"Did you see this?" Hernan was holding out a folded paper invitation to a child's birthday party. It was elegant, but the Spanish was poor. "Our family got one, so I'm assuming that you did too."
Santiago Mendez nodded and sat down, patting around on the table for his pipe. He found it, lit it and stared seriously at Hernan, his strange beauty making the boy recoil a bit. "It's rather strange, isn't it? Little Ramon will be seven this year. Six birthdays behind us, and we've not been invited to a one. Why now?"
"Are you going?" Hernan asked, sitting gingerly in the chair next to Santiago. He didn't particularly like being close to the man.
"Of course I'm going. And you are too."
"Huh?! No way, Santiago, I'll have to get all dressed up, and-"
"And what?" Santiago said, standing and cutting Hernan off. "You'll turn down an invitation from the Castellans and ruin your family's reputation? Oh no, Hernan, you'll be going."
"You want me to what?" Saddler snapped, whipping around to stare at Hernan. The boy had once again snuck out of his house to visit with the American and it was nearing one in the morning.
"I want you to go to the castle with us," Hernan said quietly, staring seriously at his lover. "Dad wants you to, too. He says if you don't, it'll make us look really rude." Hernan sat at the edge of the bed, his hands folded into his lap. Saddler was turned away from him, shoving some clothes into the small dresser he had been given.
"I don't think so. My Spanish still isn't great, and I'll look like a total fool if I can't answer any of their questions," he glanced over his shoulder at Hernan, his glasses catching the moonlight.
Hernan raised his voice again. "I really want you to come."
"No, Hernan, and that's—ouch!" Saddler jumped forward and spun around, rubbing his bottom indignantly. Hernan had given him quite a sharp little pinch, and the boy was glaring at him, more annoyed than anything.
"I said I want you to come with me."
"Okay, fine. Just don't pinch me again, that hurt."
Saddler had never seen Hernan or Juan dressed up, but on that particular day in midsummer, Maria had both of her boys in their best clothes, and was powdering their faces.
Both boys had identical mocha colored skin, and large, soft brown eyes that Hernan was busy lining with sharp black eyeliner. Juan whined as his brother made his eyes up, closing his eyes instead of looking up when ordered.
Hernan checked to make sure that his eyeliner didn't smudge and grabbed his brother's hand, tugging him outside. "Come on, Juan."
"I don't want to go," the four year old whined. The boy had had a hard day. Hernan had to wash his hair four times because it was so dirty, his mother tried to fit him into last years clothes which didn't even kind of fit, and his brother had put eyeliner on him.
Saddler scooped the boy up and carried him, and Juan was content. Hernan rolled his eyes.
"This is why you wanted me to come, isn't it?" Saddler said to Hernan in a low voice. He had let Juan down to run and meet little Ramon, who was more than happy to see another child. The two of them played quietly, discussing what must have been terribly important matters in the world of children.
"Yeah," Hernan said quietly, barely moving his mouth.
Carmen and her parents were there.
When Carmen spotted him, she let out a high pitched shriek and flung her arms around Hernan's shoulders, cooing madly at him. "It feels like it's been forever since I've seen you."
"Never long enough," he muttered, but Carmen just laughed, believing he was merely playing.
Dinner was strange. Gloria, Ramon's mother, had excused herself rather early, and Salazar followed fifteen minutes later, leaving Ramon without his family. Saddler and Carmen sat on either side of Hernan, but Carmen had wound herself around Hernan and wouldn't let him feed himself. She insisted on feeding him, and while Geraldo and Maria thought it was cute, Santiago and Bitores waited in silent amusement for the boy to explode.
Carmen grabbed Hernan's cheeks and turned his head towards her, a mistake considering the amount of wine stored in Hernan's mouth. "Our fathers agreed to let us marry next Sunday!" she squealed.
She was immediately sprayed with red wine and knocked off of her chair by one of Hernan's flailing arms. He wiped his mouth furiously and hopped up, mouthing silent obscenities at the two men who had arranged the marriage. He stormed off, knocking his chair over, Juan and Ramon following him curiously.
"That was strange," Carmen muttered, standing up and using a napkin to clean her face. "I wonder why he reacted that way."
"Do you ever get the impression that perhaps he doesn't care for you as much as you care for him?" Santiago asked curiously, nibbling on an olive.
Hernan flopped down in one of the red plush benches that lined the mezzanine and stared around. They'll wed us here, he thought gloomily as Juan crawled into his lap. He let Ramon squeeze onto his other leg. "Hey guys."
Juan stared up at his brother. "You looked real mad," the little boy said. "I thought you was gonna kill her."
"I wasn't going to kill her. Why would I do that?"
"You really hate her," Ramon said quietly, his pale blue eyes staring up at Hernan. Hernan was overcome with the strange desire to kiss the boy, but he resisted it. "If you don't want to marry her, then you shouldn't have to."
"Who do you wanna marry, Hernan?" Juan chirped, tugging Hernan's hair to get him to look back at him. "I bet it's Mister Saddler."
Hernan's heart stopped as he stared at his brother. The boy had an uncanny knack for nailing problems on the head and making the adults in his life look like fools.
"Yeah, I guess I do," he muttered.