8 A Proposal for Serafina 3
It had not crossed Luciano's mind to return home on a Saturday night when he had just arrived from a long, bone weary trip. He was adamant to visit friends in the brothels they used to frequent on the outskirts of the city, though he admitted he needed to change clothes and, perhaps, eat a hot meal. But to return to Mamma Consuela was not in his agenda!
The tropic night air was dry; beads of sweat trickled down his face and neck, and he had forgotten how hot this side of the world was compared to Madrid. Under the gas lamp Luciano stood waiting, while his luggage leaned against the lamppost, and wondered why a kalesa or even a carriage didn't drive his way.
"Alas dose!" cried the watchman from across the street and his worn-leather boots crunched against cobble. The heavy tap, tap, tap of his shoes echoed from one end of the street to the next. "Alas dose," he howled. He turned to the next street from his left, and the thump of his shoes was a ghost as he walked farther; and however arid the night was, a cold sweat dampened Luciano's back.
It was midnight. If he were back in Spain, he'd be wide awake enjoying a cigar or burgundy with friends. This was Manila, though. The street was empty, save for the lampposts dotting the straight pavement, and the hush and lulls of children and mothers in their beds.
He turned around, and outside the lamplight stood an erect figure, staring at him with a bored, tired look behind thick glasses. Luciano grabbed the handles of his luggage and grinned at his brother, Albert, and cheerily said, "Mamma Consuela must have forgotten to pick us up from the wharf."
To Luciano's consternation Albert grunted and walked ahead of him in a slow, purposeful swagger he thought to be full of arrogance. He shook his blond head and trailed behind his brother, wondering if Albert had enough strength to walk his way home.
Luciano was built like the statues of Grecian gods, while Albert was lean, a wisp of a man a gust of wind could knock down. If Luciano was tired even with a strong body such as his, he expected Albert to be worn-out, but he watched in wonderment as Albert easily walked to the end of the street with luggage in tow.
Albert waited for Luciano to close the distance between them on the street corner, pulled his ticking pocket watch and counted the seconds his brother took to get pass him.
Tik, tok, tik, tok.
He counted fifty-three seconds.
The cobbled streets stretched and a watchman from around the corner cried, "Alas dose y medya!"
Luciano regretted missing an earlier boat to Manila and the dinner Mamma Consuela promised to be grand—his favorite dishes served and a new piano, which would accompany the waltz or polka the young guests fancied dancing. Had he known drivers weren't around at this time of the night, Lucino would have caught up with the earliest boat available and be in bed at home with a full stomach and tired feet from dancing.
"Farewell, my love, farewell. I wait for you under the weeping willows," Albert quietly sang, and a shiver ran down Luciano's back.
"Shush!" Luciano hissed over his shoulder. "You know very well I don't like that song."
Albert in a humorous mood curled one side of his lip. "Revenge is all," he said.
"For making us miss our boat."
A pregnant silence came over them, and they walked on without sharing another word.
* * *
The clock on the mantel read one in the morning. Papa sat on the rocking chair by the window, eyes closed, head bobbed left and right, and a glass of wine closed in one fist. Serafina stood, felt the creak of her back, and whispered to Doña Consuela, "Papa and I must get going now, Señora. Dinner was lovely." She put Papa's glass on the mantel, wondering if the Doña could spare a carriage to take them home as they'd instructed their driver to not wait for them and drive home.
"Yes," the Doña said in a rough, heavy sigh, tapped her cane, and walked over to the window.
The dinner was lovely. Doña Consuela's guests enjoyed partaking two whole roasted pigs and dancing the waltz. However, without her two sons, who were the reason behind the occasion, dinner ended by nine, and the guests piled in their carriages with bellies full and heads floating in wine. She persuaded Serafina to stay longer, enticing Señor Mercado with a game of whist without money or bets involved and an 1801 red wine she procured from one of her many acquaintances.
Outside the window, the watchman cried, "Ala una!" As his voice trailed to a thin echo, two, tall shadows stretched along the road. Doña Consuela watched a pair of gentlemen stop by the lamppost in front of her home. She gasped upon setting her eyes on Luciano's flaxen head, and clutched her chest with one hand when the brat dared to look up and wave two of his fingers at her.
"A-are you faring well, ma'am?" asked Serafina behind her, and the Doña nodded her head feebly.
"H-hija, I insist you stay here for the night," Doña Consuela said in a rush as she walked pass the young lady and her indisposed father.
"But that would trouble you—"
In a flurry of skirts, Doña Consuela scuttled her way to the house's main doors and bit her lips into a thin, pressed line. She had not seen her sons for more than two years, and the sight of them caused her heart to thump deafeningly in ears and her blood run hot and fast. She schooled her face to look as calm as she could—eyes stared hard at the gentlemen standing by the open door and handing their luggage to the servants, and back straight, chest out.
Luciano had grown bigger. His shoulders and back were broad and wide; and the white, starched shirt he wore fit his torso so well, one could easily see the shape of his strong, sinewy arms. He had grown more handsome, too. The plains and angles of his face, the green, brooding eyes, and the square jaw—he was Adonis brought to life!
Pride swelled in the Doña's breast. For sure no woman or lady could resist her child, and she hoped neither could Serafina.
"Mamma," said Albert in a slow drawl, Luciano in a cheery beat.
The old lady stretched her hand out, and each gentleman bowed their heads, tapped the back of her hand against their foreheads, and blessed her cheek with a peck. And Luciano, in merriment, wrapped his arms around his Mamma, and laughed his compliments in her ear.
* * *
Serafina stood by the mantel, facing the open door. She waited for the Doña's instructions for this last minute over night stay at her house, and thought how inconsiderate the Doña's sons were.
Over their last correspondence, Doña Consuela elaborated her need of a wife for either of her sons and a grandchild to care for. In her careful writing, the Doña painted her sons to be ruggedly handsome with manners which rivaled a prince's, and were eager to meet the woman their mother chose. Serafina, to whom the Doña's letter pointed at as the woman who received her favor, was overwhelmed at such flattery she could not reject the Doña's offer to marry either of her sons.
However, when tonight's dinner passed without the guests of honor, Serafina wondered if the Doña had exaggerated her assessment of Luciano and Albert. For certain she did. They were her sons!
There was a faint tap by the door, and when Serafina raised her eyes, she was looking back at a pair of black, darting eyes behind thick glasses. She swallowed a shriek and nodded her head in greeting. "Good evening," she whispered.
The man behind the door was lanky and of average height with glowing, bronze skin. He had a head of dark, soft curls, and a mouth set in a frown. It did not pass her notice that this man was an indio through and through, unlike the Doña who was a mestiza and was close to white as milk. If it weren't for the glasses, Serafina might have thought his looks to be above average.
"Good evening," the man said in a hard grunt, and passed the door in two quick steps and into the hallway.
Serafina stuck her head out of the door and watched the gentleman's retreat, and wondered if he was part of the hired help. When she looked up, she found the Doña clutching a yellow-haired man's elbow. Serafina gave a slight bow of her head to the incoming pair, and stood straight by the door frame with her eyes cast down.
"Luka, you must meet her," Serafina heard the Doña say in the gentleman's ear.
Entering the drawing room, Luciano graced Serafina with a smile and kissed her fingers. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Señorita," he said in a low, throaty growl, and he grinned inwardly, feeling the lady's hand quiver in his.
"And I, too," she murmured, and her cheeks turned pink when their eyes clapped—her light brown eyes, the color of whisky, and his sea-green gaze held their trance for more than five seconds, but each felt the racing pulse in their throats.
In the rocking chair, Señor Mercado gave a snort, and the young couple's hearts leaped from their chests, and Luciano reluctantly released Serafina's hand.
The exchange between Luciano and Serafina did not go unnoticed, and Doña Consuela smiled and thought of ways to fan the flames of a budding romance, and to finally grant her wish of a grandchild. "Serafina, child, this is my son, Luciano."
"Y-yes, h-halloo! I apologize, Papa would greet you, but he is indisposed as of the moment," Serafina stammered. "Where is Albert, Señora?"
"Albert?" the Doña gasped; her other son, an afterthought whenever Luciano was around. She tipped her head to the side, watching her fair-haired child on the corner of her eye. "Where is he, Luka?"
"Here," said in a low whisper. Albert came in with sleeves rolled to the elbows and spectacles hung by his collar. He smoothed a hand over his hair and squint his eyes over Serafina. "Señorita," he said and bowed his head in greeting.
The two brothers stood side-by-side, and Serafina held a little gasp between her lips. They were different, indeed. Yin and yang personified in flesh and bone. While both were good-looking in their own ways, she had to admit Luciano was the more charming between the two, and the puckered brows, as Albert's eyes roved over her, did not improve the indifferent opinion Serafina had of him.
"Your glasses, Albert!" cried the Doña. "Wear them, you ninny."
Albert moved quick and put his spectacles over his eyes, and the frown on his brows cleared. He nodded to Serafina in apology and muttered, "I have bad eyesight."
"Ever since he was a child, Feena," explained the Doña in a soft tone.
Señor Mercado gave a snort, and Serafina in a rush said, "Señora, would it be too much to ask for your servant's help to carry Papa to a guest chamber?"
"No, no! And goodness! It's half-past one in the morning. Go to the spare room, on the third floor to the left, child. I'll have a servant do as you instructed."
When the servants accompanied Serafina and her Papa to their respective rooms, Doña Consuela had her sons sit on the sofa, while she sat across from them on a winged-back chair. Luciano grinned and said, "Mamma, you sly devil!"
"Hush! Don't call me such ugly names." A little smile lingered on her lips, and she asked, "Well, what do you think of her?"
"Her who?" intervened Albert.
"Serafina, child! Serafina," retorted the Doña.
Albert nodded, and said matter-of-fact, "Beautiful."
She waved her hand in dismissal of Albert's opinion, and she looked at Luciano expectantly with her brows raised high. "Hijo, do you like her?"
"How can I not when she is the woman you chose, Mamma?" he said in exasperation.
"Oh," the Doña sighed, "do not fool me! I saw how your eyes sparked the moment you saw her. You do like her, don't you? And did I not tell you in my letters she was lovely and beautiful?"
"Yes, Mamma, yes!" Luciano said with a laugh.
"Has she chosen Luciano, then, Mamma?" Albert asked.
"Chosen?" the Doña gasped. "If you had only seen how your brother and Serafina looked at each other with lustful eyes! No doubt she has formed a fancy for Luka, Albert."
"Then should I give you my felicitations, Luka, for finally getting leg-shackled?"
"Keep quiet, you ninny," snapped Luciano in a playful note. "And Mamma, please! Yes, I admit that the lass is very pretty, but that hardly counts as reason to marry her."
"What about the grandchild you promised me?" barked Doña Consuela.
"If you stay in Madrid long enough, Mamma, you might meet one of Luciano's countless bastards on the streets," Albert said with his eyes smiling.
"I don't care for a whit over his harlots and bastards, child," she plaintively said. "What I care for is Serafina. I like her, does that not matter to either of you?"
"It matters, Mamma," Albert muttered. "I like her. She has kind eyes."
"How would you know about her eyes when you can't even see without those horribly thick lenses on your face?" Luciano said.
"I surrender!" the Doña thumped her cane on the floor and stood. "You two may squabble in either of your rooms. There's church in the morning, and I want the two of you fresh-faced and ready."