Chapter Three

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"I'm happy you decided to accompany me, mijita." Lupe's face glows as bright as the sun, irradiating rays of blinding joy. Her sparkly eyes smile at me and I nod, flashing back a pensive smile. Tía's lips stretch into a warm smile in response, making her cheeks crinkle.

Her happiness compels me to do something that for many is "normal," but for me is very unusual. I sincerely want to show with actions what yet can't be expressed with words. Timidly, I reach for her hand and give them a gentle squeeze. Such a simple gesture, yet a defining moment for me. It's the first time I show her my gratitude through physical contact.

We both look down simultaneously. Lupe's hand squeezes mine back. The only person I used to do this with was my mother.

When I look up, I found a pair of glassy, smoky quartz orbs gazing at me, overflowing with surprise and emotion. The hope reflected in her eyes goes beyond my comfort zone, causing my anxiety to build up. My first instinct is to gently pull my hands away from her while my hazel stone beads bolt from her puzzling gaze.

"I'm sorry," I say apologetically, retracting my hands from hers.

Lupe nods slowly and answers with a soft voice, "You don't have to apologize, María Fernanda." Taking a deep breath, she stares at me thoughtfully. "Have you ever asked yourself why did I go after you?" She cautiously grabs my hands again and gauges my reaction. My eyes are cemented in our connection. Her thumbs start caressing the top of my hands in lazy circles. Purposely, I continue to stare down, pretending to be hypnotized by her soothing touch, but in reality, I'm only absconding from her penetrating gaze and the depth of her question.

We never talk about feelings or emotions. This is new territory for both of us.

"When Juan Diego told me you ran away, so many questions crossed my mind. Were you hungry? Did you have a place to sleep? Were you safe?" She makes a long pause, letting the melodic voices of the chorus be the only sound between us. However, her silence lingers and becomes exasperating. Now, I want to know it all. There's more to her story, and I wonder if she's gathering her thoughts or the courage she needs to continue.

The fact that she genuinely was worried about my well-being amuses me. It gives me ... joy. It makes me feel appreciated. My curious eyes search for hers and Lupe flashes a tight grin, acknowledging my curiosity. She nods and pats my hand, her cue to let me know she's ready to continue.

"You were only a sixteen-year-old girl, and you were all alone. I tried to find news about your mother and call her to let her know what was going on, but I didn't have any luck." Lupe tightens the hold on my hands and bites her lower lip hard. Her expression turns gloomy.

Deep inside, something tells me I won't like what's coming next in her story.

"Marife, I know what happened that night. I'm aware of what your father did to you."

I gasp, looking at her horrified. She looks devastated and profoundly sorry for what her own blood did to me. I start shaking my head and silently beg her to stop. I can't do this right now. This conversation isn't easy for her either. She sniffs and looks back at me with resolve and renewed strength.

"Don't worry, mijita. I won't ask anything to you. I don't even know if you'll ever be ready to talk about this, but what I need you to know is that none of us keep in contact with your father. You are safe now. You are safe with us.

You are safe with us? Does everyone in our family knows? I see my aunt's lips moving, but all I'm listening to are the voices in my head asking how much my family knows about what happened to me. I'm dying of shame.

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