Señora was waiting at the front door, more anxious than Renata had ever seen her before. "He wants you upstairs," she whispered, her large eyes wide and her hands twisted around each other.
"Has he eaten?" Renata asked as she removed one shawl. The older woman, who looked smaller than usual, almost child-sized, shook her head briskly.
"Soup is all," she said, and then, in Spanish, she proceeded to describe Antonie's supper in detail. That afternoon, Señora had prepared him chicken broth and a slice of boiled tongue and the sweet red pepper paste that he loved so much to spread on tortillas and bread. She cooked the plump peppers to a pulp, then mashed them so smooth that he didn't have to chew at all. Still, he had eaten practically nothing off his plate, Señora said, sadly shaking her head.
"Come como ave," she whispered. "He eats like a bird."
Renata mounted the stairs and knocked on Antonie's door. She waited no more than a few seconds before proceeding inside. Thick white candles burned on either side of his majestic bed. He lay there, mouth wide, his head tipped back so far that candlelight played on the profile of his chin and throat.
"Antonie?" she whispered, leaning close to his face. "Antonie, do you hear me?" He slept on, and she settled in the leather chair there beside the bed. His chest rose and fell in an easy rhythm.
Eying the guitar that leaned, as always, against the wall to the left of his bed, she picked the instrument up and began to strum. A bulería first, and then a favorite sigiriya -- the death march from Catalonia -- the one she had written herself. She let each note ring out on the strings, but he slept through even the loudest playing. It was only after three folk songs, that she began the first long strokes of the malagueña that he woke with a start.
She sat back down. She was frowning. So many times before she had simply yielded to him, quietly submitting to his authority. He would command her to dance and she would retire to the next room, the one with the oak chest and the round mirror, and she would proceed to remove her black habit and don the ruffled red satin dress.
As she put the dress on, she would also don the identity he loved, that of the Spanish dancer. Tonight, though, she was in no mood for that.
"Oh Antonie," she said, yawning, "I am so tired this evening." She sighed. "I am not sure that I'm up to the dance."
Antonie's face crumpled. He fell back on his pillow. "But I was counting on you," he begged. "I was looking forward to this more than you know. It's been weeks and weeks and you promised that the next time you came that you would..."
"Hush!" Renata commanded and placed her fingertips over his purplish lips. "Things happen my cousin to change what we promise. Isn't it enough that I've come here tonight?"
She looked up and saw on a small table across the room something startling. She noticed now a slender silver vase holding a single yellow rose, a rose with red tips. The tips were blood red in color.
Renata stood and walked to the vase and lifted the rose to her nose. She inhaled the fragrance.
"But what things have happened Renata? I know something has changed and I am determined to know what it is."
She stared at him from across the room, still holding the magnificent rose. She spoke slowly. And softly. "Just today, I am afraid that Father Ruby called me into his private chamber."