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Estancia Aldea Norteña 15: Tiburón en el Agua

February 27, 2023 11:30AM
"Shark in the Water," top predators in the sea, a beautiful fish (Mongabay).

Javier emailed her a few times with hopes to make it back to Mar del Plata on Friday. But that morning she received an apologetic text message letting her know he couldn't leave. She quickly texted back, having become far more conversant in this function since meeting Elena, even as she tried not to use it too often: "So sorry: hope you’re doing well!"

Hopefully she could send him a more detailed email later that evening. First, though, she went to check on Isabel as soon as she left the clinic. So much of her friend's behavior made sense in hindsight: Isabel must have been so nervous waiting for Javier to propose, and getting on edge every time something got in the way. No wonder she'd been desperate to leave all the time! Catalina regretted she hadn't been more understanding, even if she wished Isabel had trusted her more. If she'd only said what she wanted! But then again, how could she, when Catalina was Javier's sister? At least it was all settled and there was no need to keep secrets from each other again. Tonight they could settle in and enjoy some time together, talk some more about the wedding or just watch television. Maybe they wouldn't even miss Javier at all!

Upon arriving and heading back to Isabel’s room, Catalina was surprised to find the other girl doing her toenails in perfect contentment, her iPod blasting music from a speaker and magazines opened all around. "Good, come in, you're just in time. I have plenty of Sparkling Cherry left, you can get started after I finish."

That hadn't been Catalina's intention, especially since she was still in her very good shoes and slacks. But perhaps it was Isabel's way of feeling better. "Maybe just my fingers," she said, nervously tying her blouse back to keep it away from the bright polish. "I was so sorry to hear Javier couldn't make it this weekend."

"Yes, but I suppose he has to study, he needs to get out of school as quick as he can." Isabel flicked her brush, not even looking up from her foot. "What do you think? I like this shade but sometimes it comes across too dark. I want to make sure it pops tonight when we go out."

"Out?" Catalina repeated. "But I thought we could stay here. Isn't there something on TV tonight? And we could cook popcorn!"

"Why would we do that when we could find some excitement downtown? Come on, you've met all sorts of people lately, surely someone you know is doing something. We could find a party, or just hop around, there's lots to do."

She certainly didn't sound sad, so Catalina decided that must be a positive sign. "Well, no, I don't know that many people. But if there's anything you want to do, I'd be glad to come along. I wouldn't want you to be alone."

Isabel took her hand, laughing, and began applying some of the polish on Catalina's very plain nails. "Oh, you're just so darling, did you come just to cheer me up? That's too precious. I know you're going to be my favorite new sister, my favorite sister of all, who couldn't love you!"

It felt strange for Isabel to dismiss her own family so easily but Catalina couldn't help feeling all the glow of such a compliment. "What did you have in mind?" she asked to change the subject, trying to keep her hand steady.

"Mmm, I don't know, it's so dull without the boys."

That sounded much more like the kind of thing Catalina had expected her to say. "Say, when Elena and I were at the museum, we saw an announcement about some big event today. I don't remember exactly what, but it looked fun. Want to go find out?"

"A museum? Well, I suppose she would like that sort of thing, what else does she have to do? But honestly, who would want to go if they could help it?"

Catalina forgave her the rudeness since it was probably due to a breaking heart, and not actual malice toward Elena. "We don't have to do that, of course, there's probably a lot of other stuff out there. Maybe your mother has a suggestion."

"We're not going anywhere with Mamá tonight, oh no, that would be awful." Isabel finished a pinkie, expertly dabbing at the end, then blew on Catalina's fingers. "Here, give me your other hand. Don’t worry, Catalina, you've been working far too hard to think on the spot, I'll come up with something. It's not your fault those awful Tilves treat you like a slave."

"But they don't!" Catalina protested, unable to let this new snub go unanswered. "How could you say such a thing, after they've been so kind to me?"

"Very kind, really?" Isabel smirked as she flicked the polish all over Catalina's fingernails. "It's drying too much, let me put some more on. Honestly, you've barely any nails at all. What do they have you doing at that clinic that's filed them down so short?" Catalina started to tell her all about the exciting things she was learning, eager to share all her good news, but was interrupted very quickly. "All that, and they don't even pay you? And that Enrique sounds like the worst: making you his little assistant, but otherwise not giving you the time of day? They sound like a bunch of snobs. I wouldn't let him touch me at all if he acted like that. He doesn't deserve you."

"Why would he deserve me? I'm no one. And he's been very nice, giving me so many opportunities...."

"To keep his sister company, and take his notes? Some opportunity." Isabel blew on the polish, studying it for any blemish, then smiled warmly at her. "You poor dear, I'm sorry, I know it sounds harsh, and you know how ordinarily I would never speak ill of anyone, especially someone you liked. But now that I'm engaged, and going to be your sister, I feel like I have to look out for you more than ever. I just want you to be happy. People can be so deceitful, take advantage of your trust. Promise me you'll be careful, ¿che? I'm sure your brother would agree with me if he were here."

He probably would. In fact, for all Catalina knew, Isabel and Javier had talked the whole thing out already. Her friend might be trying to soften the blow privately and so avoid another quarrel. It was a very kind thing to do, and the mark of how much Isabel must care for her. So she mustn't be angry or quarrelsome in reply.

"I don't think they've done anything wrong," Catalina said diplomatically, trying to be fair. "Although, I guess, I don't know them very well, and Enrique is so busy I'm sure it doesn't matter. But I do like Elena, and we've had a lot of fun together. She's a very good friend."

Isabel started to say something, then stopped, and hugged her suddenly. "You are such a dear, so very very good, oh, to be kind to that poor little girl. Well, you've more than earned your reward tonight: let's leave now, and we'll find a great party to crash!"

Not only did that not sound good, but Catalina was sure neither the Aguirres nor her parents would like it. She let Isabel hug her, trying to be supportive, while also racking her brain for an alternative suggestion, when her phone rang. "Please, Isabel, let me get that, it might be Javier!"

That name did the trick and she released Catalina at once. But instead it was Elena on the other end. "Hi, are you at home?"

"No, I'm with a friend actually, what's up?"

Elena didn't hesitate as she used to, just burst out, "We're going on an evening cruise around the harbor, since Fernando is home, and there's going to be a live band and seafood buffet and we might even see some dolphins! Do you want to come? Papá said I could bring any of my friends, please say yes."

It was so tempting to just agree at once but Catalina couldn't abandon Isabel just because she also wanted to spend time with Elena. What sort of sister would that make her? Especially since she could tell her oldest friend in Mar del Plata was very sad deep inside, and needed her now more than ever. "I'm so sorry, truly, I wish I could come. But I'm already committed to spend time with Isabel, so—"

"Wait, who is it?" Isabel interrupted, eagerly listening. "Did you just get an invitation?"

"You can bring anyone you like along, of course, Papá said I could invite anyone I wanted," Elena said almost at the same time.

"Quick, put it on speaker, I want to hear!" Isabel begged, and when Catalina fumbled around looking for the button, she took it from her hand. After Elena repeated her description of the outing, Isabel squealed in disbelief. "Oh, how thoughtful, you should certainly go! Catalina, how could you think of refusing?"

"I thought we were going somewhere else," she answered honestly, not sure what was going on, and wishing she understood what Isabel truly wanted.

"Well, we can do something together any time, of course, I wouldn't stand in your way at all. What time should we show up?" Isabel asked, making plans with Elena as if she did so every day, and not as if she hadn't just warned Catalina to avoid the Tilves.

Catalina couldn't think it was wrong to remain Elena's friend, of course; Javier just didn't know her well enough to understand. But if he and Isabel had already agreed on matters, it would be wrong to force her to go against her fiancé's wishes just to please a friend.

"I still have to ask Tío Ruy and Tía Lola if I can go," she said as soon as she had the phone back. "I'll call back as soon as I know."

"Great, but please, we would really like for you to be there, all of us, truly." Elena sounded like she wanted to say something else, but then only finished with "¡Chau!" and hung up.

"Come on, let's get you back to the Aguirres, we've got to pick your outfit out!" Isabel exclaimed, leaping up and hunting in her closet. "Fortunately, I've already dressed, I just need my sandals."

All the careful concern for Isabel's feelings, and words of understanding where Catalina would offer to do something else, flew away as she realized Isabel meant to go out in the clothes she was wearing. "Won't you be more comfortable in something else?" she asked doubtfully, seeing how thin her skirt was and how low the back of Isabel's shirt plunged. "I mean, on a ship, over the water, it might be chilly."

"Maybe, you're right, I'll just put my scarf on." Isabel grabbed the gauzy strip of fabric and tied it in a loose knot around her neck, admiring herself in the mirror. "How do I look? Like a woman desperately in love?"

"Um, not exactly," Catalina answered, unsure what she was expected to answer, and so settled on the truth. "But it does look very nice."

"Good! I wouldn't want anyone to suspect me of pining away, it would never do for Javier to think I was sad when he wasn't here, how could he concentrate on his studies, the poor boy? Now come on, let's get going, we don't want to be late!"

There didn't seem to be anything else Catalina could say to change Isabel's mind, and hearing her explanation Catalina decided it might be a good thing to go out and enjoy themselves. It was after all much better than finding some strange party to crash, and perhaps if they spent more time together Isabel would discover how nice Elena truly was. Why, then they might all be friends, and could go out and do things together every day! With these happy thoughts she eagerly paid for Isabel to ride the tram to the Aguirres, and after receiving permission from them to go out, let Isabel help her search through her clothes. "Ugh, these are all so old fashioned, don't you have anything new?" Isabel wrinkled her nose at some of the very things Tía Lola helped pick the first week, and which were so nice she had barely worn at all since.

"Oh, well, I like them," she said, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, and pulling out one of her favorite dresses. "What about this one? Don't you think it's a good color?"

"But your nails are pink, little one, it would clash so horribly. I've been awful, I had no idea how poor your wardrobe was, we'll have to fix that soon. If I'd known, I would have let you borrow something from me."

Catalina was very grateful Isabel hadn't known, since not only did she not feel like wearing the things her friend did, she was sure they wouldn't even fit her. Finally, they settled on a flowing skirt that Catalina had always loved, a mishmash of tropical colors and sunbursts swirling around, and a creamy blouse that Isabel insisted should be worn off-shoulder.

"But, it's so loose, what if it starts to fall off?" A thousand examples on television reminded her of the danger clothing could bring to an innocent girl or even boy. She was only saved because she didn't have a strapless bra, and would not let Isabel cut the straps on one to retie them below her neckline. It had cost too much money to mutilate and possibly not work ever again.

Instead, she put on her bathing suit top underneath. It still felt scandalous, since it only tied around her neck and left much of her back bare. But the piece was comfortable and protective, and anyway, she'd worn it the other day to the Tilve house, so they had all seen her in it. She was sure it couldn't be so bad, and Isabel approved the bright color. In concession, Catalina let her friend select her shoes, and though they were taller than she usually preferred, the heels definitely matched the rest of her adventurous outfit.

Downstairs, Tía Lola oohed and ahhed, exclaiming how she barely recognized Catalina. "Nails and lipstick, so chic. A picture, we need a picture, oh, where is my camera?"

"Here, I'll take one!" Isabel volunteered, and taking her phone out shot several of the three of them smiling playfully.

They entered the car in a good mood, the driver shuttling them across town to the marina. Isabel seemed much happier; so happy that she had actually been friendly with Tía Lola. There was no more disappointment, Catalina was sure, and since the two women both loved clothes so well, they would find lots to enjoy together. She could envision many joyful nights in the future, when they were all at home in Fortuna, keeping their city adventure alive out on the plains.

They arrived to a mass of people all crammed on the sidewalk by the marina, one ship clearly marked for the cruise with bright lights flashing and lots of people already on board. Sr. Tilve himself met them, waving to the driver and then opening the door with gentlemanly care, helping each lady out with a kiss of the hand. "Well, well, two lovely ladies. A good thing I'm too old for such things or my sons and I might be fighting tonight."

Catalina looked up to see the rest of the Tilves waiting on the sidewalk; Elena was smiling nervously while Enrique wouldn't quite meet her eyes. There was someone else, too, standing beside them: a very tall man with raven hair combed to a shine, eyes hidden by expensive sunglasses, wearing a striped shirt with a navy jacket over crisp white capris. "Fernando, come over and meet our special guests," Sr. Tilve commanded. "Señorita Moreno, Señorita Lobo, please allow me to introduce my eldest son, Captain Fernando Tilve."

"Enchanted," the man said without enthusiasm, perfunctorily shaking both their hands while barely moving from his spot. "Can we get off the sidewalk now?"

It became apparent that the general would not be joining them; he said a few more things, all very strange but polite, with many expressive winks, then went back into the clubhouse as they started for the ship. It was so crowded they could barely go single file up to the gangway, and there was no space to talk at all, which was a good thing: Catalina had not been sure whether it would have been more correct to stick with Isabel or Elena, and was glad to avoid the decision until they had more room onboard.

When they found a table at the prow, Fernando disappeared somewhere, allowing them to sit comfortably near each other without worrying about a fifth man out. "But won't he return soon?" Catalina asked, unwilling for anyone of their party to feel abandoned.

"Maybe, maybe not, it depends on who he finds," Enrique answered with a shrug. "Don't worry, Fernando is perfectly able to take care of himself. Now turn around, we're about to leave the harbor, you don't want to miss that."

They watched as the ship took off, the marina's lights reflecting in the water to cast a magical glow all around them while the lights on ship kept circling and waving in the air. It was more difficult to see the stars, which Catalina had been looking forward to, but it made for a beautiful sight all the same, and she was soon caught up in comparing all the perspectives she noticed with Elena. "I've been reading up, and it's amazing how many lines there are all over the place to see. I feel like there's art all around me now!"

Music filled the air as the band started playing in the center of the long deck in front of the crew’s station. "Quick, let's get in line for the food!" Isabel suggested, and grabbed Catalina's arm before she could ask if her other friends wanted to join them.

"We'll be back!" she called as she was dragged along to the buffet line.

Isabel seemed less interested in getting things to eat once they reached the front of the line, and more taken by a view of everyone else on board. "Look at that saxophone player, doesn’t he looks like Romeo? I think he must be famous."

Catalina turned excitedly, eager to catch a glimpse of star quality, but after several minutes examination had to admit she had never seen or heard any of the band members before. "But they are probably very famous here," she freely admitted her ignorance, "and he does play very well."

"Those lips, what do you think, would he kiss as well as he blows?" Isabel giggled as she speared a few shrimp, her nails shimmering in the light. The sight distracted Catalina from the very shocking words.

"Isabel, I thought it was just regular polish," she fretted, thinking of her own fingers painted the same way.

"Oh, it is, it's barely anything, just some extra glitter to make them stand out. Really, everyone does it."

It was all very well for Isabel to say so, since she looked good in it. Catalina wasn't sure she wanted her fingers to shine, especially when she saw how they dropped little glittery pieces everywhere they went. It was too late to think of it now, of course; she would just have to be more careful in the future.

"You must be wondering why I'm getting so much food, like a pig!" Isabel whispered loudly as they walked with their plates back to the table.

"No, I got the same amount."

"Oh, but you have the right shape for it, you look good all round and plump," Isabel answered with cheerful unconcern. "But I could never pull it off, you know, and so I have to be very careful what I eat. My height, you know, I have to stay very thin or else I'd just look awful."

That didn't sound right at all, and Catalina wasn't sure she liked being called plump even in affection. After tonight she would have to say something. But, she reminded herself, Isabel was probably just nervous and saying things because of her feelings. Her next words were a certain confirmation. "The thing is, you know, I couldn't possibly get up and dance or really talk to anyone tonight, besides you my dear little sister. My heart is so far away, studying to be a good engineer, and I must be true to him, even while I suffer in silence. So don't beg me to do anything else, please, you just enjoy yourself. I'll be quite happy to eat and watch everyone else, just thinking of my sweet Javier."

"Are you sure?" Catalina asked solicitously. "We could move to a different table, if you like, away from everyone."

"No, no, I forbid it, there's no reason for us both to duck out, after all, the Tilves did invite us. It would be rude for you not to speak to them. Just don't feel you have to include me in the conversation. I'll be perfectly happy with these mangoes and crab cakes, aren't they delicious?"

This permission was all Catalina needed to return to the table ready to talk all night to Elena, who had meanwhile got a plate of her own. "Enrique went to get something for himself," she explained, sipping her drink. "He wanted to make sure I had a plate first. What do you like best?"

Soon they were all three comparing their taste in food, a natural enough subject for anyone. But Isabel left off after a few moments, pushing her chair to the side and watching more of the people wandering around. When Enrique rejoined them the conversation picked up with more enthusiasm toward ships and cruises, especially since the Tilves had evidently been on quite a few and were happy to share their experiences.

When Fernando came back he reached over and swiped a few sweets off his sister's plate. "They're not good for you sis, you know I'm just helping you out," he smiled wickedly as he munched on them.

"They shouldn't be good for you either then!" Elena shot back, although she laughed as she did. It sounded forced, not the easy mirth she released whenever Enrique clowned around.

That brother quickly offered some of his own desert. "I'm too full to eat any more. Here, everyone can take something from my plate."

"See, Elena, that's how to share," Fernando commented, grabbing most of the leftovers and leaning back in his chair.

It was too rude for Catalina to think he was teasing, although she had to admit she didn't know him well enough to actually judge. No one reacted as if he was doing anything wrong, though. Maybe he was very hungry and didn't want to stand in line.

"Let's look around," Elena suggested, unbraking her chair. "I brought my binoculars, if we can get away from the bright lights here we might see something on shore or out at sea."

Catalina turned to ask Isabel if she'd like to go. "No, no, I'm going to just sit here. Only I might get something else to eat, if it weren't so crowded." She heaved a heavy sigh, leaning back and fanning herself.

"Poor lady, I'll be glad to help you," Fernando said, surprising Catalina with his instant change to polite gentleman as he helped Isabel up and took her arm to lead her back to the buffet table.

Elena took her hand, shaking Catalina out of her stare. "Did you want to wait?" she asked, biting her lip, though whether out of nerves or some other emotion it was hard to say in the twilight.

"No, we can go, sorry," Catalina said, and they were soon walking around toward the other side of the ship, where a few people had gathered to watch the passing scenery. Catalina eagerly took her turn with the binoculars, pointing them toward where Elena directed, though they neither were able to catch more than a few ripples in the sea instead of an actual creature. "Gracias again, for inviting us," she said as she leaned on the railing, looking up at the beautiful full moon.

"Sure thing. Gracias for coming." Elena was pressed as close to the railing as she could manage, her chair turned sideways. "I'm sorry your brother wasn't able to return, I know you were looking forward to it."

"It’s getting so close to the semester starting, and he's already visited us so much," Catalina said the words she'd meant to comfort Isabel with, realizing now they were as much to help herself feel better. "And anyway, now we can all look forward to the wedding!"

Elena didn't say anything to that, only stared out at the passing sea. Enrique returned to their side after another few minutes, drinks in hand. "And do not worry, I have seen your dear friend," he explained to Catalina, who'd asked him to check on Isabel on his way to the beverage stand. "She and Fernando are back at the table, eating and laughing, so I think she's having a good time."

"Gracias, I'm so glad. How nice of your brother to keep her company! I suppose he saw how lonely she was feeling and wanted to cheer her up."

Elena hiccuped as she sucked on her straw, her face turned away. But Enrique didn't hide his amusement, laughing low and deep as he leaned on the railing beside Catalina and shook his head. "What a lovely diagnosis, and with so little effort."

"What do you mean?" Catalina asked, no longer so surprised when he spoke that way, but still puzzled, wishing she understood better.

He smiled, glancing at her, his hair parted to the side and eyes again glowing from the moonlight. "To see the world as it would please others, rather than only one's self, and believe it so with all the observation and careful study available, is a talent I think very rare."

She thought about these words carefully, not sure if he was still talking about Isabel or referring back to their work. It must be those notes she wrote! "Oh, did I write something wrong in a chart? I'm so sorry, if I made a mistake; but I'll be glad to correct it first thing on Monday, or tomorrow, if you like."

"Enrique, stop frightening poor Catalina!" Elena said, circling her chair around to come alongside her brother. "Here we're trying to have a good time and you have to bring up work."

"I promise, that was not my intent," Enrique answered her with a bowed head and humble demeanor, if over exaggerated and not looking at all sorry. "I was in fact trying to compliment our friend. Come on, Elena, don't look so cross. A boy should be forgiven for stammering when he is trying to say nice things to a pretty girl."

He was teasing again, Catalina felt on sure footing there, and so laughed instead of worrying. "Oh, I don't mind talking about work or anything else, really, I find it all fascinating. But we shouldn't leave Elena out, either. Did she tell you about the museum we went to? Elena, what was the name of that painter, the one you liked? I was trying to look it up later and forgot."

"There, you are proving my point all over again," Enrique said, even as he let the conversation drift to the museum and exhibits, their words flowing naturally with the movement of the ship. They moved steadily toward the rear of the ship, and were at last rewarded with their first sighting of a dorsal fin, silhouetted against the horizon and causing a lot of excitement among the few gathered to watch.

Elena had snapped as many pictures as possible with her camera once it was sighted, and continued taking more at other subjects, zooming in and out with abandon. "Let's keep going, I want to get some shots of the other side too!" she said with enthusiasm, happier even than Catalina remembered her being at the gallery, and she volunteered to push so that her friend could keep her hands on the camera.

Enrique fell into step with her, their pace leisurely and sometimes interrupted. He had his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants, his dress shirt's sleeves rolled up past his elbows, a vest snugly hugging his chest. Catalina darted her eye back to the sea, not sure whether she should notice such things or not, her heart beating just a touch faster. It sped up another tempo mark when Elena pushed herself forward eagerly, shifting in her chair to take a different angle with her camera, and Enrique confided, "You made no mistakes in the notes, I must apologize for confusing you. They were perfect."

Catalina told herself not to be silly, and to take the compliment as a nurse would. Like if Papá told Mamá her notes were good. Only, Papá sometimes kissed Mamá when he complimented her, although only when they were at home, and they were married anyway, and so.... "Gracias, but I'm eager to learn better," she said at last, for lack of anything else.

"All well and good. But some things you know very well already, I wonder if you'd be willing to teach others?"

"Like what?" Catalina asked, turning back to him, curious despite her warring feelings.

His smile grew crooked, the way it had the other day when he asked her to join him on his sessions, and his eyes more piercing somehow, the skin crinkling around them. "Perhaps I should not say; my sister would not forgive me if I upset you again. And she can hit very hard when she wants." He was still speaking low, although between the music and the water, it sounded louder than a whisper.

"Please, tell me anyway," Catalina asked, lowering her voice in answer and leaning closer to hear, though she was careful not to step into his space. But then the boat jerked over a choppy wave; she stumbled on a heel, and his hand was out faster than she could have imagined, steadying her. "Gracias, sorry, I didn't mean to bump into you," she said at once, forgetting their conversation in her confusion, trying to still her heartbeat and keep her head.

"Well, after all, it is the ship's fault, so how could you take responsibility?" Enrique chuckled, and comfortably entwined his fingers in hers. "But Señorita Moreno has such a big heart, so much compassion, she must speak up even for eddies and waves and engines. She thinks so well of the whole world; if only the world deserved the attention of someone so good."

What could she say to that? There was teasing, certainly, she could hear it in his voice, but something else too, perhaps. He was holding onto her with no sign of letting go, and smiling so kindly, it was as if they were in a little bubble protected from the rest of the ship, all alone. She forgot even to blush, and squeezed his hand before she realized what she was doing, her heart close to bursting.

"Elena, the music is picking up again!" Enrique called to his sister, and without releasing Catalina's hand walked the few steps over to her. The bubble opened as the world came back in and yet didn't dissolve. It was still there between their fingers.

"Yes, yes, I hear it," Elena said, turning her chair around, then looking at them with a funny expression. "We should go back, how will we get through the night if you don't go dancing?"

Catalina felt like she should say something; after all, if she and Enrique danced, what would Elena do? Distantly she recalled she hadn't spent any time at all with Isabel. But it was so hard to remember all that with Enrique swinging their hands back and forth in rhythm to their steps as they went back toward the band. Elena waved to them and wheeled toward the tables.

"We don't have to," she spoke up, realizing all at once Enrique hadn't actually asked her to dance, and might be tired from working all day. "I mean, just because Elena said to, I'm happy just to watch if you like."

His grip tightened on her hand, and he pulled her arm up to tuck into his own. "Well, if you like, we can just watch. But it would be cruel of me to keep a beautiful dancer caged off the floor: what would people say?"

"You shouldn't have to dance for other people," she protested at once. "You do so much all day long, I'm sure anyone would understand."

He brought her fingers up to his lips, kissing them with a wink. "You are so quick to think I am conceited, which is good, since I truly am. But let me share my compliments with my partner tonight. Now, shall we?"

Then he was pulling her into the crowd, and Catalina had nothing else to say for a while as they moved to the beat. Their steps were in tandem and flowing, quick and light. The heels proved no hindrance to her balance, and though they could not indulge in the elaborate footwork of yesterday due to the crowd, they wove in a thousand twists and turns through it. He often let her take the lead before guiding her back into another set of steps.

When there was a break in the music, and Catalina was about to ask if they could stay on the dance floor, she was surprised to recognize another couple not too far away from them: Isabel was arm-in-arm with Fernando! Catalina involuntarily gasped, shocked, and then was rescued when the music started up again and Enrique pulled her into a waltz.

"Don't worry, my brother is an excellent dancer, even if he does not always have the best manners," he said her as they turned together. "I promise, no harm will come to the fair Isabel's toes."

"It wasn't that," Catalina assured him, getting her breath back. "It's just, she told me how much she wanted to sit and just watch tonight, because of how much she was missing Javier. I thought...." She trailed off, not sure what she had been thinking, and trying to understand yet again what Isabel had meant.

"You thought, perhaps, that a lady always means exactly what she says. I see the confusion. After all, that is what you would do."

"Of course," Catalina said reflexively, still thinking about her friend and her brother and not noticing Enrique's expression at all. "Just like anyone would."

"Anyone? I don't know about that. I think most people say the exact opposite of what they mean." Enrique's words sounded a touch sharp, at odds with his usual laughing voice, but when she looked up she was reassured to see him smiling. "Sorry, that was mean, and here I've promised to be on my best behavior. Well, after all, it is a beautiful night, and the music is excellent, so perhaps, just perhaps your friend wanted to return the favor and cheer my brother up too." He tried to say it all with a straight face, but could not help laughing in the end, obviously not meaning a word.

Catalina giggled, realizing what a silly goose she was being, and let some of her worry melt away. "But, really, Isabel usually is so very firm about what she wants to do. I was just surprised she changed her mind."

Enrique nodded, still grinning. She realized she still hadn't seen his brother smile, not in a truly happy way, and his father was so formal: she much preferred how easy it was to talk with this man, even when he was teasing all the time. "It's an excellent night for changing your mind, you know. Now, let's not spend the rest of the evening worrying about someone else's problems."

They kept to the slower tempo, neither wanting to speed it up, and Catalina found herself leaning against him as they kept to the languid three step pattern. She was sure he must hear her erratic heartbeat but he only held her with a gentleman's friendly touch and chatted with her about all kinds of things, avoiding work with great restraint and instead focusing on her hopes for the rest of her vacation. They rejoined Elena, and the addition of a third in their conversation didn't interrupt the flow at all. They discussed plans, and opportunities, and everything felt utterly wonderful.

Enrique volunteered to drive the girls home when they docked, and Catalina was startled to realize how very late it was, or rather early: close to one in the morning!

"Oh, but you'll have to go out of your way to drop me off. I wouldn't want you to go to any trouble," Isabel pouted, shivering. At some point in the evening she'd acquired Fernando's jacket, and was keeping a tight hold on it.

"Well, why don't I take you?" Fernando volunteered gallantly.

Enrique crossed his arms, frowning slightly. "Your motorcycle can’t seat three."

"Not three, stupid, I'll take this one, you take the other. Don't look like that, it's only polite for our special guests."

"Did you bring an extra helmet? What about—"

"I'll give mine to her," Fernando cut him off. "Besides, at this time of night, no one's going to be on the road. And what a favor I'm doing everyone, really: lucky I came separately, huh Enrique?" He laughed, a loud bray that sounded so at odds with his brother's more musical notes that Catalina found she couldn't see any resemblance at all between the two, to the elder's detriment.

Isabel reached over and hugged Catalina, telling her she would be just fine. "It was a blast, we have to do it again!" Then she turned to Elena and said, "You were so precious, gracias, I can't tell you how great it was to spend time with you!"

"You're welcome," Elena answered, but didn't invite the other girl to hug or kiss her, instead waving while she shrunk into her chair.

Isabel left with Fernando toward the other end of the parking lot, laughing and carrying on, then they revved away into the night. "I'll call Papá," Enrique said finally.

The mood wasn't nearly so happy on the ride to the Aguirres: the quiet was tense, with some unspoken thing skittering around the few words said, as if everyone else knew something Catalina didn't. She wished she could ask, but that would have been rude, and they had all been so kind she didn't want to intrude on whatever it was.

Enrique walked her to the door, making sure she got inside safely. "Gracias for coming, we very much enjoyed it," he said formally, as if he'd been told to say the words.

Catalina was too flushed with excitement and happiness from the evening to care about the end of it. "I did too, it was amazing, gracias. I hope you're able to get a good rest tomorrow, after so much work."

He smiled again, the light from the front door catching on his face and showing the subtle change in his expression. "Work? I assure you, I could work like this any time, with no complaints." Then he leaned forward and kissed both her cheeks in farewell, murmuring, "Till we meet again."

Catalina didn't even bother writing in her journal that night. It felt too much even to admit in her heart. But as she closed her eyes and felt sleep take her, she let his words whisper around her thoughts, and remembered the feel of his fingers in hers, and let herself pretend that he had meant far more than she had any right to expect.

She dreamed that night of fireworks, and dolphins, and a boat where Javier got married and she and Enrique were dancing. Everything was beautiful. Only a wolf jumped out of a painting and ate all the food, and Isabel laughed at her when she cried. It was all very strange, and confusing. She was much happier when the dream shifted back to the water, and she forgot all about it.

Today's bonus blog content covers a special Argentine food tradition: Dia del Gnocchi.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 15: Tiburón en el Agua

MichelleRWFebruary 27, 2023 11:30AM


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