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Estancia Aldea Norteña 12: Fuegos Artificiales

February 17, 2023 11:30AM
"Fireworks," a striking display of explosive or flammable compositions (Merriam-Webster).

By the time Catalina took a short snack break the next day, she was certain she had banished whatever strange notions jumped in her head the night before. Yes, it had been Valentine's Day, but it wasn't as if Enrique asked her out. In fact, Catalina invited the Tilves and she had really done it for Elena, even if she also knew he would likely show up if Elena came. But that wasn't why she did it, surely she wasn't that shallow, and she didn't remember thinking of him at all when offering the invitation.

So it had all just been friends and dancing, like at home, and nothing more. That kiss was just a sign they were very good friends. It certainly wasn't a promise or anything like it. All that flirty talk was just that, flirting. Enrique liked to talk that way to everyone. Why, he even flirted with Sra. Mundo, and no one in their right mind could think he was in love with her!

"Don't be silly," she reminded herself, and actually believed it when she once again reviewed all the reasons why it was better to be friends with Enrique and Elena, instead of chasing a stupid idea that was all in her imagination. Besides, there was plenty to like in being friends with someone like Enrique. No cause for disappointment whatsoever.

In a much better frame of mind, then, she dialed her brother's number and hoped he would pick up. To her delight, he did, and she was even happier to hear him in such a good mood. "But I don't want to interrupt your work," he assured her after they'd spoken a few minutes. "That's why I haven't called, I didn't want to disturb you with all you're trying to do."

"Gracias, I appreciate it. It's much better now, instead of the first day, I think I'm learning how to handle all the paperwork."

"Good, I'm so glad to hear it. And very proud little sister. Why, you might get a job before me the way you're at it, think of that!"

"And I can go out with you all tonight," Catalina spoke up quickly, explaining her plans and hoping to keep this happy mood as long as possible. "The Tilves will drop me off wherever you want us to meet, and then I'm all yours for the rest of the evening."

"That's very kind of them," Javier said slowly, not nearly as buoyant as before but not angry either. "Well, I guess that'll be fine, if you can meet us at the park. I have something very important to share with you, a surprise I think you're going to really like." He sounded almost nervous, which Catalina couldn't understand, but she hoped he didn't think she was still mad at him.

"Oh, yes, I'll be glad to come. It sounds like fun."

"Good, yes, lots of fun!" Javier spoke fast, excited, then abruptly said he had to go. "Sorry, things to do. See you later. Call when you arrive and we'll meet up."

Thinking on it as she worked the rest of her shift, Catalina was concerned for Javier. His voice had a strange sound, higher and more anxious than she was used to. She really must apologize to him better tonight, and reassure him how much she cared for him. He was probably under so much pressure over the semester about to begin. It would be good to spend more time with him, just friendly, without the drama of before.

She was waiting by the door when Enrique drove up to the staff entrance, ready to go and not at all jittery about getting in the car with him like she might have been that morning. It helped that even pressed and neat, his scrubs were clearly used from his day of work, and that she was just coming off a full hour of caring for patients herself. They were like colleagues, she decided, and that was very good in itself.

"Let me just get these papers into the office before we leave. Call Elena while I'm gone, she's been texting me like crazy to make sure nothing's changed."

Catalina held the door for him as he rushed inside, and he murmured a quick "¡Gracias!" as he barreled down the hall toward the main desk.

She'd just finished chatting with Elena when he came back out, his hair barely tousled from his run. "There, that's all for this week! Sorry you got dumped into the middle of a crazy time; it's not always this hectic."

"I don't mind; it's good for me to see everything," Catalina assured him, smiling, as they got in and buckled their seat belts. "And it's certainly been exciting."

"That's one word for it." He backed out carefully, then pulled into traffic. "But the next should be a lot calmer for everyone. Elena and I will both be free to do more after hours, if you're up for it."

"Sure! I'd love to. But it doesn't have to be anything special, I'm happy just to see more of the city."

"Yes, so many things make you very happy. It's almost too easy. You should be far more exacting with your friends."

Catalina bit her lip, grinning but trying to keep from falling too deep into the kind of talk they'd previously shared. After all, they were going to see a patient together. "I don't think friends should make so many demands. So, what are you planning to do with Tío Ruy today?"

"Business? Good idea. Why don't you open his chart there and let me know what you think?"


"Sure, why not? You know the patient better than me, after all. What do you recommend?"

Catalina opened the folder hesitantly, reading over the many medical terms with some trepidation and absolutely unable to decipher the meaning of the test results included. But Enrique had made some notes as well, and Inez, and she was able to piece together enough to get the gist of things. "It looks like you're all worried about inflammation and whether his knees will stiffen up again. So, we should make sure he stays active, but not overdo it. And, maybe, find some way for him to rely less on his pain medication, since that might be contributing to his ... um, I don't actually know what this word means, but it sounds bad."

"It's not too horrible," he assured her, barely taking his eyes from the road as she held the chart up. "He's actually in remarkably good health for someone his age. Too much wine and steak, maybe, but it's Argentina, what can you expect? Lent's a good time to get in an exercise routine, when he's taking less of that in and eating healthier. Or, it should be, I suppose I shouldn't assume."

"Oh, but Tío Ruy and Tía Lola always keep Lent, very strictly. He barely had anything to drink last night and they always give up some of their household money for the poor."

Enrique nodded appreciatively. "He seems a very good man, Señor Aguirre."

"He is."

"I still don't understand, sorry, I know you were trying to explain your family the other day: how are you related?"

Catalina blinked, unsure of the question at first, then laughed. "We're not at all, I'm so sorry, I must have sounded so strange the way I talk about them. The truth is they're only our neighbors. We've lived near them our whole lives, grew up going to play in their yard. Tía Lola always had the housekeeper throw tea parties for us. I suppose they adopted us as honorary nieces and nephews, with no children or close family of their own. And they've been so very good to us: why, Javier would never be able to live in Buenos Aires without their sponsorship, and you see how kind they've been to me. They're the best friends anyone could ask for."

"It sounds like it." Enrique was still smiling, but obviously preoccupied, keeping his eyes on the cars ahead. "I suppose there's no chance of more scholarships from them?"

"No, I don't think so, and we would never ask," Catalina answered in some confusion. "I mean, why would they? They sponsored Javier so he could become an engineer, then come home and work for Tío Ruy. But Antonio’s attending the technical college near home for his teacher’s license, so there’s not as much to pay for there."

"And Catalina will attend to become a nurse's aid for the clinic, and so forth and so on, enriching little Fortuna so handsomely," he spoke with a crooked grin, like he knew some private joke.

"Yes, I suppose. But, I mean, it's not like that's a bad thing, you know? We're very lucky to have so much planned out for us. And now I get to have this time here in the city, which is almost like going to University, even if not for so long. And maybe if we all work very hard, then Jorge and Raquel can go too, and get to do something else."

"Lucky little children, with all those papás and mamás looking out for them," Enrique commented ironically. "Well, I admire how industrious you Morenos are. It makes sense my father would admire you too, since that's exactly the kind of patriotic story he loves to hear. He'll probably petition to give you all medals some day, for showing what proud Argentinians can do if we just apply ourselves."

His words were light, but there was an undercurrent of something to them, which Catalina thought sounded slightly bitter. She decided to change the subject back to Tío Ruy, and they were soon easily chatting about his treatment and what could be done for him, as if all that talk about her future never happened. It was odd that the only times Enrique seemed tense was when his father was brought up or around. But maybe she was jumping to conclusions. It wasn't like she knew the Tilves so very well.

Tío Ruy greeted them in the courtyard with a wave. "Well, two therapists to help me, I hope I'm not charged double!" He chuckled as Enrique set up the speakers, and Catalina came over to hug him.

"No charge, of course," she laughed, kissing Tía Lola as well, where the lady sat fanning herself. "I hope you've been doing well."

"It has been so quiet without you around, I hope you'll spend some time with us over the weekend," she murmured fitfully, then patted Catalina's hand with a smile. "But we are so proud of you, dear, and I wouldn't want you to give up any of your fun. Besides, we were just talking, and decided to stay another month. What do you say to that?"

Catalina knew they had planned to leave in two more weeks, at the end of February, so she hadn't quite thought ahead to saying adios to everyone just yet. But this unexpected opportunity was very welcome. "Oh, really?"

"Well, you're getting such good experience here, it can't hurt to wait a little longer before you start school all over again."

"It would be different if you were already enrolled, of course," Tío Ruy explained with a jovial smile. "But I'm sure your parents will agree the work here may be just as valuable, and since I'm feeling better, why not enjoy more time at the coast?"

"Why not? But we should make sure you get in shape while you're healing." Enrique tapped a button on his remote and knelt to examine Tío Ruy's legs. "Let's see how well you can flex those feet today."

They moved up from flexing, to paddling in time to the music, and then with some encouragement from Catalina, they moved onto some shuffling dance steps. "I'm right here," she reminded him, holding one arm as he moved in time to the music.

"Well, well, not so bad today," he said, even shaking his hips as they turned. "But not too fast, please."

"You set the tempo, only make sure you're picking up your feet," Enrique encouraged him, demonstrating a few moves slowly for his patient to imitate.

After that song died they took a break, Tío Ruy sipped some lemonade delivered by the housekeeper. Catalina poured out a glass for Enrique as well.

"Gracias," he said, gulping it down, then sat in the shade as they all enjoyed their drinks.

Settling nearby, she wasn't sure what to say, or even if she should. But thinking of Elena, and Javier, and what she'd like to happen if one of her brothers needed help, she asked, "Would you like a snack? I think I saw some carrots and celery cut up in the kitchen."

"I've had something to eat, don't worry," Enrique answered without opening his eyes, breathing deeply. "Whatever Elena's told you, I am not in any danger of starvation."

"Well, no," Catalina said in surprise. "I only thought you might be hungry. I am, and I haven't seen that many patients today at all."

He smiled, his eyes still closed, but it was not nearly as flashy as usual. "Yes, I heard about how easy you've had it at the clinic. Tsk, tsk, whatever will your proud parents say?"

"They would say I should work hard, then rest, and eat something, so I could do my job properly."

He blinked and laughed. "Yes, I'm sure that's what your parents would say. Well, let us finish up, and then we can both take a real break, yes?" Standing up, he set his glass down on the table. "Now let's do some cool down exercises, really lubricate those joints."

There was no real dancing that day, which Catalina had not expected. Instead she was glad to see Tío Ruy looking very pleased at the end of the session with his progress, and even Tía Lola applauded him. "We're just going to relax around the house today and watch the fireworks from the veranda upstairs. You go off and have some fun with your friends." She hugged Catalina smartly as Tío Ruy shambled off to soak in the hot tub. "And get Javier to come by before he leaves, will you? Ruy missed him last time."

"Of course, gracias Tía Lola," Catalina promised, kissing her in turn, then went to help Enrique only to find he'd already put everything away, reset the chairs in the courtyard, and was at the kitchen table scrawling notes in a chart while chatting on the phone at the same time, a small bottle of Gatorade beside him.

"Here she is, the lady of the hour," he announced, "so you can talk to her, Elena, and let me finish my notes. Decide what you'd like to do," he said to Catalina, handing off his phone, "and I'll chauffeur around, as soon as I finish up with this paperwork."

"Is he at least eating something?" Elena asked at once, and Catalina was forced to admit she hadn't seen him eat a thing, but assured her there were plenty of snacks around. "Sometimes he is so stupid. If only Papá hadn't said—" She cut herself off, then continued in a different tone. "Never mind. We're out at the marina, watching the ships come in and out. Well, Papá's watching the races, but what else is new? Can you both get here in the next little while? Then we could tour the waterfront and poke in all the cute stores there."

"You want to go shopping?" Catalina asked uneasily, remembering how many boutiques she'd seen with Isabel, but willing to do so again with Elena if it made her happy.

"No, no, that would be boring. These are antiques and curios, all old-fashioned, like museums almost. Plus the sea lions are out right now. Have you seen them yet?"

"No, I mean, yes, that sounds great!" Catalina answered with far more interest, and quickly got the address.

Enrique only needed another minute to finish up his report, then downed the rest of his Gatorade with relish. "There, see, no worries for me. But I hope you've had something to eat when I wasn't watching. No? Well, we'll grab a bite when we get there, that'll make Elena happy."

They stopped by the clinic for Enrique to turn in the chart, since he grumbled that he wasn't going to come in on a Saturday to do that again, and he left the car idling while he jogged inside. "If I'm not out in ten minutes, call the air force and send in paratroopers," he joked before closing the door.

Catalina pondered all the conflicting ideas she'd seen and heard about Enrique. Sure, he seemed to have many different responsibilities, but didn't all important people? Her father worked very hard, after all, if maybe not running around all day like Enrique. She wondered how much time he had to spend in the car, or riding trams, and guessed it was a lot. Maybe, because Elena was at home, she didn't realize there were also opportunities to rest. But Inez held the same kind of job, and she mentioned some odd things too. And what was it about the older Sr. Tilve that put both of his children on edge? He had been nothing but polite to her.

"Miss me?" Enrique asked, leaping back into the car and pulling out almost as soon as he'd buckled in.

"No," Catalina answered, relieved to find he still drove as calmly as ever even in a rush, never accelerating too fast and making sure to stop at all the traffic lights.

"Really? Too bad. There was your one chance. Now you're stuck with us for the next few hours."

He sounded fine, and looked completely energized, so Catalina decided not to worry. It was probably just that it had been a busy week. After all, he must know how to manage things better than her.

When they arrived at the marina, there were lots of other cars, and they had to park fairly far away. "You don't mind the walk, I hope?" he asked, finally pulling into a spot.

"It's fine, it'll give me more time to see things," she said, eagerly gazing out at the ships and yachts. "I've never seen that many boats before!"

"Well don't call them that when we get inside," Enrique advised, chuckling at her enthusiasm. "I would like to munch on something before we're tossed out."

As they strolled up the boardwalk birds cawed overhead or fought over scraps, and the wind played with their hair. Lots of families were out, and even a paraglider farther on the water. The marina club house was large and very rich looking, with pillars and a statue in the courtyard, and a slick modern set of galley doors carved into the side. "Wow," Catalina breathed as they walked in, the elegance of the place at once obvious and understated, not only by the furnishings but the people inside, making her very aware that even her attempt at a smart outfit for work looked drab and old-fashioned in comparison.

"Elena's over there." Enrique pointed to a table. She realized as they walked over he hadn't changed out of his scrubs, even though they'd talked about it, and remembered how Elena said he hated to wear them outside the clinic. It might be too much to think he'd done so for her sake, but it was still a nice thought to consider anyway.

Elena hugged her, fairly bouncing up and down, and immediately ordered them both to sit and eat some of the appetizers spread out. "Of course neither of you ate before you got here, I figured I'd have to get you something."

"Good, you should have to work some, little lazy bones," Enrique teased back as he dipped some chips in salsa. "Where's dear Papá?"

"He found some of his friends and they're playing pool," Elena answered without concern, as if she were talking about the weather, then quickly changed the subject. "Now hurry up and eat, so we can go exploring."

"Why don't we just take some things and eat as we go?" Catalina suggested, just as determined not to waste the time they had.

"Splendid idea, one moment." Enrique signaled a waiter and asked for takeout boxes. Before long they had everything in a few bags, and were out the door and onto the sidewalks.

Everything was crowded, of course, but some of the streets were also blocked off to accommodate stalls and art exhibits, which made it far easier to move. Elena pushed her own wheelchair easily, chatting with them both and sometimes stopping to point things out in a window or in front of a booth.

They stopped once to watch as a man and woman used chalk to draw a beautiful rose on the pavement. "Look at those shadows," Elena breathed, peering down to where one of the artists was marking and then rubbing, outlining each petal with fine detail. "It's amazing, like the one we saw in the museum back in La Plata, what was it called Enrique?"

"Passionate Fruit," he answered, also admiring the view. "This one is certainly more difficult to draw with that uneven surface. I think they're going for an impressionist look."

Catalina listened in amazement as they traded facts about painters and styles, comparing the work to first this sight and then another. Suddenly Elena asked, "Catalina, what do you think?"

"Oh, um, it's very beautiful," she answered, not sure how to describe it, never having paid much heed to art class. Drawing inspiration at last, she said, "Actually, it makes me think of Italy, like the cathedral in Verona."

"Really?" Elena looked back, examining the work again, before turning to Catalina. "I would never have thought of that."

"Yes, I suppose there's a resemblance," Enrique said, also glancing at Catalina with wider eyes. "When did you go there?"

She blushed as both Tilves stared at her. "Never," she admitted. "I only remember it was on that episode of Romeo and Juliet, when they were at the church? And there was a beautiful fresco in the camera frame. I thought it looked a little like this, but maybe, actually, it's more like the opening credits, you know, when they drew all the names? Although, probably, you never watched anything like that." Mixing up fine art with television shows: what were they to think of her?

"Why not?" Enrique moved aside to let a couple squeeze in for a better view, helping Elena maneuver her chair in a circle before letting her set the pace as they moved on.

"Because they're so dramatic and not serious or realistic," Catalina stumbled around, remembering all the things people had ever said about telenovelas.

"Why else should we watch or enjoy a story at all? I would doubt the competency of anyone who sneers at good entertainment. Personally, I watched every single episode of Romeo and Juliet and Zorro, and I hope you realize that we attended Mardi Gras specifically to honor one of the best new shows to come out in the last year. Elena can tell you how I am absolutely obsessed with everything to do with Teen Angels."

"Yes, so much that you watched the season finale without me, even though you promised to wait until Christmas when we could share the recording together, and I kept my end of the bargain so faithfully I didn't even watch the last two episodes!"

"There, you see Catalina, I am such a fan that I didn't even tell my sister how I'd betrayed her trust, and instead forced her to suffer those awful cliffhangers all alone rather than fess up to the fact that I was already very well aware of how it would work out. That must prove to you how much I care, if my costume wasn't enough."

She giggled at their banter, comforted that she could talk about her favorite characters without a trace of shame. "What do you think will happen in season two?"

And then they were off, discussing plot lines and characters, bickering pleasantly over who should fall in love and who would be better off alone, and finally all agreeing that Enrique could be a stunt double for the lead if they ever called. "I'm afraid that's all the art I know anything about," Catalina admitted when they were back in front of the marina, enjoying a view of the harbor from a few seats on the pier, feeding their scraps to the seagulls. "I didn't pay much attention to that sort of thing back in school."

"it's not the most useful thing to know." Elena leaned back in her chair as the sun bathed them in a warm glow. "History too, for that matter. You and Enrique are the ones who know all about important stuff."

"But it must be very interesting, for someone to do all that work," Catalina defended a subject she'd never cared that much for herself. "I mean, I don't know that much about it myself, but Mamá always says it's important to remember where you came from, which I suppose is like history, in a way."

"I'd listen to her, Elena, since Catalina's Mamá sounds like she usually knows her stuff," Enrique said breezily, tossing a last chip far out over the water for the gulls to lap up. "And art, especially, must tell us something, since it can be understood by anyone no matter the language."

"Well, anyone who knows what they're doing, I'm sure I wouldn't understand the first thing about it."

Elena protested that Catalina would do just fine, and Enrique nodded encouragingly. "It's like any other discipline, you just need to learn the basics."

"Like what?"

"Well, what do you see?" Enrique asked, taking her hand and helping her stand up on the bench, so she had an unobstructed view of the whole marina.

"Birds and ships, and people, and waves." Catalina listed everything, trying to take it all in, then felt him step up too, carefully turned to look farther out to sea.

"See how the ocean meets the water way out, where the sun will set?" His voice was close to her ear, and she concentrated, willing herself to understand. "That's the horizon, and it guides everything else in art, even when you decide to ignore it. Look, see how the pier juts out and looks smaller as it goes? That's a perspective line. Once you can see that, you can start seeing lines like that everywhere, all heading to the horizon, or away from it. Perspective is everything, they say."

She blinked, gasping, for suddenly it was as if imaginary lines crisscrossed her vision, all pointing unerringly out to the distant meeting of sky and sea, flowing with purpose and guiding her eye to admire everything anew. "Wow, that's amazing," she breathed wonderingly, unsure how she had ever been so blind before. "And that's in every painting?"

"Well, not every painting." He laughed, and she could feel his chest rise and fall behind her, they were standing so close. "But a Picasso has to first learn about perspective, even if he decides to throw it in a blender later."

"Have you ever been to an art museum?" Elena asked as Enrique helped her down, and Catalina of course said no.

"In fact, I never thought I would want to, honestly," she admitted as they turned back toward the street, the time nearing for her to meet Javier. "But I'd love to learn more if you're willing to teach me."

"Certainly, there are some beautiful exhibits here in Mar del Plata, we could go any time." Elena began naming paintings and artwork, which Catalina happily jotted down in her notebook to look up when Tío Ruy left the computer.

"I think it would help me, to study ahead," she explained, slipping the book back in her purse.

"Actually, I have some art books back at home, if you'd like to come over and look them over some time," Elena offered shyly, and looked overwhelmed herself when Catalina hugged her.

"And maybe, if I come over, we can prepare for that really gruesome murder that Isabel warned me about," she said excitedly, thinking over everything they'd shared. "It's going to be just terrible, a real horrible crime, and I think someone we all care about is going to be in real danger."

Elena cringed back, her face ashen, and stared at Catalina as if she'd grown another head. "What!?"

Enrique suddenly laughed again, drawing an annoyed glance from his sister. "Don't be stupid, Elena, come on, you know what she meant. Sorry, when my sister gets caught up in art, sometimes she forgets everything else."

Elena swatted at him, even as he darted out of the way easily. "Well then, smarty pants, tell me what you think she was talking about?"

"I ought to let you go on thinking Catalina is a hardened criminal, it would be too funny you know," he said, dancing around Elena's chair as she whirled around, then with a wink letting her grab his shirt and tug hard. He playfully fell into her lap, making her squeal, then landed in a graceful tumble on the sidewalk, scattering a few birds away even as he kept laughing. "It's only on television, silly goose, you remember, everyone's been wondering if that horrible Señora García is going to finally bite the dust."

"Oh." Elena ducked her head as she helped Enrique up, grinning nonetheless. "I would have figured it out, if you hadn't been so — so —"

"Brilliantly right?" Enrique asked, grinning, but kissed her hand. "Well, I will always try to help you poor ladies understand each other, even if it is at the sacrifice of my own dignity."

"I'm sure." Turning to Catalina, Elena softened her tone. "Don't look so shocked, please? We talk like this all the time, it doesn't mean anything."

"Oh, I should apologize, I didn't mean to make you upset," she started to say, but both of them quickly silenced her protests.

"Don't worry, Enrique would have teased me regardless, he's always doing things like that," came from one earnest face, and "Of course you should not apologize, we were having a serious discussion about art, murder must be allowed to intrude on the conversation," from an equally silly one.

Catalina laughed delightedly, wishing she could stay longer, and then Sr. Tilve came outside to join them. "Why, you must join us tomorrow at our house, we insist upon it," he said after hearing how much she'd like to spend more time with Elena. "And bring your swimsuit, we've a private pool and beach access. What do you say?"

"Yes, please, Catalina, can you come over?" Elena begged, eyes wide and sparkling like her brothers for once, so of course she must say yes.

"Well, I need to talk to Tía Lola and figure out how long I can stay. Maybe I'll call in the morning?"

They all agreed, assuring it would not be a problem whenever she could come, and then Enrique reminded everyone how he should get her back to her friends. Catalina said a formal farewell to Sr. Tilve, hugged Elena, and quickly followed Enrique back to the car, bursting with excitement and happiness as she chatted with him about what to expect the next day.

"She's having a blast," he assured her, pulling onto the road and navigating around all the traffic with expert handling. "Just be careful, and don't get dragged into agreeing to her every whim, or you'll have to look at every old vase and statue ever dug up within fifty kilometers."

"I don't mind, really, it's all so interesting, I had no idea art or history could be so fun!" Catalina looked out the window one last time at the harbor as they drove away. "And I'll have so much to tell my family when I email them next. Sometimes, I wish they could all be here too. That would make everything perfect."

"If everyone's family was like yours, I'm sure people would always be happy, no matter where they were. But don't worry, you'll get tired of everything soon enough, everyone does." He winked at her even as he assumed a very superior air, sniffing loudly. "That is the proper way to have a real summer vacation, after all."

She laughed, grown used to his way of teasing, and untroubled for what it implied. "Still, I'm very glad to have met you all. And gracias for the ride. Oh, I should call Javier."

She quickly let her brother know she would be there soon, and heard again how he had the best news possible to share. "I guarantee it'll be the highlight of your week," he promised, shouting over the background noise around him. "¡Chau!"

Enrique couldn't get closer to the park than a few blocks away, since the roads there were blocked off too, but she assured him she could walk just fine. "You're sure? I don't mind helping you find them."

"No, he said they'd be waiting by the fountain, see, over there?" Catalina could just barely see it toward the horizon, now aware how everything really did point toward a central frame of reference so splendidly. "I'll be able to reach them, gracias."

"It's my pleasure." He took her hand, and she thought he was going to kiss it again in mock flourish, but he only caressed her palm, shaking it ever so slightly. "We'll see you tomorrow, God willing." Then he very daintily kissed her fingers, with only the lightest of feather touches, before releasing her hand. It was so quiet, so understated, she almost thought it meant nothing, if he hadn't sounded so very quiet when he said it, eyes shadowed but nevertheless shining at her.

"Of course, yes, see you tomorrow," she answered, not sure what to say, then leaned over and kissed his cheek, a quick peck. "Gracias again for the ride!" Then she ran out of the car, shocked at her boldness, having never been so friendly to a man she wasn't related to before, if you didn't count Tío Ruy or old Sr. Estabon the grocer, or the priest, or .... It was no big deal, of course, see, she had kissed lots of men before, on the cheek, that was nothing. She almost turned to wave again, but he'd already driven away, so kept heading to the fountain. Surely, no matter what Javier said, her day could not get any better.

Once there she found Javier quickly. He ran over to hug and kiss her, overjoyed to see his little sister again. "Come on, they're over this way, we snagged a great spot to watch the fireworks," he said, tugging at her hand and leading her through the park like they were kids again.

Juan and Isabel were lounging on towels they'd spread out on the grass facing the center of the park. Isabel leapt up and hugged Catalina, calling her "My dear sweet friend!"

Catalina eagerly returned her affection, saying she'd missed her too, and accepted a spot beside her as they all shared smiles, even if the others looked like they all had something they were dying to say and couldn't quite utter.

"Well," she said, after settling herself comfortably. "What's the big news?"

Javier grinned, looking not at Catalina but at Isabel, and asked "How would you like another sister?"

At first Catalina was shocked, thinking surely Mamá and Papá would have called her if they were pregnant again. Then Isabel playfully slapped Javier and cried, "How could you say it that way? Men, honestly, you've no sense of how to talk at all, I'll tell her. How do you like the ring, darling Catalina? Isn't it just beautiful? I think it's the most precious engagement ring anyone could have imagined, ever."

The word engagement rung in Catalina's ears, startling her again, and she looked over to see Javier turning a darker shade of brown, even with the sun setting and shadows growing. "You're — you're getting married?" she asked, concerned and overwhelmed all at once.

"Of course we are," Isabel cooed, falling into Javier's lap with wild abandon and dragging his head down to kiss her. When they parted, he raised his eyes nervously at his sister, but Isabel only sighed in contentment. "Just as soon as he passes his exams, and about time too. Then we'll never have to be parted again. Can you think of anything more marvelous, dearest, darling Catalina?"

The fireworks started shortly thereafter, preventing her from making any reply. Everyone else was happy, so very happy, so she tried to be happy as well, sandwiched between the lovebirds and Juan, focusing on the many good things that were happening. Since Isabel would be her sister soon, it was good everyone had forgiven and forgotten whatever quarrels they'd had. She wouldn't remember them herself. Whatever nagging doubts fluttered in the back of her heart, she would swallow them. Instead, she focused on how delighted Javier looked and acted, so much more carefree than she'd seen him in years, and rejoiced.

It was going to be the best year ever.

There's a special bonus Estancia vignette up on the blog: "Música del Mar."1

Estancia Aldea Norteña 12: Fuegos Artificiales

MichelleRWFebruary 17, 2023 11:30AM



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