Final chapter!

Sorry the formatting is a little janky. I could not for the life of me figure out how to add in extra lines to separate stanzas. The doc manager would just gobble them up whenever I tried, so I had to MacGuyver the situation a little bit. If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know.


Imelda's mother was no longer blind to Héctor, and insisted on seating him at the far end of the table. He sat sandwiched between Gloria and Javier, and across from Luciana and the twins.

Luciana studied the musician sitting across the table from her. "So you lost the competition," she announced bluntly.

"Second place," Héctor corrected.

Luciana shrugged, unappreciative of the difference. "Why did you lose?" she asked.

Héctor glared at the 13-year-old girl. "Because we're not as good as the Rioverde mariachis?" he suggested.

Luciana calmly shoveled rice into her mouth, and mulled over that explanation. "That makes sense, I guess." She turned to her sister. "Maybe you could hire the Rioverde mariachis to play at your wedding-ah!" Her eyes darted from Gloria, to Héctor, to Javier, unsure which one had just kicked her under the table. She suspected it was Gloria, but Héctor and Javier were glaring at her so angrily she couldn't safely eliminate them.

Luciana resumed eating her rice, and wished that these joven would just sort themselves out, already. Lately every meal felt like they were putting on a performance.

Meanwhile on the other side of the table, Rodrigo, Imelda's father, and Tío Lorenzo were discussing Rodrigo's stables. Rodrigo had attempted to bring Imelda into the conversation a few times, but each time he said her name, she jumped slightly in her chair, looked dazed, apologized for her inattention, and then glared at Héctor, as if he had been personally responsible for her wandering mind. When Héctor noticed that she was scowling at him, he gave her a wincing smile, which only deepened her scowl.

Everyone was relieved when dinner was over, and Héctor, Gloria, and Javier went to the study. Imelda's mother and Natalia cleaned the dishes, and the rest of the family went to the patio: Imelda's father, Tío Lorenzo, and Rodrigo discussed politics, Imelda did needlework, and the twins and Luciana whispered in the corner. Soon the music started, weak but unmistakable, from the study.

Imelda stabbed her needle into the handkerchief she'd been working on so hard that she drew blood from her other hand, and it took all her self-control not to cry in pain.

"Héctor plays very well," Rodrigo eventually commented, smiling at the tune that was now bouncing from the study. "Perhaps we should ask them to bring their discussion into the patio, so we may hear him better."

Imelda immediately objected to that idea. "I have had enough of Héctor's music," she cited as her reason. Rodrigo didn't press it.

It was soon after this that Luciana decided she'd had enough of the patio. She couldn't follow her father and uncle's conversation, Imelda was no fun at all, and she'd spoken enough to the twins to last her a lifetime. She stood up, announced that she was going to join her sister in the study, and marched away, closely followed by Óscar and Felipe.

When she barged into the study, she informed its occupants loudly that it was deadly dull out on the patio. "They're talking politics, and I don't know why you and Rodrigo like Imelda so much," she announced to Héctor. "She's such a muermo!"

Luckily the twins had closed the door as soon as she'd begun talking, and the party on the patio was spared her assessment.

"You shouldn't say such things, mija," Gloria scolded her sister.

Luciana shrugged unconcernedly and took a seat next to Héctor. "Play a new song, Héctor," she ordered.

"Are you sure you want me to?" asked Héctor with a grin. "You wouldn't rather have the Rioverde mariachis sing you a song?"

"Of course I would," Luciana answered. "But they're not here and you are."

Héctor had to accept that logic. "But your sister and Javier are deciding the songs I play tonight," he pointed out.

Luciana ordered her sister to order Héctor to play a new song.

"Fine," Gloria sighed, feeling a little guilty about having kicked her sister earlier. "Do you have any new songs, Héctor?"

"Just one," Héctor admitted. "I think you might like it…" His fingers slid to his guitar's seventh fret, he began to half-strum-half-pick a song, and started to sing.

.

Should you marry Mateo?

That man who eats every last dish

He does nothing quicker

Than drink up his liquor

Imelda, what more could you wish?

.

He had selected the perfect audience for such a song: Luciana, Óscar, and Felipe all cracked up, and Gloria and Javier did their best not to.

"Now Bruno!" Luciana demanded. Héctor gamely launched into the second verse:

.

Could you marry good Bruno?

A fine caballero indeed

His life's so exciting

The brawling, the fighting

Imelda, what more could you need?

.

Bruno's verse met with a similar reception, and Héctor began verse three:

.

Will you marry Diego?

He acts like he's so nonchalant

He'll yawn right before you

And always ignore you

Imelda, want more could you want?

.

"Magnífico!" Luciana announced. She thought for a moment. "I don't know how the Rioverde mariachis could be better than you."

"Well," Héctor admitted, inspecting his fingertips with a show of fake modesty, "Ernesto thought it was suspicious that two of the Rioverde mariachis were related to the judges, but I'm sure they decided fairly…"

"Now Rodrigo!" demanded Luciana.

"Ah," Héctor shook his head. "That I cannot do." He tried to explain to the children: "Rodrigo, he's not silly. He doesn't belong in a silly song with Mateo, Bruno, and Diego. Rodrigo and myself," he made a goofy face at the children and spoke in a deep voice, "we are serious men deserving serious songs." He stood up and yawned. "I should go now. I have invaded your hospitality for long enough, and the songs for the wedding are all selected."

"When will you be out of town next?" Gloria asked, standing up to see Héctor off. "So we'll know not to pick those dates."

"Ah, no te preocupes," Héctor assured her. "Pick whatever date you like. I'm staying in town for the time being."

Javier kissed his fiancée goodbye, eliciting groans of disgust from the children, and offered to walk back to town with Héctor. The two men went to the kitchen to pay their respects to the two women of the household, receiving leftover polvorones de canela from Gloria's mother and a grunted goodbye from Imelda's mother. Héctor suggested skipping the goodbyes on the patio, and Javier admitted it was probably for the best.

"Imelda, she has a temper," Javier stated the obvious as they set off on the road.

"Not a temper," Héctor corrected his companion, strumming on his guitar. "Passion."

Javier silently thought that in Imelda, they seemed to be one and the same.

When they reached the town, Javier headed to his family's house. Héctor waved goodbye and sat at the fountain in the town square, strumming at his guitar. He didn't love the guitar—it was Ernesto's spare, and had difficulty keeping tune. But it would serve its purpose.

He fiddled with the melody of the song he'd presented tonight, and sang the first line of the fourth verse. "Why not marry Rodrigo…" He frowned at the night sky and tried to summon the next lyrics.

Soon the subject of verse four walked up to him, also carrying a bag of polvorones de canela. His bag was notably larger than either of the bags Héctor or Javier had received. "Héctor," he nodded.

"Rodrigo," Héctor nodded back.

To Héctor's surprise, Rodrigo sat down next to him. Héctor looked at him uneasily.

"Are you going to keep finding excuses to visit Imelda?" Rodrigo asked.

This did nothing to allay Héctor's unease. Still, he nodded truthfully. "You're not going to fight me, are you?" he asked.

Rodrigo laughed and bit into one of his sweets. "No, no," he assured him. "You are safe from me."

"Good," Héctor replied. "I'm already ugly enough."

Rodrigo let that comment pass, and pointed to a house in the distance. "Do you know who lives there?" he asked.

Héctor shook his head.

"Romina Campos," Rodrigo answered. "She moved into town a month ago, staying with her aunt and uncle."

Héctor frowned at Rodrigo, and tried to figure out how Romina Campos was relevant to the conversation.

"You haven't spent much time in Santa Cecilia lately," Rodrigo told Héctor. "If you had, you would know that she has become the most desirable niña in town."

Héctor just looked more puzzled. Was Rodrigo suggesting Héctor try for this Romina?

"I started paying my respects to Señorita Imelda last week," Rodrigo informed Héctor. "The first chance I got, I told Imelda that she seemed very nice, but I was not interested, because I was enamorado de Romina."

Héctor's left hand clamped onto the sixth fret, and his right thumb slapped against the strings. The product was less than harmonious.

"I don't understand," Héctor said slowly. "You've been paying your respects to Imelda—her family thinks you are about to propose!"

Granted, a small part of him admitted the same had been true of him a couple of weeks ago.

Still, maybe instead of Rodrigo punching him, it was his job to punch Rodrigo. He surveyed Rodrigo's frame and wondered to himself if he could take him.

But Rodrigo quickly explained. "When I told Imelda that I was uninterested in her, she let out a big sigh and said not to get a swollen head, because of course she wasn't interested in me, either."

A cool feeling of relief started to spread throughout Héctor's body, from his gut to his very fingertips. That did sound like something his Imelda would say.

Rodrigo was still speaking. "She said she didn't mind my using her to make Romina jealous. I gathered…" he looked at Héctor curiously and spoke very slowly, "that she felt she had something to prove to someone, too…"

Héctor nodded, remembering their argument on the patio before he'd left for Tarascoto.

"That could be," Héctor said vaguely.

"Well…" Rodrigo stood up and stretched his arms, "I wish I knew who that person was, because I want to try for Romina in earnest soon. She knows I have warmed the heart of the coldest woman in town, and I think that will help my chances."

Héctor flinched at this description. "Imelda's not cold," he objected.

"Maybe not," Rodrigo admitted, "where you're concerned, anyway. Well," he nodded his head, "buena suerte." As he strode away, he whistled the tune of Héctor's new song.

When Rodrigo disappeared into a nearby building, Héctor sat in stunned silence for a few moments, and then jumped to his feet.

Héctor tuned his guitar on his way to Imelda's house. He just couldn't manage to get the D-string to stop rattling, and he wondered if he would need to restring the darn thing, or maybe even replace the nut or saddle. For the hundredth time, he cursed his own clumsiness. When Ernesto had discovered he'd tripped over his own guitar, he hadn't been able to stop laughing.

"I always said you would break your neck one day, amigo!" Ernesto had roared. "Do you get it?" He'd held up his guitar and struck an f-note on the high e-string, and slid all the way to the twelfth fret. "Break your neck? Like a guitar neck?"

"Yes, Ernesto," Héctor had grumbled, in no mood for jokes at the time. "You have discovered a pun. Congratulations. I am very happy for you."

He could still remember Imelda's words as he sat there the ground, picking up his guitar's mutilated body.

"Of course!" she had snapped. "You break your guitar like you break your promises!"

Yes, he admitted to himself, he was a little bit behind on the timeline he and Imelda had discussed a few months ago. He'd really been hoping to win that competition in Tarascoto, which would have given him enough money that he could have afforded a small house, instead of squatting with Ernesto in a room of the Zedillo boarding house. It was annoying enough having to wait in the plaza whenever Ernesto had a "lady friend" over, and living there with Ernesto and Imelda was a completely impossibility. He could afford to rent his own room at this point instead of splitting the cost with Ernesto, but it still seemed a shameful thing to do, to rip Imelda from a nice casa and a family who loved her for a dingy boarding house room.

And Imelda's suggestion of living with her family? He'd dismissed it every time she'd brought it up, having noticed the way Imelda's mother looked at him…or to be more accurate, didn't look at him. She would only be satisfied with the match if he could prove he could provide for her daughter.

Still unsuccessful at tuning the buzz from the D-string, he sat down at the side of the road and removed the whole string. He hastily tied it back through the bridge, looped it into the headstock, and began turning the tuning peg again. Still the buzz. Ay!

"Sounding like that, it's a miracle you even got second place in Tarascoto," someone said behind him.

He shot to his feet, leaving his guitar on the ground. "Imelda!" he gasped.

She stood there in the moonlight. She'd removed the ribbons from her hair, and she was wearing a plain work dress. She clutched a shawl around her shoulders, even though it was a warm night.

"Is this your new spot?" she asked, digging at the dirt road with her shoe. "Ten yards from my casa, outside of town?" She tsked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "You won't get much foot traffic here."

"Well…" he shrugged, finding words very difficult to summon, "quality over quantity."

She looked back down at her feet, but Héctor had caught the slight smile she was holding back.

She had forgiven him. Why, he couldn't say. But he had accepted some time ago that when it came to Imelda, he was a very lucky man, and it would be foolish to question a good thing.

Still, he was hesitant to actually say something; doing so might press his luck. So he just admired the sight of her in the moonlight: young, beautiful, and, for some crazy reason, in love with him.

"Gloria told me you are still playing for their wedding," Imelda eventually said.

He nodded. "Of course. I am looking forward to it."

"She also told me that…" Imelda paused and dared to look up at him, "that you are staying in Santa Cecilia for a while…"

He nodded again. "Of course. I am looking forward to it."

"Well…" she shifted back and forth for a few seconds, and then stuck her hands on her hips, "don't leave for so long again, understand me?" She barked those last words like a military captain.

Héctor nodded, and smiled. Coldest woman in town—hah! His Imelda was all fire.

When Imelda had placed her hands on her hips, her shawl had fallen the ground, and as he picked it up and handed it to her, Héctor realized that she had something slung around her back.

"Is that a guitar?" he demanded, spotting the telltale headstock peeking out above her shoulder.

"Oh—sí!" Imelda said. She took the white guitar from her back and held it out with trembling hands. "I bought it a few weeks ago, when you were out of town—a traveling merchant came and I saw it and thought it was handsome and I thought you might…"

She trailed off as Héctor took the instrument from her. He threw the sash over his head, fingered an open G-chord, and strummed.

It sounded horrible, of course. He smiled apologetically and began tuning. Then he strummed again, and this time the G-chord resonated through the night, bright, clean, and cheerful.

"Beautiful," Imelda said breathlessly. She was giving him that admiring look that only she gave him and Héctor's heart was thumping prestissimo.

It wasn't "now or never." The way she was looking at him, Héctor knew that he could screw up again and again, and she would still give him that look.

But he wanted it to be now.

He took a deep breath. "I wrote you a song while I was gone," he told her.

Her face colored more deeply.

Was Santa Cecilia aware that most of the love songs they heard these days were inspired by the coldest woman in town?

Héctor took a deep breath and started to strum.

.

Should you marry Mateo?

That man who eats every last dish

He does nothing quicker

Than drink up his liquor

Imelda, what more could you wish?

.

Imelda began laughing, that sweet laugh that only Héctor got to hear. He took that as a good sign and continued his song:

.

Could you marry good Bruno?

A fine caballero indeed

His life's so exciting

The brawling, the fighting

Imelda, what more could you need?

.

Will you marry Diego?

He acts like he's so nonchalant

He'll yawn right before you

And always ignore you

Imelda, want more could you want?

.

Why not marry Rodrigo?

Hardworking and always on task

He's friendly and funny

With plenty of money

Imelda, what more could you ask?

.

For the final verse he slowed down, playing as tenderly as he could and drawing out the words:

.

Alas of course there's poor Héctor

He's okay looking, I guess

With nothing to boast

Though he loves you the most

Imelda, mi alma, say yes

.

As he picked the C-Major chord on the 8th fret, Imelda angled her chin so she was looking at the night sky. She dabbed her left eye with her shawl.

"You're making me cry, you baboso," she sniffed. She then dabbed at her right eye.

Héctor looked at her expectantly. "Imelda…" he said after a few seconds of just Imelda's sniffing. "Do you have an answer for me?"

"You didn't have to do that," she said, still staring at the sky. She sounded congested. "You don't have to propose just so you don't lose me."

Héctor was confused. "Do you not want to marry me?"

She stomped the ground and finally turned her red-rimmed eyes to him. "Of course I want to marry you, you idiota!" She had a watery smile Héctor had never seen on her, but he liked very much. "But I don't want us to get married just because I want to!"

"I want to get married!" Héctor insisted sincerely.

"Where will we live, Héctor?" Imelda demanded.

Héctor had given this matter a lot of thought lately. "The Venturas are moving soon—I bet we could buy their house."

Imelda looked unconvinced. "But where would we get the money?"

"I have enough."

Imelda looked even less convinced. "From what? I doubt second place in that contest pays that well!"

"I have other sources," Héctor said vaguely.

But being vague with Imelda didn't work. She fixed a glare on him. "Héctor…" she said in a low voice.

He sighed and scratched the back of his neck. "A man in Tarascoto offered to buy some of my songs," he admitted. "I could sell a couple of them and—"

Imelda shook her head. "De ninguna manera," she said firmly. "You are not selling your songs to buy a house."

"Just a couple of them—maybe Pintando tus Mejillas Rojas or—"

But Imelda still shook her head, and she placed her hand on his arm. "Héctor Rivera," she said sternly, "one day you will be remembered as the finest musician in all of Mexico. And I will not have you sell any of your legacy." She wiped a few tears from her cheeks, and then one tear that was slowly rolling down Héctor's cheek. "We will wait," she announced.

"But Imelda—"

"It is decided," Imelda said with finality. "You will tour when you can for the next year—not for four weeks at a time anymore," she amended quickly, "but you will tour and share your music with others. And I will work and soon, between the two of us, we will have earned enough money to afford a place to call our own."

"Imelda…"

"And right now," Imelda took his hand, "we are going to my house and telling my parents, so my mother does not invite anyone else over for lime soup. Oh!" she paused. "One more thing!"

"Wha—"

Imelda kissed him and, when they finished, they walked to see her parents hand-in-hand.