My jaw dropped.
Before us stood an incredibly beautiful woman. She seemed almost ethereal, bathed in the warm light omitted from the house. Her black hair was in a complicated updo, a few soft curls escaping to frame her face.
Her wide brown eyes bulged, her mouth dropping open silently.
She stammered for a few moments, making unintelligible noises. Her hands bunched up in the skirt of her ruffly dress.
“Mamá? ¿Quién es?” A soft voice floated towards us, and a girl who seemed to be about Jesse’s age appeared next to the older woman. Her dress was similar to the one she called “Mamá”. Her eyes widened just as her mothers did when she saw Jesse.
“Jesse? Dios mío!” She shrieked, flinging herself at Jesse.
Jesse buried his face into the girl’s hair, his usually stoic face nearly crumpling. Her arms wrapped tight around his neck.
Multiple other girls suddenly appeared, showing the same affection for Jesse. I started to tear up a bit myself, for I had never felt the love of a sibling, but it seemed so raw, so true.
Jesse broke away from the various women, turning his and their attention towards me. Their faces all bore the same look of confusion. I probably looked like an animalistic beggar.
“This is Ella. She will be staying with us,” he told them. “She will need a bath. And something to wear.”
The first girl to hug Jesse stepped forward and took my arm, pulling me farther into the warm house.
I started to panic a bit, being in such an unfamiliar place. The air smelled of some strange spices, and I was being gawked at by girls quite a few years older than me. Jesse and his mother shared hushed words, hers in rapid Spanish.
“No, no, mamá, she is not a prostituta,” Jesse stated, trying to stop his mother from staring at me.
So his mother is the beautiful woman. It was quickly becoming apparent to me where Jesse’s good looks came from. She had the same thick lashes that he did.
“Then why is she dressed like that? Are those your pants?” his mother asked, staring at my pants accusingly. The rest of the men in our little outlaw group watched silently, wide-eyed.
“No. She just had a long journey and needed to be comfortable,” Jesse answered exasperatedly. “I will answer your questions later, Mamá. Let us get Ella settled in first, por favor,”.
She sniffed and looked away, sending a single nod toward her daughter, who still held my arm. Jesse smiled reassuringly at me as I was led towards a large brown door.
Where am I going? I wondered to myself as I followed the girl through the door. I wish I knew what this girl’s name is.
The room turned out to be a sweet little bedroom with a small fireplace and washtub in one corner.
“Ella. That is a nice name,” the girl spoke as she began heating a bucket of water over the fireplace.
“Thank you. What is yours?” I asked, admiring the girl’s curly dark hair and bronzed skin.
“Lorena,” she responded, giving me a small smile. “So, why are you with Jesse? And why are you wearing that?” She said with a gesture to my men’s attire.
“It is a very long story,” I answered.
“And this is a very large bathtub. It will take a long time till it is filled,” Lorena said as she sat down on the bed.
The bed was beautiful, with intricately carved wood and fine bedding. From what I gathered, Jesse’s family was wealthy. But how were they wealthy if his father was dead? Was it old family money?
I sighed, and explained the story of my betrothal to Ambrose, and how Jesse’s arrival changed my mind and made me reevaluate the way I was living.
Lorena stifled a laugh at that. Before I could ask what she was laughing at, she left the room, reappearing some minutes later with another bucket of water, which she began heating.
“Jesse likes you very much. I can tell,” Lorena told me after returning to her spot on the bed.
“He is a good friend,” I responded, smiling fondly at thoughts of Jesse. His quiet strength, watchful eye, and gentle demeanor were only a few of the things that I liked so much in Jesse.
Lorena laughed again. Her face was so similar to Jesse’s, it was almost scary to me.
“What is it? Why do you keep laughing?” I asked her, exasperated.
“Ella, querida, you are far more to Jesse than a friend. That much is obvious.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused. Jesse was no more than a friend, his actions had made that quite clear.
“I can see the way he looks at you. He cares about you,” Lorena said. “I know mi hermano. He is smitten with you.”
I laughed a bit too loud, blushing heavily.
“Oh, no, Lorena, you are wrong. Jesse is merely a friend,” I told her.
“Okay,” she answered, laughing. She exited the room again for more water.
“Do you come from nobility?” I asked her once she returned.
“No, why do you ask?”
“Well, your home is absolutely beautiful. And Jesse told me how your father died in the war…I am sorry, I am being rude, as usual. Forget I asked,” I said, embarrassed. I immediately regretted asking the question.
“He told you what?” Lorena asked, abandoning the soaps she was laying out for me. She rested her hands on an extremely tiny waist.
This took me aback. Did I say something wrong? I wondered. Being in an unfamiliar home with an unfamiliar culture was truly getting to me.
“He told me your father died in the war…” I trailed off. Her penetrating gaze made me feel unnerved.
“Ah. Yes, he did,” she answered with an uneasy smile. “We have a lot of money in the family, if that is what you are asking.”
It was obvious I had upset her. Her words were become shakier, as if she had to think hard before she said them. Why did she act the way she did when her father was brought up?
“Your bath is ready,” she suddenly exclaimed. I looked over and sure enough, the tub was filled with steaming water. “There should be an extra nightdress in the drawers by the bed.”
Her words were suddenly cut off by a loud knock. She called out to them to enter.
Jesse’s handsome face poked in. His face broke out into a smile when he saw me.
“Everything okay?” He asked Lorena. She gave him a forced smile.
“Yes. Ella is about to bathe. We should let her be,” Lorena said, striding to the door.
She gave me a small smile as she followed Jesse out the door.
I immediately heard hushed voices speaking rapidly.