Chapter Five, Part Two

For dinner, there was a roast chicken with buttered rice and salad picked fresh from the garden that day. It was a common enough meal for all of them that no one commented on it, but Robert couldn't help thinking how different it was from the war years. Back then, one of his jobs had been coordinating the delivery of food supplies to allies and refugee camps. Rice and chickens would have gone only to their most reliable supporters.

"Tell us about your trip," Amalia said, and Robert saw in her eyes that it wasn't a travelogue she was after, but something more. She wanted to know how he felt, but he was reluctant to speak of anything so personal in front of Sophie, who had already suffered enough.

Pretending not to catch her deeper meaning, Robert began giving the story of their long journey by train from Lexington, Kentucky. From time to time Sophie butted in, and by dessert, he was merely nodding agreement as she described their trip through the Raton pass.

"Our train had three engines in front and two at the back and it was still slow," she exclaimed. "And the pass was real high up, and someone stole the sign, but there was this tunnel..."

Robert scanned the faces of Amalia and Miguel. They weren't just being polite but seemed truly interested, even though he knew it was because this was Diana's daughter, and not because Sophie's journey was interesting in its own right. Their love for her as a separate individual would come in due time. For now they were working with the only context they had.

Dessert was chocolate cake, and this was something that impressed not only Robert, but Sophie, who had grown up with plenty to eat but rarely saw foreign foods.

"Mind your manners," he said to her in low tones. "No need to gobble."

Sophie took a deep breath, as if holding herself back was torture.

"You can have another slice if you want it," Miguel told her.

"Tonight only," Amalia added. "Chocolate is wonderful, but it's a treat food. We can't afford it every day, so we should make it last."

Sophie considered. "This is enough, then. Thanks." She finished her dessert and set the fork on her plate as she had been taught.

Before Robert could ask if there was anything else she wanted, Amalia stood up and offered to show Sophie her room. Robert now found himself across the table from his former commander, with no distractions or intermediaries. "You seem to be doing well," he said, by way of opening a safely neutral topic. "The property looks good and Amalia told us you're up to thirty students now."

Miguel smiled. "Yes, Amalia has done well with it. It took her a few years to find her footing, but my faith in her was justified. I do very little with it anymore and mostly just focus on our radio and phone efforts, which reminds me," he reached for his glass of wine. "Did you let Sam know you had made it here safely?"

"Not yet."

"We'll have to rectify that in the morning."

Robert nodded. Sam was the head of Lexington Communications. The company had grown out of Sam's ham radio operation, enhanced by Robert's organizational skills and Diana's chutzpah. Had it not been for Sam, Robert might never have learned where Diana had run away to, or that she was still in love with him. He was no doubt anxious to hear that Robert and Sophie had arrived in Estrella safely.

"How long do you plan to stay? Your message said it would be a short visit, but we have plenty of space, and Sophie might like a chance to rest a little and perhaps go to school."

"It's a nice thought," Robert said, "But I'm afraid school is one of the few areas where Sophie is nothing like her mother. She's certainly bright enough, but she's got the Kentucky virus."

"Kentucky virus?"

"It's an aversion to school that all the kids on the horse farms seem to have. They put in the bare minimum and spend the rest of their time with the horses."

"That must be tough for you."

Robert acknowledged this was true. He loved history, science, and anything else that could be learned from a book. Diana had loved these things too, but not so much from aptitude as because her childhood hadn’t allowed for formal schooling and she yearned to make up for the lack. Robert had once hoped Sophie would have the same passion to learn, and that they could have deep conversations about mathematical formulas and great literature. This had proved to be one of the few areas in which she disappointed him. "She takes it for granted, I'm afraid. Had she been deprived of the opportunity, like her mother was, I have no doubt she'd be your best scholar."

"We want most what we can't have," Miguel agreed.

If the remark was meant as an opening to talk of deeper things, Robert refused to take the bait. "Even if Sophie were a more eager student, I wouldn't want her to get too settled here. It was hard for her to leave all her friends and I would rather she not develop a lot of new attachments until we're someplace where we intend to stay a while."

"The plan is still to go to Castaño, then?"

"Yes. My brother's passing has left me the only heir to some family properties."

Miguel nodded as if he understood, but Robert suspected he knew the truth; that this was just an excuse to leave Kentucky and its memories. Not that there weren't memories here in the USS, but at least in Castaño, the town of his childhood, Diana wouldn't haunt every paddock and street corner.

At that moment, Amalia walked in. "Sophie's pretty tired," she said. "I think she's ready to go to bed."

Robert got up from the table. "I'll go tuck her in, I guess."

"It's the room next to the one you stayed in last time you were here."

"Thank you."

Although it had been a long time, he found the room easily and saw that Sophie was already in her pajamas, rummaging in one of her bags. "Are you about ready for bed?"

Sophie looked up. "I can't find my book."

Robert joined the search and soon they had located her copy of The Black Stallion. Although many of the twentieth century terms and descriptions confused her, she found the story fascinating. He allowed himself an ironic smile. Sophie wouldn't open an ordinary book except under duress, but put a picture of a horse on the cover, and she was happy enough to stick with it, no matter how difficult it may be.

A glass of water and the felted pony she had had since infancy were already on the nightstand, so all that was left was for Sophie to climb into bed.

"Don't stay up too late reading," Robert said as he tucked the covers around her.

She looked up at him with sleepy eyes. "I don't have to get up early, right?"

"That's right. No more trains for a little while."

"Good." She settled deeper into the pillow. "How long are we staying?"

"A few days."

"Will we stay longer if we like it?"


"Bandera likes it here."

"Bandera will like Castaño, too." He stepped back and reached a hand toward the lamp to preclude further discussion. "Are you going to read for a bit, or should I turn off the lamp?"

Sophie reached for her book in answer.

"Good night, then. I love you."

"Love you, too, Daddy."

As Robert shut the door behind him, he paused and looked around. The hallway was empty, and in the distance he could make out the murmurings of his hosts as they cleared the table. A sudden wave of exhaustion hit him. If he went back to the dining room, he would have to talk and possibly field questions he had neither the energy nor the will to deal with tonight.

On a hunch, he peeked inside the door of the room he had stayed in last time he was here. Sure enough, his bags had been left neatly at the foot of the bed. If he didn't go back to wish Amalia and Miguel good night, they would be disappointed, but they would understand. Disappointment was something they had all learned to live with, so Robert stepped into his room and quietly shut the door.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, it's probably better to have that conversation with a clear head. Still, if he wanted to keep it from Sophie now would be the time.