“Blessings on you all.” The crowd overflowed downstairs from the sala, onto the patio, and scattered on the garden paths. “Gather around here.” Romo tried to call everyone to order.
Mama sat with the celebrated boy on her lap. Papa stood behind her, puffing out his chest and holding in his stomach in his uniform. The girls stood on either side of their papa. Both girls looked grown up in their mother’s old gowns.
“You’ve gained a son, but you seem to have lost a daughter, señor Ortega.” There was an awkward moment when Dolores’s absence was noted.
“Oh yes,” Papa said. “She studies in Laredo. We are all proud of her.” The crowd nodded and murmured.
“The family is a precious gift and we are here to bless the youngest heir to the Ortega legacy, Carlos Antonio Ortega.” Everyone gathered responded with cheers, and the ladies genuflected their blessings. Alicia and Clara were pushed aside as the guests rushed forward around Mama and young Carlos. The sisters noticed some women get one peek at Carlos’s blue eyes and whisper behind their fans. The girls could not help but overhear their papa’s conversation.
“You are right. A man’s daughters will marry and leave home, but a boy will inherit the land and carry on his name.” He lifted his glass. “To my son!”
“A son!” The room erupted in a spontaneous toast.
“This is the reason we are here today to celebrate,” Padre Romo said. “There is no substitute for a son.”
“Are we done here?” Alicia did not join in the toast. Her brother took all the time and energy of the household. To hear Papa brag about him and expect her to disappear infuriated her. She excused herself to the patio. Mama handed the baby to the nursemaid and followed.
“How far away are Laredo and Monterey? How soon can I get there?” Alicia glanced at her Mama, then looked up at the night sky, recalling Manuel’s description of the stars in Orion’s belt.
“What are you saying? You’ll always be here with us.” Mama brushed her skirts and nodded to guests passing by. “Carlos will need a teacher. You remember when your big sister, Dolores, taught you?”
“He won’t need a tutor. Everyone says he’s the smartest boy they’ve ever seen.” She imitated the pompous tone Papa used when he spoke about his son. She could not bear to think of being his tutor. Ever since her bleeding began, angry feelings crept up in her. Once, she loved the rancho. Lately she dreamed of travel and a new life far away.
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