A child learns about life from a charming older friend in this endearing short children’s story by Katy Huth Jones.
The river runs high after heavy rains, so today I can sit on my favorite rock and put my feet in the cool, swirling water. Blue and red wildflowers perfume the air. Insects whir and buzz around me. The sun warms my head and back. Mama would be quite upset to see my mantilla, stockings, and shoes strewn about me on the flat rock, but she can’t see me. Here I am safe from adults and older brothers, sisters, and cousins.
Besides, I’ve carefully arranged my dress so it won’t get wet or dirty. I shall not ruin my first new dress! Not a discard, faded and patched, passed down from Maria to Elena to Alicia and finally to me. This dress of sky blue satin has stiff lace around the collar and sleeves, making my skin itch. Mama had it made to honor Ursula’s quinceañera.
Ah, Cousin Ursula! Her beauty turns every head in San Antonio de Béjar. Everyone admires her grace. Especially me, whose beauty and grace lie hidden beneath a layer of fat I can squeeze between my fingers. I shouldn’t eat so many of Adelita’s tortillas. But they are so good!
I watch Ursula whenever we are together. Her hands are slender as she holds her fan. Mine are chubby and get in the way. Mama says I have character. Papa says I am a sturdy girl.
I pull on my stockings and shoes and drape the mantilla across my shoulders. It flutters behind me when I gather my skirts and run back to the house.
Before I reach the gate, Ursula’s brother, Antonio finds me.
“There you are, little prima.” He calls me “little” cousin because I am shorter, even though we are both eleven years old.
“Hola, Tonio.” I pause to arrange my mantilla over my head. Mama is highborn Spanish and strict about looking like a lady.
“That’s a fine dress you have.” Tonio leans against the stone wall.
I can tell he wants to pick a fight, but I have outgrown such things. I want to see Ursula. “Let me pass, Tonio.”
“Of course, señorita.” He steps aside, next to a mud puddle, and bows. I curtsy in my new dress.
“Careful, Rosalinda. You would not look so nice in a brown dress.”
I try to ignore him, but he starts to slide into the mud. He uses me to regain his balance and scramble away from the puddle. With a horrible splash, I fall in.
“Béstia!” I scream like I am the beast. “You have ruined my dress!”
The families gather at the commotion. In my misery I realize Ursula will be among them. I struggle to climb out of the mud and hide somewhere before she can see me. I manage to stand as Mama and Ursula glide around the corner.
“Rosa.” Mama stops, her eyes wide with shock.
I make the mistake of trying to move forward. My feet slip out from under me.
Then everyone is offering advice or a hand to get me out of the mud. Mama hovers over me, scolding and worrying like a hen. While she bustles me off to wash and change, Ursula hides her face behind her fan. Is she laughing at me?
Later we go to San Fernando. I have always loved this church. Usually I find peace here, but today I cannot.
Ursula glides past me down the aisle. She looks like an angel in her white lace gown. Again I am wearing one of Maria’s old pink dresses. Even starch cannot help these limp sleeves.
When Father Miguel begins the special service to honor Ursula’s quinceañera, I begin to cry. My cousin, the angel, laughed at me. She is beautiful, yes, but does that mean she should think any less of me because I am not?
I know I shouldn’t think such things in a church. I want to love her still.
At the dance that evening, I sit with Mama and Tía Juanita and listen to the music. Ursula sits in a special chair, surrounded by her beaus. Even my sisters are asked to dance. Tonio has the nerve to speak to me.
“I would ask you to dance, little prima, but you are too fat.”
I want to hit him and stop the smirk on his face. “Go away.” I whisper, hoping Mama won’t hear me.
“Por supuesto, I can tell Julio Vargas you are in love with him.” Tonio bats his eyelashes at me.
“That is enough, Tonio!” I jump up and swing my fist at him. He ducks, laughing, while Mama grabs my arm.
“Rosalinda! Is that any way for a lady to behave?” Her frown makes me angrier. Why does she say nothing to Tonio?
He walks away, still laughing. The sound makes my blood boil.
“It’s not fair,” I begin, but Mama hushes me. With a huff, I flounce back to the bench. This whole day has been the worst of my life! Surely Mama can see that?
Something cool touches my cheek. When I look up, Ursula stands beside me. Her beautiful dark eyes are filled with compassion.
“I am sorry about your new dress, Rosalinda.” Her perfect brows form a tiny frown. “I know how much it meant to you.” She reaches into the silk bag around her wrist. “I have something to give you. I hope you like it.”
My anger melts away, and I sit up straighter, curious. Ursula has never given me anything before. She opens my hand and places on my palm an ivory comb carved with tiny doves.
“Gracias.” My voice trembles, and I swallow. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry my brother is so rude.” Ursula straightens one of her starched lace sleeves. “Papa often chooses not to see how his only son is behaving. But remember, Rosalinda, you will not always be eleven years old.” Ursula leans closer and whispers in my ear. “When I was your age, I was fat and ugly. My face was not linda, not pretty like yours.”
My mouth drops open in surprise, but I cannot seem to close it.
Ursula smiles, revealing her dimples. “Before you know it, you will become a lovely young woman. Then I shall come to your quinceañera. And you will wear a beautiful dress, too.”
She touches my cheek again before opening her fan and stepping back into her world of handsome admirers.
I clutch the comb to my heart while I watch her. She looks back once, winking at me over her fan. I don’t believe we shall ever be close friends, but I will treasure this moment always.
Tonio returns with a sneer. I am determined to act like a lady, like Ursula, and not let him get to me again.
“Did you steal that comb from my sister?” He balls his fists on his hips and juts out his chin.
Anger rises within me at the unjust accusation. But I bite back the words that come to my mind and remain calm. “It was a gift,” I say instead.
Before Tonio can reply, Carlos Padilla walks up to him. He lays a comradely hand on my cousin’s shoulder.
“Do you plan to dance with the lady, or no?” Carlos smiles at me, and butterflies tickle my insides. He is tall and handsome and nearly sixteen years old.
“Lady?” Tonio sputters, jerking away from the older boy’s grip. “Rosa is no lady.”
Carlos shakes his head. “You must have poor eyesight.” He grins, revealing perfect white teeth. “Like old Señor Gomez.”
Tonio’s mouth falls open, like mine had earlier.
“May I have this dance, señorita?” Carlos bows while maintaining eye contact. I never noticed his dazzling dark brown eyes before. But first I have to know something.
“Did Ursula send you?” I keep my voice low, but my stare bores into his, searching for the truth. To my relief, Carlos frowns in puzzlement.
“No. Why do you ask?”
My answer is a smile. I turn to Mama and ask permission. At first she is surprised, but then she smiles. “Of course, Rosalinda.”
While I dance with the dashing Carlos Padilla, never more grateful Papa has taught me how, I see Ursula sitting in her chair, smiling and nodding at me. She is pleased.
And so am I.
Bio: Katy Huth Jones grew up in a family where creative juices overflowed and made puddles to splash in. In addition to writing fantasy and historical fiction, Katy has played flute and piccolo in a symphony, fife in a Revolutionary War Fife & Drum Corps, coached Little League, taught Shakespeare, and survived cancer twice. She lives with her tall Texan husband in Fort Worth, and their two sons, whom she homeschooled, have flown the nest to live creative lives of their own.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to know when more stories, essays, and poems will be posted more please sign up for the mailing list. We don’t sell emails and we don’t engage in spam.