February 20, 2023 11:30AM
"Broken rhythm" is interrupted; disturbed; disconnected (Collins Dictionaries).

Catalina woke with anticipation of her own full day's itinerary as well as sharing the joy that would come when Javier shared his good news over breakfast. Their late ride back to the house was a cheerful, excited jumble of conversation, jokes, even songs, with Isabel and Javier now warmly sharing their bubbling happiness rather than closing off to themselves. He determined to spend the night at the Aguirres' to ensure they were among the first to learn of his good fortune. Their farewell to the Lobos was relatively painless in comparison to past partings, and the Morenos entered the dark house entirely, if tiredly, reconciled. Just before Catalina went up to her room Javier asked with an earnest voice, "Do you like her? As a sister?"

"Oh, yes, we're already such good friends!" Catalina hugged her brother tightly. "I'm so looking forward to the wedding."

"Good!" Javier laughed, patting her indulgently. "I suppose you'll need something to wear to it. So will I, for that matter, ha!" He let her go, saying he would sleep on the couch rather than find one of the spare bedrooms. There she found him the next morning, up and dressed, his hair combed and not a sign that he was out of place. When their older friends came in the room he spoke very formally about this momentous decision, showing his own engagement ring (which Catalina could not help noticing was much simpler than Isabel's). "I had originally thought to finish the semester first. However, I could not wait to announce my intentions," he explained, eyes trained with polite but steady insistence on Tío Ruy. That gentleman did not looked surprised at all, Catalina realized, and only smiled fondly.

"Of course, a man wants to get started with things when he can, come, let's have a toast."

They all raised their café, and both Aguirres praised Isabel so much, Catalina decided they must like her much better than she'd thought, and she already knew her parents would be just as happy when Javier told them. "I wanted to tell all of you first, before I called home," he explained. "I have to leave this very afternoon but I'm sure I'll see you again soon." So saying, he wished them a good morning, and after accepting a few more pleasantries left for the Lobos'.

"Well isn't she the lucky thing," Tía Lola spoke at once, nodding sagely. "Very, very lucky, such a good man doesn't come along every day, and her snapping him up so handily."

"She's very beautiful," Tío Ruy commented with complacence, opening his newspaper. "A good thing we know the family already. I suppose they won't stay back home long, though, not past the contract we already have. Well, plenty of time to make plans now that we know."

Catalina wasn't sure why the mood had changed so quickly, when it seemed everyone was joyful moments earlier. It sounded like the Aguirres were not quite so pleased about the match as she'd thought, but that couldn't be right, since they'd been so friendly to Javier. The important thing was that they had given their blessing freely. So nothing else should matter.

Putting those concerns aside, she quickly told them about her plans and was encouraged to spend the entire day with the Tilves. "Of course my dear, how wonderful for you!" Tía Lola crowed happily. "And you'll tell me all about how they have the dining room laid out this time, yes? Get the whole tour of the place while you're there."

"Have a good time," Tío Ruy told her, exchanging her peck on the cheek with a kiss of his own. "Señor Tilve seems a proper sort of man, has a very good head for finance. I'm sure you'll be perfectly fine with them."

"If you need me, I'll have my phone," she reminded them, and with assurances that they would do very well for the day, she ran up to call Elena.

"They're lending me their driver for the whole day!" she told her friend, packing her bag quickly. "So no one has to come get me, and I can leave whenever, it won't be any trouble for anyone."

"Excellent, come on over as soon as you can. Enrique would go and have to get himself work early this morning on an emergency call, but he'll be back soon. Won't he be surprised when you're already here?" They chatted only a few minutes longer, then Catalina left in the Aguirre car, heading off to what she was sure would be an absolutely fabulous Saturday outing.

It never rained; in fact, the weather remained gorgeous throughout her visit, but it wasn't quite what she had expected. Everything began well as she arrived, escorted inside by a man in uniform who addressed her as "Señorita Moreno" and offered to take her things in. Elena was already on the deck again, dressed in a loose white beach dress open to show her bathing suit. It wasn't her normal wheelchair, either, but something specifically designed for the sand. "Come on, let's go out before Papá says anything." Elena grabbed her hand excitedly; before long Catalina found herself throwing a Frisbee and enjoying the pleasure of the private beach.

That part of the day was wonderful, just the two of them having fun. Elena even slid out of her chair and played with childish recklessness. They built sculptures and fortifications only to knock them down when they could stack no higher. The waves lapped at them, the wind breezy and not too sharp, and the few clouds only served to keep the temperature absolutely perfect.

"Elena, what are you doing!"

The exclamation caused them both to look up as Señor Tilve called from the back door. "Get out of that mud this instant: we're going to eat soon."

Catalina immediately stood, dusting herself off hastily, and apologized for not realizing how much time had passed.

Elena didn't hurry, dawdling as she pushed the last of their sandcastles into the ground. "Don't worry about it, Papá's just mad Enrique isn't here yet. We didn't do anything wrong. Here, help me back in the chair please? And would you push? The wheels are probably stuck in this wet sand."

"Of course!" They trudged back up to the porch, a little of their mood returning as they sang together.

The uniformed man joined them suddenly and without a word took the chair out of Catalina's hands, expertly turning it to the side of the house and then picking Elena up.

"Alonso, please, I can get up on my own," she protested with some annoyance, but more resignation.

"Sorry, but your father wants you both at the table soon, we should hurry along now."

It was a bit strange to Catalina, but since Elena accepted things she only followed behind, and was directed by a maid to a bathroom where she could change. She'd only just hung up her wet things and finished drying her hair when there was a knock at the door. "If you please, ma'am, they are waiting for you."

She was led to a very formal dining room to join the whole family, including Enrique. Elena sat all by herself at one end while Sr. Tilve stood at the other. Catalina wondered where she should sit when a sharp clearing of the throat drew her attention back to the two men. Enrique looked about to say something, but then shook his head and pulled a chair out in the middle. She hesitated, wishing she could move closer to Elena, but then quickly sat down after realizing everyone was watching her.

"Excellent," Sr. Tilve said as they all took their seats. At least Enrique was right across the table, although it soon became clear he had no interest in looking at her or anyone else, barely glancing up from his soup as they all began the first of several courses. It was far too much food for four people, especially since neither Elena nor Enrique ate very much. There was a thin tension in the air that sometimes ebbed away and came back at odd moments. Sr. Tilve asked her several questions about the Aguirres and her family which she tried to answer as politely as possible.

"An engineer! That is good, I'm sure your brother has a bright future ahead of him," Sr. Tilve said over his flounder filet, gesturing with his fork. "Ambition, that's what it takes, good hard work and ambition. But also an appreciation for the finer things in life, eh Señorita Moreno?"

She wondered if somehow he knew about Javier's engagement, which seemed impossible, but decided now was as good a time to say something. "Yes sir. And he has made us all very happy: he just announced he is going to marry a very good friend."

Elena offered a quick "Congratulations!" and asked if it was Isabel, which Catalina was pleased to confirm.

Sr. Tilve raised a toast in the couple's honor. As they drank, Catalina realized Enrique had said nothing at all, avoiding her eyes with studious care, and holding his hand away from her's during the toast though they were close enough to have touched glasses. It was such a marked change from the previous day, she wondered what she could have done to merit such behavior. Her musings were interrupted by Sr. Tilve saying, "What splendid news. Young love and all that, and on Valentine's Day. Don't you think so Enrique? Speak up, boy, don't make the girl think you've got a cold."

"Very happy for you and your family," he said, barely meeting her eyes, smiling in a way she was sure he could not mean. "It is very romantic."

"Yes, very romantic. And a good flanking maneuver, if you'll excuse the military parlance. Go after what's there, don't wait for the prize, that's what I always say. Your brother isn't messing around and wasting his life away."

He was talking to her but glaring at Enrique in a way that confused Catalina and stopped any reply she might have offered. Enrique, for his part, kept cutting smaller chunks of his food, his knife sliding across the meat over and and over again until it must be too thin to eat, prompting another outburst from his father. "Stop that wretched nonsense! I assure you, ma’am, my son knows how to behave himself when he cares to."

Enrique very carefully put his knife down, picked up his napkin, and dabbed his mouth with great formality, as if he had never thrown crumbs to seagulls or played on the waterfront at all. Instead, he looked up at her with perfectly correct manners, no teasing at all, and said, "My apologies. Please, won't you enlighten us as to your plans? I believe my sister would like to see the new exhibit she read about last night."

"Yes, yes, have you heard of it?" Elena asked, almost desperately smiling, but looking very unhappy nonetheless. The conversation shifted to art, what museums were open, and Catalina's work at the clinic. Although it was more like Elena would ask questions and Sr. Tilve would comment on something. Catalina would sometimes answer but Enrique said not another word. He only folded his hands in his lap and listened with apparent unconcern, only nodding occasionally, turning his head this way or that to pay attention to whomever spoke. He looked so formal, so strange, even more than in a full suit, as if someone had shucked him dry and left only a husk.

Finally desert arrived and they were allowed on the deck. It was much hotter with the clouds all flown away. Catalina started to stretch out in the sun but Elena kept back in the shade, so she retreated to sit on a spot near he and whispered, "Is something the matter?"

"No no." Elena twisted her spoon around her ice cream. "Please don't mention anything. We'll talk later."

That was how the rest of the afternoon went. She and Elena eventually waded in the pool but Enrique just stood watching, never taking so much as a shoe off, though he must be burning up in his formal clothes. Once he actually trailed his fingers in the water, smiling at something Elena said, but when Catalina moved closer he stepped back, saying, "I need to check my messages."

He turned smartly, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he strode back inside, never looking back. Sr. Tilve chased after him, shouting something that was cut off by the slamming of the door, leaving the girls to paddle in silence.

"I should probably go soon," Catalina finally said aloud, hoping someone would contradict her, but Elena nodded sadly.

"That might be best."

She got out, dried off, and changed her clothes, the sense of some unspoken command rushing her to leave as quickly as possible. She met Elena and her father again in front of the house, still damp with feelings all flopped around. Enrique came out while his family said adios. After some prompting he bowed very correctly over her hand, lips nowhere near her flesh, then let go abruptly. "Gracias for coming, we enjoyed your company."

She wanted to cry, certain she must have said or done something wrong, but also not wanting to cause a scene for her friends. "I'll call," she told Elena, waving at the car, and then ducked in to escape. Even Señor Tilve, who had been so conciliatory toward her, was someone to flee with the way he barked at Enrique. They must have argued, and though she could not imagine why, she knew it must have something to do with her. On the ride home she pondered the situation over and over. Sr. Tilve liked her, or so it seemed. Elena certainly wanted her for a friend. Enrique was a puzzle at the moment. He'd been so playful, so friendly, maybe even a little more yesterday, and now? What could make him so very unhappy; no she realized, not unhappy but angry?

It was a mystery, deep and artful, like the ones on any of the shows they'd discussed. Usually those were between family, too, and they always pointed back to a dark secret. She remembered how Elena mistook her discussion of a pretend murder for a real one. Why would she do that, unless ...?

Could the Tilves have a skeleton in their past?

They lived on a big ranch in the country, she remembered, which was very far away from everyone. But that was nonsense. No, it was probably just an ordinary fight, and she was imagining things. Surely no one the Tilves knew could have done anything too bad. Tío Ruy trusted them, and he was very wise.

Javier called before he left town. "Juan says adios too, here, let him talk."

"What do you think, it's a pretty good joke, huh? I was the only one who knew for a while, imagine that!" He bragged about arranging everything, even down to buying the rings, which Javier protested from just past the phone's pickup, words indistinct but meaning clear.

"Well, it was very nice of you to help him," Catalina finally said in reply.

"Yes, very nice of me, wasn't it?" Juan laughed. "Say, I'm coming back with Javier next weekend, what do you say we go out and do something? See, I'm asking very early, wouldn't want there to be any misunderstanding."

"We'll have to see what happens," Catalina answered carefully, not wanting to commit herself when things were so unsettled with the Tilves. "Don't you have a lot of studying to do?"

"Study, right, as if I need to do that. Don't worry, girl, I've got loads of money coming in, just you wait and see. Che, you know, we could dance at their wedding, right? I'm going to be the best man. What if you were the maid of honor?"

"Oh, I didn't realize they were having such a fancy wedding. Wouldn't Isabel want her own sisters?"

"Nah, nah, it has to be you. Then we'll be together the whole time. And who knows, maybe you'll grab the bouquet."

"Probably not. I'm not very tall, and I don't catch well." Catalina was not sure why they were discussing the party so far in advance. "And anyway, there are so many things to decide on before then."

"Still, groomsman and bridesmaid, you know what they say about that."

"Not really."

"Watch one of those shows you like, I'm sure it'll explain things. But you'll do it, right? Be my date for the wedding?"

"Um, sure." Catalina didn't understand why he was so insistent, since they would both be there regardless, but it wasn't like she'd have anyone else, so it couldn't matter if she agreed. "Dancing will be fun, we always have a good time when everyone's together."

"Well, there you go, you know exactly what I mean. Here, Javier wants to talk again."

"Catalina, we have to leave now, but promise me you'll keep in touch, ¿che?"

"Yes, of course, be careful!"

It was all so odd, so very strange, and that continued even to the next day after Mass. Everyone was in a celebratory mood and when they came back to the Aguirres' for a large lunch, Isabel announced she would be perfectly happy to live in Fortuna forever. "I would never want poor Javier to leave his dear family, of course, especially my new sister."

Isabel called her that all through the meal, so obviously favoring her over either Maria or Angela that it grew uncomfortable. "We'll be very glad to have you," Catalina said, choosing to focus on the positive. "I suppose you'll move into the trailer out on Tío Ruy's property. Isn't that where Javier's going to live when he comes back?"

This innocent question sent Isabel laughing. "A trailer? But isn't he going to get a house?"

"Eventually," Tío Ruy said without missing a beat. "That's part of the contract we made when he entered school. But he has to build it first, and that may take some time. I assure you the trailer is very nice: a double-wide with lots of space around it for a garden."

"And you may come visit whenever you like, of course my dear," Tía Lola offered kindly. "It gets lonely sometimes when the men head out in their trucks all over the place. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about."

Isabel frowned daintily. "But he's going to be an engineer. Why should he start small?"

"Best way to get a firm footing," Tío Ruy answered, speaking more to Sra. Eva than Isabel, who looked annoyed at being passed over. "We talked it over a while back, though I didn't know it was in preparation for a wedding so very soon, but why wait? Youth is the time for love, after all. Two years isn't that long when you've got your health and your looks. Why, I started out at his age with only one farm to my name, and look where we are now? It's very good to work your way up, I can tell you from experience, and one day you'll look back and realize it all happened so quick."

"Two?" Isabel repeated, her mouth in a large O. "What's going to take two years?"

"Why, that's the contract my dear, and it's a very sensible one," Tía Lola answered, smiling genially. "Ruy worked it out with Señor Moreno, when Javier was in high school, they all talked over it like men. Why, Catalina do you remember, we announced it at church that year, and they performed a special blessing for him? I know I wore my blue dress with the gold buttons and white fringe. I wonder what happened to that thing, I must have it somewhere."

The older generation began reminiscing while the younger escaped into the living room. Isabel grabbed Catalina's hand and fled with her outside. "Explain what they're talking about," she demanded shakily, looking ready to cry.

"What do you mean?" Catalina asked, worried. "Isabel, what’s wrong?"

"Javier didn't say he had to work in Fortuna for two years."

"But I thought you wanted to come to our home?"

"Yes, yes, of course, for him to be an engineer." Isabel paced around the shrubs, kicking at some of the grass, ruining her shoes. "He's supposed to make lots of money."

"He will." Catalina had heard all about how important Javier's job was for a very long time. "That's why he's going to live in the trailer on Tío Ruy's land."

"That doesn't make any sense at all!" Isabel shouted before gulping a deep breath and taking Catalina's hand. "Not, of course, that I don't want to be as close to the Aguirres as possible, they're such sweet people. But surely they have something nicer for us until we get our own place."

"No, you don't understand, it's much better." Catalina realized how strange it must have sounded without more explanation. "See, Javier will work for a dedicated two years overseeing the new irrigation system and building a bridge between the separate farms. Everyone's looking forward to it. Tío Ruy got permission from the province to have it named, and they're going to send someone from the capital for the ribbon cutting. It's a very big honor."

"Who cares?" Isabel contemptuously spat at this image, so long discussed back home in near reverent tones, shocking Catalina with her bitterness. "What about how he's getting paid?"

"Tío Ruy said he would deduct a certain amount from Javier's pay every month and put it into one of his own funds," Catalina recited, trying to remember all the details, these more hazy since they had been less discussed among the town. "I don't know, maybe it's a stock, or a bond? Something. And then after two years there will be enough money for him to build a house, very nice, exactly how he wants. By then it'll be close to time for Andrea and Jorge to graduate, so Tío Ruy said he'll keep managing Javier's money to put the same amount away for them, and maybe Raquel too. And Antonio will be helping by then, and I'll probably be working too. So you see, it's all taken care of!"

That was the most important thing: Mamá and Papá had very sagely reminded them all over and over how important it was to be grateful, that everything was worked out, and they didn't have to worry like other people for how they were going to manage. "You must work very hard, of course," Mamá cautioned them. "But it will all pay off. There's enough work for everyone."

Catalina had always figured Mamá meant for her to work at the clinic. Although, she realized wistfully, staying there would mean no more trips to Mar del Plata or playing on a private beach, or laughing with Elena and Enrique by the waterfront. Still, it would also mean no more awkward dinners or strange disasters, so perhaps it all worked out.

Isabel crossed her arms, the engagement ring catching sunbeams in patterns of light. "What am I supposed to do there while you're all so busy?"

"Um, you could help Tía Lola around the house?" Catalina suggested, not quite sure what skills Isabel possessed beyond city life.

"Like a servant!" Isabel laughed harshly, then immediately hugged Catalina. "Poor sweet girl, you don't even realize how destitute you are. Don't worry, we'll stick together, and find some way out of this mess. After all, Javier will be an engineer, and Juan's going into the oil business like Papá, so there's always a way to make money."

Catalina returned the embrace though still unsure what Isabel was talking about, or what Juan's job had anything to do with the conversation. At least it seemed like she was feeling better. "Of course we'll stick together," Catalina promised. "And you'll like my other sisters, too, I know it. They'll all be eager to meet you."

"Of course they will. Well, if Señora Evita could save the little children, why not me? I'm very good with girls. Maybe we'll have girls, all girls, and they can dance just like you, and look like me, and have Javier's smile. Wouldn't that be marvelous?"

It was such a strange thing to say, as if there was anything better about having girls over boys, or anyone needed saving. Regardless, Isabel was obviously happier with the matter explained properly. Maybe Javier had been too excited to share all the details. The rest of the visit passed much better. They watched TV, read magazines, and talked about what what flowers should be in the bouquet. Angela and Maria were just as eager to discuss details and make suggestions. There was no doubt about it, the wedding would be the talk of the town back home. Catalina got more excited as they talked it all over, and went to bed dreaming of vows, dresses, and dancing.

Today's bonus blog post: "Let's Talk about Tango."

Ritmo Roto

MichelleRWFebruary 20, 2023 11:30AM

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