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Trouble in paradise

It was October. Two months before the whales would arrive for their winter stay in Bahia de Banderas. The air was pleasant and the palm trees rustled as Isabel Bueno DeBlanco arose at dawn, just as she had since childhood.

By six o’clock, with a sketch book on her lap and watercolors at her side, she waited for the sun’s long rays to hit the blue Pacific. For a short time, when the light was at a certain angle, Isabel concentrated only on the blue water. Every day she tried to capture its mysterious blue. Every day she felt she came a little closer. Every day, however, she felt its essence eluded her. Sometimes, when the sun set at the end of the day, she tried once again to catch the fleeting light as it descended toward the horizon and turned the Pacific from blue to gold. These moments were the bookends of her days.

Isabel dipped her brush into a bowl of water and let her strokes flow blue against the bumpy white paper. She worked quickly, trying to keep pace with the rising sun. By the time it had fully emerged from behind the mountains, small color sketches littered the terrace floor. Isabel’s angora cat, Mimi, sniffed at the wet paint but she was used to this routine and carefully avoided stepping on any of the papers.

Soon Isabel’s daughter, Estrellita, would be awake. Isabel always prepared breakfast for the two of them. Isabel felt it was important to begin the day together, no matter how busy she might be or what was happening in her life. Isabel wanted so much for Estrellita. And, as Isabel had told Estrellita many times, it all began with school. Estrellita had always been a good student.

But things were changing. Estrellita had become obstinate and moody. Sometimes she stayed out later than Isabel allowed. And there were signs of a boy in her life. Little notes. A dried flower. A bracelet made of beach shells whose origin Isabel could not get her daughter to explain. In a few months she would turn sixteen. She had the body of a woman now, black hair and riveting green eyes.

Although Isabel was concerned, she had too much on her mind this month to dwell on what was happening with her teenager. There would be time to deal with Estrellita later. But now it was vital that Isabel concentrate on her work. A show of her paintings at the gallery in Puerto Vallarta would start a tour of her work. The show would go to Mexico City an then New York. It would be the first time her work would be seen outside Mexico, her first step onto the international art stage. She had been working toward this day for many long years. She must not fail.

Estrellita was late. Isabel had to get to the gallery. She walked to her daughter’s room and tapped on the closed door. When there was no answer, she turned the knob.

“Lita,” she called softly. “What are you doing, you sleepy girl? It’s late.”

The shade was drawn. The room was too dark to see anything but vague shapes. Isabel thought she saw her daughter still lying in bed so she went to the window and tugged the shade. Isabel could see right away that what she had thought was her daughter in bed was only a pile of towels. Estrellita’s books were stacked on the floor and it was obvious she had not slept in her bed.

Isabel had never thought her daughter capable of something like this. When she found the girl, she would have to impose some strict penalties. But right now she must locate her daughter. Isabel picked up the phone and called the school.

“Ola,” the woman who worked at the desk by the school entrance answered.

“I’m looking for my daughter,” Isabel said.

“What is her name?” asked the woman.

“Estrellita Leandro DeBlanco,” Isabel said.

“Oh, Estrellita came in a little late. I think she must be in class now. Shall I get her? Is it important?” the woman asked.

Isabel sighed and slumped onto a chair. At least her daughter was in school. She was all right. She glanced at her watch.

Muchas gracias,” she told the woman. “I don’t want to take her out of class. I’ll wait until she comes home.”

Isabel, Episode One

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