The gentle sounds of the wind pushing through the ancient trees outside her bedroom, so lovingly manicured, finally woke Veronica by mid-morning. It was a rather disturbing feeling not to be woken at dawn, made to dress and present herself down at the breakfast table. In this house, no one rose very early. The words ‘sunrise’ and ‘dawn’ may very well have not have existed in her aunt’s vocabulary, she mused. She had never felt this awake before.
The warm breezes let into her room as she opened her balcony doors greeted Veronica with a delicious fragrance, reminding her of the sweet heaven she’d brought herself to. As she stepped out onto her terrace, her nightgown caught in the wind with thrilling energy, caressing her legs and giving her a distinct feeling of peace.
Returning to her room when her lungs had enjoyed enough of the brilliant day, she noticed that according to the small clock on her nightstand, it was more than half past nine. She had never slept this late in her life and she felt almost disabled by it. The morning was near over and she had slept right through it. Though Veronica felt panicked as if she had committed some sort of crime, she devoured the terrific sensation in her body brought about by her long night’s rest. If the people of Castell de Amontoní were accustomed to this, she was certain she might never fit in.
She tried in vain for several minutes to collect a measure of strength before ringing for her maid. And in spite of her relentless speed in dressing, Veronica arrived in the downstairs parlor looking as fresh as she could have hoped to.
It was only upon reaching the parlor floor that she realized she was alone in the house, aside from the servants, who were barely starting the day themselves. The only sound came from the ticking clocks in every room; all other residents were still asleep. She walked through the various rooms and hallways of the first floor before realizing it had been pointless to take such effort in dressing so soon.
Determining that breakfast was far from being served, she returned to the main parlor. Her aunt’s maid, Dolça, called to Veronica and informed her that the Marquesa wished for the girl to visit her suite when she had awoken. The maid added that the Marquesa had not quite risen, but that Veronica could be let into the suite’s private drawing room now, if she promised to remain quiet.
Eager to be shown to the very door she had wanted knock down last night, Veronica rose at the chance to settle the question of what had become of General de Flores. The passion of her curiosity was still alive as she followed the elderly woman swiftly up the grand marble staircase and back to the third floor.
Her eyes were struck by the beautiful sunlight pouring through the drawn curtains as she entered. It shone like a torch ablaze in the room, drenching the lovely fabrics of the furniture and polished wood of the floor with a celestial fire. The doors to the Marquesa’s private balcony were open and the exquisite view of the grounds and sea beyond, even more breathtaking than that seen from her own room, captured Veronica’s attentions as she strolled thoughtlessly to witness it.
Alone in the drawing room, Veronica explored every inch of it. She had never had the opportunity to visit this room, and it was a rare experience for anyone but the servants to enter in the Marquesa’s absence, even if the woman was only behind the second set of doors. As Veronica examined her aunt’s secrétaire, a huge gilded structure of pearlescent white trimmed with gold in the far recess of the room, Marcelina appeared, dressed in a cream-colored nightgown and dark-blue satin robe. With a lovely smile, she walked casually to the girl from the bedroom to reveal the sight of the naked General sleeping, mangled in the linens of the huge canopy bed beyond.
Veronica knew she would die; she could feel every ounce of blood depart the vessels of her skin. The cold essence of death crept slowly through her body and she didn’t know how to disguise her astonishment. She had never fainted before but felt that if any sensation designated a precursor to fainting, then she was most certainly feeling it now. The air in her throat made her choke as if filled with poison. She had to somehow escape from the room.
Through the darkness closing in on her mind, Marcelina’s smile and graceful hug brought her back to a semiconscious state, prompting her to exhale for the first time in years, it seemed. The shocking perception of being touched now as Marcelina guided her to the sofa at the center of the room was not one that the girl enjoyed.
“You see, it is only ten-thirty and already I’m here awake for you. I didn’t want you to be too lonely after last night.”
Veronica tried to remember to smile as her mind continued to race, focused on the man she could still clearly see if only she had the slightest bit of courage to look at him through the doors. Realizing that her aunt had not made even the smallest effort to hide the General, not even to close the door of the bed chamber, Veronica wondered if he was truly there. Was some part of her foolish mind playing tricks upon her? Thoughts that it was all an illusion coursed through her mind, confusing her even more in their irritating absurdity. She shut off reason and simply tried to focus on the words coming from her aunt’s mouth.
“We only need to wait a moment before Dolça returns with our breakfast. I asked to have it prepared and brought up, since it’s so rare for the kitchen to be up and running this early. Expecting them to serve us anything resembling lunch would be a certain cause of grief,” the woman jested, chortling quietly. “I shouldn’t hope for anything more than bread and fruit.”
Veronica did not respond, her eyes affixed on her aunt.
“But tell me how you slept, dear. All was well, I hope? The winds last night, they didn’t disturb you too greatly, did they?”
“No, no,” Veronica answered anxiously. “I’ve never slept so well in my whole life. I was almost frightened when I woke up so late this morning.” Yes, she was certain death was upon her. It was somewhere in the room, waiting for her to exhale completely so that it might strangle her for witnessing this dreadful sight.
“Frightened? I don’t understand. Whatever for?” It was an honest bewilderment on the Marquesa’s part.
“I’m used to being ready for breakfast by seven at school and at home. Class begins at eight, and Mamá thinks it wasteful to be in bed too long after dawn.”
Marcelina frowned so briefly that Veronica was not entirely sure she had seen it, just as she was still entertaining the notion that she was not seeing that naked man in her aunt’s bed at this very moment.
“I don’t ever plan on seeing seven o’clock again in my lifetime. Your mother surprises me. As a child, it was nearly impossible for our girl to have her out from under the covers. She was impossible; your grandmother would tell you, if she could.” The Marquesa smirked. “And I guess she still is. I don’t look forward at all to debating with her over your final decision, regardless of the victory I will achieve. What a trial that will have to be.”
Veronica laughed nervously, unsure of herself, and Marcelina furrowed her eyebrows at the child’s shyness, leaning over to give her niece another kiss.
The girl collapsed slightly in relief of the sweet gesture, releasing her tension just long enough to draw a few long breaths. “How did you sleep, Tia?” she asked, immediately frightened by the bold implications of her query.
Marcelina only demurred, smiling as the wolf smiles upon its young when they make their first kill. She paused a moment, allowing the girl’s heart to stop racing before she replied.
“Are you all right, my dear? You seem flushed.”
Veronica staggered on her own breaths as she tried to answer. She drew closer to the woman now in a desperate fashion of intimacy. “What is he doing in there?” she whispered, immediately faltering back.
Marcelina attempted to keep the tremendous smile forming at Veronica’s expense from taking her face hostage. If she’d let the girl’s expression linger upon that sweet face a moment longer, the woman would erupt into laughter.
“My God, child! Snap to and remove that silly expression from your face. You’ve known the answer to your question since you followed him down the hallway last night. I should think you would not look so ridiculously surprised. Really, who do you think you are fooling with that tortured look?”
Veronica, for at least one moment, lost all sensation of her suffering at hearing the woman’s words slice through the misery.
“I should go now, Tia. We should not speak on this. I can’t speak on this.” She made movements as if to rise and leave, but her body remained helplessly locked down. It seemed she hadn’t the capacity to move of her own will.
“But why should we not speak on it? We are both women now, are we not, and beloved friends? Yes, we should know everything of each other’s lives.”
It might have seemed that Veronica had not just died from the inconceivable embarrassment of the Marquesa’s words, but she could only shake her head in negation.
“Oh stop, please! Don’t look like that, I can’t stand it,” Marcelina mocked cheerfully. “You have to stop and open your eyes. I know you’re not this pretentious little child. You won’t fool me. Yes, he’s my lover. We are together often when he comes to stay in the city.”
Again, the girl was dumbfounded. The evil words played upon the outer borders of her consciousness, delivering confused and overshadowing images that besieged her last bearings on sanity. She would crack now, and if she knew how one might simply choose to crack, she would certainly do so and get the inevitable over with.
“I live to make love to him, you see. There are few things in life better than being devoured by Don Eduardo de Flores.” She made this last remark purely to tease the girl, to darken the blush.
Veronica thought this was ghastly, all of this, and she could not hope to withstand this pain. Tears formed in her eyes, and she felt her mind break apart from the conversation, as if she had become separated from the very words.
“Does his wife know?” she uttered without thinking what to say. “My God, what will happen to you if she finds out? She could ruin your name, she could ruin our family. Why would you risk your life to do this thing?” The questions came coldly.
Marcelina stopped herself from becoming frustrated too easily. She had anticipated such a response. Really, what other response could she ever hope to receive from a girl raised by her sister? She should thank her good fortune that the girl ever allowed herself to smile at all. She immediately resigned to approach more carefully.
“My love, I promised you last night that it was time for you to become a woman, and you agreed to that notion all too eagerly. It seems we must begin today. There is obviously much that you do not know of this world, and we haven’t any time to lose.”
The girl only stared and received the words.
Marcelina began in earnest, drawing herself up to begin all that she must somehow make the girl comprehend. But it seemed there could be no real beginning, and she resigned herself to simply let it flow out of her.
“I am not a woman to hold to superstitions or unfounded beliefs. I should hope you would already know me to be a woman of knowledge and unquestionable nobility in reason. I do not say anything I do not know to be true and I never enter into a game that I cannot win. The things you will learn from me are all truths you would eventually come to understand after any length of time, if you were not a fool. What I offer you is the chance of learning from me while you have barely begun your life. Please don’t make the error of judgment and perceive the slightest hint of arrogance in my words. I make no aspirations to greatness; that is for those who believe greatness can be achieved by will alone. What I intend to provide is the chance for you to raise yourself above the intended structure of this world.”
Veronica liked the confident sound of her aunt’s statements, though she genuinely had no clue as to what her words meant.
“My dear, we live in a world that champions its males. Even more disappointing, it allows itself to be guided by the stupid whims of the useless mass of flesh hanging from between their legs. The very design of it, swaying in vulgar pompousness, is an arrogant reminder of a dominance which they would vainly attempt to command us by.”
To this statement, there was no misunderstanding, nor pretentious shock at the cynicism of the words. But Veronica hated her aunt in this moment, hated that she would speak in this way. And that she would lower herself with such vulgarity.
The Marquesa could plainly see this loathing in her niece’s face but continued. I’ll get some part of this right, she thought, and some part of her mind will be able to catch it through her anger.
“I don’t say these things to belittle men, only to note that the world misunderstands both men and women in this regard. There is no difference between us. These clothes, these trappings of gender, they are mere decorations that segregate us. We cannot allow them to misidentify who we genuinely are. This is who we are,” said the Marquesa, raising her hand to her temple.
“You mustn’t ever think a woman less than for wanting sex, nor a man, for that matter. Even the most fiendish of scoundrels cannot be punished for wanting sex. Its hold on people is far too great a power to ever hope to constrain, not in any functional way. Rather, what a woman of greatness should immediately want to understand is why I choose to make love to another woman’s husband, why I would challenge the possibilities of such an irreversible ruin.”
“That’s what I asked you!” Veronica almost hissed in a low voice.
Marcelina paused, smirking gently. “The General and I have known each other since before you were born. I’ve known his wife even longer. When my husband passed, their long friendship and love comforted me. He was your uncle’s very best friend, and no one had a sincerer hope that I would recover from the loss. He watched me decline suitors over and over. I wouldn’t marry any of them, you see? I never wanted to be married again, in fact.
“As the years passed, when Blanca gave birth to your little friend, after having delivered three healthy sons, she grew disinterested in coupling with her husband.” Marcelina leaned in and adopted a whisper to add, “So, she approached me on the matter.”
From the bed chamber, the sounds of footsteps dragging across the tempered floorboards were heard. Veronica’s eyes raised to behold the first image that would bury away the girl’s childhood intellect for years. The sight became unavoidable in a single moment. Coming into the light, she saw the form of the General’s naked body standing and leaning against the door frame. He raised his fingers to push back the thick raven hair from his eyes as he let the warmth of the sun shine down upon his dark smooth skin, the hints of dark hair on his chest glistening in the bath of light that poured down upon him. He moved from the door and set his huge dark eyes upon Marcelina, and then the girl, as he walked over to the two of them, his heavy cock and balls moving like liquid between his shifting legs.
Veronica fixed her eyes upon him as if he were a mirage, unable to decipher him in any way but that which her body demanded. She felt a sudden ache in her frame and she could not understand its meaning or source enough to pay it any substantial attention.
Shamelessly, Don Eduardo bent to smother Marcelina with warm kisses on her neck before sitting down beside her. Marcelina didn’t move to stop the General, but rather smiled a barely tolerant acknowledgement at him, turning her head to whisper softly in his ear.