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Estancia Aldea Norteña 28: La Danza Continúa

April 14, 2023 11:30AM
"The dance continues," reference to lyrics from "Floricienta," theme song to the telenovlea of the same name (Lyrics.com).

Everyone slept in the next day, and brunch was largely the leftovers from Easter. Sr. Tilve was not altogether satisfied. He complained loudly about the café, dumping both his and Catalina's out after tasting it. There were complaints about the weather, overcast and windy, and more grousing about his oldest son's absence. "Not a phone call all day, not even to his sister."

"He did text me, Papá," Elena said softly, sugar flaking all over her fingers from a pastry.

"A text!" Sr. Tilve roared, unappeased, and got his ever present phone out as he stormed from the room, barely stopping to accept his new drink from the housekeeper.

"Why don't we head out to the lake?" Enrique suggested.

Elena agreed at once, and Catalina followed her back toward the bedrooms with as much relief. She felt at least partly responsible for Fernando's tardiness and the scene it had caused. But when she tried to apologize Elena shook her head in annoyance. "No, Papá always gets irritable the day after a big party, and it's even worse this year with it being Memorial Day. We'll be much better off away from the ranch while he stomps around."

Enrique had driven one of the SUVs in front of the house when they reached the door, dressed and ready to go. "It's not far," he said as he pulled out onto the driveway. "But the road doesn't go straight there, so it's easier to go past and then cut back."

Elena leaned forward from the back. "Turn the radio up, this one's my favorite song!"

They all sang along to the pop tune, and the festive mood didn't diminish as they drove past the turnoff to the villa, continuing through woods and occasionally passing a house nestled all by itself up a path. Catalina was awed by the size of the lake. Even the beach hadn't seemed quite so massive, with all the people and buildings on it. Here there was water as far as she could see, with barely anything to break up the view. They parked at a boat ramp and short pier. Two fishermen were camped out with reels and a cooler, but otherwise no one else was around. A gravel trail wound along the lakefront, and they traveled down it leisurely, unhurried, talking about any and everything.

"No, Papá's unlikely to bully Fernando into showing up," Enrique told her when Catalina felt comfortable enough to raise the subject. He picked up a few stones, bouncing them in one hand, and then skipped one across the water with a quick toss. "His unit's in Buenos Aires for the next six months, and all his friends there besides. We don't have enough entertainment for his taste."

"But next week, surely, for Veteran's Day? To pay his respects; everyone was talking about it yesterday."

"I don't know," Elena said, navigating her wheels around a rut in the path. "He usually show up if he's not out on maneuvers, even for half a day, since he gets to wear our great grandfather's sword."

"That requires someone for him to show off to," Enrique observed.

"But if he's actually dating her!" Elena spat out, making a face. "I wouldn't believe it, but he could have called like he did last year, just to keep Papá happy. I guess he was busy."

"He usually is." Enrique shrugged and tossed his last stone out on the water. "It doesn't really matter. Even if he's fallen desperately in love," he stressed the word with great exaggeration, "there's no way he's bringing such a girl home for Papá to glare at. The Lobos aren’t the type of guests he prefers."

It wasn't the first time they'd described Isabel this way, which Catalina found strange considering how gracious Sr. Tilve was to her. "I could keep out of the way if he wants to come home," she offered, but Elena scorned that notion.

"If Fernando shows his face, we don't have to keep him company. Here, do you want to take any pictures? I brought an extra memory card for my camera."

They passed it back and forth, taking turns posing or pointing out sights to photograph. At one bend in the path they saw a heron spearing fish, and Elena stopped to focus her lens. "The light's not very good for closeups," she muttered, switching settings. "I should have brought my external flash."

After another hour they turned back then spent some time by the now abandoned pier, chatting. A few drops of rain prompted them to reluctantly get back in the car. The weather didn't worsen, nor did it improve, casting a gray film on the surroundings. It had a beauty in its own way, so different from Catalina’s home on the plains, and she smiled wide at the sight of plops and ripples forming on the lake as they drove past.

Elena's phone rang when they were within sight of the ranch. "¿Holá? Yes, Papá, we're almost back," she said. A loud voice responded that could be heard clearly from the front seat. "Sorry, the phone didn't ring. No, we didn't get too near the water, promise."

Enrique shook his head as he turned into the driveway. "We should have called him as soon as we got back on the main road, who knows how many times he's tried to get through. You might want to check your phone: sometimes the lake messes with reception out here."

Sr. Tilve stood waiting for them in the foyer. He looked stern and unhappy, so that Catalina worried he might be angry they had left. However, he didn't yell, instead asking in measured tones if she enjoyed their outing.

"Yes sir. It was very beautiful."

"Good, good, what a pity the weather isn't better. Well, you should get into dry clothes, no point in risking chill." He took hold of Elena's chair, not waiting for her to move, and pushed her toward the hallway.

Enrique watched with a slight frown, then turned back to the door. "I should get the car put away."

Though she had barely felt a trace of rain, Catalina decided it would be best to accommodate Sr. Tilve, and so went back to change into a fresh shirt. When she picked up her phone from the dresser, she saw it was blinking, warning her she had a message. She eagerly dialed the voicemail, wondering if Javier or her parents had tried to reach her.

Instead, Isabel's voice greeted her with a cheery, "Holá, Catalina, I hope you're out having a fabulous time."

She almost dropped the phone in surprise, and shut it instinctively, cutting the message off. The blinking light went off, but it was as if it had snuck into her brain. She stared down at her phone, knowing the message was still there, not wanting to listen to it, and yet curious in spite of herself as to what the girl could possibly say to defend herself. Was it wrong to be so vengeful, that she wouldn't even let her explain? But how could she call after treating Javier so terribly?

Catalina knocked on Elena's door hoping for advice; a peek inside revealed the sound of water running in the bathroom. So she retreated down the hall alone, drifting, and eventually wound up in the recroom where they'd started the puzzle, only a third completed. She fell into a beanbag chair and stared down at her phone. Her initial surprise had worn away, and in its place came irritation at her own reluctance to act. Listening or not listening would not make a difference in the situation; if Isabel wanted to apologize, fine, but Catalina was not obliged to call her back or do anything but do her justice by hearing her out.

Without waiting another second, she opened her phone and played the voicemail again, putting it on speaker and relaxing back into the squishy fabric as a bubbly voice filled the room.

"Holá, Catalina, I hope you're out having a fabulous time. I can not believe how long it's been since we talked: time has just flown by, it's crazy. You might have called, but I know, you're off at the passionate ranch of the Tilves, who could think of anyone else? Javier has been so overwrought trying to finish up school. Maybe you could speak to him, remind him to take it easy? I would but he's stopped taking my calls, and for all I know he's not speaking to anyone, such a scholar, he's the absolute best, you know I always said so. I wish you could be here in Buenos Aires with us, we'd have loads of fun together. If you speak to Javier, tell him that I gave Juan the ring just like he asked me to, no reason for him to fret. I won't bore you with the details, you'd only laugh, it's so stupid how these little arguments strike up. Call me back if you can tear yourself away from all your fun: Fernando said it's a boring place, but he's such a tease, I wouldn’t answer even if he tried to call, I don’t ever see him anymore. Got to run, send all my love to your family. ¡Chau!"

The phone asked if she wanted to save the message. "Not at all!" she said aloud, looking down to press the delete button. "As if I ever want to hear from her again."

A chuckle drew her attention up to see Enrique leaning against the door frame. "Sorry," he said, coming in and sitting across from her. "When I heard voices I thought you and Elena were in here."

"It's nothing." Catalina didn't even duck her head or blush, and realized she felt completely unashamed and instead relieved there was someone to talk to without the need for explanations. "Did you hear most of it?"

"Enough to get the gist of things." Enrique picked up a puzzle piece from the stack nearby, flipping it in his fingers.

"It's so stupid!" Catalina found she couldn't keep her exasperation bottled up. "I mean, why would I speak to Javier for her, after all that? I don't think she ever cared about any of us, or maybe she just doesn't know how to stop lying. I almost wish we'd never met her at all."

"Give it time," he advised. "It doesn't always make things better, but does make them more laughable with hindsight."

She nodded, considering. "I suppose she's just selfish. I just don't understand why Fernando would even get involved at all if they're not together now. Unless Isabel left him too."

"Who knows?" Enrique said, shrugging. "Fernando's always been careless; only, he's able to afford it better than most. I wouldn't worry about him."

"Then you don't think he cared at all?"

He shook his head, fitting the puzzle piece back on the table in a possible spot. "I find it very unlikely."

"That's horrible," Catalina declared, then quickly explained. "Not that it matters, I guess, since Isabel's just as bad, and probably doesn't have any real feelings to hurt, but what if she had?"

Enrique quirked a smile and leaned forward. "And what if it isn't Isabel at all, but her evil twin, separated at birth?"

Catalina felt herself smiling in response. "I know it's probably not the case. But I still don't think it was right for her to be treated badly, even if she did deserve it."

He took her hands and cupped them in his own. "There's no need for you to serve as her protector even if we assume she needed it; I doubt the favor would be returned. But I suppose that's the burden of having the strongest heart, and always wanting the best for everyone. Do you ever consider your own needs or desires first?"

This question sounded different from the easy back-and-forth of the day, a deepening of tone that suggested more than idle curiosity. Catalina dropped any concern for Isabel's condition or even Fernando's actions, caught by the hint of something passing between them, an unspoken but flickering emotion she wasn't sure was real or not.

Whatever it was dissipated when Elena wheeled in and asked if they were hungry. They ended up getting sandwiches and settling in to put more of the puzzle together while watching a DVD. It was all ease and friendly fun, erasing any anxiety she might have felt. She actually spoke to Javier that evening when he called. Steering clear of anything related to Isabel, Catalina instead shared her good mood to the degree that their discussion touched on the future, with only a shadow of regret.

Over dinner Sr. Tilve made an abrupt announcement. "I'm afraid I will have to part with you much sooner than I expected. Friends of mine have invited me to attend a race, top seats; ordinarily I would never abandon a guest for such a frivolous pastime, or would insist we all attend. But I'm well aware your important duties should not be interrupted, and there are business obligations I must see to, which I will not spoil your meal by discussing. I hope you can forgive my absence."

Catalina found she was not required to answer this strange speech, since the man immediately followed up with, "Of course you'll be quite busy, and I'm sure both Enrique and Elena will be able to fill your free time. Anything you need, just ask. I should be back by next Monday."

He left first thing after breakfast. Despite the sky remaining overcast, Sr. Tilve's absence brought more cheer than gloom to the ranch. Elena didn't look disappointed at being left behind one bit. Every morning she woke up much earlier to eat with her brother and friend before they left for the clinic. The formal dining room was abandoned and more often than not they set up trays to enjoy the large TV or a game night.

Intermittent clouds and rain dogged the week, as if the weather was as disinterested in returning from a long holiday as the people. But Catalina found much to enjoy about her work, especially since Enrique took to involving her more in the actual care. "Of course there's still more to do," he said, looking over the remaining stacks of files she had yet to input in the system. "Still, you've made a lot of progress and you're not a secretary. An internship is about learning, not just free labor."

So he let her take notes as he interviewed a patient, then discussed the method of treatment with her afterward. She compared observations, learned about what cases warranted referral to the main site versus what could be handled in house, and even found herself stitching up an open wound while Enrique participated in a phone meeting one afternoon.

"When did you learn to do that?" he asked after checking over the spot, pronouncing it good, and sending the patient home with additional guidance.

"Oh, I've helped Mamá lots of times with little scrapes and things, after she taught me to sew," Catalina explained over the sink.

"Butterfly stitches aren't exactly the same as embroidery," he commented dryly, finishing up a note in the patient's file.

"No, they're much easier. Or maybe I just think so, since Mamá taught me those first."

He laughed affectionately. "I begin to wonder how long you'll have to attend school given how much you know about nursing already. Your practicals will be a breeze."

"But I still get so confused over terms sometimes, and that's such a big part of the entrance exam."

"Have you tried watching any tutorials online? There are plenty of great resources out there. A lot are in English, but most have subtitles."

When they returned to the ranch he hooked his laptop up to the living room television and pulled up several websites geared toward early students. "This one is from the university in Mar del Plata, it has slides from past lectures in the nursing program. It's dry but breaks everything down very easily, with practice quizzes to test your recall."

"And it's all just out there, for free?" Catalina asked, trying to jot down everything in her nearly full notebook, squeezing in words all around the margins as she walked closer to the screen to see.

"Yes, all you need is an Internet connection. Don't worry about writing it all down, I'll send you an email with the links. Then you can just click and watch." He opened a new window and started typing, sprawled on the floor with his laptop up on the center table, the cord connecting it to the TV only reaching so far.

"Gracias, these are amazing!" She sat down near him, standing her feet on the floor and hugging her legs, bouncing with excitement.

"Say that again after you've watched them fifty times; personally, I like some music in the background to help it all get in my head easier. What's your address?"

She spelled out "ComienzaLaDanza15" with the domain afterward, smiling self-consciously as he sang a few lyrics from the Floricienta theme song in recognition.

"But," he said as he finished typing, "Floricienta wasn't fifteen when she became a nanny."

"No, I was: getting my own email was part of my quinceañera, and I was obsessed with the show. We used to sing and dance to the songs all the time."

"It was a good show. We used to watch it nonstop whenever I'd come home for a weekend; Elena had her own Floricienta outfit she wore when we went to one of the live musicals."

"Oh wow, really?" Catalina leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table. "We wanted to go so bad, it sounded awesome. But the tour never came close enough. All we had was the cast recording."

"Always the best part. We actually got there late, so we only saw half the show. But I think Elena might still have the DVD somewhere."

She reached over and grabbed his arm excitedly. "We have to find it, please, I'd love to see it!"

He pulled back playfully, laughing. "Yes, of course, much better than memorizing the digestive tract."

"I can look at that when I leave, I can't believe you've had Floricienta this whole time and didn't say anything!" Catalina giggled, pushing his laptop away and grabbing for his hand again. Rather than squirm away or tease, Enrique let himself be caught, gazing at her intently.

"It'll take some time to find. Elena barely ever throws anything out, so who knows where she stashed it. You might have to wait awhile."

"That's fine," Catalina said, still smiling, trying to stay calm despite the bubbles billowing in her stomach as he caressed her palm. "I don't actually have to see it."

"No, we finally found something you could be selfish about," Enrique objected with barely suppressed glee. "Lent is over, what better time to indulge your wishes? We'll just have to do something else as a treat."

"Like what? It had better be very good," she dared to tease him back. "You know how much I loved the show."

Enrique grinned wider, eyes sparkling. "Perhaps, instead of watching something on TV, we should find a way to bring it to life. I think the ranch safely counts as a mansion; casting Floricienta is not difficult at all." He winked at her, coming impossibly nearer, and raised their joined hands. "That just leaves a situation to place our heroine in, something unexpected and fun, maybe with a hint of intrigue."

"I don't know that I'd want to get in some of her messes," Catalina hedged, even as she giggled, captivated.

"Well, we wouldn't want to copy the plot completely, that would be stealing." He pressed his lips to her knuckles and then asked very formally, "Señorita Moreno, would you care to have dinner with me tomorrow night?"

Estancia Aldea Norteña 28: La Danza Continúa

MichelleRWApril 14, 2023 11:30AM


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