February 13, 2023 11:35AM
"Complications," which are intricate, entangle, and embroil (Wikitionary).

Wednesday proved to be a very long day; Inez had not been joking about how many patients there were to help, and Catalina was amazed to find only thirty minutes gone after what felt like hours. Then there was so much paperwork! Every moment she was not helping someone get from one place to another, it felt like she was receiving or delivering information to the various offices. There was none of the pleasant chit chat from the previous day; everyone had so much to do, and Catalina unfortunately got lost a few times trying to get around, so that she had to quickly rush to get back on schedule.

She completely forgot about lunch until her phone buzzed in her pocket. She had been so distressed that morning when it rang in the middle of the hallway, drawing the ire of Sra. Mundo, and so kept it silenced the rest of the day. But now she realized it was actually set to vibrate with an alert flashing across the screen. Catalina slipped into the bathroom for a quick moment and found a message from Elena, "Are you swamped?"

Catalina was not used to sending texts; sharing phones with her family meant not expecting any privacy, and so she'd not been in the habit of messaging in any way they could see. Email was much better provided a computer was close by. Fumbling with the little keys, she attempted to send something legible: "Yes but it is fun." At least, she hoped it sent those words correctly.

Another message came back immediately. "Take time to eat. And call me when you can."

Ducking back out into the hall, Catalina returned to the nurses station to check if there were any messages to deliver, and was not surprised to see an entire stack of files lined up. "Please make sure these get to Doctor Reyes as soon as possible."

"Of course!" she answered, taking them, and then a few more. It looked like lunch, and her phone call, would have to wait.

By the time three rolled around she'd forgotten about being hungry, and instead was busy ferrying a patient to the X-ray room. "There are no worries, ma'am, you'll be just fine," she assured the older lady, helping her walk down the hall carefully. "Just lean on my arm, there you go."

She kept at it, helping several more patients, then finally sat on a bench in a corner during a brief break, very tired. Her phone buzzed again, and she looked down to see it was lit up to signal a call. Looking around and seeing no one nearby, she answered, "¿Holá?"

"Catalina!" Isabel's voice gushed on the other end. "Where are you hiding? I've been just dying to talk to you, and neither Mamá nor I knew where you were. Why haven't you answered your phone?"

"Because I'm working," she answered, closing her eyes and wishing Isabel wouldn't squeal quite so loud. She had a small headache forming. "But I had my phone on me all week."

"Well, something must be wrong with it, I'm sure I tried to reach you plenty of times. Where on earth are you?"

"The large clinic up by the plaza."

"Oh, I can guess why. I'll bet there's a handsome therapist around there too, huh?"

"No, Enrique's busy seeing patients or at one of the other sites, he doesn't have time to hang around. And some people just came in, I should see if they need help."

"Right, right, I see, keep your secrets. But call me later, yes? Or better, come over! We have so much to catch up on since I saw you last."

"Maybe," Catalina said, not sure if she should commit when she hadn't spoken to Elena yet, and worried someone would fuss at her soon if she didn't get off the phone. "But please, I've got to go."


Catalina had wished to see Inez again, especially knowing Enrique would be busy elsewhere, but it wasn't until near the end of the day the other woman found her in the break room wiping down the tables and chairs. "Catalina, right? What are you still doing here?"

"What do you mean?" Catalina asked while throwing some trash away. "I know it's past three, but Señor Vasa asked if I could help in here since he had to mop down one of the rooms. That poor little boy threw up everywhere! I'm not doing something wrong, staying later, am I? Since I'm not getting paid?" She knew all about keeping accurate time cards from her parents, but had figured as a volunteer it shouldn't matter, and there was just so very much to do.

Inez shook her head and gently took the rag from her hand. "No, of course there's nothing wrong from their perspective, I'm sure everyone's delighted Cinderella stayed past closing time to keep doing their jobs. But they're not supposed to make you stay this long, and certainly not to scrub things down like a janitor."

"I don't mind, really," Catalina said, smiling, though she wasn't unhappy to stop. "And it can't be that late."

"I call five forty late for an unpaid volunteer. When did you get in this morning?"

"Six thirty." Since the earliest tram left at six she figured it was best to take it and ensure a timely arrival. Her stomach suddenly growled, sending a blush up her cheeks, and she realized she hadn't eaten anything all day.

Inez shook her head again. "Come on, we're both leaving. You need to put your feet up and rest. And don't worry about the break room, it looks better than it has in weeks. I'll drive you home."

"Gracias ma’am, but I can take the tram."

"I'm sure you can, but I don't want you passing out and becoming a patient. No, don't bother going to the desk, Señora Mundo's already left."

On the way back to the Aguirres', Inez gently advised that she needed to pace herself. "It's great you're so eager to jump right in. I'm sure you've made a good impression with everyone. But you're going to drop if you hit every day like this. Don't take that crazy Enrique as your model; sometimes I think he's a robot the way he tries to work all over the place."

"I'm sure he really cares for his patients."

"He does, a lot. Makes him very popular: barely 25 and all the private firms in town call him, sometimes the hospital too. That's what's hard about these kinds of jobs. We all want to help and yet we're no good to anyone if we don't take care of ourselves too. And I don't mean to hit the nightlife as hard as you hit your job. Enrique might have the stamina for that, but us lesser mortals need a break every now and then. Besides, you're just a student volunteer, even if you're not in school right now. I'm sure you've got a book you're ploughing through for exams, right?" At Catalina's nod, she smiled ruefully. "I remember those days, ugh. So much to cram. It helps if you have a study buddy. Otherwise I found it all gets muddled up in my head."

"Well, gracias for the ride, and I promise to do better tomorrow," Catalina said when they pulled up to the house.

"Don't make promises you can't keep. Just plan to leave earlier tomorrow. And seven is just fine to arrive, no need to sit around outside of the clinic so early. It's allowed to be normal, you know?"

Tía Lola made a lot of her when Catalina came in, insisting she take a hot bath and then eat a big supper. By the time dessert came around she was already nodding off, and the Aguirres insisted she go straight to bed. "You can tell us all about your work another time," Tío Ruy said. "I'm going to be the nurse today and say you should get some rest."

"Yes sir." Catalina didn’t need much convincing and was soon tucked into her covers half asleep. Then she suddenly sat bolt upright, ashamed. She had forgotten all about Elena!

Frantically she picked up the phone beside her bed, searching for the girl's number, not bothering to find the nearest house receiver in her haste. After a few rings she heard a quick "¿Holá?"

"Elena, I'm so sorry, I totally forgot to call, it's been so crazy!"

Laughter came from the other end. "See, I knew Enrique would be a bad influence. Only two days at work and you're already overbooked. Let me guess, you lost track of time?"

"Yes, I did. I really meant to call you, then there was just so much to do."

"I've heard that before. It's not a problem, I figured you got caught up in stuff. Do you...." Elena trailed off, sounding uncertain. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yes, yes, really," Catalina said, then yawned. "Sorry, I ate so much at dinner."

More giggles. "Uh huh; because you forgot to eat lunch, right?"

"Well, yes."

"Oh no, Catalina, you cannot do that, you'll wear out just like Enrique did when he first started!" Elena sounded torn between mirth and concern. "Look, he said you have a fancy dinner you're supposed to be at tomorrow, right? So you should definitely not work late. If you want, we can meet when you leave and talk then."

"That would be great," Catalina said at once, then realized she also hadn't called Isabel. "Only, I'm sorry, someone else asked if I could.... But I didn't say.... Maybe...."

Now Elena sounded very concerned. "Catalina, you don't have to come, you can say no any time, you know that right? It's not like a job."

"Of course, I know that. I guess I didn't expect everything to happen all at once." She thought hard, trying to stay awake, then brightened with an idea. "Che, what if you joined us tomorrow night for dinner? I'm sure the Aguirres wouldn't mind, and I know we planned to do something the next day, but we could still talk some."

"Maybe? I'll have to check with Papá. Where are you having dinner?"

After promising to call the next day Catalina hung up and went straight to sleep, not waking again until the alarm went off bright and early. She took the time to pack a few snacks and borrowed a thermos from the kitchen. Better prepared, she tried to follow Inez's advice and sipped her water throughout the day. It was better, at least, now that she didn't feel so behind and knew her way around.

Her phone buzzed a few times, but since there were no messages left, she ignored it and kept working, intent on finishing all her tasks by three. When that hour rolled around, she appeared promptly at Sra. Mundo's desk, turning in the last of the patient reports she had been handed.

"Well, there's still a lot to do," the woman huffed, glancing over the folders.

"I'll be glad to come in early again tomorrow," Catalina promised, squelching the feeling that told her she should volunteer to stay late again. "I'm afraid I have an appointment this afternoon."

"Mmm. Well, sign out then, you forgot to yesterday. Paperwork should always be done before you go."

"Yes ma'am." Catalina signed her initials next to the time for both days, then quickly went out the side door before anyone could summon her back.

Once safely back she took a house phone to her room and called home first. Her parents were happy to hear about her newest adventure. "Sounds like you're learning a lot," Papá said proudly, and Catalina felt her heart swell. "Please let us know if you need anything."

"And listen to your supervisors," Mamá added. "Don't give them reason to complain. I'm sure you're going to do a good job."

"Gracias, I will."

After a few more minutes, she hung up, then taking a breath called the Lobos. She didn't really want to talk to Isabel but figured she should get it out of the way before calling Elena. She owed her friend a phone call, and the family had been kind to her when she was brand new and knew no one. It wouldn't do to ignore them now.

It took a while, but Isabel answered at last. "Catalina, good, you will never guess what's happening tonight!"

"You're right. What?"

Isabel laughed. "You are so funny sometimes. Must be from hanging out with a certain almost doctor, ¿che? But enough about him, although I hope he remembers what day it is."

Catalina didn't even bother to correct Isabel and remind her she had not seen Enrique since officially starting to work. "What is it?" she asked in some confusion, only remembering it was Thursday, and that she had to be ready to leave by five.

"I'm not going to let you tease me, silly girl, as if you didn't know and probably got lots of love today already. Valentine's, of course!"

"Oh, right, there were some decorations in the lobby." She couldn't describe them in detail, having barely seen that room with everything else to do. It was not a day that had ever meant more than warm hugs and well wishers from her family before, so she felt unsure what else to say. "Happy Valentine's Day!" Surely that was appropriate.

"And guess who's taking me out to dinner tonight?" Isabel murmured happily.

"I don't know: who?"


"But he's back in Buenos Aires," Catalina protested, sure she had not heard right. "He's so busy, he hasn't been able to do more than leave me one message on the phone, and barely emailed. How could he get away?"

"You're worrying over nothing. That's your problem, you know: worry, worry, worry, just like Javier used to. But there's absolutely nothing to it. Juan is such a dear, he’s driving Javier down the whole way so he can keep studying. We'll get to spend another long weekend together!"

"That's very generous. I thought there was that project to work on, before the semester started." Catalina did not understand Universities very well, but every time she'd heard of it spoken in her family there was a lot of serious talk about preparation and time management.

"No, no, that's all taken care of, and Javier's so smart, he’ll probably ace his classes without a sweat, he doesn't really need to be there. I'm sure he could leave now if he wanted, and just go back for exams. Plenty of people do."

Catalina didn't want to argue with Isabel, who must know more living so close to schools and in a big city all her life. But she was fairly certain Javier could not, and would not, miss his entire semester. "I'm glad he's able to take you out," she said at last, truly pleased for them. "Are you going somewhere special?"

"Yes, of course, and that's the best part. Juan's coming too, you know, and we would absolutely love for you to come along. We feel just awful about how things went on Sunday; really, just awful, and we want to make it up to you. Juan definitely wants to see you again, and who knows what can happen when it's such a special day?"

Now Catalina felt trapped, torn between too many competing loyalties. "Oh, well, Javier didn't say anything, and I thought.... I mean, I didn't know. But the Aguirres planned to go out tonight for over a week and I have to be there. I really wish I could see you all again, but I just can't."

A pause, then Isabel said, "What about tomorrow? Juan and Javier will still be here, so you can't work that day, not when we have a chance to all be together. I know both of them want to see you again so badly."

"But I already agreed to do something that day too, and I can't miss a day to volunteer so soon after I signed up—"

"Volunteer? You mean you're someone's servant? What kind of stupidity is that?"

Catalina was quiet a while herself now, not sure what to say without making Isabel upset. "It's very important, for applying to nursing school. I'm lucky to get this opportunity."

"You want to be a nurse?" The disbelief was clear even over the phone, and Catalina wished she could think of some graceful way to get out of the conversation.

"Maybe, one day, but first I have to get my aid's license. So any experience will help."

"Fine, do your thing during the day, and we'll all hang out Friday night."

"But I already made plans."

"So you're too important for us now, is that it? Just because you want to impress a guy who probably doesn't think about you at all?"

"I'm sure he's far too busy to think of anything beyond all the work coming in," Catalina shot back, annoyed to hear Enrique brought up when he'd done absolutely nothing to anyone. "So that's not it at all. I'm doing this work for my future, and my sisters'. Don't you want to help Angela and Maria one day when they graduate?"

"Of course! Why do you think I'm trying so hard? And I can help you too, you know. There are better ways to get ahead than wiping down old people in a hospital."

There was nothing Catalina could think to say that wouldn't make things worse, so she only bit her tongue.

"And so you're still going to do your own thing? You don't even care about Javier? Your own brother, come back just to see us."

"I'll call him. Maybe we can work something out. But I have to know ahead if I'm going to make plans like that. I'm sorry." Catalina felt awful even as she stood firm, wishing she had gotten Isabel's messages earlier in the week, and even worse almost glad she didn't.

"Whatever. Have a wonderful dinner: I'm sure you'll enjoy third wheeling with the retirees so much."

Hanging up, Catalina buried her head in her knees, curling into a ball on her bed. For a few moments all she wanted was to be home, away from the confusion and people and obligations, where all she had to worry about was what Mamá needed that day, or maybe helping her family with chores. It was dull, and simple, which was what she desperately needed right now. She almost called her parents again. Yet how would it sound to beg for a return after only a few days of work?

Instead, she shakily dialed Elena, and listened to the rings without raising her head from a pillow. The view from the second story was gorgeous, as unlike Fortuna as possible, and for a heartbeat she wondered if it was possible she could be at home and here at the same time.

"¿Holá? Catalina? I hope your day went better." Elena's voice was so comforting, pleasant and without demands, that Catalina burst out crying.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm not upset, really, I'm fine," she gasped, hiccuping and sobbing, trying to keep quiet for fear of bringing Tía Lola in and having to explain herself.

"Maybe. Maybe not. I’m good either way," Elena answered without correcting her, the words soothing Catalina's nerves, so that she was able to catch her breath at last.

"Sorry, again, I just—" She didn't even know what to say. Everything was so mixed up and it wouldn't be fair to dump it all on Elena.

"Let's take it a step at a time. And remember, you can hang up if you want, this is a drama free phone call, so no feeling like you have to keep talking."

"Sure," Catalina answered, smiling despite herself. "But I would really like to talk, if you have time."

"I've got all the time in the world. So, start wherever you want, and I'll just listen, yes?"

Before she knew it, Catalina was telling Elena everything, more than she'd meant to. It was so nice to be able to explain without concern about saying the wrong thing, or making her angry, or being too selfish herself. At one point she even apologized, fearing she'd taken too long, but the other girl wouldn't let her. "No, no, you can't stop in the middle, not when it's just getting interesting. Don't worry, I'm keeping an eye on the clock, we still have plenty of time before five."

Catalina felt much better after voicing her feelings so plainly and was able to discuss Isabel's latest conversation without nearly as much agitation. "I just don't understand," she admitted, taking her dress out of the closet and looking for her shoes. "Why couldn't any of them ask me before, if they wanted me to go out so much? I've thought about calling Javier, but they’re probably driving, and I don't want to interrupt if he’s trying to concentrate or maybe even behind the wheel."

"No, definitely don't do that, it wouldn't be safe," Elena agreed wholeheartedly. "And I don't understand either, not fully. But here's what I think. And it's just my opinion, so you can ignore it all you want. Sometimes brothers, even really good ones, forget we exist, especially when they've been out on their own for a while. Javier isn't used to keeping you checked into all his plans, and probably thinks you're just sitting around waiting for him whenever he remembers you. Does that sound right?"

"I guess." It actually made a lot of sense, and Catalina wondered if what she was experiencing was more normal than she'd thought. "So, maybe, I should just remind him I'm ... not always available?"

"Sometimes that works with brothers. Sometimes not. I've had mixed results." Elena laughed nervously. "But now it sound like I'm badmouthing Enrique horribly, so I'd better let you know I have more than one brother before you think he's the worst person alive. Really, I'd be lost without him half the time, he's very dependable. Even if he does get distracted with work a lot. I guess that could describe Fernando, too, so maybe I'd better not say any more about my problems. We're helping you right now."

"Yes, gracias, I hadn't realized how much I missed my sisters until today. Goodness, it's been nearly a month since I left home! I mean, I email everyone all the time, but for a while there was very little to say, and now it feels like there's too much to write, so gracias again for listening."

"I'm just glad I could: very few people trust me to listen to anything," Elena said, not sounding sad at all, even if it sounded like a sad thing to Catalina. "And I have a surprise for you: we're all coming to dinner tonight!"

"Really!" Catalina almost dropped the hairbrush in her excitement.

"I didn't want to say anything earlier, since it sounded like you had enough on your plate, but Papá said yes and so we're getting ready right now. We probably can't sit nearby since we made such a late reservation, but I'm sure we'll see each other before we leave."

"That would be fantastic!" Catalina brushed her hair quicker, now worried she'd dawdled too long before making her preparations. "I should get off the phone, I don't want to take any more of your time, not when we can see each other later."

"Sure, I should get dressed too," Elena sighed dramatically. "Still, I wanted you to know, we're flexible, and I understand what it's like to go months without seeing a brother. I miss mine terribly when they're gone; if you want to spend time with Javier tomorrow night, I completely understand. Just think about it and we can talk more tonight."

"Yes, yes, I will, I can't wait to see you again!" Excitedly, Catalina hung up the phone then glanced twice at the display. It was thirty minutes past four! She never spent that long uninterrupted on the phone. Fortunately she didn't have time to worry: she needed to get ready!

When she told Tía Lola about the Tilves coming the lady clucked softly, looking over Catalina's appearance. "I suppose it will do. Only, shouldn't you wear those new heels? They show your legs off so well."

"I think she looks very nice as she is," Tío Ruy commented. "And we've had enough of dangerous footwear. I'll be glad to let Señor Tilve know how those insoles have helped. I barely feel my feet at all now."

They were soon in the car and off to the restaurant. Catalina had debated on what to do about Javier and finally settled on a quick text message offering to visit tomorrow. She would keep her phone in her purse and close by, and determined if he reached out she would answer it no matter what. Talking to Elena reminded her how lucky she was to see her brother when she did; they should try to make up while he was nearby.

The dining hall was beautiful and elegant, tables all laid out in a grand old-fashioned manner around a bandstand and formal dance floor. There was a quartet playing and flowers everywhere. A large banner read, "To All the Lovers, in Honor of Saint Valentines." It looked like something straight out of television, only much prettier and more importantly, visible right in front of her instead of separated by a screen. They met the Herreras and were quickly seated, the waiter handing all three ladies a corsage of small roses.

"Isn't it so nice to enjoy a pleasant evening out?" Sra. Herrera asked as her husband asked Tío Ruy about his investments. "Just like when we were all young, like little Catalina here. Oh, my dear, what fun we had back then!"

Soon the two ladies were sharing all sorts of stories from their youth, and while there were frequent diversions into clothing and hairstyles, there were also plenty of entertaining anecdotes. Even the men got to reminiscing and a few toasts were raised to olden days.

"Oh, and Catalina says the Tilves will be here tonight," Tía Lola said over her entree as the conversation lulled. "You know she was invited to their house the other day, and saw their carpeting. Tell us about it dear."

So Catalina dutifully reported on what little she had seen of the Tilve's house, which admittedly was not much, but that made no difference to how the ladies responded. Then Tío Ruy proudly announced that she was working, and Sr. Herrera politely asked about the clinic, and everyone raised a glass to her success.

"Well, Catalina, I might not be the man for the job, but I feel I could get up and at least hold on to you, if you'd like to dance," Tío Ruy offered, and Catalina assured him she didn't need to if he wasn't feeling well. "Maybe nothing else, but it's only a waltz, and I can still count to three. Just a short spin, yes? That way I can tell Señor Tilve I've been practicing, if he ever shows his face, the little scamp."

They stayed close to the table and kept well away from the other couples. Tío Ruy needed a lot of support, not nearly as graceful as when she was fifteen and unprepared for any troubles in the world beyond a pimple. But he still smiled at her like she was the most special lady in the world, and called her a pretty dear, so that nothing had really changed after all. Catalina kissed his cheek happily, so glad he was feeling better, and was surprised by Dr. Reyes joining them as they retook their seats.

"Well well, you look much better than when I saw you last, dancing already?" he asked with a pleasant smile, and accepted a hearty handshake from his patient. "Glad to see it."

"I've said this trip is doing him a world of good," Tía Lola spoke up, shaking Dr. Reyes's hand as well. "And after all, it's been so long since we had a real vacation, I think we really must stay longer."

"Certainly I wish all my patients improved so much. And who is this again? I think I've heard your name called around the office. Our new model volunteer, yes?" He smiled, and dipped his head in a short bow. "Please, may I show our gratitude by taking this dance?"

"Oh, gracias sir," Catalina answered breathlessly, not prepared for the invitation, and was soon happily enjoying a brisk if sedate turn around the floor. The good doctor was hardly young but still in good shape, and if not a fancy talker at least gave her no cause for regret as the dance wound down. "Hmm, looks like work is following us, like usual," he observed with chagrin. It was only when they approached the table that Catalina realized the Tilves were chatting with the rest of their party.

"Señor Tilve, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be filing some paperwork?" Dr. Reyes joked as he helped Catalina back into a chair.

"All done, sir, and Señora Mundo even complimented me, so you know it must have been done right," Enrique answered easily, shaking the doctor's hand and answering another question about clinic work without skipping a beat.

Elena leaned over to Catalina and whispered, "It never fails: we always run into someone who wants to ask Enrique about their health!"

They giggled together, and Catalina realized that their table had been graced with a few extra chairs to accommodate everyone. The three older men kept up a lively discussion about the last fútbol match, and something to do with stocks, while Tía Lola and Sr. Herrera quickly brought Elena into their circle with compliments and questions about her outfit.

"It looks very pretty," Catalina agreed, never amazed at how nice Elena looked, yet still impressed. "I love your earrings."

"Enrique gave them to me today," she said happily, turning to send a smile his way and draw his eye away from conversation with Doctor Reyes.

He winked, raising one eyebrow just the slightest, then said, "Well, Doctor, it is Valentine's, and I promised my date I would go on the dance floor tonight, so you must excuse me."

"Of course, I didn't mean to get carried away. Again, Señor Aguirre, good to see you in better health. I leave you in the best of hands."

There was some general farewelling among the men while Catalina spoke to her friend. "I'm sure you'll enjoy dancing, it's not crowded at all."

Elena grinned back. "I will: Papá promised he would take me out, like he does every year. Only I think he's busy dancing with the markets right now."

"But isn't your brother going to dance with you?" Catalina asked before Enrique stepped forward and bowed to her.

"I have promised my dear sister I would dance tonight, and she has insisted I not do so only with her. Since I get to please her and myself at the same time, I hope you will say joining me will please you as well, and then we can say my nobility is made complete." He held his arm out with consummate flair, his formal jacket tailored so that it barely creased as he moved. "Shall we?"

"Gracias," Catalina said to them both, delighted and surprised all at once. The band was still playing waltzes, so they quickly fell into the box step of the dance, Enrique giving her plenty of space to move and effortlessly guiding her away from other couples as they glided along the perimeter of the floor.

"It's slower than our usual taste, ¿che?" he asked, eyes twinkling, and she laughingly agreed. "Ah, well, it is a very formal affair. We would not want to shock anyone here by making a scene. Though, I wonder, have you ever danced a waltz double time?"

Catalina could feel her heart race with excitement. "Yes, we used to do that all the time at home: Javier can even do it triple, if only for a short spell."

"Let us not go that far. But if you will follow my lead, I think we can get in some exercise."

With that he swung her around twice as fast, still keeping in tempo, but with rapid steps and tight turns. Catalina matched him, keeping hold of her skirt, wishing the tempo would actually quicken but happy to enjoy a partner who knew exactly what he was doing as they sped into their own little dance, far enough away from the others to not worry about bumping into anyone and still keeping the pulse of the other couples. By the time the music wound down, Enrique had led her back into the original uno-dos-tres of the steps.

"You have very good stamina," he complimented as they joined in applause for the band.

"There was very little to do at home," she explained, keyed up and wishing they might have continued at the faster pace. "Except dance and watch TV."

"And work long hours at a clinic?" At her reaction, he chuckled. "A little bird warned me you might be flying too high. I'm glad to see you're not worn out."

"No, no, I'm fine, gracias," Catalina assured him, wondering if Inez had been the one to speak up. "And I hope you've been able to take a few breaks."

"A very few. Tonight is an excellent excuse for one."

She noticed as he spoke that even though he betrayed no exhaustion whatsoever, there were a few worried wrinkles circling his temples in the glare of the lights, and the ghost of some concern in his eyes. She didn't realize she'd been staring until he raised a brow. "What is it you're looking at so sorrowfully? Do I seem such a scarecrow?"

"Oh no!" Catalina murmured, blushing and glancing away. "I was just concerned. Inez and Elena said you're so very busy."

He laughed, the gray look chased away, and shook his head with mock indignation. "So my mamás have been telling tales. Don't worry, I am in no danger of imminent collapse, nor am I likely to be if you'll dance with me again. Unless you're feeling unwell yourself?"

They eagerly leapt into the next dance, a more uptempo foxtrot, and he asked her a few questions about how she liked the clinic. They compared observations about the people she'd met, the patients she'd helped, and before long his own work. "I was glad to see Señor Aguirre up and moving tonight. You made him a very good partner."

"You were already here?" Catalina asked, surprised again.

"Yes. We did not see you at first, and I did not wish to call and disturb your meal like some rude gaucho. But we could hardly miss when you got up. It was very kind."

"Tío Ruy is so dear, how could I not? That is not very kind, when I was happy to do it and see him happy."

"You are very unkind too, I see, when it comes to receiving compliments. I will have to think of better ones that you can't undo so easily. After all, what sort of Valentine would I be if I did not whisper a few sweet nothings tonight?"

"You don't have to," she assured him, slightly uncomfortable, even as she hoped he would. "I mean, I would not expect, that is, we're just dancing." It sounded childish to her ears even as she said it, and she glanced away to gather her thoughts.

He chuckled low and throaty, squeezing her palm as they turned on the floor. "Just dancing, is it? Well, I think we have said a lot tonight, even if only with our feet. The pulse of love is to be found in music, wine, and a pretty partner, or so someone said. And two out of three is not bad, right?"

Catalina nodded with a shy smile, reassured by his sweet smile despite the fancy talk. "I suppose. Only, I think you are a very good partner."

There was a slight widening of his eyes, the shifting of their feet, before he answered. "Perhaps I should clarify my words and explain that I've tasted no wine tonight. Or rather, none to be found from a bottle. But there is a fine wine that comes from the arms of beautiful ladies, or so I hear. Perhaps I've had all three after all?"

Barely believing his words, Catalina was quiet for the rest of the dance, unsure what to say, and too nervous to either banter or ask him for explanations. It was enough to be dancing, and complimented, and feel herself singled out in a crowded ballroom. Who could ask for more?

Returning to the table, she chatted with brother and sister both, even if she sometimes faltered responding to Enrique. Watching them take a turn on the floor Catalina fought to keep a tight hold of her head and heart. He was surely teasing her, like he did Elena, and only being very kind. She would not read too much into it. He was just friendly, and very suave in his formal suit, and absolutely so clever and wonderful it would be a miracle for him to like her beyond this easy companionship.

Eventually they settled on a plan for the next day: Enrique was still scheduled to end his work week with the appointment at the Aguirres. "I can pick you up from the clinic before I go over; after all, I wouldn't want to have my pretty assistant missing," he said, bringing more pink to her cheeks even as she agreed happily. "Then we can meet Elena for some sightseeing, just some light strolling around. That way you should have plenty of time afterward to meet up with your brother, if you like."

He was all understanding, they both were, and Catalina could not be more grateful. "I would still like to spend the day in the future, if we can."

"There'll be plenty of time when your brother goes back," Elena reassured her.

She was such a good friend, Catalina could not help kissing her on the cheek as they said adios. The girl immediately hugged and kissed her back, and they were another five minutes before Enrique gently reminded them he had to work in the morning.

"Yes, yes, we know, though why you didn't take more time off while we were here," their father said, shaking his head in consternation before reaching over and kissing Catalina's hand very formally before Enrique could say another word. "We have enjoyed seeing you again, Señorita Moreno, very much. Your invitation to Elena was most kind: we were flattered by the attention, all of us." He threw a strange look at his son, and Catalina saw the hint of unease in his features again, so that she was worried there had been some private quarrel, perhaps because she had been so late in making the invitation.

"I am sorry I did not think of it sooner, sir, but I am glad you could come. It was good to see you again."

"Ah, manners, such a rare thing these days. But I would expect nothing less from a lady. And I hope you will grace our table soon. We will expect you before the next week is out."

"Yes sir," Catalina answered, not sure if there was anything else proper to add, dropping into a short curtsy for lack of knowing any other protocol.

The man gave a few more compliments to the rest of the party, then smartly turned to the door, pushing Elena's chair away before they could say anything else. Enrique briefly frowned as he watched them go, but then smiled when taking his leave from her. "A most enchanting evening, gracias for being a spirited dance partner."

"Not at all," she answered, grinning, forgetting to caution her heart as she delighted in the radiance shining down on her. "I would be glad to do so again."

"Well, be ready tomorrow. We have to get Señor Aguirre back into shape." He winked, then bent and kissed her cheek very chastely in farewell.

She was sure it would burn off despite how little pressure she'd felt of his lips. That night she spent a long time awake, trying to convince herself it meant nothing, when all the time that kiss felt like everything in the whole world.

It's a special week of daily new blog content. Today I examine the One True Pairing trope and how it relates to Northanger Abbey. Tomorrow and Friday there'll be bonus Catherine/Henry fiction besides the next Estancia chapter, with Thursday left up to reader request.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 11: Complicacións

MichelleRWFebruary 13, 2023 11:35AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 11: Complicacións

NN SFebruary 16, 2023 12:59PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 11: Complicacións

MichelleRWFebruary 17, 2023 01:22AM


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