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Estancia Aldea Norteña 27: Una Dulce Pascua

April 10, 2023 02:30PM
"A Sweet Easter," the culmination of the week-long events that preceded Christ's death, re-enacted every year in liturgical ceremonies (World History Encyclopedia).

Easter Sunday dawned brilliantly, and though being apart from her family for the first time in her life on this holy day, Catalina enjoyed it. She put on her best dress, the one Tía Lola had told her looked so well, taking special care with her hair. Sr. Tilve appeared splendid in his white dress uniform with gold braid, gleaming medals on his chest, and Elena was equally elegant in a pure white gown.

Enrique's suit was pastel blue, with a matching vest and bow tie, his dark hair perfectly slicked back. She felt honored to enter the church with him, her arm tucked into his as they followed Elena and her father down the aisle. A few of the people she'd come to know through Sra. Costas smiled and waved at them, whispering to each other in the pews as they passed by. That good lady herself stopped them to give a warm hug and kisses, complimenting their appearance. "It's such a lovely Easter, isn't it?"

"Yes, very lovely," he said with a polite smile, but instead of speaking to Sra. Costas he appeared to be looking only at Catalina. She barely had time to consider this compliment before the service started, then was fully absorbed in the familiar music and litany. The joy of Easter, the end of Lent, and the promise of hope filled her heart; she prayed that Javier was finding strength and hope as well. When they left the church she could almost have begun dancing as when she was a child, excited to go home and join all her many family members for lunch.

There were fewer people to celebrate with but it was no less sumptuous: lamb, beef, bread, fine wine, and enough sweets to make even her younger brother happy. At least Sr. Tilve had invited his friends from across the lake to share all the food. The conversation and laughter was as welcoming as all their previous family dinners had been stilted. One thing remained the same, though, in that the main focus was still on Catalina. For some reason, Sr. Tilve kept bringing the attention back to her, asking if they had ever seen anyone lovelier, bragging about her hard work, even speaking of her studies as if he were personally involved.

"So Enrique, when should we expect to hear the good news?" a smartly dressed old officer asked with a sly smirk, guffawing at his joke without waiting for an answer, and immediately launching into a play by play of a pato match that got the men all excited to discuss it.

"Come on, let's go outside," Elena whispered, unbraking her chair and leading Catalina onto the patio where some of the wives had begun to gather. Their chatting turned to past memories of glorious Easters at the ranch.

"Do you remember when Elena made that beautiful mural?" one of them asked, and several clucked in agreement, calling out details. "I wonder whatever happened to it."

It took a few moments for Catalina to realize they were talking about Elena's mother, and not the girl sitting largely forgotten among them. "I need to call my family," she murmured to her friend, "would you like to listen?"

Elena perked up, smiled, and nodded. They retreated toward a side door, going through the back hallway, and once safely tucked into the sunroom Catalina dialed her home number. Warm shouts of excitement greeted her from Antonio, home for the holiday, and soon the phone was being passed from person to person, all wishing her well, and just as willing to talk to Elena, sharing their joy easily.

"Catalina, dear, how did your dress go over today?" Tía Lola asked when she took the phone, surprising her young friend. "Oh yes, of course, you know we love coming over and seeing everyone. And Ruy is doing so well, he barely needs his cane anymore, be sure to tell that nice Señor Tilve for us."

"I will, gracias, I'm so glad to hear!"

"How do you like working with him? You don't have to wear those uniforms at this clinic, do you?"

"No scrubs are required," Elena chimed in, smiling mischievously. "Don't worry, I think my brother loves having Catalina at the clinic with him, he says so many nice things about her."

"He's been very kind," Catalina said, not meeting her friend's eyes. "And I'm learning a lot. Did you enjoy your last week in Mar del Plata?"

That set Tía Lola off talking about her latest purchases, a welcome distraction from Elena's hints, and eventually the phone was passed off to yet another relative.

"You have such a huge family!" Elena threw her arms wide as Catalina hung up. "How do you keep up with everyone?"

"Well, they don't all live right there at home, but everyone comes back for Easter of course."

They were interrupted by Enrique sticking his head in, suit jacket slung over one shoulder and sleeves unbuttoned. "Papá is looking for you both," he warned with a playful smile, "so you'd better have a good excuse for why you ran away and left me to fend for myself."

"We were just talking to my family," Catalina answered at once, standing up.

"It took a while, since she's related to the whole town," Elena added.

"Ah, I see, that would take some time." Enrique shook his head, a few stray hairs coming loose and falling over his forehead. "Well, it seems we're heading out to the stables, and you know what that means Elena."

"Why couldn't it have rained more?" she grumbled, shifting her chair back and forth. "Can't we tell Papá we don't want to?"

"You could try," he said, shrugging, "but I'm going to change while you waste your breath. Catalina, you might want to put on some boots, we're going to be all over the grounds this afternoon."

"He's right, Papá will insist we come along." Elena sighed. "I wish your little sisters and brother were here, they'd probably enjoy an egg hunt."

"Eggs?" Catalina asked, intrigued. "You mean, like on TV, where they hide the little chocolates and you carry baskets around?"

"No, no, that would be too easy, and over far too quickly," Elena said as she pushed out into the hallway. "Papá puts prizes in these big eggs for his friends, and has them scattered everywhere. Then we all ride horses and look for them. And sometimes there's a race, and sometimes there's polo, or whatever the men get in their head when the eggs get fewer and they want to challenge each other for them." She made a face.

Catalina followed her down the hall, even more curious and growing excited. "But are there enough horses for everyone here? And don't any of the ladies look too?"

"There will be, since Papá brought more in from the north paddock on the other side of the ranch. But only Señora Silva will probably join in. It's some choice! Sit in the gossip corner or roam around with the guys. And it's not like I have a choice anyway, since Papá insists I have to look around for the first few like I'm still a baby. They're always in the same place too, and he makes such a big deal out of it."

"It sounds fun!" Catalina had never having done anything like it before. "What should I wear?"

Elena smiled again at her enthusiasm. "I suppose it could be better this year. Actually, come on, you can borrow some of my things, I think I've a riding skirt that would fit you."

Catalina detoured to her own room to grab her sturdiest boots and a blouse, then let Elena help her try on some things until they found something that looked far too nice for outdoors. "No, no, it's perfect, let me see you turn around again," Elena told her, grinning, then reached for a bandanna in her closet. "And wear this, around your neck loose, he'll like that."

"Your father?" she asked, tying the knot carefully.

"Maybe," Elena said mysteriously, taking far less concern with her own outfit. "Here, I've got a ribbon you can tie in your hair, no, not that one, the other," and she held it up. "Yes, it matches your eyes, and he really likes this color."

She wouldn't explain why her father had noticed her eyes. At first Catalina thought perhaps there was a joke she didn't understand, but when they joined everyone at the front of the house Sr. Tilve was very complimentary, kissing her cheeks in front of everyone just like a relative, and asking if her family back home were all doing well.

"Yes sir, my parents are fine, gracias," she murmured, a trifle overwhelmed as the other men looked her over with open flattering stares.

"And the Aguirres? I trust you spoke to them?"

"Oh, yes, they're doing very well, gracias," she answered, suddenly remembering her good news. "And Enrique, Tía Lola wanted to tell you how much better Tío Ruy is doing. He didn't even have to use his cane today at the church!"

"That is very good to hear." He stood next to his father, voice much softer than usual. In fact, he had been quiet the entire time everyone else was busy paying her compliments, and strode forward now in a polo unbuttoned at the neck to reveal a bandanna of his own, with navy breeches and tall black boots, a white cap pushed up on his head. There was something in his expression that caught her, warm like chocolate, and when he took her hand to kiss it, she felt his lips linger on her skin, eyes looking up at her with open admiration that didn't feel teasing at all. "I’m glad all else is well with the Morenos."

"Yes, gracias," she said, smiling at him with uncertainty, and very glad when everyone went outside to head for the stables.

Elena had moved into her all-terrain chair, although her father took command of her chair to push her up the little paved path. Catalina found herself walking beside Enrique and was relieved when they fell into a comfortable conversation. Whatever feeling of unease she’d sensed before vanished under the hot sun and noisy company.

"Do you know how to ride?" he asked, keeping in step with her, even as they fell behind the group.

"I've only been on a horse a few times," she admitted. "There aren't so many back home but there aren't many cars either. I mostly rode Tío Jorge's mule on errands for my grandmother. She lived way out beyond town, without any roads but an old goat trail."

"If you can handle a mule, you'll have no problems with our mares," he assured her, smiling at her words. "So, goats? Did you have to look after them too?"

"Not really, they were mostly gone by the time I was born, except old Bonita. Sometimes she would come in the house and Abuela would pet her like a dog and sing to her."

"No wonder you get along so well with Señora Costa's cats." Enrique laughed and asked her more questions, getting her to talk about the animals and people she'd grown up with, from the proud rooster she'd tried to dress up like a wise man one year at Christmas, and their old hound who would let them attach streamers to his collar and carry dolls strapped to his back as if he were in a parade.

"He died last year, but we still have little Gordo, who's not such a silly puppy anymore." She was far more relaxed now, outside and sharing her many happy memories. "And Tía Dolores told me her cat gave birth to a new liter, just in time for Raquel's birthday, so she'll get to pick a kitten. Isn't that great?"

Whatever he would have said was interrupted, as Sr. Tilve called out her name loudly. "Enrique, come on, help our dear friend get mounted," he shouted as they moved to the front of the crowd gathered by the corral, drawing smirks and comments from some of the men already getting into the saddle. She was grateful when Enrique took her hand and led her away from those strange knowing looks.

"This one is very gentle," he told her, petting the colt's mother as a groom got her ready. "You'll be polite to our guest, won't you Castile?" The bridle was far more elaborate than she was used to, and Enrique helped guide her out. "That's it, she'll do most of the work, you don't need to tug quite so hard."

Once out of the stable she saw that Elena was mounted as well, her legs strapped to the horse’s side, skillfully trotting around the corral. Sr. Tilve sat high in his own saddle, directing someone with a pointed crop, and fortunately most of the gentlemen were too busy with their own steeds to look in her direction. "You'll be fine," Enrique encouraged her as she hesitated to move further alone. "And if you need anything, just say it, one of us will come help you."

"Right, sure," she said, nodding, and pushed forward with her legs. The horse responded at once, not too fast, and Catalina found it was very easy to direct her, relaxing into the rhythm of the seat before long. Elena came up beside her, grinning in spite of her earlier words, and Catalina saw for the first time how tall she was.

"Yes, now I can look down at everyone else for once! I can't believe I haven't asked you to ride since you got here, we should do this more often." She turned behind her, smiling, and waved. "Papá, Enrique's finally out, let's get started."

When Catalina glanced over her shoulder, she saw Enrique smoothly canter out of the stable, reins in one hand with the other akimbo on his hip. The sun was just to the west, bathing the scene in gold steamy light, so that his white shirt almost shone as it clung to his chest. It was a picture straight from one of Tía Lola's magazines, and she quickly turned her face away before she could think on that further, hoping no one had caught her staring.

The hunt began after Sr. Tilve made a few final announcements. "Today I think we should break with tradition, and let our guest have the honor of searching first," he said, causing Elena to pull back on her reins where she'd started to move forward.

So Catalina rode forward and out of the corral, not sure exactly where she was supposed to go. She glanced around, uncertain, and then saw Enrique casually lift his cap and gesture to some trees off to the right. When she rode up to them, there were two large eggs tied to a branch, hanging right where she could pluck them down. Elena rode up beside her as Catalina pulled one loose. "Wait to open it until later," the older girl advised, stuffing her own in a saddle bag. "At least you 'found' them this time, it's so silly when Papá makes everyone wait until I have, as if we don't all know where he puts mine every year."

The rest of the hunt was not so easy, and Catalina was happy enough to enjoy riding with her friends rather than collect so many eggs. Elena delighted in showing her more of the paths around. They still found a few treasures, but mostly let the men gallop past in their pursuit instead of competing with them. Sr. Tilve was an excellent rider, and as competitive as any of his friends, racing around with enthusiasm and shouting challenges to any who lagged behind.

"Most of them were in the army with Papá," Elena explained as they let their horses walk in the grass. They were up on a rise, and could see nearly everyone from this spot. "They're all retired with their little castles around the lake."

"There are that many ranches?" Catalina asked in amazement.

"No, no, this is the only one, they all just have fancy houses and a few acres." Elena looked around, smiling but also thoughtful, as if not quite seeing the view. "Retirement homes, mostly. Their children all live somewhere else."

It was such an odd way to live, so foreign to Catalina's experience, that she wondered how any of them could be as happy as they looked. "Don't any of them come back to visit?" she asked, realizing that even though it was Easter, the Tilves were the only real family present.

"Sometimes. They're all scattered around, with families of their own, and important jobs. Besides, none of them lived here when we were younger, it's not like anyone else grew up around the lake. Military life, you know, just moving around all the time. Enrique’s only a year younger than José Perez, or almost: they’re the same age in December, and they graduated together. But he's been stationed in Antarctica for years and almost never gets to go home."

How lonely it sounded, even though none of these people looked bereft of company. Catalina supposed different people must live different ways. Perhaps being so rich, they didn't notice what their lives lacked.

Enrique came riding up to join them, bringing his horse alongside Catalina's. "Taking a break, are we ladies?" he asked, and handed a thermos over. "Make sure to drink some water, it's unseasonably hot today."

"Gracias," she said, suddenly realizing just how thirsty she was.

"Having fun?" he asked as they kept moving, not galloping onward but keeping himself at their pace.

"Yes!" Catalina grinned wide. "I wish I had some pictures, for my family, they won't even believe me when I tell them."

"That's a great idea," Elena said, coming to a halt. "I'll go see about getting my camera fetched, be right back."

"She's so graceful." Catalina admired how easily Elena maneuvered across the ground, her horse responding to the slightest command.

Enrique chuckled, drawing her eye back to him. "You're not so bad," he said, taking the thermos back and clipping it to his saddle. They rode together quietly as a faint breeze cooled the air.

After a few minutes Sr. Tilve rode up from behind, coming alongside Catalina and asking how she was enjoying herself. "Very much sir, gracias," she said, and at his prompting showed him the eggs she'd put in her bag.

"Only three? We must find some more, before they are all taken. Splendid day for it, don't you think? Though I suppose at home your festivities are just as nice. Fernando ought to be here, of course, I told him so just last week, but he's his own man after all, what can be done?"

"It's very different, of course, but yes, I think everyone is very cheerful today, only in their own way," she tried to explain, feeling obligated to comfort her generous host when he must wish to see all his children. "I hope you will get to see him again soon, sir."

"That is very kind. Still, perhaps Enrique is just as glad to escort you without any competition."

It was a very odd thing to say, and Catalina didn't know how to politely respond. She was grateful when Enrique asked from her other side after one of Sr. Tilve's friends. "I noticed Colonel Perez limping earlier, is his foot still bothering him?"

"No, of course not, nothing wrong with him at all! He shot several rounds this week on the greens, perfectly fine." Sr. Tilve smiled down at Catalina. "Listen to him, can't stop thinking about medicine for one minute. Perfectly understandable now that he's managing the clinic himself."

"Temporarily." Enrique spoke the word mildly but with a firm accent.

"And I hear many good reports from town, I assure you," Sr. Tilve continued as if he hadn't heard his son. "Trust a lady to get things in tip top shape, that's just what's been needed. We'll have to find some way to keep you around longer."

"I would be very glad to come visit again, some day, if my family can spare me, and I'm not tied up with school," Catalina said after it seemed Sr. Tilve was waiting for her to say something else.

"Well, well, of course, a good education and solid employment, that's the key to Argentina's future. I'm sure Señor Aguirre would agree with me there. Though I quite understand how irreplaceable he may find you."

"Have you seen the pond yet?" Enrique asked suddenly, sidestepping to the right. When she admitted she had only passed it by in the jeep, he offered to guide her for a better view. Sr. Tilve laughed heartily and encouraged Catalina to go, bringing his own horse around and galloping back across the grass toward his friends.

The pond was not far, and though not large, it was such an inviting sight after so much hot work that the horses eagerly pulled forward of their own accord. "They're likely thirsty." Enrique dismounted with practiced ease and let his horse go to drink. Before Catalina could contemplate how to get down, he came beside her and reached up. "Just relax, like in dancing with a lift," he coached her, then had her up out of the saddle and down beside him, barely showing any sign of strain at all.

"Gracias," she gasped, slightly lightheaded and stiff from riding, clutching onto his arms to keep her balance.

"Easy, don't try to breathe too quick, in and out," he told her, hands still on her waist. "Count the beats, one in, two out, just like music."

She did so, blinking back the fog that had threatened to take hold. "I'm fine now, gracias," she said, looking up to smile at him. He had leaned down to speak to her and now his head was only a hand’s breadth from hers, his answering smile so close she thought she could feel its warmth.

"Excellent." He didn't let her go immediately, and she realized she was still gripping him tightly. When she relaxed her hold, he let his arms fall and slipped one of his hand’s into her’s. "I hope Papá didn't annoy you."

"What? Oh, no, of course not, he's been very kind," she said, letting him lead her to stand between the horses as they drank. "I suppose he's like that with everyone who comes to visit."

Enrique took the reins of both horses in one hand as they came up, shaking their heads. "Why do you say so? Perhaps he's as charmed as everyone else is by you." He grin went lopsided as he swung her hand between them, walking with the horses on one side and her on the other around the pond. "Roosters and goats, chickens and kittens, even mules and Señora Mundo: is there anyone who doesn't like sweet Catalina?"

She felt her cheeks flush, although they had come to stand under some trees out of the sun. "Probably, I guess."

"Mmm, who would though?" he mused, letting his thumb circle around her fingers pleasantly.

"Oh, I don't know, I'm sure someone. And Señora Mundo isn't so bad, you shouldn't say she's like a mule."

"No, you're right, I shouldn't." He didn't sound contrite at all. "And I should be more grateful, since you are doing such a fantastic job getting everything in order. It will be difficult to write a critical evaluation."

"Why? Is there something else I can do?" she asked, thinking she should be more concerned, and hardly able to feel so at all with the smell of grass in the air, the horses nickering to each other, and Enrique's hand still in her own.

"Because I'm supposed to identify places for you to improve." Some hair had escaped his cap, sticking to his forehead in a combination of sweat and gel. "I'll have to keep a closer eye on you, to make sure I don't miss anything." His voice cracked slightly, causing him to sound positively boyish as he cleared his throat self-consciously. "Would you like some more water?"

Elena caught up with them when they had remounted and started up the path again. "Where have you been? All the eggs are taken, and Papá wants to get everyone back to the house. I took plenty of pictures, Catalina, I'll email them to you as soon as they're uploaded. Now pose, please, I need to get one of you too."

That evening there was more food, a large barbecue served outside by the pool, with music playing through speakers setup around the patio and fairy lights shining through pastel paper balls strung overhead. The eggs were all opened, revealing gift cards and pesos, rings and lottery tickets. The party gradually wore down as the sun set and by nightfall, only the Tilves and Catalina were left.

She went to bed stuffed, slightly sore, but also full of nervous energy, unable to sleep. They had looked at the pictures on Elena's camera while people either went inside toward the television or started to leave. One couple remained and began swaying to the music. Enrique asked Sra. Flores, a recent widow, to dance with him. The older lady smiled through her tears as he gently guided her around the patio. Catalina had been content to watch, appreciative of Enrique's kindness, and privately admiring how gracefully he moved. After escorting his partner to the sliding doors and accepting a kiss, Enrique approached the girls' table. But instead of sitting with them, he held his hand out to Catalina.

"May I have this dance?" Then he led her in a slow formless swing, casual instead of sultry, the breeze picking up and tugging stray hairs from her braids. There were few words shared in the dusky twilight, no banter or teasing, just the conversation of their steps weaving together.

Magical was entirely the wrong word, she decided as she breathed onto her pillow, remembering everything with a hazy glow. Magic was for studios and performers, a trick to applaud but dying away as soon as it began. No, there should be a better word for how safe and comfortable she'd felt in his arms: the familiar peace of home but also a heightened awareness and sensitivity, new possibilities rippling through her heart.

What did it matter that he'd only kissed her cheek goodnight along with Elena's as they parted? It was the sweetest Easter she could ever remember, or would likely enjoy again. Whatever the future held, she would cherish this past moment forever.

Today's bonus blog post returns to the world of telenovelas; specifically, the teen musical sensation Floricienta.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 27: Una Dulce Pascua

MichelleRWApril 10, 2023 02:30PM


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