Rosalinda hurried down the narrow streets of tall Spanish colonial homes, throwing hellos and waves to the Puerto Rican girls that hung out the wrought iron balconies of beige stucco facades.
"Congratulations!" they called in mostly Spanish and Portuguese, some even showing off their English. "Welcome back!"
Rosa hitched her gauze skirts higher, her cork sandals seeming heavy in the water puddles from the recent rain.
It was a far cry from her Pittsburgh home of Oakwood. She was still getting accustomed to the heat and damp -- and being seven months pregnant.
She moved quickly through the winding streets where cars didn't bother, and bicycles were the norm. Nothing like her split level in the Oakwood suburbs, nothing like what she and Juan had planned for their life together after the wedding in four months.
She would have visited Maria, her grandmother, sooner, but her obstetrician had cautioned against it. Rosa had heeded his advice, but now, since her mother had passed on two months ago, she was burdened to fulfill her last request.
She tucked her long brunette hair behind an ear, stepping carefully over the slick cobblestones. Watching her mother Vanessa die of bone cancer had taken a lot out of Rosa. Even with the support of her two sisters it had been taxing. Juan had been so comforting. She wished he could have made the trip, too.
"Don't worry, my Rose. You have your sisters," he'd said as he dropped her off at the airport. His eyes had smiled at her as they always did. "It's time the triplets were reunited for a while. Share your secrets. Share your dreams."
He didn't know how close to the truth he was about the secrets, she knew. She ducked down a smaller street, the sounds of friendly calls muting as Rosa frowned, thinking of their secrets. Well, just one secret, actually.
She'd promised to return as soon as the visit and blessings were over, wanting to be home in plenty of time before her time was due. Despite her split nationality of American-Puerto Rican -- and a quarter of Moroccan blood -- Rosa wanted to be sure she was stateside when she needed her doctor's care.
And she wasn't too fond of her Moroccan heritage. Vanessa had made sure none of her daughters were sympathetic to their father's influence.
Rosa opened the black iron gate to the tallest house at the edge of the street. She crossed the walk that was nearly overgrown with fragrant flowers, white and orange blooms wide open in the cool afternoon shaded by trees with fern-like leaves.
She was through the side kitchen door before Mara, the cook's maid, could open it for her. At the wooden work table, despite her eighty-two years, Auntie Liselle was dictating which caldera to use and how much capers to put in the pastelón de carne. As much as Rosa loved her blended heritage, her palate leaned more toward Mediterranean tastes, largely because of Juan's influence, than cocina criolla.
"Don't get up, Madrina," Rosa said, leaning in to kiss her godmother's cheek, hugging her frail, thin shoulders. "It smells delicious in here."
"Yes, like a wedding." Auntie Liselle kissed her back, waving a hand to Mara as the fourteen year-old girl stirred the caldo gallego, its rich Galician broth filling the room with the aroma of beans, greens, and chorizo. "Don't stir the beans into mush."
Mara nodded, carefully drawing the large wooden spoon through the kettle.
Auntie Liselle's hands were tight on Rosa's fingers, her aged eyes straining to see her face clearly. "Maria is sleeping, as should you be. Sit down. Twins take two times the strength to carry."
"Oh, Madrina, I'm strong." Rosa sat in the second chair at the table. She was, too, at twenty-three she'd completed her schooling, landing a job as freelance copywriter for several advertising agencies, and was about to marry Juan Jaurez. And she didn't plan on hyphenating her name of Petulo to Juarez; she'd fully take Juan's name. "I miss those days at Savannah, with all of us there. Mama, Grandma Maria, Grandpapa George, you, Marieka, and Karima, It was so perfect. I wish Grandpapa George was here to see the girls born. Karima's, too."
"Maria will bless them for him." Auntie Liselle's voice dropped, her eyes taking on a certain glint. She glanced to the portly cook and Mara, and switched to her broken English. "You know the three of you here will concentrate your forces. You mustn't break your promises. You don't want to draw his attention."
"No. This is only to see Abuela and you, dear Auntie." Rosa's dark eyes looked to the kitchen help. Neither had looked their way when she and Auntie Liselle had changed to English. "I rarely think of those possibilities anymore, and I know none of us use it."
"Good. You be safe." The older woman smiled, then tsk tsked Mara. "You make empanadillas with the heart, my child, not the fingers. Come, bring it here."
Mara pushed her black hair that escaped from her scarf back from her face and brought the ceramic bowl and floured board of dough to the table.
Auntie Liselle pulled the bowl closer, her bony fingers balling a few teaspoons of the filling. "Ah, no raisins or nuts. Marieka never liked raisins."
Rosa nodded, watching her aunt form the filling of spinach, garlic, crab, and lobster. Mara handed her a round-shaped piece of dough, watching with interest. Rosa hardly thought raisins belonged in the recipe, but it was a family recipe, a tradition passed on orally, and she imagined when she passed it down to her twin daughters she would also leave out the raisins.
"Press, do not pinch," Auntie Liselle cautioned, wrapping the dough around the filling and closing it to form a crescent. "Press, Mara."
The girl nodded.
Rosa sighed. It was true; she did rarely think of the pact she'd made with her sisters, the promise they'd made to their mother, Vanessa on her death bed. It was only natural they would think of it now, when they were together.
When their forces were strongest.
A/N: The second chapter, Secrets Between Sisters, will be up in about a week! Thanks for reading!