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Estancia Aldea Norteña 4: Juegos Amorosos

January 20, 2023 11:30AM
"Love Games," something that is not treated seriously (Cambridge Dictionary).

It was a beautiful day for a parade: sunny, with not a cloud in sight, but not too hot to enjoy the weather. True, Sra. Eva carried her parasol around and warned the girls not to get too much sun, but even her occasional scolds could not spoil the mood. They found a place by the main plaza, stuffed with so many people that Catalina imagined every soul in the entire city must be crammed in. Even though the floats had not even begun trailing by, there was such a party atmosphere that it felt like a holiday already.

"Look over there, see those boys waving at us?" Isabel pointed as they looked around, and Catalina obligingly looked over to see two much older men blowing kisses and calling from across the street. "I wish we were closer and could hear what they were saying."

Having been warned by her mother against listening to anything of the kind, Catalina was relieved not to pretend to unhear anything said. "It's probably not very nice," she pointed out, thinking to give her friend a hint.

"I'm sure it's not!" Isabel said, but didn't look upset in the least. "They're terrible. Come on, let's head this way, they won't see us then."

Content to follow Isabel's lead, Catalina wove in and out of the crowd behind her, and then let herself be helped up onto the stonework of a monument not yet taken by anyone else. "There, that's much better," Isabel said, fluffing out her hair and wrapping her stylish thin scarf more firmly around it.

Catalina wasn't sure standing in such a conspicuous spot was actually a way to avoid attention. If anything, it looked like even more people could look up and see them, including some college boys passing a bottle around nearby. One actually whistled up at them, and Isabel immediately turned away to look in the direction from which they came. "Don't pay any mind, he's barely old enough to be out of school," she advised sagely.

At least they could see better from this vantage point, and Catalina stood on tiptoes to catch sight of the first float starting down the road. Music began to fill the plaza as people clapped in celebration.

Suddenly Isabel shouted and waved both arms in the air with reckless abandon. "Look, it's our brothers, right there!"

"Oh my goodness, you're right. Javier!" Catalina called, waving as well, and before long the two men were at their feet and climbing to join them. She hugged Javier joyfully, kissing him on both cheeks. "I didn't know you were going to be here!"

"We weren't sure if I could get away at first, so we decided to make it a surprise," Javier explained, kissing her in return. "And how are you liking the big city, little sister?"

"Very much: Isabel and her family have been so kind, showing me all around. Everything is so exciting."

"I can imagine. I'm glad you have such a good guide." Javier was still speaking to her, but his eyes were trained completely on Isabel, who had begun retying her scarf around her hair. "Gracias for watching out for our little Lina."

"How could I not?" Isabel smiled, taking Catalina's arm in her own. "She is so precious, much better than my own sisters. I would be bored to tears without her."

"But Angela and Maria have both been kind as well," Catalina protested, never comfortable when the Lobo girls quarreled, which happened far too often. "We’ve had a lot of fun."

"Fun? With my sisters? You must be joking!"

Javier laughed with his friend, then turned back to Catalina. "You remember I spoke to you about Juan, don't you? My roommate at University?"

"Yes. Pleased to meet you."

"Much better than seeing this old girl again," Juan smirked. "What do you have in your hair, Bel: seaweed? You look as strange as Mamá with her stupid umbrella. Anyone would think you'd never been to Carnaval in your life."

Catalina shrank back, not sure how to take this critique not only of her friend, but also the implication that she herself was unfit to be seen. After all, if he thought even Isabel looked bad, there was no telling what he would say about her.

"Come off it Juan, your sister looks just fine." Javier punched him in the shoulder, and moved over to sit next to a pouting Isabel. They began whispering to each, or at least it was so soft Catalina couldn't hear, but surely it was to make Isabel feel better after such a put down.

"You look much better, little madonna." The words took her by surprise amid all the noise of the parade passing by, so that Catalina didn't realize at first she was being addressed until Juan repeated himself.

"It's nothing special," Catalina protested. She had intentionally worn her most comfortable shorts and blouse, with sturdy boots, since they were supposed to be walking around most of the day.

"I'll be the judge of that: I know special, and you have it all over. Don't you think I've heard Javier talk my ear off about you?"

There didn't seem to be anything she could say to that, so she instead focused on the parade. Everyone was so colorful and graceful. Even if she had been able to see closer at home on the television it was nothing to being present amid the boisterous crowd. "I wish I had a camera," she said aloud, more idle hope than actual want.

"Che, come here, I'll take a picture." Suddenly Catalina found herself grabbed and pulled into a tight embrace. She was so surprised she couldn't think of anything to say. "Come on, look up at it, you'll ruin the picture otherwise." Juan waved his phone in his hand, finger on a button.

"Oh!" Catalina gasped, and then the flash went off. She pulled away as soon as he released her, not quite liking his tight squeeze, and wasn't even sure she wanted to look at the picture he took. "Why didn't you warn me?"

"Come on, you said you wanted a picture, I was just doing what you said you wanted," Juan complained, in the same weeding tone Isabel sometimes used when Catalina wasn't sure she wanted to go to one more boutique to look at things she could never afford to buy. "And look, it's a beautiful picture, see? I'm going to put it on my laptop screen. Won't all the other boys be jealous of me?"

No one had ever claimed a picture of her was that valuable. She wasn't sure it was a compliment she wanted, especially when he joked that maybe she should wear some of the dancers' costumes and he could get an even better picture. Some of the boys nearby heard and smirked, and she flushed at all the attention. But Juan only laughed when she asked him not to speak so loud.

"I don't care if those little boys know how much I like you. Che, punk, you're not touching this hot stuff, you hear me?"

Protesting further would likely be in vain, so Catalina only slid over toward Javier and tried to enjoy the rest of the parade as best she could. After a few minutes, Juan announced he was going to get something to eat, and left before anyone could ask him to bring something back. It felt somewhat disloyal, especially since he was Javier's good friend and Isabel's brother, but Catalina wasn't sure she liked him at all. He was too much like some of the strutting bullies on television, the kind that turned out to be secret assassins or the common point of who knew how many love affairs. He was probably nothing like them, of course; Javier would never be friends with a truly evil person. But he was not very likable.

Soon she was caught up in the festival again, and cheered along with everyone else as the largest floats passed by, neon lights shining and streamers flying. Even when it was over she could barely believe she'd seen so many amazing sights.

Javier said he'd like to go see the Aguirres, but promised he'd come back to eat supper with the Lobos after Isabel nearly burst into tears. "We haven't seen you in so long," she explained, blinking hard. "And you were with them all during Christmas. Mamá will want to see you again, you know."

"I'll be back soon but I have to visit them at least once while I'm here. Don't fret Isabel, it won't be long."

It took a while longer before the Morenos could get away, especially as Juan came back with a large platter of chips and kabobs, insisting they had to help him eat it since he couldn't be expected to handle the whole thing. "Besides, I thought Catalina wanted something to eat, don't you?"

"Gracias," Catalina said at last, deciding she would take the gift in the spirit it was offered and not judge him too harshly. After all, anyone could make a bad impression, and sometimes they were the real heroes of the novela. Then, when he found out where they were going, Juan insisted he could drive them over in his new car, but Javier refused. "It's not that far, and with all the roads blocked off it'll be easier for us to walk. You should take your mother and sisters back to their place. I'll meet you later."

"Such a gentleman: couldn't you learn something from him, Juan?" Isabel smiled and pecked Javier on the cheek before turning to go. "¡Chau!"

When left alone, brother and sister walked a ways without talking, totally taken up with maneuvering through the dispersing crowd. After getting past the worst few streets Javier asked Catalina if she was enjoying herself. "I know I asked before, but there were so many people. I didn't really hear much of anything."

"I'm having a grand time: there is so much to do and see, I can't imagine not enjoying it. And especially with Señora Eva and Isabel and everyone taking me around. We've been to the beach, had ice cream, even the cinema. It's amazing."

"I'm glad you and Isabel are such good friends, I thought you might be if you met. She's really wonderful at helping anyone feel better."

That was not exactly the virtue Catalina would have praised in her friend, as it seemed like she needed her spirits to be raised more often than assisting others, but she was quick to compliment the girl's other positive traits. "She's certainly been very friendly to me, and she always dresses so well, and knows everything. Why, we've actually watched them film almost a whole episode of Teen Angels online!"

Javier shook his head, laughing. "I might have known you two would obsess over that show. Don't let Juan find out or you'll never hear the end of it; he thinks telenovelas are all trash."

"But what about the ones you like?"

Javier darted his eyes away. "I don't have time for that anymore, little sister. There's plenty of real drama out there; I don't need someone else's problems in my life. But don't judge Juan because he doesn't enjoy your favorite thing. He really likes you."

Catalina puzzled over Javier's pronouncement as they walked the last few blocks to the house. She had never had a boyfriend, unless you counted little Carlos Bodego in the eighth year of school partnering with her at a dance and then sitting with her for six months at lunch. He had been far too shy to say much to her, and she had been too taken up with the idea that they were in love to bother exploring it with any practicality. Eventually it became clear that Carlos was more interested in reading books away from the other boys, and likewise very uninterested in speaking to her about anything other than economic theory. Her concept of romance was mostly constructed from television and the couples she had known: people like her parents or the Aguirres.

It didn't seem as if Juan liked her. If he did, it also didn’t seem like the attention a girl should want. But Javier said he was a very good friend, and he had gotten them something to eat, and maybe he wanted to impress her with his phone taking a picture. Catalina certainly knew what it was like to be nervous, and even though he hadn't seemed to be, she would try to befriend him, for Javier's sake, and Isabel's.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 4: Juegos Amorosos

MichelleRWJanuary 20, 2023 11:30AM


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