April 1, 1824
"I'm free!" Carina thought to herself as she walked down the road and away from her captor. "Now where to go?" She panicked when she heard the sound of horse hoofs behind her. With nothing but dry grasses all around her she had nowhere to hide. So, she pretended not to notice and hoped whoever was behind her would do the same.
"You there! Who are you?" Asked Nacho Torres. She looked over her shoulder and saw a man riding in a horse drawn buggy.
"I'm Carina." She relaxed a little when she realized his voice didn't sound familiar. He seemed much friendlier than the man she was running from.
"What's your last name?" Torres had heard that name mentioned once before, many years ago.
"This sounds silly but I don't know it." The fact that she didn't even know her own last name embarrassed her.
"How old are you?"
"Where are your parents?"
"They died when I was five. Why are you asking me all these questions?" True, she'd only ever read about the proper rules of educate and decorum but these questions seemed a bit too personal.
"You have the same first name as the missing relative of some friends of mine. Do you know where you are staying?" She hesitated on this question. Did she really want him to know she had nowhere to go? What if it ended badly for him? What if answering truthfully would lead her to where she wanted to be? What if trusting him was the worst decision she could make? What if it was the best?
"Hop in. I want you to meet these friends of mine."
"What's your name?" She asked as she approached the buggy.
"Don Nacho Torres. I want to take you to meet the De La Vega family."
"Where are we?"
"Las Angeles." As she didn't see why she couldn't trust this man she climbed aboard with every intention of running the other way if she felt threatened. They didn't talk much and soon arrived at the rancho. On their arrival, a servant came and told Don Diego that he had visitors. When he came out to greet them he saw Torres standing by the buggy with a pretty young girl. Thinking this was just another one of his father's schemes to see him wed, he approached his guests with his guard up.
"Don Nacho, what brings you here?"
"Her." He helped Carina down off the buggy.
"Who is she?"
"She says her name is Carina. I figured you'd want to meet her." This turn of events shocked Diego. He slowly approached the girl. He hadn't heard that name in years.
"Gracias Don Nacho. I'm very glad you brought her here." He smiled at Carina. Something about his smile made Carina want to like him instantly. "Carina, how old are you?"
"When were you born?"
"August 22, 1809."
"Who were your parents?"
"Rebecca and Antonio. I don't remember their last name." Diego looked to Torres fear and hope all over his face.
"There's enough similarity for her to be my cousin. Tell me something only I would know. Then tell me who I am."
"Surely, it won't be this easy for me to find my family."
"Well, for both our sake, I hope it is." Diego said quietly. It had been nearly nine years since he'd last seen his little cousin. Until now, he'd lost all hope of ever seeing her again. Seeing how much he cared for her, whoever his cousin was, made Carina want to be that girl.
"Could you give me a description of what you were like when or if I knew you?"
"I was a fast runner, a good fencer," To Carina, he seemed uncomfortable saying that last part. "outgoing, and energetic."
"I don't think I'm this long lost cousin, but, I did get separated from my family. So there's got to be a family out there somewhere that I belong to. I did have a boy cousin about, what I'm guessing, is your age. One day when I was four, mom asked him if he'd show me where the bathroom was so that I could clean up. We'd been playing outside. Earlier that day, some of his friends had been teasing me about looking like him, and how that meant that I looked like a boy. I was so scared that he would do the same but, he never did. He didn't stand up for me either except when one of the boys went to push me. After I came out of the bathroom, he had some of his father's special tea that only the adults were allowed to have. I was so happy that I still remember how to get to the bathroom from that room of the house." Diego definitely remembered that day. After they'd gone in for the day, he felt bad about not standing up for her because he knew his father would have wanted him to.
"I had no idea that you were affected by it that much. I was just trying to make up for not standing up for you."
"So you're... I know his name starts with a D." She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit up. "Diego!" He smiled and gave a nod of his head. "Well, you definitely made up for it."
"Let me get my father. He would want to see you after so long a time."
"Wait. How do I know you're telling the truth? Tell me something only I would know." Diego thought for a moment before answering.
"If you don't mind the interruption, I think I'll be on my way." Torres said as he made his way back to his buggy.
"Forgive me, I apologize for not being a better host." Diego said when he realized that he'd forgotten that Torres was even there.
"It's alright. You were otherwise occupied. Con permiso."
"I see I'm not the only one who forgot he was there." Carina said smiling.
"I was so blown away at the thought that we might actually have my little cousin back. Follow me, there's a room I want you to see." She followed with some fear. She'd just escaped being held captive by a man she didn't know only to be found by more men. As Carina looked around, she recognized the room. She remembered vividly, her mother telling Diego to show her where she could clean up. All the furniture was the same as she remembered even if it had been rearranged a little bit.
"It's almost just as I remember it. That desk was over in that corner though."
"You're right. We moved it so the sunlight wouldn't bother my father as much when he sits there. Follow me again." Diego led the way into the fencing room and told her to wait for him there. Now, she let herself hope that she'd actually found her family. This brought on new fears. Would the man who had captured her hurt them to get her back? Hearing Diego walking back brought her out of her train of thought. He walked in holding a sword.
"I recognize that handle for some reason."
"I modified the decorative sword to be a real one."
"Interesting. I gave it to you as a gift and..." She waited for him to finish the story.
"You gave it to me as a gift. Unfortunately, you took this from your father's office. He'd recently bought it for himself. I forget now where he intended to put it. Your parents demanded to know where it was. I knew they would take it back so I hid it. Remember?"
"Yes!" With tears in her eyes she ran to Diego and hugged him. Diego felt a wave of emotion hit him as he hugged her back. "I never thought I'd laugh at that. Father was furious with me." For an instant Diego saw hope flash in her eyes but then it vanished. He thought it best not to question her about it just yet. She definitely had something weighing on her mind.
"I remember. I thought I was going to get a spanking for it too. Would you like to see your Uncle now?"