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Estancia Aldea Norteña Chapter 31: La Posta se Revela

April 24, 2023 11:30AM
"The Past is Revealed," telling a secret (Macmillan Dictionary).

There was no time to enjoy their reunion, as there were still many people in the waiting room, and Mamá stepped out just then with a patient.

"This is Señor Tilve," Catalina spoke at once, then stopped tongue-tied, not sure how to explain his sudden appearance.

"My apologies for coming at a bad time," he said smoothly, stepping aside to let someone else reach for the form still waiting on the desk. "Although, I do have a kit in my car, if you'd like some triage help."

Sra. Moreno was not in the habit of turning away free labor, and soon Enrique was setup in a corner by the supply closet with two chairs and his scrub top on, patiently examining the more malingering lobby dwellers and creatively devising treatments for their often not-so-serious maladies. He even let Tío Ricardo talk at length about his symptoms, all sympathy, and sent him away with a recipe from a friend back in the city.

"What did you write down?" Catalina wondered aloud as she handed him another form to look at.

"It's a very technical concoction," Enrique answered with mock seriousness, his eyes alone betraying a joke. "But it works out to mostly lemon and water, which I assume he must have in plentiful supply, given how little he may have drunk lately."

Catalina bit her lip and hurried away, not trusting herself to even smile for fear she would lose control and either cry or hug him, her emotions completely undone by having him so near.

"Who is he?" Jorge asked as things slowed down, coming to bother his sister after growing bored at the door.

"He's helping Mamá, he's a very important person from Mar del Plata," she answered quietly. "Now, if you don't have anything better to do, get your homework out."

Finally there were only two patients left in the lobby, and Catalina was able to help one immediately. "Raquel, what did you do?" she asked as she cleaned her baby sister's knee.

"I didn't mean to, I just went too fast and broke it." The little girl was not alarmed at all, even when the alcohol swab stung and she shrieked. "Do I need a cast?"

"No, and I don't think you even need stitches. But I'll wrap it for this afternoon: make sure you take it off when you get your bath and clean it very well." Catalina wove the gauze around the knee and taped it, then kissed her. "You were very brave, only please be more careful next time."

"Gracias, I'm so glad you're back!" Raquel hugged her, then looked up and waved. "Holá, I'm Raquel, what's your name?"

"Enrique," he answered from where he'd come forward, keeping just to the side, watching.

"See, my sister fixed my knee, it's all better now." Raquel demonstrated, jumping up and down. "She's very smart."

"I agree. No wonder you're so brave, with a sister like that."

Catalina flushed and looked away, quickly returning to the desk to organize papers. Mamá came out and looked things over, then shook Enrique's hand. "Gracias Señor Tilve, we were very fortunate you happened along."

"My pleasure," he replied, zipping his bag shut and slinging it over his shoulder. "I'm happy to have been able to help, it was very instructive."

"Mamá, look, Catalina fixed my knee!" Raquel grabbed at her mother's attention, and received a pat on the shoulder.

"I think it's time you and Jorge were home, it'll be dark soon and you have chores. I'll probably be late waiting for your father to finish up. Again, a pleasure to meet you sir. Are you driving through?"

"In a manner of speaking." He frowned, then began, "Please, Señora Moreno, I would like to apologize...."

"No need for that." Mamá had her no-nonsense tone firmly in place. "We were startled, of course, but there's no cause for a fuss. Catalina is safe at home where she belongs, for which we are very grateful. There's no reason for you to have any further concerns."

"I would argue, but that would be impolite as a visitor, and there has been enough of that. So I will just say gracias, and agree: it's very good to see Catalina safe." He broke off, adjusting his bag's strap, seemingly without anything further to say.

There was an awkward pause. Catalina desperately wished she could come up with a reason not to return home, while Enrique fidgeted with his keys and Mamá looked inscrutably between them, also silent.

"I'm ready!" Raquel announced, toting her little satchel, and took Catalina's hand.

"Actually, I wonder, could you tell me where exactly Señor Aguirre's house is?" Enrique asked with sudden haste. "I've heard so much about his progress, I would love to check on him, while I'm in town. Perhaps, Catalina, you could point me in the right direction?"

"That's easy!" Jorge shouted, nearly running into Enrique as he barreled up to the group. "It's right next door to our house."

"Yes, you could come with us," Raquel offered sweetly, smiling up with wide eyes.

Catalina's heart stilled, then beat double time when Mamá nodded. "That's a good idea, only don't run so fast Jorge, we don't need two skinned knees this evening. Catalina, why don't you go in and see the Aguirres as well, I know they would love to discuss your travels together."

"Yes Mamá, gracias," she whispered, and let her baby sister lead her out the door, humming a happy tune that might have been her own heart's song. Jorge had sped ahead and was running around a car parked on the side of the road. "It's brand new!"

"Not exactly." Enrique shook his head, grinning. "But the detail work is recent. Would you like a ride?"

Both her siblings were ecstatic and begged for permission, which Catalina was helpless to resist, even if it meant the extra trouble of folding down and securing a back seat usually kept tucked out of the mechanical lift's way. She would have gladly ceded the front to her brother, slightly anxious at the thought of sitting so close to Enrique, but there was barely room for the two small children on the foldaway.

"Don't worry, I know the way," Jorge announced, twisting around in wonder. "Wow, is that a sunroof?" Both he and Raquel cheered as it opened and they turned onto the small street. Catalina kept busy turning the radio for them, which was loud and often, all with Enrique's hearty encouragement. Her nerves settled down in the presence of so much joyous energy.

Jorge was almost too distracted to remember to direct the driver. Fortunately Enrique kept to a slow crawl, and tapped the brake with plenty of time at the hastily called out turn. Soon they were parked on the edge of the concrete in their little driveway. Before anyone could move Enrique was already out and opened the back door with a flourish.

Catalina quickly ushered her family members inside the house, relieved to hand them over to her other sisters home from the upper school. "I'm going to see Tío Ruy," she explained quickly, already turning to go.

Sofia craned her neck to see outside. "Who's that?"

"Señor Enrique!" Raquel answered with perfect childish recall.

"And he has an amazing car!" Jorge yelled from the kitchen.

Catalina warned him not to eat too much before dinner, then shut the door quickly to cut off any further questions. Enrique was leaning on the car, texting, but shut his phone at her approach. There were so many things she wanted to say, all of them choked at her throat and threatening to burst forth.

"We usually go around by the garden." She kept her voice from trembling, barely, and tried not to keep snatching glances as they walked a path she could follow by heart. Squash barely sprouting on her departure now grew ripe on the vine, and the large tree that leaned over the fence between the two properties presented full branches of walnuts. The gate was left open, as often happened, and Catalina pulled it shut after they'd gone through. But her companion had not budged toward the Aguirre back door when she turned around. Instead he stood by the trunk of the tree with hands in his pockets, so very still, not even tapping a foot on the ground.

"The door's usually unlocked, or Señora Blanco can let us in." Catalina groped for anything else to add, something professional or even friendly.

"Catalina—" Enrique started to say, just as his sunglasses fell halfway down his face. He snatched them off and patted his hair back futilely, for all the world like one of her brothers, so that she couldn't help a stifled snicker. He stopped fretting at the sound, smiling himself, and stuck the sunglasses in a pocket.

"Tía Lola will be glad to see you." Catalina's tongue finally let her attempt some conversation. "She was just talking about you yesterday."

"All well and good, but I did not drive clear across the country to see her." As if unbound form the same spell, he stepped forward, speaking in quick, agitated fits. "Why didn't you answer your phone? Or call? Or—"

"I sent an email," she interrupted, but he barely let her finish.

"Yeah, Sunday afternoon, to Elena, I almost missed getting it from her, and there was practically nothing! Then I tried to reply, and called again—"

"—but my phone died, and then my parents kept it to disconnect, it was only temporary, so—"

"—of course, sure, but—"

"—and Señor Tilve said not to call—"

"—that doesn't matter, he had no right—"

"—but anyway you couldn't answer, and, oh my goodness, is Señor Perez any better?" Catalina cried out with concern, having completely forgotten about the patient. "I hope you were able to help, did he have a kidney stone? Those are so painful."

Enrique stared at her, mouth open, then burst out laughing. "No, no, sorry, I just, how can you be worried about him!" He gasped, pulling himself together, and again ran a hand through his hair, smiling fondly at her. "Catalina, don't you ever think of yourself, at all?"

She didn't know how to answer and flailed around for a half-truth. "Actually, I was wondering about the paperwork for the internship, or at least the time log. I wasn't sure who to call."

"That would have been me, you know, as your supervisor," he informed her with an attempt at gravity, spoiled completely by the hair dancing between his twinkling eyes.


He stepped forward so that they were toe to toe and reached a hesitant hand out. He barely touched hers, offering plenty of space to pull away if she wished. But that was the last thing she wanted to do; instead she held on tight, afraid he would let go.

"Catalina," he whispered hoarsely, the sound bushing over her ears like a breeze. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have fussed, I just.... When I couldn't find you, or reach you, I—god, if I hadn't been able to tell you...." He'd brought his other hand up to brush her cheek, featherweight and gentle, eyes locked on hers, seemingly unaware of anything else.

"Tell me what?" she murmured when he didn't finish, reaching up to palm those fingers tenderly stroking her cheekbone, responding as if they were dancing, wanting contact as much as he seemed to desire it.

He turned his wrist to graph that hand, knuckle under her chin, tilting her head up. Then their lips touched, gossamer as flower petals, a brief kiss that ended when he spoke, breath warm against her skin. "How much I care for you, mi corazón."

"Catalina, is that you?"

If she opened her eyes, it would be a dream, and Enrique would not have said those words. But years of her mother's training caused Catalina to answer Sra. Blanco. "Yes, ma'am," she called, and was both grateful that she had to twist around Enrique's frame to view the Aguirre's housekeeper, and flustered to see the woman's frown as she stared at them from the back porch.

Enrique's smile grew dazzling as Catalina introduced him to the skeptical woman. "You came all the way out here to do therapy?" The question's clear incredulity matched her expression, arms crossed and frown deepening.

"Not at all." His voice sounded slightly higher than usual, and he did not stop holding Catalina's hand even under the full brunt of Sra. Blanco's glare. "However, I would be more than happy to check in with Señor Aguirre. I hear he's feeling much better!"

"Yes, he is, Señor Tilve." She spat the name out, clearly unhappy to meet anyone bearing that name. Nonetheless she dutifully brought them to where the Aguirres sat watching TV in the living room.

Tía Lola's effusive greeting more than made up for her housekeeper's coldness. "What a pleasant surprise after so long! Come and sit down, would you like something to drink?" She hugged Catalina, and was about to usher her next to Enrique on the snug love seat when Tío Ruy firmly escorted her to the sofa by his side.

"Quite a surprise," he said cordially, a neutral state between the women's, not revealing his thoughts on the matter yet. "We didn't expect to hear from you again."

Enrique didn't bat an eye, instead perching on the edge of the furniture, hands clasped over one knee. "I understand, sir, I'm afraid I've fallen terribly behind in checking on all my patients. But I hear many good things about your progress. Have you kept up your exercises?"

They chatted about Tío Ruy's joints while Tía Lola kept a running commentary on what everyone wore at Easter, the two conversations crisscrossing disjointedly. Catalina's attention wavered between listening to Tía Lola and watching Enrique, who responded to every question or comment almost without taking a breath, for all the world thrilled to discuss insoles and high heels in equal measure.

"I wish you could have been here, Catalina, I would have loved to see your new things at church. And you've barely spoken about the ranch, did you wear that suede skirt we bought?"

"She did," Enrique answered, his bright eyes once again moving from Tía Lola to Catalina. "It looked quite lovely."

"Yes, we have heard very little about the ranch," Tío Ruy broke in, his clear voice taking on an edge. "And I must confess to some curiosity on the subject. I spoke to my stock broker this morning and one hears the strangest things out of Buenos Aires sometimes, it's hard to know what to believe."

"Agreed." Enrique sobered, and paused before continuing, "Actually, I've been on the phone to Buenos Aires recently, and heard very little to my liking."

"Even with all the global uncertainty, I did not expect a local investment to turn so unsafe."

"That reminds me: Catalina, I just got a magazine showing the latest from London, I'll have to find it for you."

"Perhaps you'd like to show her now?" Tío Ruy suggested with a smile. "You two go on and look it over, that will give Señor Tilve and I a chance to talk."

Catalina had very little interest in the magazines Tía Lola spread out on the kitchen table, far more curious as to what Tío Ruy was saying to Enrique through the glass doors. Even as she resigned herself to politely look them over, though, the woman took her hand and squeezed. "Don't worry, dear, Ruy just needs to set his own mind at ease. I'm sure your young man will do just fine. He must have been desperate to see you, not even taking time to change."

They didn't dawdle longer than fifteen minutes and afterward found both men cheering at a fútbol game. Tío Ruy didn't say anything when Catalina sat beside Enrique, only acknowledged her with a nod and smile. At a commercial break, he asked where Enrique planned to stay.

"It's far too late for you to drive all the way back." Hearing the younger man describe a highway hostel he'd spent the previous night at, Tío Ruy got on the phone and soon had a room reserved at the nearest hotel, only forty minutes away. "No trouble, really, come any time to see us. Catalina, I know you'll be needed soon, but get some grapes to carry back. The vine grew quite full this year."

Sra. Blanco handed over a bucket in the kitchen. She said little, although her knife sounded very loud as she went back to chopping onions, not a tear disturbing her stern expression when they left.

"I get the distinct impression the Aguirre's housekeeper does not trust me," Enrique observed cheerfully as they approached the large sprawling grape vine on the other end of the Aguirre lot, isolated from any of the neighbors' views by the large house.

"Probably not," Catalina admitted with a smile, reveling in the feel of their joined hands swinging between them. Still, even with this newfound sense of rightness in the world, she could not help wondering about his sudden appearance. The revelations he shared while hunting for fruit among the leaves put her own fears and suspicions to shame.

"First, Señor Perez is stable, he's in the hospital after passing two stones. Should have been there for both; he kept bleeding even after the first one came through about midnight, and then it took forever for the ambulance to arrive. Since it was clear the kid in the back barely knew how to find a pulse, they insisted I come along." Enrique plucked a few grapes and rolled them between his fingers. "I had to turn my phone off in the ICU when they decided to operate. By the time someone was able to give me a ride back for the car, it was almost six in the morning."

"You must have been so tired!" Catalina exclaimed.

"Try groggy and spent; I'm not used to all-nighters at the hospital anymore, especially not after dinner and dancing." He eyed her, smile furtive as he licked juice off his mouth. They'd both eaten several specimens determined to be unfit for later consumption. "Which is no excuse: it was careless to leave my phone off, I should have at least checked for messages. Back at the ranch I went straight to my room and passed out. It was maybe a couple of hours later when Elena burst in and told me everything. I didn't believe her to start with, thought she was pulling a prank because I'd left, which shows how poorly I was thinking. Listening to all her phone messages woke me up, but there weren't any from you. I went looking for Señora Rosa to get some answers, then ran into Papá after his run."

"Was he still very angry?" Catalina fretted, not pretending to look for grapes anymore. "Please, did he say what I did wrong? Was it something I said, or — I would have left if he asked, truly."

"No, it had nothing to do with your actions, it never did, that's the stupid part." He took a deep breath and blew it out, avoiding her eyes, then faced her with chagrin painted all over his features. "He won a bet."

It was such a non sequester, so exactly opposite of anything she'd expected, Catalina thought she must have heard wrong. "Don't you mean he lost one?"

"You'd think so. But no, he did very well at the races, made some big money, should have come home overjoyed. And yet one specific payout made him very unhappy. Understand, I didn't know all of this at the time, just that he was furious about something to do with his trip to Buenos Aires. All he would yell about was you, said the most idiotic, outrageous things." He frowned darkly, snapped a twig, and cleared his throat. "It turns out, he thought the Aguirres adopted you."


"Oh, yes, and that they were paying for you to attend medical school, and maybe become a surgeon for all I know, honestly that was the least crazy part, I barely remember. Turns out that's the only reason you were invited to stay with us, that he practically pushed me to—" He bit his tongue, but the words had already escaped.

"He ... he wanted us to be together?" Catalina asked, no longer as amazed as she might once have been. There had been so many clues, always things just out of her comprehension, now clear to understand.

"Yes." Enrique spoke softly, whatever anger he'd worked up gone, only a vague bewilderment left as he explained. "He began dropping hints after that fútbol game we were all at, getting less discreet and more direct over time. I foolishly tried to avoid you for a while, thought he'd leave things alone if I kept away and allow you and Elena time to get to know each other. Only, it turns out, I didn't actually want to do that, so it was a very bad plan, doomed to fail." He grinned wryly, warm and inviting, but refrained from doing more than wiping a stain from her cheek with his thumb.

"Who would have told him such a thing?" Catalina asked after a moment. "And why would he believe it? He spoke to Tío Ruy so much, surely he would have explained matters."

"Papá hears whatever he wants to hear and plays for the highest stakes he can. So when our old friend Don Juan lost some wagers to him, and bragged that he'd soon have all the money in the world because of his rich girlfriend—"

"His what!?" Catalina cried out.

"—Papá decided he'd wipe the smirk off the little punk's face and made a bet with him: the Tilves would get the girl and the cash, or pay Juan the difference. Honestly, when Fernando told me over the phone, I burst out laughing, it was so ludicrous, especially the part about Juan dating you. But remember how Elena took all those pictures at Easter? And how one of your eggs had a ring in it? Trust General Tilve to stack the deck! He sent an email with the evidence to the boy, and told him to pay up when he arrived in Buenos Aires. Fernando was evidently told to keep an eye on him, which explains why Papá was so complacent about him missing the holidays."

Catalina objected to this description. “He was so angry about your brother not being there, yelling on the phone and stuff.”

“Yeah, that should have been a clear sign something was wrong,” Enrique acknowledged, waving a bug away. “If he had truly been upset about Fernando not coming, he would have made a fuss on Good Friday. No, turns out he was all riled up not to hear back about his stupid money, and kept calling his spy to check on things.”

"But, it sounds like something off of TV!"

Enrique snorted. "I know! Only it gets better, or worse really. Because I figured out what happened to your brother's engagement ring."

Catalina shrugged. "I'm sure Isabel just kept it and lied, like she did about everything else."

"Ah, so, you can think badly about someone, given enough of a push," Enrique teased. "I can't believe I actually have to defend the girl. You see, she gave the ring to her horrible brother, which he promptly sold to get the money to pay Papá off."

There were enough telenovelas in Catalina's past for her to guess the next part of the story. "So, he said bad things about me to Señor Tilve, out of ... jealousy?"

"Maybe. Or because he's a sore loser. I don't actually know what was said to my father, only that the scales fell from his eyes and he rushed back to throw you out. After all, he'd won the bet, he didn't actually need you anymore. But he overplayed his hand with that internship: first, because I didn't feel comfortable doing anything too personal as your supervisor, and you staying in our house besides. Then, you were doing so well, and I'd sent back positive reports each week. I pointed out how bizarre it would look for you to suddenly leave in the middle of things, that the clinic itself would look bad if word got around, anything I could think of to make him see reason. He just kept insisting I trash the reports or forge some documentation to make it seem like you were never there, or something equally crazy, and wouldn't take no for an answer. By the time he threw me out I was already halfway out the door. I drove straight to Mar del Plata and made copies of everything I could find that had your name on it. It's all in my car with your notebook, in a big folder, including a waiver for the hours you didn't complete from Doctor Figueroa. He was happy enough to sign anything I asked for when I found him on the golf course. Including something else, actually, but perhaps I ought to wait and explain that with your parents."

"It is getting late," she said, reluctantly picking up the bucket of grapes. It was all such a strange mixture of reality and the absurd. Holding onto Enrique's hand as they walked around the yard, though, helped a great deal to keep the most important facts uppermost in her heart. In place of all her worry and dread, there was now only the exciting promise of what might lie in store.

With only three more chapters left, today's bonus blog content explores what Austen's endings tell us about her novel's plots, and how I've struggled to stick the landing in my own writing.

Estancia Aldea Norteña Chapter 31: La Posta se Revela

MichelleRWApril 24, 2023 11:30AM


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