In the next couple of days that followed, Dr. Hernandez, Alejandro, Felipe, Victoria, and Diego were busy organizing, rearranging, and placing every table, chair, bed and lamp in the tavern, transforming it into a temporary infirmary; preparing it for what lay ahead of them.
They were not without outside aid however. Many of the caballeros that Alejandro had canvassed for donations, promptly arrived with greatly needed blankets, sheets, rags, and anything else they thought would be of benefit to the kindly doctor. Other people who had not yet been stricken with the influenza, brought even more desperately needed supplies such as extra food, clothing, and oil for the lamps. Padre Benitez brought not only extra supplies, but a few of the local peons who worked at the church, to help with the placement of beds, and anything else they needed to rearrange. Even the Reyes family whom the doctor had pulled through the influenza, volunteered their services in setting up the tavern. Roberto proved to be quite a carpenter, building extra shelving to store some of the supplies brought by other volunteers while Angelina and the boys helped stock the shelves with the supplies that people had brought.
Soon Victoria's tavern that had once been a place of social gathering, gaiety, idol and friendly gossip, and delectable cuisine, was slowly turning into a place that would be tending desperately ill people and smelling of sickness and possibly death.
As Victoria set the lamp on the table, she gazed about the tavern looking thoughtfully at the beds that lined the walls and lay temporarily vacant in rows about the tavern. Her eyes seemed to mirror an apprehensive stare as she sat on the side of one of the beds and gazed aimlessly about the room.
Like the doctor, Victoria was not a stranger to illness. Aside from caring for her brothers when they were younger when they became sick, she had on numerous occasions assisted the doctor on some of his rounds helping to administer to some of his sick or injured patients. Once Dr. Hernandez requested her assistance when he was summoned during the night on an emergency delivery of the birth a baby. Fortunately for the family, the delivery was a success and mother and child had a very restful night. Dr. Hernandez remarked that he couldn't have done it without her.
Diego glanced around and noticed Victoria's expression and walked over and sat beside her on the bed. He cast a concerned look at her as he picked up her hand and held it in his.
"Are you all right Victoria? You look worried." Diego inquired earnestly as he cast an attentive gaze upon her.
Victoria looked up and gazed upon the anxious features of his face and slightly smiled.
"Oh, I'm all right Diego. I just never expected my tavern to end up looking like a hospital. I know it's only temporary, but when I looked around the room, a sadness suddenly came over me. I guess I didn't realize what an impact this would have on me!" she shook her head and cast a somber gaze at Diego.
As Diego peered into her dark eyes, he wrapped a reassuring arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle hug.
"Like you said Victoria, it's only temporary. But just remember, Dr. Hernandez will be forever grateful to you for being so generous." Diego replied earnestly. He momentarily put a finger under her chin and turned her face to meet his. He cast a reassuring look at her as he gazed intently into her eyes.
"Don't worry Victoria, no matter what happens, we're going to get through this and we'll do it together right? Diego smiled and cast a warm gaze upon her face.
Victoria nodded slightly and cast an amiable smile at Diego as she gazed upon the handsome features of his determined yet compassionate face. As she reached up to caress his cheek, Diego took her hand and pressed a tender kiss to her palm and smiled.
Victoria's eyes slightly widened as she cast a reflective gaze upon his face and smiled. A slight blush colored her cheeks as she gazed upon him with a retiring smile. Diego gently closed her fingers over her palm and gazed tenderly into her eyes and smiled.
As he sat holding Victoria's hand and looking at her, he felt himself becoming captivated by the soft blush upon her cheeks as she smiled at him and looked at him with those dark warm eyes of hers. He suddenly felt his heart begin to beat a little faster than normal as he tried to suppress the feeling that was welling up inside of him. A feeling that was becoming harder to avoid as he sat gazing into her eyes. Victoria too was beginning to feel that ever present swell of passion slowly flow inside her as she too felt her heart begin to beat a little faster.
Diego inwardly shook himself as he felt his face become slightly flushed and he gently released her hand and slowly rose from the bed. He looked down and cast a retiring smile at her as he momentarily diverted his eyes and looked around the tavern and then back at Victoria.
"I...uh...suppose we should get back to work." He began hesitantly. "We still have much to do!" he replied resolutely. He held out his hand in an unassuming gesture as he cast a warm gaze at her. Victoria took his hand and smiled as she felt his slender fingers gently wrap around hers as she slowly rose to meet him. As their eyes met, she cast a modest gaze at him and slightly sighed.
"I suppose you're right Diego. I have a feeling that it won't be long until this tavern will be full." She responded as she glanced around the tavern with an anxious gaze and then looked back at Diego.
Diego tenderly kissed her hand and cast a reassuring look at her. "It's going to be alright Victoria, I promise!" responded Diego compassionately.
Victoria smiled and slightly nodded. "I know Diego! Thank you." She replied earnestly as she modestly slipped her hand from his.
As they looked into each other's eyes, they seemed to sense that things weren't really going to be 'all right.' They both knew the gravity of the situation and what lay ahead of them. For the time being however, they decided to concentrate on what was needed at the moment and hope and pray that things would soon get better.
They walked over to a somewhat large box containing bed linens that had been donated and carried it over to some of the unmade beds. Victoria picked up a set of linens and carried them over to one of the beds and began methodically covering the bed, tucking in the corners and smoothing over the wrinkles.
She glanced over and happened to see Diego shaking out a sheet, trying to figure how to place it on the bed. Victoria put her hand over her mouth and tried unsuccessfully to smother a giggle that suddenly sprung from her lips. Diego looked up with a somewhat bemused look on his face and shook his head.
"What's so funny?!!" he inquired slightly annoyed more with himself than with Victoria.
Victoria shook her head and laughed. "Maybe you should let me do that Diego!" she stated earnestly.
Diego shook his head and flashed a determined look at Victoria. "I can do this Victoria! Really!" he replied resolutely.
Victoria shook her head and smiled. She walked over and took out a few more bed linens and proceeded to make up the other beds. She casually glanced over her shoulder and noticed Diego occasionally eyeing her, studying her movements as she smoothed over the sheets as she lay them on the bed, tucking in all the corners and folding down the cover. She looked over and noticed him doing the same.
As they continued making the beds, she noticed Diego actually getting better with every bed he made. When they had finished, Victoria walked back and cast an examining eye on the beds that Diego had made and smiled. She put her hands on her hips and gave an approving nod of her head. Diego eyed her somewhat expectantly and walked over beside her.
"Well, how did I do?" he inquired smugly as he gave a leading nod toward the beds.
Victoria put a finger to her chin and nodded. "Not bad...for a de la Vega! She replied smiling and cast a smug look at Diego.
Diego's eyes slighty widened and he crossed his arms across his chest and looked at Victoria somewhat pretentiously.
"What do you mean, 'not bad!' I thought I did quiet well, under the circumstances!" he replied decidedly.
Victoria shook her head and smiled. She momentarily turned and faced Diego as she put her hands upon his shoulders and pressed a tender kiss to his cheek and smiled.
Diego's eyes slightly widened as he was briefly taken aback by her compassionate display of affection.
"What was that for?" he inquired eyeing her somewhat inquisitively. He slowly uncrossed his arms and wrapped them around her waist and gently pulled her closer to him. Victoria's eyes melted into his as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed a tender kiss to his lips. As they stood in their embrace, Victoria suddenly felt Diego's hands wrap around her shoulders and press her gently against him as he pressed a deep passionate kiss upon her lips.
As he held her in his arms and kissed her, Diego could feel her seemingly melt into his embrace. His mind was suddenly racing trying to figure out how he ever let himself lose control like this! 'This is not suppose to be happening...not here...not now!' he thought. But it was and he was the one that let it happen.
Before Diego let himself become completely swept away, he gently grasped Victoria's arms and broke her away from his embrace. They briefly looked at one another, exchanging looks of confusion, embarrassment and utter disbelief. Before Victoria could speak, Diego felt his face become flushed and his heart begin to pound as he tried to think of something to say that would explain why this whole thing happened in the first place.
"Victoria, I...I'm sorry! I didn't mean for this to happen! I don't know what to say!" Diego responded regretfully as he slightly faltered.
Suddenly Victoria's eyes slightly narrowed and she shot Diego a searing look as she wrenched herself from his grasp. "Just what are you saying Diego? Are you saying that you're sorry you kissed me?" she inquired vehemently.
Diego shook his head looked at Victoria resolutely. "Victoria, no! I could never be sorry for that! It just wasn't supposed to happen right now! Not while everything else is going on! It's just not the right time! I wish things were different!" Diego replied as his mind raced to try to explain what was happening.
Victoria shook her head, reflecting a rather disconcerted look at Diego. "What do you mean Diego? The right time for what? And what do you mean if things were different? You keep saying that! What do you mean?" she pressed him further.
Diego shook his head again and looked at her earnestly. "Victoria, I can't talk about this right now! I can't tell you now! There's too much at risk! Somehow I think you already know that!" Diego responded resolutely as he flashed an intense look at her.
Victoria's eyes widened as she felt her face become pale as she looked at Diego in disbelief.
"Diego...what are you trying to tell me?" she inquired as her eyes bore into his with a very intense probing look.
As Diego felt the weight of Victoria's stare upon him, he stepped up to her and put his hands upon her shoulders and cast a steady yet unassuming gaze at her.
"Victoria, I would give my life for you! I love you more than anything in the world. But you're just going to have to trust me when I tell you that there are certain things that I cannot tell you or my father right now because of the risk being too great upon your life! Maybe someday when all this is over, but not now! Please Victoria, just trust me!" Diego replied earnestly.
As Diego spoke, Victoria knew that he had just confirmed what she had already known for some time. Whether or not Alejandro knew, that was for him to decipher. For now, the one thing she could take solace in was the fact that he finally said he loved her and to Victoria, that meant more to her than anything in the world. Her dark eyes softened as she wrapped her slender arms around his neck and gazed passionately into his deep blue eyes and smiled.
"Oh Diego, I do trust you and I also love you very much too! I think I have always loved you, but I just didn't realize it until now!" she replied decidedly as she gazed into his eyes.
Diego wrapped his arms around her waist and smiled as he gazed into her soft warm eyes.
"From the moment I came home from Spain, and I saw you standing there in this tavern, that's when I fell in love with you! I loved you then and I love you now, and I'll never stop loving you Victoria!" Replied Diego warmly as he gazed passionately into her eyes.
As they stood motionless in their embrace, Diego and Victoria were suddenly torn from their romantic reverie by a sudden commotion coming from the front of the tavern. As they broke from their embrace and turned, their eyes fell upon Dr. Hernandez and two peons helping a man and his family over to some of the beds. Diego and Victoria momentarily looked at one another as a feeling of dread and apprehension mirrored in their faces.
"Oh Diego! It's already happening!" Victoria stated anxiously as she looked into his eyes.
Diego gently held her by the shoulders and looked at her earnestly. "Have faith Victoria! It's the only thing we have right now!" he replied as he pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead and gently held her worried face in his hands.
Diego placed his hands upon her shoulders as his soft blue eyes looked steadily into hers. "Right now these people need our help and we have to do all we can to help them!" he commented as he cast a determined look into her eyes.
Victoria nodded in agreement as they hurried over to give whatever aid they could to this young man and his family.