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Estancia Aldea Norteña 9: Lucha de Poder

February 06, 2023 11:40AM
"Power struggle," an unpleasant competition (Cambridge Dictionary).

Despite everything Tío Ruy was able to walk just fine the next day with the help of his cane. Javier was friendly all through breakfast and they finally got to catch up around the table with the Aguirres. It was cozy, just like at home, only with a beautiful view and twice as much to eat. Javier himself drove them to the church, giving the driver a full Sunday rest, and Catalina was proud to sit beside him during Mass as they prayed and listened. He really was a very good brother, even if he had no taste in friends.

She'd seen the Tilves a few pews up when they entered, sitting nearest to the front, and went to speak to them as soon as the service ended. Elena was so happy to see her she actually raised herself up in her chair while waving.

"Of course Enrique told me all about it, even if he teased as if he wouldn't," she said, swatting at her brother playfully. "And I hope he was on his best behavior with you."

"Certainly," Catalina answered, unsure how Enrique could possibly be anything less than a gentleman given the comparison.

"Muchas gracias, you have rescued me from so much ire from my dear sister, who must always think the worst of me. But I assure you both, I have said my confession, and received my absolution, and will go and sin no more from now on."

"Shh, you'll bring Papá back over here if you make so much fuss," Elena hissed through a brief laugh, pushing toward the door.

"He's speaking to his special friends, he'll be hours." Enrique strolled slightly behind her wheels as Catalina fell into step beside them.

"I'm glad everything's cleared up," Catalina said, relieved to be in the company of these happy people again. "And I would love to go out again, some time, if there's any day or time you could."

"Well the aquarium is closed today," Elena answered, "but the boardwalk is open, and we could go along the nature trail if you like."

"Really?" Catalina asked with interest. "I thought it was just the beach and stores."

"So there are still riches of Mar del Plata unexplored?" Enrique asked. "How wonderful we can enlighten you."

"What he means is, we would love for you to join us," Elena broke in, "even if he must do so with far more flowery words than are necessary."

"I would not be thought a miser," he said primly, and Catalina laughed with his sister as they stepped out into the sunshine.

"Let me help Tío Ruy get home and I'll be glad to go," she agreed.

"We'll call ahead closer this time before picking you up, say around one o'clock?" Enrique offered. "And if Señor Aguirre should need his nurse, you need only say, we would not deprive him of such excellent care."

After assuring him of the older man's improvement, Catalina rushed back to the Aguirres in quite a hurry to be gone and ready.

But when she found everyone, there was Juan looking very pleased with himself and Javier and Isabel off to the side whispering. "There you are, I was just coming to find you. What do you think I've arranged? We're going to finally get our outing after all."

"Oh no!" Catalina cried instinctively, forgetting herself in her alarm, and drawing strange looks from everyone. "I'm sorry but I really can't go. The Tilves just invited me to go with them and I've already promised. I wish you had asked me before, and I could have made other plans."

"How was I to know you'd go sneaking over to them?" Juan snapped, annoyed, drawing Javier over as Tío Ruy looked very oddly at him.

"¿Che, what's the matter?" Hearing what had happened, Javier soothed everyone's tempers. "We have to get Tío Ruy home first before anything else. Come by later and I'm sure we can get things worked out by then."

Neither Juan nor Isabel looked happy, but for once Javier didn't allow for much argument as he helped get the Aguirres settled in the car. Catalina quickly got into the front seat before someone could stop her, and soon they were driving to the house, if not quite as happily as when they'd left that morning.

Javier said nothing more until they'd eaten and helped Tío Ruy settle down for a nap with Tía Lola sitting by him watching television. Then, back in the living room, he suddenly turned in a heat of passion to Catalina and demanded, "What is your problem little sister?"

Startled, and hurt, she immediately pushed back. "What do you mean, my problem? What is your's?"

"Now, that's what I'm talking about: where's this willful, nasty temper coming from?" Javier asked in agitation, barely keeping his cool, arms crossed. "How could you agree to go when you knew it was our last day here, when it was the last time we might see each other for who knows how long?"

"Because I didn't think it mattered to you!" Catalina finally exploded, all the frustration of the past week letting out. "All you ever want to do is go off and whisper with Isabel, or dance with her, or cuddle in the corner. And then I'm stuck with Juan, which I never asked for."

"No, I guess not, you wouldn't want a nice guy to care about you, not when some rich dude from a ranch is making time, calling you fancy names and kissing your hand like you've no shame at all!" Javier was close to yelling, when a sharp command for quiet made them both look up in surprise.

The housekeeper frowned in the doorway. "The telephone is ringing," she said pointedly. "And Señor Aguirre is trying to sleep."

Catalina rushed to grab the phone before anyone else could. "¿Holá?"

"It's Elena. We're actually on the way this time. Are you ready to go?"

"Sure, of course, how long before you get here?" Catalina ignored her brother's glare, not caring what he heard.

"Maybe, what Enrique? Twenty minutes?"

"I'll be ready!" Catalina assured her. "I’m really looking forward to it. ¡Chau!" She hung up, then turned to her brother with her head held high like Tía Lola had said to. "I have to go change before my company arrives. Excuse me."

She breezed past without letting him say another word, taking the steps two at a time and then firmly closing her door and locking it for good measure. She dressed exactly how she wanted to without thinking about anyone else, even a certain starry-eyed physical therapist, just wanting to be comfortable and enjoy the afternoon. As a concession, she put on the birthstone necklace given by Tía Lola, since the small emerald fit comfortably over her blouse, but didn't bother with makeup or fancy hair. There wasn't time, and anyway, why should she? This outing was just a friendly stroll on the boardwalk with friends. She would please herself, and enjoy her day, and that was all there was to it.

She went downstairs in this mood, determined to remain upbeat, and was barely disappointed to see that Juan and Isabel had joined Javier. "I'm sorry, I have guests coming," she said before any of them could say anything. "So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go wait in the garden."

"Now come on Catalina, please listen a minute," Javier said, standing in her way and nearly begging, his eyes so sorrowful she almost gave in.

"I'm sorry, Javier, but I can't do anything about your plans, not when I promised again. You wouldn't want me to be rude?" Surely he would understand, she thought, appealing to their parents' instructions. "Mamá always said how important it was to keep a promise."

"That's why we decided to help you out," he said with a quick glance at the others, although it also looked like he was shifting his eyes away.

"What do you mean?" Catalina asked with growing dread as Isabel grabbed her arm possessively.

"Why, we took care of it all, don't worry dearie, Juan arranged everything. Well, I thought of it of course, as soon as Javier called us, but Juan was the one who had to catch them, and you know how fast he drives." She fell to whispering, even as Juan looked up with a smug expression from his phone. "He really cares so very much, Catalina, I'd pay attention if I were you, even if that Señor Tilve does have a magic touch. Juan also knows a thing or two about legs." And she giggled at some private joke.

"Oh, Bel, stop gabbing, we don't have all the time in the world. Of course I caught them up, there are only so many ways to get here. All I had to do was park across both lanes and stop them. Said you couldn't go, not when you wanted to spend all your time with your brother on his last day in town."

"What!" Catalina cried, imagining all the horrible ways he must have spoken to them, and seeing again Enrique's scowl when Juan had kissed her. It was worse even than television, to happen a second time so quickly, and with her powerless to stop it or change the channel. "But how could you?"

"To help you, silly," Isabel said proudly, dragging her toward the door. "I wish you'd dressed nicer, but oh well, we do have to be leaving now. The boys need to be in Buenos Aires by morning so no time to waste."

"Yes, we'd better hurry," Javier agreed quickly, still not meeting Catalina's eyes, only opening the door to get outside.

She let them take her that far, so angry she was almost afraid of what she'd say when she opened her mouth, but Catalina absolutely refused to get in the car with them. "No, I will not go, not when you lied to the Tilves and tricked them. I am not going to break a promise twice."

"But they said they'd be willing to go with you later," Javier said placatingly, again begging her with those sad eyes, "and we'd really like for you to go."

"How do I even know Juan spoke to the right person? Maybe he made a mistake like the other day when he saw their car."

"Are you calling me a liar?" Juan demanded, slamming his phone shut and back in his pocket. "I know who I spoke to, ought to after speaking to his father so much. The General and I are very tight, don't worry, he'll set everything straight when they get back. I've got it all covered."

"Well, it doesn't matter, I'm not going," Catalina insisted, folding her arms and parking herself by the fence, refusing to be budged by cajoling or pulling.

"But, Catalina, Mamá said she didn't want us to go so far without you," Isabel wailed suddenly. "She wouldn't pay for the petrol unless I told her you were coming along."

"Then I wish you'd asked me before telling her I would," Catalina snapped, remembering how many times Sra. Eva had ensured they stayed together. It looked less like Isabel had been helping her and more like Catalina had been the one doing the favor. "Why don't you ask Maria or Angela to go? Wouldn't that be good?"

"Those idiots are just watching TV, they won't come, and they're too young anyway," Juan said dismissively. "Besides, I want you. We could pick up where we left off last night, before we were interrupted." He would have reached across the fence to kiss her right then and there if Javier hadn't stepped in.

"Look, I'm sorry, we should have asked before making your plans," he admitted, still not meeting her eyes, but at least contrite and standing between her and the others. "Still, what's done is done. Can't you just ride out with us so we can enjoy some time together? I promise we'll make it up to you."

She wanted to help her brother, she really did. She'd give anything for them to return to the morning's friendliness, eating pastries and fruit together, no quarreling between them. "I'm sorry too. If you'd only said something earlier, I might have said yes, but I can't break another promise. And I think I owe them an explanation right now. So I'm going inside to call them. I hope we'll see each other again before you leave." She then marched back toward the house, avoiding Isabel, and slammed the door behind her when she was safely inside. It had been impolite, perhaps, but she was still quite upset, and she didn't trust herself to say anything more.

She ran upstairs and found the little card Enrique gave her, right where she'd tucked it in the mirror, and then got her own phone out. Going downstairs now might mean she'd have to see Javier again, and she couldn't stand to do that after saying such mean things to him. She prayed quickly, begging forgiveness, and then dialed the number, counting the rings with her own pounding heartbeat.

At last a professional "¿Holá, Señor Tilve speaking, is this an emergency?" came over the line, and she realized after only a second it must be Enrique, thinking he was speaking to a patient.

"It was all a mistake, I didn't know!" she burst out, followed quickly by, "I'm sorry for calling and interrupting, but I had to let you know as soon as I found out what they'd done, please don't be angry."

"One moment, sorry, one moment," Enrique said, and she heard him call someone. "I'm putting you on speaker, Elena's here now."

"Holá, Elena, I'm so sorry, I don't know what my brother was thinking to let Juan do such a thing, but it was all a big mistake."

"It was strange," Elena said, her voice muffled yet clearly understanding her. "But if it's your brother's last day in town, of course you'd want to spend time with him."

"Yes, but I didn't know at all what he had planned, and he hadn't said a word to me before. And even if I had changed my mind I would never ask Juan to speak to you like that. I hope he wasn't—" she hesitated, unsure how to say it politely, then settled on— "difficult."

"Why no, Don Juan was so gracious while blocking the road and honking his horn at everyone." Even without seeing him Catalina could hear the smile in Enrique's voice.

"We would have called but thought maybe you were already gone," Elena said, sounding unsure of herself, or perhaps it was just the distance from the phone. "Sorry, we should have checked again."

"Oh, no, I'm sorry, I should have called right away."

"Ladies, let us not keep apologizing so much, or this poor sinner will have to go away and hide his face for shame," Enrique interrupted, chuckling. "I am not sorry to speak to you, and furthermore am not sorry to put off walking another day if that is more convenient."

"Yes, if you want to be with your brother, we can do another time," Elena chimed in.

Catalina thought a second, wondering if she should be there for Javier, but then shook her head. "Actually, I'd rather not be home right now, or with him, until I cool off enough to apologize."

"Well I understand all about that," Elena laughed. "Sometimes brothers can be a real pain sometimes."

"¡Che!" Enrique yelped, even as he also laughed. Catalina smiled, grateful for anyone’s good will when she felt so sad.

"Could I meet you somewhere else?" she suggested, still not up to seeing Javier again, let alone the Lobos.

"A secret mission, just my area of expertise," Enrique said, super serious. "Can you climb onto the roof, leap to the next building, and make a signal with your bed sheets? We could bring our helicopter down to pick you up."

She hiccuped, giggling so much, and Elena must have grabbed the phone because her voice was much louder this time. "Why don't you just come over here and spend the afternoon? That way we can enjoy a trip when you're in a better mood."

"That sounds wonderful." Catalina agreed.

"Is there a street behind the house? Which one is it?" After consulting her brother Elena said, "There's a tram nearby that goes to the main plaza. Enrique'll be waiting to pick you up in the car, and then we'll bring you back before supper. Deal?"

"Sure thing!"

"Great, see you soon. ¡Chau!"

Catalina checked in with Tía Lola before leaving. The poor lady had fallen asleep but instantly approved of this idea. "Of course you should join them, and be sure to let me know what their furniture is like," she commanded as she slipped her young friend a few pesos for the trip. "I wish there was time for you to change but perhaps it will do."

"I'm sure it will, gracias." Catalina kissed her, then slipped out the back door. She felt positively adventurous as she snuck out the back gate and found the closest tram. Then she rode away with the sun directly overhead drenching everything in warm hues and beating the pavement with simmering waves.

The best part was when she hopped off and found Enrique waving a white towel in the air. "Your helicopter," he said, pointing at his car, and soon they were off, laughing together.

"Gracias for letting me come over," Catalina said, enjoying the pleasant ride that was so much smoother than the hurly burly race Juan always made while driving.

"Honestly, it’s the other way around, I haven't seen Elena this excited in ages." Enrique watched the traffic for a while, then eyed her. "It is very kind to spend your afternoon with her."

"But I want to. So that's not really kind, is it?"

"Why not? Who says kindness has to be all misery and punishment? Or are you secretly in training to be a martyr and a saint? I should warn you now, I am allergic to saintliness, so you mustn't notice if I sneeze a great deal while you're around." He then gave an exaggerated "Achoo!" that did not sound real at all, and Catalina laughed with abandon.

"No, I don't think I'm a saint. I was actually very harsh with my brother," she admitted.

"Sometimes we brothers deserve it," Enrique said casually, not prying or consoling, just carrying the conversation on. "But you have all evening to pray over that. Let's have some fun with Elena for a while before we face further confession, ¿che?"

Agreeing, Catalina was amazed how quickly they arrived at the Tilve house, by a much more direct route than she'd taken the other day. Elena met them outside and then they all settled on the back porch with drinks watching the waves roll in, chatting about nothing and everything. There was a large puzzle with only the outline completed nearby, and they all worked on it together, the image of a sailboat and lighthouse gradually taking form, but with no hurry. Everything was ease and comfort and smooth sailing.

When their father came out to join them, Catalina was taken aback by his kissing her hand quite elegantly, with none of his son's playfulness. "Very pleased to finally be introduced, Señorita Moreno. I trust you're enjoying our hospitality?"

"Very much sir, gracias."

"Excellent, but be sure to let us know if there is anything else you require. We always like company." Enrique choked on his drink, drawing a cross look from his father and worried glances from Elena. It felt very mysterious, like a hidden signal, but for what Catalina couldn't guess. "In fact, we would love for you to stay for dinner. I just spoke to the cook: do pasta and shrimp sound appetizing, or would you prefer something else?"

"Muchas gracias," Catalina said, "but I have to get back before too late."

"It would be no trouble, I assure you. Why, Enrique should have already invited you. Where are your manners boy?"

It sounded like teasing to Catalina, but Enrique looked so stiff she wondered if she'd misheard something. "I thought we had other plans."

"What a mishap; I assure you, he's usually very good with details, has to be with his work. Speaking of, I hear you plan to be a doctor yourself?"

"Oh, no, I've not even taken the entrance exams yet," Catalina sputtered, wondering who could have said such a thing, and waited for the joke to be revealed. "Besides, it wouldn't matter if I'd heard about dinner earlier, I have to go check on Tío Ruy. I mean, Señor Aguirre. They'll be expecting me to eat with them tonight."

"Well, well, of course you'll need to return promptly. No time to lose. Enrique, why haven't you brought the car around for her?"

It sounded like a dismissal to Catalina, despite how much she'd like to linger, so she got up and said adios to Elena. "Gracias again for a wonderful time, I really appreciate it."

Elena smiled, almost sadly, but took Catalina's hand in a firm squeeze. "Gracias for coming over. Can you get out tomorrow maybe?"

"I'll have to see."

"We can chat on the phone," Enrique spoke quickly. "I have a few patients tomorrow, but I'm sure Elena will be free, right Papá?"

"Of course, of course, we'll be glad to work around the Aguirre's schedule."

That seemed such an odd thing to say, since it was Catalina who would be coming and not them, but she acknowledged his kindness all the same. "It was very good to meet you."

"And you, a great pleasure."

The ride home was not quite so buoyant as when she'd come with Enrique. He looked preoccupied, and she wondered just what to say to Javier when she called him. It was probably far too late for him to still be in Mar del Plata, given the long drive he had to make.

"Gracias, again, for coming," he said abruptly, and Catalina looked over to see him smiling at her with no hint of unease at all.

"Of course. And I should be able to get away tomorrow, whenever."

"Perhaps no aquarium, with all those sharks," Enrique teased. "But there are plenty of trails around, with ramps and boardwalks. How does that sound?"

"I'm game for anything."

"Careful, you should be more discriminating. People will think you're as good as you act otherwise."

"Like you?" she giggled, pleased and flushed, and was surprised to see his smile falter momentarily before he answered.

"Well I will not claim to be so very good. But I put on a great act don't I?"

That could only prompt more laughing, so she was well fortified when he at last dropped her off a few blocks away from the Aguirre house, at her request. "Be in touch!" he called as he drove away, and Catalina waved before walking up the sidewalk.

As she suspected, Javier had long since left. Tío Ruy said he had very sensibly decided to drop the outing and get back on the road. "It was a foolish idea, so late in the day, and with a big journey ahead. I'm glad neither of you decided to go. It had a bad smell to it."

"Gracias, Tío Ruy," she said, but then added nervously. "Do you think Isabel realizes how foolish it was? She was very disappointed. Maybe I should call her and explain things."

"No need. Her mother can, if she cares to. But that's not your responsibility. Don't go taking on too much guilt from other people: just do the right thing for yourself."

"Yes sir!"

Later she called Javier and left a very consoling voicemail. "I wish we could have spent more time together," she said, truly meaning it. "And I hope we can see each other again soon. I love you, my dear brother."

Hanging up, Catalina wondered if perhaps she was learning something here in Mar del Plata, even if it wasn't in a classroom. It seemed there were people every bit as twisty and turvy in real life as on any show she could imagine. Hopefully, she had gotten through all that, and could focus on just the highlights now.

Today's bonus blog content is about characters with different physical abilities.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 9: Lucha de Poder

MichelleRWFebruary 06, 2023 11:40AM


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