She doesn’t remember how it started, or what it meant, but she often found herself huddled in a quiet alcove in a secluded part of the library. Her childhood friend, Joaquina, always by her side.
They hid in the Rovira’s Library from time to time to escape the nagging of their family, tutors and servants. They were always such good, diligent daughters, so they knew that these little acts of disobedience would not be taken too badly by their elders.
They were only 15, after all. Plus, they were technically studying their lessons, they would argue when they eventually got found.
Lourdes, despite being the quiet one who rarely spoke a word unless necessary, was in fact the ringleader of this little rebellion of theirs. Joaquina, the more outgoing of the two, would laugh at the idea, saying a rebellion against studying in one room to study in another was no rebellion at all. But they would both still giggle whenever they would receive a scolding for having disappeared for too long once again.
Instead of their usual lessons today, Lourdes instead presented Joaquina with a novel that the latter had not heard of. The book was entitled Sab, written by the equally praised and criticized Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Lourdes explained. Joaquina was not as much the type to be familiar with literature outside of the classics, but she did keep herself up to date with people. She might have not know about Avellaneda’s work, but she did know of Avellaneda. A libertine of a woman, some people would say; a visionary romantic, said others.
The book, Lourdes explained, was about the love of a Cuban slave for his master’s daughter. “You’ve always been the type to be interested in such unusual things, haven’t you Mariposa?” was Joaquina’s response.
During these escapes, Joaquina would read the books aloud as the two sat next to each other in their cozy little corner. Lourdes would rest her hair on her best friend’s shoulder and let the images of the novel play vividly in her head as Joaquina’s soothing voice narrated.
How sad, Lourdes thought as they read about Sab, the eponymous protagonist, and his secret love for his Master’s daughter Carlota. She could feel her chest tighten and ache on the day that they finished the novel. Sab’s heartache and eventual bitter end resonating far too much with her, though she did not understand why.
“The world is not fair.” she squeaked at Joaquina. Little beads of tears watered her eyes, but she tried her best to not let them fall.
Her best friend pat her head and held it close against her shoulder, kissing her forehead. “Don’t cry Mariposa.” The weight of Joaquina’s hand stroking her hair tried to soothe her troubled heart. “That sort of thing only happens in fiction. We shall never need to face such tragedies in real life.”
The words did not make Lourdes feel any better.
The day Joaquina had told Lourdes about Javier, the sky outside had been overcast, causing their already secluded alcove to become even more dark and secretive.
“He’s just so dashing!” the sixteen year old maiden swooned in hushed tones.
Even in the dim light, Joaquina’s eyes seemed to sparkle and shine as she spoke of the gentleman who had come to court her. He came from a wealthy family- more so than their own- was well travelled and even more well educated, and above all was as charming as he was handsome. The dim light may have done nothing to hide Joaquina’s radiant Joy, but it did well to mask Lourdes’ stoic reaction.
Joaquina was ecstatic, and that only made Lourdes feel terrible.
She couldn’t understand it. Her chest felt a familiar weight bear down on it and it was as if she could not breathe. She knew of the man, Alvaro Javier de Moratín y Fidalgo the lawyer, and had not an ill word to say about him. He was all the things Joaquina said and more, which for reasons she could not explain, made her feel even worse.
As Joaquina clutched Lourdes’ hand tightly, as if trying to transfer her own happiness into Lourdes, her heart could no longer take it.
Maybe if Joaquina was paying more attention to Lourdes, her best friend’s action might not have taken her by surprise. Lourdes caught Joaquina mid-sentence and pressed her lips against Joaquina’s, both firm and uncertain all at once. The two had exchanged many a kiss or peck before, such was not uncommon between friends, but this was meant to be different. This had to be different, Lourdes thought almost desperately.
She had never kissed anyone this way, and she pushed away the thought of whether or not her best friend hadn’t either. But what way? She questioned herself.
She pulled away, Joaquina not having moved an inch the whole time, and her eyes immediately sought out Joaquina’s own for some sort of response.
The silence that passed between them dragged on for what Lourdes could only describe as an eternity.
Just as Lourdes gathered her courage to speak, Joaquina snapped out of her dazed state and let go of Lourdes’ hands. The separation took all the words Lourdes had to speak.
Joaquina ran her fingers across her lips where the two had been connected, an unreadable look still on her face.
“Mariposa,” she began and Lourdes felt like she would much rather the ground just open and swallow her. “A-Are you that happy for me? I know you must be excited, but that was a little over the top, don’t you think?”
Unsure of is she wanted to laugh or cry, Lourdes instead just forced a sad smile at her best friend, quickly accepting her answer. “You’re right.” she said barely above a whisper. As if like a revelation, the truth about her feelings became crystal clear to her, as well as her fate.
Like Sab gave Carlota the lottery ticket at the end of the novel Joaquina read to her long ago, Lourdes put a brave face on and prepared herself a death by broken heart.
“Take a seat, hijita.” Her father said as she entered the room. Her heart stopped as her eyes rapidly darted from her father to Doña Cervantes, both of whom were standing imposingly over the already seated Joaquina. She tried to catch her best friend’s eye to get a better grasp of the situation but she remained unmoving, her head hung and eyes fixed on the floor.
“That will not be necessary, Señor Rovira.” The Doña’s sharp voice interjected and her father flinched slightly at the forcefulness of her tone. “Joaquina has told us all we need to hear.”
The ominous statement caused Lourdes to look to Joaquina again, her thoughts almost screaming for her to look at her and tell her what was going on. But Joaquina tensed up even more, shrinking as her mother’s hands gripped her shoulders.
She made the mistake at glancing up at the Doña, only to realize the austere woman had been glaring daggers at her, her face barely hiding her contempt.
Terror-struck, she turned to her father as if he were her last hope, but like Joaquina, it was as if he refused to even spare her a glance.
She felt sick almost. The dread building up in her stomach grew and grew. She felt the cold fear creep under her skin, enveloping her heart to stop it from beating, gripping her chest like a vice to prevent her from breathing, seeping into her veins to to halt her body from moving. Completely powerless, it was if she had been fed to the wolves, the two people she trusted the most in the world being the ones to throw her over.
Her mind was torn between not knowing what she had done wrong and knowing exactly what her crime was. She had never been more frightened or filled with regret and self loathing. The Doña’s hateful stare told her she was the scum if the earth and she could not bring herself to disagree.
“I have made arrangements with my friend, the mother superior at the Convent of the Salesas Reales.” Doña Cervantes said. “She thinks the convent would be too good for her, but by my generous insistence, she has reconsidered.” She talked down to Lourdes’ father, who could only bite his tongue.
“You’ve are truly benevolent, Doña Cervantes.”
She waved him off like a servant and bid him leave. “Waste no time, Señor Rovira. May God touch her heart and save her soul”
Still unable to speak, Lourdes was merely an empty shell as her father lead her out of the room. A small voice remaining in her head, wishing- begging- Joaquina to just look at her as she took her last glance in her best friend’s direction.
But nothing came. And at that moment, she found herself in limbo, the world no longer real to her.
There had not been a lot of things Lourdes needed to pack. A life of single blessedness was all about simplicity and surrender after all. If she was to embrace God’s love fully and turn away from sin, there would be no need for most of her worldly possessions.
Her mother had helped her pack. Señora Rovira, a very religious woman, was genuinely excited for her daughter’s sudden desire to serve God. Whether or not her mother knew of the events that lead to this decision, Lourdes would never know.
“I am so proud of you, hija.” Her mother said. She would smile, only so as not break her mother’s heart. But even still, her mother looked on the verge of tears. Even as the Señora smiled brightly and embraced her daughter tightly, Lourdes could still feel the tears against her dampened cheek.
Her mother had wiped those tears away by the time they had met her father waiting by the front door of their villa. He had a carriage already ready for her outside. He had not spoken to her since their meeting with the Doña, but Lourdes could not decide if that was better than hearing the disappointment in his voice or not.
She looked around. The crestfallen feeling in her heart still took her by surprise when, as would have been expected, Joaquina was nowhere to be found to see her off. Finally she had come to accept what she could not longer deny was true: she would never again hear Joaquina’s beautiful voice call her Mariposa.
With Señor Rovira handing her things to the horseman, the Señora took that as the opportunity to give her daughter one last farewell embrace. “I love you hija.” Her mother said, kissing her cheek. “You’ll make us so proud.”
Her mother waved goodbye. Her father took her hand to help her onto the carriage. As she stepped in, her father closed the door behind her and she took one last look at him through the carriage window. Lips pursed, her father’s face was no longer that of stern anger, but sadness.
“Papa.” she mouthed, though no sound had come out. Their eyes were locked, Lourdes trying to convey everything she wanted to tell him in a glance.
I’m sorry. I love you. Don’t hate me. I love her.
His eyes were unreadable. But just as the carriage started to pull away, a soft, solemn smile. What that meant, Lourdes could only hope was ‘I love you too’.