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Estancia Aldea Norteña 32: Decisiones Para el Futuro

April 28, 2023 11:30AM
"Decisions for the Future," fixing of a purpose in the mind (Wordnik).

The Morenos gladly invited Enrique to eat dinner with them, and were kind enough to refrain from asking any questions until after the other children had been sent out to clean the dishes. Sophia and Andrea giggled and whispered to each other, especially when little Raquel with oblivious candor asked very loudly if he was going to spend the night, but a word from Mamá shooed them off to the kitchen.

"I truly must apologize on behalf of my family," Enrique said very seriously when the four of them were alone around the table, addressing his full attention on her parents. "Whatever motivations prompted my father's actions are beneath mentioning, and utterly deceived besides. It was inexcusable for Catalina to be treated that way."

Papá was silent a moment, thinking it over. "It was very strange, of course, but as she arrived safe, there's really nothing more to be said about it." He smiled at his daughter affectionately. "And after all, my dear, you did have a very long vacation, we can not complain it was cut shorter than you might have liked."

Enrique looked taken aback, perhaps startled to find so mild a response from a man he had been prepared to endure much worse from, but gamely continued without missing more than a beat. "As Catalina's supervisor, I feel responsible regardless. I understand you were planning to apply for school soon?"

"Yes," Catalina spoke up after remaining shyly quiet most of the meal, "after my entrance exam next month."

Enrique opened up the large notebook brought in from his car. "The National University in Mar del Plata has some flexibility with enrollment, especially in critical fields like nursing. It being the weekend, things were a bit difficult to arrange as neatly as I'd have liked, but I've spoken to some people today and hope to receive an email before tomorrow confirming what this letter offers." He handed over a crisp sheet bearing the clinic's letterhead. It was obviously a standard form, just her name and a few other details handwritten at various spots, yet.still a beautiful sight to behold: a recommendation for University admission, with Dr. Figueroa's signature inked at the bottom in large swirls.

In an afternoon of surprises, this one paled only in comparison to Enrique's confession of his feelings. Catalina was speechless, barely aware of her mother's intake of breath or her father's words of congratulations. She had eyes only for the man grinning wildly at her, clearly pleased with himself, and she smiled back with equal fervor, her heart racing at the possibilities.

"I still have to confirm some details," he explained when pressed by Mamá. "Of course you should not make a decision until you can review everything. I just want to repeat that we are all very pleased with Catalina's performance, and believe she has a bright future."

He had to go soon after to check into the hotel, promising to return the next day. Mamá shrewdly asked if he might stop by the clinic to discuss things, and Enrique just as deftly offered to bring his kit again. "I'm on vacation through Wednesday and would be more than happy to help out if needed."

Papá looked over his glasses with surprise, then thoughtfully took them off to polish, setting them back on with a furtive smile of his own. "We will not turn down any assistance, of course, but we would hate to take all your time, especially when you've been the bearer of such good news. Ah, well, we'll see what happens. Gracias again for speaking to us."

The farewell she and Enrique shared at the front door was more stilted than either would have liked, given most of the family could see them from the front window. He kissed both her cheeks with a murmured endearment; Catalina went to bed blissfully happy with the entire world despite all its evils.

Enrique showed up the next morning clean shaven and hair combed back, his scrubs ironed and laptop open with the promised email providing a formal offer for the spring term. Mamá printed everything out review with Papá in his office, and recommended that the supply closet could stand more attention. The young couple busied themselves with restocking the shelves after exchanging a more fervent welcome than earlier.

Papá was on the phone a lot the rest of the morning, finishing up his report on the accident. Some people came in to see Mamá, and there was followup to do from the day before, which Enrique helped with, but nothing as crazy as that day's onslaught. At noon Papá ordered food from the grocery and they all ate around his office desk, crammed in on folding chairs from the lobby.

They didn't discuss the admission offer until everyone finished eating. "It is very generous, and certainly a testament to your hard work dear," Papá began, his hands folded in front of him, smiling proudly.

Mamá nodded. "Yes, you have done very well. And the program at the university looks very good."

"I attended there myself, it's an excellent campus, lots of great instruction and opportunities." Enrique looked ready to launch into a promotional speech but Mamá held a hand up.

"Yes, but it is very far, and Mar del Plata is an expensive city to live in."

"Not as much as some," Enrique answered quickly, as if he'd anticipated this objection. "And there are lots of jobs available, and potential scholarships...."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure, but it appears those applications were due at the start of the year. The fees are rather steep for just the spring. And it looks like the housing is all reserved. To be so far off, alone, after everything that has happened lately…."

"We think perhaps it would be best if you started the technical school nearby before trying things at a University." Papá looked sadly at Catalina, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, my dear. Perhaps in a year or two, once Antonio graduates and Javier has had a chance to pay off some of what he owes. You may work around here and earn money, you know, if you still want to save to go there later."

Catalina bit her lip to keep it from trembling, realizing what her parents were gently trying to say: it would never be possible for them to afford to send her, not with Sofia and Andrea right behind needing to get their schooling in as well. There was a plan for them all and it did not include Mar del Plata.

"We are very grateful for your efforts on Catalina's behalf, Señor Tilve." Mamá started tidying up the debris from lunch. "Especially bringing all the paperwork yourself, it was very kind."

"Yes, and for watching out for our daughter, we could not ask for more." Papá reached out to shake Enrique's hand.

He took it quietly. "The pleasure is all mine."

"Actually, there's some medicine that needs to be delivered this afternoon out on the road," Mamá said with an abrupt return to business. "If you would be so kind sir, perhaps you could help Catalina with that."

"But take the van, no need for you to use your own petrol," Papá offered, handing over the key. "Gracias again, we are glad to have met you."

Neither Catalina nor Enrique spoke while listening to further instructions or loading the little bags into the van. With a ghost of his former smile, Enrique asked for directions as he put the van in drive. "I'm afraid I have very little idea where in the world I am right now."

"Sure, the first one's the farthest. Just head south out of town and we'll eventually see the turnoff." She kept her tone as professional as possible, not letting herself dwell on disappointed hopes, determined to enjoy every second with him.

The radio was broken and so provided no distraction. Enrique still tapped a finger on the steering wheel to some music only he could hear, then tilted his head to look at her. "How far is the technical school from here?"

"Not too far, Antonio attends right now, he's going to be a teacher," she answered, keeping her eyes on the road. "Actually, it's in the other direction, north west, maybe thirty minutes?"

Enrique nodded, considering. "I suppose there's a relative or friend Antonio stays with."

"Yes, Mamá's second cousin. Antonio takes care of her yard and does chores and things, since she's not able to get around very well."

"So a nursing student would be good for her?"

"Yes." Catalina's voice hitched involuntarily, and she wiped a speck from her eye in irritation. She had actually been looking forward to getting a room all of her own. How long ago it seemed that she had wished for so little, only to realize how much more there was to want.

They didn't discuss it further, caught up in heading down side streets and up around farm paths to make their rounds. There was also a lot of drinking tea, and questions about her family, and the promise of a visit. Enrique drew most of the attention, with his charming grin and polite manners, but mercifully any personal comments or insinuations were made after they left.

"There, that's the way back to the main road," Catalina pointed as they left the last house. He had stayed in the van while Catalina made that delivery, speaking on the phone. Now he was uncharacteristically still, slowly navigating around the path's ruts back to the old highway.

After a few minutes, he said, "I have to be back at work by eight Thursday morning."

"Oh, of course." Catalina had relaxed some during the drive, the familiar circumstances and added pleasure of Enrique's company soothing her feelings. The thought of such a long journey brought a different concern altogether to her mind. "Shouldn't you leave this afternoon then? I mean, to break the trip up? It's so far back to the ranch."

"Yes, but since I'm not going to the ranch, I save a few kilometers. Makes the trip way easier."

She barely acknowledged his teasing, her worry growing. "Aren't you going back to the Norteña clinic?"

He nodded. "I have to finish out the month before someone else will be ready to rotate in. That's not too long, I'll probably spend the weekends back in Mar del Plata."

"But where will you stay the rest of the time?"

"There's housing for visiting clinicians, just a bed and half bath next to the office. And besides, Señora Costas has plenty of space. She assures me the cats will be more than happy to give up the couch for me."

Neither option sounded good and she said so. "After all, since I'm gone, surely Señor Tilve will be happier now. And Elena will want to see you."

"Still only thinking of everyone else?" Enrique asked quietly with a half smile. "It's actually a good thing Papá demanded my key, and let me know in no uncertain terms I was never to set foot on his property again if I went after you. Otherwise I'd be half tempted to go back even knowing he'd never change his mind or apologize. Because, you see, I'm not going to take back what I told him in response, and so it would just lead to another argument or my having to swallow my tongue so often it would break off."

Catalina didn't know whether to laugh or cry, her emotions caught between a perverse reassurance at how much he cared and despair at being the cause of so much pain. "I'm so sorry," she said, her pity for Elena overruling either.

"It's not your fault. And really I should apologize: I knew the University was a long shot, but I figured it was worth a try since Doctor Figueroa was in such a good mood from hitting a hole in one. I'd meant to work on the whole thing gradually as the semester progressed, talk to some people I knew, see about some scholarship opportunities. Only it was difficult to do that and drive here at the same time. Speaking of, we need to figure out how to get you a phone again, preferably one with full national coverage and a very good battery."

She found herself grinning despite everything. "The one I used in Mar del Plata was just temporary: I think its been disconnected."

"I see. Your birthday's coming up, isn't it?"

"In May."

"An entire month away!"

"I'm not getting a phone for my birthday." Catalina already knew what she was likely to receive: the same supplies given to Antonio the year he started college.

"Why not?" Enrique asked casually as he turned into the little parking place behind the clinic. "Maybe a fairy godmother will deliver one. I just signed up for a new plan on Saturday for Elena and me, so she can have a phone completely separate from Papá. Adding another line should be easy."

"Won't that be very expensive?"

"Not as expensive as the petrol it takes to drive out here, which if I can't call you is going to take a very large chunk out of my paycheck." He reached over and tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear, massaging her cheek. "Not to mention my sleep and sanity."

"Well, we wouldn't won't you to lose any of that," she giggled, letting go of all worries with his hand so comfortably nestled on her skin, "at least not more than you already have."

He laughed heartily, and his eyes sparkled as they hadn't all day. Their kiss was full of joy and hope, and warmed her long after bidding her family a more sedate adios. When a package arrived one week later, Catalina was hardly surprised to find a new cellphone, or even the accompanying case with Floricienta cast stickers decorating it. More wonderful was the lack of comment from her parents. Neither appeared to notice the number of calls and texts she received, or how often she went over to the Aguirres’ to check for emails.

By the time Catalina received a passing score on her entrance test, and signed up for spring classes, she was already counting down to the next holiday. Enrique promised to make the long trip back to visit his favorite former patient … and her.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 32: Decisiones Para el Futuro

MichelleRWApril 28, 2023 11:30AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 32: Decisiones Para el Futuro

Maria VApril 28, 2023 03:47PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 32: Decisiones Para el Futuro

MichelleRWApril 28, 2023 06:11PM


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