She was about to hang the jacket in the Italian Venetian Bombe Armoire when she felt a piece of paper through the folds. Perplexed, she searched the coat for a hidden compartment.
“Psst!” Tia Katarina waved Olivia out of the room.
Olivia nodded and closed the door behind her as she stepped into the hallway. She unfolded the paper carefully and felt the unfamiliar material between her fingers.
Is this blood? She studied the dry, dark red smudges on the edge of the page.
The cursive script was short and tight and slanted to the right. It was a man’s handwriting, to be sure, but she did not recognize the penmanship. She concluded that the letter had not been penned by her father’s hand. Not only because she knew his handwriting, but also because the words contained an elegance and romanticism her father did not possess.
“You know better than to pry into your father’s private affairs,” Tia Katarina said as she lifted Javier’s jacket from Olivia’s arm.
Startled, Olivia raised her eyes from the letter. “I don’t believe this letter belongs to my father.”
“How can you be sure?” Tia Katarina examined the letter when Olivia handed it to her. “Is this blood?”
“I believe so, but it isn’t father’s blood. You see, he doesn’t have a scratch on his body.”
Tia Katarina glanced over her shoulder at her sleeping brother as he laid on his back snoring. She pulled the door closed and ushered her niece into another room. Tia Katarina recognized the texture and the watermark embedded into the paper. She had first seen it years ago when her dearest friend, Veronica Castro de Garcia, had fallen into an impossible love with a married man.
They fell in love before he married, in a time when the hope that tomorrow belonged to them lived strongly within them. It was a love that would not be, for he had been betrothed to another in a period when marriage among the aristocrats was a social contract between families and not a matter of the heart. The circumstances, however, did not sway their desire to be together.
He promised to convince his father to break off the engagement, and she promised to wait until that day came. Over the following months they exchanged clandestine smiles and knowing glances. But that only intensified their longing and led them to search for ways to express their love beyond the watchful eye of their parents and the gossips.
Then it happened. A shadow moved among the cobbled streets of Old Sienna. Some said it was the spirit of Saint Valentine, and others speculated it was the spirit of Lorenzo Valentino himself, the Last Valentine, as they would say. For it is said the shadow appears before those who have fallen ill to the madness of love.
“According to legend, the shadow reveals the location of the Labyrinth of Love Letters to give the victims of true love a place to express the secret in their hearts,” Tia Katarina said.
“How?” Olivia lifted her eyes from the bloodstained letter.
“They write each other love letters and hide them in the labyrinth for the other to find. By alternating their trips to the labyrinth, lovers avoid being seen together.”
“Don’t they ever see each other?” Olivia’s brow furrowed. “When do they kiss and embrace each other?”
“Oh mija, you have plenty to learn about true love,” Tia Katarina smiled ruefully. “Physical love requires the feeling of a caress, but true love is felt in the heart from a distance. That is when it remains pure.”
Olivia glanced at the letter once more.
“Do you think your friend went to the labyrinth?”
“It’s difficult to say.” Tia Katarina held the letter up against the light. It was the same paper with the same watermark Veronica had used all those years ago. Tia Katarina shrugged as she stood. “Who knows? I think it’s merely a local legend of a place that doesn’t exist.”
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