sweep it up, a sharp knock echoed throughout the house and interrupted her thoughts. When she swung open the front door, she found two ladies on the doorstep. “Good evening,” one of them said. “Good evening,” greeted a surprised Ms. Potranco. She wasn’t expecting visitors of any kind. “We're your next door neighbors,” explained Doña Chamita with a smile. “My next door neighbors?” asked Ms. Potranco. “Yes,” asserted Ymelda. Chapter 4 Ms. Potranco had had no choice but to invite them in. It seemed expected. How could she explain to these ladies that all she wanted was peace and quiet? Since she had always heard that small towns were a breeding ground for gossip and intrigues, she wasn't looking towards making friends, but she didn’t want to be rude either. “Where are you from, dear-one?” asked Doña Chamita. “El Paso,” answered Ms. Potranco. Ymelda’s eyes darted around the house. “I've been there once.” “Great place,” asserted Doña Chamita. “How do you like Milagros so far?” “It’s a very picturesque place,” Ms. Potranco commented. “I really like it.” “I hope our animals don’t disturb you too much, dear-one,” Doña Chamita expressed. Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Animals?” Ymelda nodded. “We’ve got a cow, a pig, and a bunch of chickens.” “The cow and pig are in our small barn, but our chickens like to run wild,” Doña Chamita explained. “Hopefully, they’ll behave themselves,” remarked Ms. Potranco. “I’ve never lived within close proximity to chickens.” “They’re interesting creatures,” assured Ymelda. “That’s for sure.” “We won't take any more of your time,” interjected Doña Chamita. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves.” As Doña Chamita was serving chamomile tea for her and her daughter in their own home, she kept shaking her head. Ymelda did the same. “It’s a grave situation,” announced Ymelda. “Those two ghosts are still furious with each other.” “Should we warn our neighbor about them?” asked Doña Chamita. “She’s a nonbeliever. Let's not tell her anything yet.” “She'll have to experience those two for herself.” “And we'll have to go in that house soon whether she wants us there or not,” Ymelda declared. Doña Chamita nodded. “There's no choice.” After Ms. Potranco had swept up the glass from the mysterious vase that had shattered just before the Zepeda visit, she finished unpacking. When her clothes were in the closet, she noticed she had left her cotton knit black dress in the suitcase. I could've sworn I unpacked it. Then it occurred to her that she hadn't eaten and figured that her imaginings were because of low blood sugar. Ms. Potranco had seen a small grocery store as she had driven up. Since it wasn't too far away, she considered walking there, but soon changed her mind. She needed to stock up and didn’t think she could carry too many bags. In the El Sombrero grocery store, Ms. Potranco found everything she was looking for despite it not being a huge supermarket. When she’d get back to her rental home she’d make herself a steak and a salad. “You're renting the Sandoval place, aren't you?” asked the cashier, a woman about her age with her same coloring. Ms. Potranco nodded with some irritation. “Yes.” Gossip sure travelled fast in these small towns. “My husband and I own this store. I’m Claudina Gamboa at your service,” she declared, sticking her hand out. Ms. Potranco promptly took it and shook it. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Lila Potranco.” “That’s my husband, Doroteo in the next pay station.” Since Ms. Potranco was the only customer paying at the time, the tall, lanky man stepped over to them. He and she shook hands. “You're from El Paso?” asked Señor Gamboa. “Yes.” “I hear you’re a teacher,” he kept chattering. “That’s right.” “Aren't you scared of being in that house?” blurted Señora Gamboa. “Excuse me?” “Claudina!” exclaimed Señor Gamboa. “I think she should know,” responded Señora Gamboa. “Know what?” questioned Ms. Potranco with needling curiosity. “Nothing,” answered Señor Gamboa. “Claudina, give her her change. I’m sure she’s tired and anxious to get home to rest.” Señora Gamboa frowned but did as her husband bade her to do. Once Ms. Potranco was on her way, Señor Gamboa turned angrily to his wife. “Why did you say anything?” “I would want someone to tell me if where I was living was haunted,” stated Señora Gamboa matter-of-factly. “Haunted? That's ridiculous.” “I don't know why you don't believe it.” Señor Gamboa sighed. “Because there are no such things as ghosts.” “But Javier heard noises in that house yesterday.” “Javier is only ten-years-old.” “He's also our son,” burst Señora Gamboa. “How can you not believe our son?” “It could've been anything. Maybe Lauro was in there getting the house ready for Ms. Potranco.” “You know as well as I do that he stays away from that house.” Señor Gamboa sighed deeply. “Woman, there are no such thing as ghosts. Get it through your head.” “But—” “Leave the reserved Ms. Potranco to herself—I’m sure she doesn’t believe in apparitions either.” Señora Gamboa placed her hands on her hips. “You'll see that the very private Lila Potranco will soon discover there is. You'll see.” As Ms. Potranco was frying her steak, she wondered if she should re-pack everything and return home. Her first moments in Milagros weren't good. All she had encountered were odd people. But she refused to be defeated by circumstances. She had already paid Lauro for the whole summer, and deep inside she felt a certain type of relief in this little village, as if someone had let the air out of an overinflated tire. Even with all the hassle of peculiar people, the atmosphere left her calm. The air was filled with a freshness smelling of a combination of animals and plants. She took one bite of her steak and smiled. The salad was equally delicious and the red salsa she had prepared had just the right amount of heat. Now that her tummy was full she could think clearer. Yes, she would definitely stay. Stay and concentrate on her work. Chapter 5 “I can't believe you left El Paso for the summer, Mom,” declared a thirteen-year-old Rosita. Ms. Potranco was relieved her cell phone’s roaming abilities were working perfectly. “I don't know what the big fuss is about, baby,” said Ms. Potranco. “You hate trips, Mom. Admit it.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Maybe I needed a change.” “You hate change, Mom.” “Sometimes it's necessary, Ro.” “So how’s it going?” Rosita questioned. “Good. Milagros is an interesting place,” Ms. Potranco asserted. “I think I’ll get a lot of work done here. Baby, how's it going with your dad?” “He's not with Gwyneth anymore.” “He isn't? He—” Ms. Potranco stopped herself. “That doesn't concern me,” she muttered. Rosita ignored her mother. “There's nothing of hers here anymore.” “Maybe they're on a break from each other.” “She seems to be completely out of his life. He doesn't talk at all about her.” “He must have another girlfriend,” murmured Ms. Potranco. Someone younger than Gwyneth, she said to herself. Maybe someone in kindergarten instead of grade school. “No, Mom, he doesn't have a girlfriend. The only woman he talks about is you.” “Me?” blurted Ms. Potranco. “What does he say about me?” “He asks me if I remember when we did things together. He asks if you still cook those killer enchiladas.” “I don't know why he mentions me at all,” murmured Ms. Potranco. “Maybe he misses you, Mom,” Rosita said wistfully. “I doubt that,” responded Ms. Potranco softly. “Baby, don't get any ideas in your head.” “I can hope, can't I?” “No, it's hopeless between your father and me. There's no use for you to be suffering any more disappointment than what you've already suffered, okay, baby?” “Yes, Mom,” said a deflated Rosita. Ms. Potranco hated doing this to her daughter but felt she had to dispel any false hopes. It had been hard enough making Rosita go through the divorce. If she could she would shield her daughter from all the sadness and heartbreak in the world, but that was an impossible task. Ms. Potranco bit her tongue when thinking about the kindergarten crack she had almost said aloud. She worked at keeping her true feelings about her ex to herself so she wouldn't traumatize her daughter but because of all the hidden aching, some damage sometimes just slipped out. Rosita ignored this slight poisonous leakage making Ms. Potranco worry that her daughter was keeping everything hidden till it exploded. Yet, Ms. Potranco couldn't bring herself to have an honest conversation with Rosita about what had happened to them as a family. “Your father and I will never get back together,” Ms. Potranco asserted. “Yes, Mom.” The disappointment in her daughter's voice almost broke her heart. Ms. Potranco decided that a change of subject was necessary. “I'm going to get substantial amount of important work done here, Ro. I’m so excited.” “Just have fun, Mom,” insisted Rosita. “Work is fun.” But as soon as Ms. Potranco got off the cell phone she found that she couldn't concentrate on her books. In an uncharacteristic move, she stepped over to the back yard where she plopped down on the bright yellow wood bench and took a deep whiff of the fresh air. She was enjoying the peace and quiet when she heard the loud shrill of a child. It came from next door where, because of a lack of a fence, she had a perfect view into her neighbor's business. The Zepedas were conversing with a couple—a wailing baby in the man’s arms. “You must do something,” the man pleaded. “The doctor says there's nothing wrong with her, but she won't stop crying.” “Your daughter is suffering from susto, Señor Bolsa,” stated Ymelda. “What is she scared of?” asked Señora Bolsa. “Is there a bad spirit in our home?” “We're going to have to show you because you're both so stubborn that telling you won't do it,” Ymelda declared. Doña Chamita and Ymelda prayed over the baby and then rubbed a piece of carbon on her. They burned it in an old dilapidated grill with the rest of the charcoal. “You'll see the face of what's scaring her, dear-ones,” Doña Chamita assured. When the fire stopped burning, Señor Bolsa stared into the grill with surprise. “Who is that?” he blurted, eyeing the charcoal figures. “Don't you recognize yourself and your wife?” asked Ymelda. “How can that be?” Señor Bolsa burst angrily. “How can we be causing our daughter to be afflicted with susto?” “Yes, how?” questioned Señora Bolsa, as upset as her husband. “Dear-ones, your baby daughter can feel every particle of rage in the air, every ugly glance, every sigh of frustration,” explained Doña Chamita. “She may not understand words yet, but she understands what's underneath them. She can sense what's unspoken.” “Rid your house of the bilis inside you,” Ymelda declared. “You'll feel better without that chronic rage. We have now cured her of past susto, but we can't cure her future if you and your wife continue being horrible to one another.” Doña Chamita nodded. “You’ve got to work on your marriage, dear-ones.” Ms. Potranco shook her head as she watched the Bolsa family leave. How could they believe in such superstitions? How could they think their baby was crying due to inverted rage? How silly was that? “Ms. Potranco?” The voice brought her straight out of her thoughts with a jolt. She turned her head to find Doña Chamita addressing her. She looked over to their house to find Ymelda sitting by herself nonchalantly on a tattered bench. “Ms. Potranco, good morning.” “Good morning.” “How have you been?” “Fine.” “Nothing strange is happening in the house, dear-one?” asked Doña Chamita. “What do you mean?” questioned a curious Ms. Potranco. “Things disappearing, moving objects, strange aromas?” “No, nothing,” lied Ms. Potranco, feeling discombobulated and startled with what her neighbor had just said. “Why would you ask me that?” “Odd things sometimes happen around here.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “I’m a science teacher—I don’t believe in the supernatural.” Doña Chamita smiled. “I suppose you heard the conversation Ymelda and I had with the Bolsa family.” “Doña Chamita, I try to mind my own business.” “Let me show you something, dear-one. Follow me.” Before Ms. Potranco could respond to her request, Doña Chamita had already started walking to her home. Ms. Potranco had no choice but to follow her. Ymelda met them at the grill where Doña Chamita had led Ms. Potranco. “Good morning, Ymelda,” said Ms. Potranco. “Take a look,” declared Ymelda as she pointed at the grill. Ms. Potranco vigorously rubbed her eyes as soon as she followed Ymelda’s suggestion. She was certain she must've been seeing things because in that grill were two exact forms of the Bolsas in the coals. “Señor Bolsa assumes his wife is having an affair with the next door neighbor,” informed Ymelda. “And Señora Bolsa is certain her husband is having a tryst with Señora Gamboa from the grocery store.” “Should you be telling me this?” questioned Ms. Potranco with a frown. “Everyone in the village knows. It's no longer gossip,” stated Ymelda. Ms. Potranco frowned deeper. “The lives of the Bolsas are none of my business.” “But you were listening to what we were discussing with them, weren't you?” asked Doña Chamita, a twinkle in her eye. “I was sitting outside my rental home minding my own business,” Ms. Potranco quickly explained. “Besides, I'd rather not be involved in such things.” “Really?” questioned Ymelda. “Anyway, I'd better be getting home,” Ms. Potranco murmured. “I’ve taken enough of your time. Have a very nice day. Goodbye.” She walked a few feet away when she abruptly turned around to look at the peculiar women who were still standing in the same spot shaking their heads. “Are you . . . are you . . .” “Yes, dear-one?” asked Doña Chamita. “Spit it out,” burst an impatient Ymelda. “Are you witch doctors?” Doña Chamita laughed loudly while Ymelda scowled deeply. “Of course not,” stated an insulted Ymelda. “We're just shamans.” “Shamans? What’s the difference?” “We don’t cast spells or any stuff like that,” retorted Ymelda. “We help people to deal and heal, that's all,” explained Doña Chamita. Chapter 6 It was already evening. Ms. Potranco sat with a cup of coffee in the kitchen not knowing what to make of her very unusual next door neighbors. This morning was quite an experience! she said to herself. After Doña Chamita and Ymelda had told her they were shamans, they had insisted she was living with two angry spirits. How could anybody believe in ghosts and such when there was logical science to refute it all? As soon as she had finished speaking to her uncommon neighbors, she had called her friend, Iris, to tell her about the outlandish situation she found herself in. Iris, however, had seemed more fascinated than creeped out. Ms. Potranco sighed knowing she shouldn't have said anything to her friend until Iris got back to normal and her mid-life crisis had finally run its course. The morning had definitely been eventful. Ms. Potranco shook her head. Suddenly, the spoon she was stirring the coffee with flew off the table and crashed to the floor. She sprang up and spilled what was left of her coffee on herself. Angrily, she grabbed a white wash cloth from a yellow cupboard and chastised herself as she wiped away the coffee that was thankfully now warm instead of hot. I must've moved the table somehow and the spoon fell off, she said to herself. I don't believe in ghosts! She calmly sat back down on the chair. A knock on the door made her vault up again causing her to scold herself once more but with sharper ferocity. Stop jumping out of your skin! This is ridiculous. I'm a scientist! Ms. Potranco kept saying to herself as she opened the door. Iris stood happily on the other side with a suitcase at her side. “What are you doing here?” burst a shocked Ms. Potranco. “Hello to you too,” declared Iris. “This is a surprise. I just talked to you this morning. Why are you he—” “May I come in?” “Of course. Sorry for my rudeness but you completely took me by surprise,” explained Ms. Potranco as she led her friend in the house. “I decided I needed a vacation, Lila. So here I am.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Just like that?” “It was spur of the moment.” “Obviously.” “I'll stay in a hotel if you need some privacy.” “No, of course not. You can stay with me,” assured Ms. Potranco. The way it was going she wasn't going to get much work done anyway and deep inside she was relieved to have company. “Thanks! I'm so excited to be here!” While Iris settled into the other bedroom, which was beside the kitchen, Ms. Potranco cooked a dinner of chicken tacos, pinto beans, and Spanish rice. Iris happily chattered from the next room, and Ms. Potranco smiled at prospect of no longer being by herself. “What a great road trip,” gushed Iris. “I loved the ride over here. The color, feel, and sounds of New Mexico! What a rush! We should've done this a long time ago, Lila. Why have we lived such boring lives?” “I don't consider my life boring, Iris,” stated Ms. Potranco. Iris stepped into the kitchen and started helping her mash the potatoes. “I didn't mean to put it that way. I just meant we could do some more stuff before we die.” “Maybe,” murmured Ms. Potranco. “For sure,” declared Iris with certainty. Ms. Potranco frowned. “You’re talking funny, Iris. What happened? You and I used to have the same personality. That's why we've been friends for so long.” “Don't ask me what happened to me. You know what happened to me,” burst a bitter Iris. “Is that what threw you into this mid-life crisis?” “I'm not having a mid-life crisis,” Iris asserted. “Then what is it?” “How can you not understand what it is?” blurted Iris. “Iris—” “Let's drop this. I'm so happy to be in Milagros with you. Let's not spoil it.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Okay, Iris. Okay.” Chapter 7 The next morning after a breakfast of egg and ham burritos, Iris told Ms. Potranco she was going next door to introduce herself. Ms. Potranco vigorously shook her head. “That’s a very bad idea,” burst Ms. Potranco. “Why is that?” “We shouldn't be encouraging a friendship with them.” “Why not?” Iris questioned. “They're nuts.” “How do you know they're nuts? I for one am fascinated to have two shamans so close by.” Ms. Potranco frowned deeply. “Since when are you so fascinated with such things? You're science minded like I am. A math teacher. What's got into you?” Iris rolled her eyes. “Maybe there's more to life than what we thought we knew.” Ms. Potranco shook her head. “I just don't understand you at all. At all!” Iris ignored Ms. Potranco and started walking next door. Ms. Potranco just stared after her, but then decided it may be better for her to follow Iris in order to take care of her. Her friend was likely to be taken in by the witchy Zepedas. They would probably tell her she had bad spirits in her and try to take her hard earned money. Ms. Potranco would protect Iris even if her friend didn't think she needed it. As Iris was about to knock on the tattered door, it swung wide open. Doña Chamita stood on the other side, smiling at them. “Good morning,” she greeted. “Good morning,” returned Iris, grinning. “We were expecting you, dear-one,” asserted Doña Chamita. “Come in.” “You were expecting me?” asked Iris as she stepped in the house with Ms. Potranco behind her. “Yes,” assured Doña Chamita. “You've been waiting for her?” questioned an incredulous Ms. Potranco. “That's not possible. Even I wasn’t expecting her yesterday.” “You weren’t but we were,” informed Doña Chamita. “But you're like a doubting Saint Thomas, aren't you,” declared Ymelda, stepping up to them. “What?” asked Ms. Potranco. “Saint Thomas, seeing is believing,” explained Doña Chamita. Ymelda nodded. “This is my mother Doña Chamita and I’m Ymelda.” She and Doña Chamita extended their right hands to Iris. Iris shook their outstretched limbs. “I'm Iris Jameson.” “Sit down,” said Ymelda as she pointed to the rickety spindle chairs at the chipped oak dinette. Iris and Ms. Potranco took a seat. Doña Chamita stepped over to the stove with the one knob and started boiling water for chamomile tea. “So you're Ms. Potranco's friend from El Paso,” declared Ymelda. “Yes, I am,” said a puzzled but pleased Iris. “And you know about us,” stated Ymelda. Doña Chamita nodded. “That's why you're here, aren't you?” “Yes,” said a nervous Iris. Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “What?” “She came here to visit us,” asserted Ymelda. “This isn't a vacation,” remarked Doña Chamita as she poured the tea into some chipped blue coffee cups. “You're here because of them?” burst an incredulous Ms. Potranco. “What does that mean?” Iris sighed heavily. “I need some answers.” “Answers to what?” asked Ms. Potranco. “Are you completely clueless?” questioned Ymelda. Ms. Potranco was taken aback. “Excuse me?” “Can't you see what you're friend has been going through, dear-one?” murmured Doña Chamita as she started placing the tea cups on the table. “I know she's been going through a mid-life crisis,” responded a defensive Ms. Potranco. Iris vehemently shook her head. “No, not true! My life got turned upside down because my husband died!” “And the horrible tragedy of it threw you into a mid-life crisis, my friend,” stated Ms. Potranco. “I'm not going through a mid-life crisis,” Iris shot back. Ms. Potranco sighed. “How else can you explain you leaving your scientific mind to study tarot cards and apparitions?” “Don’t you have an understanding of the pain your friend is in for having lost her kindred spirit?” Ymelda asked sharply. “Of course I understand. I loved Roy too,” burst Ms. Potranco. “But you can't heal wounds by not facing them. Iris has been trying to run away from reality.” “Actually, dear-one, she's been going through a life crisis and not a mid-life one,” explained Doña Chamita. “She’s trying to find an understanding of the reality that most people are so close to but can't see.” “I need some answers,” blurted Iris. “I need to know Roy is okay.” Chapter 8 After Ms. Potranco and Iris had returned from next door, neither talked about what had been discussed. No mention was made of Iris's true reason for being there or of her deceased husband. In fact, Ms. Potranco wanted to ignore the whole peculiar situation as if it had never happened. She wanted to pretend her childhood friend was in Milagros on vacation and that they would soon become as close as they were in the past. And she wanted very badly to pretend that Roy would soon be walking through the door instead of having died in the car accident. “It's beautiful here,” said Iris as they sat in the backyard watching the glowing sunset. “Very beautiful,” responded Ms. Potranco, trying to shoo away a black spotted chicken attempting to get close to her. By now she was getting used to sometimes being visited by the chickens from the Zepedas, but she had never seen this particular one before. “Is that chicken trying to sit on your lap?” asked a puzzled Iris. “I think so,” said an irritated Ms. Potranco. “That’s so weird.” “You're telling me,” Ms. Potranco burst. “I don't think this is normal.” Iris chuckled. “Lila, you should know by now that the rules don't apply here, next door to Doña Chamita and Ymelda.” That evening, after they had watched two Bette Midler movie DVD's Iris had brought with her, she informed Ms. Potranco that she was exhausted from such an eventful day and needed to get some sleep. Ms. Potranco decided to turn in also but as soon as she shut off the light, she tossed and turned. She wanted to blame her jitteriness on the spotted chicken that she had had to chase out because it had run in the door when she and Iris had stepped in the house. Things are getting crazier by the minute, she thought. “Good morning,” said Iris as Ms. Potranco stumbled into the kitchen still feeling a bit disoriented and sleepy. “Coffee,” mumbled Ms. Potranco. Iris poured her a cup of Nescafe just like Ms. Potranco liked it—black. Then she went on with the cooking of scrambled eggs while humming. Expertly fried potatoes sat in a skillet on the counter. Iris turned the tortillas heating on the grill with precision. “You're cheery this morning,” murmured Ms. Potranco, feeling her stomach start to growl even when she had woken up without an appetite. Iris had always been the best of cooks. “I dreamed about Roy,” Iris explained, smiling. “You did?” “We were walking hand in hand by the huge tree next to this house, and he was telling me how much he missed me.” “What a great dream.” “Any dream with Roy is a happy dream.” “I, on the other hand, had a nightmare.” “A nightmare?” asked Iris. “I dreamed about the troublesome spotted chicken. It kept chasing after me. I ran into a cave where ...” “What?” “Nothing,” sighed Ms. Potranco. “What happened?” questioned a curious Iris. “Tell me, Lila.” “This couple kept arguing.” “About what?” “She kept blaming him for her death.” “Her death? You were dreaming of a ghost?” “Actually, they were both ghosts,” Ms. Potranco explained, embarrassed. “He called her Violeta and she called him Arturo.” “I thought you didn't believe in ghosts, Lila.” “I don't,” Ms. Potranco asserted defensively. “It was just a dream. Probably due to having visited with those two quacks yesterday.” “Don't call them quacks,” burst Iris. “Show more respect for them.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Okay, okay, I won't call them names, but I still don't believe in their hocus pocus.” “It's not hocus pocus, but you're entitled to your beliefs,” Iris stated dryly. Ms. Potranco groaned. “By the way, why did you make so much food?” It was way too much sustenance for just the two of them. “I don't know,” said a puzzled Iris. “I did it without thinking.” A sharp knock on the back door in the kitchen made Ms. Potranco jump a few inches off her chair. “I'll get it,” said Iris, already at the door. When she opened it, Doña Chamita stood with a wide smile while Ymelda furrowed her eyebrows. “Good morning,” they said in unison. “Come in, come in,” said a smiling Iris. “Good morning,” Ms. Potranco greeted quietly. “Would you like some breakfast?” asked Iris. “We'd hate to inconvenience you,” stated Ymelda. Iris fervently shook her head. “There's plenty.” Being next door to the Zepedas had definitely had some effect on her, Iris reasoned. She had even cooked too much food maybe with the hunch that the shamans would be visiting. “In that case, we'd love to share a meal with you, dear-ones,” assured Doña Chamita. Iris seated the Zepedas next to Ms. Potranco who tried to hide her discomfort at having the odd neighbors so close to her and her friend. But Iris seemed so happy at seeing them again that a sharp pin full of guilt stabbed Ms. Potranco. As the plates were served and tortillas passed around, Ymelda tapped her knuckles on the table. “I need to tell you that this is not a social visit,” Ymelda stated. “It's not?” asked Iris. “What my daughter means to say is that we have to deal with an important matter,” expressed Doña Chamita. “What is it?” asked a suspicious Ms. Potranco. Ymelda eyed her solemnly. “This house had a life to itself before you came.” “You're not going to tell me again about this house having ghosts,” burst Ms. Potranco. “That's exactly what we're saying,” declared Ymelda. “That's ridiculous,” stated Ms. Potranco. “Completely ridiculous.” Iris shook her head. “You have to admit, Lila, that there is some strange goings-on in this house.” “All explainable,” asserted Ms. Potranco. Iris sighed. “Then tell me how do you explain stuff flying off the table, strange aromas all of the sudden, and other peculiarities?” “What peculiarities?” questioned Ms. Potranco. “What are you talking about?” “Sometimes we leave stuff in one room and it shows up in another,” explained Iris. “Sometimes I swear I can hear someone crying but when I look for the sobs there's no one there, and what about your dream last night?” “What dream?” questioned Doña Chamita, smiling. “If you’re such seers,” burst Ms. Potranco, “then what did I dream about?” “I'm getting tired of this foolishness,” Ymelda shot back. “Ms. Potranco, you're here for a reason whether you want to believe it or not. If you want to keep fighting it, instead of letting it try to fix what is so broken inside of you, then that's your prerogative.” “What do you mean fix me? What reason am I here for?” burst Ms. Potranco who couldn’t help the curiosity building up inside of her. “You'll know in time,” asserted Doña Chamita with a twinkle in her eye. “I'm here for a reason too, right?” asked a hopeful Iris. “Of course,” assured Doña Chamita, putting her hand on Iris's shoulder. “You're going to find what you've been looking for, dear-one.” “Thank you,” expressed Iris with tears forming puddles in her eyes. Ms. Potranco groaned. “How much will it cost her?” Ymelda irately shook her head. “She's free to give us what she wants or not give us anything at all.” “She's free to share what she wants to share with us,” explained Doña Chamita. “Sharing is very important when it comes to us humans. It's the only way we balance our lives—give and take.” “It's easy to say such things and then take advantage of a person when they're hurting like Iris is,” blurted Ms. Potranco. “Lila, no one's going to take advantage of me. Stop insulting Doña Chamita and Ymelda,” scolded Iris fiercely. Doña Chamita frowned lightly. “Iris, don't talk so harshly to your friend.” “While she's being disrespectful towards us, which isn’t right,” declared Ymelda, “she’s trying to protect you. And also, she's correct about there being a lot of greedy fake or real seers out there who would think nothing of taking everything they can from a fragile person.” “But I’m sure you’re not like that,” Iris asserted. “No, but Ms. Potranco doesn’t know that, dear-one,” explained Doña Chamita. “Not yet.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “I’m sorry to be so untrusting but that’s how I am.” “One day you'll see how your heart can heal, Ms. Potranco,” assured Doña Chamita. “You'll see.” “What are you talking about?” asked Ms. Potranco as she nervously cleared her throat. “We know your heart is heavy no matter how much you try to make it appear otherwise,” asserted Doña Chamita. “My heart is fine,” rushed Ms. Potranco. “Oh come on, Lila,” Iris declared. “Don't tell me you don't carry the sorrow and anger of having been cheated on.” “That's in the past!” “Don't tell me you don't miss Esteban,” burst Iris. “I know you still love him.” “I don't love him anymore,” Ms. Potranco murmured, pain in her voice. “I've been your best friend for over thirty years,” stated Iris. “You don't fool me. Not a bit. I know you.” “That doesn't mean you can see into my heart,” responded Ms. Potranco defensively. “She doesn't need to see inside your heart to feel its pain, dear-one,” informed Doña Chamita. Ms. Potranco violently shook her head. “You're wrong. Look, I'm not going to discuss my private life with strangers. I'm not—” “Fine,” stated Ymelda. “Your life is your life to do what you want. Besides, that's not what we came here for today.” “Oh yes,” burst Ms. Potranco, frowning. “You're here about some ghosts!” “That dream you had yesterday, dear-one,” said Doña Chamita. “Did it have a couple of spirits fighting?” Ms. Potranco choked on the coffee she was drinking. “Uh, well . . . No . . . I—” “Yes, that's exactly what she was dreaming about,” Iris burst excitedly. “What were their names?” demanded Ymelda. “I don't know their names,” Ms. Potranco answered nervously. “She said—” Iris started to say, but Ymelda shook her head at her. “What were their names?” Ymelda demanded from Ms. Potranco. “I told you—” Ymelda's steely gaze ran into Ms. Potranco's nervous eyes. “Don't lie to me.” “Violeta and Arturo,” Ms. Potranco murmured quietly. “Those are their names,” asserted Doña Chamita, smiling, “the spirits in your house.” Ymelda nodded solemnly. “So now you can see them.” “It was only a dream,” remarked Ms. Potranco. “Life is all a dream,” stated Ymelda. “You've got certain supernatural abilities too, Ms. Potranco. You just don't want to admit it to yourself,” announced Doña Chamita. “That's crazy,” Ms. Potranco blurted. “I'm not a psychic.” “You'll see in time,” said Doña Chamita. “In the meantime, we'd better help fix the problems between Violeta and Arturo,” declared Ymelda. “They have to move on.” “Who are Violeta and Arturo?” questioned Iris. “Their love story is incredible, dear-one,” explained Doña Chamita. “Love story?” burst Ms. Potranco, grimacing. “There's no such thing—just people finding it easy to make each other unhappy.” “That's so bitter, Lila,” blurted Iris. “There are people in this world who completely love each other.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “It always goes wrong.” “Maybe this love story went right,” stated a hopeful Iris. Doña Chamita sighed sadly. “No, it didn't.” “We'll tell you the story so you can judge for yourselves,” announced Ymelda. Chapter 9 The past always seemed to be closer or further—like an optical illusion. It was always bigger or smaller, funnier or sadder, or quieter or louder. Heartwarming or heart wrenching. Grand or tragic. For Violeta and Arturo, whose past completely defined them at this point, it was all of this in different stages. Their past began like most pasts do—way before either was born. Señora Beltran and Señora Sandoval were best friends almost since birth. They lived next door to each other and by some coincidence or act of the heavens, depending on how you look at it, they were both the only girls in their families, so they stuck together as sole members on their own planet. People would often confuse them as sisters, and they did nothing to correct the well-meaning strangers because they felt in their hearts that that's what they truly were—friend-sisters. When both married at almost the same time and got pregnant also nearly in the same moment, they knew destiny played a very important part in their lives. So when Señora Beltran birthed the cutest baby girl and Señora Sandoval the most handsome baby boy, they decided beyond even the slightest doubt that fate was trying to tell them that these two moppets were meant to be together. So from the very beginning, before their parents even had more children, Eugenia Beltran and Arturo Sandoval were promised to each other, and their mothers never failed to tell them how they were meant for one another. “Aren't you lucky, Arturo? You don't have to go around the world to find your media naranja. You already found your soulmate,” Señora Sandoval would gush as pleased as a mother could be that she had found such happiness for her child. “Soulmate?” little Arturo would question, puzzled. Señora Sandoval would nod enthusiastically. “Yes, the woman you were meant to be with! The woman you’ll love forever!” “Love forever?” “That’s Eugenia, my little one!” Certain people in the village were in agreement with the friend-sisters and felt that Eugenia and Arturo were extraordinarily lucky. These villagers believed these kids were obviously destined to be together since there were no better looking kids in Milagros. Still others, like Doña Chamita and Ymelda, thought it a shame how easily people could be misled by the superficial. The Zepedas knew that the mothers shouldn't try to impose their longings on their kids and tried to tell them exactly that but Señora Beltran and Señora Sandoval were so caught up in their want based assumptions that they couldn't see what was actually best for their kids. They couldn't open their world wider to understand other options. “Those Zepedas are getting senile,” Señora Sandoval told little Arturo, grumbling. “Senile?” Señora Sandoval nodded. “They’re not thinking right. They can't even see what’s obvious, but thank goodness I see clearly.” She wanted him to know the commitment she made in his happiness. So Señora Sandoval and Señora Beltran stopped any nagging thoughts crashing inside their heads by assuring themselves they were right about their kids and Doña Chamita and Ymelda were wrong. Completely wrong. Even when most of the village believed in these seers’ abilities, everyone was wrong at least once in a while—even shamans. Besides, Señora Beltran and Señora Sandoval knew their children better than anybody and were absolutely certain their kids belonged together. Eugenia and Arturo. They’d be a fairytale couple. What their parents didn’t count on was that true destiny was about to interfere. Just like Doña Chamita and Ymelda Zepeda said it would. Chapter 10 What people didn't realize about each other could fill whole countries. This could hold especially true within certain families. Arturo Sandoval had come into this world quietly. His mama, having a high threshold for pain didn't feel as much agony as most women did with their first child. But the excruciating suffering would come after Arturo made it out of her when his unexpected twin brother was promptly born and promptly died having only taken a few breaths. “He's special,” Doña Chamita said after taking her first look at Arturo. “He is?” asked Señora Sandoval. Ymelda nodded. “He's got certain abilities.” “He does?” asked Señora Sandoval excitedly. “What kind?” “He can see people,” stated Ymelda. “I'm glad he's not blind. I mean with his brother dying like that I was afraid he'd have something wrong.” “I don't mean his eyesight,” burst an exasperated Ymelda. “She means his corazon, dear-one,” explained Doña Chamita, smiling. “His heart can see more than most people’s.” “See what?” asked Señora Sandoval, bewildered. “A person's true nature,” stated Ymelda. “He'll go beyond the walls of the skin,” asserted a pleased Doña Chamita. It soon became apparent to Señora Sandoval that her child was gifted after all. People would stop her all the time to look at her charismatic child, and Arturo would always smile at certain people while crying when cruel ogres would touch him. “What a child!” people would say to Señora Sandoval often. “He's so pleasant.” They believed Arturo glided through the world on angel's wings without any heavy handedness to him at all. What people didn't realize was that Arturo felt a bit lopsided, as if something was always missing. He'd go through his mind every day trying to figure what he forgot that day but finally realized the only thing missing in his life was his twin brother. It wasn't that he felt lonely since after he was born his mother promptly took to having more kids, one right after another. They certainly kept him company. He just felt that something was always out of place within his life. Chapter 11 A year after the birth of her daughter Eugenia, Señora Beltran, like her friend-sister, also gave birth to twins. This strange coincidence, of course, served to reiterate Señora Beltran’s and Señora Sandoval’s special connectedness to one another. The fraternal twins, Violeta and Viviana, were as different as can be and fortunately, both were alive. Señora Beltran loved the twins equally. Nonetheless she had a special twinkle in her eye for Violeta. She’d say that her little girl, Violeta, was born on the sunniest of days which gave her the soft heart of a gushing lover and the stubbornness of the sun’s rays reaching their target. Violeta, like most people with an inability to see themselves, didn't understand what her mama meant. All she knew was that the sky was usually blue and the days held many adventures. Señora Beltran reasoned that Violeta’s fraternal twin, Viviana, was so different from her sister because she had been born first, probably while the sun was temporarily covered by a cloud. Viviana didn’t even have half the sunny disposition or mule-headedness as Violeta. That was a fact. Most people around the twins, including relatives, never caught on to Violeta's stubbornness because she was so sweet. Even as a child, she carefully measured her words so that she didn’t offend anyone with ugly, sharp words. Hating the idea of wounding anyone, she carefully constructed her sentences. She had learned at an early age the power of words and how potent they could be. She knew people crumbled, groaned, and cried at certain unpleasant discussions. But they also grinned widely, shrieked with joy, and laughed up a storm when life was pleasant. It was extraordinarily logical to Violeta that it was better to express the beauty in life instead of always being grumpy over what one didn’t own or have. In fact, she rarely grumbled about doing her chores and sang songs instead of complaining. Señora Beltran felt fortunate indeed at having a daughter like Violeta. “Good morning!” Violeta would exclaim every day with a wide grin. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Even when the day was stormy and gray, she would still welcome the new day the same way. Señora Beltran would return the smile to the pure sunshine greeting her. “Where are your sisters?” “Still asleep,” Violeta informed. “Missing the awesome dawn!” When certain people would meet the three Beltran sisters, they would be shocked. The youngest just didn't fit with the older ones. The two beauties, as Eugenia and Viviana were called, were thought to be every bit as attractive as movie stars. They were guerras—with their light skin, light brown hair, and light blue eyes. Eugenia was considered the greatest beauty of the village. But the youngest Beltran girl was different—Violeta's eyes were too big for her face, her mouth too round, and her nose too long. Because she was dark—jet-black hair, dark charcoal eyes, and dark tawny skin, she was not considered lucky in the lottery of looks. “What happened?” these villagers would ask as they scratched their heads. “Must be difficult to have such great beauty around you and looking like that.” It would break Señora Beltran's heart to hear her daughter referred to as the unattractive one. What kind of way was that to refer to a child? And weren't all children beautiful for the mere act of being so freshly arrived from God? “People can be so ridiculous,” Ymelda would sternly tell Señora Beltran. “Foolish people make these constraints on what beauty is and the rest follow like sheep to the slaughter.” “Basing beauty on such small ideas is so silly,” sighed Doña Chamita. “Small, distorted illusions.” Ymelda grunted, “Unfortunately, it's not intelligence that makes the world go round.” What Señora Beltran knew was that out of her three daughters, little Violeta had the best heart, the most unselfish one. Violeta would always be the one to help her mama while the others complained about whose turn was it to do something. It was not that Violeta didn't defend herself against her sister's more ego driven spirits—when necessary she'd tell them in no uncertain terms that she wasn't doing all the work in the house. Still Violeta adored her mama and wanted to lift any difficulties away from her. Violeta, even at an early age, understood a very important life lesson—take care of the people who take care of you. Her mama was her champion, believing in her like most people failed to do. Señora Beltran told her not to worry about the looks illusion. “Beauty is an opinion anyway,” her mama stated. “It's not based on fact. It's based on the ideas of human beings and humans are deeply, deeply flawed. Just ask Doña Chamita and Ymelda.” So little Violeta continued her life never doubting her mama. It was too exhausting and confusing wondering why God hadn't bestowed her with the beauty most other human beings worship. Besides, there was too much to do around the house for such mental dalliances. Occupying herself with work was best for her so that she didn’t concentrate on any foolishness from other people. Keeping busy also helped her to keep her deepest secret. A secret that gnawed her insides so much it threatened to tear her stomach. A secret she was so ashamed about that she prayed forgiveness for it every day. Please, God, forgive me for being in love with my sister’s soulmate. Forgive me for being in love with Arturo Sandoval. Chapter 12 As far back as Arturo’s memories reached, his mama had always insisted that Eugenia was for him. He hadn't thought to question it since he loved his mama as deeply as he could. Even when his heart didn’t seem to correspond to the eldest Beltran sister, he ignored his lack of amorous feeling. And because Eugenia was affable enough he felt he didn't have anything to complain about—he'd grow to love her. So as Arturo grew into a teen-ager, he went about his days with a squeezed heart while his intended, Eugenia, dreamed and dreamed about what their life would be together someday. She already had the wedding planned out in her head. She talked about Arturo so much that it irritated Viviana. Violeta, however, seemed to like hearing about him. “You love him so much, don't you?” murmured Violeta. “Isn't he something?” gushed Eugenia. “He's hardworking, charming, and handsome.” “Yes, he is,” Violeta said wistfully. “That's why all the girls in town like him.” “That Rubi really gets on my nerves,” Eugenia snapped. “Do you see how much she flirts with him?” “Yes, she's totally into him,” asserted Violeta. “That one practically glues herself to wherever he’s at.” “And she knows he's mine. It's destiny.” Meanwhile, what no one in the village knew except for the Zepedas, who could see what others couldn't, was that it wasn’t destiny at all. It was two meddling mothers who wanted to push their dreams onto their kids. And it was also about one young woman believing she was in love when it was an obvious case of brainwash. “When someone is told so many times she must love another, she starts believing it herself,” stated Ymelda, shaking her head. “Poor Eugenia—not questioning what she should,” Doña Chamita shot back, sighing. Arturo, however, was starting to wake up from the mental manipulation. He knew he just didn’t love Eugenia. It all became clearer to him one day when he was at the Beltran house waiting for Eugenia to finish dressing for a date when he heard some amazing singing. At first, he thought it was coming from the radio but then he realized it was a live voice. He scrambled up from the sofa and stepped towards the kitchen. To his complete amazement, the voice was coming from no other than Violeta as she cooked dinner. Violeta, upon seeing him startled at the doorway, abruptly ended her song. “Please go on, Violeta,” he encouraged, “you’re voice belongs to that of an angel.” Her face turned a bright red. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he continued, “share your voice and song with me.” The melody had been about a lover realizing he loved another and needed to be honest with himself. “What are you doing in the kitchen?” questioned Eugenia from behind him. “I’m listening to your sister sing,” he stated. “She has quite an incredible voice.” “Yeah, I guess,” Eugenia muttered. “Let’s go before we’re late to the party.” Arturo threw Violeta a smile. “Bye.” Violeta stared after him, a strange painful look in her eyes. As Arturo arrived at the teen party of his best friend Norberto, he couldn’t stop thinking about Violeta’s voice. Eugenia asked him if he was okay being that he was so quiet. He told her that he was probably coming down with something. As the night wore on, he realized he was definitely coming down with something all right—a huge realization. It took Violeta’s clear and beautiful singing to make him understand that he didn’t belong with Eugenia. He would never love her. He should never marry her. He shouldn’t even be in any type of a romantic relationship with her. The thing was that if he was honest with himself as the song Violeta had sung demanded, he had to admit that he didn’t even like being around Eugenia that much. The girl was a bit superficial, stuck-up, and selfish. With a jolt, he realized that Violeta was the polar opposite of her oldest sister. He had always looked at her as Eugenia’s little sister, but now realized that Violeta wasn’t a child anymore. In fact, she was only a year younger than him. Only a year. He tried to shut Violeta out of his thoughts. He told himself he shouldn’t begin to look at her any different from the way he had always seen her. He shuddered to think the chaos he would create if he didn’t. Meanwhile, he had to figure out what to do about Eugenia. It was a huge problem. HUGE. Chapter 13 Violeta as usual tried to shove Arturo out of her mind. What a horrible person I am, she said to herself, in love with my sister’s boyfriend. It sickened her to think how she had fallen for Arturo since a child. In her eyes, he had always been the most kind-hearted, the most intelligent, and the most handsome of boys. She hardly remembered when she hadn’t been in love with him. Violeta sighed miserably remembering a few days ago when he had caught her melody in the kitchen. He had asked her to share her singing with him. If only she could. If only she could share an embrace with him. If only she could share a kiss with him. If only she could share her love with him. If only. Sorry, God, for thinking such wicked things, she prayed under her breath. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Get out of my thoughts, Arturo, she demanded. Get out! One day when Violeta was outside her house doing chores, Arturo Sandoval suddenly popped up. Her astonishment made him smile. “Hi, Violeta,” he chirped brightly. “Hello,” she squeezed out of her mouth nervously. “What’s up?” “Nothing,” she murmured, her voice still very shaky. “Why don't you ever talk to me?” he asked a fifteen-year-old Violeta while she was doing her usual work of hanging up laundry on the clotheslines in her backyard. “What is there to talk about?” she questioned, puzzled he was still speaking to her. Her usual buoyant self hid in the shyness that had suddenly taken over her. “Anything and everything.” “Do you want me to call Eugenia?” she murmured. “She’s inside the house.” Arturo frowned. “No, don’t call her.” He waited for her to say something, but she quietly continued hanging her family’s clothes as if he wasn’t there. Still, even though she had done all but dismiss him, he refused to leave. “I suppose that if I ask you if I can help, you'll say no.” “Right,” she rushed, her voice trembling. After five minutes of solid and awkward quiet, Arturo frowned, and then he ambled off. Violeta breathed a sigh. Why is he bothering with me anyway? What does he want with me? But the next day as Violeta went to the little grocery store of El Sombrero to buy a can of La Lechera, sweetened condensed milk for her mama's special flan, Arturo popped up and got in step with her as she was rushing along. “Hi,” he said. “Hello,” Violeta answered, perturbed. “How was school?” “Fine.” “Where are you going?” he questioned. His solid gaze made her nervous. “To the store. Look, Eugenia is at the house if you want to visit with her.” He shook his head. “I don’t.” “Why not?” He shrugged. “I just don’t.” Violeta eyed him with disbelief. “I’ve got to go. Bye, Arturo.” “I'm walking with you,” he asserted. Violeta sighed with frustration. “Suit yourself.” Arturo, true to his word, walked alongside Violeta and to her surprise didn't open his mouth for anything. He followed her into the small grocery store and waited patiently as she went past most of the stacked cans of various foods, and picked up the condensed milk. Señor Gamboa smiled in a puzzled way as he watched her ignore Arturo. “Hello, Señor Gamboa,” she greeted as she set the can on the counter. “Hi, Violeta. How’s your family?” “Very well. How’s yours?” “Good.” “I love how you remodeled the store!” Señor Gamboa grinned, pleased. “I did it myself.” “It looks great,” asserted Violeta. “Very professional.” “Thank you,” he gushed. “You’re always so cordial.” Of the three Beltran sisters, Violeta was his favorite. She was so kind, spirited, and effervescent, how could anyone not adore her? After paying, Violeta rushed out the store and walked briskly home with Arturo having to keep up behind her. Finally she couldn't stand it any longer. “You're dating my sister, right?” “Yes,” he said, frowning. “Why are you following me then?” “I want to be your friend,” he said. “Why?” “Because I like you.” They had already arrived at her house, and Violeta was beyond puzzled. She eyed him silently before opening the door. “Bye,” she warbled. “See you later,” Arturo said before Violeta closed the door of her house behind her. Chapter 14 Arturo knew with all his heart that he should be staying away from Violeta who was occupying too much of his mind. He also knew he had to end it with Eugenia. The only reason he hadn’t done it was because he was very reluctant to break his dear mother’s heart. But much was happening to him. Things he seemed to have very little control over. He realized he was starting to fall head over heels in love with Violeta. When his best friend, Norberto Ibañez, started trailing after her, Arturo decided he had to do something. Even Norberto didn't know Arturo's most well-kept secret, but he suspected it. The way Arturo would talk about Violeta made his best friend start seeing her in a new light. Soon Norberto was searching for her smile and her sparkling eyes. Arturo would have to do something about the frustrating situation. Even when he had found Violeta's personality and intelligence much more attune to what he considered exceptional, he hadn’t been able to argue with his beloved mother. Even when his own inner sentiments had been much more attracted to the beautifully dark skin, eyes, and hair belonging to Violeta, who he considered to be the most beautiful of the sisters by far, he had quieted those feelings. But the time came when he couldn’t do it anymore. He just couldn’t date Eugenia anymore. I can't live without Violeta, thought Arturo when Señor and Señora Sandoval confronted him about how little time he was spending with Eugenia. She had called them crying, saying she felt completely abandoned by her beau. The prospect of breaking his mother’s tender heart was too much for Arturo, and in the middle of the conflict, he abruptly told his parents that he had an appointment he had to keep and rushed out of the house. “What's wrong with that boy?” Señor Sandoval had asked his wife. “He had something to do,” murmured Señora Sandoval. “There's something wrong here.” “What do you mean?” questioned Señora Sandoval. “He didn’t give us a reasonable explanation as to why he’s neglecting Eugenia.” Señora Sandoval sighed. “I’m sure he’s going through some kind of a teen-age thing.” “I’m not so sure,” stated Señor Sandoval. “What do you mean?” “I'm not sure I want Arturo marrying Eugenia,” he blurted. Señora Sandoval’s eyes widened sharply. “What?” “Maybe he shouldn’t marry Eugenia.” “Why not?” Señora Sandoval burst. “I don't think he loves her.” Señora Sandoval gasped loudly. “Why would you say that?” “I can see it. You must be blind if you don't.” “Will you stop your baseless assumptions,” Señora Sandoval shot back sternly. “They were meant for each other at birth and that is all there is to it.” Outside, Arturo, who had felt as if he was suffocating in his house, started running as fast as he could, trying to rush as far away from his constricted life as he could. He let his feet take him where they wanted, and he ended up at the Zepeda home. Arturo sat on the tattered bench outside, hyperventilating and wondering what he was doing there. After a few moments, the house front door swung open and Doña Chamita and Ymelda stepped over to him and nonchalantly plopped down next to him. “Hi,” he greeted. “What brings you here, dear-one?” questioned Doña Chamita. The Zepedas, of course, already knew the reason he was there—their seer abilities so strong—but they intuitively were aware of a person’s need to verbalize any problems. The three quietly sat together with the Zepedas waiting for Arturo to start speaking. He stared straight ahead, not looking at anything in particular, but trying to focus on something in his head. “I can't marry her,” he finally said after the minutes had slowly passed by. “I'm glad you finally realized it,” declared Ymelda. “But what kind of person does that make me?” Arturo choked out. “What kind of a son am I? I can't fulfill my mama's greatest wish—she’s a woman who deserves nothing but happiness and respect from those around her.” “Your mama is wrong, Arturo,” stated Ymelda. Arturo abruptly turned to her. “But Ymelda—” “Hush now and listen,” Ymelda ordered. “She and Señora Beltran are stuck on some guesses about destiny and love that only serve to mess with their kids.” “Parents should never project their dreams onto their children. People deserve their own dreams,” Doña Chamita murmured. “Do what’s in your heart, dear-one.” Arturo realized then that he was being gifted with an enormous amount of wisdom. He’d have to be brave while sadly breaking his mother’s tender heart, but it would have to be done or he’d be stuck in a whirling nightmare that he didn’t deserve to be in. That tense evening, his parents were completely shocked when he told them that he was breaking up with Eugenia because he simply didn’t love her. “I’m pretty sure I never will,” Arturo insisted. “You must be confused, my son,” offered his sobbing mother. Arturo knew he had to stay firm. “No, I’m not.” “You must be,” she burst, her lips trembling. Arturo sighed. “Mama, I know my own heart.” “But—” “Leave the boy alone,” Señor Sandoval chimed in. “He just doesn’t love Eugenia—accept it.” “I can’t,” Señora Sandoval keened. “I just can’t.” To Arturo’s pained chagrin, his mother took the news so badly that she wouldn’t get out of bed for days. Señor Sandoval walked around with an ‘I told you so’ smirk on his face while Señora Sandoval couldn't believe what her son had done to the daughter of her friend-sister. Eugenia had refused to accept the break-up. “You’re confused, Arturo,” she had insisted, her voice shaky. Arturo had shaken his head. “I’m sorry to hurt you, but I can’t be your boyfriend anymore.” Tears burst out of her eyes. “I don’t understand! Is it Rubi!” “No, of course not,” he stated, sighing. “It’s just that our relationship doesn’t really work.” “What are you talking about!” she howled. “We’re meant to be together—destined! How can you play with destiny?” “You and I are not destiny, Eugenia. We’re not.” When he had finally been able to leave the emotionally draining scene, he felt a huge relief that what had had to happen had occurred. Eugenia wailed nonstop for days on end. Violeta didn’t know what to do to help her sister and didn’t know what to think of the situation. The Beltran parents were completely shell-shocked. “I just don't understand,” Señora Beltran cried to whoever would listen. “How could this happen?” She went to Señora Sandoval's home to confront the issue. “How could Arturo do this to us, my friend-sister?” “I don’t know,” murmured Señora Beltran, sobbing. “I don’t know who my son is anymore.” They could find no consolation. Señora Beltran kept searching for answers until her mind gave her the most logical reason for Arturo’s strange actions. “It's got to be that skank, Rubi,” Señora Beltran told Eugenia one day. “That’s what I thought but Arturo denied it.” “He’s covering for her,” growled Señora Beltran. You think?” asked a tearful Eugenia. “What else could it be? She's got her claws in him—probably cast a spell on him.” Señora Beltran promptly rushed to the Zepedas to find out if Rubi had bewitched Arturo because she could not fathom any other explanation. “Rubi hasn't bewitched, Arturo. His will is too strong for that kind of foolishness,” stated Ymelda. “What is it then? Why would he not fulfill his vow to his mother?” “Arturo and Eugenia don't belong together,” informed Doña Chamita. “And you need to come to terms with it, dear-one. Listen to us.” While Senora Beltran was preparing chicken soup for dinner, she kept wondering about the Zepedas’ advice to her. Could it be possible that she and Señora Sandoval had been so wrong about their kids? How could she come to terms with something that made her daughter so obviously miserable? “Eat something, Eugenia,” she pleaded. “I made your favorite meal for you.” “I'm not hungry.” “But surely you can have some soup.” Eugenia didn't eat much for days. Señor Beltran, tired of seeing all the long faces in his house, forced the family to go to dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant. Hardly anyone ate or spoke even when Señor Beltran tried to get his family to converse. His daughters sat glumly while he made small talk. Eugenia's sisters took her deep purple wounds inside themselves, and Señora Beltran still hadn't gotten over what had happened. To make matters worse, when they stepped out of the eatery, Arturo walked into the convenience store across the street while staring at them. Eugenia turned to look at Violeta oddly. Señor Beltran rushed to the store and had a few choice words with Arturo. The young man allowed the distraught father to rip him apart without saying a single word to defend himself. At home, Eugenia cornered Violeta on the porch when the rest of the family had already stepped into the house. “It's you.” “What?” asked Eugenia. “The other woman isn't Rubi,” Eugenia snapped. “It's you.” “That’s ridiculous!” Violeta burst. “How could I've been so blind? Now that I think about it he always seemed to be trying to get next to you. I thought he was being nice to you. I said to myself, ‘isn't he sweet trying to be part of the family’.” “This is ridiculous!” burst Violeta. “It's you he was staring at today,” she snarled. “It's been you all along.” “But Eugenia—” “How could you do this to me?” chortled Eugenia, her teeth gritted. “Eugenia, I didn't do anything to you!” “How could you?” she sobbed. “How could you? What kind of a sister are you?” Chapter 15 After Eugenia couldn’t get her sister to stop denying what was so obvious to her, she rushed to her mother. Señora Beltran had trouble taking in what her eldest daughter was trying to tell her. “How could Violeta and Arturo do this to me?” Eugenia warbled. “This has to be a misunderstanding,” Señora Beltran insisted desperately. “Has to be!” When she confronted Violeta, her youngest daughter vehemently denied having any kind of a romantic relationship with Arturo. Señora Beltran had no doubts at all that Violeta was telling her the truth. Yet, there was something churning in Violeta’s eyes that deeply uneased to her. Love was swirling in them. Señora Beltran was forced to face the horrible truth right front of her. Violeta was in love with Arturo! Mercy! What had she done wrong as a mother for this to happen? Good heavens! That night Señora Beltran went to bed with an even heavier heart than when Arturo had broken up with Eugenia. How could a travesty of such enormous proportions be happening to her family? Sister against sister. A daughter's betrayal of her family. And a son's unfulfilled promise to his mother—Arturo’s treachery. She rushed over to the Zepedas to get some clarity. “How have you been, dear-one?” gently questioned Doña Chamita. “Not good. Not good at all,” cried Señora Beltran. “The worst imaginable tragedy has happened to my family.” “Worst tragedy?” Ymelda questioned, scoffing. “Really?” “Well, pretty bad,” murmured Señora Beltran. “I know what's happened,” informed Ymelda. “You do?” Ymelda nodded. “Arturo broke it off because he and Eugenia don't belong together.” “How can you say that?” wailed Señora Beltran. “It’s true, dear-one,” asserted Doña Chamita. “How can you be so sure?” “It's Arturo and Violeta that love ties together.” Señora Beltran vigorously shook her head. “But that can't be.” “Why not?” Ymelda questioned sharply. “Arturo’s mother and I have known since their birth that Eugenia and Arturo were to be married.” “Neither of you know what you’re talking about,” declared Ymelda, chiding. “But—” “Do you want your kids to be happy?” “What kind of question is that? Of course.” “Violeta will only be happy with Arturo at her side,” affirmed Doña Chamita. “Vice-versa for him.” “What about Eugenia?” “If Violeta is Arturo's soulmate then Eugenia isn't,” informed Ymelda matter-of-factly. “Her mate is still somewhere out there.” “Are you sure?” Señora Beltran questioned anxiously. “Positive.” “But—” Doña Chamita nodded. “Let go, dear-one. Let all your stubbornness go.” In the morning, Señora Beltran woke up more refreshed than she had in days. She realized what she had to do and sat Eugenia down for a chat. “I've committed an enormous sin against you, my daughter,” Señora Beltran asserted, sorrow in her voice. “What are you saying, Mama?” “Ever since you were born I've filled your head up with certain ideas. I didn't let you pick your heart. I wrongly told you what was in it. I made you think you loved Arturo because of what I wanted.” “But Mama, I do love Arturo.” “You think you do. What you’re feeling are my emotions transferred to you. When you were growing up, I wouldn't let your eye stray anywhere else. Remember the Rafael boy?” “Yes, I remember him,” Eugenia murmured sadly. “He wanted to court you and you seemed giddy with him, but I promptly reminded you that Arturo was the boy for you.” “Arturo never paid me the attention Rafael did,” sighed Eugenia. “Now your sister is in love with him and—” “How could she?” Eugenia snapped with fury. “Stop with that. She only followed her heart. We're the ones who are betraying her not letting her be with her love.” “But Mama—” “Don't be so selfish, my daughter. Your pride is hurt and will take time to heal, but it eventually will while a broken heart may never seem whole again.” “You think she'll be heartbroken all her life?” Eugenia asked feebly. “You need to ask yourself how much you care for your sister. Is that what you wish for her?—that she live her entire life with an unfulfilled heart? She’s sacrificing for you—will you do the same?” Chapter 16 What had happened had been nothing short of a miracle. Eugenia had told Violeta she was free to be with Arturo. Señor Beltran had resisted the idea, but his wife had knocked some sense into him. When he saw how happy his youngest daughter seemed with the turn in events, he grudgingly agreed to support her love of Arturo. The Beltran parents, not wasting any time, proceeded to the Sandoval household. Señora Beltran allowed her heart to gush emotions as she explained how the Zepedas had been right after all. Señor Sandoval came around quickly, but Señora Sandoval kept shaking her head and sobbing. “If you don’t want our son to be happy then I do,” Señor Sandoval snapped at his wife. “Are you accusing me of not wanting the best for Arturo?” Señora Sandoval shot back, hurt and fury deep in her voice. “Yes!” Señora Sandoval’s lips let out a whimper. “How can you accuse me of—” “Easy!” “My son means the world to me!” Señora Sandoval wailed. “I’d sooner cut off my own finger than hurt him!” Señora Beltran decided it was time to step into the argument. “Friend-sister, you don’t need to cut off your finger to show him how much you love him. You just need to let him follow his own heart.” “Arturo shouldn’t be following your heart,” Señor Sandoval snapped at his wife. “He should be following his own.” It took a few days of serious soul-searching for Señora Sandoval to see the light. When she finally did, she—as Señora Beltran had done with her child—begged Arturo for forgiveness. His deep love for his mother gifted her with redemption. Then he rushed all the way to Violeta's home with a song in his step. As usual, she was hanging laundry outside. “I love you, Violeta,” he burst. Violeta stopped what she was doing to stare at him. “Arturo—” “You love me too, don’t you?” Violeta’s parents hadn’t told her what had been happening in order to save her the heartache if for any reason it didn’t work out between them. “But—” “We can be together,” he blurted. Explaining the whole situation, Arturo didn’t leave out any details. Tears raced down Violeta’s eyes. With her hand on her heart, she took conscious breaths, so she wouldn’t hyperventilate. “Yes, I love you too, Arturo,” she murmured. And so began their lovely courtship with the full support of their families. All through high school they were like two peas in a pod. Always together. Always singing each other’s praises. Always fully supporting one another. It got to the point where everyone in Milagros forgot he had once been Eugenia’s beau. Even the Beltran and Sandoval parents could no longer imagine Violeta and Arturo without each other. After Arturo graduated, he left to college with a heavy heart. He’d be a few hours away in Albuquerque. The small distance felt eternal to the young lovers, but both agreed that his education was important. He’d visit most weekends and started building a house with his own sweat for when he and Violeta got married. His father had given him the land and was helping him with the cost and construction of house. Arturo loved working with his hands and was emotional about building the home he and his beloved would share. He didn’t consider leaving Milagros after he obtained his degree in engineering because he knew that Violeta was very close to her parents. Because Señora Beltran had always been somewhat sickly, it was important for Violeta to be close on hand to help with anything that was needed. In fact, when she had graduated from high school, she had enrolled in a nearby community college instead of attending the university where Arturo was at. Her sisters were going out of state for their higher education, so Violeta, as usual, was the one who made the sacrifice to look after her mother. Instead of being upset that his beloved wasn’t joining him, his chest swelled with pride at Violeta’s complete unselfishness. “My soulmate is so amazing,” he’d tell everybody who would ask him about his girlfriend. As time passed by, Arturo started coming home less and less with the rigors of school and work. Violeta missed him terribly but understood his situation. Life sometimes consisted of sacrifices. Then one day a most disheartening event happened to Arturo. Violeta wished with all her heart that she could be with him when he called her in near tears that his parents were divorcing. In fact, his father ended up leaving Milagros to live with Arturo in Albuquerque. Violeta’s mother spent endless time with Señora Sandoval comforting her. The divorce had been a mutual decision but still heart wrenching for her. “We just grew apart,” she’d tell Señora Beltran tearfully. One day Violeta heard that Rubi Ruvolcaba had decided to attend the same university as Arturo. Violeta felt a painful ping in her heart. Rubi had always been in love with Arturo, and had tried to break them up several times by flirting with him. He hadn't paid any attention to her, but Violeta couldn't help the sharp weed of jealousy from growing inside her. Rubi had always been considered very beautiful by the men in Milagros. When people warned her that Rubi was probably leaving Milagros to romance Arturo, Violeta told them vociferously that he wouldn't cheat on her. Even with Rubi in the same school as Arturo, Violeta refused to doubt her intended. Everyone hoped that Arturo could keep his brains in his head with a beautiful woman like Rubi after him. When Arturo didn't mention Rubi in his calls, Violeta casually asked about her, and Arturo would state in a brief sentence or two that she seemed to be doing fine, but he was much too busy to pay attention to her going’s-on. Then many months later, on one inexplicably cold summer's day, Rubi showed up in Milagros with a tummy as round as a soccer ball. Rumors instantly started flying. Whose baby was it? Dora Sifuentes also returned from Albuquerque a month after Rubi’s sudden appearance and promptly told everyone that the baby had to belong to Arturo. Rubi was seen at his apartment frequently. Violeta violently pushed away the idea that her Arturo would've betrayed her. “Do you think that baby is Arturo's?” asked Señor Beltran to his wife while they were in bed late at night. “Violeta says it's not.” “What if it is?” Señor Beltran questioned, thick worry in his voice. “Cleto, Arturo happens to be completely in love with our daughter. It's obvious to everyone who has ever seen them together.” “But, Lourdes, slapping the salami has nothing to do with love,” he declared. “Men get lonely.” “Is that an excuse to become a cheating skunk?” Señora Beltran scoffed. “Of course not!” Señor Beltran shot back. “I was just trying to make sense of this situation.” A few days after this conversation, Rubi gave birth to a baby boy. Because Violeta's friends insisted vehemently that she see the baby, she found herself at the Rubi’s home. When Violeta took a look into the crib, she understood why her friends had insisted so much. “His name is Tulio,” stated Rubi, her light-brown eyes matter-of-factly as she patted her newly tinted reddish-brown hair. Violeta's throat went dry. Hadn't Tulia been the name of Arturo's late paternal grandmother? “Why are you naming him that?” Violeta asked when she found her voice. “He looks a lot like Arturo, don't you think?” “Once and for all, Rubi, is this baby Arturo's?” Violeta snapped, deep worry in her voice. “That's private.” “Rubi, stop playing games!” A shrill cry came from the crib. “Lower your voice. You're disturbing my child,” stated Rubi, picking Tulio up to stop the wailing. “Are you going to tell me or not?” Violeta murmured softly, her voice still strained and upset. Rubi cooed at the now calm baby. “Calm down, Violeta.” “Tell me,” she demanded in a soft whisper. Rubi sighed. “My baby has Sandoval blood running through his veins.” Violeta didn't stop running until she arrived at her home where she hid underneath her bed and let it all out without making a sound. A waterfall of tears gushed from her eyes. It was her mother, having an uncanny instinct for when here children were hurting, who found her there. “She's probably lying,” was all Señora Beltran could say to her tearful daughter. “That baby looks exactly like him! Exactly!” “It could be a coincidence,” offered Señora Beltran. “No, Mami, it's not a coincidence. That's a Sandoval baby. I feel it.” When Señor Beltran saw the baby for himself, he agreed with Violeta and her friends. Arturo must've grown lonely and had a fling with Rubi, he reasoned. “I'll never forgive him,” insisted Violeta. “NEVER!” Violeta called Arturo and immediately started shrieking at him. He seemed completely baffled—as if he had been suddenly sideswiped. As his ears rang with her pained recriminations, he finally reacted from his startled stupor with strong words of his own. He insisted that the baby wasn’t his, his yells as strong as hers. “We’re over! I never want to see you again!” Violeta bellowed, slamming down the phone with all her might. Chapter 17 Norberto had heard how wonderful Violeta was from his one-time best friend, Arturo, so many times that he had grown enamored of her. In a fit of passion, he had asked her to go out with him, causing an ending of his friendship with Arturo. Norberto missed his friend, but more than that he hated that she had rejected him so quickly as if his proposition wasn't worth thinking about. So when he heard about what had happened to Violeta and Arturo, he decided that his chance with Violeta had come. “Marry me,” he implored of her on bended knee. “What?” “Marry me and forget Arturo. I’ll give you everything you need.” This was how Violeta had come to make the worst decision she had ever made in her life. It was only several days after she had last spoken to Arturo. He had tried to get a hold of her, but she refused to talk to him. Thinking it was better to let her calm down, Arturo planned to confront the baby issue with Violeta in Milagros. He was totally distraught over the occurrences. Give her a few days to cool off, he kept telling himself, completely unaware what those few days would cost him. Then I’ll be able to reason with her. Violeta was hurting so much and so angry at Arturo that her mind kept swirling like a tornado, making her not think clearly. She swiftly agreed to marry Norberto in a haze of brain fogginess to get back at Arturo for betraying her. They immediately went to the judge and wed without their families knowing what was happening. Violeta regretted the decision right after the ceremony, but her classic stubbornness prevented her from seeking an annulment. She decided that she made her bed and had to lay in it. On the wedding night, she let Norberto part her legs and counted till one hundred until Norberto finished with his urges. The intimacy was completely different from when she had experienced love with Arturo. But Arturo had betrayed her. Norberto smiled thinking how he had beaten his once best friend in marrying the only woman Arturo would ever love. She must've not really cared for him that much, he told himself. Eventually, she'll love me more than him. How can she not—I’m a better man than Arturo. Much better. Violeta's new life began—the existence of the unhappy. The revenge didn't satisfy her like she thought it would. It didn't keep her cozy at night, and it didn't fill her when the emptiness of her husband's slobbering kisses left her cold and lonely. She started wondering why Arturo had been friends with this inconsiderate jerk but soon realized that Norberto had been a different person when he was young. As a child, he wasn't much different from the other boys. They'd play their games, and eat dinner at each other's homes. The fact that he was from a moneyed family made no difference until much later. One day, when first reaching adulthood, he discovered that he indeed was different from the other villagers. While they had to scratch cents, he was a supposed somebody. Violeta grew to abhor her husband's pretentiousness—she knew who he actually was as a person. Vain, arrogant, inconsiderate. He cheated on her incessantly— not that it mattered to her much. Betrayal was only bad when it was cared about. She was actually relieved he was sleeping with other women. That would keep his paws off her. What a life I have, Violeta would say as she would cry herself to sleep. Chapter 18 When one of his brothers had called him to tell him that Violeta had married Norberto, Arturo had punched the wall so hard it had made a dent. “Is this a joke?!” Arturo roared. “I'm afraid it's true,” confirmed Lauro. “Why didn't anyone in the family tell me they were getting married?” “It happened very fast, brother. We didn’t know anything about it. By the time we found out, she was already hitched to him.” A month later, after graduation, a sorrowful Arturo decided to return to Milagros in an attempt to make sense of what had just happened. His father stayed in the Albuquerque and begged him to do the same. “You've got nothing but pain there, son,” he explained to Arturo. “I've got to go, Papa.” “I don't understand why. You've got women fighting for you. Stay here and get over her.” “I've got to go back. I just do.” When he first found himself in Milagros, he took in deep bursts of air to quell the stabbing pain in his chest. Lauro didn't hesitate in telling his brother what went wrong according to rumor. “You're engaged to one woman, and impregnate another, Arturo. What did you expect?” Arturo’s eyebrows shot up. “What are you talking about?” “Rubi.” “I didn't impregnate Rubi,” Arturo responded sharply. Where was the accusation coming from? Why did his brother and his ex-fiancée believe such a ridiculous thing? “Come on, little brother. That baby looks exactly like you.” “I am not that baby's father,” he burst. Lauro sighed deeply. “Well, the whole town thinks so—including Violeta.” “Violeta should’ve trusted me,” Arturo blurted bitterly. Against his family's wishes, Arturo moved into the home he had built for Violeta and himself. His siblings told him it wasn't healthy for him to live there with the ghosts of what could've been, but he said he would live there and that was that. His relatives tried to intervene when he took to drinking at the cantinas, but he'd push them aside and tell them it was none of their business. If he wanted to live at the bars then he would. In the meantime, Violeta had heard of his return to Milagros and made it a point of avoiding him. She reasoned that seeing him would only make her more miserable than she already was, and he wasn't worth it. After all, she had heard that he hadn't been to see his baby even once. What kind of man was that? His time away from Milagros must've changed him, she told herself. Changed him for the worst. Just like she was changed for the worst too. So months went by with the two in the same village, but they never ran into each other. Their thoughts were always on the other, but their flesh never collided until one fateful day when Violeta couldn't stand being cooped up in her gilded cage of an expensive home and took a walk. During that stroll she made a life-changing decision. She was going to leave Norberto. Divorce him. Their sham of a marriage was over. Sighing with immense relief, she turned towards her mother’s home to tell her about the enormous decision she had made. Violeta felt certain her parents would be pleased since they despised her husband. When a truck honked behind her, she turned around to find Arturo pouncing out of it, leaving his vehicle in the middle of the road. “What’s up, Violeta?” he growled. “How’s marriage treating you?” “Arturo, please get back in your truck and leave.” “How could you do it to me?” “How could I do it to you,” she snapped furiously. “How could you do it to me?” “Do you really think I fathered Rubi's child?” he demanded, hurt spikes in his voice. “That baby has your same face.” “He's not my child!” “Stop embarrassing yourself, Arturo, and admit the truth!” They were so engrossed in their argument that neither saw the speeding van on the road. It was not until it collided with Arturo's truck that they realized what was happening, but it was much too late. Their bodies were flung violently in the air and then crashed brutally to the ground. Their families were inconsolable of course. Chapter 19 Ms. Potranco and Iris had bid the Zepedas a hasty and shaky good-bye and had left for the rental home after the ending of the very sorrowful epic of Violeta and Arturo. Neither Ymelda nor Doña Chamita took offense to the abrupt exit of their guests. In their shaman minds, it was expected since their new next door neighbors had very serious issues to work out and the tragic love story had stirred those concerns up. “During the next few days they’ll face what’s needed,” stated a confident Doña Chamita. Ymelda nodded, frowning. “Let’s just hope they’re ready to try to put themselves together.” “I think they are.” Ymelda shrugged. “It’s all up to them at this point.” “The ones I’m really worried about are Violeta and Arturo.” Ymelda sighed. “They’re still not ready to listen to us.” “No, they’re still blindingly furious with one another. We need to give them some more time.” “Yeah, they need to cool off to listen to some reason.” The tragic saga of the ghosts greatly affected both Ms. Potranco and Iris for different reasons. At first when getting home, neither mentioned the story at all, but both had eyes that darted around the house as if to try to catch a glimpse of the restless spirits. No matter how much Ms. Potranco tried to keep her own mournful calamity out of her mind, she just couldn’t. What had happened with the ghosts had sliced into her jagged memories, bringing them out. Her compassion for Violeta grew to an all-time high along with her disgust of Arturo. During the next few days, Iris was surprised to find her friend sobbing by a window in the living room. Ms. Potranco was not a very emotional person—not even when the divorce had been final had Iris seen her cry. “Are you okay?” asked Iris, very concerned as she put her hand on Ms. Potranco’s shoulder. “Being cheated on is horrible, Iris,” she muttered. “You’re lucky your husband was so faithful to you.” Iris’s face crumpled. Feeling her legs suddenly turn to jelly, she plopped down on the sofa. “Why did Esteban do it to me?” Ms. Potranco murmured with emotion. “I thought we had a good marriage.” Iris quietly listened to her friend, tears rolling down her own face. “We had a good home, a great family, and a respectful marriage,” Ms. Potranco burst. “What more did Esteban want?” Iris nodded, not able to meet her friend in the eye. “He traded me for a newer model—what a cliché!” Ms. Potranco blurted with seething and hurtful rage. “I thought I had already gotten past Arturo’s infidelity, but that story the Zepedas told us yesterday nearly killed me.” “You told me that according to Rosita,” Iris murmured, her voice stumbling, “Esteban was no longer with Gwyneth.” “Should that make me feel better?” Iris stared at the flowery tiled floor. “Maybe a little better that his betrayal didn’t work out.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “His break-up doesn’t change the fact that he threw away our marriage or broke my heart.” Ms. Potranco started silently crying again. Iris didn’t know what to say, so she scooted closer to her friend who had slumped down on a wingback chair next to the sofa and placed her hand on Ms. Potranco’s shoulder once again. Ms. Potranco patted Iris’s hand with her own. “Thank you for being such a good friend.” That evening when both women had watched a comedy after eating dinner, they retired to their rooms to sleep. But Iris didn’t get in bed. It was her turn to sit by a window, stare outside, and dab at the tears that kept rushing out. Chapter 20 “What’s wrong, Iris?” Ms. Potranco questioned. Her friend was uncharacteristically quiet and somber too as both sat in the kitchen with their untouched breakfasts of ham and scrambled eggs in front of them. Iris shrugged. “Maybe I’m coming down with something.” “I brought a first aid kit with me with all kinds of over-the-counter medicine.” Iris smiled slightly. “Always prepared, Lila.” Ms. Potranco smiled back. “You know how I am.” “Always organized and reliable.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “Maybe that’s why Esteban cheated on me—because I’m not daredevil enough,” she muttered, some bitterness in her tone. A chicken ornament on the wall came crashing to the ground, breaking the ceramic piece in large pieces. Iris’s face jerked to the floor, startled. “Ah, it’s Violeta,” Ms. Potranco asserted matter-of-factly as she stood up to clean up the broken ornament. “What?” “Violeta’s expressing her frustration—that’s all.” “Frustration?” “With her circumstance and mine.” Iris eyed her friend in a completely surprised manner. “How do you know that?” Ms. Potranco started sweeping the broken pieces. “I dreamt about Violeta.” “You did?” “In my dream she was hugging me, telling me how sorry she was that I got cheated on.” Iris let out a deep breath. “So now you believe in ghosts?” “It’s just that I feel such a connection with Violeta,” Ms. Potranco declared, as she threw the broken ceramic object in the trash can with a dustpan. “I can’t explain it, but I can feel her presence in this house.” “You can?” Ms. Potranco nodded vigorously as she sat back down at the table. “Yes, definitely. I’m not going to try to convince myself that there’s nothing odd going on in this house. I’m not lying to myself anymore.” “So you’re opening yourself to the possibility of the supernatural?” “When you really think about it, you discover so much. Take the fact that matter never dies. The flesh may cease to exist, but not the energy. You know that there are some studies that say that people weigh a few grams less when they die? Maybe that’s their energy leaving their flesh.” Iris smiled. “It’s really great that you’re considering other possibilities.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “This trip has been a real eye opening experience for me.” “Great!” Iris burst. “Please tell me more about your dream—so Violeta was hugging you in it?” “We were comforting one another about what had happened to us,” Ms. Potranco asserted. Abruptly, her eyes darted around her, and she started talking to the air. “Arturo, what you did to poor Violeta is so despicable, young man! She was waiting for you! You said she was your soulmate! How could you cheat on her? Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!” The TV and radio brusquely started turning on and off with eclectic and frantic abandon. Iris shot up from her chair and rushed to Ms. Potranco. “Let’s get out of here! It looks like Violeta and Arturo are having a huge fight.” Ms. Potranco and Iris made it outside just before a crashing sound hit their ears. When Ms. Potranco fixed her gaze into the window, she told Iris that one of the kitchen cabinets was wide open and a whole stack of pans was on the floor. “Better let them cool off,” remarked Iris. “As if that’s possible,” retorted Ms. Potranco. “As if Violeta can ever forgive what was done to her.” Iris sighed deeply. “Let’s take a walk to the river. What do you say?” “Good idea. I think I need to cool off too.” Both women started trekking from the backyard to the dirt trail that led to the small river a few yards away from the rental home. Iris stayed stone silent as Ms. Potranco let all that she had so carefully shoved into a box inside of her out. All the anger, frustration, betrayal came flooding out. “Being cheated on is like a death!” Ms. Potranco yelped. “It is!” Iris quietly listened without saying a word. “You just can’t imagine, Iris, how much it tears you up inside!” Iris winced. “Your self-confidence plummets!” continued Ms. Potranco, profound wounds in her sharp voice. “You start wondering about everything you believed in about yourself. You start questioning it all!” Iris sighed. “You start questioning what you thought you knew. You thought the man of your dreams considered you to be the woman of his dreams. You thought you had made a solid decision in marrying him. You thought your decision in joining your life to his had been a well thought out one,” Ms. Potranco exploded. “Second guessing yourself is now forever part of you because you just can’t trust your own decisions, your own perceptions, and your own feelings!” Iris’s eyes started to water. “How did I miss the signs, Iris?!” Ms. Potranco blurted. “How did I not see his restlessness—what he was moving toward?” Iris wiped the tears with the back of her hand. “It’s just that I never imagined that Esteban would be the type to cheat. He was such a responsible husband and father. Such a loving one,” Ms. Potranco uttered and suddenly grew quiet. By the time they had arrived at the small river, Iris had managed to stop her flowing trickle of tears. She and Ms. Potranco sat on the bridge, dangled their feet in the cool water, and solemnly listened to the rushing torrent. “It’s beautiful here,” murmured Ms. Potranco, sighing. The fruit trees on the banks looked lively with quinces, apples, and oranges. “Yes, beautiful.” “Esteban would really appreciate a place like this. You know how much he loves the outdoors.” Iris nodded solemnly. “Why did he have to ruin it for us?” Ms. Potranco burst, sighing heavily. “After being humiliated when I came home early and found him and his naked mistres, I at least had the dignity to throw him out of my home!” Iris nodded again. “Even though he begged for a second chance I refused to let him make a fool out of me anymore.” Ms. Potranco warbled. “He begged?” “Begged and begged.” Iris sighed. “I didn’t know that.” “Sorry, friend, but it’s been very difficult to talk about the breakup of my marriage, even to you.” “That’s okay, Lila,” muttered Iris, her voice with a strange tone to it. “There are things I haven’t told you either.” “Oh?” “Huge secrets.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh? I guess your secrets are your business.” “Well, they’re eating me up alive.” “You know you can tell me anything.” Iris shrugged. “I don’t know about that.” “What?” “My secrets are pretty awful.” Ms. Potranco placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Do you want to talk about them? I mean, you’ve had to listen to my break down. Now it’s my turn to listen to you.” Iris sighed nervously. “I don’t know how you’re going to take my secrets.” “Are they about Roy?” Her eyes stayed solidly on the river. “Yes.” “Oh, my gosh!” Ms. Potranco blurted as if she had just thought about something. “Did he cheat on you?!” “No, I cheated on him.” Chapter 21 “What?” burst Ms. Potranco. Iris’s eyes fell to the river, not being able to meet her friend in the eye. “You heard right,” she murmured. “Are you pulling my leg or something?” Iris sighed miserably. “I cheated on Roy—worst mistake of my life.” “How could you?” Ms. Potranco blurted. “I—” “What were you thinking?” “I—” Ms. Potranco abruptly started to scramble up. “You know something, Iris? I just can’t listen to this right now.” “But—” “I’m too emotional right now,” Ms. Potranco explained, a sharp vulnerability to her voice. “I’m taking a ride in my car.” Striding away, she left Iris staring after her with a pained expression. Still, Iris understood her friend’s inability to deal with her confession at the moment. How could Ms. Potranco be nonchalant about a cheater when she had been so cruelly cheated on herself? Iris didn’t know how long she stayed at the river, gazing into the water but after a while of trying to get her thoughts together, she headed back to the rental home. As expected, her friend wasn’t in the house. The car was gone. Iris decided she didn’t want to be inside the place with two battling ghosts, so she sat on the bench in the backyard. A thought suddenly lodged itself in her mind. She should return to El Paso and leave this hideous ripping of her heart. She’d deal with her best friend later. For now, she was having a difficult time breathing. She regretted so much having told Ms. Potranco the truth. She regretted so much having come to Milagros on a whim. What she had inside of her—all the guilt and twisting emotions—just had to stay hidden and squeezed in a corner as it had been since her husband had died. As she stood up to leave, Doña Chamita quietly joined her. “Good afternoon,” The elderly woman chirped. “Sorry, Doña Chamita but I can’t chat now. I’m about to leave to El Paso.” “How are you?” the elderly woman questioned, patting her on the hand. “Not so great,” Iris murmured. “However, I’ll be fine. I don’t want to be rude, but I really have to lea—” “You finally told her?” questioned Iris. “Told her what?” “About your infidelity.” Iris eyed her with a startled expression. “You’ve known all along?” “Yes.” “You don’t judge me?” Iris blurted, tears bursting out of her. “Dear-one, it’s time for you to heal—don’t you think?” “I don’t know how to even begin doing that.” “Having come to stay with your friend is the right first step.” By the time Ms. Potranco arrived at the rental house in the late evening, Iris was determined to clear the air. Doña Chamita had convinced Iris not to return to El Paso yet. Not to run away from her problems. Not to hide from what was troubling her as she had done since Roy had died. “We need to talk,” Iris declared as soon as Ms. Potranco stepped in the door. Nodding, Ms. Potranco plopped down on the loveseat in the living room while Iris stayed on the sofa. “Why’d you cheat on Roy?” she bluntly and abruptly questioned, sharpness in her tight voice and steeliness in her eyes. Iris sighed. “Vanity.” “What?” “Let me just first say—Roy was a great person to be sure.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Yes, to be sure.” “But sometimes he flapped his lips without thinking.” Ms. Potranco chuckled. “Yes, I remember.” “Well, the thing is that one day he really upset me.” “How?” Iris gulped. “You know how hard it was for me to lose weight after Seth was born.” Just thinking about her son who was at summer camp at the moment made her heart swell with love. “I remember how sensitive you were about your weight.” “Very sensitive. Well, my often insensitive husband thought my struggles with my weight were funny.” “Funny?” “He’d call me his little porker. I know he didn’t mean to be a jerk. It was just his rough sense of humor, but he hurt me nonetheless, and I felt so unattractive. So ugly. So bad about myself.” “So you had an affair,” Ms. Potranco murmured. The ceiling lights flickered violently. “Don’t be too upset with me, Violeta,” Iris pleaded at the air. “Listen to my whole story before you judge.” The lights flickered softly as if responding. Iris stared at the light bulbs a few seconds and then turned to Ms. Potranco. “Let me clarify for you and Violeta that it wasn’t exactly an affair.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Then what was it?” she questioned, her voice sharper than she had intended. “It was more like a one night stand,” explained Iris, sighing. “You see, I met this friendly guy while I would exercise every morning. He would always compliment me as we jogged in the park. We would laugh together, and he made it very clear that he thought I was attractive. One day we stopped at his apartment because he was going to loan me some CDs and… and… it happened. We ended up in bed together.” A wall decoration fell to the floor. Both women ignored it. “Lila, I swear I regretted it as soon as it happened. I stopped going to that park and never saw him again.” “So it only happened once?” “Only once, but of course it was enough to start eating at my soul. You just don’t know how guilty I felt. I finally got the nerve to tell Roy, but … but… before I could say a word…he died.” Iris’s voice shook with anguished misery. “That’s when the car accident took him from me and I was left with crushing grief and also the hopelessness of trying to find forgiveness from my lifeless husband.” “So when you found out I had rented a place next to two shamans, you rushed over here,” Ms. Potranco murmured. “Right.” “I finally understand what’s been going on with you.” Iris sighed deeply. “Do you see why I couldn’t even tell my best friend? Esteban’s cheating didn’t leave you in the best disposition to be sympathetic.” “You’re right about that.” “If I could go back to that day and change things I swear I would.” “I believe you,” expressed Ms. Potranco. “Unfortunately you can’t.” “You of all people know how much I loved Roy!” Iris burst with emotion. “I miss him so much!” “I know.” “I’m so sorry, my friend,” Iris blurted. “I’m a huge disappointment as a human being!” “Iris—” “I suppose it’s difficult for you to forgive me after what you’ve been through with Esteban.” “It’s not my forgiveness you need.” “What?” “Let’s go to the Zepedas and see if there’s any way for you to talk to your deceased husband.” Chapter 22 Ms. Potranco and a very fidgety Iris sat in the humble kitchen of the Zepedas. Doña Chamita had a sympathetic hand over Iris’s one. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” questioned Ymelda, eyeing Iris carefully. “Of course she’s ready for this,” declared Ms. Potranco. “She’s—” “Don’t answer for her,” demanded Ymelda. “I . . . I . . .” Iris seemed unable to finish the sentence. “People have to be ready for forgiveness,” asserted Doña Chamita. Ms. Potranco eyed her with a questioning expression. “What do you mean?” “Sometimes people have a hard time letting go of the guilt,” explained Doña Chamita. “They self-flagellate with it—as if whipping themselves until the blood gushes out.” Ymelda nodded. “They’ve got to be willing to let those emotions torturing them go. Are you willing to do this, Iris?” Placing her face in her hands, Iris sobbed. “I don’t deserve forgiveness!” “Sure you do, dear-one,” asserted Doña Chamita. “How can you be so certain?” blurted Iris. Doña Chamita smiled. “I’m sure of it because of how tortured you are. You’re truly remorseful, so you deserve to be forgiven. You deserve to be let free. You deserve to start living a productive and healthy life again.” “But you don’t understand how great my husband was and what I did to him!” burst Iris. “Let’s let him speak for himself, okay?” stated Ymelda. “I don’t think I can face him—even under these mystical circumstances,” declared Iris. Ymelda groaned. “If you’re not ready for forgiveness then we shouldn’t do this.” As Ms. Potranco and Iris were leaving the Zepeda house, Doña Chamita said one last thing that was on her mind. “Think about your son, Iris. He already lost his father. And he’s got half a mother because she won’t finish facing what she needs to.” Those words haunted Iris’s dreams that night. There was no one she loved more than Seth. He was her pride and joy. She couldn’t abide damaging her only child. The next day, she avoided talking about the situation with her friend. Ms. Potranco did the same, figuring that Iris had to come to terms with it on her own. They did small talk throughout the day and watched some movies. Yet, what was going on inside of Iris was the polar opposite of the nonchalant calm she demonstrated on the outside. Her son’s well-being kept gnawing at her. Eating away at her sense of equilibrium. That night she dreamt of her husband again, of him begging her for a talk. The following morning Iris asked Ms. Potranco if they could return to the Zepeda home. “I need to come face to face with this matter once and for all,” Iris declared. As the two friends were on their way next door, Ms. Potranco worried about how pale and fragile Iris looked. “You sure you don’t want to wait a few more days?” she asked. “I need to do this now while I still have the guts to do it.” Inside the Zepeda kitchen, Doña Chamita took Iris’s hands into her own. Iris felt a certain comfort emanating from the elderly woman. “Everything’s going to be fine, dear-one,” Doña Chamita kept repeating. “What do I need to do?” questioned Iris, her voice shaky. “Nothing,” stated Ymelda matter-of-factly. Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Nothing? Don’t we need to light candles and hold hands?” Ymelda groaned loudly. “This isn’t a séance.” “It isn’t?” asked Iris, puzzled. Ymelda shook her head. “No, of course not,” she shot back. “Your husband is already here,” asserted Doña Chamita. “All we have to do is talk to him.” “Here?!” burst Iris, swallowing hard. Doña Chamita nodded. “He’s standing right next to you, Iris—on your right.” Fearfully, Iris’s eyes went to the empty spot beside her. “What do you want to say to him, dear-one?” asked Doña Chamita. Iris’s face crumbled, and she started to sob. “He’s patting you on the face,” Doña Chamita asserted. “He’s been worried about you.” “He has?” Iris asked between sobs. “Say what you need to say to him,” Ymelda declared. “This is your opportunity.” Iris placed her face in her hands. “I’m so ashamed!” “Free yourself, dear-one,” implored Doña Chamita. “Talk to him.” Iris gulped back her sobs. “Roy, I cheated on you one time, and I’m so sorry! I was going to tell you but you died.” “Good job letting it out, Iris,” cooed Doña Chamita. Ymelda nodded. “Roy already knows everything you just said since he’s been occasionally around you and Seth, but he also knows that you needed to confess to him.” Iris sobbed into her hands as Ms. Potranco handed her a tissue from her purse. “What else do you want to tell Roy, dear-one?” murmured Doña Chamita. Ymelda nodded. “Now’s your chance to unload your heart.” Iris kept sobbing. Doña Chamita sighed. “Roy wants you to know how much he’s always loved you, and it doesn’t change even now that he’s dead.” “I don’t deserve his love,” burst Iris. “He disagrees,” stated Ymelda. “He says that all the wonderful times together can’t be erased by one mistake.” “Mistake?” murmured Iris. “He understands that it was my biggest mistake?” “Yes,” asserted Dona Chamita. Ymelda strongly eyed Iris. “You need to tell him the words that’ll free you from captivity.” “Free yourself, dear-one,” Doña Chamita entreated. Ymelda looked up from her sobbing. “Forgive me, Roy,” she finally uttered to the air. “Please forgive me.” Chapter 23 The room suddenly felt different to all the inhabitants inside. The atmosphere seemed sunlit. It was as if a warm light had burst in from the outside, touching their hearts. Doña Chamita grinned. “He forgives you, Iris.” “Just like that?” Iris blurted. Doña Chamita nodded. “Yes.” “But—” Ymelda groaned impatiently before interrupting Iris. “Are you going to argue with Roy about forgiving you?” Iris’s eyes shot to the floor. “It’s just that I find it so hard to believe he can forgive me so easily.” “What you’re finding hard is to let go the heavy bag of guilt you’ve been carrying for so long,” Ymelda stated matter-of-factly. Doña Chamita nodded. “It’s almost become part of you, and you don’t know how to go through your days without it.” “It’s a filthy habit, like any addiction, and it will destroy you and those you love if you don’t let it go,” declared Ymelda. Doña Chamita patted Iris’s shoulder. “Roy forgives you. Just accept it.” “Accept it?” questioned Iris. “Accept the forgiveness,” implored Doña Chamita. “I know that forgiving yourself is very hard for you, but you must do it, dear-one.” “I don’t know how to even start to do that,” blurted Iris. Ymelda nodded, sighing. “I’ll tell you how to accept what is being so generously given to you. You don’t know how worried Roy is about you and Seth. Stop twisting the knife inside of you by constantly thinking about your infidelity. Stop calling yourself names. Stop going over and over your mistake. STOP!” “But how do I do that?” questioned Iris. “It’s on my mind all the time.” “Well then, dear-one, replace those ugly thoughts with new ones,” Doña Chamita suggested. Iris’s eyebrows shot up. “New thoughts?” Doña Chamita nodded. “When those awful thoughts come out of the shadows of your mind, just think of Roy forgiving you over and over again until it sears in your mind.” “My mama is one hundred percent right,” asserted Ymelda. “I’m going to tell you what he looks like right now, so you can imprint this moment in your mind, Iris. So you can replace the tornado with this calm picture. He’s wearing an old pair of faded blue jeans that are starting to tear at the knees—” “Those were his favorite pair!” Iris burst excitedly. “No matter how many new pairs I’d buy him, he’d insist on wearing those.” Ymelda nodded. “Yeah, he looks very comfortable in those pants. Anyway, he’s also wearing a dark green pullover sweater—” “I gave that to him for his birthday,” remarked Ms. Potranco, her voice shaky. This whole scene had practically rendered her speechless. Iris nodded. “Yes, that was his favorite sweater.” “He’s handing you a fuchsia petunia, and he’s laughing for some reason,” Ymelda stated. Iris chuckled. “He always thought it was funny that my favorite flower wasn’t my namesake. Petunias and not irises are my favorite.” “That explains his amusement,” Ymelda stated. “He’s got a pretty rich laughter.” “He does,” Iris agreed, dabbing her eyes. “He also wants you to know something,” Ymelda informed. “Something that he needs forgiveness for.” Iris’s eyebrows shot up. “Forgiveness?” “He’s very, very sorry for having called you his porker,” explained Ymelda. “He realizes now how insensitive that was.” Doña Chamita nodded. “He says that he’s always considered you to be the most beautiful woman in the world and thought it funny for you to be insecure about your looks. He never thought you’d take his porker comments seriously. He’s so sorry.” “Sometimes men can be pretty clueless,” Ymelda grumbled. “Sorry, Roy, but it’s the truth.” “Roy says he knows how insensitive he could be at times,” Doña Chamita conveyed. “He’s really sorry. That porker comment was completely out of line.” Iris smiled brightly, shiny tears in her eyes. “I’m so happy he realizes how much he hurt me calling me a porker.” “He’s so sorry,” Ymelda asserted. “Very, very sorry.” Iris smiled. “I accept his apology.” “He’s relieved,” stated Ymelda. Iris sighed. “If he forgave me for the infidelity, forgiving him for his unfiltered mouth is a no brainer.” “He wants you to move on with your life, dear-one,” Doña Chamita added. “He’s seen how stuck you’ve been and wants the best for you and his son.” A new string of tears flowed from Iris’s eyes. “I love you, Roy,” she murmured. “I always will.” Doña Chamita smiled. “He says the same goes for him. He’ll always love you too.” Chapter 24 After Iris and Ms. Potranco arrived back next door, both women decided they needed to take a nap in their rooms. It was amazing how exhausted they felt after the incredible session with the Zepedas. As Iris’s eyes closed for rest, she had a thought in her head, I’m forgiven. Indeed, she felt freed just like the shamans said she would. Ms. Potranco dozed off thinking about her own issues with infidelity. Can I forgive Esteban as Roy has forgiven Iris? she asked herself. That was a huge question. One that she wasn’t ready to answer at the moment. The next morning, Iris seemed as light as a feather. She woke up early and cooked a huge breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Her cheerfulness made Ms. Potranco smile. It had been a very long time since Iris appeared so cheerful. After breakfast, they sat in the living room and talked about old times. Ms. Potranco couldn’t remember last when they had done this. They sighed with joy at their shared memories. A knock on the door startled both women as they were chuckling over their silly dalliances as girls. “Who can it be?” questioned Ms. Potranco. When she opened the door, a completely startled expression took over her face. “Hi, Mom.” “Ro,” murmured Ms. Potranco upon seeing her beautiful nut-brown haired and eyed thirteen year old daughter. “Hi, Lila.” Ms. Potranco groaned. “Esteban.” He stood calmly before her, his coloring the same as his daughter’s as well as his tall lean stature. “Mom, can we come in?” questioned Rosita. Ms. Potranco regained her composure. “Of course,” she burst, hugging her daughter. “I’m so glad to see you, baby.” She led Rosita and Esteban inside where she invited them to sit down. Iris greeted them with a smile. “Iris,” said Esteban, “I didn’t know you were here.” “I forgot to tell you, Daddy, that Aunt Iris joined mom for a vacation.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Which brings up the question of why you’re here?” “Mom, when I’ve talked to you you’ve sounded kinda out of it. Not your usual self so dad and I decided to come over and see how you were doing,” announced Rosita. “It’s been quite an experience here,” Iris chimed in. Rosita eyed her mother with concern. “You okay, Mom?” “Baby, I’m perfectly fine,” asserted Ms. Potranco. “You shouldn’t have worried.” “We couldn’t help worrying,” declared Esteban. Ms. Potranco frowned at him. “You’re like the rock of Gibraltar, Lila,” Esteban assured as he continued. “Nothing fazes you, so when you sound odd, those who know you worry.” “I’m fine,” Ms. Potranco reiterated. “I’m so relieved, Mom,” Rosita expressed. Ms. Potranco smiled. After the session the day before with the Zepedas, she was feeling a bit lost without her family. “Ro, I’m so overjoyed you’re here. Maybe you and I can vacation here in Milagros. It’s a very interesting village—very picturesque to say the least.” Rosita grinned. “I’d love to stay. Dad can stay too, right?” Ms. Potranco frowned. “I’m sure he needs to get back to El Paso to run his hardware business.” “Actually, Lila,” murmured Esteban, “I’d really love to stay. My assistant manager runs my store probably better than I do.” “There’s no room,” Ms. Potranco burst. “I’ll sleep on the sofa,” Esteban quickly shot back. Iris decided to make an announcement. “I’m going back to El Paso,” she asserted. “My room will be available.” Ms. Potranco grimaced at her friend. “Iris, you don’t have to leave.” “Yes, Iris, don’t leave just because of me,” Esteban rushed. “I’ll be very comfortable on the sofa.” Iris smiled. “I’m done with what I came here to do. I need to be getting back to my life. It’s very important that I come out from under the shadows once and for all.” “What?” questioned Esteban. Iris sighed. “It’s a long story. Lila will tell you about it later. Meanwhile, I need to—” “Iris, do you really need to leave?” questioned Ms. Potranco. Iris eyed her friend solemnly. “Let’s have a private talk, okay?” Both women stepped silently into Ms. Potranco’s bedroom. Ms. Potranco rushed to speak right after the door closed. “Iris, you don’t have to leave just because my daughter and her father are here.” “I need to leave because it’s time for me to go home and start moving on with my life.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “But—” “Lila, don’t take this the wrong way, but you should welcome this opportunity with your ex.” “What?!” Iris sighed deeply. “I love you like a sister, so I need to tell you the truth. You need to have it out with Esteban once and for all.” “What do you mean?” burst Ms. Potranco, bewildered. “I already blew up at him when I caught him and his mistress in my house.” “That might be true, but you’ve never really had it out with him. You need to let it all out, my friend—all of it.” “What?” “You remember that mini breakdown you had at the river with me?” questioned Iris. “What does that have to do with anything?” “What you told me is what you need to tell Esteban.” Ms. Potranco groaned. “For what?” “For your own soul. So you won’t be carrying that junk with you all the time.” “But—” “It’s not for him, my friend. It’s for you.” Ms. Potranco shook her head. “I don’t think I can do it.” “Sure you can.” Ms. Potranco shook her head more vigorously. “I can’t open myself up to him,” she blurted, upset. “You were married to the guy. Sure you can.” “He’s a stranger to me now.” Iris took Ms. Potranco’s hands in her own. “Take it from me, my friend, if you take advantage of this opportunity to unburden yourself, you’ll feel a ton lighter. Besides, you, like me, have been stuck in the past. The only way to move forward is to be brave and face what you must.” Chapter 25 As Iris left, Ms. Potranco couldn’t help thinking that her friend’s countenance was much more peaceful than when she had arrived in Milagros. Ms. Potranco still didn’t like the idea of her and Rosita sharing a vacation with Esteban, but as she thought deeply about things, she realized that maybe it was for the best for her and her ex to have a serious talk with their only daughter. Ro has to come to terms with her parents never getting back together, thought Ms. Potranco. She needs to hear it from both Esteban and I. Ms. Potranco showed both to their rooms to unpack all the while sighing and wondering how everything would work out. When the summer started out, she never imagined even for a single second that she’d be in this situation. Of course, she hadn’t imagined she’d be next door to some shamans who helped her best friend come to terms with her own infidelity either. Life’s strange, sighed Ms. Potranco. And very unpredictable. Ms. Potranco took her ex and Rosita on a small tour of Milagros so they could find their footing in the new place. They were enchanted with the village. Both father and daughter had always been much more adventurous than her. All in all, Ms. Potranco had to admit that the first day of all three being together hadn’t been so bad. She was surprised how much she was enjoying doing things as a family again. Still, deep inside she was still furious with Esteban, and she couldn’t help being rude to him at times when her blood suddenly boiled as she remembered what he’d done to her. Even with the frustration and exasperation of having her cheating husband so near, it warmed Ms. Potranco’s heart to see how happy and go-lucky Rosita seemed. In fact, it took no time at all for the young girl to make friends in Milagros. Unfortunately, this left Ms. Potranco alone with her ex while her daughter was with her new buddies. This didn’t seem to bother Esteban at all, but Ms. Potranco walked around the house with an acid tornado in her stomach. “Lila,” he murmured at seeing her scrunched face when Rosita had gone to the movies with Lauro Sandoval’s daughter. He had just stepped into the kitchen where Ms. Potranco was drinking a cup of coffee. “I know you don’t like me being here, but there’s a lot we need to discuss.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “We need to straighten out our daughter about us—as gently as possible of course.” Esteban eyed her carefully. “Lila, about Gwyn—I’m not with her anymore. I—” “STOP,” Ms. Potranco demanded. “Your personal life is no longer my business,” she blurted quickly. “Lila—” “I need to so some things,” Ms. Potranco asserted as she vaulted up and rushed out the kitchen door, leaving her almost full coffee cup on the table. His puzzled gaze followed her as the door closed behind her. Remembering that she hadn’t grabbed her car keys, Ms. Potranco decided that she didn’t want to return inside the house and face her ex. Instead, she decided to take a walk to the river and decompress. Even the mention of Gwyneth’s name on Esteban’s lips made her burning pulse race wildly. UUUUUUGH!!! she screamed inside of herself. At the river, she sat on the bridge as she had done not too long ago with Iris. The running water served as a tonic to her, and her thunderous heartbeat started to calm itself. I need to tear the clear picture of the infidelity out of my head, she said to herself. It surprised her how much the betrayal still pained her even after a year of the occurrence. She wished the incident had faded in her mind, but unfortunately, it hadn’t. It hadn’t at all. In her mind, she could still see Gwyneth’s thin naked body walking around in her house when she had opened the door that day. She had come home early from school because she hadn’t been feeling well. Gwyneth’s very thin nude body with Arturo. EEEEEEEEK! Ms. Potranco had started screaming at both of them. Arturo kept saying the oldest cliché in the book, “It’s not what it looks like.” Gwyneth got dressed as Ms. Potranco argued with her husband. “C’mon, Arturo,” purred Gwyneth. “It’s time she knows about us.” After that, she had kicked Arturo out of the house and immediately filed for divorce. He had kept begging her to reconsider—to let him explain things. “You’ve slept with her, right?” Ms. Potranco had snapped. “Yes but—” “But nothing!” She stood firm on her decision to divorce. She was especially certain she had made the right choice when Arturo and Gwyneth had moved in together a few months later. Esteban, I really thought we’d be married to each other until the end of our days, Ms. Potranco mumbled to herself as she gazed at the running water. Ms. Potranco had gone on a few dates since the divorce but found she couldn’t enjoy herself. Maybe Iris was right, she reasoned. She needed to really have it out with her ex to move on. Maybe she needed to finally put the whole ordeal into a black hole. Maybe she needed to finally let Esteban know exactly what he had done to her. Maybe she needed to stop grinning and bearing it. Just thinking about Esteban brought so many pictures to her mind. Now with Esteban’s arrival into her life once more, she just couldn’t help going over old memories. She couldn’t help revisiting their love story. Chapter 26 Lila Potranco had been attending the University of Texas at El Paso. She had been an extremely focused student with little time for partying and such since she had been on scholarship. Besides she had always been a serious type of person—one of those individuals born old. When Esteban had seen her rushing from one class to another barely noticing what was around her, he stared at her with fascination. She seemed so unaware of her fresh scrubbed beauty and sexy intelligence. He tried to introduce himself several times, but she would just say a quick hello and keep on her merry way. He decided he had to think of a way to get her to stop and notice him. The opportunity came when he unfortunately locked himself out of his car, but fortunately she had been close by getting into her own car. She remembered all the greetings he had given her and decided to give him a ride to his apartment close by where he could grab his spare key. After she did him the favor, as a reward for having helped him, Esteban convinced her to let him buy her a meal at her favorite restaurant. While in the Mexican eatery near campus, they started to get to know one another. They were both in their third year of college. He was a business major while she was a science one. “Wow—scholarship!” he exclaimed when she explained the reason for her absorbed attention on her schooling, “You must be very smart.” She shrugged. “I try.” “Yeah, you look brainy.” “Thanks.” “And you’re also very beautiful,” he had blurted out. Lila Potranco had turned a bright red. She wasn’t used to those kinds of compliments. Usually, people commented only on her mental abilities. Her appearance never called much attention to itself. “I really like the food here,” she had rushed, trying to change the conversation. In that moment, Esteban decided that he truly loved that she was so unfazed and indifferent about her outside. No vanity, he said to himself with a chuckle. So their relationship had begun. They’d see each other every day—either in school or during dates. They never seemed to tire of one another as they discussed a wide variety of subjects. Esteban was also a very bright person and like Lila Potranco, could navigate a whole slew of subjects with ease. The first time that Ms. Potranco introduced Esteban to Iris, her best friend got along famously with him. Ms. Potranco couldn’t have been more pleased. “He’s pretty great!” Iris had gushed. College seemed to fly by for the couple, and they soon were graduating. Then she landed a job as a high school science teacher, and he started his own hardware business. A few more years passed by when they felt situated enough to get married. One evening, at the Mexican restaurant where they had had their first date, Esteban got on his knee and proposed. “Please marry me,” he had murmured, holding a silver diamond ring in his right hand. “My business is going well and so is your teaching career.” Lila had answered softly, “Yes, I’ll marry you.” Her eyes were shiny with a rare demonstration of emotion. After an engagement of a year and a very well arranged wedding, they were married. Years later, they also planned out her pregnancy. Ms. Potranco had always thought her family had been a very happy and orderly one. While she noticed that other families were steeped in chaos, her own had no disorder to it. She and her husband were strategic about everything—from faraway vacations to new cars. Both loved their daughter immensely and were thrilled they were giving her a good life. Then everything went wrong. Ms. Potranco never saw it coming. She hadn’t even had a single whiff of what was to come. But in looking back, she realized there had been certain signs. A certain restlessness on Esteban’s part. It started when Esteban hit forty. He hadn’t wanted to celebrate his birthday. In fact, he cursed the day. Then he went on to buy himself youthful clothes and a brand new sports car. Ms. Potranco took it as a silly phase he was going through but now realized that it was much more than that. Esteban was having a good old fashioned mid-life crisis. “What’s with your hair?” Ms. Potranco had questioned when he had arrived home with dyed black hair. “I got rid of my grays,” he had muttered. “But they made you look distinguished.” He had groaned loudly. “They made me look old.” “Distinguished,” she insisted. “Old.” That day that Ms. Potranco had arrived home early, she saw his car in the driveway along with one she didn’t recognize. It didn’t occur to her to be suspicious at all. She and her husband always fully trusted one another. Ms. Potranco just assumed that Esteban was entertaining a business associate. After all, he had been talking about taking on a partner to expand the hardware store. But then she opened the door to a nightmare of epic proportions. Chapter 27 Realizing she needed to face Esteban sometime, Ms. Potranco decided that the moment was as good of a time as ever. She stood up from the river bridge and started moving towards the rental home. All the reminiscing during the past hour had taken her straight into the hell of that deplorable day she had caught her husband with another woman. Maybe Iris had been right about confronting her issues with Esteban. There was much she needed to get off her chest, and she might as well get it over with now that with Rosita was away from the house. Esteban’s eyebrows shot up as she stomped into the house. He was in the kitchen pouring a glass of lemonade when she barged in. “Okay, let’s talk about you and Gwyneth,” Ms. Potranco burst. “Lila, she’s completely out of my life,” he rushed. “She—” “Why get rid of her now?!” He gulped. “I swear to you that I never loved her. I—” “That’s what you told me when I caught the both of you in the throes of passion!” “I wasn’t in the throes of passion, Lila. I wish you’d believe me. And I meant it, Lila. I never lov—” Ms. Potranco sighed with frustration. “If you meant it then why did you go on to move in with her, huh?!” “I’ve made so many mistakes,” he muttered. “So many of them.” “You haven’t answered my question!” “I’m such an idiot.” “You are, but you still need to answer my question!” Esteban sighed. “I moved in with her because I felt I couldn’t get you back.” “That doesn’t make sense!” “I didn’t want to be by myself—turning forty has made me feel very vulnerable for some reason—so Gwyn and I moved in together. It was a terrible mistake. We didn’t get along.” Ms. Potranco shook her head in frustration. “Do you know what it was like for me to have to deal with you moving in with your mistress?” “I’m so sorry, Lila. I’m such an idiot.” “Yes, you’re a gigantic idiot!” “I need for you to know that I’ve never stopped loving you. I—” “Don’t talk to me about love! Don’t!” From me outside, a noisy car was heard driving up. Ms. Potranco’s and Esteban’s eyes shifted to the windows. Rosita had arrived in her new friend’s vehicle. “We’ll continue talking some other time!” snapped Ms. Potranco. Esteban nodded. Once her friend had left her off, Rosita stepped in the door cheerfully. Apparently, she was completely enjoying the vacation. She chatted as both of her parents avoided one another and placed all their focus on her. During the evening meal, a puzzled Esteban took a bite of his taco. “The strangest thing happened,” he announced. Rosita eyed him quizzically. “What happened, Daddy?” “I misplaced my cell,” he explained. “I could’ve sworn I left it on the chest, but then I couldn’t find it. And then when I had turned over the room looking for it, I found it.” “Where was it, Daddy?” “That’s the strangest part. I found it on the chest. I’m sure I had already looked there.” Ms. Potranco almost choked on her lemonade. “Are you okay, Mom?” asked a concerned Rosita. Ms. Potranco nodded. “Yes, fine,” she murmured with the color drained from her face. “Well, Daddy, I think I know what happened.” Esteban eyed her with curiosity. “What, Ro?” “A ghost must’ve hidden your cell,” Rosita announced matter-of-factly. “What?” Esteban questioned. Ms. Potranco stared at her daughter with surprise. “This place has ghosts,” Rosita explained. “My new friends told me all about them.” “Ghosts,” Esteban guffawed. “Actually, it’s true,” Ms. Potranco asserted. Esteban and Rosita eyed her with surprise. Neither could believe that she was admitting to the supernatural. Ms. Potranco nodded. “I guess I do.” Ms. Potranco strongly suspected that Violeta wasn’t too fond of her cheating ex-husband and was playing tricks on him. The cell phone incident hadn’t been the only odd occurrence since Esteban’s arrival. There had also been his missing socks, clothes, and shoes. Then there were objects that suddenly fell over and crashed to the floor when he was around. “Mom, are you saying you believe in ghosts?” “Yes.” “Really?” Rosita blurted. Esteban’s eyebrows shot up. “You do, Lila?!” “One thing that I’ve learned since I got here,” explained Ms. Potranco, “is that there’s a whole bunch of possibilities in this world.” Esteban chuckled. “I can’t believe you of all people are saying that.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “Well, you live and learn.” At breakfast the next morning a frustrated Esteban complained that it took him fifteen minutes to find his watch. “Why am I the only one this is happening to?” he groaned. “Why am I being picked on by the supernatural?” Rosita chuckled. “The ghosts like mom and me better.” “How many ghosts are in this place?” questioned Esteban. Ms. Potranco sighed. “There are two ghosts. Violeta and Arturo.” Esteban’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You know their names?” “The next door neighbors, the Zepedas, told me about them,” explained Ms. Potranco. “That’s so bizarre,” Rosita declared. “Why are they haunting this place?” questioned Esteban. “Unfinished business,” asserted Ms. Potranco. She didn’t want to go into the particulars with her daughter there. “Ro, why don’t you tell your father and me about your day yesterday?” “Yes, tell us,” Esteban chimed in. They ate a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns, salsa, and tortillas while Rosita happily expressed having gone to the mall of the nearest large city from Milagros with her new friends. Ms. Potranco couldn’t help thinking about how grateful she was that her daughter had inherited Esteban’s outgoing personality instead of her introvert nature. Esteban, on the other hand, smiled at his daughter while thinking how relieved he was that Rosita had gotten her mother’s sense of responsibility. When he had been his daughter’s age, he had gotten into plenty of trouble because of his tendencies towards thrill seeking. Ro is such a blessing, the parents thought to themselves. During the afternoon, Rosita was invited to watch TV with one of her new pals. The discomfort of being left alone with her ex was slowly ebbing away for Ms. Potranco. She didn’t want to force her daughter to spend every waking moment with her. Esteban seemed to feel no such uneasiness with the awkward situation. In fact, he seemed to enjoy being alone with his once wife. The only thing that seemed to discombobulate him was the supernatural happenings that kept happening around him. Soon after Rosita had left, Esteban sat in the living room with Ms. Potranco chatting. He asked her about her past school year. He had made it a habit of asking his then wife about her days at work. The stories of her students were interesting to him. Suddenly, a painting of a family enjoying a picnic came roaring down, almost hitting him square on the head. CRASH!!! Chapter 28 “What in the world?!” burst Esteban, jumping up from the sofa. Ms. Potranco shrugged as she grabbed the painting nonchalantly hung it back up. “Lila, let’s take a walk,” he muttered, his eyes darting around. “Please. I need to get out of this weird house.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Okay.” She led him to the kitchen where they stepped out the back door. “We’ll go to the river.” “Great.” “It’s a very nice walk.” As they distanced themselves from the home in absolute silence, Esteban quickly turned to Ms. Potranco. “Why do those ghosts hate me so much? I’m sure you know.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Well, first of all I’m pretty sure that Arturo is okay with you. Violeta on the other hand . . .” “What does she have against me? She doesn’t even know me.” “She knows of you,” Ms. Potranco explained. “Of me?” As they reached the river and sat on the bridge, Ms. Potranco started telling the tragic love story of Violeta and Arturo. Esteban listened carefully without interrupting her even once. On his face was the look of a person who now understood what had been so puzzling to him. “Iris and I would talk about personal things in that house,” Ms. Potranco stated. “So Violeta knows I’m a cheater just like Arturo,” murmured Esteban. Ms. Potranco nodded. “Yes.” “I’m surprised she hasn’t done worse to me,” Esteban blurted. “Heaven knows I deserve it.” Ms. Potranco eyed him with surprise. “What?” “Lila, do you want to hit me?” “Hit you?” Esteban pointed to his lips. “Punch me right on the kisser!” “Don’t be ridiculous.” “I’m sure it’ll make you feel better, so just do it.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “I’m not going to hit you, Esteban.” “I wish you would.” “Why?” “I want you to release all your anger,” he explained. “Why do you want me to do that?” “I need you to empty yourself of all the hatred you feel for me,” he murmured. “Esteban, I don’t hate you.” His eyebrows shot up. “You don’t?” “You’re the father of my child. I can’t hate you.” “That’s such a relief.” “That doesn’t mean that I’m not incredibly furious at you,” Ms. Potranco snapped. “I understand,” he murmured. “I’m furious with myself. I’m sickened with what I did to you.” “Are you really?” “You just don’t know how much I regret having slept with Gwyn and then compounding the stupidity by having moved in with her.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Why’d you start sleeping with her?” she questioned bluntly. “I swear to you that it had nothing to do with my feelings for you.” “What is that supposed to mean?!” snapped Ms. Potranco. “Your thing with her had everything to do with me!” “It really had everything to do with me and the mid-life crisis I was going through.” “Is that supposed to excuse your behavior?!” “No, of course not,” he asserted. “I just want you to see that I’m well aware of the ass I made of myself so you know I won’t ever do it again.” Ms. Potranco grimaced. “What you do with your life is no longer my concern.” “I know I deserve you never forgiving me,” he murmured. “Let’s go back to the house,” burst Ms. Potranco. “I’ve had enough of this type of conversation for the day.” Walking silently towards the rental home, Ms. Potranco noticed that there were some people sitting on the bench outside the residence. As she and Esteban neared it, she realized that the visitors were none other than the Doña Chamita, Ymelda, and a nervous looking older man. Introductions were made, and Ms. Potranco was surprised to find out that the man with the Zepedas was Arturo’s father. “Is everything okay?” questioned Ms. Potranco, noting how comfortable and shaky Arturo’s father seemed. “We need to go inside the house,” assured Doña Chamita. Ms. Potranco nodded. “Sure, but may I ask why?” “Señor Sandoval is finally willing to let go of his secret,” stated Ymelda matter-of-factly. “Secret?” “Let’s go in the house, and you’ll see what we mean,” Doña Chamita asserted. Chapter 29 The group quietly stepped inside Ms. Potranco’s rental home. She and Esteban were puzzled as to what was happening but decided to allow things to take their proper course. Señor Sandoval sighed miserably as soon as he was inside the home. Whatever was occurring was clearly tearing him apart as he plopped down on the sofa and started to sob. “He confessed,” murmured Doña Chamita, laying her hand on Señor Sandoval’s shoulder. Ms. Potranco’s bewildered face turned to her. “Confessed?” “You’ll see,” declared Ymelda. “Your son is sitting right next to you,” Doña Chamita told Señor Sandoval. “What do you want to say to him?” Señor Sandoval kept weeping, his face towards the floor as if ashamed. In the meantime, the ghosts eyed one another with bewilderment. As Doña Chamita had asserted, Arturo sat next to his father with his arm around him. Violeta stood in front of them with a baffled expression. “Why is my father crying?” Arturo asked Doña Chamita. “Your son wants to know why you’re crying, Anibal,” Ymelda informed. Ms. Potranco and Esteban stared at the scene in fascination from the loveseat. The Zepedas had sat on the sofa with Señor Sandoval but had kept a certain distance from him. Ms. Potranco realized that maybe they had left room on the sofa for at least one of the ghosts. “Anibal, you need to tell him what you confessed to us,” Dona Chamita entreated with soothing tones. “He’s going to hate me!” Señor Sandoval blurted. “Why is my father saying I’ll hate him?” Arturo questioned. “He’s got something very serious to confess to you, dear-one,” Doña Chamita murmured. Both Ms. Potranco’s and Esteban’s mouths dropped wide open. Doña Chamita seemed to be speaking to air. Yet, a palpable energy could be felt in the atmosphere as if it was heavy with emotion. “The confession concerns you too, Violeta,” declared Ymelda. Again, the shaman seemed to be speaking to open space. However, it didn’t feel at all empty to anybody in the room. “Me?” questioned a puzzled Violeta. “What do I have to do with it?” Arturo’s eyebrows knit together. “Yes, what does she have to do with my father and me?” “A lot,” declared Ymelda. “Anibal has a lot to do with what happened to your relationship.” “I don’t understand,” Arturo burst. Violeta scrunched her face. “I don’t either.” “Anibal, you need to speak,” demanded Ymelda. Señor Sandoval’s face twisted in pain and shame. “But—” “STOP running away from this!” Ymelda burst. Doña Chamita nodded. “Anibal, my daughter is right. You haven’t had a moment of peace since even before your son died because you’ve refused to take responsibility. Dear-one, it’s time now.” Shiny tears flowed down Señor Sandoval’s face. “I’ve always loved my son.” “We know,” Doña Chamita murmured. “I didn’t mean to do him so much damage,” Señor Sandoval muttered miserably. Arturo’s eyebrows shot up. “What damage? What is my father talking about?” “Sometimes we hurt the ones we love without meaning to,” Doña Chamita asserted. “And we must beg for forgiveness.” “What do I have to forgive my father for?” burst Arturo. Señor Sandoval sighed despondently. “It’s unforgiveable what I did.” “Unforgiveable?” questioned Violeta. “What does all this have to do with me?” “I just can’t bring myself to ask for mercy—I can’t forgive myself so how can I ask that of my son and the love of his live?” “Anibal, do you really want to live the rest of your life with all that guilt and agony eating you up alive?” questioned Doña Chamita. “You won’t be able to overcome it, dear-one.” Anibal eyed her with a perplexed expression. “What do you mean?” “She means that you’ll never be able to live a full life,” explained Ymelda bluntly. “Your soul won’t be able to thrive in such poisonous waters.” “Maybe that’s what I deserve,” blurted Señor Sandoval, holding his face in his hands. “I deserve never to be happy again.” “Why is my father saying that?” burst Arturo. “I deserve to stay in the hell I created for myself!” cried Señor Sandoval. Violeta threw her hands in the air violently. “For goodness sake!—will someone tell us what he’s talking about?!” “It’s not our place to tell you, Violeta,” Doña Chamita asserted. “Anibal is the one who has to do it.” “But he can’t seem to do it,” blurted Arturo. “Please tell us what’s going on.” Ymelda sighed deeply. “Anibal, your son and Violeta are begging to know. Do you want my mama and me to tell them?” “Yes, please tell them,” burst Anibal in agony. “I just can’t do it myself!” “Okay, I’ll explain,” Ymelda asserted. “Arturo, when your father joined you in Albuquerque—” Doña Chamita shook her head. “No, daughter, we can’t be the ones to tell that story.” “But, Mama, Anibal can’t seem to tell it,” declared Ymelda. “He’s stuck.” “Ymelda, you know as well as I do that he’s the only one who can free himself,” Doña Chamita declared. Ymelda groaned. “You’re right, Mama. I just thought I’d help it along.” “Anibal,” murmured Doña Chamita, “This is your life. You have to save yourself. No one can do it for you.” “I’m not sure it’s worth saving,” muttered Señor Sandoval. Ymelda’s face twisted in frustration. “How pathetic! Are you listening to yourself?” “What?” blurted Señor Sandoval. “I’m done with babying you, Anibal!” burst Ymelda. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself! Man up!” “What do you mean?” questioned Señor Sandoval. Ymelda eyed him with frustration. “Stop being such a wuss! Man up to what you did! Confess to those you did the most damage to! It’s your responsibility to do it instead of wallowing in self-pity.” “I’m not wallowing in self-pity!” Señor Sandoval blurted, indignant. Doña Chamita sighed. “I’m afraid you are, Anibal.” Señor Sandoval vehemently shook his head. “How can you say that about me?” “Because it’s true,” Ymelda shot back. “My father is in intense pain,” stated Arturo. “Please go easy on him.” “Your son wants us to go easy on you, Anibal,” declared Ymelda. “Do you think he’d say that if he knew the secret you’ve been keeping from him?” “Is his secret that bad?” questioned Violeta. “And for the millionth time—what does that secret have to do with me?” Señor Sandoval’s hands shook uncontrollably. “Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t unveil the secret. I—” “More excuses so you don’t have to confess!” burst Ymelda. “You’re such a yellow bellied wuss!” “I’m not a wuss!” Señor Sandoval shot back. Ymelda put her hands on her hips. “Why can’t you just man up?!” “Missy, I don’t like what you’re implying!” Señor Sandoval exploded, indignant. “I’ll have you know that I’ve always taken care of my family. I’ve always manned up!” Doña Chamita eyed him carefully. “You’ve taken care of all your family?” “Yes, all your kids?” questioned Ymelda. “Don’t go there!” burst Señor Sandoval. “We have to go there, dear-one,” murmured Doña Chamita. Señor Sandoval’s face twisted in fury. “You know something?—this is none of your business!” “You’re the one who came to us for help,” Ymelda fired back. “I shouldn’t have!” Señor Sandoval exploded. “I should’ve just kept on like I was doing.” Doña Chamita sighed. “Anibal, be honest with yourself. Be truthful. You know darn well that you couldn’t keep the secret anymore.” “What secret?!” burst Arturo, frustrated. “Anibal, do you or do you not have the guts to confess?” snapped Ymelda. “I have guts!” snarled Señor Sandoval. “Do you really?” Ymelda retorted. “It really doesn’t look like it.” “C’mon, Dad,” pleaded Arturo, “Unload the secret.” Violeta nodded. “Yes, please.” “My business is my own!” snapped Señor Sandoval. “I’ll speak of my secrets when I damn well want to and not a minute before!” “Okay, enough of this,” Ymelda announced. “If you refuse to free you’re son and Violeta then I’ll have to do it.” Doña Chamita shook her head. “Ymelda—” “Mom, it has to be done,” explained Ymelda. “Even though Anibal should be the one to do it, it’s not only his soul in agony here. We have to think about Arturo and Violeta—they’re stuck on this plane because of this man’s selfish, yellow bellied gutlessness.” “Stuck?” questioned Señor Sandoval. “My son is stuck?” “Yes, stuck!” snapped Ymelda. Doña Chamita nodded. “They’re unable to move on because of unfinished business.” Señor Sandoval’s demeanor deflated. “This is my fault.” “Yes!” Ymelda snapped. “It is!” “Son, I’m so sorry,” Señor Sandoval told the air around him. Ymelda smirked loudly. “Huh, something else to put into your sorry bag. Now, you feel even sorrier for yourself, right, Anibal?” “You have no idea how I feel!” Señor Sandoval blurted. “Dad, you have no idea how I feel,” Arturo warbled with agony in his voice. “Why won’t you set me free?” Doña Chamita sighed. “Anibal, I wish you could see your son right now. He’s imploring to be set free. Will you do it for him?” “He’s too selfish to do it,” guffawed Ymelda. Señor Sandoval rigorously shook his head. “No, I’m not!” “Really?” smirked Ymelda. “Rubi’s son is my child!” Señor Sandoval roared with acute anguish as he fell on his knees to the floor. Chapter 30 “What?!” blurted an unbelieving Arturo, shooting up from the sofa. “The reason the child looked so much like you, Arturo, was because your dad fathered him,” explained Doña Chamita. “My gosh!!!” exclaimed Violeta. “Son, please forgive me,” pleaded Señor Sandoval, talking to the air in a kneeled position as he wrung his hands together and sobbed. “Please, I beg you.” Arturo stood stunned without even blinking an eye. He stared into space with an expression of disbelief and torture. “How did his relationship with Rubi happen?” Violeta murmured. Ymelda’s focus turned to Señor Sandoval. “Anibal, Violeta wants to know how you and Rubi got together.” Not getting off his knees, Señor Sandoval started explaining, his expression in torment. “When I moved with Arturo to Albuquerque, everything was going very well, but then Rubi also moved to the city. She started going over to the apartment a lot. This really irritated Arturo who told her straight out not to visit anymore. This upset her but she paid him no mind and kept visiting. Arturo, being the perfect gentleman that he was, wouldn’t throw her out but would leave the apartment or to his room when she was there. Little by little we became closer and closer. She would tell me how much Arturo and I looked like one another. We ended up sleeping together, but we kept the relationship a secret from Arturo.” He gulped loudly. “One day, Rubi disappeared from our lives. She wouldn’t come over anymore. I thought that was the end of our affair and was a bit relieved to tell you the truth. Keeping secrets from your family is agony. Then, after a while, someone told us she had returned to Milagros.” Gulping again, he stared at his hands. “Anyway, I didn’t find out she had been pregnant until way after the baby was born. I didn’t know that Violeta had married another man because she thought the baby was Arturo’s. I swear I found out about all of this when it was too late.” “And you decided to keep the secret instead of clearing things up,” muttered Ymelda, disapproval in her voice. Señor Sandoval sighed deeply. “I figured what good would it do? Violeta was already married to Norberto. It would be better for my son to move on.” Arturo gave such a disgusted yelp that Ymelda, who was sensitive to noises, covered her ears. As Arturo started violently thrashing about, things like vases and pictures started falling and smashing to the floor from their places. “What’s happening?” questioned Señor Sandoval, his eyes wide open. Ymelda eyed him and groaned. “Your son is pretty upset.” Señor Sandoval put his hands together again in a pleading fashion. “Please, Arturo, forgive me. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I swear I didn’t. Please forgive me.” Objects kept crashing down. “Anibal,” murmured Doña Chamita, “I think we need to leave.” “Leave?” Señor Sandoval questioned. Ymelda nodded. “Mama’s right—Arturo needs some space.” “I’m not going anywhere without his forgiveness,” Señor Sandoval declared. “He’s not in the right frame of mind to grant forgiveness right now,” Ymelda shot back. Señor Sandoval sighed miserably. “But—” “We’ll come back another day—when things are calmer,” explained Doña Chamita. “For right now, I think it’s best that everyone leave the house.” “Esteban and me too?” questioned Ms. Potranco. Ymelda nodded. “Violeta and Arturo need to be alone at the moment.” Chapter 31 Violeta slumped down on the sofa in a stupor as she waited for Arturo to calm down. Thankfully, he had stopped his frantic violence and was now frenziedly pacing the floor. Finally, he took the seat next to Violeta. They stared at one another for a few moments before either of them spoke. “Arturo—” Violeta started to say. “Give me some space,” Arturo murmured. “Can you leave for a while?” She nodded with desolation. How could she not give him what he wanted when she had been so unjust to him? Besides, she also felt she needed some space away from him to put all the tragic business together without her enormous feelings of remorse swallowing her up. Stepping out of the home, she knew where she needed to go. She hadn’t mastered very many ghost tricks since she had spent the time being furious with Arturo, so she still had to walk where she wanted to go instead of just appear there. She hadn’t been outside since the day she and Arturo had walked to the Zepeda house. The colors and fragrances of summer were so vibrant. When she had been alive her senses were nowhere near as sensitive. It felt strange to see people she knew outside and not be able to stop and speak to them. Of course, they couldn’t see her. Arriving at her destination, she floated through the walls of the house. That was one ghostly trick she had mastered. Rubi sat on a bed in her bedroom next to a crib. Violeta went to the crib and found the beautiful baby boy fast asleep. This little child had brought so many problems to her, but she in no way blamed him. He was an innocent. Rubi, on the other hand . . . Violeta turned to glare at her. She appeared so blameless—unlike the guilty ogre Violeta saw her as— while she read a romance book. It burned Violeta to the core to think that Rubi was probably imagining herself with Arturo in the book! Did she have any remorse for what had occurred? Did she spend entire nights awake thinking about it? Her lies and Señor Sandoval’s silence had brought Violeta and Arturo to their deaths! Of course, Rubi had never outright said that the baby had been Arturo’s, but she had implied it. The insinuation had been enough for the chain of events to explode! Suddenly, Rubi’s eyes grew misty as her eyes stayed on the pages of the book. She set it down on her nightstand, putting a book marker in place. Sighing heavily, she started to mutter something. At first Violeta couldn’t understand what she was saying, but then it became clear. “Oh my Arturo, why did you have to die?” Rubi mumbled over and over again. Violeta’s blood boiled further. She wished she could be alive to slap the woman. It was obvious that Rubi wasn’t taking any responsibility. Not any! A harsh knock from the front door suddenly reverberated through the house. BANG! BANG! BANG! Rubi eyed the crib and shot up from the bed. Rushing to the door, she swung it wide open. With curiosity, Violeta stood behind Rubi. “What the hell are you doing?” she told the man on the other side of the door. “You’ll wake the baby!” “We’ve got to talk,” snapped Señor Sandoval. “What about?” “We can’t go on like this,” he grumbled. “The truth needs to come out!” Rubi’s eyes grew wide. “Shhh! Shut up!” she demanded in a gruff whisper. “Don’t talk so loud. Someone might hear you.” “The truth about my child—” “Get in my house before a nosy neighbor overhears,” Rubi demanded, leading him inside while promptly closing the door after him. “Anibal, have you gone insane?!” Rubi blurted in a harsh whisper. She didn’t want to awaken the baby. “I’m tired of everyone thinking I’m the baby’s grandfather.” “It has to be like that,” Rubi explained. “There’s no turning back now.” “I can’t let the baby grow up thinking I’m his abuelo. He has to know that I’m his father and not Arturo.” “Anibal, be reasonable,” Rubi pleaded. “We’d be crucified if people know the truth.” Señor Sandoval placed his agonized face in his hands. “I don’t care anymore.” ““The truth can never come out.” “Actually, the truth already came out,” he burst. “What?!” “It’s out of the bag.” Rubi eyed him with horror. “What do you mean?!” Señor Sandoval sighed with misery. “I couldn’t take the guilt anymore so I told the Zepedas the truth.” “The Zepedas?” “Yes, and—” “I’m sure they won’t say anything about it,” rushed Rubi, relieved. “Those witches—” “They’re not witches,” Señor Sandoval shot back. “They’re shamans.” “Whatever. Those two are discreet. This whole village would explode if they told all the secrets they knew.” “They’re not the only ones that know,” Señor Sandoval informed. “Others were there when I made my confession.” “What have you done to us, Anibal?!” “Don’t you want to be done with this farce?” Rubi glared at him. “I don’t want to be crucified!” “Maybe we deserve it.” “We made a mistake—we don’t deserve to be crucified for it.” “It was a horrible mistake!” he shot back. “Yes, but what is done is done,” Rubi declared. “Who are we hurting? Violeta and Arturo are dead.” She choked up when she said Arturo. “Don’t you feel guilty?” “Look, Anibal, I loved your son with all of my heart. I fought for him. What’s wrong with that?” Señor Sandoval glared at her incredulously. “My son is dead because of us.” “That’s a lie!” “Stop fooling yourself, Rubi.” “We don’t know exactly what happened with the accident,” Rubi declared wryly. Señor Sandoval sighed deeply. “Keep telling yourself you’re not at fault—maybe someday you’ll believe your own lie.” “Anibal—” “I’m glad I confessed.” “Who else was there when you made your confession?” Rubi questioned, worried. “Ms. Potranco, the new renter of Arturo’s home, her ex-husband and—” Rubi sighed with relief. “That’s great news! Those people are just passing by and probably won’t say anything.” “It’s not them I’m worried about.” “What?” “There were two more in the room.” Rubi’s eyebrows knit together in concern. “Who were they?” “The ghosts of Arturo and Violeta.” Chapter 32 “What?! Rubi burst incredulously. “My son and the love of his life are back,” Señor Sandoval simply said. “Anibal, you’ve really gone completely insane. TOTALLY BONKERS!” Señor Sandoval shook his head. “I’m not crazy. Ask the Zepedas.” “I don’t go anywhere near those witches!” Rubi burst, still whispering harshly for the sake of her baby. “You shouldn’t either!” “Those shamans spoke to Arturo for me.” “You’re so gullible,” she snapped. “How much did they charge you?” “Nothing.” Rubi sighed. “They’re probably getting ready to take you for everything you have.” “I’m telling you, Rubi, weird things happened in Arturo’s house! Stuff flying around and—” “A magician’s tricks.” Señor Sandoval shook his head. “Arturo’s ghost is in that house!” “No, it isn’t!” Rubi burst loudly, forgetting to keep her voice in a whisper. “Arturo’s gone, Anibal. I know it’s hard to accept. It’s been very hard on me too. But we have to come to terms with it.” “He and Violeta are haunting the house. Maybe they’ll be haunting us too.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” Rubi retorted. Señor Sandoval sighed. “We did them so much harm. We ruined their lives.” Rubi glared at him. “What’s done is done!” “We should never have gone to bed together. At least we should’ve stopped after that first time when we were too drunk to really know what we were doing.” Rubi nodded. “True, but we didn’t. I kept envisioning you as Arturo and couldn’t stop.” “It was never me you were making love to,” he murmured with sorrow in his voice. “You always knew the truth. I never lied to you.” Señor Sandoval sighed miserably. “I fell in love with you, Rubi.” “You knew my heart belonged to your son.” “I kept hoping you’d come to your senses and appreciate the man in front of you—the man who made love to you with all his heart.” Rubi shook her head solemnly. “Sorry, but I just couldn’t love you.” “Couldn’t you have loved me just a little bit?” “Sorry. My heart has always been elsewhere and you always knew it. Stop trying to make me feel bad.” “Not even with the pregnancy could you love me?” Señor Sandoval muttered. Rubi sighed deeply. “I kept telling myself the baby was Arturo’s.” “Pretending isn’t reality!” “He looks so much like Arturo. It was easy to ignore the truth.” “But—” Rubi glared at him. “We both agreed it was best to keep the truth about our relationship to ourselves, remember?” “You never told me about the pregnancy! The baby was already born and people had made their assumptions by the time I found out!” Rubi nodded solemnly. “Anibal, I never said the baby was Arturo’s.” “But you let people assume it.” “You did the same thing,” she burst. “I was a coward.” “What’s done is done,” she repeated again. “Stop saying that!” “It’s the truth. We can’t change the past.” “How convenient for you not to take responsibility,” Señor Sandoval blurted. “Just let the past go, Anibal!” “I can’t!” “Stop confessing to everybody! And let sleeping dogs lay!” “I can’t!” “Why not?” she questioned. “My son is back to haunt us!” “Stop letting your imagination run away with you.” “He’s back, Rubi! And so is Violeta!” Rubi grimaced at him. “You need to be sent to the crazy house.” “Come with me to Arturo’s house and you’ll see.” Rubi vigorously shook her head. “I’m not ever going to the house he built for Violeta!” she snapped. “But—” “Besides, I don’t believe you. There are no such things as ghosts—just overactive imaginations!” Violeta, who had been attentively listening to Señor Sandoval and Rubi, chuckled darkly. She abruptly bumped a vase that shattered on impact with the floor. “What was that?” questioned Rubi. “You still think we’re not being haunted?” asked a weary Señor Sandoval. Rubi regained her composure. “It must’ve been the wind.” “I don’t see any open windows in this house.” “But—” With a tinge of guilt twisting inside of her, Violeta still couldn’t help enjoying discombobulating the woman who had caused her so much damage. Even though she felt a sense of right and wrong that told her not to be happy about such a thing, her fury took over. Violeta smacked a hanging picture. It crashed down abruptly. “This can’t be happening!” burst Rubi. “It’s happening!” Señor Sandoval asserted, sighing. “It’s happening to us! We’re being haunted!” Chapter 33 Rubi was now completely convinced of ghosts and hauntings. Violeta made lights flicker and flung around some more things to make certain her presence was known. Thoroughly frightened, Rubi rushed behind the sofa while Señor Sandoval just shook his head. Violeta chuckled. After her guilty fun with scaring the people who had done so much harm to her and Arturo, Violeta decided to return to Arturo’s house to see if he was ready to talk with her. On her way to Arturo’s home, she kept wondering what she would say. Shame overtook her when thinking how she had allowed herself to be tricked. She had always loved Arturo so much that her blind rage at thinking herself betrayed had exploded like an atomic bomb. As she entered the house, she immediately was on the lookout for Arturo. He was sitting in the living room on the same sofa she had left him. “I’m back,” she murmured. “Is it okay?—or do you need more time?” He stared at her for a few moments until she finally spoke up. “Is it okay?” she repeated softly. “I’m waiting,” he muttered. “Waiting?” she croaked out. “For an apology.” Violeta’s face drooped with shame. “I don’t know how to even start to say I’m sorry.” “Why did you doubt in me?” he questioned, his voice shaky. “Rubi’s baby looked so much like you . . .” “Now we know why.” Violeta nodded and sighed. “Yes, now we know why.” “I don’t care how much that child looked like me—you should’ve heard me out before going crazy and marrying Norberto!” “You’re right.” “Is that all you can say?” A waterfall of tears rolled down Violeta’s face. “I should’ve listened to you when you told me the baby wasn’t yours, but I was so hurt that I was out of my mind.” “You should’ve seen how out of my mind I was when I found out about the marriage.” “I just can’t believe we came so close to happiness and I threw it away.” Arturo nodded with disconsolation. “Yeah, you threw us away.” “Our lives would’ve been so different if we had found out who the true father of the baby was.” “My father!” Arturo snapped. “Your father.” “He ruined my life!” “He ruined our lives,” Violeta murmured. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive him.” “Same for me.” Arturo sighed. “He can get on his hands and knees all he wants but I’m disgusted with him.” “He should’ve told us when he found out.” Arturo nodded. “Maybe we could’ve salvaged something. It’s all his fault.” “No, not just his fault,” she murmured. “Yeah, Rubi’s fault too for not having told the truth about that baby.” “I’m talking about myself and the fault I carry. I should’ve listened to you.” “Yeah, you should’ve,” he said softly. “I really paid for it, though.” “What?” Violeta started sobbing. “Believe me when I tell you that marrying someone I didn’t love was the worst punishment for my stupidity. No, actually losing you was the worst punishment!” Arturo put his arms around her. “Losing you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life.” “I love you, Arturo.” “I love you, Violeta.” Chapter 34 After the surreal scene in the rental home, Ms. Potranco and Esteban decided to take a walk to the river instead of going anywhere by car. They both felt somewhat drained and stunned at what had occurred. “That was intense,” Esteban commented as soon as he and Ms. Potranco had arrived at the river and were both sitting on the bridge dangling their feet. The water below them flowed in a swift current that was calming music to their ears. “It sure was,” agreed Ms. Potranco. “You’ve been living a complete telenovela since you got here.” Ms. Potranco chuckled. “I have.” “The story is so unbelievable! So the baby Rubi had was not Arturo’s child but his father’s instead.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “I really didn’t see that coming.” “It’s really sad that Violeta and Arturo didn’t get to live their love story because of a lie.” “Yes, sad.” Esteban sighed. “Arturo paid dearly for something that wasn’t his fault,” he murmured. “My infidelity was completely my fault, but he wasn’t unfaithful.” “If only Violeta had given him a chance to fully speak—to defend himself—maybe they’d both still be alive and very happy.” “Yes, I think so.” Ms. Potranco eyed Esteban intently. “Maybe I should let you speak.” “What?” “Maybe I should listen to your side of the story.” Esteban’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Even if unlike Arturo I’m as guilty as can be?” “You’ve come here to talk to me, haven’t you?” “Yes, but I’ve been losing hope.” “I’m listening now,” she murmured. “Speak.” Esteban took in a very deep breath. “First of all, I want to tell you that I take complete responsibility for my actions. I’m not going to try to excuse myself for what I did, but I do just want to explain.” “Okay.” “I want you to know that I never stopped loving you—my cheating had nothing to do with how I felt about you. It had everything to do with what I was feeling about myself.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shifted up. “Did it?” “From the moment I met you in college I always knew you’d be important in my life. You’ve always been so smart, so logical, and so beautiful. We were very mature in our relationship because of you. We did everything in a common-sense step by step way including getting married. We were never reckless. We only had Ro when both of us were prepared for her. Then I turned forty . . .” “I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that turning forty had been so difficult for you.” Esteban sighed. “How could you know? You who took your own fortieth birthday with such grace.” “Grace?” “Turning forty didn’t seem to bother you at all.” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “I’ve always liked the wisdom each passing year gives to me.” “See, that’s what I mean when I say that you’re so well put-together. I know many people who freak every time they reach another decade in their lives.” Ms. Potranco shrugged again. “If you look at life like that then you’re bound to live unhappy and self-conscious.” “That’s exactly the way I felt at turning forty.” “A mid-life crisis?” “Yes. A huge mid-life crisis. I started to do silly things because it got in my head that I had lived life too safely, too logical.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “What?” “I had the massive impulse to shove my responsibilities to the side, throw myself into adventures, and go nuts!” “Esteban, you found fault with being responsible?” He nodded. “Crazy right?—for a grown man to be behaving like a teen-ager, but it became my obsession to live a life with no brakes.” “So you had an affair,” muttered Ms. Potranco. “I swear to you that I didn’t intend to have one, but then I met Gwyn at my favorite coffee shop. She worked at the counter and would flirt with me. I was flattered that such a young woman would be interested in me.” “Flattered, huh?” “Yes, I have to admit it.” “Did you at least feel a little guilty over flirting with Gwyneth,” Ms. Potranco burst. “Of course I did.” “At least that,” retorted Ms. Potranco. “Then one day I went into the shop and found out Gwyn no longer worked there. I was relieved to tell you the truth. The flirting had gotten a little out of hand.” “Why did you let it go so far?” blurted Ms. Potranco. Esteban sighed. “Ego.” “Ego?” “My idiotic ego was so flattered by her attention that I went along knowing I was doing wrong.” “How did you meet up with her again?” questioned Ms. Potranco, her voice shaky. “I bumped into her at the grocery store. She asked if I wanted to have coffee with her sometime. I agreed before I could stop myself. We decided to meet the next day at her old employment.” “You agreed to go on a date with her!” she snapped. “I told myself it wasn’t a date—just a get-together with a friend. I met her for coffee and we seemed to click.” “Click?” He sighed heavily. “Now I realize that we hadn’t actually clicked.” “No?” “She had flirted and flattered me so much that I mistook it for a connection.” “So you didn’t connect with her emotionally after all?” Esteban rigorously shook his head. “Not like we do. Nor at all.” “So why did you bed her?!” snapped Ms. Potranco. Esteban sighed heavily again. “After the coffee she told me she had something really important to show me. I went with her to her apartment which was down the street from the coffee shop. I waited in the living room while she went to her bedroom to get what she needed to show me.” “What was it?” murmured Ms. Potranco, her face scrunched in suspicion. “Herself,” he muttered, “in the nude.” Chapter 35 “Then you screwed her,” Ms. Potranco murmured bitterly. Esteban stared with shame at his hands. “Yes.” “No willpower?” “Not with my stupid pride and mid-life crises mixed in,” he muttered. “I’m such an idiot!” “Yes, a cheating idiot.” “I swear, Lila, I felt so guilty after that day that I didn’t know what to do with myself.” Ms. Potranco glared at him. “But you kept seeing her, didn’t you? I mean I did find you with her in my house.” Esteban sighed miserably. “Gwyn and I weren’t having sex in the house, Lila,” he murmured. “Do you take me for a fool?! Gwyn didn’t have a stitch of clothing on when I walked in the door!” “Was I clothed?” Ms. Potranco searched her memory banks. “Yes, but—” “Thank goodness you remember that I had my clothes on.” “All that means is that you hadn’t had the chance to take them off yet!” “Lila, please believe me when I tell you that Gwyn and I didn’t have sex in the house.” Ms. Potranco’s face twisted in disgust. “I stepped in before you could ravage the woman!” “You’re wrong about that, Lila,” he murmured. “There was no way I was going to dishonor the home I shared with you and my daughter.” “Why was your mistress naked then?!” Esteban sighed deeply. “First of all, Gwyn wasn’t my mistress, Yes, I had sex with her once before, but I never wanted to repeat the mistake. I had broken it off with her, but then she showed up at the house. Stupidly, I had once told her where I worked and lived. I guess she found out I wasn’t at work, and she went to the house.” “Fortunately, she found you alone,” Ms. Potranco burst sarcastically. “Unfortunately, she found me alone,” he corrected. “I explained for the umpteenth time that it had been a mistake between us. She asked to use the restroom and came out nude again. That’s when you caught us. I was about to tell her to put her clothes back on.” “Why should I believe you?” Esteban sighed. “It’s the truth, Lila,” he declared. “The whole truth.” “Again, why should I believe you?” Esteban shrugged with desolation. “I don’t know.” “Neither do I.” “But—” Ms. Potranco took in a large whiff of air. “Let me think about everything . . . Today has been quite a day—full of so many ups and downs. I’ve taken as much as I can . . . We’ll talk again later.” Esteban nodded. “Okay, I understand.” “Let’s go to the Zepedas to see if it’s okay for us to get back inside the house.” Esteban nodded again. “Sounds like a good plan.” They stood up from the bridge and quietly walked towards the shamans’ home. Both lost in their thoughts, they barely noticed the beautiful day around them. Sunny and full of light. But their hearts were filled with dark clouds, so it was difficult for either to see the day for what it was. Ms. Potranco thought about whether she should believe him. But the fact was that even if what he said was true and he hadn’t used their home to betray her, he had still had sex with Gwyneth during their marriage. Sure it relieved her that he hadn’t committed adultery under the roof of the home she had created with so much love for her family. Still, he had slept with another woman. Still. He hadn’t respected their matrimonial vows. Next to her, Esteban’s mind was filled with self-loathing. Forgiving himself for what he had done proved almost impossible for him. He had had paradise and had traded it for pure misery. When he and Ms. Potranco arrived at the Zepeda house, she knocked on the door. Ymelda opened the door and ushered them in. They sat in the kitchen as Doña Chamita made chamomile tea. “Did you have a good talk, dear-ones?” questioned Doña Chamita from the stove. “What?” blurted Ms. Potranco. Doña Chamita smiled slightly. “I saw you going towards the river earlier. It’s good to clear things up.” “Clear things up? How do you know about—” asked Esteban. “You two have a lot to clear up,” Ymelda shot back. “Just like Violeta and Arturo needed to clear things up so do you.” Esteban’s eyebrows shot up. “How do you know that about us?” “Haven’t you fully grasped by now that my mother and I have the gift of sight,” Ymelda answered. “Yes,” Esteban murmured. “I have something gnawing at me since earlier today,” Ms. Potranco chimed in. “Did the both of you already know that the father of Rubi’s baby was Señor Sandoval?” “We strongly suspected it,” Doña Chamita announced. “But everything happened so fast—like Violeta marrying Norberto in a blink of an eye—that we couldn’t step in to try to untangle the mess that Anibal had made.” Ymelda nodded. “We decided it was best for Anibal to detangle his own chaos.” “But you could’ve told Arturo your suspicions,” burst Ms. Potranco, “and eased the poor guy.” “You’re wrong,” Ymelda declared bluntly. “What would’ve happened is that we would’ve created a huge disorder between him and his father. Arturo might’ve not believed us, or his father might’ve lied. My mama and I could see that it was best for Anibal to confess. Then all the pieces would shift into place like they’re doing now.” “But Violeta and Arturo died because—” “It would’ve happened anyway,” Doña Chamita explained. Ms. Potranco sighed in exasperation. “How can you say that?” “Arturo would’ve confronted Violeta on that day regardless,” Ymelda shot back. “Regardless.” “That’s sad,” Esteban murmured. “That’s life,” stated Doña Chamita. “Human beings get themselves tangled up in the most ridiculous messes. You of all people know that, right, Esteban?” He nodded forlornly. “I sure do.” “What do you know about Esteban’s and my relationship?” questioned Ms. Potranco. “We see snippets here and there, dear-one,” murmured Doña Chamita. “Snippets?” questioned Ms. Potranco. Ymelda nodded. “Seers like my mama and me see snippets of people’s lives.” “What snippets do you see of us?” Esteban asked. “You’re divorced by the human law, but not in your hearts,” declared Dona Chamita. “Definitely not in your hearts, dear-ones.” Chapter 36 “Please, ladies, don’t get in our business,” pleaded Ms. Potranco, disconcerted. “You asked us what we saw inside you,” burst Ymelda. “We only answered what you wanted to know.” “If you only see snippets then you don’t have the full picture,” Ms. Potranco shot back. “You don’t see the whole enchilada.” “No, you definitely don’t see the whole thing of how I ruined my life,” Esteban murmured. “You can fix it,” Ymelda shot back. Esteban shook his head. “I don’t see how.” “A big part of life is fixing what we break,” murmured Doña Chamita. “You can bet on that, dear-one.” “I’ll repeat that you only see snippets,” burst Ms. Potranco. “My situation with Esteban is very complicated. There’s nothing you can do. It’s between us.” Doña Chamita nodded. “We’ll be here for you if you need us.” “Anyway,” Ms. Potranco blurted, “Esteban and I came here to see if it was okay to return to the house.” “Do you think we need to give Violeta and Arturo more time?” Esteban asked. “Let’s go check on them,” stated Ymelda. The group ambled out of the Zepeda place and walked over to the home next door. As they stepped in the house they were relieved that nothing was crashing down or falling off the walls. The house appeared to be peaceful. Doña Chamita called out to the lovers. “In the kitchen!” yelled out Violeta. The group made its way to the kitchen as soon as Doña Chamita explained what Violeta had shouted out. The ghosts were seated at the table very close to one another. Ymelda indicated where everyone should sit as to not violate the seating arrangement of Violeta and Arturo. “You look calm,” Ymelda told the ghosts. Arturo nodded. “We’ve been doing a lot of talking.” “Good, I’m glad you’re clearing things up,” declared Ymelda. Violeta chuckled. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of groveling.” “Apologizing never hurt anybody, dear-ones,” asserted Doña Chamita. Ms. Potranco and Esteban stared in fascination at the scene before them. The Zepedas seemed to be talking to thin air. Even when they had witnessed a similar act earlier, it was still quite a spectacle to observe. “Arturo has forgiven me,” Violeta announced, her voice relieved and merry. Arturo nodded. “Violeta was as much a victim in my father’s and Rubi’s intrigues as I was,” he burst. “So you haven’t forgiven your father?” questioned Doña Chamita, disappointment in her voice. “At this point, I can’t,” he growled. Ymelda groaned. “He begged you for forgiveness on his hands and knees.” “It’s unforgiveable that you had to force him to confess!” Arturo snapped. Doña Chamita sighed. “Arturo, you have to put yourself in your father’s shoes. He was terrified that you’d never forgive him, and his fears were apparently right. Here you are not forgiving him.” “He should’ve had the guts on his own to tell me about him and Rubi,” Arturo burst. Violeta nodded. “I went to Rubi’s house a little while ago and listened to them arguing about what had happened. Rubi isn’t remorseful at all and even though Señor Sandoval is sorry, my blood boils at how he was too much of a coward to stop this farce when he could’ve!” “Coward!” snapped Arturo. “Do you love your father, dear-one?” murmured Doña Chamita. This question took Arturo by complete surprise. “I . . . I . . .” “This isn’t a hard question,” Ymelda chimed in, her voice sharp. “Do you love your father or do you hate him because of the secret he kept from you?” Arturo grimaced tightly. “I could never hate my father.” “So you still love him,” asserted Doña Chamita. Arturo nodded. “Yes, I love my father even with what he did to me, but I’m still furious with him!” “So am I!” retorted Violeta. “That’s too bad,” murmured Doña Chamita. Arturo’s eyebrows shot up. “Why?” “Dear-ones, it means you still have unfinished business,” informed Doña Chamita. Ymelda sighed. “You’ll need to stay on this earthly plane until you resolve it.” Chapter 37 “We can’t leave?” questioned Violeta. “You can, but I suggest you don’t,” Ymelda announced. “Fix your business while you’re still here for everyone involved.” Arturo sighed. “I just don’t know how to fix this. I just can’t forgive my father.” Doña Chamita smiled at him. “Arturo, you have a good heart. There’s no doubt inside me that before you know it you’ll forgive him.” “The fact that you don’t hate him is a huge gain,” declared Ymelda. The Zepedas soon returned to their home. Rosita came back to the rental home cheery and excited. She was really enjoying her vacation. If she took note of the strange vibe in the air, she didn’t mention it. Her parents were thrilled to see her in such good spirits. During the next few days, it was easy to pretend that there were no ghosts in the rental house. They seemed to be behaving and not causing any trouble. Nothing flew off the walls or tipped over. Esteban’s things were in the exact same place he left them. Still, Ms. Potranco realized that things weren’t as calm as they appeared on the surface. Beneath it was a whole hurricane of turmoil, so she had taken to leaving the house keys with the Zepedas when she, Esteban, and Rosita were all out. It made sense to Ms. Potranco to make certain that when Señor Sandoval was ready to return to the home to fix his problems, he’d have clear access at the time before he’d lose his nerve. Ms. Potranco felt personally involved in the lives of Violeta and Arturo. She had a vested interest. Violeta and Arturo were no longer strangers she had heard about. Their tragic love story wasn’t a tale that had nothing to do with her. She cared for them, feeling their presence in her rental house. She hoped they would tie up the loose ends before the summer was over. Not wanting to return to El Paso wondering what would become of them, Ms. Potranco tried with what she could to be supportive of Violeta’s and Arturo’s situation. As she, Esteban, and Rosita took a daytrip to Albuquerque, she wondered about the unfinished business in her own life. With what had happened with the ghosts, it was easy to ignore the last conversation she had had at the river with Esteban. They hadn’t broached the subject and when Rosita had left them alone to be with her new friends, both had gone their separate ways to work on their projects or work. Ms. Potranco had done science research over the internet while Esteban had used the same technology to look into his business. In the car, Ms. Potranco gazed at her daughter who sat next to her father in the front seat. Since Esteban had been to Albuquerque on several occasions, he was the one who volunteered to drive the family there. Rosita seemed very content. It pained Ms. Potranco not to be able to give her daughter what she longed for the most—a united family. Can I forgive Esteban? she wondered. For the sake of Ro? She sighed heavily. Can I believe him when he says he wasn’t going to have sex with Gwyneth in my home? Can it be true that he hadn’t been having an actual affair with her, but had had just a one night stand? Jagged thoughts pierced into her—confusing her of her feelings. Mixed emotions abounded. The fact was that he had still betrayed her. He had still slept with Gwyneth. Can I forgive him? With what was happening at her rental home, forgiveness seemed to be the order of the day. And it seemed every bit as difficult for her as it was for the ghosts. “Dad, do you remember when we took the trip to California?” Rosita mentioned excitedly. Esteban chuckled. “You bugged your mother and me for a year to take you to Disneyland.” Ms. Potranco winced when remembering it. Her heart twanged with overwhelming emotions. Esteban could be so remarkable at times. For Rosita’s twelfth birthday, he had surprised her with the trip. He had taken a loan out to pay for it. “Esteban, I don’t know if taking a loan out for a frivolous trip is a good idea,” Ms. Potranco had told him, worried. “It’s not a frivolous trip,” he had insisted. “Nothing that puts me with my family is frivolous.” “But—” “Besides, it’s Ro’s dream to go to Disneyland. We have it in our hands to make her dream come true.” Ms. Potranco had sighed. “I guess so.” “Lila, I want my daughter to always dream big. To always know that she can make her dreams come true. To always be sure that her parents support her no matter what.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “I see your point.” “Besides, Ro’s a great kid—never giving us a lick of trouble. She deserves the trip, and we as a family deserve it too.” Ms. Potranco’s heart had filled with flower blossoms. Those same feelings took over her as she remembered that particular trip. “Disneyland was awesome, right, Dad?” gushed Rosita. Esteban nodded. “Yes, it was pretty great.” “You’ve always given me the best of presents,” she murmured. “Hey, what about me?” blurted Ms. Potranco from the back seat, chuckling. “Don’t I also give you great gifts?” Rosita turned her head towards her mother. “You too, Mom.” “Thanks,” burst Ms. Potranco, a smile on her lips. “I’m glad I’m included.” “I still get excited when I think about what you gave me last year,” announced Rosita. Ms. Potranco grinned. “You really liked it?” “I loooved it,” Rosita gushed. “The new all-in-one tablet was amazing.” “Technology changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up,” Ms. Potranco mentioned dryly. Rosita grinned. “Well, that tablet sure was the latest in awesome!” “I figured it would help you with your schoolwork,” stated Ms. Potranco. “It sure does,” Rosita burst enthusiastically. “I hope you also love what I got you this year,” mentioned Ms. Potranco. Estevan’s eyebrows knit together. “You’ve already gotten Ro her birthday present?” “Yes.” “What is it, Mom?” Rosita questioned with excitement. Ms. Potranco chuckled. “It wouldn’t be fun if I told you. You’ll have to wait.” Rosita grimaced with a smile on her face. “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to wait for my birthday.” “That reminds me, what do you want for your birthday?” questioned Esteban. “It’s coming up soon and I haven’t a clue what you’d like.” “I already have my present,” Rosita murmured. “This trip in Milagros where we’re all together is the best gift ever.” Chapter 38 When a harsh the knock resonated from the door, Ymelda looked over to her mother with a question mark on her face. “Are you expecting anyone, Mom?” Doña Chamita shook her head. “No.” At that point, both shamans went inside themselves to figure out who it was. They could’ve opened the door to satisfy their curiosity, but they used their gift automatically, without thinking too much about it. “Can it be?” burst Ymelda as soon as he vision appeared in her third eye. Doña Chamita nodded. “Stranger things have happened.” She stepped over to the door and swung it open. “It is you,” Ymelda murmured. “What a surprise.” “What?” asked the woman on the other side of the door. “Never mind,” Dona Chamita blurted. “Come in.” The woman strode awkwardly into the house, glaring at everything as if the home was full of poison. Doña Chamita indicated that the woman should sit at the table. The woman eyed the kitchen chair closely before lowering herself to it. “What brings you here, Rubi?” questioned Ymelda. She and her mother were already seated at the table, strongly suspecting the reason for the visit. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t forced to,” she snapped. “Forced to?” questioned Doña Chamita. Rubi glowered at her. “Yes, forced! You know perfectly well I’ve never been here! I wouldn’t associate with you wicked witches if I wasn’t forced to!” “We’re not wicked and we’re not witches—we’re shamans!” roared Ymelda. Rubi chortled. “What’s the difference?” “We don’t cast spells or do stuff like that!” snapped Ymelda. “Get the term for us correct!” “We help people,” Doña Chamita explained matter-of-factly. “That’s our mission.” “Mission?” guffawed Rubi. “Give me a break! You work your evil magic throwing it around for your power trips!” “We don’t work evil magic,” stated Doña Chamita patiently. “We work with the energy flowing all around. If you want to call that energy magic then that’s up to you. Ymelda and I don’t power trip. We help.” “Whatever!” Rubi shot back sarcastically. “I’ve had enough of your disrespect,” Ymelda snapped as she shot up from her chair. “Get out of my house, Rubi! Get out!” Rubi yanked her purse open and flung money bills at her. “Here you go! Can I stay now?” she snickered. Ymelda started snatching up the money from the table as Rubi eyed her with a smirk. Sighing deeply and shaking her head, Doña Chamita’s irritated eyes fell on Rubi. Rubi’s face kept its smugness. “I need—” Once Ymelda had grabbed all the money, she hurled it back to Rubi. “Get. Out. Of. My. House!” Rubi’s startled expression suddenly changed to one of disgust. ”I can’t give you witches any more money,” she burst, “so stop pretending to throw me out!” “I’m not pretending!” snarled Ymelda. “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” Rubi groaned. “Okay, okay, you win. I’ll give you some more money.” Doña Chamita sighed with exasperation. “You just don’t get it,” she murmured. “What are you talking about?” Rubi questioned. Ymelda glared at her, fireworks bursting from her eyes. “I’ll show you what we’re talking about!” Doña Chamita shook her head at her daughter who was about to grab Rubi to toss her out of the house. “Let me handle this,” she patiently told Ymelda who had to take quick breaths in and out to control her fury. “But—” “Daughter, please let me handle this.” “Okay, mama,” Ymelda burst through gritted teeth. “Only because you’re my mother.” Rubi smirked. “How touching! Just do yourself a favor and take the money and—” Doña Chamita sighed deeply. “Rubi, It doesn’t matter how much money you offer Ymelda and me, your complete disrespect for us doesn’t deserve consideration in return.” “Why should I respect you?!” Rubi retorted. “Why?” questioned Doña Chamita with disbelief. “Yeah, why should I have any respect for the likes of you?!” Doña Chamita eyed her with pity. “Maybe you should ask yourself some other questions. Why should you have manners? Why should you be a decent human being? What kind of an ugly with disrespect world do you want your son to grow up in?” Startled at Dona Chamita’s words, Rubi stayed solemn, ingesting them. “I’m assuming you love your son, right?” murmured Doña Chamita. Rubi nodded quietly. “With all my heart.” “Then be a good role model for him. Show him the comfort of love instead of the acid of ugliness.” “I do,” Rubi shot back. Doña Chamita sighed. “With the way you’ve been treating my daughter and me, it doesn’t seem like it.” “He needs to understand not to be taken in by scammers,” burst Rubi. “If you think we’re scammers then why are you here?” questioned Doña Chamita. Startled, Rubi struggled for words. Then she shrugged her shoulders. “I have to admit that the two of you do have certain abilities,” she muttered. “So don’t insult us if you want to make use of our abilities,” growled Ymelda. “I want my son happy and safe,” Rubi blurted. “That’s why I’m here,” she explained quietly. “Please help me.” “Let’s get some things straight,” snapped Ymelda. “If you want our help then don’t be rude to us. Don’t sneer at us. Don’t abuse us. Don’t call us wicked witches. Is that clear?” “Treat us the way you want to be treated,” murmured Doña Chamita. “The way you want your son to be treated.” Rubi nodded solemnly. “You’re the one who needs us!” snarled Ymelda. “Not the other way around, so your belligerence towards us is really ridiculous.” “I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk,” Rubi declared. “Sorry.” Ymelda glared at her. “Are you really?” “I apologize for my behavior,” Rubi murmured. “I’m not entirely convinced of your regret,” stated Ymelda, grumbling, “but let’s move on with this. What is it that you need?” “Why are you here?” questioned Doña Chamita. “I sense that it has something to do with Violeta and Arturo, right?” Rubi nodded. “Yes,” she mumbled, her throat becoming chalky dust. “So you’re aware that their spirits are back,” stated Ymelda. “Yes,” gulped Rubi. Ymelda nodded. “Afraid of them?” “They’re haunting me,” Rubi murmured, her voice shaky. Chapter 39 “Haunting you?” Ymelda questioned. Rubi vigorously nodded. “Yes!” “How are Violeta and Arturo haunting you?” asked Doña Chamita. Rubi groaned. “Let me explain how it all started.” “Go ahead,” prompted Doña Chamita. “Tell us what’s happening.” Rubi sighed. “Well, it all started when Anibal went to my house and told me about Arturo and Violeta being ghosts.” “You of course know that the cat is out of the bag,” declared Ymelda. “Anibal confessed to his affair with you.” Rubi grimaced. “He should’ve let things be!” “How can you say that?” remarked Doña Chamita. “That lie was a heavy burden to everyone involved including your baby boy.” Rubi shook her head. “The truth will only destroy Anibal and me.” “The lie destroyed Violeta and Arturo!” Ymelda snapped. Doña Chamita nodded. “Hopefully, the truth will set them free.” Rubi sighed. “Well, they’re dead and Anibal and I are alive. He and I have to live in this gossipy village if people find out. I trust that neither of you will say anything about it.” “I can’t believe that all you care about is your reputation when the souls of Violeta and Arturo are tortured because of the lie you lived!” snapped Ymelda. “Could you be any more selfish?” “I’m not being selfish!” Rubi immediately shot back. “I’m not . . . I’m . . . I’m thinking of my son,’ she mumbled uncomfortably. “His life will be a hellhole around here if people know the truth. I’m convinced that it’s best for him to let sleeping dogs lay.” “You really think it’s best for him to think his father is his grandfather?” murmured Doña Chamita, lightly chastising. Rubi face reddened and twitched nervously. “Well . . . Well . . . yes.” Ymelda shook her head with disgust. “You’re wrong!” “Just because you’ve got special abilities doesn’t mean you’re always right!” snapped Rubi. Doña Chamita sighed. “Ymelda is right about this. Rubi, your child needs to know who his father really is.” “The real reason you don’t want it known isn’t because you’re protecting your son!” burst Ymelda. “It’s because you don’t want your dirty rags out in the open. This is entirely about you and not your son!” “That’s not true,” Rubi shot back. “I—” “Face the truth, Rubi,” Doña Chamita murmured. “Stop lying to yourself. It’s for the best.” Ymelda vigorously nodded. “Woman up, Rubi. Have the guts to woman up.” “I’m not here to talk about the father of my child!” Rubi burst. “That’s my business. I’m here to see if you can help me with the haunting!” Doña Chamita looked puzzled. “What makes you so sure you’re being haunted?” “I’ve personally experienced it!” “What have you experienced?” questioned Ymelda. “Weird stuff like flying objects and stuff like that!” Doña Chamita eyed her solemnly. “Was that when Anibal was visiting you?” “Yes!” “Mama, Violeta did say that she had gone to Rubi’s house and heard the conversation between Rubi and Anibal,” stated Ymelda. Rubi’s eyes widened. “See, I told you! I’m being haunted!” “Hmm,” Doña Chamita let out. “I doubt if Violeta has been back to your house, Rubi.” “Of course she did!” insisted Rubi. “But this time she went back with Arturo!” “Arturo?” questioned Ymelda. Rubi nodded. “He must really hate me right now!” “He’s very angry with you, but I’m not sure about him haunting you,” Doña Chamita conveyed, her voice sure of itself. “He’s dealing with his feelings towards his dad right now, and I doubt he’s concerning himself with what happened with you yet.” Ymelda nodded. “I agree.” “Neither of you understand!” “Understand what?” questioned Doña Chamita. “Arturo and Violeta are going to take out their fury on me! They’re starting out small but are about to unleash hell on me!” Doña Chamita eyed her with a quizzical expression. “Starting out small?” “The haunting isn’t too obvious right now . . . I mean it was obvious when Anibal was at my house but then it quieted down. Still, I feel Arturo’s and Violeta’s fuming presences there—waiting to strike when the moment is right!” “You feel their presences?” questioned Doña Chamita, disbelief in her voice. Rubi nodded vigorously. “Yes, definitely! How do I get them out of my house?! Please have compassion!—my child is there with my mother right now!” “There’s only one way to settle this,” ascertained Ymelda. “How?” Rubi croaked out. “Let’s go next door to make sure Violeta and Arturo are there and not at your home,” Ymelda suggested. Dona Chamita nodded. “Great idea.” Chapter 40 As Doña Chamita, Ymelda, and Rubi stepped over next door, Rubi wouldn’t stop the insufferable blabbing about the supposed vengeful ghosts. It took everything Ymelda had inside of her not to slap her quiet. “They won’t be there,” Rubi kept repeating with a deep whine to her voice. “We’re wasting our time! We should be going to my house where their evil is!” “We’ll see,” Doña Chamita patiently murmured. “Besides, I saw the renters leave,” Rubi burst. “How do we get inside the house?” Doña Chamita sighed. “Ms. Potranco gave us the key.” “Why would she trust you with a key?” blurted Rubi. “She doesn’t even know you!” “She knows the kind of people my daughter and I are,” asserted Doña Chamita. Rubi grimaced. “She knows you’re wi—” “Watch it!” threatened Rubi. “She knows you’re shamans?” Rubi questioned. Doña Chamita sighed patiently. “She was in the house when Anibal confessed to Arturo and Violeta.” By this time the three were at their destination, standing at the door. Ymelda pulled a key out of her purse. “I keep telling you that the house is empty!” insisted Rubi. “I don’t know what we’re doing here! I keep telling you the wickedness is at my home! We should be—” “SHUT UP!!!” snapped Ymelda. Rubi stared at Ymelda with a stunned expression, her mouth hanging wide open with nothing coming out. No one had ever spoken to her like that. As the three quietly entered into the living room, Rubi crossed her arms in front of her. Her face was in a furious scrunch of being shut up, but she was certain that Ymelda was going to have to eat her words. She couldn’t wait to smirk, “I told you so!” But instead, her heart thudded loudly when she heard Doña Chamita say, “Well, good afternoon, you two.” “Hello,” greeted Ymelda. Rubi quickly eyed the empty space the Zepedas were directing their attention towards. Immediately, she told herself that a trick was being played on her to make her look like a fool because she had called Doña Chamita and Ymelda wicked witches earlier and had insisted that the ghosts weren’t at this location anymore but at her house. A sneaky trick! Rubi strode to the empty spot and twirled with her arms extended. “No one’s here!” Doña Chamita groaned. “What are you doing, Rubi?” “Proving that the ghosts aren’t here!” Rubi burst, still twirling. Ymelda shook her head in exasperation and scowled. “You can stop that,” Doña Chamita told Rubi. “Violeta and Arturo aren’t there.” Rubi made a triumphant face. “I was right!” “What my mama meant is that Violeta and Arturo are no longer in that area!” Ymelda shot back, growling. “They got out of the way when you stepped over there!” “What?!” burst Rubi. “Neither wants to feel your vibes going through them!” Ymelda retorted. Doña Chamita nodded. “If a person inhabits the same space as an apparition, the spirit can feel what’s inside the individual.” “So they’re really at this house?” Rubi questioned with a shaky voice. Doña Chamita nodded. “Yes.” At the moment, both Violeta and Arturo were in front of her glaring at her with their hands on their hips. “So they’re not at my house?” muttered Rubi. Doña Chamita shook her head. “No.” “What’s she talking about?” blurted Violeta. “What’s she doing here?” questioned Arturo. “She thinks you’re haunting her,” informed Ymelda. “With what she did to me I should be haunting her,” snapped Arturo, “But I haven’t been out of this house!” “What about you, Violeta?” questioned Doña Chamita. “I only went to her house that one time that Señor Sandoval went over there too,” Violeta explained. “Arturo and I have been busy trying to come to terms with everything. We haven’t dealt with the likes of Rubi yet!” Doña Chamita nodded solemnly. “I see.” “What’s happening?” Rubi burst. “What are they saying?” “Violeta and Arturo haven’t been haunting your house,” Doña Chamita explained. “They’ve been here trying to sort things out.” “But I could’ve sworn they were messing with me!” Rubi blurted. “Well, they’re not,” Ymelda shot back. Rubi shook her head vehemently. “They’re lying! They want to drive me crazy! They—” “SHUT UP!!!” snapped Ymelda. Rubi glared at her but stopped talking. “We’re lying?!” growled Violeta. “Look who’s calling the kettle black!” “She’s the worst kind of a human being!” Arturo retorted. “She’s not even here to apologize for what she did to Violeta and me! She’s here for her own selfish purposes!” Doña Chamita nodded. “Unfortunately, you’re right.” “What are they saying?” Rubi murmured lightly, avoiding Ymelda’s glare. “That you’re the one who’s a selfish liar!” snapped Ymelda. Rubi’s eyes widened. “Why would they say that?” Ymelda snorted with disbelief. “You’re really asking that?” “I’m not a selfish liar!” Rubi whined. Ymelda snickered loudly. “Right!” “She’s for sure a selfish liar!” Arturo insisted. “What is she smoking?” Rubi’s face twisted in anger. “How dare you say that about me, Ymelda. I’m not a horrible person!” ”You don’t see yourself very well,” Ymelda stated, sniffing. “How is it that I’m a selfish liar for wanting to shield my child from vicious ghosts?!” snapped Rubi. Ymelda sighed with exasperation. “We already told you that Violeta and Arturo aren’t the ones haunting you.” “Rubi, it’s your own guilty conscience causing you to see what’s not there,” Doña Chamita chimed in. “Then I’m not being haunted after all?” murmured Rubi, relief in her voice. Doña Chamita shook her head. “I didn’t say that.” “Then what do you mean?” Rubi shot back. “You’re not making sense!” “You’re being haunted all right,” Ymelda retorted. Rubi glared at her, puzzled. “Are the ghosts haunting me or not?” “No!” burst Ymelda. “They’re not.” “So who’s haunting me then?” questioned Rubi. “Human beings can be haunted by their own dark spirits,” informed Doña Chamita, matter-of-factly. Chapter 41 “That’s crazy!” blurted Rubi. “Totally crazy!” “Do you want my mother and me to help you or not?!” snapped Ymelda. “Yes, but—” Ymelda groaned loudly. “You can’t pick and choose what we tell you. Either you believe us or not! If you don’t then we might as well leave and you can resolve your own problem!” “It’s up to you,” Doña Chamita murmured. Rubi sighed. “Okay,” she muttered, barely audible. “What?” burst Ymelda. “I didn’t catch that.” Rubi cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Okay,” she shot back quietly. “Okay what?” questioned Ymelda. Rubi cleared her throat again. “You two obviously know what you’re talking about. I’m all ears.” “I’m surprised you got the selfish brat to bow down to your wisdom,” remarked Violeta. “Me too,” guffawed Ymelda. Arturo nodded. “Yeah, surprising.” “Really surprising,” Ymelda declared. “What are the ghosts saying?” burst Rubi. “Never mind that,” Doña Chamita stated. “Rubi, you thought that Violeta and Arturo were haunting you, but the reality is that your own guilt is playing tricks on you.” “Guilt?” Rubi blurted, distaste on her tongue. Doña Chamita nodded. “Yes, guilt.” “I don’t feel any guilt,” Rubi asserted. “You have to be!” Ymelda shot back, grumbling. Rubi shook her head. “Well, I’m not.” “How can she say that!” snapped Violeta. “How can she not feel guilt over what she did to my beloved and me?” Arturo questioned incredulously. Ymelda sighed with exasperation. “She’s not being honest.” “Are you talking about me?” snapped Rubi. Ymelda nodded. “Yes.” “I don’t appreciate you calling me a liar!” Rubi barked. “You’re not being truthful,” Dona Chamita asserted. “Not even to yourself. Of course you’re feeling guilty.” Rubi vehemently shook her head. “But I’m not. Why should I be?” “You can’t be serious with that question!” Ymelda burst. “You actions messed a lot of people up!” “Look, the only thing I’m guilty of is too much love,” Rubi assured. “Too much love?” questioned Ymelda. Violeta grunted with disbelief. “What is the selfish liar talking about?” “I loved Arturo like nobody could!” Rubi burst. Violeta glared at her. “Excuse me?!” “Rubi, you don’t think that Violeta loved Arturo with all her heart?” questioned Doña Chamita. Rubi shook her head. “She didn’t love him like I loved him!” “I’m really going to let her have it!” snapped Violeta. “Please calm down, Violeta,” murmured Doña Chamita. “We’re going to straighten this out, dear-one.” “I was so in love with Arturo,” Rubi croaked, “but he never even gave me a chance.” “Why would I give her a chance when I already had the love of my life,” Arturo announced, his penetrating gaze on Violeta. She returned his stare with shiny eyes. Doña Chamita told Rubi what he had said. Rubi clutched at her heart as if it was in agonizing pain. “But everything is fair in love and war!—I knew he’d forget Violeta if only he’d give me a chance!” “Impossible!” Arturo shot back. “I’d never be able to forget Violeta!” “My love for Arturo was enough for the both of us!” Rubi continued. “That’s pretty naïve,” Ymelda retorted. “You’re obsession with Arturo could never turn to love.” Rubi glared furiously at her. “Obsession?” “Obsession is not true love,” remarked Ymelda matter-of-factly. Rubi’s glowered at her incredulously. “What?!” “I’m sorry to say that you don’t know the meaning of love,” murmured Doña Chamita. “Of course I do!” snapped Rubi. Ymelda vehemently shook her head. “No, you don’t.” Rubi’s face contorted severely. “I do too! I was willing to sacrifice everything for Arturo! I was willing to lie, cheat, and steal for him! Anything for him to be with me! That’s how much I loved him!” Doña Chamita sighed deeply. “That’s not true love, Rubi. Not true love at all.” Chapter 42 “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” sneered Rubi. Ymelda glared furiously at her. “Hey! Don’t talk to my mama like that!” Rubi’s face twisted. Opening her mouth to bark something out, she quickly had second thoughts and snapped her lips shut. “Sorry,” she muttered. “You’d better be,” retorted Ymelda. “It’s just that I don’t see how my willingness to sacrifice everything for Arturo isn’t love? It doesn’t make sense,” announced Rubi. “Sacrifice isn’t necessarily love,” stated Ymelda. Rubi rolled her eyes. “What do you know about love?” “More than you do,” Ymelda shot back. “But—” “Much more than you do,” stated Ymelda. Doña Chamita sighed. “Love is about compromise, sharing, and understanding. Love is about wanting the best for the other person—not about hurting your partner.” “You hurt the person you said to love,” declared Ymelda. “You hurt him very badly.” “I knew I could make him happy!” Rubi proclaimed. Arturo grunted furiously. “By making me the most miserable I have ever been she was going to make me happy?” Ymelda shrugged. “She’s deluded.” “Are you talking about me?!” snapped Rubi. “I’m not—” Doña Chamita shook her head with irritation. “Obsession is when you take love and twist it into ugliness. Obsession is when you feed yourself with lies of your own making. Lies like you’re telling yourself.” “What?” Rubi blurted. “You filled yourself with lies about your supposed love being much better and greater for Arturo than Violeta’s feelings, and then you convinced yourself that there was nothing wrong in trying to keep them apart,” Doña Chamita murmured. Ymelda nodded. “Lies about the nature of true love.” “Selfishness isn’t love, Rubi. In fact it’s quite the opposite,” Doña Chamita asserted. “True love is altruistic and free-flowing. It’s not like obsession seared into your mind, thinking of sneaky ways to slither out and poison someone into submission.” Rubi shook her head. “I wasn’t trying to poison Arturo into submission! I just wanted him to love me!” “Same thing,” Ymelda shot back. “You wanted him to love you at all costs.” “What’s wrong with that?” Rubi questioned, puzzled. “She’s hopeless!” blurted Violeta with exasperation. Doña Chamita sighed and eyed Rubi as if she was speaking to a child. “Rubi, you can’t force someone to love you. Love comes spontaneously with no chains. It’s supposed to flow—to move freely. Like it did with Violeta and Arturo.” Rubi vigorously shook her head. “It didn’t come freely to them! Arturo was supposed to marry, Eugenia, remember?” “You’re missing the point,” Doña Chamita explained, patiently. “I didn’t say love didn’t have difficulties. Of course there are hardships sometimes. We’re human after all. But I am saying that Violeta and Arturo didn’t have to work hard at the love itself. The feelings just blossomed like a flower in springtime.” “My love for Arturo blossomed like that too!” snapped Rubi. Ymelda vehemently shook her head. “No, it didn’t. One day you got it through your head that you were in love with him. This obsessive thought of supposed love kept rolling around in your mind blinding you to the damage it was doing.” “Damage?” questioned Rubi. Doña Chamita nodded. “You should love yourself enough not to want to be with somebody who doesn’t love you.” “Love myself?” burst Rubi. “I do love myself!” Ymelda shook her head. “No, you don’t. You have a narcissistic personality disorder.” “What’s that?” questioned Rubi. She didn’t like the sound of it at all. “I don’t have any kind of disorder!” “You think the world revolves around you,” Ymelda stated matter-of-factly. “If you had love for yourself instead of pure selfishness, you would think of other people in your decisions. Love is about compromise and sharing just like my mama said.” “I do know how to love!” Rubi popped back. “My son is witness to my love for him!” Ymelda groaned. “Your son? You mean the child you’ve sacrificed so that you get what you want?” Rubi’s lower lip started trembling. “Hey, I loved him enough to—” “You have to stop making excuses for your bad behavior,” murmured Doña Chamita. “It isn’t to his benefit to be in the dark about who his father really is no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.” “But—” “Stupid justifications!” snapped Ymelda, frustrated. “You need to get your head together! Get your life straight! And apologize to those you’ve hurt!” “Yeah, she does!” exclaimed Violeta. “Right!” agreed Arturo. Ymelda started shaking her head with vigor. “No, no, no.” Her body twisted with the movement of her head. “I can’t turn my life upside down! I can’t! “Do it, Rubi,” encouraged Doña Chamita. “Set yourself free and get to new amazing heights as a human being.” “NO!” Rubi burst, rushing to the door. “Leave me alone! Everybody just leave me alone!” Yanking the door open, she dashed outside without even a glance back. Chapter 43 Doña Chamita stared with pity after Rubi who had left the door wide open. The rest of the crowd in the house gaped after Rubi also, but they didn’t have any compassion in their eyes. In fact they were glaring with little sympathy at a fast moving Rubi. “She’ll never get it,” remarked Ymelda, frustration in her voice. “Too narcissistic.” “I have hopes that she will,” Doña Chamita commented. Arturo shook his head. “I’m afraid I have to agree with Ymelda.” “Me too,” Violeta chimed in. “Rubi is just totally hopeless.” “No one is completely hopeless,” asserted Doña Chamita. “Even her.” Back in their home, the Zepedas felt an exhaustion of epic proportions. Few people in the world were aware of how difficult and tiring it was to navigate different dimensions. Fortunately, they had left the restless ghosts in somewhat calm moods considering what had happened with Rubi. Doña Chamita with her endless patience and soothing nature had spoken words of serenity to Violeta and Arturo. She told them that she understood the emotions violently whirling inside them, but they had to keep a rein on them until everything got sorted out. This seemed to have made sense to Violeta and Arturo, and they decided against going to Rubi’s house to do what she had been accusing them of doing—haunting her. “Rubi is haunting herself,” Doña Chamita had explained. “If you two haunt her, she’ll focus on you instead of on dealing with her own darkness.” “But will she actually deal with her own selfishness?” questioned Arturo with disbelief. Violeta shook her head. “I don’t think so.” “Regardless of what she does with the dark ugliness inside of her, she’ll need to deal with it in one way or another,” Doña Chamita explained. “In the meantime, you two should deal with your thoughts of revenge instead of acting on them.” Ymelda nodded. “Mama is right. I, like you, have strong issues with Rubi. She can really get under my skin! But I can’t crawl into those twisted sentiments or pretty soon they’ll take over me as they will to you too if you let them. We have to take the high road, guys.” “But then she’ll get away with what she did to us!” snapped Arturo, upset. Doña Chamita shook her head. “No, she won’t. Her guilt is eating her up alive at this very moment.” “But she insists she feels no guilt,” Violeta shot back. “What she says and what is actually happening inside of her are two different things,” Doña Chamita clarified. “She’s feeling guilty alright.” “But what good is it if she won’t recognize it?” blurted Violeta. Doña Chamita sighed. “Whether she wants to recognize it or not her guilt is creating chaos inside of her. Complete chaos.” “Really?” questioned Arturo. “Believe me, she’s not getting away with what she did scot free,” Ymelda burst. “Rubi is being charred on the inside.” Doña Chamita nodded. “If she doesn’t deal with it, it’ll only get worse. That’s why I think she’ll eventually come to her senses. She’s got Anibal and a baby fighting her darkest inclinations.” “I can’t help but want to shake and pummel her,” blurted Violeta with gritted teeth. Arturo nodded. “Get even with her!” “Let’s shelve this talk of revenge, dear-ones,” Doña Chamita expressed. “It’s not helping you with your present situation. In fact, it’s getting in the way of you continuing your rightful journey.” Arturo sighed. “Okay, Doña Chamita. We’ll leave things alone for the moment.” “Yeah, for the moment,” Violeta chimed in. It was such a relief for the Zepedas to have reached their home. Their sanctuary against all the craziness they had to face on a daily basis. Accepting the shaman life was definitely not something to be taken lightly. Doña Chamita and Ymelda decided to take naps to revitalize their spirits. They were certain they’d need every bit of energy they could muster for what was still yet to come. A siesta was just what they needed. They had slept for an hour when they heard a knock on their door. Both woke up and stepped over to the door. “Sorry to disturb you,” Ms. Potranco said as soon as Ymelda swung the door open, and she noticed the remnants of sleep in the Zepedas’ faces. “But I need the key to get back into the house.” “Certainly,” answered Ymelda. Ms. Potranco’s expression stayed in its apologetic form. “I’m so sorry for the intrusion. Were you asleep?” “Don’t worry about it,” Ymelda stated nonchalantly. As Ymelda went to her purse to take out the key, Doña Chamita eyed Ms. Potranco intently. “How are you, dear-one?” she questioned. “Fine,” Ms. Potranco answered curtly. “How’s Esteban?” “Fine,” Ms. Potranco blurted again. Doña Chamita sighed. “Are you dealing with what you’re supposed to be sorting out?” “I’d rather not talk about it.” “I understand, but you at least need to talk about it to yourself and stop running away from it.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows came together. “With all due respect, I know you’re a shaman and everything, but I’m sure you don’t know everything about my life.” Doña Chamita smiled. “You’re right. I don’t, but I know enough to suggest a few things. I know you’re probably thinking that your life is your private business, but I see you in pain. I see your ex-husband in pain. And I see your daughter in pain. I feel the need to help. It’s my life’s work to help those who hurt.” “I appreciate your trying to help, but I think I need to navigate these waters on my own.” Doña Chamita nodded. “Of course you do. I’m just giving you a little nudge in the right direction. That’s all.” Ymelda returned with the key. After Ms. Potranco left, Ymelda immediately turned to her mother. “I hope I gave you enough time to talk to her.” Doña Chamita nodded with a smile. “Thanks for taking your time bringing the key.” “Why are we dealing with so many people who are as stubborn as mules?” blurted Ymelda with exasperation. Doña Chamita chuckled. “It’s our test as shamans and we must pass it.” Chapter 44 “Does it feel funny to you in here?” Ms. Potranco questioned Esteban after they had entered the rental home and Rosita had left to visit a friend. Esteban nodded solemnly. “I thought it was just me.” “Something must’ve happened with Violeta and Arturo.” “Did the Zepedas say anything about it when you went for the key?” Ms. Potranco’s face turned uncomfortable, thinking about the conversation with Doña Chamita. “No.” He shrugged. “Whether they told you anything or not, it really does feel intense in here.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Hopefully, everything’s okay with our resident ghosts.” To their surprise nothing out of the ordinary happened in the house for the rest of the evening. Nothing crashed down from the walls. The lights didn’t flicker. No items turned up in odd places. Yet, the atmosphere in the home didn’t stop being overwrought. The Zepedas ended up visiting next door to see that everything was all right, deciding it was important to explain what had happened earlier. “Rubi came to the house?” Ms. Potranco blurted incredulously. Doña Chamita nodded. “Unfortunately, she’s blinded to the error of her ways. It’s such a shame.” “Mama thinks there’s a possibility she’ll come to her senses,” remarked Ymelda. “I guess anything’s possible,” Esteban observed. Ms. Potranco nodded. “Yes, anything.” “I just hope that the ghosts won’t take out their frustrations on us,” remarked Esteban, sighing. “Tell Ms. Potranco and Esteban that even though we’re still very upset about earlier, we won’t cause any trouble for them,” stated Violeta. “Yes, please tell them,” Arturo chimed in. Ymelda nodded. “Violeta and Arturo want you to know that they’ll be behaving even with their distress.” “I just hope they’ll be okay,” Ms. Potranco murmured. “After all they’ve been through they deserve closure.” Esteban nodded. “They deserve peace.” “Please thank them for their comments,” Violeta expressed, her eyes teary. Arturo bobbed his head. “Yes, definitely thank them for us.” “Violeta and Arturo say thank you,” Doña Chamita informed. “They’re very welcome,” burst Ms. Potranco. After the ghosts next comment, Doña Chamita swiftly turned to Ms. Potranco and Esteban to notify them of it. “Violeta and Arturo hope you find peace and closure too.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “We’ll see.” “It’s up to you,” Doña Chamita asserted matter-of-factly. The next morning, after breakfast, Esteban was asking his ex-wife and daughter what they wanted to do for the day when a harsh knock on the door resonated through the home. They were casually in the living room, and a puzzled Ms. Potranco stared towards the entrance of the house. “Is anyone expecting anybody?” she inquired as she moved towards the knock. Both her daughter and Esteban shook their heads also with question marks in their eyes. Swinging the door open, Ms. Potranco gasped at who was on the other side of it. It was the person she least expected. “Hi, Lila.” “What are you doing here?” snapped Ms. Potranco. “May I talk to Esteban?” “Gwyn, what in the world are you doing here?” burst Esteban. He had shot up from the sofa when he heard her voice. Gwyneth’s lower lip trembled as she flew past Ms. Potranco and towards Esteban, her yellow-blonde, curly, short hair bouncing. “I really need to talk to you.” “How did she know you were here?” questioned Ms. Potranco with a growl to her voice. Rosita’s eyes were slits. “Yeah, how?” she also demanded to know as she shot up from the sofa. “That’s what I want to know!” Esteban retorted. Gwyneth, her ultra-thin body now in front of him, sighed. “I tricked your manager at the store into telling me where you were.” “How very crafty of you,” Rosita burst, “but my dad wants nothing to do with you.” “He will after he hears what I have to tell him,” Gwyneth insisted, her steely blue eyes firm. Esteban groaned. “Gwyn, we’ve talked about this. I’ve already told you that we can never work out. I love Lila—always have, always will.” “But—” Gwyneth started to say, her face crestfallen. “My mistake with you has ruined my life,” he declared. “Please stop hurting yourself and me trying to look for fire in something that can’t be ignited. Accept the reality and move on. It’s for the best not only for me but for you too.” Gwyneth eyed him intently. “Esteban, I’m pregnant.” Chapter 45 “What?” Esteban burst. “I’m pregnant with your child,” Gwyneth murmured. “That’s impossible!” he shot back. “I—” “I was just at the doctor’s office,” Gwyneth pointed out. “I can assure you that it’s not impossible. I’ve got the results with me if you want proof.” “Oh my gosh!” Rosita burst, upset. “Dad, what did you get yourself into?” “Don’t worry, Ro.” Ms. Potranco stepped over to her daughter and placed a hand on her shoulder. “The child isn’t your father’s.” “Of course it is!” snapped Gwyneth. “No, it’s not,” insisted Ms. Potranco. Esteban vigorously shook his head. “That baby is not mine!” Gwyneth sighed. “Honey, I know you’re in shock right now, but please understand that you’re for sure the father of my unborn child!” Rosita’s face contorted in agony as tears started flowing down her eyes. “Dad—” “Stop upsetting my daughter!” demanded Ms. Potranco. “You know as well as I do that Esteban has nothing to do with your pregnancy!” “He has everything to do with it! He’s the father!” snapped Gwyneth. Ms. Potranco vigorously shook her head. “You liar!” “I’ve got the test results if you want to see them!” Gwyneth retorted. “The question isn’t whether you’re pregnant or not,” stated Ms. Potranco, “The question is who the father is.” “Are you daffy?” Gwyneth spat out. “I already told you like a million times that Esteban is the baby’s father! Accept it!” “I can’t be the father,” Esteban murmured. Gwyneth glared at him. “Why would you say that? Don’t you remember the last time we were together?—before you moved out? Remember when we—” “Please keep your physical entanglements to yourselves,” snapped Ms. Potranco. “My young daughter is here!” “She should accept that she’s going to have a baby brother or sister,” burst Gwyneth. Esteban sighed. “No, she isn’t,” he murmured. “I—” “Accept it, Esteban! Accept that—” “He can’t have children anymore,” Ms. Potranco cut in matter-of-factly. Gwyneth’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?” “Just what I said,” Ms. Potranco stated. “Esteban can’t have any more kids.” Esteban nodded. “I had an accident while rock climbing after Ro was born. It left me sterile.” “What?” Gwyneth muttered in disbelief. “True,” asserted Ms. Potranco. “He’s sterile.” “That’s why Lila and I just had one child,” Esteban informed. “Is that why you always had me get close to my cousins?” questioned Rosita. Ms. Potranco nodded. “Ro, we always told you that you wouldn’t have siblings but you’d have the love and companionship of all your cousins.” “Ro, we worked hard at you having a full and happy life even without sisters and brothers,” Esteban asserted. “How considerate for you daughter!” sneered Gwyneth, her voice very shaky. “My child’s the one who’s screwed!” “Who were you two-timing Esteban with, Gwyneth?” Ms. Potranco questioned wryly. “No one!” insisted Gwyneth. “My baby has to be his. Just has to!” “That child you’re expecting can’t be mine,” Esteban burst. “Accept it. I can’t have any more children.” “Why’d you never tell me?” questioned Gwyneth bitterly. Esteban shrugged. “I didn’t see the reason to do it until and if we got serious.” “Serious!” Gwyneth gasped. “We lived together! How more serious did you want things to be?” Esteban sighed again. “Gwyn, we didn’t live together for that long.” Gwyneth’s face contorted in fury. “But—” “Okay, already!” snapped Ms. Potranco. “Enough with including my daughter and me in this mess!” “Lila—” Esteban started to say. “This conversation has to be between you and Gwyneth,” declared Ms. Potranco. “Come on, Ro, let’s walk over to the river and leave them to sort out this disorder!” “You’re right, Lila,” murmured Esteban. “It’s best to let me clean up my own mess.” Rosita eyed her father with consternation before stepping out of the house with her mother. As Gwyneth was about to speak, Ms. Potranco stuck her face back in, the door only open enough for her head. “Esteban, call me on my cell when Rosita and I can return to the house. As for you Gwyneth, I’m warning you—keep your clothes on in my space,” she hissed. “Or you’ll have to answer to me!” Then Ms. Potranco swiftly stalked away, slightly slamming the door shut, and leaving Esteban and Gwyneth to deal with one another. Chapter 46 “Esteban, please listen to reason and have an open mind about your baby,” pleaded Gwyneth. “What are you talking about?” he shot back. “I’ve already told you that your baby can’t possibly be mine. Why do you keep insisting it is?” “The way I hear it, things are always changing in the human body. Over the years your body might’ve gone back to being able to produce babies,” she blurted anxiously, “Maybe—” “STOP!” “But—” “I went to the doctor just before moving in with you to make sure I was still sterile,” he asserted. “I was.” Gwyneth eyed him hurt. “Why did you want to make sure?” “I didn’t want any surprises like the one you’re trying to spring on me right now.” Gwyneth’s throat tightened, almost choking her. “Didn’t you want any babies with me?” “The truth is that I could’ve reversed the sterilization with new technology, but bringing children into the world is a complicated business—not to be taken lightly.” “How could’ve you been such a jerk!” she snapped, her voice shaky. “Such a selfish monster?” Esteban sighed. “Gwyn, I really didn’t know where our relationship was going. Babies were completely out of the question.” “You should’ve told me about how you felt!” “Gwyn, I didn’t think I had to. I didn’t see how you could already want children with me when our relationship was up in the air.” “Up in the air!” she spat out. “I fell in love with you the first time I met you!” Esteban frowned. “Gwyn, you’ve told me about at least three guys you fell in love with at first sight.” “I never loved them like I loved you!” Esteban’s eyebrows knit together. “Sorry, Gwyn. I should’ve considered how young and immature you were.” “Immature?” “Don’t take it the wrong way. What I mean is that you haven’t lived long enough to accumulate some wisdom about certain things. Love at your age is still intoxicating, obsessive, and explosive.” “What’s wrong with that?” Gwyneth shot back. “It sounds pretty terrific to me!” “Going through a mid-life crisis, it sounded pretty great to me too.” He sighed deeply again. “But now that I’ve come to my senses, I realize how that stuff fades.” “It’ll never fade with me!” she blurted. “I’ll always love you, Esteban. Always feel the same way for you.” “You probably told yourself that same thing while in each of the three relationships.” Gwyneth’s face became flustered. “Well, I . . . I . . . I never meant it like I mean it now.” “I’m sure you think you mean it, but life will eventually show you the bright spectrum of what love really is—companionship, understanding, compromise—” “If you loved Lila then why did you cheat on her with me?” Gwyneth blurted with a hurt voice “Because I was stupid!” he retorted. “I took for granted what I had. I didn’t appreciate the amazing wonderfulness of what happens after the first stages of romance. I was really stupid!” “It didn’t take much to get you in bed with me!” “Stupidity works like that.” “You moved in with me,” she announced. “You must’ve felt something for me.” “Gwyn, I don’t want to hurt you, but I moved in with you because you insisted so much.” “You didn’t feel anything for me?” she questioned, hurt. “Of course I cared for you, but my heart belonged to someone else. I told you that right from the very beginning, right?” “I thought I could get you to love me the way I loved you,” she muttered, sobbing. “Sorry, Gwyn,” he murmured, pulling out a handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to her. “But it didn’t work out that way. I was hurt, confused, and very sorry about my cheating. I allowed myself to get swept up in you, so I could concentrate on something other than my guilty emotions. To try to avoid feeling so bad about myself.” “So you’re blaming me?” Esteban sighed deeply. “No, I take responsibilities for my actions.” Gwyn eyed him intently as her fingers fumbled over to her blouse. “Maybe if we make passionate lo—” “What the hell are you doing?” Esteban snapped furiously. “STOP!” She shrugged out of her blouse and was standing as if posing in her lacy black brassiere. Esteban swiftly turned around so his back was to her. “Put your damn blouse on! NOW!” She kept trying to jump in front of him. Finally, he grabbed her blouse off the floor and flung it at her. “Either you put it on,” he growled, “or I throw you out of the house!” “You wouldn’t do that, would you?” she questioned feebly. “Of course I would! Didn’t you hear what Lila said! I will never disrespect her or my daughter again!” “Okay,” she mumbled disconcertedly as she put her blouse back on. “I suggest you go back to El Paso and inform the real father of your baby about the pregnancy.” “But I didn’t—” “Yes, you did,” Esteban barked. “If what you’re saying is true and the conception of the baby coincides to when we were together then you most certainly did do as Lila said you did—two-timed me. Cheat on me.” “I didn’t! I—” “I guess I deserved a dose of my own medicine.” “But I didn’t—” “Stop lying!” “Esteban, you were my only man. My only love. The doctor must’ve been wrong about the sterilization. You’re the father of my—” “I can’t be!” “But—” “STOP! STOP! Who did you go to bed with when we were living together?” “Nobody! I—” “Who, Gwyn?” “Nobody!” “Who?” Esteban snapped. “NOBODY!” “WHO?” “I only made love to you!” “You’re lying!” Esteban snarled. “For goodness sakes!—for the sake of your baby—who did you sleep with?” “I keep telling you nobo—” “Paternity tests will prove you slept with someone else. You might as well come clean.” Gwyneth peeled her eyes off him and stared at her hands. “In my heart I only made love with you.” “Your heart? What about your body?” Gwyneth sighed miserably. “My old boss at the coffee shop.” Chapter 47 “Finally, the truth,” Esteban murmured. “But I only had sex with him once,” Gwyneth insisted, disconcerted. “I couldn’t have gotten pregnant!” “Apparently you did,” Esteban murmured dryly. “You need to go tell him what’s happening.” “It was all your fault I turned to him! You barely paid any attention to me!” “Gwyn, just like I take responsibility for my actions you need to do the same.” Her face contorted in fury. “You need to take responsibility for making me run into the arms of another man!” “Did I put a gun to your head to make you do it?” “No, but—” “I was always truthful to you about how I felt about our relationship, right?” he questioned. Gwyneth shrugged. “Did I ever tell you I loved you?” he probed as he crossed his arms across his chest. “No, but—” “Did I ever tell you I wanted to make our relationship more permanent, Gwyn?” “No, but—” “If you slept with another man then it was your prerogative.” “But I love you!” she burst. “Can’t we try to make it work?” Esteban sighed. “Gwyn, you need to come to terms with everything that’s happening here. I still love my ex-wife. My relationship with you was a huge mistake I’ll always regret. You’re pregnant by another man. The list goes on and on.” Meanwhile, as Esteban tried to talk some sense into Gwyneth, Ms. Potranco and Rosita dangled their feet from the bridge of the river. They had taken off their shoes to feel the freshness of the running water. “I don’t know why she had to come,” Rosita snarled. Ms. Potranco shrugged. “It’s just one of those things.” “She’s ruining our awesome vacation!” Ms. Potranco shook her head. “No, Ro, we won’t let her ruin our vacation. She’s just interrupting it.” “I’m so relieved the baby isn’t dad’s.” “Yes, a relief.” Rosita nodded energetically. “It would’ve never made sense for dad to have a baby with her.” “Why do you say that?” Ms. Potranco asked with curiosity dripping from her voice. “It’s always been pretty obvious that dad has never loved her.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?” “Really, really obvious.” “But he must’ve felt something for her.” Rosita shrugged. “All I know is that he never looked at her with the awed respect he stares at you with. In fact, she seemed to annoy him. It didn’t surprise me at all when he moved out of their apartment. I could see the relief on his face.” “I always thought he was having a great time with her.” “You were wrong, Mom.” “I almost feel sorry for her.” “Why?” Rosita questioned with distaste. “Gwyneth came all this way to get to your dad. She’s pregnant, desperate, and in love. Your dad knows he’s not the father. Her game just got blown to pieces, and she’s stuck picking up the sharp shards.” Rosita groaned. “I just can’t feel sorry for someone who tried to steal away my dad.” “No one can ever steal your dad away from you,” Ms. Potranco murmured. “No one.” “How about stealing him away from the family?” Ms. Potranco eyed her daughter with worry. “Ro, your dad will always be your dad and I will always be your mom, but Esteban and I aren’t married anymore. You need to come to terms with that.” “But you’ve been getting along great!” Rosita burst. “I’ve seen it with my own two eyes!” “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.” “Don’t you want to give it another shot with dad?” Rosita blurted. “He obviously wants to be married to you again!” “Ro—” “He loves you, Mom!” “But—” “And you love him too!” Rosita insisted. “Don’t deny it!” Ms. Potranco sighed deeply. Baby, how your father and I feel about one another has nothing to do with our present situation.” “I don’t understand why two people who love each other can’t be together.” “It’s complicated.” Rosita vehemently shook her head. “No, it’s not!” “Ro—” “It’s simple—forgive dad and we can be a family again.” “Betrayal is never simple,” murmured Ms. Potranco. “I know dad did something really horrible, but I also know that he’s really sorry. Doesn’t that count for something in your heart?” “Of course it does, but—” Interrupted by the cell phone, Ms. Potranco answered it. Esteban promptly told her he had settled the situation with Gwyneth and she had left the house. “You’re dad says we can go back,” Ms. Potranco explained. She and Rosita put on their sandals and stood up from the bridge. As they started walking towards the rental home, Ms. Potranco linked her arm with her daughter’s. “You know how much your dad and I love you, right?” Rosita nodded. “I know.” “You’re the most important person in our lives.” Rosita smiled. “You and dad are the most important people in my life.” Ms. Potranco squeezed her arm. “No situation or person can ever change the way we feel about you.” “Thanks, Mom.” As Ms. Potranco and Rosita neared the house, a deep sobbing noise filled the air. Ms. Potranco turned towards the clamor to find Gwyneth weeping desperately in her car. “Go inside the house with your dad,” Ms. Potranco told her daughter. “I’m going to talk to Gwyneth.” Chapter 48 “Gwyneth, I’d like to talk to you,” murmured Ms. Potranco from the open window on the shotgun side of the car. “You want to discharge your anger towards me?” Gwyneth burst. “Save yourself the revenge. I’m already completely shattered. That should make you feel better.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “I’m not here for vengeance.” “Then what?” “Closure.” Gwyneth’s eyebrows came together. “Closure?” “Don’t you need to do something with the straggling threads? I do.” Gwyneth eyed Ms. Potranco for a few seconds before nodding and speaking. “Okay.” Ms. Potranco opened the car door, climbed on, and sat down. “Great.” “You sure you’re not going to hit me?” “I’m not going to hit you.” “Do you hate me?” Gwyneth murmured, unable to meet Ms. Potranco in the eye. “I’d hate me if I were you.” “I’m not going to lie. I definitely hate what you did to me.” “I don’t blame you,” Gwyneth muttered so lightly that it was barely heard. Ms. Potranco sighed. “I never did anything to you, but you betrayed me with my husband,” she growled. “It didn’t have anything to do with you,” Gwyneth mumbled softly. “I didn’t even know you at the time.” “But you screwed me over just the same.” “Sorry.” Ms. Potranco groaned. “You didn’t think about what you’d be doing to Esteban’s family by having sex with him?” “Sorry but no.” “You only thought of yourself,” Ms. Potranco burst, growling. Gwyneth covered her face with her hands. “I couldn’t help it.” “Of course you could. You had a choice.” Gwyneth shook her head as she stared at Ms. Potranco with wet eyes. “I didn’t! My love for him blinded me to everything else!” “Whether you want to face it or not you had a choice and you chose to entangle yourself with a married man—a man with a family.” “Sorry, but I fell in love,” Gwyneth shot back. “What was I supposed to do?—not fight for the man I loved?” “Fight?” Ms. Potranco snarled. “So you believe it’s okay to take what you want? Just because you want it?—regardless of who you’re hurting?” “I . . . uh . . . I—” “Think about it!” “Sorry,” Gwyneth murmured, her eyes on the dashboard. “You must really hate me.” “When I caught you naked in my home with my husband, I hated you so much that it burned me inside.” “I can imagine,” Gwyneth mumbled, not taking her eyes off the dashboard. “But I also knew I couldn’t just blame you for the incident. Esteban was right there with you. An affair takes two, right?” Gwyneth sight moved to her hands where she stared intently at her fingers. “Yeah, right.” “He should’ve been the one to stop the tryst before it happened” Gwyneth wouldn’t take her eyes off her fingers. “Yeah, right.” “Your biggest mistake was in getting carried away with it.” “Yeah, right.” “Now Esteban wants to take it back, but he can’t,” Ms. Potranco muttered sharply. “His affair caused too much damage to the family.” “Lila, I just can’t keep doing this!” Gwyneth burst, her eyes finally meeting with Ms. Potranco. “Doing what?” “Lying to you. You’re being much too nice to me even though I did what I did. I can’t keep lying to you.” Ms. Potranco’s eyebrows shot up. “Lying to me?” “Lying by omission,” Gwyneth explained. “You see, Esteban and I never had an actual affair. Yes, we had had sex once before. I don’t deny that, but the day you found me at your house, he was actually trying to explain why he couldn’t see me again.” “So it was true what he told me,” murmured Ms. Potranco, deep in thought. “I’ve never known Esteban to be a liar.” “Neither have I, but doubt is a powerful emotion.” “I want you to know that I really thought the baby was Esteban’s. I wasn’t lying.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “You were hoping with all your heart he was the father.” “You’re totally right. I wanted Esteban to be my baby daddy so bad that I didn’t consider the other possibility.” “That the other guy you slept with was the father.” Gwyneth placed her face in her hands and started sobbing again. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him about the pregnancy.” “Is he married too?” Ms. Potranco questioned bluntly. “Yes.” Her sobs became even more vociferous. “Gwyneth, why are you getting involved with married men? Have you ever asked yourself that question?” “No.” “Have there been more married men in your romantic relationships?” “Yes,” she warbled, tears flowing from her eyes. “Gwyneth, I think you’ve got a problem you’re not facing.” “I can’t help who I fall in love with!” Gwyneth snapped. Ms. Potranco sighed. “Who you are inside has everything to do with who you fall in love with. You may not think you deserve better.” “What are you talking about?” “You’re in a destructive pattern. Cheaters are off limits to women who love and respect themselves. Unfortunately, you’re still a girl in your thinking.” “Of course I’m a girl.” “But you need to become a woman.” Gwyneth’s expression turned perplexed. “What?” “You need to mature into a woman.” “I’m twenty four years old,” Gwyneth explained, irritated. “I’m over twenty one.” “Unfortunately, age doesn’t automatically mean maturity. There are plenty of girls out there who refuse to become women. For your baby’s sake I hope you decide to become one and figure out why you think deep inside that you don’t deserve better than a man who’s involved with someone else. You deserve so much better for yourself and your child. You deserve a full commitment to the both of you.” Chapter 49 Esteban and Rosita anxiously rushed to Ms. Potranco when she stepped in the door. Both were relieved to see her looking calm and in one piece. No bruises anywhere. Just serenity. Coming from the outside, a car being driven away resonated. Esteban let out a heavy breath of relief. “Mom, you okay?” blurted Rosita. Ms. Potranco nodded. “I’m fine.” “Gwyn didn’t do anything to you, did she?” growled Esteban. Ms. Potranco shook her head. “No.” “Mom, why did you want to speak to her?” “For personal reasons.” Esteban sighed in exasperation. “Lila, I hope you took what she said to you with a grain of sand! She’s basically an overgrown teen-ager—lying, selfish, and disruptive. “Dad, don’t forget I’m a teen-ager!” “But, Ro, you’re a mature teen-ager,” Esteban proclaimed. “Dad, why’d you get involved with Gwyn if she was so immature?” “That’s what I want to know,” Ms. Potranco chimed in. “Why?” “Stupidity. I was going through a mid-life, teen-ager-like, crises. Sheer stupidity.” Rosita grumbled loudly. “I guess her looks turned your head, Dad.” “Your mother is much prettier than her,” he stated firmly, “but my own crazy ego overinflated itself when she paid attention to me.” “Was it because she’s young and beautiful that your ego became a monster?” questioned Rosita. “This is a lesson for you, Ro—look under the cover before you buy the book,” Esteban suggested. “In fact, don’t buy the book if it’s going to ruin your life!” Rosita chuckled. “Okay, Dad.” “Good advice,” Ms. Potranco muttered. The next day, Ms. Potranco encouraged Rosita to go to the movies with her new friends. It had been such an intense period the day before that Ms. Potranco felt her daughter needed to unwind with fun activities. Esteban felt the same way and said so when he and his ex-wife were left alone. “I’m so glad you convinced Ro to get away,” Esteban expressed. “She wanted to stay, but it was better that she enjoy her youth with friends.” “I know my daughter. After what happened yesterday, she thinks that she should stay close to us in case something else happens. That thing with Gwyneth really affected her.” “I’m so sorry, Lila. I had no idea she’d show up at the doorstep of our vacation. I’m mortified!” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “I think we handled it correctly for our daughter’s sake.” “Yes, no physical blows or ugly recriminations with Ro caught in the middle.” “Hopefully, Gwyneth won’t show up again at my home,” Ms. Potranco muttered dryly. Esteban eyed her intently. “What did you talk to her about when you were in her car?” “I didn’t want to say anything about it with Ro here. She’s been through enough.” “I figured as much.” “She shouldn’t get in between our chaos,” Ms. Potranco stated strongly. “I agree.” “Our adult problems shouldn’t be hers.” Esteban nodded. “You’re right.” “Even though she’s affected by what we do—like the divorce—she should never feel that she’s responsible for us.” “Right.” “That’s why I didn’t want to involve her in the conversation I had with Gwyneth,” Ms. Potranco explained. “You made the right call.” Ms. Potranco sighed. “Well, Gwyneth and I had a long talk about what happened with you and her and other things.” “Other things?” “She’s got a fixation with married men. You knew that, didn’t you?” Esteban shook his head. “No, I had no idea.” “But how could you not know?” questioned Ms. Potranco, frowning. “You were with her, Esteban.” “Not for very long.” “You even lived with her.” “Only for a short time,” he explained. “To tell you the truth, I actually don’t know that much about Gwyn.” “I don’t understand how you don’t know more about this woman you threw your marriage away for!” Esteban sighed miserably. “I guess I was never that interested in her.” “She rubbed your ego and that was it!” “Yes, I admit it,” he murmured quietly. “I never asked her much about herself—not like I questioned you about yourself when we first met . . . I remember never getting enough of you—your life, your ideas, and your personality. I just couldn’t get enough of you.” “Apparently you did get enough of me,” Ms. Potranco muttered dryly. “No, I—” “You might’ve not gotten to know Gwyneth’s emotions, but you sure got to know her body, right?” Esteban frowned deeply. “Lila, why don’t you believe me when I tell you that I didn’t have an affair with her? While you and I were together, it was just that one stupid time and—” “I believe you. Gwyneth corroborated your story.” Esteban’s eyebrows shot up. “She did?” “Surprisingly, she didn’t lie about it.” “Yeah, that’s surprising!” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “I guess she felt guilty about lying. Because I didn’t hit her or tear her apart, I guess she felt compelled to tell the truth. She said as much as that.” “Hopefully she’s maturing.” “Are you?” Ms. Potranco questioned wryly. “I mean, are you now okay with maturing?—with getting older?” Esteban took a deep breath. “That whole mid-life crisis is over with.” “It is?” “Definitely. I don’t know what got over me. Maturity is a good thing! Why didn’t I see it then?” “You were too worried about getting old.” Esteban nodded. “How is it that you haven’t gone through a mid-life crisis?” Ms. Potranco shrugged. “I’m a scientist. I see age as chemical and natural changes. Everything in the universe changes in some way or another. It’s part of the deal with life—any type of existence.” “But aren’t you scared of what already having lived half of your life implies?” “You mean that death is nearer?” Esteban nodded. “Yes.” “So getting entwined with a young woman made you feel further away from death?” “Yes,” he answered simply. Ms. Potranco shrugged. “Death—more changes. Energy transformations. Energy never dies. It changes. Now that I’ve been in this house I’ve had to open my mind to diverse ideas about life and death. Haven’t you?” Esteban chuckled. “Definitely.” “Death is definitely not what I thought it was.” Esteban chuckled harder. “I never thought you would ever be sharing a house with ghosts and admitting it.” Ms. Potranco joined his laughter. “Strange, I know.” An energetic knock on the door wedged itself into their conversation. Ms. Potranco sighed, clearly wondering what disorder was waiting for them. So far, knocks had brought much chaos and frustration. Esteban also looked concerned as he stepped over to the door and opened it. Two elderly ladies stood on the other side with their hands clutching each other, an intense and pained expression etched on their faces. “We need to speak to Violeta and Arturo,” one of the ladies uttered, her voice as shaky as a leaf on a stormy day. Chapter 50 “Who are you?” questioned Ms. Potranco who had stepped over to stand behind Esteban. It didn’t escape her attention that the atmosphere in the home had changed. A warmer type of feel ensued as if the sun was shining inside. Lights started flickering. Hangings on the wall slightly jingled. “We’re the mothers,” one of the ladies explained. “The mothers?” questioned Esteban. “Of Violeta and Arturo.” “My word!” exclaimed Ms. Potranco. “Come in, come in!” Introductions were made as Ms. Potranco led the gathering to the sofa to sit down. “We understand that our children are here,” murmured Señora Sandoval, sobs in her voice. “I ran into my ex-husband just a few moments ago.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Yes, true.” She wondered how much Señor Sandoval had told his ex-wife. Had he told her that his son’s ghost was furious with him? Had he told her the truth behind Rubi’s child? “We need to speak to them!” blurted Señora Beltran. “We need to know they’re okay!” “I’m afraid we’ll have to go get the Zepedas in order for you to speak to them,” informed Ms. Potranco. “Neither my ex-husband nor I have the capability to speak with ghosts.” Señora Sandoval shot up from the sofa. “I should’ve thought of that! When Anibal told me I ran to get my friend-sister and we rushed over here without thinking of how we would talk to our children. I’ll go get the Zepedas!” Esteban shook his head. “No, I’ll get them. Sit down, please. Your children must be thrilled to see you.” With Esteban’s long legs, it only took a few strides to reach next door. He explained to Doña Chamita what was happening. She quickly agreed to go with him, but she clarified that Ymelda had gone to the store. As he and Doña Chamita walked to the rental home at a slower pace since Doña Chamita suffered from rheumatism in her hips, she started asking him questions. “How’s your relationship with Ms. Potranco? I saw her talking to someone in a car yesterday. Was the young woman your—” “Mistake,” he blurted, his voice pained. “She was my biggest mistake.” “It’s good you realize that.” “I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me,” Esteban murmured, sighing. “Forgiveness is a process,” Doña Chamita explained. “People want it to be an easy destination but in reality it’s usually a difficult journey because so many emotions are involved.” “It’s difficult alright.” “I said it was difficult—not impossible, dear-one.” Esteban sighed deeply. “It sure seems impossible.” “Do you want to give up so easily? “I’m here because I refuse to give up.” Doña Chamita smiled. “Giving up on someone you love who loves you back shouldn’t be an option.” “You really think she still loves me?” he murmured. “Yes.” “But—” “Everything is possible inside of love, dear-one,” Doña Chamita asserted. “All obstacles, no matter how high, can be dealt with patience and love—especially love.” “But I cheated on her,” Esteban burst. “That’s beyond a very high obstacle.” Doña Chamita shook her head. “In my life as a shaman I’ve seen much worse things being forgiven—not to say that what you did wasn’t a deplorable act. But have faith that it can be forgiven.” “But Lila—” “She’s a good person. A caring and loving human being. Hatred doesn’t dwell in her heart. Hurtful anger might be in there, but not hatred towards you. Her heart isn’t black—it’s just filled with a few smidgeons of opaqueness. She has an ability to go beyond the resentment and forgive.” Esteban kept thinking about what Doña Chamita had said as he put his hand on the doorknob of the rental home. His hopes were at an all-time high since he had gotten to Milagros. If he could regain his family, he felt he would be the most blessed man on earth. Entering the house and holding the door open for Doña Chamita, he wondered what the day would bring with the families of the ghosts having arrived. Señora Sandoval rushed up to Doña Chamita as soon as she stepped in the door. Señora Beltran sat on the sofa, tears falling from her eyes with a tremble having taken over her body. “Are our children really here?” burst Señora Sandoval, her voice tight in her throat as it shook. “Can we talk to them?” Señora Beltran croaked. “Can we?” Señora Sandoval asked anxiously. Chapter 51 Doña Chamita nodded. “Your children are certainly here. Violeta is sitting next to her mother caressing her hair. Arturo is facing you.” “Tell my mom I’m okay,” Arturo burst. “I’m so happy to see her!” Violeta nodded, her eyes watery. “Tell my mom the same!” “Your children want you to know that they’re okay and are thrilled to see you,” Doña Chamita announced. Señora Sandoval and Señora Beltran were so moved that for a few moments they couldn’t speak through their emotional sobs. “We love them so much,” warbled Señora Beltran, barely being able to get out the words. Señora Sandoval nodded vigorously. “Sooo very much!” “We’ve always known how much our mothers have loved us,” murmured Violeta. Doña Chamita explained Violet’s words, and emotions ran so high in the room that Ms. Potranco rushed to her bedroom to grab the box of tissues she had on the nightstand. She brought it over to the living room where it was made good use of. Never in a million years did she think she’d be in a situation like the one she was in. Life certainly has its turning points, Ms. Potranco thought to herself. It takes abrupt turns that come out of nowhere. Esteban was thinking the same thing as he watched the overwhelming scene in the living room. He was now more certain than ever before that the unexpected could happen between him and his ex-wife. Since his arrival to Milagros, he was different and so was Ms. Potranco. That was for certain. “Are Arturo and Violeta really not dead?” questioned Señora Sandoval anxiously. “Their bodies are dead but not their spirits,” asserted Doña Chamita. Señora Beltran took in a breath. “Are they really okay?” “Tell her we’re fine,” Violeta stated. After Doña Chamita repeated what Violeta had said, Señora Sandoval explained how horrible it had been for her and her friend-sister after the deaths of their children. She described how they had been to church every day since the tragedy—trying to find solace. They had also brought flowers every day to their children’s graves, hoping they’d be able to feel them but had no such luck. Doña Chamita clarified that Violeta and Arturo had been at this house and not the graveyard which was why their mothers couldn’t sense them there. “Why are they haunting the house?” Señora Sandoval asked, worried. Doña Chamita sighed. “They’re not actually haunting it—they’ve got unfinished business.” “Unfinished business?” questioned Señora Sandoval. Doña Chamita nodded. “Yes.” “What unfinished business?” questioned Señora Beltran. The front door abruptly swung wide open. A man brusquely rushed in, his face flushed a deep red. “Who are you?” questioned Esteban. He shot up from the loveseat he was sharing with Ms. Potranco. Señora Beltran quickly introduced the man as her husband. When Señora Sandoval had told her about the news of their kids, Señora Beltran had called her husband who worked in a construction company in Milagros. Apparently Señor Beltran had dropped everything and rushed over. “Is it true?!” Señor Beltran bellowed. “Can I talk to my daughter?” “Please, Doña Chamita,” Violeta burst. “Tell my dad how much I love him.” “Violeta wants you to know how much she loves you.” “My daughters are everything to me!” Señor Beltran expressed, overwhelming emotions catching in his throat. “If only her sisters were here to witness this.” The elder Beltran sisters had married and left Milagros a few years ago. “It’s a miracle to be able to talk to Violeta and Arturo!” Señora Sandoval burst. “Why is my daughter with Arturo?” questioned Señor Beltran. “I know they accidentally died together but in life they had ended their relationship. Why are they together in death?” Doña Chamita sighed before attempting to explain it. “Well, you know that Violeta was the love of Arturo’s life and vice versa.” “But she married someone else,” burst Señor Beltran. “She wasn’t in love with Norberto,” explained Señora Beltran, slightly exasperated at her husband. “She loved Arturo always.” “But he cheated on her!” Señor Beltran roared. “Why must my little girl put up with the cheater in death?” Señora Beltran shrugged her shoulders, perplexed. “I don’t know.” “Regardless of what happened in life, it’s still obvious they adore one another,” announced Señora Sandoval. Ms. Potranco held in a gasp. Realizing that the two mothers and one father didn’t know the full story, made her force herself to hold her tongue. It’s not my place to enlighten them with the truth, she said to herself. Esteban was thinking the same thing. Doña Chamita would have to make the next call. “You’ve got to tell our parents the truth, Doña Chamita,” pleaded Arturo. I can’t stand them still thinking the worse of me.” Doña Chamita nodded. “Things didn’t happen as you think they did with Arturo’s supposed infidelity.” “What?” Señor Beltran shot back. Once again, the door abruptly swung open tearing into the conversation. All eyes in the room shifted to it with surprise. Chapter 52 “I can’t go on like this,” Señor Sandoval warbled with a very shaky voice, standing at the door. Beside him was a nervous looking Rubi, her eyes darting all over the house. “N-neither can I,” Rubi stammered. “Please forgive me, son!” Señor Sandoval pleaded, falling to his knees. Rubi did the same. “Yes, please, please forgive us.” “Forgive them for what?” questioned Señor Beltran. “I should’ve manned up,” Señor Sandoval announced. “I should’ve spoken up about Rubi’s baby being mine!” “What?” Señor Beltran snapped. “What the hell are you talking about, Anibal?!” “Please explain the story, Doña Chamita,” entreated Arturo. Doña Chamita nodded at him and started telling the tale of what had happened. The Beltrans and Señora Sandoval eyed her with complete surprise and disbelief. Señor Sandoval and Rubi stayed sobbing on the floor, pleading for forgiveness in soft murmurs. “You two are the worse of the worse!” snapped Señora Sandoval furiously at Señor Sandoval and Rubi once Doña Chamita had finished the story. “Our children ended up dead because of you!” Señor Beltran strode over to Señor Sandoval. “Stand up, you coward! We’re going to settle this outside!” “Doña Chamita, please don’t let them fight!” pleaded Violeta, alarmed. “Please,” Arturo chimed in, upset. Doña Chamita stepped over to Señor Beltran as Señor Sandoval was stumbling up. “NO fighting! Let’s solve matters in better ways.” “But—” Señor Beltran started to say. “Violeta and Arturo have asked me to stop you from killing one another,” informed Doña Chamita. Señor Sandoval eyed Señor Beltran. “Beat me as hard as you can,” he murmured. “I deserve it. I won’t fight back.” “Oh, I’ll beat you alright!” snapped Señor Beltran. “I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp!” “Doña Chamita, please don’t let my dad get beaten to death!” beseeched Arturo, his voice panicked. Doña Chamita slipped in between the problematic men. “STOP! No one’s going to beat anyone to a bloody pulp. We’re going to settle this like the mature human beings we are.” “But, Doña Chamita,” burst Señor Beltran, “Anibal’s cowardly actions caused me the worst pain in my life—the death of my daughter!” he shot back, his throat choking as burning tears burst from his eyes. “If Violeta and Arturo hadn’t been tricked then they would’ve gotten married, and they’d be alive and well right now! In fact, they’d be living in this very house, giving me grandchildren!” Señor Sandoval keened in absolute misery. “I deserve to get beaten! I really do!” Rubi stumbled off the ground. “I do too!” “No one’s getting beaten on my watch,” Doña Chamita murmured. “We need to use words instead of fists, dear-ones.” “Words?!” Señor Beltran spat out. Señor Sandoval sighed. “But I don’t deserve words. I deserve violent fists!” “Words can’t ease this burning fury inside of me!” snapped Señor Beltran. “I need to hit him!” “Yes, hit me!” pleaded Señor Sandoval. “Beat me until you can forgive the hurt I’ve caused you!” Señor Beltran rigorously shook his head. “No, I can never, ever forgive you!” “Then why do you want to beat him?” questioned Doña Chamita. “Revenge?” “YES!” exclaimed Señor Beltran. “REVENGE!” Señora Beltran and Señora Sandoval, both ladies having been on the sofa sobbing the entire time, looked up from the tissues they used to dab their eyes and glowered at Señor Beltran. “Revenge won’t bring our children back,” murmured Señora Beltran. “But it’ll make me feel a whole hell of a lot better!” roared Señor Beltran. “Wouldn’t it to you?” Señora Beltran turned pensive for a few moments. “No, I don’t think so. It won’t bring Violeta back. It just won’t.” “But it’ll avenge her!” Señor Beltran shot back. “What was done to her has no name!” “Maybe revenge isn’t such a bad thing!” snapped Señora Sandoval. “Anibal, what I want to know is how you could’ve done what you did to our son!” Señor Sandoval started punching at his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I’m a horrible person! I don’t deserve forgiveness! I deserve to be beaten to death if it’ll make everyone in this room feel better!” “You deserve that and more!” roared Señor Beltran. “You, Rubi, how could you have done such repulsive trick on another human being?” questioned Señora Beltran furiously. “What did my daughter ever do to you?” “Well, she took away the man I loved,” Rubi murmured. “At least that’s what I kept telling myself when I led her to believe the baby was Arturo’s. I was furious at her for taking the love away from me.” “That’s stupid!” snapped Señora Beltran. “No one can take away something that isn’t yours! Arturo loved my daughter and not you! How can you fault Violeta for Arturo’s heart having chosen hers and not yours?” Rubi’s lower lip trembled. “You’re right.” She sighed deeply. “I can see that now. During the past few days of haunting dreams and thoughts, I’ve been forced to crash into myself.” “Does she actually realize how selfish and wrong she was?” questioned Violeta with disbelief. “Rubi, do you actually see the error of your ways?” murmured Doña Chamita. Rubi nodded. “I think so.” Doña Chamita smiled lightly. “I was hoping that you would.” “Well, I don’t believe it!” snapped Señora Beltran. “She’s obviously here begging forgiveness for some selfish reason! She doesn’t do things for other people. She only does things for her own gain!” “Señora Beltran—” Rubi started. Señora Beltran shook her head. “I don’t buy your act, Rubi. I’ve known you all of your life! I know what a selfish narcissist you’ve always been! Why, I remember that when you were a child you’d eat the whole half gallon of ice cream your mother would buy the family so you wouldn’t have to share with anybody!” “Yeah, I admit I’m very selfish!” burst Rubi, regret in her voice. “You admit it?” sniped Señora Beltran incredulously. Rubi nodded solemnly. “I know that about myself.” “Then why haven’t you worked on yourself?” questioned Señora Beltran heatedly. “Yes, why?” questioned Arturo. Rubi shrugged. “I never saw wanting everything for yourself as a fault. I thought that going all out for what you wanted was an attribute.” “So you thought that stepping on people and hurting them was okay as long as you got what you wanted?” snarled Señora Beltran. Rubi nodded, ashamed. “Yes,’ she muttered. Doña Chamita sighed. “It’s terrible to believe that way.” “But because of the last time I was here, the awful haunting inside of me, and my innocent child, I’m seeing things in a new way. I swear it!” “Your child?” questioned Doña Chamita with curiosity. “What does he have to do with your change of heart?” “Everything!” burst Rubi. “In spite of me being the way I am, I love my son more than anything! The other day I was with him at the park. A man was there with his children. They called him daddy with such adoring love that it did something to my heart! How could I rob my son of such a blessing?” “Yes, how could you rob your son of his real father?” snapped Arturo. “My son needs to know that I’m his father,” declared Señor Sandoval. “Not Arturo—me!” “You piece of crap!—you should’ve realized it when my daughter and your son were alive!” snapped Señor Beltran. “Now it’s too late!” “Of course it’s not too late,” informed Doña Chamita. “Rubi’s son will fortunately have his real father.” “But it’s too late for my daughter and Arturo!” screeched Señor Beltran. “They’re already dead!” “Their human bodies are dead,” Doña Chamita murmured. “Not their spirits.” Señor Beltran’s eyes burst with tears. “But even though you tell me my daughter’s here, I can’t see her or even feel her!” he keened. “And it’s all Anibal’s fault!” He gulped fiercely. “And I’m going to let him have it!” A knock on the door broke some of the tension in the air. Chapter 53 When Ms. Potranco opened the door, Ymelda stood on the other side with a perplexed look on her face. After Ms. Potranco invited her in, Doña Chamita took in a long breath of relief upon seeing her daughter. She realized how much she needed Ymelda. This situation called for Ymelda’s firm hand and wit. “What’s with all the shouting?” Ymelda questioned firmly. “I came home from the store to find my mother not there and a whole bunch of screaming from next door.” Doña Chamita patiently explained what had been happening. Ymelda crossed her arms in front of her and shook her head. “Please don’t let anybody get into fist fights, Ymelda,” pleaded Arturo. “My dad has a weak heart, and it could kill him!” “No one’s going to beat up anybody!” Ymelda snapped. “For goodness sakes—are we going to solve our problems like children?” “But—” Señor Beltran started to say. “But nothing!” barked Ymelda. “Your daughter is right here and all you want to do is hurt somebody? Don’t you want to use this opportunity to talk to her instead of resort to violence?” “But—” Señor Beltran tried again. “What do you want to say to your daughter,” murmured Doña Chamita. “You may not get an opportunity like this again, dear-one.” Señor Beltran’s face suddenly crumbled. “I . . . I . . .” “It’s okay,” murmured Doña Chamita. “Take your time. She’s right in front of you.” Señor Beltran gulped loudly. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you from Anibal’s enormous lie, Violeta. Please forgive me.” “Tell him that there’s nothing to forgive,” Violeta asserted. “He has no fault in what happened. Doña Chamita repeated Violeta’s words. “But I feel I’ve failed her,” muttered Señor Beltran. “Really failed her!” “That’s not true,” Violeta assured. “He can’t blame himself.” Again, Doña Chamita repeated what Violeta had said. “What happened is all my fault!” burst Señor Sandoval. “Not anyone else’s fault!” “It was also my fault, Anibal,” announced Rubi. “I have to take responsibility for myself.” “Tell my dad and Rubi that I forgive them,” muttered Arturo. “What?” both Doña Chamita and Ymelda gasped in startled unison. “I forgive them,” Arturo repeated. Violeta nodded. “Me too.” “You do?” questioned Ymelda, surprised. Doña Chamita’s eyebrows had snapped to the top. “Really?” “Yes,” both Violeta and Arturo responded at the same time. “Great!” burst Ymelda. Doña Chamita grinned. “Really good, dear-ones.” “I hate the violence that threatens to explode here,” stated Arturo. “Peace is so much better than violence.” Violeta nodded. “I say it is!” “With so much lack of forgiveness in this room, I’ve come to see how the huge viciousness of it can take over everything,” Arturo explained. “That can’t be my legacy!” Violeta sighed. “I’ve come to see how alive I still am. I’m not actually dead! And I don’t want the people I love to be buried under so much hatred when I’m no longer underground!” “Wonderful realization, dear-one,” murmured Doña Chamita. “The fact is that I love my dad no matter what,” declared Arturo. “He’s the one who was the first one in my family to support my relationship with Violeta. How can I ever forget that?” Violeta smiled. “There’s more good in this room than bad.” Ymelda nodded. “The two of you have grown so much since the time you got here.” “What’s happening?!” questioned Señor Beltran as he watched the Zepedas speak to empty spaces. “Yes, what’s happening?” asked Señor Sandoval anxiously. “Please tell everyone in the room that we’re not dead,” stated Arturo, “and that forgiveness is the only way to free all of us. Tell my dad that I forgive him with all of my heart and that he needs to forgive himself so I can be in peace.” Ymelda repeated everything the ghosts had said. There was a stunned silence in the room until Señor Beltran broke it. “How can I forgive what was done to my daughter!” snapped Señor Beltran. Ymelda sighed. “Do you want to live with hatred and anger in your soul?” “Your daughter forgives Anibal and Rubi, so you should too,” murmured Doña Chamita to Señor Beltran. “I forgive you, Anibal,” burst Señora Beltran “If my daughter did it then I have to too.” “But—” Señor Beltran started. “I just can’t forgive myself, so I don’t expect it from anyone else!” burst Señor Sandoval. “Anibal, your son forgives you,” Doña Chamita asserted. “Forgive yourself.” Señor Sandoval’s face contorted in pain. “Why does he forgive me? The other day he wouldn’t even consider it. Maybe he’s not thinking straight today.” Arturo sighed. “Tell him that my mind has never been clearer. With Señor Beltran threatening to beat him, I’ve realized how much I adore my father. I’m terrified that his weak heart will give out. With love comes forgiveness.” “Doña Chamita, please make him understand that we forgive him,” pleaded Violeta. “Enough damage has been done. It’s time for truth, peace, and forgiveness.” Doña Chamita nodded and then repeated what the ghosts had said. “But—” Señor Beltran started. “Are we with the buts again?” snapped Ymelda. “What is so hard to understand about Violeta and Arturo finally reaching the stage of forgiveness?” “They may forgive but I can’t!” blurted Señor Beltran. “I just can’t.” “Neither can I forgive myself,’ announced Señor Sandoval. “Well, I accept their forgiveness,” stated Rubi. Señor Sandoval guffawed. “Of course you do! Selfish you!” Rubi shook her head. “Please understand that I can’t go on with the haunted dreams and the anger towards myself,” she murmured. “What kind of mother would I be to my son with so much darkness in me?” “Good point,” Arturo stated. “Rubi’s absolutely right,” Doña Chamita burst. Ymelda nodded. “And it’s not selfish for her to be the best mother she can be.” “It’s wonderful to accept the forgiveness,” remarked Doña Chamita. “Why do people think that a person has to walk a road full of broken glass and sharp danger before being able to accept forgiveness? Silly. It’s easy—Violeta and Arturo forgave her. She accepted. Those parties are at peace and that’s what’s important.” Ymelda nodded. “The question you have to ask yourself, Anibal, is what kind of father would you be with all the darkness inside of you?” “My little brother deserves a good father,” burst Arturo. “Like the one I had for most of my life.” “Anibal,” Doña Chamita said, “Arturo thinks that his baby brother should have the kind of good father you’ve almost always been to him. Do you agree?” Señor Sandoval eyed her with surprise. After a few moments of heavy quiet, he started nodding. “Yes,” he whispered. “I suppose so.” “Then let go of the past, forgive yourself, and be the best father you can be to your new son,” blurted Ymelda. “I’m sure you won’t be making the same mistakes.” Señor Sandoval got on his hands and knees once more. “Forgive me son. Please show me in some way you forgive me so I can forgive myself.” Chapter 54 The room became as quiet as a tomb with Señor Sandoval on the floor begging for something tangible to believe he was forgiven. The rest of the onlookers stared at the Zepedas for some direction as to what was happening. Doña Chamita and Ymelda eyed the man on the ground with nonchalance. But then it happened. The sign! Abruptly, a yellow feather was lurched with invisible hands out of a vase full of silk flowers and colorful feathers. It jerked straight up, but then it fell very slowly to Señor Sandoval’s hands where he took it with astonishment in his eyes. Hardly a breath was taken in the room. “How’s that for a sign, Anibal?” muttered Ymelda. Señor Sandoval nodded, gulping, not being able to take his eyes off the feather in his hand. “Forgiveness is yours, Anibal,” asserted Doña Chamita. “It’s up to you to take it.” “Thank you so much, son,” gushed Señor Sandoval, clutching the feather to his face. “Your forgiveness is everything to me.” “He may forgive you, but I’m not going to!” snapped Señor Beltran. “Get up off the floor and let’s go outside to handle this like men!” Señor Sandoval eyed Señor Beltran with resignation on his face as he started to stumble up from the ground. “Please don’t let them go outside!” Violeta pleaded with the Zepedas. “Please don’t!” Arturo chimed in. Ymelda strode to the door where she stood in front of the men with a furious look on her face and her arms crossed over her chest. “No one’s going outside for a stupid fight!” she roared. “But—” started Señor Beltran. Ymelda sighed, groaning. “I can’t believe we’re still on that!” “What’s so hard to understand about forgiveness?” questioned Doña Chamita, sadness in her voice. “Cleto, do you want your daughter to be in peace.” “Of course I do!” he shot back. “Do you really?” questioned Ymelda. Señor Beltran rigorously nodded. “Of course! I’m insulted you’re even asking.” “Then act like you care about your daughter’s eternal well-being,” Ymelda grunted. “But—” “It’s very simple,” affirmed Doña Chamita. “Violeta and Arturo need to be in peace to move on from here. To find eternal happiness. To continue their journey. You’re getting in their way, Cleto.” “I just want justice for my daughter,” Señor Beltran burst. “Justice?” questioned Doña Chamita. “Your justice or God’s justice?” Señor Beltran’s face turned perplexed. “Both of course!” “Well, I want peace for her,” blurted Señora Beltran. “I want my daughter in eternal peace.” Ymelda nodded. “Good. That’s what a good mother would want, but you, Cleto, aren’t being a good father.” “I am!” he snapped. “No, you’re not,” muttered Ymelda. “Justice must be done,” Señor Beltran roared, “or else how can I live with myself?” Ymelda let out an exasperated breath. “How silly of you not to be aware that justice was already made.” “What do you mean?” Señor Beltran questioned. “Everything got out in the open,” explained Doña Chamita. “Justice isn’t revenge. It’s so much more. It’s acknowledgement from the ones who committed the bad act, deep remorse, and a freeing of fury from those it happened to. I’d say all of that happened today.” “But how will the culprits pay for what happened to my daughter!” Señor Beltran spat out. Ymelda sighed with exasperation. “Cleto, what is it that you don’t understand about the difference between revenge and justice?” “I really don’t see the difference,” he snapped. “How can you not see the difference?” Ymelda grunted. “But—” “Revenge is for your own dark satisfaction,” informed Doña Chamita. “Justice is for karma.” “Karma!” Señor Beltran spat out while grimacing. Doña Chamita nodded. “Everything in life and the universe has to work for balances. Because of the genuine supplications and forgiveness today, the balance scale is on its way to balance.” “Balance?” he questioned. Doña Chamita nodded again. “Your need for revenge unbalances who you are. It also keeps your daughter in constant conflict.” “Violeta and Arturo need to move on, Cleto,” Ymelda stated. “Will you give them that gift?” Chapter 55 Ms. Potranco and Esteban were amazed at how well things turned out. Somehow the Zepedas had gotten through to Señor Beltran. While he was still furious at Señor Sandoval, he no longer insisted on fighting him. Violeta and Arturo were finally free to leave the earthly plane which they did with glee. What an experience! Ms. Potranco thought to herself. An unforgettable experience. So the following week, Ms. Potranco, Esteban, and Rosita bid a sorrowful farewell to their new friends in Milagros. It was time for them to get back to their real lives. Both Ms. Potranco and her daughter had much to get ready for the new scholastic year. Esteban had much to catch up on his business. “Don’t forget what you learned here, dear-one,” Doña Chamita had murmured to her. Ymelda had nodded. “Having a healthy and fulfilling life depends on it.” On the road home, Esteban cheerfully chatted with Rosita about the fun vacation they had all taken. Ms. Potranco couldn’t help thinking what a good father he was. She stayed quietly in her corner observing everything. Observing her daughter’s bright eyes, her lovely smile, and her zest for living. Then she observed the man who brought out the best in Rosita. When Rosita dozed off, taking a nap in the backseat, Esteban turned to Ms. Potranco. “You’ve been awful quiet.” She shrugged. “Just thinking.” “Penny for your thoughts.” “Just putting the whole Milagros experience together.” Esteban chuckled. “Yeah, that whole experience is going to take some time to ingest.” “Very true.” “I don’t know about you but I’ve got a whole new perspective on things. I’m looking deeply into myself.” Ms. Potranco nodded. “Same here.” “I’m also looking at my faults with a magnifying glass.” “Me too.” He frowned. “Lila, you don’t have any faults.” Ms. Potranco chuckled. “Of course I do.” “You’re the most together person I know.” “Thank you for saying that.” “I mean it,” Esteban asserted. “Thanks again for the compliment.” “I, on the other hand,” he grimaced, “have to seriously examine my despicable behavior.” “It seems you’ve been probing it already.” Esteban let out a long breath. “But I’m nowhere near done. I need to know how I could’ve ruined my life like I did. I need to understand where my heart and mind failed me.” Being in her home, Ms. Potranco couldn’t help but think and re-think about what she had experienced in Milagros. She kept going over the whole supernatural experience. About forgiveness. Could she forgive Esteban? Much forgiveness happened in the rental home. Some of it had seemed an impossibility to her. Serious consequences from serious mistakes—but apologies were accepted. Impossible apologies. Love and peace. Amazing. The word forgiveness was still too huge for Ms. Potranco. But she decided she needed to start somewhere with it for her daughter’s sake as well as her own soul’s luminosity. “Esteban,” she spoke into her cell after he had picked up, “I was wondering if you wanted to go grab a soda sometime? You know, as friends.” “I’d love to,” he rushed, his voice with high spikes of joy. Friendship. It’s where there relationship started in the first place.


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