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Estancia Aldea Norteña 33: Nuevas Posibilidades de Todos

May 01, 2023 11:30AM
"New Possibilities for Everyone," future prospects or potential (Collins Dictionaries).



It was a long year for Catalina, but not so long that this story would stretch to tell everything that happened. In summary, there were tests and teachers to learn from, new people to meet, and always the promise of hearing from her distant friends.

Javier came home at Christmas and began working for Tío Ruy, even sadder but far wiser, completely disillusioned with his former companions. He apologized one Sunday afternoon as they walked together in the warm hazy sun. "I thought Juan would be good for you, a chance to do something besides hang around this town and gather dust. But maybe I was only thinking of myself."

Catalina hugged him, far past caring about whatever the Lobos had said or done. "It doesn't matter anymore," she told him with complete sincerity. "I only wish you had never met them at all."

"No, I think Papá is right, and I needed a hard lesson. But for you to suffer also!"

"Only a brief time, and not at all now."

"No, I suppose not," he said in mock resignation as she replied to a text. "Don't grow up too fast little sister, please, let's get you safely out of school first."

But Catalina held greater goals than graduation. She had turned far more studious than anyone could ever recall, and if her grades were not perfect, her improvement was far better than her past principals might have imagined possible. Her small savings account grew in spurts as she took on odd jobs that prevented traveling home too often. The few visits she made often coincided with a guest staying at the Aguirres'. Tía Lola claimed she was starting to feel some joint pain of her own and insisted Enrique stay with them whenever he could make the journey. Tío Ruy gamely offered his own knees for inspection. But they mostly left the young couple alone for the limited hours Enrique could spare before his time off ended and he left for another month or two.

This summer was not nearly as eventful as the previous one. Catalina used the time to apply for the University again, as well as every form of aid and work study passed along, even interviewing by phone for jobs advertised in the city. Her recently completed coursework fell within the average transfer's range and she received a polite letter stating the internship credit would be considered; however, full acceptance proved beyond her reach.

Both Dr. Figueroa's golf game and friendship with Sr. Tilve had become strained of late, which in turn proved detrimental to the clinician's memory of Catalina. Her referral paperwork was returned unopened and unsigned. The clinic's sway with the board of admissions was as consequential as the general's over the clinic; since the good doctor was fond of wagers but not as good at winning them, his hands were likely tied by obligations outside of regular business dealings. In response, Enrique increased his work with other practices and took up dance lessons again. Freelancing allowed for more flexible opportunities to travel; the short term drop in finances while he got reestablished discouraged other major life adjustments.

The new year proved challenging, with so many memories to touch her at odd moments. She kept busy: spending Carnaval in Santa Rosa with some of her cousins, setting up the new computer system with Mamá, learning to video chat. And always, at every opportunity, there was the promise of a call. Still, though conversation brought them closer every day, the physical division between Fortuna and Mar del Plata remained firmly, terribly intact.

Javier provided the first unexpected move in the right direction. Autumn was productive both for the community's bridge construction and his own rebuilt outlook on life. He no longer dreamed of a silver ring any time soon, even if he did begin dating again. But one cold day, just before the semester ended, he asked if his sister had plans for the coming winter break. "There's a conference in Buenos Aires next month, all about getting grants and submitting proposals for regional work projects. Would you like to come along?"

She agreed immediately, not caring at all that they would be staying in a dorm or that neither of them could afford to remain longer than the scheduled five days. One text exchange was all it took to ensure that Enrique would be there too.

The bus ride was nothing compared to what Catalina endured before, and pleasanter by far with her brother for company. When they arrived at the capital's main terminal, Enrique was already waiting to meet them. Long bouts of absence had removed any barrier to open affection: he kissed her as soon as she was in his arms, and held her hand all the way to the car.

"I'm staying with an old friend," he explained, pulling out into the busy traffic. "You remember Señor Perez, Catalina? His son José is finally back from Antarctica and out of the military. He's with the Secretariat of Culture now, and has too many events to attend and far too little time to do so, poor man. He was going to throw away some tickets but I graciously offered to take them off his hands. I suppose we could eat them."

Javier smirked as he looked over his itinerary. "Well, Catalina might like to do more than sit and study, even though that's practically all she does any more."

"And you only want to look at blueprints and soil samples," she said, looking back over her shoulder from the front seat, laughing. "I'd love to go!"

"Just please don't stay out too late," Javier begged her later as they unpacked their things. "I promise not to be a bear, and I trust you both. Let's not get too carried away though, yes?"

"Only if you agree to come out with us some, at least once," Catalina answered with a smile. She kissed him the next morning before leaving with Enrique for their first round of sightseeing.

He was on edge all day, continually checking his phone, and laughing a touch too loudly when asked what he was looking for. There was nothing lacking in his attentions; lunch was wonderful, their afternoon a kaleidoscope of fun. But she brought the subject up again when they parted on the steps of the dorm. "Is it one of your patients? You said Señora Ferreyra's ankles were still giving her trouble."

"Sometimes I think Señora Ferreyra's sister gives her more trouble, and her ankles start hurting when she needs a distraction," he said, playing with the ends of her scarf. "But no, I was very firm with everyone that this week I am not available for anything. It's a different surprise I'm checking on, much more pleasant."

No amount of wheedling would get him to reveal more, and he stopped her words with a kiss before turning back to his car, whistling.

At the art museum Enrique's distraction increased to the point that Catalina couldn't help teasing him. He only laughed and whispered nonsense back as they strolled hand in hand between the rooms. Suddenly, after about thirty minutes, he took his phone out and broke into a huge smile. "We've seen enough here, let's go back to the bottom floor," he suggested, barely giving her a chance to agree before they were in the elevator heading down. He obviously had a destination in mind, leading her easily through the crowd to a gated exhibit hall. There he pulled out two crisp tickets and they were shown into seats all the way in the front!

"Enrique, what's going on?" she asked, feeling very underdressed among the more fashionable artists and patrons surrounding them.

"We're going to see a brand new artist's debut," he said, barely containing his mirth, or keeping to his chair. His grip on her hand seemed to be all that was keeping him anchored.

"Why didn't you tell me, I would have worn something else!" At least she'd put on her best boots instead of sneakers, but her coat was casual and hair bunched up in a knit beanie.

"You look amazing as always," he murmured into her ear. "But the truth is I wasn't sure if this would happen today, it's been touch and go."

Before she could demand further explanation, someone from the museum stepped up to the microphone and began speaking. Catalina sat back to listen, looking on with admiration at the painting behind the woman: a gorgeous oil work of an isolated canyon, with just the smallest hint of wildlife in a corner, and a waterfall spilling into a luscious pool.

"We are pleased to announce this winning entry in the new artist’s grand survey, to be displayed here before going on tour as part of the Pan American Cultural Exchange. Now we invite the artist to come forward and speak a few words about her inspiration and plans."

Polite applause filled the room as the lady gestured toward the side, and Catalina looked with everyone else only to gasp and grasp Enrique's arm tighter: it was Elena! She barely heard her friend's speech, she was so happy. Afterward they both rushed to speak with her before anyone else.

"I didn't know if it would happen for certain until recently," Elena explained, accepting Catalina's congratulations with a hug. "Things have been crazy since I decided to start submitting my pieces. Oh, sorry, that's the museum people again, I'm supposed to talk to some reporter, but please, we have to catch up."

They got a table at a nearby restaurant, Enrique flashing his credit card brazenly to get a private seating in the back. "Sorry, or rather, I'm not really, it was worth it to see your face. But I honestly didn't know about any of this until I arrived in Buenos Aires. Someone's been keeping secrets." He beamed at his sister, biting into a chip, and urged her to explain more.

"It's actually been an insane year. I almost ran away a few times, I might have if you both hadn't been willing to talk on the phone in the dead of night, or at the crack of dawn. I told you the ranch was emptier than ever, especially at Christmas. That's when José called and asked if I'd like to come stay at the Perez house for a few days."

"I may have let him know a thing or two about what happened," Enrique said quietly as their plates were served. "He called several times to ask questions about followup for his father, and it didn't take long before we were discussing far more than patient care."

"I'm glad, it was so nice to not have to worry about what I could or couldn't say, and they were so kind to me." Elena sipped her wine, smiling. "José asked if I was still painting, and then wanted to see my work. I had my computer and showed him some of my pictures. He said he was going to be back in the country permanently in April, and asked if I wanted to enter some contests. Of course I told him no!"

"But why?" Catalina asked at once. "Everything you do is so beautiful, I can't imagine why you wouldn't."

"Because Papá would have a fit," Elena said without any apparent concern, all her old fears gone. "And I never wanted to risk everything falling apart. But by the end of January I realized it already had, so what was the worst that could happen? I emailed some of my things to José, and asked him to do what he could. I didn't expect anything much. That's why I didn't tell either of you; I couldn't bear raising your hopes about something else that probably wouldn't lead anywhere."

"Oh you shouldn't have, I'd have been happy to hear regardless," Catalina assured her.

"I know, but I also worried every second Papá would find out, or something stupid, and I just couldn't stand thinking about it too much. Sending everything off to Antarctica wasn't a reality I had to worry about. Then the first request from a gallery came."

Elena didn't dwell on the unpleasant details of her father's reaction, or exactly how he had been persuaded to let her send a painting in. "He was very upset and tense, right up until I got a commission and the money started rolling in. I didn't see that first check. But I made sure by the second one that José handled everything. He has a real knack for diplomacy; maybe his mother is right and he learned it from the penguins."

"I think what you mean is that José is a politician now, so Papá will always listen to him, at least as long as the current administration is in power," Enrique cut in, more relaxed and pleased than he'd been in some time, an arm casually snaked around Catalina's shoulder where they sat across from Elena.

"Anyway, it's a long story, we'll talk more later, because see, I'm not going back to the ranch. Right now I'm staying with José's parents but this spring I'm enrolling in an art program here, attached to the museum, for a year-long fellowship. Papá didn't have much choice in the matter, I'm afraid. I told him I wasn't going to take no for an answer. Besides, the invitation came from the Cultural Minister himself."

"And how is our dear father taking this new desertion from Aldea Norteña?" Enrique asked with apparent unconcern, though his fingers grasped Catalina's coat sleeve tighter. She put her hand over his in support, just as curious to hear.

"Would you believe he not only agreed, but is crowing about it to all his pals at the golf course?" Elena shook her head in resignation. "Now he has the perfect excuse to come here regularly, and get to rub shoulders with this minister or that; poor José has introduced him to I don't know how many. I don't even care anymore, so long as he leaves me be to work and get out. The fellowship provides housing and I'm looking forward to exploring the city."

"At the risk of sounding a complete hypocrite, be careful Elena," Enrique said, kissing her cheek. "But have fun too: you deserve it!"

"Don't worry, I'm not going to be all on my own: José's practically my broker now, so you know the money's safe. But enough about me, what about the two of you?" She stared pointedly at Catalina's empty ring finger, but kept her questions to school, work, and the Moreno family.

"Why don't you transfer here?" Elena asked innocently as they left the table. "We could room together, and go out at night. Maybe find some cute company to hang with."

"I don't know, I don't think I'd like Buenos Aires," Catalina demurred, cheeks flushing pink when Enrique kissed her soundly.

"That is because you have excellent taste and do not need my sister's advice at all."

They didn't linger, as Elena had an appointment to keep, and she insisted on not taking more of their limited time together. "But we would love to have you with us, please, you really must come out tomorrow if you can," Catalina said as they hugged.

"Maybe. It depends. I'll call you!"

The wind blew up frosty as they walked arm in arm back to Enrique's car, and he turned the heat up as they pulled away. "I honestly had no idea about any of it until this week," he told her. "Then there was some confusion on when her exhibition would be. I was bursting to tell you, but she swore me to secrecy until it could happen."

"I don't mind, really, it's so amazing!" Catalina warmed her hands by the vents. "We'll have to look up some of those other galleries, find out where her pieces are."

"Turns out there's been one in Mar del Plata for the last two months, and neither she nor José thought to tell me! It's like she talks to him more than anyone else now."

Catalina wondered if perhaps there was something more going on than conversations about art, but kept her suspicions to herself for once. If it was to happen, all for the best. For now she was just grateful that her friend was happy and free.

The week was far too short; Friday rolled around before Catalina was ready. The bus that would take Javier and her back home left at eight the next morning. Her brother joined them that night at an elegant dance club, but after one spin with Catalina he claimed he was tired and went back to doodle in the notebook he'd begun carrying around, penning ideas and plans.

She and Enrique stayed on the floor late into the night, all too aware of the seconds ticking away. When the last dance played she leaned her head against his shoulder as his arms held her protectively. Neither of them spoke, letting the music guide them, their feet saying what they could not. His kiss goodnight was chaste and friendly, and he promised to pick them up early for breakfast before taking them to the terminal.

Javier was patient right until fifteen minutes past seven, then turned to her with a frown. "Did he oversleep?"

Catalina had sent several increasingly frantic texts and called as well, but with no answer. "I'm sure he'll be here soon, he knows when we have to leave."

"It's too late to call a cab now," Javier grumbled. "I suppose we could try to flag someone down."

Her phone rang when they were halfway down the dorm stairs. "Enrique, where are you?" she asked at once, fearing an accident.

"Sorry, it's been too weird, are you at the bus station already?"

"No, we were just about to go. Aren't you on your way?"

"Yes, but—" Someone spoke to Enrique off the phone, a low rumble Catalina couldn't make out. "No, actually, I should have called, but José says he's sending a car. I'll meet you at the bus, really."

A fancy car met them out front, the driver professionally stowing their luggage in the trunk and opening the back doors for them. Javier was reassured they would make it on time. But Catalina felt both annoyed and worried; it wasn't like Enrique to suddenly change his mind without notice. He was so conscientious about always letting her know the slightest alteration to his schedule, even from hundreds of kilometers away. Regardless of what happened he always sent a message as soon as possible. At least he would be present to say goodbye; he had promised.

At their destination they quickly grabbed their bags and rushed for the gate. The bus was already taking on passengers.

"Sorry, Catalina, but we have to get on now," Javier said sympathetically. "I'm sure he'll call."

"Right, of course." Catalina followed him, unable to stop from remembering another abrupt trip in her past. But no, it wasn't the same at all, and she strove to remain positive as they moved toward the door.

Her phone rang, and she pulled it out of her pocket at once, the personalized ringtone identifying the caller. "Enrique, what is going on?!"

"I'm almost there, just, can you wait a moment? I'm at the top of the stairs, to the left."

She looked up and saw him waving on a platform, trying to push through people while speaking to her. Catalina waved back, relieved, but unable to keep from moving with the line.

"We've got to get on the bus, sorry, it's about to leave. I'll stay on the phone, we can talk—" She broke off while handing over her ticket, attention briefly distracted. But she gasped aloud when glancing back.

Enrique had grabbed hold of the railing on the short stair and was in the process of swinging himself over. He barely took time to land on the harsh concrete before running towards them, voice ragged over the phone. "Don't get on, my car's out front, I'll drive you to the next stop—"

"What!" Catalina became truly alarmed as Javier led her by the hand, speaking reassurances barely heard as they walked down the aisle. She kept glancing out the windows; there, Enrique was speaking to someone, their words barely audible through the phone, something about money and tickets, then he handed over a wad of pesos before climbing on the bus. She didn't sit down, turning to stare in disbelief. "Enrique, how—"

"I'm afraid I forgot about breakfast, sorry."

"You forgot!" Catalina repeated, talking into her phone by force of habit, although he was only a few steps away.

He grinned, slightly out of breath, still talking on his phone despite standing directly in front of her. "Yes, and that is the last time it will happen, hopefully."

She hung up and threw herself in his arms, not caring about the startled exclamations around them. "Oh my gosh, what are you doing, you could have been hurt!"

"I am in much better shape than that!" Enrique held her tightly. "Although my knees are probably going to hate me in the morning."

Javier bend forward under the baggage rack. "Catalina, people are trying to get through...."

"Right, sorry, excuse me," Enrique announced politely, and maneuvered with her in the small aisle as if dancing before pulling her to sit almost in his lap next to Javier. Her brother looked too shocked to say what he was thinking. Catalina herself was slightly dazed, while Enrique sounded euphoric, tangling words springing from too rapid thoughts. "I should have called, I would have, but it was too early, then it was too late, and we were running around—man, Elena, I've got to let her know—" He tried to text one-handed, then gave it up and slapped his phone closed. "No, they can figure it out, who cares? Where is this bus going, anyway?"

"Home, eventually," Catalina answered as they took off, aware of everyone people gawking at them. "Enrique, you're not going to ride with us the whole way, don't you have to get back to work?"

"Monday, that's in, what, two whole days, no sweat." He laughed, and scooted over as much as he could in the seat to give her space. "And this couldn't wait."

"What couldn't?" Javier interrupted, voice tightly under control.

Enrique put his phone in his pocket, shifting so that he actually knelt on the floor, even as the bus rumbled forward and shook them around. "Sorry, this is not how I pictured things going, but what else is new? Papá doesn't ask anyone when’s a good moment to throw everything upside down: he showed up suddenly with Elena, and then I had to go, José too, I'm going to owe him forever...." He took a breath and held her hands to steady himself, grinning into her incredulous face. "The point is, we got it! And I wasn't about to tempt fate again by waiting any longer."

"Got what!" she cried.

Javier started to echo her, then yelped in surprise. "Where on earth did you find that?" he asked in strangled amazement, as Enrique held up a beautiful silver band with flowery engraving. It was not as new and shiny as it had looked over a year ago, when Isabel proudly held up a hand for admiration, some nicks marring the surface but otherwise completely intact.

Someone took a picture, and there were murmurs from the watching passengers nearby. Catalina ignored them all, her eyes focused on Enrique's, the ring reflecting light as if beaming the warmth of his gaze all around. "Technically, of course, this belongs to your brother, and I promise to pay him back as soon as possible. But I hope he'll forgive me for borrowing it a little while longer." His expression was exuberant but he voiced his next question gentle and heartfelt:

"Señorita Catalina Moreno, will you marry me?"



With the story almost over, I invite all readers to meme their favorite moments over on my blog today.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Estancia Aldea Norteña 33: Nuevas Posibilidades de Todos

MichelleRWMay 01, 2023 11:30AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 33: Nuevas Posibilidades de Todos

Maria VMay 04, 2023 12:55PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 33: Nuevas Posibilidades de Todos

MichelleRWMay 08, 2023 12:58AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 33: Nuevas Posibilidades de Todos

NN SMay 09, 2023 04:07PM



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