Esther May Still There
Doña Maria entered the whitewashed room adorned with scarlet tapestries where her guest paced. “Thank you for waiting, senorita.”
Esther May swallowed a sharp reply about having no choice since the armed guard escorted her here and told her to sit. Instead, she said, “I apologize for disrupting your household.”
“Disrupting? Ha. There is always an emergency about something. The cow wasn’t milked on time, the stew is cold, or my personal bodyguard was killed.”
Esther May felt the gut-punch of Maria’s words. “Did he die?”
Maria sat at the table and extended her hand palm up to a chair, inviting Esther May to sit. A middle-aged woman entered with a tray. On it was a carafe and crystal glasses. Doña Maria pulled the top of her silk dressing gown closed and poured.
Esther May recognized the bouquet of the hacienda’s homemade wine as Maria slid a glassful across the table. The young woman plunked down and put her head in her hands, pushing on her eyeballs to hold back the tears. “I didn’t mean to kill him. I told him not to come into the room.” She felt her throat tighten and took deep breaths.
“Drink your wine, little one. Ramón’s not dead yet.”
Esther May jerked upright. “You said—”
Maria held up a hand. “Wait.” She took an unladylike gulp of wine and smacked her lips. “He’s not dead yet, but he will die.” Another sip. “He will die because I will let him die. He is no good to me anymore, and a lot of these others,” she tipped her head to the guard, “are ready to take his place.” Maria refilled her cristalería. “But I am curious. Why did you reject his advances? He’s young and strong, and women compete for his attention. He’s never been turned away before.”
An Honored Victim?
Esther May jumped to her feet sending her chair over backward. “How dare you ask me to justify my actions against a man like that? I don’t care if you’re the Queen of England and this is the palace. It’s your fault for keeping a coyote like him around.” Esther May felt tears running down her face. She didn’t care, and fixed Doña Maria with an unsteady finger. You must have known he’d try something like this, and yet you invited me here. You’re to blame.”
Maria dropped her chin and slowly nodded. “Yes. I’m to blame, but I wasn’t aware you’d react the way you did. Which, I think, answers my question.”
Maria’s soft, brown eyes locked onto Esther May’s tormented gaze. “You’ve experienced an encounter like his before?”
Esther May wasn’t sure if she drank two or three glasses of wine. She found herself sitting at the table bawling like a dogie. Doña Maria’s gentle questions elicited the entire story of the highwaymen feeding doped peaches to Esther May and her father before killing daddy and abusing her in terrible ways.
Maria leaned forward. “I understand, my new, little friend. I, too, have suffered such debasement. In my father’s house.”
Esther May’s face must have reflected the horror she felt prompting Maria to add, “No, no. It wasn’t my father. One of the ranch hands. Much like Ramón. Another good reason to let him die.”
Esther May tried to get her unsteady diaphragm under control, but her voice shook. “I’ll never be able to have children.”
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