Alicia Ortega lived in that hacienda; today she wore Mama’s faded apron and dusted the family altar, praying to Mother Mary, a ceramic saint.
“Help guard our home while Mama and Papa are gone and forgive me for sneaking into my sister’s diary.”
“Cuidate, mija,” Mother Mary said. Alicia backed away from the statue, not wanting to hear the warnings.
A Chumash worker, Nina, swept ashes from the hearth. The Ortega family needed household help in the dusty adobe. Alicia and Nina were close. Some days they pretended they were sisters.
Alicia was just fourteen years old. She lived with her real sisters, Dolores, the eldest, and Clara, the middle sister; and with their mother and father in the hacienda on the cliff above the Refugio harbor. Then things changed.
“What did Dolores leave behind?” Alicia and Nina scrambled up the stairs to a sleeping loft, a small dim space above the family sala. The loft had a bed, a window, and a few pegs on the wall. Nina stooped to collect laundry in Dolores’s abandoned room.
“Find rags. Two moons, no rags.” Nina lay flat to reach around the sleeping crates, her black braid speckled with lint. Dressed in a stained apron made from a muslin flour sack, she spoke some Spanish, learned from the Franciscans.
“Look.” Nina held up a small envelope with handwriting on the flap. “To my sisters.” Alicia snatched the envelope and read the note inside.
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