Title: The Don and I
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy, romance
Update Schedule: Once a month (every 22nd or 23rd of the month)
The quiet suitor.
When his childhood friend receives a marriage proposal from Manila’s most eligible bachelor, the young Don Carlos must pluck up the courage to finally confess his love and tell Pilar that his prank of kissing her behind the parish years ago was no prank at all, but his desperate pleas of love for the young lady.
The reluctant betrothed.
The orphan Pilar has always been aloof and reserved. The thought of becoming a wife to the Nonpareil, Don Enrique Hernandez, never crossed her mind. But with matchmaking mamas and jealous daughters wagging their tongues in displeasure of the match, Pilar finds herself conquering more than her dislike of cats.
The beautiful stranger.
Though his courtship may be tumultuous and not without troubles, Don Hernandez is sure to marry the darling Pilar. But on a dark rainy day, a stranger knocks on his door, and the Don welcomes this beauty and introduces her to society as his cousin, Isabella.
Courage has never been needed until now.
Pilar hated cats. They were, to her assumption, pompous, nitpicky beasts that would bite anything and anyone; but she couldn’t say that aloud because all her friends agreed cats were beautiful and balls of fluff. She would be ostracized if she said anything against cats, so she kept quiet and was miserable whenever Claudia or Saturnina brought their feline pets along to any of their excursions in town.
Her Tia Consuela was not fond of cats too, but when she found a scraggly kitten on her front steps last week and called it Arturo, she realized she liked them enough.
The kitten had a crooked tail and one blue eye, and Pilar, though disinclined to pay him any attention, always kept a wary eye on it, or else she would be wearing torn skirts and nibbled hair ribbons.
The carriage wheels rattled, and the few bumps and potholes they met kept Tia Consuela in a badgering mood for the whole duration of their journey. “Curses,” Tia snapped, and Arturo mewled helplessly in her hands. “If only it hadn’t rained last night.”
Pilar agreed with a slight nod of her head and stared out of the small window. Faces of people and facades of buildings and houses zipped pass as the horses kept pulling and the wheels turning. She didn’t know how long they’d been driving, but her stomach felt hollow and her hands on her lap trembled as they journeyed on.
“Tia,” Pilar whispered.
“Finally! I’ve been prattling here since we left home just to fill the silence. What is it, hija?” Consuela asked, petting Arturo with the back of her fingers.
Pilar glimpsed at the kitten nestled snuggly in Tia’s lap. “Why did you bring Arturo?” she asked, although it was not the cat she was concerned about.
“Why,” Tia said. “Don Hernandez likes cats.”
“—and dogs and amphibians and birds. He loves animals in general, I suppose, but he doesn’t keep any of them as pets. I thought Arturo might be a wonderful surprise for him.”
“I don’t like cats though,” Pilar feebly said.
Tia smiled. “I’d have you not liking cats rather than my friends, hija. Everyone has something they dislike anyway, Pilar.”
The carriage slowed down to a stop. The driver hopped off and pulled the door open. Pilar blinked and sat motionlessly as Tia slid out of her seat and tucked Arturo in the crook of her arm.
She couldn’t completely trust her knees not to buckle, but Pilar followed her Tia to the steps of a tall, narrow house with a bolted door and a bell pull cord swinging to-and-fro. Tia Consuela tugged at the cord thrice, and the ladies and Arturo were welcomed into the house by a weary, old man, who opened the door to them but kept his eyes to the floor.
“Don Hernandez is in the garden, señora,” the old man, Pilar deduced as the help, said, and gingerly closed the door behind them.
“Salamat, Eduardo,” Tia said with a dimpled smile.
Pilar looked around the wooden building, noticed the lack of furniture, and the unadorned walls. She had no way of knowing which room they were in. There were no tables or counters to indicate a kitchen, nor chairs and sofas to show a sala. Tia’s house had at least one painting in every room. This house, though had plenty of stairs and stairwells, was empty; and the tap, tap, tap of their heeled shoes echoing through the hallways emphasized the bareness of the house.
“The house is a little strange,” Tia said over her shoulder. “I suppose you can say Enrique is a tad bit of a recluse. He’s the sort of person who’d forget anything and anyone if he has set his mind on one of his hobbies.”
“Hobbies?” Pilar echoed.
“Oh yes! He has plenty of them, hobbies, I mean. A jack-of-all-trades he is; dabbles here and there if it intrigues him enough. Ah! Here we are, the kitchen!”
The kettle on the stove, small table, and three chairs comprised on what Tia called the kitchen; and Pilar wondered how much of a recluse Don Hernandez was to keep his own home barely feel like a home.
Tia pulled the door open and Pilar followed her to the garden. Unlike the house, the garden was a jungle with plants and trees in no particular arrangement, shooting out of the ground in droves. Flowers on lattices and in pots strewed all over the lot, resulting to a maze of colors, a chaotic order, which gave Pilar a headache, and in the middle of all this confusion was a man on his knees, digging dirt with his bare hands.
“Enrique,” Tia said in a song. “You lout of a man!” She bent over and gently put Arturo down. The kitten walked toward the gentleman and circled the hole he had been burrowing.
Don Hernandez flinched once Arturo nuzzled his forearm, and he turned around, stared at Tia with bespectacled eyes, and shook the cat away from him. His hands were coated in dirt, and so he hid them in his pockets, and he grinned sheepishly at Tia Consuela. “I’m afraid you may have caught me at a terrible time, Consuela,” he said unapologetically, and though there was a stone bench near them, he did not offer either lady a seat.
Pilar watched the exchange between her Tia and the Don, who had yet to turn her way, but she was in no hurry to be introduced to him or learn what he was about before Tia interrupted him. She kept her eyes down, giving herself the satisfaction to stare at the Don’s leather shoes caked in filth and bits of grass. Arturo was by her Tia’s feet, hopping about and trying to sink his claws onto the Don’s pantleg.
“And what is this visit for?” she heard the Don ask.
“You forgetful oaf,” Tia answered. “Didn’t you read my note last week? We’ve already discussed this, Enrique.”
The Don’s shoes were out of Pilar’s peripheral view, but she heard him strolling somewhere ahead. She looked up when Tia walked toward her, a little smile on her face. “Where did Don Hernandez go, Tia?” she asked but wasn’t entirely interested to know.
“To the house,” Consuela answered briefly. “I suppose we’ll just wait and sit on that bench, Pilar. Enrique is eccentric; I do apologize for that.”
“He didn’t seem happy, Tia.” Pilar sat on the bench, gripping her skirt.
“At least he wasn’t unhappy. That’s what’s important, Pilar.”
It was a little while before the Don returned to the garden. He was now in clean clothes and his arms and hands had been washed. Pilar quickly gazed down at her lap, but the few seconds she spared to stare at him reaffirmed her opinion of him: he was indeed handsome. They met once in Tia’s house, but it was such a short visit she barely noticed him until he bade farewell.
Tia Consuela and the Don continued their conversation with Pilar by their side, and it gave Pilar a headache to drown out their voices, to not eavesdrop when she could clearly hear them. When they had finally acknowledged her presence, a few seconds flew by before she even realized it.
“Hello,” the Don said. “I apologize for my rude behavior earlier, señorita.”
Pilar raised her eyes shyly and jumped in her seat, realizing neither Tia nor Arturo was around and that the Don had replaced Tia on the bench. She blinked, bobbed her head slowly, and said in aquiver, “G-good morning, señor.”
He smiled at her, and the lines on his face told Pilar how much older he was than she. He wasn’t young anymore, in her view anyway. He had streaks of silver hair, and the corners of his deep brown eyes and mouth were wrinkled, but he was handsome because, although they had only met once before, he knew how to smile kindly.
“Your Tia,” he said, “is inside my house. I imagine she’s brewing tea right now.”
“Shall we join her then?” she asked with her eyes downcast.
“No,” he answered at once. He stoodand stretched his hand out to her. “My garden looks more of a jungle, but I would still like to show you around.”
Pilar let the gentleman help her stand and put her little hand in the crook of his arm. Walking beside him, it struck her how small she was and how much a giant of a man the Don was. Beneath his white shirt, she felt the muscles and strength in his arm. For a man nearing his forties, Don Hernandez did not possess the sagging, wrinkled bodies of men his age.
She never peeked or stared at him. She just clutched on his arm and listened to him talk of the various plants and flowers he planted, and she liked his every word, his voice. She smiled while listening to him, but she would be damned if he would ask her to repeat what he said. She liked his voice, not his plants.
He stopped by a hollow tree. Though most of its trunk had been eaten away, its branches were thick and high up. “I had a yaya back when I was a boy, who said that the Encantado lived in tree trunks, and the doorways to their kingdoms were these wide holes, just like this one.”
They walked on and back to the stone bench. Pilar sat once again and the Don stared at the clouds with his hands behind his back. Not only was he tall, he was wide at the shoulders and chest too. Sitting there beside him, Pilar only felt smaller. Don Enrique was a kind of wonder—a man that should have already long been married and have a passel of children, but he was neither husband nor father.
“Sir,” she murmured, and it took her aback to see him readily give his full attention to her. He sat beside her, his face near enough for her to feel his breath fan her ear.
“Yes, señorita?” he eagerly said.
She looked away. “Am I here because of your garden?” She was a ninny, she wholeheartedly believed. She had been mute while he toured her in his garden. Now, it seemed she had only been interested at what she was exactly doing in his home, though she had a vague idea why.
“Señorita,” he whispered hoarsely, in a voice void of cheer, “allow me to be discourteous for a moment.”
Pilar blinked and clapped her eyes on his. “Pardon?” she squeaked, feeling his fingers touch her face.
He stared at her with darkling eyes and touched Pilar’s lips with his own. She had been kissed once at the back of the church as a cruel joke by an older boy. It was a wet, unpleasant experience she had cried over for a week. However, the Don was far older than that silly boy and had vast experience, and his lips didn’t just press hers, she felt them move! She murmured against his mouth, trying to call his name or her Tia. He had to stop, or she’d be out of breath.
The Don broke free from his passions and stood, his face red and lips swollen. Pilar leapt to her feet and took a step back from him, wondering what to say or how she even felt. She didn’t dislike the kiss, but what he did was completely inappropriate.
“Marry me, Pilar,” the Don said.
If it had been some other boy or a young buck, he would have mumbled his declaration. The Don, however, was neither. Pilar thought, But you’re old, and answered in a stutter, “Please give me time to think.” Her legs gave up and she sat again, her hands shaking violently and her numb lips trembling.
“You’re not delighted with the proposal,” the Don heavily said.
“No!” Pilar snapped her eyes to him. He was smiling, but it was a sad, forlorn smile.
“Don’t lie, Pilar. I can see it in your eyes.” He stepped closer to her and held one of her hands. “In your eyes I am old. Even in your Tia’s eyes I am old. But when I first saw you, my dear, I felt, well, younger.”
The Don nodded his head, smiling shyly like an embarrassed schoolboy, like Carlos after he had kissed her at the back of the parish. Pilar blinked, wondering why she even thought of that fool.
“I shall make you the happiest of brides, Pilar,” he said.
He was indeed very handsome—sharp, whiskey eyes, a straight, aquiline nose, and a cupid’s bow mouth, and Pilar, who disliked the frown he wore, nodded her head slowly and whispered, “Yes, but I would like to be courted first.”
It took most of his strength not to kiss her again. Pilar’s answer, though had a but, was enough to make him smile from ear to ear. “If it is a courtship you wish, then, by Jove, you shall have it!” He broke in a laugh and squeezed his lady’s hand.
Update Schedule: Once a month (every 22nd or 23rd of the month)