Set in 1739, "Indian Summer" explores the moral standards of the times. Young ladies were not allowed to be in the company of a man unless chaperoned. It was rare that a courting couple had any privacy. Girls especially were sheltered, and didn't know anything about making love until their wedding nights. In this scene, Gabriella asks her fiance, Manuel, some questions that have been troubling her.
Manuel could tell there was something on my mind, but he waited for me to bring it up in my own time. Instead he told me an amusing story of something that happened when he was a child. I don't remember what it was. I wasn't really paying attention, but trying to formulate my question. He reached the end of his story and chuckled, noticing I wasn't joining in.
His tone brought me out of my thoughts and I focused on him. He pointed between my eyes.
"The crinkle is back and the lips."
He made the exaggerated face as he had done before, but this time I didn't laugh. He lifted my chin with his finger.
"Talk to me, my sweet. You've something very important to ask and you don't know how. Shall I guess?"
I shrugged slightly, nodding, unable to look him in the eye. I could feel a lump growing in my throat and the tears burned in the corners of my eyes.
"This came upon you when I spoke to your brother, so I think I know what it deals with."
I blushed deeply, not looking him in the eyes.
"And if I know how your mind works and I think I do by now, you want to know if I'm as innocent of this union as you are."
He looked me in the eyes a moment. I blushed even more deeply and started to cry. He moved away from me a step or two, glancing at my father, turning back to me. He looked down and then back up, biting his lower lip as he always did when he was concentrating deeply on a subject.
"Do you want a pleasant lie to soothe you, or do you want the truth?" He handed me his handkerchief.
I took a shuddering breath. "The truth, please. I don't want there ever to be lies between us. I think I know the answer and I'll not be angry with you."
He wouldn't look at me. He gazed at the moon rising full and white above our heads. I knew what his answer would be, but I wanted to hear it from him. I hoped I would hold to my word and not be angry with him. My chest hurt with love and fear and unshed tears. I could hardly breathe while I waited.
He gazed upon a distant star, speaking so softly I could hardly hear him. It was if the night lost its sounds, his voice became crystal clear, all I could hear.
"I'm not innocent as you are, no, Mi Cariña. I've known the pleasures of the flesh. I have, in many ways, led a very bad life until now. I've over indulged in women, drink, gambling and other things I would rather forget. Perhaps it was being on my own here. I went a little wild." He stopped, facing me squarely this time.
"I promise you, however, since first I began to court you, there has been no one else in my life." He looked mortified by his confession. "But since your illness, when I thought I would lose you, I've not gambled and I've had wine only with my meals. I'm trying to be the man you deserve, Sweet Gabriella."
I held out both hands to him. He came toward me and took them in his own. "And what makes you think you aren't already?"
His smile was tinged with sadness. "You deserve a man who is true to you, not one who used to look at any woman he met as an object for his use. I fear, at one time in my youth, that's all I ever considered a woman to be."
I hugged him as if my life depended upon it. I didn't want a kiss, not then. All I wanted was to feel his arms around me, holding me, promising me his heart, his strength, his trust. I whispered into his chest.
"I love you so."
He stroked my hair and held me close. It was not like sometimes, that burning, aching feeling. I felt whole, complete, as if half of me had been missing for years and I hadn't known.
"I love you more than words can ever tell, Gabriella."
"And I love you with all my heart."
I don't know how long we stood there, I didn't care. All I wanted was for him to hold me. He spoke quietly to me again.
"So, do you forgive me my transgressions?"
I looked up at him with tears in my eyes. "Whatever transgressions you may have committed, that's between you and God. That you love me and you've honored me with the truth, that's enough. But if you must have my forgiveness, then I give it to you freely."
He held me away from him, gazing at me. A look of wonder filled his handsome face. "You're an incredible woman, do you know that? I've wanted to tell you this for so long, but didn't know how. We've had so little time alone. I thank God for providing this opportunity to us." He embraced me again.