Sunday, February 14, 2021


- ONE -

É   V   O   R   A,      P   O   R   T   U   G   A   L     1 8 9 0

The family doArco lived in the prettiest white three-story-house with light blue trim in the Portuguese town of Évora. Their perfect family home sat across from the glorious church in the village square that loomed over it's inhabitants like god himself in building form. 

The patriarch, Paulo doArco, was from a long line of people attached to the land, generations of doArco's built their family wealth
with acres and acres of olive trees that grew by the thousands in large beautiful orchards that sprouted through the tough soil and warm sun of Portugal's Alenteijo region. 

The doArco family's olives gave the whole of Portugal some of its best olive oil for canned sardines, canned tuna and most of all bottles and bottles of the golden liquid were exported around the globe in trademark transparent green glass containers with the family crest, two golden eagles grasping at olive branches, affixed to a label with little white letters that read EMPRESA DoARCO

The family and it's business came with a certain level of fame especially in Évora where many generations of town's people had the opportunity to make their living working with the Empresa.  They looked at the family and all born into it, with pride and prestige. None more than Paulo and his younger brother that lived in further up the Tegus river in the village of Sintra. 

Five years ago, in 1885, during a great solar eclipse, the entire village of Évora was wild with anticipation and excitement with the celestial event in the sky. There was an energy that day in the air. It was as if you could feel the power of the moon inside your own body pulling it's way through space to cover the massive ball of energy in the sky. It was an event like no one had ever imagined happening in their life-times. 

The eclipse was not to be the only memorable event on that day in 1895. Tragedy would strike the very heart of the family doArco.

As soon as the moon passed over the sun, covering Évora in shadows Paulo suddenly collapsed in his private office of the family home. He grasped at his chest, choking, sweating, and unable to scream. His five year old daughter, Joaquina, the little girl the whole family lovingly called "Quina" was at the same time, rushing into his office to bring her father outside to see the moon passing. She was the one who found him on the floor, his body pale and cold. 

His life was gone.

Seconds later, his wife Madalena, entered the room too and saw him. Her scream upon seeing her husband's dead body, the people of the town say, reached the King himself all the way in Lisbon. 

For those five years the business fell into the hands of Paulo's younger. 

Unbeknownst to the public and the faithful workers, Paulo left a family estranged and fractured. The brothers hadn't spoken in decades. Madalena, a strong willed woman of 45 years with dark features and a voice that came from her tiny neck like sweet nectar; smooth and silky but would spew cruelty as bitter as vinegar, had a strong distaste for her brother-in-law the whole of her marriage to Paulo.  Madalena never spoke a single word of kindness of her brother-in-law. The young Quina too had never met him, not a single time. She didn't even know his name; Madalena called him "the flower man" fact all the young girl knew of her uncle in Sintra was that he lived in a beautiful home that named CASA CALÊNDULA after the thousands of golden marigold wild flowers that grew around the property.

In the five years after Paulo's death, Madalena's life as a widow was one like a ship lost at sea. Her melancholy and depression shone across her face in creases and wrinkles that aged her beyond her time. Her brother-in-law would often send letters and packages attempting at a family reunion, but her anger and sadness over his husband's death pushed everyone away, including the letters and packages. She closed herself off to the world, even to her own daughter Joaquina who would have to find her own way without her beloved father and seemingly now without her own mother. 

Madalena's magoagem, or the sadness as she called it, dropped her deeper and deeper into the shadows of her bedroom with only the ghosts of the past there to keep her company. She began to speak only to the large painting of Paulo that hung across from her bed. She would send letters through her maid Isilda who acted as a governess to Quina; that was the only kind of conversation mother and daughter would have as the years would pass. 

For five years Madalena wouldn't leave her bedroom. Not for anything. Not to feel the cool breeze of the evening or to watch the horses dragging along the many buggies across the busy cobble stone streets of Évora. 

Quina's loneliness made the bitterly cold winters colder. It made the suffocating heat of the summers much  hotter. And Madelena, a woman who barley reached the age of 48 continued to spiral into her magoagem from the death of her husband.

Eventually illness would come.

One morning, the governess, Isilda, walked into Madalena's large white-washed bedroom with a bed covered in white linens that was in the center of the room. Isilda scurried around the bedroom as she did every morning pulling back the drapes to allow the bright Alenteijo sun to fill the room with morning light, even though Madalena always protested the action.

This morning, there was no protest. She slept. 

The brightness reflected white light on the white walls and shined in the crevices of dark colored wood floors and illuminated the giant portrait of The Virgin Mary above the bed and directly across from Paulo's painting.  Still no protest to the light. 

Isilda looked to the painting of the Virgin and it almost looked as if her pristine painted face showed concern. It stunned Isilda at first that a painting could reflect some sort of emotion.

 The governess then whispered to Madalena that it was morning, and that she had made her some tea. 

But there was no answer. 

Isilda carefully walked over to the bed and pulled back the white sheet with pale pink embroidered flowers around each of the four corners and saw that Madalena's life was gone. Her 5 year long depression had won the war in the widow's lonely and distressed mind. This left 
the young Quina all alone. Not father. No mother. Only an empty White House across the square from the great church in Évora. 

That was 6 days was Madalena doArco's funeral. 

Joaquina doArco; the last of the doArcos in Évora, sat on a stool in her yellow painted room facing a large mirror framed in gold leaves and gold roses in one of the most beautiful pure black dresses anyone had ever seen. It's bustle was like giant black Dahlias that poked out from behind her tiny little waist. She stared at her own face in the reflection. It reminded her of her mother's: warm olive skin, dark curls of hair, deep brown eyes that had seen so much sadness in such a short time of life. Her cheeks were naturally rosy and her lips were perfectly shaped like an archer's bow. Just like Madalena. 

Isilda was busily fussing with the large black vail that she was ready to place over the young woman's face so that she could walk out into public. 

"I do not want to wear that Isilda. Please don't make me wear that." the young woman said in a breathy voice looking at Isilda through the reflection in the mirror. 

"You already know that it's impossible  for you to walk out of this house and go down to the church without this on. I simply will not allow it." Isilda barked.

"Its scratchy. Its too much." 

Isilda tilted her head and snarled at Paulo and Madalena's now orphaned daughter. She wasn't spoiled by any means, in fact she was raised to value everything afforded to her through the family's business and clout. She was a young wealthy woman who had everything she could ever want but she was never showed it. Her attitude on this day was understandable, but Isilda always won her case.

"A menina vai usar o véu!" Isilda said, once again insisting on the veil. 

The young lady took a deep breath and nodded her head acquiescing as Isilda walked over and fastened the sheer veil over her head with a diamond brooch at the base. The governess then adjusted it so that not a single part of the young lady's lovely face was visible without it being obscured by the blackness of the veil.

"Come. Joaquina They're waiting." Isilda announced extending her hand now covered by a leather black glove to go along with her equally as black mourning dress. 

"What's that?" Joaquina asked noticing a letter addressed to her from Sintra.

"From your father's brother. Condolences. Come....we'll be late." Isilda replied rushing the young girl through the motions of getting ready to leave for church.

"My Uncle?" She asked reaching for the letter but receiving a light tap on the hand from Isilda. "What does it say?" She asked.

"That is for later." the governess said.

As Isilda shot Quina the look of an impatient surrogate mother, the young lady in all black stood up from her stool frustrated, but resigned. She took one last look at herself in front of the mirror. She was awash in blackness. Covered from head to toe like shadow staring into the glass unable to see the shape of her own face. She tried as best as she could to see the face of her mother in her blurry reflection again but it was gone, blocked by mourning black. 

Blocked by darkness. 

"Quina...." Isilda said again in a frustrated tone. "Come!" 

With one eye still on the letter from Sintra, Quina grabbed hold of Isilda's hand causing the leather of Isilda's gloves to tighten as they wringed around Quina's bare skin. Friends of Isilda's were at the bottom of the stairs waiting for them. A husband wife that were also dressed in all black. They would act as a buffer between Madalena's survivors and what was waiting out in front of the prettiest white house in Évora across the town square from the Church. A large crowd. 

The wife smiled sweetly as Quina passed her, the husband opened the wooden white door to the large group of villagers also dressed in their darkest clothes. Men removed their hats. Women crossed themselves and hushed their curious children. 

"God help you menina Joaquina." One man said after removing his hat to Quina and Isilda passing him on the short walk to the church. 

"God bless you." A woman behind him said crossing herself and clutching a small tangled rosary.

"God bless your mother. God bless your father." Another older woman added.

The doArocos had lived in this village for generations. The business employed many of the people there. Fathers, mothers, grandparents...they all knew the doArcos, Paulo, his brother, their parents, their grandparents. Having yet another of member The Olive Oil royal family die in such a short time, was like losing one of their own. 

Quina turned to look at them, then sun reflected on her veil and blocked the view of her forced smile but the sun light sparkled on a single tear running down her obscured face like a diamond slowly crawling down her cheek. Isilda's friends remained by their side too. Quina was touched that so many had come to see her in such personal time in her life. Isilda squeezed her hand and pulled her closer and closer to the church. 

The two women continued on their way into the church leaving the friendly couple at the door, only the sound of sniffles from neighbors and echoing of horse hooves over cobble stone streets could be heard swirling in the background. The large church door, with it's golden angels and beautifully crafted ironwork, swung open and Father Antonio Maya ushered the two women in to a private funeral. 

Quina quickly sat in her pew and lifted the veil, a vision in all black like the reverse bride at the alter. Her face was pristine with a small hint of puffiness from crying. 

"I know this is difficult for you my dear, and just five years after your father's death too, but you must be strong and understand that this is God's plan. All things in life are. The good and the bad. Questioning his will can only cause you more pain because those answers are never clear to us. Not at first." The priest said softly. 

"Thank you Father." Quina replied just as softly as she gazed over to her mother's coffin surrounded by bright light coming from two large candelabras that guarded it and covered in a enormous bouquet of marigold flowers.

"From your uncle." The priest quickly whispered referring to the bouquet. 

"When you see the rest of your family, do what you can to relay this sentiment. It will be most helpful for their own passage into mourning. Again, my dear, be strong. If not for yourself, for those you will soon see." Father Antonio said sitting next to Quina in the pew.

Quina smiled confused at another reference to her mysterious uncle then asked . "I'm sorry soon see my family?"

Isilda who was standing just on the other side of Father Antonio in the isle cleared her throat signaling to the parish priest to look up at her. He did so, and she shook her head a signal for him not to answer. 

"What is it?" Quina questioned knowing there was something she wasn't being told. 

"I think I will allow Dona Isilda to fill you in my dear." The priest said feeling like he had just made a blunder. "Please, stay as long as you'd like. When you are ready, we will carry on to your mother's final resting place, next to your father." Father Antonio added quickly getting up from the pew, replaced by Isilda who grabbed Quina's hand again to place a golden rosary firmly in her palm. 

"What was Father Antonio talking about?" Quina asked fiddling with the golden beads. "Who in the family am I going to see?" She added in a whisper to her governess who obviously knew more than she was leading on.

"Shh!" Isilda hushed her attempting to avoid the obviously touchy subject of extended family. "We pray now." she added bowing her head.

 After the visitation a small group of chosen pallbearers carried Madalena's casket over to a bright green knoll of grass overlooking a grove of olive trees. Quina walked behind her mother's coffin staring down at her black skirt as it brushed across the tops of the thick blades of green grass. She tried to imagine her life now that she was alone. She tried to think of everything she was going to miss out on now that both her parents were gone. The conversations. The advice. The happy Christmases, the summer parties. All of it now just gone. It was like a gust of wind extinguishing the flame of a candle and Quina was left alone in a puff of smoke. 

As she contemplated her future, a pure white lone seagull darted across the sapphire sky above her head.  It's lost call broke Quina's concentration giving her a minute to realize she wasn't alone at all. The birds solitary flight, alone in the sky reminded her of her uncle in Sintra. Her brother's father.  Perhaps, this uncle, a man she did not truly know, was the person Isilda wasn't quite ready to discuss. 

As Quina's mind continued to wander she was tugged along the grass by Isilda until they reached the top of the small green hill where her father's grave had been opened, ready for her mother's coffin to be lowered in. 

Quina couldn't look. She couldn't get close. It was too much. The warm air trapped in her veil was starting to feel choking. The boning in her corset started to feel tighter and tighter around her small waist. As the pallbearers began to lower the coffin into the ground, Quina's breathing became shallower and shallower. 

The lost seagull that flew over the inland sky over Évora came back across the cemetery still screeching it's fierce call above the hill. Quina, feeling the twisting of her insides tried to take her mind off what was in front of her again and looked through the black veil up at the sky for the diversion of the seagull and when she did, stars filled her eyes. 

As the lack of air failed to reach the young Joaquina's lungs a blackness came and she fell to the rich green grass of the cemetery bumping her head and shocking Isilda who quickly fell to the ground and removed the veil from the young woman's face.

Pallbearers scrambled as Isilda barked at them to give the poor girl space and air.

"Should I call for a doctor?" One man said.

"Yes! Quickly!" Father Antonio ordered.

"No, no. Please. Just help me bring her home." Isilda said fanning the fainted Quina. 

Quina's white and yellow painted bedroom with older 16th century moldings of angels and doves above the door was cloaked in the shadows of the thick drapes that blocked the late afternoon sun from entering in and waking her. 

She moaned and reached for her head that throbbed from the bump on her head after a fainting spell at the cemetery. 

"Isilda...?" Quina's voice said meekly.

"I'm here. I'm here." the governess answered, rushing over from a chair in the corner of the room as she closed the book she was reading with a folded white paper as a book mark. "como é que sente a menina?" Isilda added wondering how she was feeling. 

"Like I fell and hit my head on the ground at a cemetery." Quina said sarcastically to a grimace from Isilda. 

"Well you made quite the spectacle." Isilda noted.

"I don't know what came over me. At first I was trying to just keep breathing but then it was too hard. Once I looked up at the sky, that was it. Curtains." Quina replied.

"And you're feeling better now?" Isilda asked as she went over and pulled the thick drapes back allowing in the light.


"Bom. Dinner is being made it's too soon to eat but I could run and grab you something. You haven't had anything to eat since this morning." Isilda continued to a confused Quina.

"No, I'm not hungry. I feel horrible about the funeral." Quina said, noting the obvious, that everything had been taken care of as soon as she blacked out.

"It's fine, everyone understands." Isilda smiled holding the book with the paper firmly locked in it's pages. 

Quina thought about the day and a flash of the awkward conversation in the church with Father Antonio came to mind.

"Isilda. And Father Antonio? Do you remember what he said? He mentioned more of my family and when I was to see them. What is that all about?" 

"All about?" Isilda asked, doing her best to continue to avoid the subject. 

"Yes! He said something about me seeing the rest of my family, and no one has even began to explain to me what he meant by that. Who? Who am I going to see?" Quina asked as she stepped out of her plush bed, although she had a very good idea who. 

"Quina, I think that you should rest. Get back into bed. You just had a very rough day, and I don't know if you can even handle anymore distress, my dear. Think about your health." Isilda advised still holding on to her book tightly. 

Quina knew that she had to stay calm. She gathered her emotions and thought for a second on what she was going to say but noticed that Isilda was pulling out the paper folded inside the book acting as marker but doing so in a way that she seemed to try and do it without Quina seeing. The white sheet slipped out and Isilda placed it into her dress pocket still attempting to do it in a stealth manner. 

Failing in the process.

"What is that?" Quina wondered.

"What is what menina?"  Isilda asked, feigning ignorance.

Quina's eyes narrowed and lunged for Isilda's pocket and pulled out the paper. "This!" she said. "Something is going on, something is being hidden from me, tell me! What is all the whispering about? I'm not blind. I can tell there is something more, something no one is saying out right." 

"Quina that paper is very important and I think that you should read it when you're ready. Today is not the day. Today is too fragile, I thought that perhaps you were ready but I've changed my mind, hand it back." Isilda ordered reaching for the paper. 

"I just buried my mother Isilda. I think the worst has come and gone." The young woman said assertively as she unfolded the form Isilda had been holding on to for days as she mulled over when to reveal it. 

Isilda knew Quina backwards and forwards, up and down, every angel. Every emotion. She practically raised her from the age of 6 and she knew what would set her off and what made her happy. The paper, this hidden book mark Isilda thought, would change Joaquina's world for ever.

"It's my father's Will." The young woman confirmed. 

"Yes." Isilda added.

"Why do you have it?" 

Isilda took a deep breath and sat back in the chair where she had been sitting awaiting Quina to awaken from her spell. She took a deep breath and extended her feet forward as if to relax her whole body before expressing the truth of the whole matter. 

Perhaps not all the truth but whatever she could divulge in good conscience. 

"In the Will, Senhor Paulo states what should happen to you before your 25th birthday when you are set to receive your inheritance upon the possibility and tragedy of both your parents' death; should those untimely events occur before that date. As it turns out, this horrible possibility of you not turning 25, and both parents dying has occurred, therefore things have to change." Isilda explained.

Quina sat back down on her bed and faced Isilda. The hand holding the Will dropped into her lap. She wasn't sure she wanted to read what "should happen to her" in the case of her parents' deaths before her 25th birthday. Still 5 years off of that date. She gulped.

"Am I to be married off? Is that what people are hushed about? Was I promised to someone?" Quina asked in horror thinking about the many other young socialite girls of the age who were sent off to marry any nameless Dukes of the upper regions of Portugal. 

"No, no, my love, nothing like that, graças a deus." Isilda said thanking god. "your parents were old fashioned in most things but they would have never have had you betrothed in that manner. No. It's nothing like that." Isilda replied. 

Quina looked down at her father's Will confused and decided to finally kill the curiosity and read for herself her own fate. She read through the first page and didn't see her name. She flipped through the second page and there it was. Her name, in bold print. Typed. 

She read out-loud.

"...on the tragic event of my death and leaving my wife a widow, my wife shall retain all monetary funds and properties under my name and half of the family business and shall be named as such co-owner with my brother José Joaquin doArco of Sintra. If, by chance, another tragedy should occur and my wife leave my yet unmarried daughter Joaquina Patricia Alexandra doArco alone before her 25th birthday, my daughter shall live out the rest of her time before a subsequent marriage or this significant birthday day with my brother as I consider her a minor before marriage and before her 25th year. Joaquina shall remain with José Joaquin until she turns 25 or becomes a wife. " 

Paulo Luís doArcoo

"He wants me to move to Sintra? With an uncle I don't even know?" Quina said in shock, now realizing why the letter and flowers from this mysterious ghost-like uncle were meant to soften the blow of her move. 

"It was his wish and at the time your father wrote this in his Will, your mother, too, must of agreed at first. However, her feelings for your Tio Jota had later soured and she pressured him to change it." Isilda said, using Quina's uncle 
José Joaquin's nick name: Jota --the word for the letter J in Portuguese symbolizing the two J's in his name.

"And She never changed the Will herself after he died?" Quina asked.

"She never left her room Quina. You know that. At the time, she objected to it often with your father. I overheard them talk about it on several occasions as you grew up. It seemed so strange that if these tragedies should happen that a young girl like yourself would go and move all the way from Évora to Sintra to live with a..." Isilda paused unsure of how to describe Jota. "to live with...." She paused again still searching for the right word to describe this mysterious uncle that Quina had never known yet on reading the Will seemed to be her namesake. "A bachelor." She finally said.

"I have to say this is all very strange Isilda. I don't know why my mother wouldn't have changed this before it was too late. I don't want to leave my home. I don't want to leave everything here, all that I've ever known; to live with someone I don't know! A person my own parents had never talked about and kept me from. Was there a reason that they were so estranged from him?" Quina wondered.

Isilda fiddled with the tassels at the ends of the black sleeves on her dress. She wasn't sure just how much she should reveal. She knew things, of course, that were heard by her through thin walls and kitchen doors. Things that were never told to her directly. This indirect knowledge was something she dared never repeat herself out loud as it could be the work of heinous gossips that wanted to tarnish Jota in the eyes of his older brother and sister-in-law. 

These rumors of Jota doArco that crept all the way from Sintra through Lisbon and down into the cramped streets of Évora spread all over the Alenteijo region that kept tongues wagging and ears burning.

But Isilda would not be the one to spread it any further. 

Casa Calêndula, the name of the house where Quina's Tio Jota had lived most of his life after leaving Évora as a young man three weeks before Quina's own birth one blustery 1865 morning in January is where all of these secrets held court. 

Quina, for her part, as a young woman was tethered to her family's inheritance. Especially if she were unmarried.

In short, Quina had no choice. She had to comply with her father's uncontested Will. She would soon have to pack up and make her way from the home she had always known to her uncle Jota's luxurious and beloved home.

The following Tuesday, the spring air was fresh with the smell of hydrangeas.  The crowds were gone from the front steps and upstairs, Quina's reality was starting to set in. 

"They say Casa Calêndula is quite beautiful this time of year. I don't see how anyone could feel this sad about living there." Isilda said attempting to sooth Quina's anxiety as she helped pack several trunks full of Quina's belongings. 

Quina pouted and read over the Will one more time to see if there were any type of loop-hole that she could argue was a mistake in the formal writing and get out of leavening. 

Isilda looked at the pouting young woman, still in her black mourning dress through the reflection in the large vanity mirror. She could see the wheels in Quina's head spinning to figure a way out of this move to Casa Calêndula and to meeting Tio Jota

"It's as tight as iron shackles my love. There's no way out." Isilda said with a lifted brow.

"Shackles!" Quina shouted when she realized the irony of Isilda's words. She leaped from from the chair and tossed the Will on to her soon to be former bed. "How very precise." 

- TWO - 

The steam from a large black passenger train hissed from the under area of the locomotive on the tracks while it's crew busily awaited the new travelers to join from the Casa Branca train station to begin to board. 

Quina stood on the platform alone in her long dark blue dress that scratched the surface of the wood planks below her feet when she made any sudden movements. The fabric's scratching sounded like a ticking clock, every time she'd turn to look left or right, the scratching from the hem ticked away her last moments in the Alenteijo of Portugal. 

Probably for good. 

She watched as the cargo and luggage were tossed into the last two cars of the train. It was all happening so fast. It was just two days earlier that she discovered the whole trip was pre-planned by her father and dictated in his will should he and her mother die leaving her alone. The business, of course, would remain in her hands too. Partly. 

Quina, her eyes glazed over and fixed on the luggage flying into the back of the last cars, wondered just how much she would be involved or her role in Empresa doArco, now that she was part owner with her estranged Tio Jota; the same man she would be meeting for the first time in all her life in the coming days.

To say she felt overwhelmed would be an understatement. Every time she thought about arriving at Casa Calêndula, her uncle's Sintra home, and meeting him after never once seeing his face, her stomach would do flips in her body. Just like it was doing now.

She patted her tummy under the beautiful blue dress with her white lace gloved hand cut off a the wrist. There was no soothing those butterflies.

"I can't imagine how our things look right about now." Isilda said from behind as she walked over from the ticket booth.

"What?" Quina asked, her mind somewhere else.

Isilda pointed over to the flying luggage and trunks at the end of the train where Quina's eyes had been locked, glazed over and day dreaming of Casa Calêndula.

"Oh. Yes, yes. I'm sure everything will be in it's place." Quina replied dully as Isilda handed over the second ticket.

Her governess sighed knowing Quina's mind was already in Sintra before the train had even left the station. 

"When we arrive in Lisbon for the night, I've made arrangements for us to stay at a Hotel and the following morning we'll take the train into Sintra. How are you feeling? Your color is off and you haven't eaten. We should eat once we're on the train." Isilda ordered, as a good governess would do.

"I haven't felt hungry in --- days. I don't even remember the last thing I ate." Quina mentioned, her nerves on edge.

"ALL ABOARD!!!!" screeched the train conductor from the open door of the first car.

"All aboard." Isilda said with a grin, she was genuinely excited for the trip. Her first on a locomotive in all her life. 

The two elegantly dressed women from Évora joined the other first class passengers at the bottom of the three steps that lead into the first four cars of the train. There were already some people inside sitting and gossiping. 

There were two men smoking together taking over four large seats for the two of them. Each with a thick bushy eyebrows and mustaches that hid their upper lips. One let out a hefty laugh at the other's off-color joke then checked his pocket watch. 

"Get on with it, now." He grumbled, impatient when the time waiting for the new passengers to load. 

Quina passed him and he looked up at her and smiled, the flash of very stained yellow teeth shot out from under his thick mustache and he pretended to tip an invisible hat at her. 

"Gentlemen." Isilda said, grabbing hold of Quina's gloved hand and dragging her forward. 

Two flowery dressed women looked up from their intense conversation noticing the lovely Quina. One of the women, a brunette under a bizarre flowery hat, cracked a pastel pink fan to cover her large nose and continued to watch as Quina passed her in her seat. 

The woman's eyes narrowed back at her friend as Quina passed them.

"New money?" whispered the regular sized nose woman.

"Hmm." the fanned woman replied smugly.

"Why does everyone seem so unfriendly?" Quina noted as and Isilda finally reached their booth seats.

"My darling, you have lived so well kept in Évora for so many years you have no idea what's ahead of you. Besides, that nose behind the fan is attached to the Adelaide Pires, the Duchess of Leiria. She looks at everyone that way." Isilda explained as she herself took out a fan to cool herself.

"How do you know?" Quina wondered. 

"That nose! Nobody in the whole of Portugal has a nose like the one on the Duchess of Leiria. They say it can sense a fresh bacalhau from as far as the Azores. " Isilda winced.

Quina giggled for the first time in what she felt was decades just as the conductor came and checked the tickets. He smirked at them both unsure of the joke then marked the tickets with a small charcoal pencil. 

"Boa viagem minhas senhoras." He said, wishing them both a good trip.

As the train began its slow roll out of the Casa Branca station, it made a sudden jolt forward. The feeling of movement in the locomotive was invigorating to Isilda who let out a happy yelp as soon as the train began to take up speed. 

Quina giggled again.

The train barreled through the Portuguese countryside painting a pictures of gorgeous landscapes of green pastures filled with cows and little villages of stone homes with red-tiled rooves, and rivers of rushing blue water all heading in the same direction. The edge of Lisbon and the cool sea of the Atlantic and the beyond. It was like a dream world that they were flying through. 

Even little village children would stand at the edge of dirt roads and wave feverishly hoping for a wave back. Quina always waved back.

In all the dream like gazing of the land, Quina hadn't once turned the page of the book she had brought with her. The views rushing passed her window were too beautiful to take her eyes off of. She hadn't even noticed the Duchess of Leiria had walked up to their booth and lowered her fan.

"Com licença." the Duchess said, excusing her interruption. 

Quina and Isilda both turned to her, Quina's eyes darted back and forth between them.

"Can we help you, ma'am?" Isilda asked.

"My companion heard in the dinner cart that this young lady is the daughter of Paulo and Madalena doArco, the familía doArco has been in my prayers since I heard of Dona Madalena's passing." The Duchess said, gripping tightly to the  golden  security bar as the train shuffled through tough terrain. 

"Thank you." Quina replied.

"I am curious, however, where are you off to?" The Duchess prodded.

"To my Uncle's home, in Sin--" Quina began innocently revealing their travel destination as Isilda kicked her shoe from under the table in their booth.

"Sintra. Uncle." The Duchess smirked as she quickly finished Quina's sentence for her. "Well, that will be one very interesting reunion with your Tio Jose Joaquim. After all that happened between he and your father I'd be remise if I didn't say I'd pay good money to be a fly on the wall when menina Joaquina sees it all for herself just what awaits her." 

"Sees it all? Oh, I..." Quina began thinking perhaps the Duchess was talking about seeing all the beauty of Casa 
Calêndula for the first time but was quickly interrupted by the Duchess. 

"Have you prepared her for, you know...
Him." She asked of Isilda. 

"Him?" Quina questioned, reminding The Duchess she was talking to her too. "My Uncle?" she added just as the train went into a dark tunnel.

Quina and Isilda could now only see a darkened silhouette of the Duchess standing before them as the train entered a tunnel, the snobby woman's dress still somehow seemed to almost glow. The tiny lanterns that were lit and affixed to the wood panels of the train's walls glowed a deep orange color behind the duchess creating this strange optical illusion that made it seem that the flowery dress was attached to a faceless person. 

It was almost frightening, but just as quickly as the train dipped into the dark tunnel, it reemerged into the light of day revealing Isilda's deeply upset facial expression. 

"Thank you for your thoughts on the family's tragedy. But Quina hasn't eaten yet, we should get something." Isilda quickly said brushing off the nosey Duchess.

"Of course." She replied as Isilda quickly grabbed hold of Quina and the pair made their way into the dinner cart.

"You have to tell me what is going on! I can't go on meeting people like that when they seem to know more about my family than I do." Quina said as other first class passengers passed the two women blocking the dinner cart door.

"Quina, it is not my place; I cannot." Isilda answered as she made eye contact with the Duchess of Leiria cracking her pink fan again from the distance in the other cart.

"So you'd rather me go into this whole situation a fool? I'm not a child, you are all treating me like I am but I am not!" Quina said quickly lowering her voice. "If ...if there is something dangerous that I am getting myself into, you have to tell me." She added.

"NO! No, I would never ever allow you to go into something that could physically harm you, I just couldn't do that." Isilda said, dodging more hungry passengers. "But....." she continued, carefully choosing the next words to come from her mouth. "Your Tio Jota is ..." She paused again.

"Is what? A thief? A Criminal? A man with three heads? What?" Quina replied impatiently.

Isilda paused before speaking as the train whistled above their head and the began to make a slow moving curve around a mountain. 

"He is Colorful. Yes....colorful. There. Now, let's grab something to eat before that woman comes in here and starts up again." Isilda said grabbing at Quina's hand and bringing her to a table.

Nothing was making sense. Quina could tell there was something she wasn't being told about her Tio Jota. No one had the nerve to tell her. "Colorful" could mean anything. 

Was Jota colorful when he spoke? Did he tell wild stories and anecdotes to rooms filled with friends at Casa 
Calêndula?  Did he like to perform? Was he a singer? A colorful singer that sang out of tune and loudly? Was he someone who dressed in a way that made him stand out? Colorful people often liked to dress in ways that drew attention. 

From what Quina could gather from Isilda's behavior and strange adjective of colorful and the way everyone else seemed to walk on egg-shells around her when they even tried to bring him up, proved that whatever it was about Jota, his colorfulness, was something EVERYONE knew about. Even the way the Duchess bluntly referred to the rift between Paulo and Jota, the thing that put such a large distance between the two brothers, the thing that made Madalena exile Jota from their lives even before Quina's birth.

That thing...that secret, that is what Quina still didn't understand. 

But she was getting closer.  And so was Lisbon.

This was their last stop of the night before one more train ride in the morning to Sintra. The night of the day dipped beyond the horizon and the glowing city of the capital of Portugal sparkled in Quina's eyes like little fireflies dancing in the hills of the tired city landscape. Her nervous butterflies soon died off too as the fresh ocean breeze flowed into the slowing train from Quina's cracked window.

The sound of the screeching breaks rang in everyone's ears and broke to the conductor's announcement of their arrival. 


- THREE - 

Lisbon was a glorious place to be for a young woman like Joaquina. Even if it was only for one night. As she and Isilda bundled themselves in warm blankets to cover from the crisp Iberian night air they were whisked off from the train station at Cais de Sodré through the winding streets of Baixa Lisboa and the beautiful treelined plazas of the Rosio neighborhood. 

Quina was smitten. 

She had been to Lisbon as a child but and some of those memories had faded. The capital city was something of fantasy for Quina, it was her mother's favorite place. Madalena often said the city spoke to her, with its narrow streets of glowing yellow lantern light and quaint attached apartment building that looked like Christmas ornaments in a tree imbedded in the hills that made Lisbon the perfect city for gorgeous panoramic views.

As Quina and Isilda's horse drawn taxi dashed through the cobble stone streets of the capital through the famed 
Praça do Comércio arch, Quina could almost smell the smoke from the Fado houses that on her family's few visits saw her mother Madalena go on  her own without Paulo. Those memories of Lisbon, being left alone with her father Paulo while her mother stayed out all night at the Fado house, and the fun she would have with her beloved father were still crisp in her mind.

Within those lingering few memories, Lisbon was still a world of magic to Quina; her one night here before she and Isilda set off for Sintra was a dream come true. 

"I can almost smell the sea from here." Quina said taking in a large heap of air through her nose. 

"It's too cold, they should have sent a taxi that was covered. You'll catch something." Isilda fussed, tucking in the provided blanket tighter around Quina's legs.

"Ooh." Quina scoffed rolling her eyes. 

The horse and taxi continued through the Rossio, clip-clopping a cadence that synced to the beat of Quina's eager heart. Then, they arrived to a brightly painted hotel where they'd stay the night. The entrance was grand and elegant and reminded the women of the homes they'd seen years ago during their trips to the southern Portuguese sea side with it's large potted palms and ferns that guarded the majestically carved wooden front doors adorned with golden handles. 

This was The Hotel Santa Clara; a place where international royals and statesmen stayed. Isilda's nephew had reserved a room for them ahead of time that was elegant and regal. The lobby had wall to wall marble flooring, a casino room, a large indoor Roman bath that no one dared enter and a ball room where tables were set up for the wealthy to entertain and have their dinners. 

The two women got out of their cap, and noticed an unwelcome face just off to the side monitoring hotel valets removing her own luggage from a dark closed roof cab: The Duchess if Leiria. She stepped down from the cab and headed for the front desk of the hotel looking down her nose at Quina and Isilda as she paused in front of them. The Duchess' upper lip curled but she mustered a quaint smile at the ladies of Évora, then she cracked her fan one more time and dashed into the hotel leaving behind just the faintest smell of her perfume. 

"We should keep away from her." Isilda warned.

"TIA!!!" A voice shouted to Isilda from the entry way of the hotel, just up from the four front steps.

"Meu Bertie!" Isilda answered, quickly rushing up to her nephew who was waiting for them inside the hotel. 

Quina pointed to the two night trunks for the footmen and hotel valets to up to their room and then turned slowly to see the most handsome man she had ever seen in her whole life, Isilda's nephew, Alberto Amaral.

Alberto, or Bertie, as Isilda and the rest of his family called him, had been raised in London from the age of 3 with his English mother and Portuguese father. His father, died a decade ago leaving his widow mother and Bertie on their own. They were a wealthy family thanks to his father's smart investments of the time and his mother's family's wealth from a shipping company that was sold off to an American.

Bertie had only returned to Lisbon earlier this year to find work at an newspaper that catered to rich English socialites that lived in the Portuguese capital. 

He had dark hair, a rich olive tone to his skin, and eyes that were so dark and brown that anyone who looked into them felt as if they were falling into two deep pools of chocolate and molasses. His thick brows framed his face like an Italian renaissance figure and he kept a tight beard that set his beauty apart. He was modest, and rarely saw interest in women because, in his own eyes, he was too busy and too hurried in life to find a mate and marry, but just as he released his aunt Isilda from the tightest hug and wettest double kiss  he had ever received he too saw the light of a beautiful young woman two years younger than him: Joaquina. 

"You remember Menina Joaquina doArco, don't you Bertie? You met her years ago when I first went to work for her family." Isilda asked using Alberto's English nick name. 

"Vaguely. Miss doArco, it is my pleasure to meet you----again." He blushed. "Please excuse my Portuguese. I am afraid Ive been in England too long." He added bashfully. 

She smirked as he kissed her hand. "Your Portuguese is...perfect! I would embarrass myself having to speak to you in my own horrible English" 

"Well thank you! I've done all I could not to forget where I've come from. But there are the times where I miss the mark completely and mix up my words." he joked. 

"Your father would be very proud." Isilda remarked her late brother, Bertie's father.

"He would." Quina agreed, suddenly feeling her stomach butterflies return but this time for a completely different reason.

"Well, I can imagine it's been a very long trip for you both, why don't we all go in have a little dinner in the ball room and you two can settle in for tomorrow's trip to Sintra." Bertie said.

The group carried on inside as Quina and Bertie reconnected under the lanterns and candles of the hotel lobby that felt more like an ancient cathedral of golds and white. Everything seemed so glamorous and elegant, it was something Quina had never ever seen. Her family's illustrious life and wealth was never shown to her in the way it was now. The family's modest house in Evora and the way her parents had always raised her in a way that she just accepted that all wealthy people lived in modest homes with little to no servants and regular wooden floors and stone walls.

Quina felt like she was in a palace, and it shone on her face, even more so as they entered into the ball room for dinner as she gazed up at the ceiling covered in frescos of heavenly scenes with cherubs and angels and all the saints of the bible all floating above their heads. 

"Its a wonder isnt, it? Lisbon is like this. I wish we were staying longer." Bertie said as the two women were seated at their table.

"Longer? You're not staying?" Quina asked, folding her napkin as she was seated. 

"No, didn't Tia Isilda tell you? I'll be in Sintra too...not too many days after the both of you arrive. I have work there. Meeting with a newspaper editor." Bertie replied as he lit a cigarette standing over the two women before sitting himself.

Quina was surprised. 

"You're not joining us on our trip?" Isilda asked her nephew. 

"No, no, I wouldn't impose. I have to get up to my room and make sure I have everything settled for my own trip. I'm horribly disorganized." Bertie joked to Quina's quiet giggle. 

"You wouldn't be imposing. Please come with us!" Isilda demanded. 

Bertie shrugged and sat back on his chair. The three talked about old times. His late father. Her late parents. His despair over that loss. Her despair of her loss. Quina could tell he truly understood. He felt horrible about how sad it was for her mother's death. "to die of a broken heart!" He said, shaking  his head in shock at the amount of grief Madalena must of have been feeling.

"She must of felt suffocated." He added.

"Suffocated?" Quina asked as a waiter dropped a plate of their first course down.

He reached for his golden fork "Imagine being with someone all those years, some one you've given your whole life to and them dying just like that." He snapped. "Grief in that mount, I would say, would feel like suffocation. As if someone's hands are around your throat squeezing the breath out of you. The hands of grief were around her heart suffocating the love out of it until she could no longer be alive. That's how I see it at least. A tragedy indeed." 

"Indeed." Isilda agreed as she dabbed her mouth with the pure white napkin with the hotels initials embroidered on it.

Quina listened intently as if Bertie was speaking gospel or some grand piece of written art. He too felt something of a flicker of fire in him every time she batted her eyes. It was as if a fog had lifted from bogging down his brain and Quina was the new born sun. 

"It must be similar to how your own mother felt when your father died." Quina wondered. 

"Similar. Perhaps. My mother, as Tia Isilda will attest, isn't the type of woman to speak or act on her feelings. She very English that way. She was very sad, don't get me wrong. She adored my father. For reasons only known to her she packed that sadness up after the funeral and moved on with her life. I think perhaps that is her own way of dealing with her feelings." Bertie explained. 

"The Portuguese are much more vocal about the things that break their heart. We sing about it. We tell stories about it. We make certain the whole world knows, that is how we make it go away. By creating art around it." Isilda joked.

Quina stayed quiet. She found it ironic absence of her own uncle, that man she was on route to finally meet was life like another form of death? He was, if anything, a living ghost in her world. A name without a face. A whisper. Surely, the doArco family were like other Portuguese people as Isilda described: they talked about the things that hurt them and made them sad in their lives in song and poems and stories...but only when suited them best. 

The conversation soon turned to light hearted banter between the three. Especially between Bertie and Quina. He was fascinated by her. She could keep up with all his silly stories and jokes. He was mostly smitten with the way she told stories. She was animated and humorous and spoke in different voices when changing characters in her anecdotes. It was incredibly fresh and new to him. All the rich young women he had come in contact with in Lisbon were dull, boring, hung on his every word but never once beat him to the punch.

Quina was like the dawn sun peeking over the long night in Bertie's mundane life. As they finished their dinner and Isilda and Quina went up to rest for the night, Bertie stood in the lobby watching them slowly make their up the winding staircase to the rooms. He was sure of it, when in Sintra, he would visit her at Casa Calêndula. There was no doubt about it. 

Over in the corner of the hotel lobby, watching Bertie the whole time as they all sat on over-stuffed white sofas in a cloud of their mutual cigarette smoke were the Duchess of Leiria, an acquaintance of Bertie's who lived in the city Tiago Ferreira, and the Duchess' very best friend and Tiago's sister, a socialite by the name of Nícole Ferreira. 

"Who is she?" Nícole asked as she sipped from a sparkling flute of champagne. 

"You'll never ever guess." the snobbish big nosed Duchess said grinning from ear to ear. The gossipy tale of who the beauty from Evora's family was had been so delicious it made her skin itch.

Tiago rolled his eyes at the course the conversation, got up, and called out to Bertie.

"She's from Evora and she's a doArco. You know, the Olive Oil family. Well, her mother just died, not too long ago and she's off to see her uncle...THAT uncle in Sintra. Can you just imagine!?" The Duchess delighted. 

Tiago reached Bertie at the staircase, he blew out a puff of smoke.

"The chickens are cackling again." Tiago joked. 

"Oh? What now?" Bertie wondering, already bored with the two women. 

"Isilda's pupil. It seems she's caused a bit of a stir among the ladies. My sister is now getting the run down from Leiria. This should be rich." Tiago said, patting Bertie on the back. 

"What do you mean that uncle?"  Nícole asked, genuinely unsure of what The Duchess of Leiria was talking about.

"You don't know?" The Duchess asked in true shock. 

"No! I mean I've heard of the family. We use their product at home. I think. But aside from that I have no idea who they are. I can't imagine why Bertie would have been that intense with her. I mean, I've never seen him act that way with anyone before, much less a young woman. Did you see how long he stared into her eyes at dinner. I watched the whole time. They didn't break glaze, not for a second." Nícole pointed out, her jealousy seeping from every word.

"It won't matter in the end. Trust me." The Duchess replied.

"Tell me. Tell me why!" Nícole replied almost gleefully. 

The Duchess looked around the lobby. There was a small group of men standing off to their left in front of a large fountain and giant green potted ferns that made everyone feel like they were in the grips of a garden house, all that was missing was the mist of a warm summer day to finish the fantasy, but as far away as they were from the two gossips it was still too close to comfort for the Duchess' taste. She got up from her fluffy corner of the white sofa, cracked her fan one more time to cover her face as she whispered into Nícole's ear every single detail she learned on the train about Quin's colorful Tio Jota in Sintra. 

As the story dripped like molten lava from the lips of the Duchess of Leiria, a woman who's whole world was littered with people who tolerated her because of the title she was lucky enough to inherit as the last of her grandfather's line, as Nícole's eyes got larger and larger the duchess told Jota's story. 

The scandal. The secrets. The clear tainting of Bertie's reputation should he become tangled up in Quina's life. It was too much! Nícole suddenly yelped out loud and pushed the Duchess' fan down in disgust with the story. 

"I have to do something. Imagine, Bertie getting mixed up with ...with... them, those olive Oil people! His whole world could come crashing down. He's worked so hard to do what he's done and if he and this Quina were to be anything in the future, surly this story would destroy him." Nícole said melodramatically. 

"Darling, Jota is truly a stick of dynamite to anyone's reputation. I mean, think about it, what it got around that even you had perhaps been seen around his niece." The Duchess replied, emphasizing the word his referring to scandal ridden man in Sintra. 

"Exactly. I couldn't allow that. Oh, not just for me. But for poor Bertie!" 
Nícole said, her motives of protecting Bertie actually a shroud of jealousy because of her own affectionate feelings for him.

"Yes. Think of Bertie." The Duchess said continuing to push Nícole in one direction. 

"Tell me Adelaide," Nícole asked in a frantic voice using The Duchess' first name "What can I do? I have to do something!" 

"Oh what's the worst that could happen? They could fall in love and it all fall apart once he realizes just what kind of family he's married into. The Olive oil family filled with...well, very low hanging fruit." The Duchess giggled.

"Stop it!"

"He might even have to move back to London. With her." The Duchess continued in her fever dream scandal to unnerve the floundering and spiraling 
Nícole love obsessed with Bertie.

"That's unacceptable! Bertie deserve someone more suitable for him. Someone with a clear history someone with a world view like mine. I think I'd be a perfect match for him. Not, this girl, this girl with a family name that only makes me think of fried fish and..." She paused as The Duchess interjected.

"Oh! I'm just teasing you. I'm sure nothing will happen between them, besides she's only hear for one night anyway. She's off to see......the uncle...tomorrow morning." The Duchess replied motioning with her fingers in the air as if to
wipe away what she knew of Jota. 

"Sintra? Bertie is going to Sintra too. Not tomorrow, two days from now. He never told me his aunt would be there. He never mentioned any of this. Well I can't let this stand. I can't. TIAGO! TIAGO!" Nícole screeched to The Duchess' utter delight. 

Tiago rolled his eyes and he and Bertie returned to the sofas. 

"Ladies." Bertie said in a slight bow as he passed the group on his way into the adjacent smoking room of the hotel.

"Tiago, we have to go to Sintra. We must. I just, I just have to go." 
Nícole said in a whisper. 

Tiago looked at her confused. 

"Why on earth do you suddenly want to go to a place you've often told me felt like a prison because of the lack of....what did you call it? Luxury?" Tiago replied bringing his sister's snobbish words to light.

The Duchess cleared her throat, and as per her behavior when things became uncomfortable, she cracked her fan.  

Nícole's deep eyes narrowed; her light brown eyebrows furrowed and she stood up in her younger brother's face. He looked at her grimacing. He knew that look. He had seen it before. 

She reached for the under flesh of his right arm, grabbed hold and twisted the skin clockwise pinching the flesh causing a jolt of pain to run up his arm and into his chest like the racing burn of fire. 

"Aye!!!!!" he shouted. 

"If I have to ask you twice, you'll get more than a pinch in the arm. Schedule the three of us coach to Sintra as soon as possible. If you don't I will find someone who will. Don't embarrass yourself and do as I ask." The bossy elder Ferreira sibling ordered. 

The Duchess got up and the two women locked arms and walked off together. Their two dresses in a battle of which could make the louder swishing noise in the process. 

If The Duchess of Leiria was a menacing gossip, Nícole Ferreira was ten times worse, for she had a more wicked wit about her. She was much more manipulative and ruthless. And in this, she had something at stake.

 It wasn't a coincidence that she was meeting The Duchess at the same hotel as Bertie was meeting his aunt. Nothing in this circle was coincidence. This night was meant to have been for Bertie to slowly begin to see just how wonderful and beautiful--and single--Nícole was. Except she had no idea Bertie's Aunt was coming with someone else. 

In a word, Nícole was a woman obsessed with the handsome man from London, and now, there was a kink in her plan to woo him. A kink named Joaquina doArco who's family secret in Sintra could make for a quick end to a ravishing rival. 

- FOUR -

A brilliant morning lit the staircase of The Hotel Santa Clara from three large windows that opened up at the bottom to a freshly landscaped courtyard that had been decorated with tiny white tables and umbrellas matching the red-roof top of the hotel for patrons of the hotel to take their breakfast al-fresco. 

Quina stepped down the staircase dressed in a white dress with tiny dangling fringe tassels at the base of her arm on a short embroidered sleeve. She turned toward the large windows and peeked out from under a large white hat with silk flowers adorning it's rim and saw that Isilda and Bertie were waiting for her in the sunny garden courtyard outside.

"Pardon while I make sure our belongings have made it over to the train-station." Isilda said excusing herself as Bertie locked eyes with the entering Quina.

"Bom dia." Bertie said, wishing Quina a good morning in perfect Portuguese

"Bom dia." She replied with a smile from under her hat.

"You look lovely this morning. Did you sleep well??" He asked.

Quina did a slight curtsy and grinned but shook her head and with a deep sigh "Actually no."

"Really? It could have been the bed. You know when I sleep in beds outside my own I sometimes have trouble sleeping. The good news is, Your uncle will be so happy to see you today." Bertie said, noting that she would be meeting her uncle Jota in just a few hours.

"I don't think it was the bed." She laughed.

Bertie could see she was distressed about something. She had been waiting for this day for a very long time, since found out that she would have to move in with her mysteriously estranged uncle. She was overwhelmed and conflicted about the whole situation, not even the fact that she knew something was being hidden from her, this anxiety was showing. Her heart was in conflict, and in truth, she was petrified.

"Listen," Bertie said grabbing her gloved hand. "Everything is going to be fine and it'll work out better than you could have ever imagined, and in a few days I'll be up there too. And you can tell me I was right!" He laughed.

"How do you know that? It could all be a disaster." She worried.

"No, if I can come back from England hoping to pick up where I left off and do the best I could with my messy Portuguese, you can do this. He's family. He's blood. I promise. You're going to be very well taken care of." Bertie said, his eyes soft and kind. 

She found it endearing that he was doing his best to comfort her. No one had tried to comfort her this way, no one had tried to see things from her point of view. It was as if he knew exactly what to say when she needed it most. In reality he suddenly found the needs in him to protect her and make her feel safe. 

"I'm not sure what to expect when I get to Casa Calêndula. I even had a dream last night about it." She said as waiter passed them with fresh bread and cheeses from all around the nation.

"Oh? Good dream or bad dream?" Bertie asked.

"I just kept seeing faces of my family and they were upset and they were crying and when I finally walked into this enormous room filled game heads on the wall in a roaring fire, there was  man at standing at the hearth and as he turned to me, he didn't have a face. Nothing. No eyes. No mouth. No nose. Just a complete blankness of a face." Quina explained. 

"No face?? Que tolice." A condescending voice said from behind Quina accompanied by the swishing sound of long skirts dragging on the white brick ground of the court yard. 

It was Nícole Ferreira and the Duchess of Leiria eavesdropping on the suddenly smitten couple as they too were on their way to their own breakfast table in the courtyard.

Nícole, Adelaide. Good morning." Bertie said, as Nícole moved in between him and Quina for a double kiss on her rosy cheek. "This is Joaquina doArco. My Tia Isilda's pupil. She's the young lady I was asked to reserve a room for, I mentioned this to Tiago the other day. Have you had a chance to meet?" Bertie asked.

"I have actually. We had the pleasure of meeting on the train from Casa Branca. It's good to see you again Joaquina." The Duchess said with a clinched jaw. "I'll find our table." She added to Nícole who stayed.

"Bom dia. How do you do?" 
Nícole said extending her hand to Quina.

"Just fine thank you. Bom dia." " Quina replied politely. 

"Don't take my joke about your dream being silly too seriously my dear, we all have our moments of adolescent nonsense filling our brains while we sleep. I know I have...when I was young and didn't know anything about anything." Nícole said to Quina but keeping her eyes on Bertie.

Quina looked around, she had no idea what Nícole was talking about. She hadn't even paid attention to what Nícole was talking about, they were somewhat the same age.

"Thank you, I think." Quina said with a slight eye roll but nevertheless keeping a polite demeanor. 

"I hear you're going to be staying in Sintra from now on and that you'll be living with your uncle. You must be very...what's the word...distressed!" added 
Nícole finally turning to face Quina. "That could be the reason for your faceless man dream." she added with snark.

"Perhaps. I just..." Quina replied but was quickly interrupted by Nícole who turned back to Bertie and began to talk over her. 

"Imagine! Having to be shipped off to Sintra, to live with a man like that I just don't know how I would handle it. I couldn't tell a soul, no I wouldn't. I would have gone to Sintra in secret and lived out my days there where no one would ever find me. Imagine! Living...there...with HIM!" Nícole said.

Quina took a deep breath as Bertie shot her a look of confusion.

"What are you talking about?" He asked.

"Your aunt never mentioned to you about Joaquina's uncle in Sintra? You don't know? I understand why Joaquina would never tell you," Nícole added then turning to Quina. "my dear it makes so much sense to continue to keep this whole scandal a secret. But I'll watch my tongue." 

"Quina's uncle is a fine man. I don't doubt it. And I think you've been listening to that Duchess too much. You know just as much as I do how she can sometimes invent things that don't always pan out. You remember what she said about you last summer, don't you? About you and that Frenchman...Jean Claude or something?" 

Nícole gasped, she did remember the horrible rumor Adelaide, the Duchess of Leiria, spread about her last summer. The Duchess was known in all circles for her jealousy of others could often sprout rumors and expose secrets to level the playing-field for her own misgivings. The Duchess was like the thorn on the most beautiful rose, the worm inside the freshest apple and Nícole had seen that side of her, and because those rumors, as damaging to her relationship with Bertie at the time were....of course were true. 

Which only made the things The Duchess said about Quina's uncle Jota that more weaponizable to Nicole. 

"You're impossible," 
Nícole said with a nervous grin as she tapped his chest with a loose glove  at the mention of the rumors she had always denied. "Anyway, Joaquina, enjoy your breakfast and your train ride to Sintra later. Oh, and Quina be sure you say hello to your uncle and his..." she added just before her brother Tiago entered the now busing courtyard and interrupted her. 

"Quina, Isilda is waiting for you out front and she's asked me to fetch you. All of the luggage has been set up and taken to the train station and is ready for Sintra." He said.

"Oh." Quina said looking at the tables thinking she was to have breakfast first. 

"The Hotel has provided packages with breakfast take take with you." Tiago added. 

As Quina thanked him again just before leaving, Bertie kissed her hand as 
Nícole slinked off to the awaiting Duchess at their table under a large umbrella. She dashed off in a jealous whirl leaving her brother Tiago shaking his head at Bertie.

"What was that all about?" Tiago asked of his friend.

"I'm not really sure. Your sister has a way of making sure that anyone who talks to me knows she's already stated her claim. Its a very strange feeling being treated like a piece of land someone has stabbed their flag into." Bertie whispered jokingly. 

"I see. Well you can't blame her for trying. She's always had a very warm spot for you. Every since we were children she dreamed of being your wife. Despite it all." Tiago affirmed.

"Despite it all, even though a year ago while she visited me in London she pretended I did not exist and she fell into the arms of a Frenchman?" Bertie shot back.

Tiago, knowing of his sister's indiscretion last summer lifted an eyebrow, surprised his best friend would bring the touchy subject up, even though he knew his sister's history.

The Ferreira siblings were indeed in a sensitive spot. Nícole had all but betrothed herself to Bertie two years ago when they met in London before her unfortunate mistake with the Frenchman Jean Claude. Her social climbing status had been tarnished ever since, thanks to the Duchess' prickly tongue, and if Nícole wanted to be granted access back into the even bigger circles of society, Bertie's acceptance of her was the only key. 

Tiago, being her brother, was too guilty by association and had no other choice but to heed his sister's requests to do all he could to keep Bertie in her eye's view. Their family had once before been trapped within the whispery words of Lisbon gossips a generation before when their grandfather too fell out favor local bourgeoise.

Nícole  and Tiago's standings in society were destined to crumble ever singe their grandfather's fall. It was an uphill climb ever since. Nícole's attempt at getting back in good graces of all around her could not fail again. She was desperate.

The guilt began to fill Tiago's stomach of constantly shoving his obsessive sister in Bertie's face, even now following them so coincidently to Lisbon under the guise that they were meeting with The Duchess. It was all a rouse to have Bertie back in Nícole's eye.

Quickly though, Bertie's kindness came as a remedy.

"Don't mind me, old boy. Its just been a very long and complicated morning. I'll be very happy when I'm out of Lisbon and in the calm relaxing world of Sintra, and Joaquina doArco in just a few days." Bertie said, moving on from the contentions conversations constantly bubbling up in the warm morning sun.  

Tiago, for his part, felt a twinge of betrayal once again rushing through his veins. Bertie's hope of a relaxing and enjoyable time in Sintra after he followed Quina there would short-lived, as Tiago had already purchased tickets for his sister and the Duchess to follow too. As Nícole's younger brother he did as he was told, and in doing so would not speak a word of their tag-a-long trip to Bertie. 

At their table, Nícole and the Duchess scowled at their eggs and buttered bread. Each of them wondering just why in the world a handsome, cultured, rich man like Alberto "Bertie" Amaral  could see in the small town heiress like Joaquina doAroc.

"An olive oil princess! Really!" The Duchess scoffed into her coffee. 

Nícole looked over at her friend and one time enemy and rolled her eyes. 

"Give me time, Adelaide. Give me time, I'll break this spell soon enough." 

"What do you plan on doing?" The Duchess asked, hoping for some delicious new tidbit of inside gossip, a filling feeling no breakfast at the Hotel Santa Clara could ever quench. 

Nícole had honestly no clue what she was going to do. But she turned slightly to her friend and winked "you'll see." 

On the train to Sintra, Quina stared out the gauzy class window of her small cabin as Isilda carefully flicked through a small book in her dark green dress that shimmered a hint of sparkle because of the dark silver thread that made up the seams. 

She thought about her father and how much this reunion between herself and her estranged uncle must of meant to him if he thought so much of it to put it in his will. Actually write it in his own hand and demand that it happen should he pass away. She thought about how her mother must of hated the idea when she found out about it but, as stipulated, had no power to reverse it as the reunion was only on the occasion should both have died before their time.

All of it, still so overwhelming and confusing for Quina to wrap her head around. She felt herself beginning to day dream about Casa Calêndula. How everyone would mention it's beauty, the marigold flowers that surrounded the property that gave it it's name, its serenity and calming nature. 

 And what of her Tio Jota? What would he look like.  Would they get along? Would he be funny or strict? 

Would he look like her father? Would they have the same eyes? the same Roman nose? The same laugh? She nervously played with a rogue string coming off of the middle finger of her lace glove and twisted it over and over creating a small little point at the end of the glove. 

With all of the good things that could come of this, there was also the thing that everyone was keeping from her. The thing that everyone whispered to others as she passed, and the thing that made her mother dislike Jota so much. It was the thing that tore their whole family and she was still, to this very moment, just hours away from Casa Calêndula, in the dark about.

It was frustrating and in a lot of ways infuriating for her, but she bit her tongue and waited for it all to fall into place as well as it could. 

Quina took a breath and reached over for her own book in a sack that was packed for her. She listened to the tracks squeak and screech their way through Lisbon and up near the coast line. She opened the book but paid no attention to the words on the page. Nothing in those pages could take her mind off of what was waiting for her in Casa Calêndula. 

The sea, just outside her train-seat window, was a bright blue and it lured her in like a siren's song calling her name with each crashing wave. It was freeing to stare out into the large open waters of the Atlantic. The motions of the waves calmed her as the train continued to chug along it's winding passage up the Portuguese coast line carving a snake like trail leading to Sintra. 

To Quina this trip was a new beginning, however clandestine the circumstances actually were in terms of who this man was...this uncle of hers. The whole situation had felt open and wide with possibilities just like the sea outside her window. No matter the outcome of the coming meeting, Quina felt confident that everything would some how work and fall into place. 

She watched as the tracks began to turn back inland and away from the sapphire sea crashing against the rocks below the tracks and as the sea went further back into the distance, in came more of her own worry. Perhaps being so close to Sintra made the nerves return. 

"Almost." Isilda said with a smile as she looked at a pocket-watched attached to the inside buttons of her petticoat. 

Quina flashed a quick smile back as if to show the fearlessness she had just felt only moments ago when the train was further off closer to the sea before the fantasy of all dissipated like seafoam on hot sand. 

In just a hour and a half she would arrive in Sintra, and soon to the house named after the golden flowers that surrounded it's grounds.... Casa Calêndula 

- FIVE -

A horse drawn carriage, lead by the most beautiful white horse Quina had ever seen, arrived at a large iron gate adorned with iron marigold flowers from top to bottom. Quina lifted herself slight up from her sea to look over the shoulder of the driver to peek over and see if she could get a glimpse of the house, but a thicket of Laurel bushes on either side of the entrance trail obscured her view.

"Sit back down!" Isilda scolded grabbing hold of Quina's arm as Quina's mouth twisted in disappointment. 

But it wouldn't be for long, it was only a short distance further where the carriage would come to a stop.

As the carriage slowly made it's way through the laurel tree lined drive, the house finally came into view. It was larger than she thought. It was tall and painted a light tangerine much like the marigold flowers in the gardens. The windows, large rectangular in shape were made up of six small glass frames surrounded by large brown shutters reflecting he perfect blue sky above them with not a cloud in sight. 

A rush of servants flushed out from the foyer of the mansion and lined up on the front steps. Four members of the house staff, all dressed in tidy uniforms, on either side of the staircase.

Quina and Isilda were helped out of the carriage by the foot-man and they stood just in front of the house looking upwards in awe of their surroundings. The air was sweet with perfume, warm even, and the sun lit the entire estate grounds so bright that the two women from Evora felt that they were in an entirely different part of the world.

The maids curtsied and the butlers bowed their heads. Quina smiled and curtsied back to them just as a tall handsome man with  beautiful tan skin and a dark mustache stood at the front door. Quina and the man's eyes locked. His eyes were her father's eyes. Warm, caring, deep and in a way, sad. They were completely here father's eyes. His lips, even hidden under the mustache, were pink and perfect plump ...were her father's lips. 

He had large hands with perfect shell-shaped fingernails that were clean and strong. His shoulders were broad and he stood on the first step just outside the front door with literally open arms, his wing-span wide and welcoming.

He was visually nervous too. He took a deep breath and stepped out from the doorway and rushed down the front steps and reached for his niece's hand to kiss. 

He grabbed it, dropped a kind loving kiss and looked up at her.

"I have waited for this moment for so many years my dear niece. I am so honored to have you here." Her uncle José Joaquin, "Jota" for shot, said.

"Thank you for having me here, having us here." Quina replied, turning to Isilda.

"Please, come in, come in." Jota replied.

As Jota grabbed hold of Quina's arm and locked it inside of his strong embrace, the butlers scrambled down the steps to take hold of their luggage and the maids quickly scurried back inside to their duties.

Jota looked at Quina and smirked as they entered the house together "They don't usually work this fast, but it's a special occasion." He joked.

"They are so many." Isilda said of the many servants, his suprising warmness killing her nervous butterflies.

Jota turned and looked at Isilda realizing he had not even acknowledged her. "My apologies, ma'am. My excited heart at meeting Joaquina for the first time completely fogged my brain. I am also pleased that you have so kindly brought her here. Please, follow me into the drawing room." Jota said kissing Isilda once on each cheek. 

"Of course." Isilda said meekly, almost embarrassed as the towering and handsome dark haired Jota kissed her cheek too.

As the ground walked through the house Quina and Isilda couldn't keep their eyes fixed frontward. They looked all around them at every piece of furniture, from side tables to small animal skin rugs and every expensive glass knickknack. Up, down, left right, observing and taking in every once of what the glorious Casa Calêndula looked like. The white walls beamed with natural light from the large striking windows making all the various potted plants seem to glow a bright green. The art on the walls showed images of Portugal's great achievements in discovering the new world and of course the obligatory family portraits of doArco family members of the past that Quina had never seen.

Then, a sudden shock. A portrait of Quina's father in the corner of the foyer over a large oak chest of drawers with silver nobs and surrounded by two green little tress on either side. Quina stopped in her tracks and stared up at the painting as it looked down on her with proud eyes. He was dressed in a dark suit, very youthful in appearance and even smirked softly in dark swirls of reds and browns. 

"I miss him too." Jota said of his brother, Quina's father. 

It was a confusing moment. She had always believed that their estrangement was mutual. That the rift in the family came from both men, but Paulo's painting, handsome and young as he was in it, was a complete surprise. 

"Shall we?" Jota said, extending his forward so that the ladies would enter the yellow drawing room. 

Isilda, turned to smile at Jota as she entered, and over his shoulder she could see a man she had not seen before outside on the staircase to that lead to the second and third floors of the house. He was finely dressed too, even more handsome than Jota and around the same age. He smiled at her once he noticed their eyes meeting in that split second, she smirked back once she realized in her own mind who he was. Jota, turned to see who Isilda was looking at and the man smiled at Jota. 

Once alone outside the yellow drawing room, Jota turned to the other man on the stairs, took a deep breath adjusted his vest and jacket and crossed his fingers hoping the man would wish him luck. 

The man smiled a big smile an crossed his fingers back. 

Inside the yellow drawing room with it's matching lemon drapes Isilda sat on a large sofa that felt like it was as soft as a cloud. She flattened the creases on her skirt on her lap and looked over at Quina who was walking the perimeter of the room with her hands crossed in front of her reading the titles of the books on the shelf. 

The natural light from the large windows seeped in casting a large geometric lattice shape down into the room. 

Jota entered the room followed by a maid dressed in black and white with a large silver service tray of tea.

"I hope you like lemon tea. It's very typical but with how warm it is outside I thought lemon would be more refreshing." Jota said as Isilda and Quina both nodded in agreement. 

Quina came and sat next to Isilda as the maid shot her a glance. Their eyes met and Quina smirked. She noticed the girl almost looked as if she wanted to say something to her, her mouth almost formed a word but she quickly hushed her self and rushed off allowing Jota to reach over and begin serving the tea for his niece and her governess.  

"I imagine that you must be feeling completely overwhelmed and confused about this whole thing. Sugar?" Jota began as the steam from the tea floating up in swirls of curly mist. 

"It is a lot to take in all at once, the Calendula is as beautiful as I imagined it. No sugar." Quina answered. 

"Aside from that, I assume you have many questions about----well---everything." Jota said, a Quina nodded 'yes' while she sipped. 

"We don't have to go over everything now, Senhor José, there is plenty of time to get into whatever conversations the two of you would like to in time. Yes? In time." Isilda said, trying to move the topic away from the matter of "questions".

"Actually, Isilda, I would like to know a few things." Quina shot back.

"You know I had known for many years about this stipulation in your father's will, the one where if, god forbid, 
something horrible should happen to both your parents before your 25th birthday I would be your caretaker. He secretly told me about it. Well secretly at first. Your mother later discovered this and was furious with him for doing so." Jota explained to a surprised audience. 

"And at the time you agreed with it?" Isilda asked. 

Jota was unsure how to answer. The truth was that there were two sides to his own motives for never 
disclosing this to anyone over the years. He weighed the options of what to say and then decided that enough time had gone and that secrets were meant to finally be exposed; in this moment finally thigs would be cleared. There could no longer be a barrier between the two most estranged family members with mirror image names.

"Truthfully, I did see it as a bizarre request, and of course, I had no expectations of the this type of tragedy happening. Both your parents were quite young and to have them pass, in the manner that they did, well it was shocking." Jota replied. "But in the same sense, when I heard of the horrible news of your mother's death I realized that your father's will would be enforced and you would soon come here to live with me until your 25th birthday. In my opinion, its ridiculous. I can tell just by looking at you, that you, my beautiful niece, can very well take care of yourself with the guidance of your governess and if you were in accord with it, guidance from me." He said softly. "Me, from a far." Jota added.

"Thank you for the flowers and the kind card." Quina said remembering. 

"It was the least I could do. They flowers from were the various gardens on this land. They're so beautiful, aren't they?" Jota said proudly of the house's marigold namesake.

Isilda took another sip of her lemon tea and decided to take the bull by the horns. "So Uncle, why are we here? If you thought that the whole idea of me being here didn't make sense, why did you allow us to come all this way?" Isilda wondered with a twinge of annoyance. 

Jota smiled and took a deep breath in. His heart was pounding because unlike Paulo he was extremely pensive with how his words came out of his mouth. All his life he had to watch what he said and watch what he did, and for once in his 58 years, he finally did something out of the blue and selfish. 

"Isilda!" Quina replied surprised at Isilda's attitude. 

"No, she's right to wonder. I could have very well just sent you a letter saying that there was no
need in the word for you to travel all the way to Sintra and of course there was perhaps no need for you to actually live here with me for another 5 years to meet your inheritance requirement. But..." He paused as the two women waited in bated breath for him to finish. "I was desperate to meet you. Desperate. You and I are family, Quina. The only of our kind left. We have the same blood, think that we should never meet or that perhaps you would have decided on your own to never see me in person, I could not bare it. Having you forced to come here based on your father's will when even I didn't see it truly necessary maybe have been deceitful but I saw no other way." He finished lovingly. "Please don't hold it against me."

Quina felt a warmth in her heart with his words. A genuine feeling of connection suddenly came over her as if that, even though the silliness of it all; the traveling, the old fashioned way she had to meet a requirement to receive an inheritance, finally meant something. She too wanted to meet him, she too wanted to be part of his life. But she needed more answers.

"But can you tell me? Can you tell me why all of this happened? Why didn't I know you? You were the reason I am named Joaquina, it seems completely bizarre for all of a sudden my namesake to disappear shortly after I was born. You must have been close to my parents, for them to name me after you..." Quina said as Isilda clinked her tea cup with a small spoon.

"Quina I think it's rude to pry like this." Isilda said hypocritically as she looked down into her tea cup at the blue and white pattern at the bottom. A ship at sea crashing in painted blue waves. The ship, much like the whole situation in the yellow drawing room, seemed to be careening out of control.

"No, no, she has a right to know this too. It's her family too." Jota said.

"Senhor Jota I just..." Isilda began before Jota held up his hand and stopped her. 

"Joaquina, a family is like one's own body. If you care for your health, eat well, take exercise, sleep well and take in fresh air...all of that combined helps to nurture the body to be healthy. But sometimes we are careless and do not do what we need to do to keep healthy. And sickness enters and leaves us in tattered ways. Sometimes we bounce back and we are good as new. Other times the sickness stays longer and like the body, a sick family will wither away. That is perhaps what happened to Paulo and myself. We were not fully honest with each other many years go, or perhaps too honest the illness came in and took over." Jota explained.

"Illness? But what could it have been? What in the world could have separated you both for all my life?" Quina wondered. 

As Quina finished her phrase the handsome man from the staircase that met eyes with Isilda just before she entered into the yellow drawing room, the man who crossed his fingers in wishing Jota luck with this first meeting walked in and cleared his throat. 

Everyone turned to look at him. He smiled at Jota. He was just as perfectly dressed. He was just as handsome and tan but his hair was slightly longer, lighter in tone of brown and combed back. 

"The illness, my dear, is the illness of not being able to have open minds and listen with one's heart. It is not something easily done, it is not something that can easily be asked of. I understand that very well.  Your parents, I believe, wanted to listen, and learn and love without any conditions but in the end, it had to be the way it was. They chose to freeze me out." Jota continued as he stood up and walked over to the handsome man.

Isilda fidgeted uncomfortably. 

"I don't understand." Quina replied although it was slowly coming to her. 

"Joaquina, this is Lucas Silveira. Lucas lives here. With me. He has lived here since you were 3 years old. Lucas and I...." He paused unsure of what to say next. Jota turned to Lucas who's eyes were beginning to water with emotion and grabbed his hands and squeezed. "We love each other." 

Quina dropped her tea cup spilling the tea all over her white dress. Isilda yelped and jumped up, her tea flying out of the cup and all over her hair and on the white sofa. The hot tea slowly seeped into her skin scolding her. She yelped again and Quina jumped from her seat and began to wipe away the hot tea from her face. The two men jolted in response and grabbed tea towels and began to help dry the women. In his rush to help, Jota tripped on the coffee table and nocked over the large pitcher of milk that splashed upward and hit Isilda in the chest and stomach soaking her whole dress. 

They all looked at each other waiting for someone to say something. Quina turned to her governess Isilda who's hair and face looked as if she had been standing in a rain storm that dropped liquid all over her and let out a giant laugh breaking the ice allowing everyone else to join in too calming the tense air in the room. 

It was a shock to the system hearing Jota's secret. But to Quina, it wasn't as bad as she had expected. It wasn't as bad as she had wondered. It was shocking but it was enough for her to stop and listen further into the story of this whole relationship that had existed ever since she was a child, a relationship that seemed long lasting and truly loving. 

There had been enough dismissal of Jota and Lucas, and in that moment, while Lucas and Jota continued to tell their story, Quina realized that perhaps all the years of estrangement needed stop...and it would stop with her.

- SIX -

On a sunny Sunday morning, birds seemed to fill the sky all around Sintra lifting from the trees and taking to the air in large flocks of dark little dots floating above the red tiles roofs of the homes. The welcoming weather brought with it another flock, this one a group of three upper class snobs from the capital city, in a carriage lead by a large white horse locked in place by thick leather black reigns. 

Th carriage pulled up at the front The Hotel de Hera and The Duchess of Leiria, Nícole, and her brother Tiago quickly stepped out and stretched their tightly wound bodies after the long trip up from Lisbon. They were all in Sintra much to the surprise of Alberto "Bertie" Amaral, who was himself checking in to the hotel. Their arrival was a promise Nícole made to herself once the uneasy feeling she got from the looming threat of a love rival from Quina doArco.

Bertie looked up from signing the guest book and saw the group enter through the giant glass front doors. The Duchess, her fan firmly in hand flickering back and forth gusts of fresh air to her pale face, burst into the lobby and shuffled over to a side room where the hotel was giving out flutes of Champaign to arriving patrons. Then followed the Ferreira siblings Nícole and Tiago. Bertie's brow furrowed as he sauntered over to the Ferreiras.

"Well this is just very strange. How on earth did I miss the fact my dearest friends were on their way to Sintra as well. Maybe you're all here to watch me research for my book." Bertie said clutching the edges of his vest. 

"My darling Bertie! Well, I was sure Tiago told you we were coming, didn't he? I'm sure of it! How long have you been here?" 
Nícole said pretending to be surprised to see Bertie as he kissed her once on each cheek.

"No. He didn't." Bertie replied as he shot a look at his cowering best friend.

"It must have slipped my mind." Tiago replied with his eyes on the Duchess in the other room guzzling free Champaign. 

"It must have." Bertie said. "And what are you all doing here Anyway? I never thought you lot would leave Lisbon for anything, what with its beautiful clusters of high society all huddled together in the fanciest wall-papered rooms. I won't be much fun, doing my work and all." he added.

Nícole pointed to the Hotel bellboy instructing him where to take their luggage as she smirked wickedly at Bertie who was attempting to pull some sort of truth from the siblings who were clearly in town to keep tabs on him and of course, the heiress doArco. 

"You are very perceptive, darling. You're right. We followed you. How could we not? After all you have always said how wondering Sintra was this time of year and how much can one group of people see of Lisbon in their lifetimes? I for one am ecstatic to be here. It's going to be wonderful. You'll see. Having us all here, just you wait." Nícole said.

"Nícole, without saying something that will, perhaps reverse your demeanor, I can tell you now that I will most likely be busy with work. I don't think I will have time for card games or walks or ...well much of anything. I do have to focus on my meetings with the newspapers here." Bertie replied as Tiago's eyes suddenly became larger upon realizing Bertie was attempting to set the stage to avoid his social climbing sister.

"Is that so? You know you don't need to work. Those papers don't deserve you anyway." Nícole said skeptically. 

"I would hope they would want me more than need." Bertie responded.

"You wouldn't perhaps be making time for that doArco girl, would you? You'd be too busy with work to go off to see her and your Aunt over at Casa...what was it? Casa Calêndula?" 
Nícole asked, her voice shrill with the acid of jealously. 

"What I do with my time away from work, isn't really important, is it? I would love to visit with my aunt. And of course, if Quina is home, I wouldn't mind seeing her as well. I grew very fond of her in our first encounter, didn't you? She's fascinating." Bertie said.

Nícole scoffed and literally stomped her foot down on the marble floor of the lobby. The sound of her heel clicking down echoed in the large empty spaces of the room causing the Duchess to finally look up from her Champaign flute and notice her friend's frustrated facial expression. The Duchess smiled at one of the Hotel Butlers and handed back a half empty second flute and rushed over to Nícole's side.

"Alberto, how much do you really know about this Olive Oil princess? Do you know that kind of family she comes from? I surly doubt you do. Because if you did, you would not be here in Sintra in the first place following her around like a lost puppy." Nícole said in a loud voice.

"Nícole, your voice." The Duchess said from behind her fan as her eyes scanned the room for onlookers. 

"This is the same conversation we had the last time I saw you in Lisbon, and it seems as if you have something to tell me, why don't you just tell me instead of beating around the bush?" Bertie asked.

"Not here. No, not here." The Duchess said flipping her fan for fresh air. 

"Not here? Why not, Bertie seems to finally want to know the truth. He can't avert his eyes forever and if he knows now than better for him." Nícole said to The Duchess who knew it was better to speak of the topic of the scandal shrouding the doArco family that Bertie had never heard, a scandal that could quite possibly derail his career and plunge him into a world as a social pariah should he too become entangled. 

"Nícole I think that's enough. We all discussed this on the trip to Sintra that we would find the right time to tell Bertie about Jota doArco and in this lobby is not the place." Tiago reminded his sister.

"I agree. As much as I would love to drop the truth on this boy's fantasy of Joaquina's family for whatever reason, people are starting to stare." The Duchess said, a woman who absorbed attention every chance she got but only when it suited her best.

Nícole scoffed again and grabbed Bertie by the arm and dragged him across the hotel lobby as Tiago and The Duchess followed. The group quickly pushed their way into a closed off side parlor that the hotel was reserving for a later birthday party for another guest. It was a small room with 6 small circular tables all decorated for a birthday party. A woman, who worked at the hotel, rushed over to the group confusing them for the partygoers and excused the fact that the room was not ready for them.

"No. No. No. We're not here for this gaudy party, we just need some privacy for a minute, can we please? Just a minute." Nícole said clearly flustered.

The lady from the hotel saw the look on Nícole's face and the strange vacant look on the others and curtsied then quickly made her exit.

"This is ridiculous. Go on, tell me. What is all the fuss about?? What in the world could being friends with Joaquina doArco do to my life?" Bertie said as the door closed behind the hotel worker.

"Friends!!" The Duchess said in a cackle, knowing full well Bertie was obviously more smitten with Quina than to just be friends.

"Careful." Tiago noted to his sister who rolled his eyes at him. 

Nícole slowly removed her leather gloved from her perfectly manicured hand and squeezed them tightly in her hand, so tight the leather made an audible stretching sound that mimicked the energy of anxiety in the room.

"Joaquina doArco isn't just a member of a family that has a successful business. There's so much more hidden behind all of the glossy stories of how the doArco's came from nothing to build what they have now. Paulo and Madalena were, by most accounts, fine people. Probably good parents. No, they were good parents. For what they made sure to do for Joaquina, they were very good parents." Nícole began.

"From my mother's stories they were fine people. Venerable." The Duchess chimed in.

"Then? What is this scandal? What in the world could a 'venerable' family do to me and my so called reputation?" Bertie wondered, almost sounding as if he were making fun of Nícole and The Duchess' hyperbolic tone of voice.

"Alberto, they are not the only two people in this story. It is not only Paulo and Madalena. There are others. The ones here in Sintra that caused such an unspeakable scandal that it almost tore the family apart. No, it did tear it apart. I am shocked your aunt never told you at least not in recent days. What is happening at Casa Calêndula, is absolutely abhorrent and you, of good name and of good standing should not under any circumstances get mixed up in." Nícole said.

Bertie stood there, The Duchess hiding behind her fan once again. Nícole staring deep into his soul, tears almost rising out over the ridges of her eyes, and Tiago solid and as stiff as ice only swallowed hard as if to prepare himself for what was to come from his Sister's mouth. 

"What? What!? Tell me!" Bertie demanded.

Nícole turned to look at the other two. Her brother Tiago raised his hands in the air and turned around. He wanted nothing to do with any of if. His hands would be clean Nícole's next move. The Duchess lowered her fan and nodded her head, signaling that it was time for the truth.

Nícole looked at Bertie and her mouth began to move. Her lips folded and twisted creating words describing Jota and the man he loved Lucas, words that Bertie had never heard come from a woman's mouth before. Words, frankly, he had never heard from out loud in public before. It was shocking. It was strange. It hard to believe. Two men living in a relationship as lovers, as partners, openly? As if they had no care in the world. As if they had not one thing to be ashamed of. As if they were the rulers of themselves and had no one, no King and no God, to answer to. 

It was blasphemy and too sorted to believe. The Gossips in Lisbon had truly made a mockery of all of them, Bertie could not, would not believe it. 

"That's impossible. You should never ever speak like that in my presence again. What are you even saying? There is no way No one would ever believe it. It's not true." Bertie said. "Two men? It'!" 

"I told you. It was shocking." Nícole replied. 

"You're jealous. This is what this is all about. You're allowing rumors and silly gossip to fuel your jealousy and it's hideous. I always knew you to be some sort of force of nature but the negative in life, 
Nícole, but I never once believed you'd try to smear someone like this. I have never ever heard such a thing about anyone in the doArco family and my aunt who, may I remind you, works for them and would never count herself apart of anything like that. How dare you? How dare you!!" Bertie shouted.

"Bertie, I'm, telling you the truth. That is why you cannot possibly get involved with Quina. People have known this for years and years, while you were in England. How could you know? It makes sense that you wouldn't. But I would never make something like this up. Nothing like this, no. We cannot be in anyway associated with the likes of that behavior."  Nícole said.

Bertie pulled his arms away from the grip Nícole had on him. He turned and placed his hands on his hips, he lifted his head and stared at the ceiling in completely disgust. But he wasn't sure what he was disgusted with more, the fact this could be true and that Quina might be fine with something so socially backward or that his friends could be lying in an attempt to keep him from possible happiness with a new love, a new life with Quina.

He turned back around to see 3 sets of eyes staring at him in bated breath for his final reaction. The women were hoping for him to shake it all off and announce he would not see Quina again. Tiago, for his part, just wanted the whole thing to be over.

But the disgust of the possibility, and more plausible truth that this was all some rumor going too far made him even more sick to his stomach.

"I swear. I wouldn't make something like this up."  Nícole repeated.

He looked at her, then he looked at the Duchess who was for the first time in hours showing her full face. 

"You probably not, but this one?" Bertie said pointing to the notorious Duchess. "I wouldn't trust her as far as I can throw her and I can throw pretty far!" 

Bertie then lunged for The Duchess' arm. His hand tightly gripping it.

She yelped in surprise. 

"Unhand me!"

"Not another word of this. I want to hear not another word from any of you on the subject of Jota doAcro ever. Do you all understand? Never again." Bertie said quickly releasing the Duchess' arm.

"How dare you!" The Duchess said smacking Bertie with her fan as he quickly made his exit. 

"Bertie!" Tiago shouted

Nícole shouted too. "Get back here!" 

"No. Let him go. Let him go....let him find out that debauchery and salaciousness happening at that house all on his own, because once he sees it for himself, he'll be back. And when he comes will be here. Waiting." The Duchess of Leiria said, her arm still sore from the quick grab from Bertie's hands. 

Nícole stood there in the hotel's room. The party goers began to filter in with the Hotel worker who shyly asked for them to leave. Nícole grabbed The Duchess' arm and they stormed out. Tiago, like a lost puppy again, followed suit. 

As the sun continued to rain down rays of warmth and light just before lunch time on the lush landscapes of Sintra, Quina walked among along the carefully manicured and sculpted gardens of Casa Calêndula with it's fresh green grass and thousands upon thousands of marigolds covering large patches of flower beds like a sunset carpet of petals and buzzing bees. 

The lace of her parasol shadowed her olive skin as she took in a deep breath of the fresh air. Her mind still pregnant with so much curiosity and fascination with the place her father grew up, this home named after the flowers that fill the air with it's thick perfume fragrance; and the men who called it home. 

"It's a wonder isn't it?" A voice said under the sound of the bubble fountain in the background. It was Quina's uncle Jota dressed in a crisp ash colored suit and smart gray hat with tiny sprinkles of yellow thread dashed in it's pattern. 

"I somewhat recall stories of Calêndula when I was girl. I do remember my father saying that everything smelled so powerful, the gardens I mean. I just had no idea how strong it would be." Quina replied with a sweet grin. 

"I know that yesterday was a lot of information for you to take in and there is nothing more I want than for you to feel free to stay here as long as you want but only if, of course, you feel comfortable." Jota explained.

Quina didn't know if she felt comfortable. She didn't feel uncomfortable. Nothing in her whole body could help her explain what she felt about Jota and Lucas' relationship, what she did know was that she and Jota were the last of their family. The only two left and what mattered more to her than her own comfort was being close to someone whom she was named after, whom she felt a connection to even if it was strained over the course of her whole life. 

"Tio I'm fine. Really I am." Quina replied shortly.

"I assume you may be worried though. Aren't you? People will talk." Jota said.

Quina turned to look out into the garden, the lace again splattering its carefully crafted pattern on her face. "I guess the talking is what you're mostly worried about." She assumed.

"You know it wouldn't be anything new for me or Lucas. It's always been a fancy little story for the Sintra gossips to sniff at. They love the idea of creating these ridiculous stories and attaching them to Lucas and myself without even attempting to get to know us. Not that we'd let them get to know us. How could we? Meeting people and explaining our relationship is always such a treacherous experiment." Jota said, swatting away a rogue bee flying up from the flower beds. 

"Treacherous?" Quina asked concerned. "Tio have you and Lucas felt afraid? In danger?" 

"Claro querida! Of course! We never know what is in someone's heart and most of all we never know what is in someone's mind. The two are neighbors that live in the same body but in very very VERY different houses." Jota explained.

"But you are both such good people, no matter what they can imagine, why would anyone hurt you or Lucas?" She asked.

Jota smiled, he could see that even though her natural sensibilities like many others was to feel a bit off-put by everything; but his niece, in her heart was truly concerned. Her heart was true, and she was young, eager and perhaps not as recoiled by his love for Lucas as he self-consciously expected. 

"Can I be honest?" He asked as he gently took her arm and walked her over to a stone bench  sculpted to look like to lions were holding up the seat under a large willow tree.

"Por favor, yes." She said sitting next to him.

"Every time we leave Casa Calêndula we take the chance that someone someday may not feel as though we have the right to be where we are. Where ever that is. A theater. A restaurant. A museum. It doesn't matter. They look at us and think of us as people who are...degenerate. Off. Immoral. But the truth is how can we be? Lucas and I have been here, together, for as long as you've been a live, and nothing can change that. So keep safe, we have devised unfortunate lies to cover for our relationship. It may not help, the whispers are still there. The stares. The uncomfortable feeling that everyone is wishing you'd just go away. But the story, the lie, helps us. It helps us get up and do things and live our lives outside the gates of this house. Otherwise we'd never leave." He explained.

"You have to lie? All the time?" She wondered.

"We do. I do. It's absurd isn't? Silly even! A man of my age still running around pretending no one really knows what is happening here but all the while they do. I just keep the story going. Lucas hates it. He really does. But It feels like continuing in that direction...the just feels like a safety blanket. So he hates it but he too continues with it."   

"What do you tell people?" She wondered.

"Oh, that! That is the worst part of it, I think it's the real reason Lucas hates that I use it and have used it for all these years. It happened one night. We were out together, not late, early enough that we saw the sun setting over the horizon over the sea. It was beautiful. Winter I think. Of course, the whispers came once we got to town and finally someone, a man who had come out of a saloon drunk as the day was long  confronted us. He badgered us to tell us what we were to each other. Meu deus! Imagine, seeing a man in his 60's spitting and slobbering and carrying on in the middle the street screaming at us; demanding we explain our connection to each other because he 'heard the story of the men at Calêndula'. I don't know what came over me and I blurted out that Lucas was the grounds keeper. The man who cared for the large land and gardens all around the estate. Lucas, my poor Lucas, turned to me and I could see it in his face that it was upsetting." Jota explained.

"Why? Wasn't he afraid of what the man might do should he know the truth?" Quina asked.

"After, when we arrived home, Lucas told me how upset he was too at the confrontation. It was worrisome for both of us, but that I made him simply party of the help here, a servant, an employee felt degrading. I assured him the drunk man wouldn't remember us or what I had said and that we could figure out a different story that we'd both agree on. Something like he was a long-lost family member. Something people would still question but of course never acre to prove us wrong on. How could they? was too late. The drunkard had already told someone who told someone who told someone and as I'm sure you can imagine, the story stuck." 

"So not only can you not express your true feelings in public for Lucas because of your safety, you must now live by your story to keep everything consistent." Quina deduced. 

"Precisamente." Jota replied adjusting his bow-tie. 

A heavy feeling fell upon Quina's chest. She felt such a deep pain, a sadness that two men, no matter what they were or who they might offend were still trying and attempting to make other's comfortable in their presence when in fact they didn't need to. They could have always just lived their lives peacefully on the grounds of Casa Calêndula without anyone ever knowing anything about them. Reclusive. Safe. But because they deserved more that a reclusive life of hiding they chose to work through whatever rumors were floating around in the social circles of Sintra, absorbing all the rude glares and snickers and living their lives --yes under the shadow of a lie--but in public. That was the key to it all for Quina. Their love was strong enough to withstand having to lie to outsiders and call their relationship by another name but the most important part was that it was in public. They were seen together. People knew them as the "Men" Casa Calêndula not just the man. They were, in all intense and purposes a couple despite the ambiguousness of their definition of it.

How could she not accept them? How could she not be apart of their lives. There was a sincere and warm love radiating for Jota when he mentioned Lucas' name. It was as warm as the sun, if not warmer. It was as beautiful as the vast gardens of marigold flowers that surrounded them, if not more beautiful. 

Quina collapsed the parasol on her lap and reached over and hugged her Tio Jota, a hug so tight and so long it took him by surprise. 

"Querida." he whispered as feeling her understanding heart beat inside her little body.

"I want nothing more than to be here. It doesn't matter what people say or what they do. In the tragedy of my parents' deaths this reunion feels as if it were meant that we heal together. As a family."

Jota smiled and grabbed his only niece again and hugged her tight. But the happiness would not last, it would quickly and soon fade as the guilt of putting her in that position floated to the surface. 

As they separated she kissed his cheek and opened her parasol again. He took her hand and the two made small talk as they walked arm-in-arm among the gardens and marigold beds. She asked about her father as a child. She asked about the grandparents she never met. It was all so warm and comforting to have her so close, finally a connection to the family he had missed for almost his whole life. All the while the fact his niece said she'd continue to protect him and his lie, allowing Lucas to further live an obscure public title, burned deeper into his soul. 

It wasn't sitting will after all. And by the end of their walk, Jota sat alone on the same stone lion bench under the willow tree in the gardens among the feverishly working bees and the marigold flowers a tear came rolling down his cheek in the sadness of having to live a double life, one true behind the gates of Casa Calêndula and the other shielded by a secret everyone in Sintra knew was false.

Lucas came out to find him there still staring out into the garden. 

"I spoke with Joaquina." he said softly. 

"I feel awful about it all." Jota replied.

"She said she knows what people think of me and you. She said you told her about the man on the street." Lucas added.

"Is it horrible? Do you hate me for telling her that? I just felt that eventually someone would question her and if she didn't know that that was what we had been telling people that something would happen to her. Someone would confront her. What if they confront her!?" Jota said, his voice shaking with fear of the reality of what could happen should someone brazen and vicious decided that it wasn't enough to just turn the other cheek on the couple and talk behind their backs but put the truth out there in the world, loudly. 

"Jota there is a lot we should discuss, there are true dangers that we haven't really confronted over all these years and perhaps we've lived in a fantasy thinking that it will always work out and that it will always be this way. But it can't always be this way. Eventually the story, of me working here all these years will not make sense to the wrong person and, well I'm afraid of what my happen after that." Lucas confessed.

"What should I do?" Jota wondered, his voice still tight with anxiety. 

Lucas did not have an answer for him. He only sat on the stone bench and held his hand. He squeezed it tightly. But didn't say another word. 

 - SEVEN -

On a brilliant morning, the sun sparkled through the clouds in strong bright rays that beamed down casting shadows of geometric patterns onto the green grass that surrounded Casa Calendula. Quina sat on a small veranda along the west side the house just as horse drawn carriage made it's way up the grassy drive to the house.

Quina stood up as the carriage made the a half circle stop in front of Quina who stood up and flattened the front of her bright blue and white dress still unsure of who was about to drop from the carriage. 

The footman jumped down and quickly opened the carriage door revealing the dapperly dressed Alberto Amaral.

"Bertie!" Quina said feeling a wash of joy suddenly fall over her when their eyes met.

"Were you expecting me?" Bertie joked.

"What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you in Sintra so soon." She asked. 

"I just had to see you I had to come here and see where you were living..." he said, his energy suddenly shifting to a nervous state.

"I'm happy to see you!" Quina said reaching up for him to kiss her cheek as was customary in polite company.

He did so, but shifted to look inside the window. 

Quina's head tilted unsure why he seemed so rushed in his speech. 

"Bertie?" She asked sensing the strange new behavior. It was clear, although he was stoic in front of his friends, Nícole's story got to him.

"I'm sorry I was looking for Tia Isilda." He said, lying.

"Isilda is inside. Are you ok? You don't seem yourself." She noted.

"Why don't we sit down." he said escorting her back to the bench on the veranda. "I have to tell you something, Quina, and I am not really sure how to bring  it up. It's something that I've been hearing around town about your uncle and the going on here at 
Casa Calêndula. I for one am absolutely positive its all just rumors based on jealousy and such but I really think I should ask you about it before it gets out of hand." Bertie said, his heart pounding in his chest, hoping that the new beauty in his life wouldn't confirm Nícole's scandalous story. 

Quina, of course, already knew what he was about to say. She took a breath and clasped her hands on her laps tightly awaiting for the other shoe to drop. He mind spun in circles. She didn't want to be the first to confirm or deny anything about Jota or Lucas. It was not her place. It was not her story to tell. Instead, she quickly thought that perhaps she would be lucky and some other ridiculous rumor had been spreading about Casa Calêndula, something much easier to deflect because of it's absurdity. 

Quina braced herself.

"What is it you need to tell me?" She asked, her voice calm and soft.

"A friend of mine, someone from Lisbon, mentioned to me something about your uncle. I wouldn't dare assume it true. Not at all but at the same time I have to wonder and I have to ask." Bertie said.

"Ask what?" She replied.

"Your uncle, is there....there is a story about the reason you were never introduced to him. A reason that, is so far fetched that even I turned away from who was telling me and rolled my eyes. But it had me thinking of course that perhaps it was true. The journalist in me just can't put it down." He said, then he took a deep breath and said it: "Is there some sort of sordid affair happing here Quina? Something that perhaps even you should not be apart of or aware of?" 

Quina gulped. She wasn't sure how to answer. She didn't want to say something that would offend Bertie, this new spark of joy in her life; this  man who came into her life like a bright ray of sun light just like the sun beaming through the clouds in the sky. He seemed like a fresh start for her, a new beacon of happiness in her time of heartbreak and sadness. He knew now. He new something she feared would take this new joy away. 

"Oh! Come now! Alberto you know very well that something like that, any kind of affair is ludicrous. There is absolutely nothing like that happening. No." She answered.

"Nothing with....." he paused. "a man." he whispered. 

Quina's eyes widened, she flung a fan open and fanned herself pretending to be shocked. 

"NO! Of course not!" She said, her heart beating so fast she felt faint. 

"Of course of course..." he said before being interrupted. 

"My uncle warned me this would happen. He warmed me of several issues that people would bring up that would fill in the missing gap of why my parents were estranged from him and I can assure you that my uncle is a very stand up man. He has assured me that...." she paused and realized she was about to extend the lie her uncle told her. She was about to use the same hidden truths to cover a real and loving relationship to save herself. 

And when the words about Lucas being the trusted caretaker of Casa Calêndula, and nothing more, came out of her mouth it felt like acid spewing from her lips. The lie. The burning truth that was not true only continued to spread. She felt her stomach ache. Why did she do it? Would Jota be comfortable with her pushing the story that had long been used as deception shroud to cover this love for Lucas? 

"Of course! I knew it! I know there was some kind of logical explanation!" Bertie exclaimed in relief but Quina still felt awful. 

"Oh, I apologize, I didn't know you had company Joaquina." Jota said stepping out from a side door on the veranda.

"Tio Jota! This is Isilda's nephew. Alberto Amaral." Quina replied quickly jumping to her feet.

"Please call me Bertie." Bertie replied.

"Ber--tee?" Jota asked confused.

"A nick-name given to me in my time in England. It's pleasure to meet you sir." 

"Likewise. Did I interrupt?" 

"No! No! Not at all, Quina and I were just talking. I have been so happy to see her again. We met in Lisbon just a few days ago when she and my Tia Isilda came to town." Bertie replied filling in Jota.

"Isilda is a wonderful woman. She's taken care of Quina for so long. I am so grateful for her." Jota replied.

"Sir, I also just want to also say that Quina has kindly filled me in on everything here at Casa Calêndula and I assure you I am very sure that one day it will all die down. People have such slithery tongues." Bertie said to Jota's shock unsure of what Quina really told him. 

From behind Bertie, Quina shook her head to signify that she didn't tell him the truth calming Jota's nerves instantly. 

"Ahh...well, good then." Jota answered.

If it would be alright, could I go in and see my aunt?" Bertie asked.

Jota nodded and showed him in, pointing to the parlor Isilda was in, outside Quina was beside herself, wringing a lace handkerchief in her hand nervously. 

"It wasn't my place tio, I feel horrible about what I have done?" She said with watery eyes.

"What? What have you done?" Jota asked, concerned for her nervous niece. 

"It wasn't my place to tell Bertie anything, I should have told him that perhaps it would be better to speak to you about what he had heard. I'm so sorry."

"My darling! How can you think I would be cross with you, I've been doing the same thing all my life. For years. The lies come easier for me. But you should not have had to be put in that position. That is not your place. You should be excited to have such a new and handsome young man in your life not worried about how my entanglements might ruin your friendships. I am the one that feels horrible. The look on your face my dear is not just. You should not have to lie for me. Plain and simple." Jota reflected. 

"I just didn't know what else to do. I didn't feel right telling him what I did and I certainly had no place tell him the truth." Quina said.

"I wish I could take it all away. I wish I could make people not see things the way the do, it would be so much easier for us all, wouldn't it; imagine a world where people just lived as they were and loved as they liked. No judgements. No secrets." 

Quina grabbed her uncle's hand. The look on his face when he first made Lucas the unexpected "caretaker" of Casa Calêndula had returned on the realization that now this same unsavory lie had spread to another generation of his family.  

"It's a curse. I can't openly be this side of me and I can't openly be honest either. Imagine what would happen? Imagine the danger we would all face if that would happen. You did the right thing, my dear, the right thing in a winless battle." Jota said squeezing her hand. 

"I can't say that I feel good about it. It isn't fair." She replied. 

"What in this world is fair?" Jota wondered just as Bertie burst out of the side door back onto the veranda.

He rushed over to Quina, his mind now clear and happy to hear Nícole's story was dead in his mind. He was free to be with Quina now whenever he felt like it. No one would come between them now, he thought. The rumors were as far away from his mind as the clouds in the sky.

"I have to dash back to the village." Bertie said, as he kissed Quina on the cheek. "Can I see you again soon?" 

She looked over at Jota who smirked, his approval to her meant everything even though she was beginning this butting new romance with a lie: a lie about him.

"Of course." She said softly.

Bertie smiled a large white toothed grin and dashed down the veranda's steps clicking his heals in the air after a sudden bounce from the last step and leaped back into his carriage. He lunged his strong hand out of the tiny window and began to wave as the carraige turned back around in the half-circle drive and returned to the village of Sintra fully rejuvenated and free of any misgivings about the story Nícole relayed to him about Jota doArco.

 She watched as the carriage got smaller and smaller in the distance and became camouflaged in the shadows of the clouds in the sky, yet his hand still motioned goodbye like a tiny bright dot until it was gone completely into the horizon. 

Quina only felt the deep gutting feeling in the pit of her stomach the ached in all her bones and landed with the heaviness of a ship's anchor in her heart. It was the feeling of guilt. 

Her love life would now flourish on the contingency she aide the denial another. 

Back inside the house, Jota walked into his room and began to remove his tie. 

Jota too felt the deep anchor in his heart. Again he had to live the lie that he himself created. A broken story that filled the vacuum of societal gossip and would appease the rumor mill only to protect him from the gazing stares of everyone around him and also, the lie help keep the law at bay. Not only was Jota and Lucas' secret, and much whispered about relationship, a social scandal, it was also illegal on every term. 

Quina turned to her uncle as soon as Bertie's carriage had vanished but he was gone. 

Up in his room now, Jota removed his smart dark jacket and tossed it onto the bright blue bed spread with tiny white embroidered pattern of white marigold flowers stitched all over the top. The room was a glow in the late afternoon light, each beam of sun shine that filtered through the cluster of rogue rain clouds illuminated the pale blue walls with white moldings with glass from the various picture frames reflecting bright squares down on the wooden floor. 

Jota stared down at the squares made of light from the picture frames and looked to them on the wall.  There were etchings of his father and grandfather. The two men that he and his late brother Paulo inherited Empresa doArco

He felt the weight of his disappointment himself so heavy that he quickly found a Cherrywood chair to catch  his weight and turned to look out of the window and over the gardens of orange marigolds. His mind remained beleaguered by the guilt of this own making. The story that, even though was created to protect him, was torture on his heart all these years. 

"What's happened?" Lucas asked stepping into the room from an adjoining private washroom. 

Jota just shook his head.

"Has something happened?" Lucas asked again, a white terrycloth towel drying his face. 

"It's Quina. It appears that the rumors of us have struck again and she was confronted by them by the young man from Lisbon that seems to be interested in her. It was all so fast. All of a sudden there he was on our veranda asking her if what he was told about the nature of you and I were true." Jota explained, his eyes filled with water reflecting the bright natural light beaming in from the widow he sat next to. 

Lucas took a breath.

"She had to lie Lucas. She naturally told him what I had told her about us, what I have been telling people about us for years and years." Jota added.

"Of course she did. What else was she going to say?" Lucas asked sincerely. 

"But why? Why does that make us feel better? It shouldn't. We shouldn't have to say things that aren't true to appease everyone else. It doesn't make sense." Jota explained.

"It doesn't make sense? Of course it does! The world around us is fickle and cruel. Not a soul among us can fathom the idea of two men loving each other just as you and I do. It's unnatural to them, but in reality how can love be unnatural? Jota--there is no easy answer. Quina did what came natural to her. As it has come natural to you. And to me." Lucas explained "Its survival." 

Jota turned his chair around and patted the side of the bed he was next to so that Lucas would come and sit. Jota then grabbed Lucas' hands in his and squeezed. The light from the window shined on Lucas' caramel skin, it almost seemed like he was made of gold, he sparkled. And Jota's eyes filled with happiness just staring at him in the beauty of the afternoon. 

He thought about the day the night they met. A party thrown by a wealthy Sintra widow who was hoping to finally rid herself of all the sadness of her own husbands death. It had been 8 years since the man's death and the widow sought to fill her home with laughter and music and happiness.

As a friend of the widow, Jota naturally came to the party there to support her. She enjoyed his company. His humor. His handsome face. And she knew, too, that he was lonely and that there was something special about him. The old widow saw that this loneliness only could end with someone equally as humorous, equally as special and equally as lonely. 

At that party, where the widow of Sintra, rich in wealth and kindness alike, introduced her very good friend Jota to her nephew Lucas Silveira. 

The first time they met their eyes locked and never ever looked to another place. They were smitten, 22 years later. 

Then reality kicked in again. The truth of the matter was the lies hiding their love ruled the day.

"But what does it say about us that we are fine with living in secret as long as we remain safe inside these walls. It seems counter productive. Or...counter love!" Jota exclaimed.

"Jota, you know why it has to be this way! Its beyond just the side whispers and secretive talks about us in the corners of fancy rooms and restaurants. We could be arrested. We could be separated forever." Lucas reminded him.

"Another reality." Jota replied his heart still skipping a beat at the beauty of Lucas in the sun.

"Its one we have to live with." Lucas replied.

As the two continued to talk, Quina walked up to the white bedroom door and listened. At first she didn't want to interrupt and began to turn away, but then the conversation turned as she heard a distinctive name. 

"It just seems so unfair that because of Madanela's true cruelty you had to wait all this time to meet and confined yourself to Quina. Things could have been so much easier had she allowed you into their lives." Lucas explained.

"Those days were even worse." Jota said.

"I remember. Madalena was truly horrid to you. Remember the time you came to Evora? Quina was probably a year or two years old. She refused you entrance to the house and..." Lucas said reminding Jota who interrupted him.

"The names. Those horrid names she called us." 

"You were devastated. But you see, Madalena's cruelty and lack of understanding is what made you do what you had to do. You had to lie to protect us. Otherwise where would we be Jota? Apart? ...or worse?" Lucas recalled attempting to ease Jota out of his guilt. 

"Or worse." Jota replied. 

"But they didn't have to be. I guess what I am saying is that things could be even worse now, they could be like then. You could be alone without me and still without your niece. But they're not. We have to celebrate that they are not and not hurt for what we cannot control." Lucas added.

Quina's heart again, broke into a million pieces. To hear her mother was the main reason she was never allowed to meet her uncle, to hear of her coldness was the reason she never met her name sake, was all too much. She covered her gasp and shook her head. She could hear no more and quickly made her way down the hallway and into her own room. 

"She reminds me so much of my brother. Strong. Determined. You're right Lucas. Fine. We'll celebrate what we have and put the worst behind us. At least so far Quina has been able to thwart anything from escalating with what that young man asked her about." Jota said, jumping to his feet and patting Lucas on the back. 

Lucas got up from the bedside and walked over to Jota and grabbed his body and locked his arms around him tightly as their chests touched and their eyes were locked. 

"That is all we can do. Live in the now."

Lucas looked at him and winked. 

"Listen, I have an idea! What better way to celebrate this new lease than to have a sort of ball. Not a big one, just one where we can invite people over to Calêndula, show off the flowers, and show the world my beautiful niece. It should be wonderful! It has to be!"  

"A Ball!?" Lucas exclaimed somewhat confused at the idea.

"YES! A celebration! Just as you said!" Jota replied. 

Lucas threw his hands up in the air and shook his head laughing. He went over and grabbed the towel he was drying his face with from the bed and laughed all the way back into the washroom.

"A ball it is!!" Lucas shouted with a giggle. 

Their connection and love had overcome so much for so long. Lucas came back into the bedroom dressed in a fresh shirt. Jota grabbed his arm and turned him back and they fell into a deep embrace. The party for Quina felt like the perfect way to celebrate not only their new familial connection but also surviving yet another attempt and their own destruction, this time from Nicole's cold and calculating greed. 

But would it last? 


The night of the party at Casa Calêndula was cool, a brisk breeze shifted through the willows and the taller ash tress that surrounded the house like a thick blanket of green and brown. Jota had ordered large oil burning lanterns to line the walk way up to the house that looked like elevated iron birth cages with a spark of light burning within.

Inside her yellow and white bedroom with golden wooden cherubs that floated above the door and the window in the moldings, Quina could feel the butterflies in her stomach circling inside her.

She sprayed a squirt of her favorite perfume on her neck as the glow of candles illuminated her perfect skin in the mirror as Isilda walked in with a small velvet lined box in her hand.

"This is all too much, I shouldn't have agreed for Tio Jota to do this party for me. I mean, its ridiculous, don't you think Isilda?" Quina asked her trusted confidant. 

"It's not for me to say. Senhor Joaquim has been dreaming of his family reuniting for years and years, who are we to say how he should celebrate that. A party seems fitting though, if I should give my opinion. Anda la menina, pega. Take it." Isilda said extending her arm with the velvet box in her hand.

"What is this?" 

"Open it." Isilda replied, smiling from ear to ear.

Quina gave her quick glance of silly skepticism that quickly melted away when the booked creaked open. It was a strand of Quina's mother's favorite pearls. The light of the candled made the pearls almost seem to glow against the black velvet. Quina gasped in surprise then quickly pulled the pearls out and lifted them up for a closer look.

"Before we left Evora, I grabbed these and packed them. I had no idea if you'd need them but I was right to do it. Tonight is a perfect night for you to wear these. Your mother would be so proud." Isilda said.

Quina's expression of joy soon flattened to heartbreak remembering what she overheard just five days before, a giant piece of her family's puzzle that was incredibly unsettling. Her mother's part in keeping Jota out of their lives---almost permanently. 

"Proud? That seems doubtful. I'm here in the place she least wanted to be. With the person she least wanted me to meet. I doubt she would be proud." Quina replied placing the pearls back into the box. 

"What do you mean?" 

"She was the reason why Ti-Jota and I and were so disconnected. She was the reason. I ....overheard Lucas and Tio talking. They confirmed it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised but I am surprised my father allowed it. Or agreed. I don't know. It's all so complicated to understand and yet I am here and I have never felt more happy. Do you think I'm wrong for being happy when this wasn't the person or the place my parents wanted me to be?" Quina wondered.

Isilda, pulled Quina's hand over and sat her on the bed. Her giant white dress made a crunching sound as she sat down and Isilda removed the pearls once amore and placed them in a perfect mound in her open hand an forced Quina's fingers to closed around them. 

Quina could feel the cool touch of the family heirloom in her hand and she looked up at Isilda.

"My father was a man who had certain ideas about women. They shouldn't learn to read. They shouldn't speak in conversations where topics were mostly about things men knew more about. It's something I fought him over so often. He wasn't perfect. His ideas weren't perfect and in reality were completely wrong. But they were his, they didn't have to be mine. You being here has nothing to do with what your parents thought of your Tio Jota. Nothing. If you want to be here my dear, and enjoy him and the company he keeps, whomever that might be, that is your prerogative. You are the woman you are going to be no matter what your parents ideas for you were." Isilda advised.

Quina looked Isilda in the eyes, a woman who practically raised her more that her own mother really did. She could see that despite the feeling of uncertainty she was having she could tell that in Isilda she had an ally. And that is what mattered to her, to know that loving her uncle no matter what outside influences were attempting to do to change her mind was the true path she needed to follow.

Quina's smile returned and she opened up her fist and saw the gleaming pearls again. She put them on and Isilda fastened the back. Quina got up from the bed in her crunchy sounding dress with its layers of tulle shifting beneath the satin white overskirt and walked back over to the mirror. 

"Perfeita!" Isilda said glowing just as bright at Quina as the strand of pearls on her neck. 

Every parlor and every sitting room on the west side of Casa Calêndula was glittering with light from thousands of candles and oil lanterns that matched the larger ones that lined the tree lined drive up to the home.

The party goes, all dressed to the nines shipped small amounts and champagne and gossiped amongst themselves eager to finally meet the celebrated daughter of Paulo and Madalena doArco who had now come home to roost her in family's ancestral home in Sintra. 

Of course the excitement of the ball was without it's scandal.

The ghost of the secret between Jota and the rest of the town loomed heavy in the whispers of the guests. They all knew what had always been said of Jota and his male companion, the supposed care taker of Calêndula,  but tonight all that was put to the side to welcome Quina into the vibrant inner circle of Sintra's high society even if they had shunned Jota over the  years over his supposedly chosen life-style. Jota didn't care what they were saying about him on this night---he wanted to focus all the light in the world on his beautiful niece.

Tonight was her night. 

"It's absolutely glorious." The Duchess of Leiria said of Casa Calêndula as she, Nícole and Tiago entered the home together under the glow of the thousands of orange and yellow lights

 The women were both dressed in floor length white dresses, The Duchess' head was crowned with a tiny tiara that held her hair up in a curly up-do that was so tightly pulled her eyes seemed to be stretched in a squint. Nícole patted the side of her gown flattening a small crease as her brother Tiago huffed in his tuxedo and tales with boredom. 

"Shush Tiago." Nícole bristled.

"This is absurd. You don't even like the girl all that much why are we even here?" Tiago said.

"Absurd!? Tiago we are here to protect Bertie's reputation. Imagine him getting further involved with this olive oil princess and this family of god knows what. It would destroy him!" Nícole objected.

"Destroy him or destroy you? There is absolutely nothing we can do to change him mind. He already knows the story and he's decided he doesn't care! What is it to you?" Tiago replied.

"You are both talking too loud. Save this squabble for another time and drink this and smile. Tonight is not the night. Regardless of who's house we are in look around you. The crème de la crème is here right in front of you and the can year you. Don't louse this up." The Duchess ordered as she handed each of the Ferreira siblings a flout of champagne. 

As the threesome continued to mingle Nícole suddenly saw Bertie in the corner with another gentleman from town, both men shadowed by the large potted palm that loomed over them like a giant hand casting perfect triangle shadows across their faces. 

"Good evening." Nícole said to both men, Bertie forcing his annoyance inward. 

"Boa tarde." the gentleman with Bertie said in a short bow from his neck.

"Senhor Palmeiro, this is my friend from Lisbon, Nícole Ferreira. Nícole this is Senhor Jorge Palmeiro, he runs the newspaper O Seculo." Bertie said.

"Oh! Senhor Palmeiro, are you offering my friend Alberto a job! YOU MUST! He is an amazing writer a fine fine journalist and I would know I've ready just about everything he's ever written. You must take him on at O Seculo. It's my favorite paper!" 

"Nícole!" Bertie exclaimed slightly embarrassed at Nícole's overt attempt at greasing Palmeiro's wheels in getting Bertie hired. 

"Oh!" Palmeiro said.

"Yes, and oh Bertie, he can tell a story. He can do anything. Writing of course. All of it. He's just one of the best journalists I've truly ever read. Did you show Senhor Palmeiro your work on that orphanage in Essex Bertie? Remember? You wrote about how the children were so terribly treated. They were starved! And then the sanitation there...oh! God awful!" Nícole Awkwardly gushed. 

"Uhh... I didn't think the story of horrible sanitation in a filthy orphanage was really called for in this setting. We were just having small talk 
Nícole." Bertie said blushing.

"Oh. Well. It's a very good piece is all." She replied. "You must hire him."

"Well, miss we weren't in fact discussing Alberto's future with my paper. However it is very good to see he already has such enthusiastic admirers." Palmeiro said appeasing Nícole.

"I think he would be a perfect fit." Nícole continued, as she sipped more of her champagne. 

"Yes... well, I'll be in touch Mr. Amaral. Have a wonderful evening." Palmerio said excusing himself. "Miss." he added kissing Nícole's hand. 

"You should really learn to be more vocal, I don't think he knows my birthday or my favorite food yet or better what time in the morning I take my first piss." Bertie said coldly rolling his eyes at Nícole. 

"I was just trying to help." She replied.

"What are you even doing here? I don't think it's a good idea for you to be here." He said.

"We were invited. Well we came with Adelaide---she was invited and I just cannot allow you to make a fool of yourself, Alberto. You have to stop all this non-sense with Joaquina before it's too late. Imagine if Palmeiro knew you were romantically interesting in the niece of Jota doArco and all his scandalous exploits. You'd never get work at his paper!"

"I'll have you know he actually doesn't care about any of that. I'm sure of it and another thing, Quina told me everything you said was a lie. All of it. Its all just gossip and trash and you need to stop spreading it. Do you understand me? Stop this behavior at once!" Bertie said storming off to a different part of the party.

"BERTIE!" Nícole shouted.

"Darling keep your calm. We saw everything. So did half this room. Just forget it and move on people will forget if you just play it off. Come. Come.... Lets get more champagne." Adelaide, the duchess said quickly trying to do damage control. 

"I hate this whole charade." Tiago grumbled. 

Nícole's little body floated over to a tall blonde butler in a white tuxedo with a white towel draped over his arm that was stretch mid-way to his face holding up a sparkling silver tray with a dozen champagne flute's. She grabbed one and guzzled it down hoping it would extinguish the fire raging inside of her over the embarrassment she had just felt after Bertie's storming off. 

His dismissal of her was infuriating. She knew now he had chosen Quina. It was something she could not stand. It was a choice she would neve relive down no matter who she ended up with. 

"I'm going to freshen up, excuse me." Nícole said quickly making her way through the various snobbish guests and up the stairs to find a private powder room to regroup. 

"She will not let this go. Not in a million years." Leiria said as she and Tiago both watched Nícole zig-zag her way though the loitering crowd and up the long winding staircase like a flicker of white light. 

"What do we do?" Nícole's brother Tiago asked the Duchess as they both watched Nícole go up the stairs.

Adelaide, the Duchess of Leiria never winced in the face of a spectacle and simply lifted a very manicured eyebrow and sipped her Champaign and answered Tiago dryly with: "We watch." and took his arm and mingled among the other guests who all knew who she was. 

In a sectioned off room of the house that was decorated with large candelabras and against pale yellow walls and what seemed like thousands of large frames of Sintra landscapes and the Lisbon harbor, Quina and Isilda were entertaining two very chatty women from Porto who had come all the way south just to meet her at the invitation of her Jota. 

They seemed to have as many questions about Quina as there were portraits on the wall. Who were her favorite artists, what types of fruits did she like for desert, if she had two name her favorite books what we they be? All things Quina was completely bored with, but this was her introduction to the world her family's business had built so she answered every single one with a forced small.

Out of the corner of her eyes, the glow of the candelabras, Bertie walked in. Handsome and perfectly dressed in a tuxedo that as black as the night with a fresh red carnation in the boutonniere. 

Quina turned from her eyes from her conversation then politely excused herself over to Bertie who quickly grabbed her hands.

"You look ...." He said.

"Like a pretend princess in a world I know nothing about. All of this is just too much. When Tio Jota started to show me all the plans for tonight I just thought it was for a few people. 15? 20? But, Bertie I think I counted 75 just as I walked through the front parlor into here. There's even more outside! Tio has a huge canopy in the garden and I just feel silly!" Quina said squeezing Bertie's hands.

"You look beautiful." he replied as she blushed. "There is so much I want to tell you, so much I wish I could express here but I think I should wait another night. Tonight is for you and I don't want to make things so strange." He added.

"What do you mean?" Quina wondered.

"I just feel very drawn do you Joaquina. I've never really felt so strongly about someone in all my life. There are times I catch myself sort of looking out in the distance and my eyes glaze over and my thoughts just run to you. It has happened ....alot!" He joked.

"It does feel a bit like kismet doesn't it? We met at the most perfect times in both our lives. I had such a dark last few months needing a new outlook on life and you came back to Portugal for practically the same reason. We were meant to find each other somehow, some way." She replied as Isilda and the two other very chatty women slowly left the room to give them privacy.

But at a party where the center of attention, the main attraction was a single person there was no way the two intertwined new love birds could be unseen. The whole party gazed over from every open corner of Casa Calêndula and into the flicking glowing lights of the side parlor where Quina and Bertie were together, still holding hands just under the archway that made the entrance to the room.

They looked into each others eyes, the light bright enough to reflect their own faces back to them but dim enough to create a filter of shadows around them keeping the noise at bay.... and in the warmth of a moment where the whole world seemed to be gone for a second, Bertie leaned down and kissed her soft pinks lips sparking joy and passion and happiness like never before. Everyone all around who could see grinned with delight. Including Jota who was off in the center of the other room with Lucas and several other guests. 

Upstairs Nícole quickly made her way down a secluded hallway and passed the large bedroom with pale blue walls and a large bed in the center with a blue and white bedspread with white marigold pattern of flowers embroidered on it. 

It was Jota and Lucas' room. 

Nícole peeked in and noticed a large heavy looking frame on the large oak desk. In the frame was a black and white photograph Jota and Lucas together, holding hands dressed in tuxedos in the garden of Casa Calêndula.

It was like the heavens had opened, like someone had shined a light in her eyes in the pitch black of darkness. The rumors were all true. Nícole knew Quina was lying, Jota was lying and Bertie was under this spell of infatuation with Quina that was based on a fabrication.

Nícole grabbed the photograph and stared at it with a wild look in her eyes. She was being made a fool of, she was being told all of the stories she had heard and repeated about Jota doArco were non-sense and lies and that she needed to stop repeating them that SHE was the problem, the SHE was the one who was in the wrong and that perpetuating these lies were an act against a good man and that SHE was the true villain in all of this. 

But to Nícole, with the frame in her perfectly gloved hands, she had the proof to show Bertie that everything was true and that the family so beloved around the nation for their long time connection to the families and their kitchen via their product had been living and projecting a lie.

They were vial, Nícole  thought, they were an affront to the nation with the type unnatural relationship the two men were having. It was all so perverted, she though. 

Nícole would not stand for this humiliation, not another second. She grabbed the frame and turned towards the bedroom door and just as fast as she entered she was out, rushing down the corridor, through an open annex that lead to a second corridor, this one larger and less private than the one that lead into Jota and Lucas's room. Her arms were crossed at her chest with the large picture frame of the two men facing inward towards her chest. She charged through a group of guests and down the large stair case and through an even larger group of guests into the main sitting room where Jota was holding up a flute of Champaign toasting his niece and their beautiful reunion they had experienced for the last several weeks in Sintra and at Casa Calêndula. 

Jota's eyes were glowing, his face was reflecting a pride that he had not ever shown in all these years... he was happy. Happy again that his family, although fractured in death, was together in life. 

Nícole entered the sitting room and shoved her way through the guests and made her way to the front of the group where Bertie was standing with Quina right next to Jota. 

"Is that? Ay meu Senhor, its your sister, the look on her face has my stomach turning." The Duchess of Leiria said to Tiago from 5 rows of guests back.

"What does she have?" Tiago asked.

The Duchess again lifted her brow, flipped open her fan to cover her long nose and small mouth and said "a spark to light the wick, my dear."

Then Nícole took the frame that she found in the private portion of the house, Jota and Lucas's room and lifted it over her head and slammed it down on the marble floor shattering it in a thousand pieces right in Jota, Quina and Bertie's faces.

The loud bang and shattering sound startled the guests who were listening to Jota speak. There were gasps and screams and then the front row of guests and even Bertie, who's eyes were as large as two moons with shock at Nícole's actions, noticed the photograph facing upwards of the two men who were in love. 

More gasps. 

Nícole screamed as she pointed a finger at the shattered glass and photograph on the floor. 

                             - NINE -

There was a hush in the crown of party guests, almost everyone staring down at the floor as best they could trying to get a glimpse at what the black and white photos graph revealed. It was the kind of hush that was so silent every breath taken could be heard. It was so quiet for what was only a split second but it lingered in the air all around the shocked faced of Jota, Quina and Bertie who were facing the angry face of Nícole Ferreira, who's vying for the attention of Alberto "Bertie" Amaral had taken a destructive turn.

"Young lady I will have you kindly leave this home immediately. " Jota finally said as Nícole took a step closer to them, her heels crunching the broken glass below her feet.

"Not after everyone see's just the type of person you really are and have been all this time. The rightful authorities should know what has been happening here once and for all. Its against the law!" Nícole hissed.

"What is this? What is she talking about?" Bertie asked confused.

"Nícole, vamos lá, ja chega. Enough!" Tiago said, attempting to pull his sister away from the mess she had made as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd, still shocked and confused at the photo of Jota and Lucas on the floor under thousands of glass shards. 

"No! No Tiago! Let me go!" Nícole shot back to Tiago. "Not until Bertie sees that Joaquina has been lying this whole time. She's known all along that this....this 'man' has been living a life unspeakable to polite society and she's lied to his face. Look for yourself, Bertie, I wasn't the one who lied." She added as she picked the photo off the ground and showed it to Bertie.

"You went into my room and took something private that was mine and you're now trying to shame my niece and I..." Jota began to speak as the anger in his heart slowly bubbled into a boil.

"Do not attempt at flipping this abhorrent act in this photo on my. I happened to make a mistake and found your room but the truth lies in this photo, sir, I am not the villain here. Look! See for yourself!" Nícole replied.

Off in a corner of the room Lucas saw the crowd began to stare at him. They began to whisper and one man even curled his lip in anger at the truth being exposed, the truth of a rumor that had long been talked about but never proven. 

Lucas felt a danger in his own house that he had never felt before. He started to feel cornered. Jota was too far away from him dealing with Nícole for him to call for help. He could see his presence in that room with all the tension and shock would only breed  more anger. 

Lucas put his flute of champagne down and rushed out of the room and up the stairs to the second floor. 

Back over at the shattered picture frame things were getting more tense. 

"Quina I don't understand. Is this true? Has all of this been a lie? Your uncle....this man...they're......but you told me..." Bertie began.

"Joaquina do not say word." Jota said firmly, then turned his attention to the wide-eyed on lookers who were still watching the drama unfold while sipping their every bubbling golden Champaign. "Ladies and gentleman clearly, there is a matter of family that needs to be attention to and I would appreciate if we all retired in our own homes for the night. Please, safely return home and I am so very sorry for the unexpected outburst."

Jota, Isilda, and several butlers began ushering the whispering guests out of the house. They were all staring at have other wondering just what would happen. Those who cold see what happened at the front of the crowd filled in t he ones in the back, the whispers grew louder and then came the sinkers and the eye rolls directly in Jota's face. He attempted to help a woman put on a coat and she quickly pulled away as if what he was would some how rub off on her. 

The truth was out. There was no way now he could hide it. And then the dagger to the heart. As the final guests filtered out of Casa Calêndula, a man shouted back at the door a word that would cut Jota into two, at least it would feel that way. 


Jota stood at the front door and didn't say a world back at the departing guests. He just watched as the crowd got smaller and smaller into the distance. He just stood there. A tear in his eye that reflected the glowing lanterns on the path outside burning a hot warm light that seemed the burn hot like his pain. Hot like his hurt. Hot like his shame.

He turned back into the house and suddenly thought of Lucas. Where was Lucas!

"Your uncle is..." Bertie began before Quina interrupted.

"A good man!" She replied quickly. 

"But..." he said

"But nothing. What business is it of anyone else who he loves or what he does in his own house. You're an intelligent person Bertie, someone who has lived in several cities around the globe I'm sure you've seen that there are people just like my uncle who live and love and never bother anyone else." Quina replied as The Duchess of Leiria gasped in appalled horror of her acceptance. 

Quina looked around the room. Everyone was gone. It was just slack-jawed Bertie, The overdramatic  Duchess, the annoyed Tiago and the seething Nícole standing practically in a circled around the shattered glass of the frame. 

"You don't have to explain anything, we should go." Tiago said.

"Who's business is it?" Nícole replied to Quina ignoring her brother. "I'll tell you who, the crown magistrate. What is happening here is nothing but illegality and ...and... abomination! It goes against everything we know as natural and normal and the law. I'm sorry Bertie, but I tried to warn you I tried to tell you that there was something more here and that Quina was party to it." She added.

"Quina you told me it was all a lie, all the rumors about your uncle were lies. But you told me lies. You were the one lying." Bertie said softy attempting to drown out Nícole.

"I was protecting my uncle. That is all." She replied.

As the group fussed over the details, Jota walked and found Isilda attempting to hide the photo in a side table drawer that was too small for the photograph.  He grabbed it from her and put it up against his chest. 

"Where is Lucas? I can't find him." He asked her.

"I saw him leave the room when that vicious Nícole  started her attack on you. I am so sorry she did this. Please don't blame my nephew Bertie, he never wanted any of this to happen." 

Jota smiled to appease Isilda's worries but said nothing and quickly left the room again to find Lucas. His whole world was now crumbling in an instant. It felt like the nightmare had come true once the truth was out but he didn't care. He couldn't care. The most important part of his life was missing and that is what mattered. They could come and arrest him at that very moment but if Lucas was still missing he would fight to death to free himself just to find him.

 Lucas was his life. For decades they were each other's lives. He had lost him. Somehow, some a the scattered bodies of the guests, the chaos of the scandal. Lucas was gone.

"I don't know what to do. Or say." Bertie said. "this whole thing could destroy..." he added to Quina's sudden look of confusion.

"Destroy what? You? You're thinking of yourself? My uncle has just been humiliated in front of the entire city of Sintra. My uncle has been destroyed,. not you." She replied. 

"Quina you know what this will do to me too. I mean Mr. Palmeiro  was here from the paper, how would this look?" 

"It will look like Nícole Ferreira went insane and decided to embarrass herself after becoming too drunk at an otherwise lovely night, making up things just to make herself look better in the eyes of a man she will never have. That's it." Quina replied.

Nícole's eyes narrowed and she slowly walked up to Quina so that they were inches apart. Then she spit on her. Quina gasped and Tiago quickly jumped between the two. He pushed his right arm out so that his sister was  now further away and he handed Quina a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. 

"That is ENOUGH! Adelaide, grab Nícole we are leaving right now." Tiago ordered of the duchess. The tone in his voice was deep baritone, strong. He had never more disgusted with Nícole. Adelaide, the duchess of Leiria felt the hair stand on her arms looked down on Quina just as much as Nícole did, but spitting on her clearly crossed a line.

The duchess grabbed Nícole and quickly took her out of the house. Tiago, began to leave as well but turned to Quina one more time "I am deathly embarrassed. And sorry." He said then vanished in what seemed like a split second leaving Bertie alone with Quina.

"I'm so sorry. She can be too much to handle." Bertie said.

"I think you should leave too." Quina replied.

"Quina." Isilda said from the back of the room.

"Isilda.....please." Quina said softly. "Bertie if you cannot see for yourself what really happened here tonight, who the real vial person is in all of this I'll make it very simple. Remember who spit in my face and who is now devastated that his life is in danger, then ask yourself who the real villain is." Quina replied and left Bertie with Isilda.

"She lied to me tia. This could have been so much worse." He said.

"I think you should take her advice, meu queridoNícole had no right." Isilda said. "Just go back to the hotel. Think about what happened and then before you go back to Lisbon in a day or two, come back and speak to Quina. Go on....go." 

Bertie was undeterred in his own feelings of the lies Quina parroted to protect Jota and Lucas. But he did as Isilda said and left back to his Sintra hotel. 

Quina quickly made her way upstairs in search of Jota and Lucas. She looked in all the rooms. They were all empty. Finally, at the end of a long hall there was a study that had a dim light glowing from under the door. She picked up the hem of her dress and dashed down the hall way and pushed open the door to find Jota sitting a the desk devastated in tears and reading a hastily written note.

"It's from Lucas." Jota said in a teary pause. "He's gone." 

                              - TEN -

At Casa Calêndula, the day after the fiasco of the party, Jota sat in a dimly lit parlor on the west side of the house with large windows that went from the ceiling to the floor. The windows were shaded by a thick mane of oak trees that cooled the parlor in the summer and kept it ice cold in the winters. In this shade, Jota stared at the note Luca had left him the night before. 

It was as if the words weren't making sense to him. I was as if the language it was written in wasn't in any language Jota could comprehend. It wasn't real, it couldn't be real, Jota thought. All the years together all of the moments of happiness they shared gone in a split second, in one breach of privacy spilled out for all to see. A moment that Lucas believed Jota would never live down.

"Can we come in?" Quina said, standing in a beautiful dark dress with her hair cascading down her back in a thick braid that she pulled back over her shoulder and Isilda at her side, their hands tightly knotted as one. 

"Please. Please." Jota said softly. "I suppose you want to read this." He said folding the note into a square and placing it on the table.

"We don't have to know what he said, not at all." Isilda replied.

"I'm so sorry I came here. I'm the reason this all happened. If I had never come here, if I had just stayed in Évora than you never would have thought to have had this party and Nícole would have never done what she did and Lucas would have..." Quina began before Jota interrupted. 

"My darling it was not you. Believe me. This was a dam that was meant to break and thus, it did. No secret is meant to last forever and foolishly Lucas and I always thought it would go one and one." Jota said. "He was kind enough to go along with it all this time. He deserved better." 

"Sir, he understood, I'm sure, why you had to be so secretive about the truth. Its  not safe." Isilda said. 

"That's what his letter said. He was worried that had Nícole gotten to someone important, some sort of authority than perhaps that would be the end of us, not just he and I but of you and I Quina. Of the whole company. He was worried that the company would not outlive  the scandal." Jota said leaning over in his blue and white chair and pulling the square shaped not up from the table and handing it to Quina. 

She took it from him, her eyes brown and full of tears and unfolded it and read aloud. 

"My Darling Joaquim,

I am writing in a hurried motion. What happened down stairs is truly unbelievable and I have no doubt you are in a panic. I wish with everything I have to take that feeling from you but now there is a danger of having me close. We never expected this did we? Or perhaps we did. If what that girl has done seeps out and those who wish your downfall succeed than it would be truly tragic. All your family's work gone in an instant ---Joaquina's future uncertain. I have decide to vanish...without me in the face of this storm you are safe. Destroy my photos---and perhaps one day we'll meet again when its all done. For now I must go.

All my love. Forever. LS."

Isilda was sobbing. 

"He sacrificed himself so that you could...?" Quina asked folding the letter again into a square.

"So that we could deny his existence, thus whatever would be reported could be considered a false accusation. He wanted me to destroy his photos. They'd surely come and search the house for any kind of material to substantiate an immoral affair." Jota explained.

"Its horribly unfair." Isilda said as she wiped her nose. 

"We had discussed this possibility, truly we had no idea it would have been exposed in such a violation of our private belongings but...nevertheless we assumed the secret could come out."

Quina got up from her soft blue and white chair across from her uncle and knelt and grabbed his hands tightly. The sun peeked through the oak trees outside and cast a geometric grid of shadows on her caramel skin. She squeezed his hand and he looked at her like a sad puppy who lost his mother.

She then got up and kissed his cheek and excused herself and Isilda, allowing him time time to himself to think. The two women walked down the hall and into a chamber that filtered into the foyer of the house. Quina broke off from her walk with Isilda and went to the door where she grabbed a shall that was hanging on a side coatrack.

Isilda, surprised by Quina's sudden motion for the outer doors tilter her head confused.

"Well, wait for me, I can grab a shall too!" Isilda said to Quina who was already half out the door.

Quina turned around as she skipped over the front steps as she hailed one of the men who drove the carriage over to her. 

"I'll be right back! I have to take care of something!" Quina shouted back to Isilda who was now at the front door with her arms crossed.

The driver quickly brought the already hitched horse to where Quina was standing. She jumped into the buggy and shouted her destination. The driver nodded his head and they were off. 

At the beautiful Hotel de Hera in Sintra, Bertie was still reeling from the shock of the night before. He frustratingly finished packing his belongings in his room and was awaiting a bell-hop to take his luggage down to a carriage destined for the train-station where he'd then board a train back to Lisbon--without Quina. 

As he folded a small handkerchief with his initials on it knock came to the door. Expecting the bell-hop, he yelled for them to enter freely. 

"You're much too quick young man!" Bertie fastening the buckles on his large trunk.

"Bertie." A soft voice said from the door.

It was Quina. 

"Quina! What are you doing here?" 

"I need your help. My uncle needs your help." She said.

"I'm sorry I don't know what I can do for him. I don't know what I can do for any of you." Bertie said half upset with Quina half devastated that he couldn't just kiss her like he truly wanted.

"But you can. There is a real danger that my uncle and Lucas, if he is found, could be taken away to some god forsaken jail cell for no reason at all. They've hurt no one. They've done nothing that two people in love don't already do." Quina explained.

"What do you mean if Lucas if is found?" Bertie asked.

"Last night amid the chaos during Nícole's tirade, humiliated my uncle and Lucas in front of everyone and, of course, doing what she did to you and I, Lucas vanished in fear that once the law got involved like Nícole wanted they would take them both away. He feared for their safety. My safety too--what would happen to me once people knew I knew of their relationship and turned the other cheek. Bertie, Nícole's selfishness last night has real human consequences. There will not be a single person at Casa Calêndula who's life will not be destroyed if this is confirmed to the law." She explained. 

"What do you think I should do?"
"Convince her it's better to just leave it as it is. Tell her it isn't worth hurting any one further." 

"She'll never listen. She feels just as humiliated as I am sure Jota feels. There is no talking to her. " Bertie said.

"Well then I will leave it to you ...whatever you do, think of the people who's lives are in deep danger, more than just surviving a scandal. This could be life threatening for Jota and Lucas. Don't have blood on your hands Bertie." Quina said as she slowly began to step put of the room and back into the hall. 

"Quina! Wait." Bertie said, she turned and looked at him. "I'll do what I can." He said, the words coming out of his mouth different than what he really wanted to say. 

"Thank you." She said softly.

"I hope to see you again. I really do." Bertie added. 

Quina tilted her head slightly, she smirked at his handsome face. He was beautiful, but the memory of him abandoning the moment the truth about Jota and Lucas was exposed flooded her mind. 

"Maybe." she said with a grin, knowing they could never have what they first attempted, not any time soon, how could she find love with a man who could not see real love when it was right in front of his face. 

A few hours later, Bertie flipped a sparkling silver coin tip to his eager bell-hop who hurried the luggage downstairs. Bertie's mind, however, was only on Quina. He felt as if things had moved quickly between them at first but that in a way it was perfect. They had connected and when the discovery of her lying to cover for her tio Jota came to light it was as if his entire world had burst. But he has is doubts. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was too quick to judge;' half of him wanted to take the side of a loving niece who was only protecting her uncle and the other side just felt like he was just as bad as  Nícole who in all her ruthlessness was actually the one telling the truth the whole time. 

Suddenly, as Bertie was closing his hotel room door after dispatching the bell-hops with his luggage for the trip back to Lisbon, Tiago rushed up and blocked the door from closing just in time before the door trapped his hand. 

"Epa!" Bertie shouted, the image of a hand reaching from the other side of the door startled him in his perfectly coiffed suite. 

Bertie reopened the door to a heavy breathing Tiago.

"What is it?" Bertie asked noticing he sense of  panic. 

"I think you should come down to the lobby at once." Tiago replied.

"Why? I'll be down in minutes, what's so urgent?" Bertie replied.

"Nícole. My sister has...she's taken one more step to make sure she punishes the doArco's for last night, normally I don't get in between my sister and her schemes but Bertie, this needs to stop. Only you can do that." 

Bertie rolled his eyes at the notion of helping, the whole situation to him had become too entirely toxic and there was nothing he could to do change Nícole's mind, he thought.  
Never-the-less, Bertie tightened the knot in his tie and went along with Tiago down the luxurious hallway of the hotel and down to the mouth of the main staircase of the lobby where busy marble floor echoed every step made up to the dome of the ceiling. 

Beyond the red carpeting of the large staircase in a small nook of the lobby sitting on red-velvet sofas that matched the staircase was a grimacing Duchess of Leiria, two Sintra city constables and Nícole recounting the events of the evening before.

"She's telling them everything." Tiago whispered.

"So? What can they do?" Bertie asked seemingly uninterested.

" seriously cannot let her do that. They'll take Jota away or something. They'll put him and Lucas ...god knows where. Why would you want that to be on your conscious?" Tiago wondered, his tone of voice direct and firm like a father taking control of a messy situation, a voice of reason in a wild wind of terrible behavior.

 Bertie looked at his best friend in the eyes, they had known each other for years and he knew he could trust Tiago with giving him the best advice. He took a deep breath and together the dashed down the large red carpeted staircase and headed for the group on the lobby sofas.

From the corner of her eye, still hiding he large nose from a fluttering fan, the Adelaide, the duchess of Leiria noticed Bertie and Tiago coming quickly. She nudged Nícole in the hip with her elbow giving a sign then, Nícole noticed too.

"Here! Officers, Alberto Amaral! See I told you he was with us. He's a journalist, of the truest form, he can tell you everything." Nícole as she physically turned one of the constables to face the coming Bertie and Tiago.

"Good morning all, what's all this?" Bertie asked.

"Nícole was recounting the night Alberto. Last night." The duchess said, she herself seeming uncomfortable with the idea of involving the police in this matter.

"Oh? What about it?" Bertie replied.

The duchess lifted a brow and sat herself on the sofa and fanned her face finally removing herself from very contention conversation. 

"Dona Ferreira tells us there was some kind of morals complain that you all wanted to direct towards ...." the first constable checked his notes "Senhor Joaquim doArco and Senhor Luca Silveira." 

"Morals charge? What morals charge?" Bertie replied as two surprised constables turned to look a shocked Nícole.

"Alberto. Have you gone mad between last night and this morning? Last night. Everyone saw what I know what I am talking about." Nícole interjected.

"You mean the amount of Champaign you drank and the spectacle you made when Senhor doArco was introducing his niece at the party? I mean I don't really think we need to involve the law here, you didn't do anything with malice, now did you? I know how honest you are, but everything broken can fixed. Senhor doArco said so himself. All that glass can be replaced " Bertie said as The duchess giggled. 

"WHAT?" Nícole shouted.

"Miss, what exactly is going on here? You mentioned to us that there were two men living up at Casa Calêndula involved in an inappropriate relationship that is against the law, is that still what you're stating?" The first constable asked. 

"Absolutely! They were all there. You can probably find more people at this hotel who were there two and they can corroborate my account. Go! GO there now and you'll see for yourself." Nícole insisted.

"Well, were the tree of you there?" The constable asked Tiago, Adelaide and Bertie.

"Yes and honestly its all very fuzzy to me. I too had a lot of Champaign, you know how the mind can blink in and out and then you just never know what you're seeing." Tiago said to his sister's gasp.

"That's right. It was a wonderful party. Lots of things happened that I think a lot of us would rather not talk about....personal ambitions and was fine, sir, you really have nothing to worry about. " Bertie said again negating Nícole's attempt to have Jota and Lucas taken in.

"And you?" The first constable asked the sitting duchess who was doing all but participating. "You have yet to chime in." 

The Duchess lowered her fan and looked at Bertie and Tiago who's nostrils were wide with heavy breathing their eyes too growing bigger in size by the second hoping she'd get the hint and help put this all behind them so that they could all just go home and forget it all happened. Nícole on the other hand was sure her best friend would do what she thought was right and end the nonsense both in the hotel lobby and the salacious affair at Casa Calêndula.

 The Duchess, stood up, her pail pink dress crinkled around here tiny waist where it folded when she sat and flicked her fan again as she stepped closer to the two constables. She was in her favorite place now, the center of attention. Everyone looked to her to break silence. 

"Well? What say you?" The second constable asked impatiently as he checked the small jacket pocket watch of the time.

"Incredible amounts of free libations can cause the blur of one's night to feel much more exciting than it truly was." She said in a wicked tone.

"Meaning?" The first constable asked.

"We drank too much at a boring party and then we came back here. That's all." She replied.

The two constables rolled their eyes and closed the small books that they had been writing their notes on. Bertie and Tiago shook their hands and Nícole, red-faced and furious stomped her foot asking them to come back. They turned and waved and shook their heads at the waste of time. 

"How dare you. All of you. I can find people to tell the truth. You've all betrayed me to my face!" Nícole screeched.

"Oh! Darling! That's enough. Leave it alone. Don't you understand? What's the point of actually going through with all of this. You won't win any sort of points with anyone in the circles we run in. In fact, you'll just ruin all the fun. Gossip is always so much more fun when its still in the speculative mode, the moment you expose the world to the truth the fun is over and then we have to move on, you see you just keep killing the party doing that. No one wants that." The duchess explained, finally revealing the motives of gossip mavens the world over. 

The fun in their routinely boring lives was in the telling of tales, not exposing their truth. The Duchess, who didn't mind pushing the false narratives so long they were easy to keep pushing shrugged  at her fuming best friend and went back to her seat on the red sofas. 

Tiago shook his head at his sister and walked over to the front desk to check out, Bertie stood now alone face to face with the woman who destroyed his budding romance with Quina all because she could not have him.  Eye to eye they were when finally she growled and slapped him across the face. 

The Duchess gasped and  Bertie took a breath after feeling his now red and raw face.

"I will never forgive you." Nícole growled.

"That makes two of us." Bertie replied as the Bell-hop nervously walked up to them altering seeing the slap. 

"Apologies for interrupting sir. Your carriage is here for the train station." He said holding his tiny hat over his heart embarrassed for witnessing the slap.

Bertie took one more look at Nícole, he looked her up and down from feet to shining crowned head where a small comb in the shape of a white orchid held her soft curls in place. Then, he left her. Never to see her again. 

Jota stood in the garden at Casa Calêndula alone, and stared off into the distance. The sun was setting and the glow of the orange light hit the petals of the thousands of Calêndula flowers all around the grounds making them seem as if they were lit with tiny little candles. 

He thought of what was to come. He thought of what he would do to protect Quina from any danger of the pending scandal. It was all so horrible. It was all so painful. He wished he could just have one more day with Lucas. One more day with the man he had spent so many years of his life together. Happy years. Years filled with music and laughter and private parties with friends who didn't care what kind of relationship was. Years of joy and of incredible partnership, so cherished by him but also now seeming to be taken for granted. As if they'd always last. 

He was gone. Gone to protect him. To protect Quina. 

"Tio." Quina said standing behind her uncle on perfectly coiffed green grass. 

"Quina where have you been? You've been gone for hours." Jota replied, as he turned around to see Quina standing with Lucas in the soft glow of the orange sunset.

"I figured there was no way Lucas could have left Sintra in the middle of the night, so I took a chance, tio, and I found him at the train station." Quina explained. "I brought him back. Where he belongs. Here with you."

"With me?" Jota asked innocently, his eyes filled with tears.

"With you." Lucas replied, equally as watery.  

"But Quina IT DOESN'T MATTER!" Jota said  jumping up and rushing over to Lucas.

Jota grabbed him in his and locked Lucas in an embrace that felt like was their very first. Tight. Secure. Comforting. Safe.

They were two people who loved each other, they had for years. They had created a guise that was not somewhat tarnished but it didn't matter them, and it certainly didn't matter to Quina.

She only saw to people who adored each other, protected each other because they loved, loved like everyone should love and be loved. 

"I should have never left you." Lucas said shaking his head in embarrassment. 

Jota smiled, showing all his perfect white teeth. It didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was Lucas was home. 

Without thinking, without any fear of who would see or what people would think, Jota reached over and  pulled Lucas in close and kissed him under the light of the golden setting sun in the garden of the thousands of marigold flowers that gave the house, their house: the place that was their sanctuary from the outside jaded world its name: Casa Calêndula.