Amadeo began broaching the truth. Rosalia said she couldn't.
"He told her piece by piece," she said. "First, that her eyes were sewn shut."
And my ears, Papa? Jacqui would ask.
My love, they're like this ...
It went step by step.
"She would forget the answer because she was on morphine," Amadeo said.
A few days later, Jacqui would ask again. A week later, again.
For one question, Jacqui turned to her mother: Am I pretty or ugly?
Chiquita, of course you're not like before, Rosalia told her. But little by little they'll fix you.
"I thought I must not be so bad," Jacqui said, "because, knowing my mother, she would tell me." She said she thought her father was better at concealing.
And my hands? Jacqui kept asking him.
We still don't know, Amadeo told her.
Jacqui turned 21 in the burn unit. She felt like she was living through a second childhood.
"I was a little girl again. I played with my father," Jacqui said.
One night while putting Jacqui to bed, Amadeo called her mi patito lindo — my pretty little duckling. She called him Patito back, then shortened it to "Tito."
By December, Jacqui was playing pranks. She jerked in mock pain when touched and tripped the oxygen level monitor on her toe, bringing nurses running.
Another favorite was calling out in a hoarse whisper: Please come here. I have a secret. Come close to me ...
Are you close? she asked doctors and nurses as they leaned in.
The first time, Goodheart left the room shaking.
"Stinker," Goodheart said, remembering the moment.
Jacqui's spirit, and her parents' dedication, made the family burn-unit favorites. Goodheart said she and the other nurses needed breaks from caring for Jacqui.
"I felt her pain so badly," Goodheart said.
Before heading home, Roberts always stopped by to chat.
"We were all just so in awe," Roberts said. "You couldn't help but fall for her."
When Jacqui did lose steam, the nurses helped coax her forward. One day, when she felt too tired to walk to the tub room, the nurses began humming "La Cucaracha." Along with Amadeo and Rosalia, they made a conga line around Jacqui, who joined in.
"La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar," they sang, snaking their way down the hospital hall.
At night, Amadeo slept in 15- and 30-minute spurts, staying awake to see whether she needed anything and catching naps later.
Throughout her recovery, Jacqui leaned more on her father. She feared that Rosalia wasn't strong enough to hold her up. She didn't think her mother could make decisions, either.
During the day, Amadeo toiled by his daughter's side. He fed her, cleaned her eyes, brushed her teeth and helped in the bathroom. He kept track of her medicines and treatments, worrying that a nurse would forget something.
"I've never seen such a devoted father in my whole life," Goodheart said.
When Roberts arrived for his daily check on Jacqui's eyes, Amadeo had whatever he needed — bandages, utensils, eyedrops — already laid out.
"He didn't shy away from any of it," Roberts said.
Not even the leeches.
In January, plastic surgeons rotated a temple muscle over her left eye to cover it. But blood started pooling over the muscle flap — Jacqui's damaged veins couldn't drain it. Her doctors resorted to an ancient technique: leeches, which sucked up the blood and, they hoped, would give her veins time to grow.
"It was gross," Roberts said.
Someone had to tend them.
Amadeo volunteered. For five days, he sat up, plucking off the leeches with pincers when they swelled with blood.
"It was unthinkable," Amadeo remembers.
Then, after five days, the eye flap died.
"Papi, my fingers. I don't feel them," Rosalia remembers Jacqui crying. "I don't feel my fingers. Papito, Mamá, my fingers."
Sometimes she dreamed she had them. Other times, she dreamed they were gone.
"I don't want to live, Tito," Jacqui sobbed when she woke up.
Please don't say that, Amadeo cried as he hugged her.
Finally, at the end of January, doctors, nurses and staff psychologists met with Amadeo and Rosalia to plan how to tell Jacqui about her hands. She was going to be released soon, and soon she would see.
Amadeo asked his cousin — a doctor from Venezuela — to come to Galveston to speak with Jacqui's doctors. Afterward, the cousin broke the news to Jacqui.
You were burned a lot, the cousin explained. You lost a large part of your fingers.
"I'm not going to cry; I'm not going to cry," Jacqui told herself. "I'm going to be strong."
Later, she said that if she had started crying, she might have just given up.
Sometimes, she could feel her missing fingers. She could feel them open and close.
Phantom movements, she was told.
Once the question came, it never ceased.
"But why? Why? Why? Why?" Jacqui said. "It's like an infinity that never stops."
Am I being punished? Was I bad? Was I bad with my mother? And what about Laura and Natalia? Were they bad, too?
It's our destiny, Jacqui has thought sometimes. Or she has thought: It's the devil.
I must have a mission, she told herself.
But why be born to suffer?
Her psychologist told her that bad things happen to innocent people. Babies are born without fingers.
Maybe there is no answer. Jacqui searched, and keeps searching.
"Life must have some meaning," she said.