“Hello!” Carlos practically yelled into the phone when someone finally picked up. “I need to talk to Carlota.”
“If you’d like to talk to someone here, you can ask politely,” Dona Lola said.
“It’s Carlos Cifuentes, I need to speak to her.”
“Oh, Mr. Cifuentes! I’m sorry. Is it something about work?”
“No, it’s Lidia.”
Carlos was near tears. He had thought in the past few months that he felt the most alone he possible could, but since he left that Francisco in that bar, he felt even more so. And then, when he saw Lidia….
He couldn’t call Francisco. He didn’t even know where he was. He knew he could try the bar or the train station, or even Francisco’s apartment, but he wasn’t ready to call his old friend and not get an answer. He also, if he was honest, didn’t want to tell Francisco about it. He knew how much Francisco loved Lidia – Carlos loved her as much. He knew it was maybe selfish, but Francisco was done with all this. He wanted out, and Carlos didn’t want to have to tell him this, to have to bring him back in at the worst possible moment.
“What? What happened to Lidia?”
“She’s in the hospital, she fell,” he said, managing to say the least because when he ran through it again in his head, when he put words to what happened, it made him lose his breath.
“What? Where? How? What hospital?”
“I’m with her, I’m taking care of her,” Carlos said, voice cracking in the slightest. “Is Angeles there? Or Marga?” He didn’t know anything about Lidia’s family, but he felt like someone else who cared about her should know.
“No,” Lola said. “Where is she? I’ll come-.”
“No,” Carlos said. “I’ll call back later, see if they’re home then. Thank you.”
Carlos hung up before he could hear Dona Lola say more. He didn’t want to hear it.
He leaned forward, his head against the wall, collecting himself. He was on the verge of breaking down and he didn’t want to feel it. He was fighting so hard against feeling it.
He grabbed the phone quickly, wanting to do something, wanting to keep busy to keep that feeling away. He dialed a familiar number.
“Ubalda? It’s Carlos. Put Elisa on, please.”
“Carlos? What, do you want to yell at me again-?”
“Elisa? I need you.”
Elisa heard her brother’s voice crack. It reminded her of when they were young, when their father would scream at him and he’d go to her room and have her comfort him.
It reminded Carlos, too, of that time. A time before their father died, before Carlos realized how much of a monster his mother was, before either of them met Francisco, before they decided Elisa was sick and needed to be sent away.
“Where are you?” Elisa asked.
“What the hell did you do?!” Carlos screamed, stomping toward his mother. Lidia had been rushed into surgery, he had stood in the doorway to the operating room for what felt like ages until finally, a nurse pulled him away. He snapped out of something, and felt a switch flip inside himself. He wasn’t going to cry about Lidia, he wasn’t going to be numb, but he wasn’t going to feel that pain he wanted to avoid.
He was going to find his mother, and he truly had no idea what would come next.
“I solved a problem, querido.”
“A problem? She could die!”
“It’s a more permanent solution than I had in mind, yes.”
“You don’t care?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer, he could see it on her face. “You don’t care. How could you? You were going to do this to her? To take her child? My child?!”
“She signed an agreement.”
“You manipulated her!”
“Believe it or not, son, I was helping you. Look how easily she was going to leave you.” She nodded toward a henchman and he handed her the form Lidia signed, which she then handed to Carlos.
“No,” Carlos said, looking at the paper and seeing it and understanding what it was. But, still. He saw Lidia on that damn table, he knew she didn’t want it. He knew her mother forced her, somehow. “No. If she was going to leave, she would’ve done it after we found out about her, all those months ago. It doesn’t make sense for her to leave now.”
“She signed the papers, she took the money.”
“You forced her here!” Carlos yelled. He saw the men reach for their guns again, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care at all. “They were going to strap her down that table and take our child from her!”
“You’ll have other kids, Carlos,” Dona Carmen said. “And other women. This isn’t how your life is supposed to be. You’re a Cifuentes. You don’t knock up phone operators.”
“Why not? Dad did.”
He half expected her to slap him, but she didn’t.
“You were making a mistake.”
“I hate you,” he said, shaking his head. He remembered saying that to his father, but this was different. He wasn’t yelling now, he was saying it like he was stating any other fact. He didn’t know he hated her until he said it, but once he did, he wasn’t sure he’d ever stop hating her. “I always thought you knew what was good for the company, and for the family, but I was wrong. You don’t. You’re a monster.”
“And you’re weak. You’ll be the downfall of the family.”
“At least I won’t be betraying my children.” He was looking at her, hoping desperately to see something break or crack. He wanted any of this to get to her, but as usual, his hurt, his anger, his devastation meant nothing to her. “You don’t have the company. Elisa turned on you. I’ll never trust you again. I don’t want to see you again. You have nothing. You are nothing.”
She slapped him then, and he didn’t even blink.
“I built that company with your father, and you lost it! You and that girl!”
Carlos felt his heart pounding, he could hear it in his ears. He took a step back. He punched the wall.
“Don’t come near me,” he said. “Ever again. I don’t want to see you.”
“I’ll have the doctors stop surgery right now,” Dona Carmen said. “Don’t test me, Carlos.”
“I’ll block the door myself,” Carlos said. “You won’t hurt her again, I swear. Or me.”
A beat passed. Her usual stoic expression had returned, like she knew everything. “I’ll be at home when you get over this silly fancy.”
He watched her leave, and when she was out the doors, he started hyperventilating. He’d never felt so alone.
He had cried so much he literally couldn’t anymore. His eyes were dry, his mouth was dry, he was exhausted. He had a headache. Elisa made sure he had water, she even tried to get him to eat a bit, but he couldn’t bring himself to.
He sat there on a bench, leaning his head on his older sister’s shoulder, feeling her brush through his hair with her hand and not saying anything. He’d explained a bit over the phone, and had planned on saying more when she arrived but instead the second he saw his sister, he collapsed into sobs in her arms.
“Thank you for coming,” he said.
Elisa looked down at him, like she was surprised he spoke.
“No, not of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t come.”
“Carlos, you’re my brother.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Really, for everything. I won’t let them institutionalize you again, I won’t let Mom get in your way at the company. I’ll get out of the way of the annulment. I’ll make sure it goes through. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” Elisa said.
“How did you do it? Mom and Dad making every decision for you.”
“You think that isn’t how your life’s been?”
Carlos couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. They did always end up getting their way.”
“Maybe not always,” Elisa said.
Carlos exhaled deeply, trying not to cry. “I’ve been fighting with everyone I know for six months,” he said. “I’m so tired.”
“I don’t want to fight with you, either.”
“I am sorry.”
“I know, Carlos.”
So much had changed in a few hours. Earlier that day, he had been yelling at Elisa and slamming on tables, declaring his allegiance to their mother over her. And now, he saw that she was right all along. He had picked the wrong side, but he wasn’t on that side anymore. His whole world was shaken, but he was glad at least to have his sister again.
“No, it’s Marga. Do you need her-?”
“No! No, Marga, it’s Carlos.”
“Carlos? Carlos Cifuentes?”
“Lidia’s not here.”
“I know,” Carlos said. “Listen, there’s been an accident. I’m with her, she fell, she’s in surgery now.”
“Oh my god.”
“Can you come here? I need someone to stay with her, I need to get some things in order. As soon as she’s able, she’s moving to another hospital.”
Carlos was pretty sure Lidia’s friends knew about the baby, since they seemed to know things about her before he did, but he wasn’t about to get into the whole thing.
“It’s just for the best. Marga, can you come here?”
“Yes, of course.”
Marga tried to call Angeles, but she didn’t answer. She called Carlota, and Sara answered.
“No, it’s Sara. Marga?”
Marga heard Sara’s breath catch. “Miguel’s…he’s gotten worse. He had another episode, and it’s really bad, Marga. I just stopped home to grab some things to make him more comfortable.”
“Oh my god,” Marga said. “I’m sorry.”
Sara sniffled. “The doctors are doing everything."
Marga didn't know what to say, so she just sort of made a sound of encouragement.
“Anyway,” Sara said. “I’ll see Carlota when I get back, what did you call for?”
Marga inhaled deeply, not wanting to pile on bad news. “It’s Lidia. Apparently she fell, she’s in the hospital.”
“I don’t know a lot,” Marga said. “Carlos is with her, he said she’s been in surgery for a few hours.”
“Oh my god.”
“I don’t want to add to your bad news, I’m sorry,” Marga said. “But I’ll keep you updated.”
She tried Angeles again, but she didn’t answer. Her house was on the way, though, so Marga figured she’d stop in on the way to the hospital.
Marga got to Angeles’ apartment and was surprised to see policemen going in and out. And, honestly, she was panicked.
“Excuse me,” she said, stopping one of them. “I’m a friend of Angeles Vidal’s, is she alright?”
“Your friend is wanted for murdering her husband,” the cop remarked before brushing past her.
Marga’s eyes widened, and she stepped back. She ended up rushing away, hoping not to attract enough attention to be stopped, but also wanting to get the hell out of there.
“Hey!” the cop called, stopping her in her tracks. “What’s your name?”
“Marga. Maria Inmaculada, I mean.”
“And you’re a friend, you said?”
Marga nodded. “Yes. Yes, I am. I didn’t know you were all here, I knew Mario had died and wanted to see how she was and now she’s not here-.”
“Ma’am,” the cop stopped her. “If you see her, turn her in. It’s the best for everyone.”
Marga nodded. “Y-Yes. Okay.”
“And Lidia Aguilar, too,” the cop said. “She’s an accomplice.”
Marga’s jaw tightened. “Got it. Thank you, officer.”
Marga’s hands were still shaking when she got to the hospital. She got to Carlos and was weirdly glad to see that he was shaken too- she wouldn’t stand out.
“What happened?” she asked. “Where is she, is she alright?”
“She just got out of surgery, but they won’t let me see her yet,” Carlos said. “They don’t know when I’ll be able to.” He ran a hand through his hair, anxious. All he wanted was to see her, but he knew that the longer he went without tying up loose ends, the more dangerous their situation got.
“I’ll be here,” Marga said. “I’ll let her know you’ll be back when she wakes up.”
“When she wakes up,” Carlos said, like he needed to hear it. He couldn’t get the image of her bleeding out of his head. He nodded. “Okay. Okay. Thank you, Marga.”
She nodded, and also nodded in greeting to Elisa, who followed him out the door.
So, Marga sat on that bench, waiting to be told she could see Lidia. After a while, she tried Carlota’s phone again. She figured that they weren’t home, and she was debating calling the hospital. It was big news that Angeles was wanted for murder and on the run, but everything else was so bad that she couldn’t imagine adding to it. And, she had told that cop her name and he hadn’t stopped her. She thought that meant she was safe, and that Carlota was safe, and Sara.
But Lidia wasn’t.