Note: I started writing my very first novel—Leaving Amarillo—on October 25, 2014.
In honor of that recent anniversary, I’m giving away that novel for a limited time. Just email me at email@example.com to let me know whether you’d like it in PDF, .mobi, or .epub and I’ll send it right out.
And also in honor of that anniversary and of that giveaway, as my first free short story of the week, I’ve selected “Coralín,” a short story that’s derived from the third book in the original trilogy, South to Mexico.
The Wes Crowley story outgrew that original trilogy with three prequels and then six sequels. Later, I also added the Wes Crowley Gap Series, which is at 5 novels and counting. But for now, here’s “Coralín.”
Coralín Martinez de Silva was a hard woman to figure. Just as Wes Crowley thought he had made some headway, he managed to do something to annoy or upset her. And apparently he didn’t even have to be present at the time.
Tonight, over supper, she was acting strangely once again in the presence of her mother Abrazia, her sister Maria Elena and Abrazia’s special friend Arturo. Her brothers, Miguel and Julio, were away at sea and at school, respectively.
Coralín dabbed at one corner of her mouth with a linen napkin and looked across the table at Wes. Then she did that little thing with her eyes that endeared her to the entire world. It was cute beyond measure, and in that moment she radiated purity and innocence to a degree never before seen among human beings. When the rest of her face fell into line, the overall look put him off his guard. “How are things going at the jail, Marshal Crowley?”
Wes looked at her, a slight frown tugging at his brow. The formality stung him a bit, as he was certain was her intention. He wondered what she was up to. “Well, thanks for asking, señorita Coralín.” He looked down to slice a bit of steak.
When he looked up, he glanced at Abrazia, then looked at Coralín again. “It’s going quite well, actually. Of course, we have only the one prisoner. We expect to hear from El Juez in Tres Caballos any day. Either he’ll come here for Mr. Carillo’s trial or I’ll take the prisoner to Tres Caballos. Either way, once all of that’s over the jail should remain empty for awhile.” He grinned. “At least I hope so.”
“I see. And your training of your young diputado, señor Abregón Reyes? How is that coming along?”
“Oh.” Again, he flashed a glance at Abrazia, then looked at Coralín. “Well, we haven’t started that just yet. But Roberto Carillo is putting together a shooting range and— Oh sorry… I think I already told you about that. Anyway, once the range is ready, his training shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”
“So after that things should settle down?”
“Yes. I mean, I’ve agreed to train a few of Roberto’s men as well, but Abregón will be able to help with that so—”
“And do you attend Mass, Mr. Crowley?”
Ah, now he would find out what was actually on her mind. He looked at her. “No, Miss Coralín, I don’t yet. As you know, I intended to start earlier, but with all the goings on down at the jail—”
She pointedly dropped her napkin to the table. “It seems to me, Mr. Crowley, that you intend to start a great many things. There always are goings-on of one sort or another. Don’t you find it odd that they seem always to coincide with the things you want to start? I believe you have the intention part down perfectly. It’s the realization part that you tend to miss.”
Maria Elena went pale, her eyes wide. “Coralín!”
Abrazia said nothing, but glanced at Arturo and continued to eat, daintily. The hint of a smile played in her eyes.
Color flushed Wes’ neck and climbed into his cheeks. “Well, Miss Coralín, you know, you might be right about that. ”
“And how is your Spanish coming along?” Again she picked up her napkin. “If I remember, that is something else you intended.”
He nodded. “Bien, gracias. Ejercicio con Miguel y Juan-Carlos y Abregón y otros hombres de vez en cuando. Y tuyo? It’s coming along well, thanks. I practice with Miguel and Juan-Carlos and Abregón and other men occasionally. And yours?”
Her cheeks flushed with anger. “Mi español es excellente!”
He grinned. “Oh sí, pero su ingles es más bien.”
Color flashed in her cheeks. “The fact remains, Mr. Crowley, that you are rich with intentions but dirt poor with reality, to the verge of blinking out of existence. If you are serious about any of your intentions, perhaps you should accompany us to early Mass each Sunday morning and then come back here for Sunday dinner each week.”
And just like that, he knew precisely which intention she was talking about. But what could he say in response with her mother and sister sitting right there?
He needn’t have worried about formulating a response. She didn’t wait for one.
Coralín dropped her napkin to the table again and pushed her chair back, then glanced at her mother. “Mother, I am excused.” A frown fluttered across her face as she stood. “Oh, you know what I mean.” She looked at Wes again, then at her mother. Flustered, she hurried from the room.
Wes tried to rise at her departure, but she was in the hallway before he was halfway out of his chair. He settled again and glanced at Abrazia. “My apologies, Abrazia. I’m not sure what—”
Her voice was soft. “Wes, how long have you been in Agua Perlado?”
A frown flashed across his brow. “All told, I guess about seven months… maybe eight… thereabouts.”
“And our Marisól has been gone from us for well over this past year, verdad?”
He nodded, uncomfortable with where he suspected her line of questioning was going. “Yes… yes ma’am, I guess she has at that.”
“Wes, I have seen the way you look at Coralín. More importantly, I have seen the way she looks at you.”
Wes’ gaze flicked around the table. Arturo’s visage might have been carved in stone. A light smile played at the corners of Maria Elena’s mouth. Wes heard himself saying, “Señora, I assure you my intentions are—”
“Wes, I’m sure your intentions are honorable. Frankly, it’s Coralín’s intentions that worry me.” She smiled, almost giggling at her youngest daughter’s expense. “I also knew my Marisól well enough to know that she has given you leave long before now to follow your heart. And she is right.”
She paused, then said, “Coralín is right as well. You seem to have your intentions well in hand. It’s actualizing those intentions on which you need practice. So let me help you. Would you please do us the honor of meeting us at the church for early Mass beginning this Sunday?”
“Oh, well yes ma’am, if that’s what—”
She held up one finger to stop him. “I’m sorry. Allow me to correct myself. What I meant to say is would you please do us the honor of meeting us at the church for early Mass beginning this Sunday for the purpose of escorting Coralín?”
“I would be honored, but— Well, what do you suppose Miguel would say?”
For the first time, Arturo spoke. “Actually, Miguel has wondered why you hadn’t asked yet for Coralín’s hand. It would appear, señor Crowley, that you are destined to become a permanent part of this family.”
Abrazia said, “Perhaps you should excuse yourself now. Perhaps you should find Coralín and tell her of your new intention.”
“Yes ma’am. Well, in that case, thank you as always for the wonderful supper. May I be excused please?”
She nodded, a gleam in her eye. “You are excused, señor Crowley, and welcome.”
Wes searched through the house, but cautiously, wanting to happen upon Coralín rather than barging in as if searching for her.
She wasn’t there.
He thought she must be at the lookout.
Wes walked as quietly and quickly as he could past the dining room door on his way to the back, but Abrazia saw him. She glanced at Arturo and smiled.
* * *
As Wes descended the last few steps to the lookout, Coralín glanced quickly around. She saw that it was him, a fact that both calmed and annoyed her, then turned back to face the sea.
Of course, she knew precisely what would happen next. First he would move up alongside her, meekly and tentatively. She would ignore him, and she would continue to ignore him for as long as she deemed necessary before she so much as said hello. And why shouldn’t she?
How dare he come looking for her? Did he believe for a moment she was so interested in him that she would continue dangling as just another of his vague intentions? Not to mention that, at this point, she was his only fully unrealized intention.
Her thoughts softened. Perhaps keeping a dangerous man locked away was more important than paying attention to her, at least in his role as the alguacil. After all, he was very good at keeping people safe.
On the other hand, did he really expect her to accept being assigned a lower priority than training his deputy? That might take years. Did she truly mean that little to him? Did he really expect her to wait for years for him to decide he was in love with her? Well, then señor Crowley was in for a very rude awakening.
For that matter, if she and their life together and the lives of their children and grandchildren were less important to him than whatever silly goings-on cropped up from time to time, then perhaps she ought to cut her losses and—
“Coralín?” His voice was soft.
She glanced left, surprised to find him standing close to her. She took a step back, her eyebrows slightly arched. “Yes?”
Wes remembered he hadn’t removed his hat. He swept it from his head and held it in front of him, his fingers working around the brim. “I wanted to let you know that I plan—”
She sighed and turned back to look out over the sea. “Señor Crowley, much time has passed. I am simply not interested in what you plan or do not plan. Your intentions and plans are your own. None of them seem to have anything to do with me. Therefore what you plan is none of my business.”
He looked at her for a moment, confused. Had he thought about this too long and acted too late? He glanced down at his hat, and for the first time in his life he realized he was wielding it as if it were a shield. He tossed it to his right as if it were hot. It landed on the deck and caromed in a long circle for a moment, the brim facing up. It was a good sign. The luck hadn’t spilled out.
Gently, he took Coralín’s left shoulder with his right hand and turned her to face him. As she looked up at him, he whispered, “Mi Coralín,” then gathered her in his arms and kissed her, gently, tenderly, but for a long time.
After a short moment she moved as if to break off the kiss, but he held her more firmly and kissed her more passionately, albeit still with tenderness.
Soon after she relaxed in his arms, he broke off the kiss and looked down at the top of her head. The scent of her hair was nothing short of heaven itself. He kissed her lightly again on top of the head and said, barely above a whisper, “Thing is, I… I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. I’ll need you to correct me from time to time, sort’a keep me on course. Just know that in everything I do, Coralín, my aim is to please you.”
She stepped back, but allowed him to hold her hands in his. She looked up at him and shook her head. “Wes, I—”
“Coralín, I’ve known for some time that every single event in my life has served only to lead me to you. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything sooner. I suppose I was afraid. But the fact is, never in my life, ever, have I been more complete, more perfect and whole, than I am right here, right now, in this place with you.
“Now, there’s one other thing. I didn’t want to risk hurting you—God, fact is, I think if I ever did anything to hurt you it would kill me—so I didn’t admit it before right this moment, not even to myself, but it’s true. I love you, Coralín. I’ll tell the whole world if you’ll let me.
“Coralín, I’m so in love with you I can only barely manage to breathe when you’re not in the same room. I don’t ever want to know how close I might have come to losing you, and I won’t risk it anymore, not once in the rest of my life.
“Now, if you would accept my arm, I would be honored if you would accompany me to early Mass this Sunday morning. In fact, I would be honored if you would accompany me to Mass every Sunday for the rest of my life.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Wes, I—”
“Now I know I’m not allowed to ask you straight out this soon, an’ that’s all right. I want to do this thing right.”
In a flash of memory, he realized when he’d told Marisol he wanted “to do this thing right,” he was speaking through her to Coralín, whom he didn’t even know existed at the time. The thought made him smile.
He lowered himself to one knee, then bent his head to kiss her hand. He looked up. He had never felt more honest or less worthy. “Señorita Coralín Martinez de Silva, would you do me the supreme honor of allowing me to accompany you to early Mass this coming Sunday? Por favór?”
Instead of answering right away, Coralín dropped to her knees and hugged him. She whispered, “Señor Crowley, if you will accompany me to early Mass this Sunday, it would make me the happiest woman anywhere in all of Mexico.”
Wes grinned. He stood, retaining his grip on her hand, and helped her to her feet. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her again, tenderly, lovingly. Finally they turned to look out over the sea, her left arm around his waist, his right arm around her shoulders.
As they watched, enjoying being in each other’s presence, the sun slowly sank into the sea.
To both it was the prelude to a beautiful new dawn.
* * * * * * *