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Estancia Aldea Norteña 14: Ocho Cortado

February 24, 2023 05:00PM
"Eight cut," an interruption of the figure where a woman steps and pivots in front of her partner (Tanguito).

Monday was another busy day at the clinic, with plenty to do, but best of all was sharing the news that she would be able to work much longer than originally intended. Her parents both agreed over a weekend phone call that she could wait until spring to enroll at the local technical college. After all, she could always work with them at the Fortuna clinic after she returned, applying what she had learned in the city. With these experiences and more time to prep for the entrance exam, she might even enter the nursing program a semester early! So Catalina determined to make every moment of her remaining time count.

She didn't see Enrique and didn't expect to. Inez waved to her once in the hallway; a few of the other staff greeted her by name. Sra. Mundo still glared at her but no longer complained about the paperwork since Catalina always double checked before handing it over. She had to run back several times to ensure everything was in order, even waiting close to ten minutes outside Doctor Figueroa's door while he finished with another patient.

When she finally explained about a signature left off a form, he apologized to her instead! "Oh, yes, it's right here, I meant to call you back but forgot to. What a sweetheart. Next time, just come in, no reason to wait in the hall."

"Yes sir, gracias sir," she answered, quickly returning back to the front desk, and then hurrying to fetch the next patient.

Catalina didn't even take a break for lunch, just worked until three, then escaped outside and got her phone out. She originally intended to wait until she returned to the Aguirres' to call Elena. After thinking it over, though, she decided to call even sooner. After all, she hadn't spoken to her the day before when the Lobos stayed so late. Waiting much longer might imply something she didn't mean. Better to avoid any miscommunication and check in. Hopefully they could still hang out some even if Isabel wanted her company too.

"¿Holá?" Elena answered after a second ring, timid and quiet.

"Elena, hi, sorry I couldn't call yesterday," Catalina said, walking toward the tram, feeling a trace of sophistication as she did. Leaving work, talking on the phone, and walking around in the city: that was what people in movies did! "But I wanted to find out what your plans are for today or this week. I'd still love to go to the museum if you're free."

"Really?" Elena asked in a noticeably happier tone of voice. "I thought you might be too tired after working."

"Well, only sometimes. I'm getting used to it. And I already checked with Tía Lola last night, who said I only needed to call if I went out today, so I'm totally free."

"Today's no good, sorry, what about Wednesday? We could go to the big gallery and see all the artists working during the open hour."

After agreeing and chatting over details, Catalina was about to hang up when Elena asked, "Actually, would you mind tomorrow, too? Maybe, I don't know, come by the house. Papá and Enrique won't be there until late, and it's just me, so.... But, if you have something else to do, I understand."

"I'd love to come over," Catalina exclaimed. Then after a short tram ride to the Lobos’ it was off on another round of shopping and exploring. She barely made it back in time to eat dinner with the Aguirres, type some emails home, and study another chapter in her textbook. The next day sped by until she boarded the tram for the Tilve house. It was sort of exciting, finding her way from the stop to the upscale neighborhood, though fortunately it was not far to walk. Elena met her at the doorway with obvious anticipation. "Come on, I've set things up in the den, it's too windy outside today."

They looked through art books, and magazines, very different ones than the Lobos liked: the covers boasted articles about famous artists and ancient civilizations, with pictures of fabulous treasure or amazing discoveries. "I took a few classes on art history online last year, just to learn more," Elena explained, flipping through one of her scrapbooks to show some pictures taken during the family's travels. "It's fascinating to learn where all these things came from, and how people expressed themselves back then. I'd love to study it all the time."

"Would you teach it after you went to school?" Catalina asked, unsure how art historians worked. "Or do museums hire people?"

Elena didn't look up from her book, shrugging. "I'm never going to do more than take a class or two, Papá would never go for that. Here, see, this page is when we went on a rain forest tour. I got to pet a monkey!"

Talking about Señor Tilve brought all the weekend's strangeness back to mind. She hadn't run in to Enrique yet, but it was only a matter of time if she and Elena kept doing things together, and she certainly wanted to make amends for whatever had set things off if possible. After a few minutes, she cautiously began, "Elena, did I make your brother mad? I mean upset him on Saturday?"

The other girl heaved a loud sigh and fiddled with one of her wheels before answering. "No, of course not, it wasn't you. It's — hard to explain."

Seeing how sad she'd become, Catalina hastily added, "You don't have to talk about it, I don't mind. I just wanted to make sure I hadn't done anything. It was still a fun day, after all."

"It was a disaster, honestly, you can say so. Your being there was the only good part. I thought it would be fine, even when Enrique left, but I didn't expect him to act so weird, that was stupid." Elena reached out a hand to Catalina, squeezing tight. "I promise, though, it wasn't you. He just…. It was probably a lot of stress after getting called unexpectedly, and then when Papá wouldn't let up on him, he just shut down. I thought, maybe, if you were around it wouldn't happen, but then he said that — well, it doesn't matter. The point is it won't happen again, I'm sure. Enrique felt awful afterwards."


"Well, I made him feel awful first." Elena giggled softly. "I am his younger sister, after all, that's my job."

They laughed together, and then Elena asked her about the engagement. That put them both in a better mood, and by the time Catalina left she hoped they'd left any lingering tension behind. Wednesday was even more amazing: they met at the museum, Elena's driver bringing her and waiting in the lobby while they roamed around for over an hour, peeking through galleries and viewing demonstrations. A few times Catalina wished Enrique were present; he'd explained things so well, and Elena often spoke about art in a way that assumed far more knowledge than Catalina had managed to cram in the last few days.

It was still a wonderful visit and she was sorry when it was time to leave. "Do you want to do anything tomorrow?" she asked, almost overwhelmed by her schedule but willing to try anything that came up.

"Maybe, I don't know? Aren't you going to be tired, working so much and then going out all the time?"

It sounded a lot like what Sra. Inez had warned her about. "I would like to take a short break, I guess, but I'm very happy to meet up again, really."

"Why not Friday? We don't have any plans yet, but I'm sure we can come up with something. Then neither you nor Enrique will have to get up early the next day."

They agreed to make plans by phone soon. The next day Catalina expected to spend just with the clinicians and then the Aguirres. However, around noon, none other than Enrique joined her in the break room. "Hi there," he said from the doorway as she put her thermos away.

"¿Holá, are you on a break?" she asked, not sure the best way to speak to him still, despite Elena's reassurances. At least he was friendly now.

"Not exactly. Señor Aguirre is scheduled for another session today."

"Right, it was in his planner. But I won't be able to leave until three, so I knew I'd miss it. Are you about to go?"

"Yes: he's my third stop after my next two patients. I was just dropping off the morning paperwork." His smile was slightly lop-sided, although everything else about him was pristine. Even his athletic socks looked ironed. "I thought you might like to get out of here for a while, attend a few more therapy sessions. Then you could just stay home after his appointment. It'd be getting close to three by then anyway."

"Really?" Catalina asked eagerly. "I mean, is that allowed? Should I speak to someone?"

He chuckled. "I'd say a volunteer is allowed to leave early, yes, always. As for attending therapy sessions, sure, we let students shadow all the time. Just check out with Sra. Mundo and meet me outside."

"Sure, ¡gracias!"

Catalina hurried to complete her last few tasks she'd put off while taking her short break, then dropped all her remaining folders off at the desk. "I'm going to be gone the rest of the shift with Señor Tilve," she explained, starting to sign her name, but the woman stopped her.

"Shadowing? Or just gadding about?"

"Um, shadowing? But I'm not coming back after Señor Aguirre's appointment, so shouldn't I sign out now?"

"Just write three," Sra. Mundo snapped. "Round up whenever possible, that's the secret to good billing."

"Yes ma'am," Catalina answered without quite understanding her, but happy to get the full credit for their trip.

She didn't have to wait by the car long. Seeing the arm full of folders Enrique came out with, she offered to take some; then they were off.

"Our first stop is Señora Torres. Here, this is the list for the afternoon, see if you can get the files in order. Somehow they always slide around in a jumble."

Catalina concentrated on sorting as they pulled out onto the street, checking each record off against the list, and then glancing at the first one to see what was the matter. After a few minutes of quiet, with the radio softly playing in the background, Enrique said, "So, any questions?"

They talked easily then, discussing the woman’s difficulties and what to do about it. When they arrived he introduced Catalina as a student observer. She sat in a corner of the living room with her notebook opened, diligently writing notes as she watched Enrique talk to the lady and encourage her to try the exercises. He was just as flirty as usual, joking about her pretty calves and playing some upbeat salsa music to the combined delight of the room. "That's right, you're doing just fine," he encouraged as she moved to the music, although her clapping was off beat.

Back in the car, Enrique started to scribble a few notes down, when Catalina asked, "Would you like me to transcribe for you? I help Mamá in the clinic sometimes when we have a lot of people to see."

He hesitated, glancing away a minute, and she was certain he would say no. After all, why should he trust her to write in patient charts? That was probably against the rules anyway.

"If you wouldn't mind, it would make the trip go faster," he said, handing everything over. "But you're not here just to be my assistant, you can stop if you get bored."

"It's no trouble," she assured him, holding the folder firmly against her notepad for support, pencil ready.

"Well we'll try it," he answered, smiling again more naturally, and as he merged back onto the street began dictating his observations about the patient's rate of recovery, how mobile she had been, and ideas for future work to keep her progress up. Catalina asked a few questions when she wasn't sure how to spell a word, or even what he'd said, but otherwise tried to interrupt as little as possible. When they parked, he glanced over the page and whistled. "That is probably the best my notes have ever looked so quickly. Señora Mundo will be so impressed, although she'll know at once it wasn't me writing it down. Gracias."

The next patient was a young boy who practiced walking with a pair of braces. He ambled around to the music Enrique played, unsteady but determined, and happily accepted a set of stickers when he completed his benchmarks for the day. He and Enrique high fived before they left, and Catalina recorded everything in his chart once back in the car. When finished, she smoothed over the paper, placed it back in the folder neatly, and filed it with the others.

"You know," Enrique said cheerfully, "a man could get used to this kind of help every day. No wonder all the doctors know you: do you help everyone get their paperwork so neat?"

"But it's not really for them," Catalina replied, not sure what was so unusual. "And I did so badly at first, Señora Mundo had to go over it with me about twenty times those first few days. So now I always triple check everyone's folder before I deliver it back to her, to make sure it's right."

Enrique chuckled softly. "If you're not careful, you're going to be stuck at that clinic forever. No one will want to let go of the little aide who does your paperwork right."

"Only, I was so bad at it!"

"And now you're better than most of the people who are supposed to be doing that work. Everyone starts off making mistakes, you know. The trick is how well you learn from them."

They drove on for a while without talking as she pondered his words. A news bulletin interrupted the radio's music and Enrique turned it off. "Here's the moment in the show when the guy realizes he did something stupid, and wants to make it up to the girl, but has no idea how, you know? And the camera pans in close to his face, while a voice-over asks the audience: is there hope yet?" He deepened his voice impressively, sounding exactly like a television announcer. "Then, you know, the most important thing is revealed."

"What?" Catalina asked when he paused.

"Why, the ad that teaches you how to get rid of all the blemishes on your skin with a miracle lotion, guaranteed to work or your money back. And the boy thinks, aha, that's the answer!"

She giggled: it sounded exactly like a commercial. "I don't know if lotion would help the Teen Angels," she said with an attempt to stay calm.

"Really? I think it would help all of them. Especially Señora García: if her face looked better, she'd probably never lock anyone up again. Or at least, with the lotion lying around, they could rub it on the bars and get loose easier."

Now Catalina really laughed, picturing all the ways that could happen, and offering a few ideas of her own. Eventually, they settled down again, and Catalina was relieved by how easily they had overcome whatever had happened before. "You should write the program, it's a great idea," she suggested.

"Perhaps you should. I give it away freely." Enrique nodded, looking over his sunglasses as he pulled into a turn. "Seriously, though, gracias for coming, and your help today. I really appreciate it."

"Oh no, you're the one who helped me—" Catalina began, then faltered, unsure how far she should go, not wanting to make things awkward again.

"First, even if that's true, it doesn't negate what I said. Gratitude is for everyone. And two, I would have understood if you didn't want to come along. We didn't make you feel very welcome this past weekend."

That was true, of course, but Catalina didn't know how to agree without sounding rude, so instead she settled for, "I had a good time, anyway. Elena has been a great host."

"Yes, she's always good. Me, I just try to be. And, Saturday, I didn't try that hard. So I'm glad you're not the kind to hold a grudge."

"Why would I do that? I mean, what good would that do anyone?"

"Nothing at all, of course. So, once again, you prove yourself a fine companion."

Catalina felt her cheeks glowing, even though he wasn't properly looking at her, or winking, or flirting in any way. "Gracias," she murmured, not sure what else to say, and fiddled with the folders in her lap.

Enrique didn't offer any more compliments or apologies. Instead he changed the subject back to business. "So, my young padawan, what's your plan for leading Señor Aguirre's therapy today?"


"Sure. You've attended all the patient’s sessions, of course, and are intimately acquainted with his health." He rolled his tongue just a titch on intimate, enough to make her flush even more pronounced, but moved on quickly. "You've shadowed for two other patients, and observed for over a week at the clinic. I'd say you're more ready to lead a supervised therapy appointment than most interns."

"Oh, well, hmm," Catalina stuttered, picking up Tío Ruy's file and reading it over again. There were still a lot of terms she didn't understand, but she knew all about this patient's knees and hips, and also what he was having trouble with. "Maybe get him up sooner? I mean, still flex as a warm-up, but get him to move around the courtyard more. He does fine when he knows he can sit down again, but still gets winded when we go for distance."

"Endurance, yes, that's always good for a patient to build up. Only, you can't do all that in one sitting: he has to do some of it on his own. Walks are better for a patient to do out of session. Remember, you only have so long to work with him before time's up."

"Sure, I see." Catalina kept looking over the notes different people had made, each one describing a different appointment and method of treatment. "Maybe, maybe he should try more bending with his knees? Sometimes he still tends to shuffle, and I think he tries not to reach for things, because he's worried they'll stiffen up."

Enrique nodded encouragingly. "That sounds like an excellent suggestion. In tangolates, we like to use steps to encourage different positions and motions. Let's work our way up to some back-and-forths. Look, my iPod's in the front pocket of the bag, with some earbuds: pick out some music to use, whatever you think will work best."

There were plenty of tracks to choose from, more than she could possibly listen to in the short time they had left on the drive. She smiled to hear some telenovela theme songs mixed in the more serious tangos, and almost listened to all of Teen Angels just to sing along, but quickly skipped until she'd found one that sounded easy to move to. Counting in her head, she thought of when she'd first learned the steps, in the backyard with her Papá, and how he'd called out the rhythm as they moved. She could do something like that, maybe, only not the same, more like guiding Tío Ruy through a very simple set of twists.

She jotted some ideas down in her notebook, tapping her foot and playing the track over, excited to come up with her own routine. She barely remembered Enrique was there until he tapped her on the shoulder. "Are you ready?" he asked with a smile, holding the door open for her.

He had her take the folder, mat, and bag in, as if she were the therapist herself, only following along with his hands in his pockets. In the courtyard, Tío Ruy greeted them both with his own wide smile, and then listened with full attention as Enrique explained that he would just be observing today, and assisting Srta. Moreno when she needed it. "I see. I hope she won't be too hard on me," Sr. Aguirre said with very deliberate concern, although he kept smiling at her. "Well, Señorita Moreno, I'm all yours. What are we going to do today?"

Realizing she hadn't even taken the speakers out the bag yet, just watched the men interact like usual, Catalina stammered, "Oh, well, one minute, I must get set up, so sorry." After scrambling to unpack, Catalina found she didn't know how to connect the iPod and the speakers.

Fortunately Enrique stepped in. "May I assist? You talk to the patient, just signal when you're ready for some music."

"Gracias," she breathed quietly, nervous but excited, and turned back to Tío Ruy with determination. "Well we would like to get you moving and healthy again. So let's start with flexing your feet."

She knelt just like Enrique did, carefully watching as dear Tío Ruy performed his warm-up exercises, encouraging him to try for more force. After helping him stand she waved and Enrique taped a button, filling the courtyard with music. "We're going to work on turning and bending, like so," she said, and demonstrated what she'd come up with in the car, the familiar steps soothing her nerves. "Only, we'll go a little slower, and I'll help you," she assured Tío Ruy, realizing she'd unconsciously started to move just like she did when playing around. She needed to think like a medical professional, not a silly girl.

They walked through the steps together hand in hand. "That's very good!" she complimented as he was able to shift his weight back and forth.

"A pretty partner makes it all the easier, right Señor Tilve?" Tío Ruy called as he followed Catalina in a basic pattern, she taking the lead role instead of following, helping him manage the back-and-forth twists.

"Why yes sir, what more could a man ask for?" Enrique answered from where he sat on a bench. "Just a little more bend, there, that's good." Evidently he couldn't help commenting. But he was quite right, and Catalina quickly repeated his encouragement, amazed and thrilled at how much progress Tío Ruy seemed to be making before her eyes.

He even did all his cooldown exercises, not sitting until he had finished everything, and still rolled his ankles around while leaning back in the chair. "Phew! You put me through my paces Señorita, gracias. I feel much stronger now."

"Are you sure, Tío Ruy?" she asked, her facade crumbling as she worried he might have overdone it. "I can get you something from the medical cabinet if you like."

He considered, obviously a touch rundown, but then shook his head. "No, I can wait until dinner, it doesn't hurt that bad. More like when I used to ride all day. What do you think, Señor Tilve: if I keep it up, could I get back on a horse?"

"Maybe if you are very, very good; it would certainly depend on the horse. Although I think it would be better to set a more modest goal, like being able to walk the length of this street. Or taking your dear friend out for a spin one special night, I'm sure she would love to go dancing again."

"Hmm, what do you say Catalina? Should we try another evening out?"

Enrique's eyes twinkled as he folded his hands over one knee. "But sir, I meant Señora Aguirre. I'm sure she has a special dress all ready for the occasion, if we could only get you into shape."

Tío Ruy chuckled with them, rubbing his knee. "Yes, I'm sure Lola would love to be all dressed up for the night, though it might take you to get her on the dance floor."

"I would be honored, if you would trust me. Who knows, though? I might be so runaway with her brilliance as to forget myself."

It felt slightly mean, to talk about Tía Lola so when she wasn't around. "I'm sure she would be happy to see you up and moving like that again, Tío Ruy; and she would probably be glad to dance, if anyone asked her to."

"Then I should beg permission now, Señor Aguirre; when next we are all out, I must claim your wife's hand at least once. May I?" He was still half laughing, but Catalina saw he was also quite serious, formally standing and inclining his head to Sr. Aguirre like they were actually in a ballroom.

Tío Ruy, for his part, played along, pondering with a grave look. "Well, I've seen you dance some, and you have been very polite so far. Though, perhaps, you could demonstrate for me again, I'm afraid I may have forgotten, you know how we old folks get sometimes. Catalina, dear, would you mind standing in for Lola? To audition, as it were?"

"He has some more appointments," Catalina started to protest, but Enrique already had the music back on, and turned to her with a hand out.

"May I?" There was no teasing, only a warm smile on his open face. "Just a quick spin, for the good man."

It was impossible to say no. His right arm wrapped around her waist, while his left hand clasped hers next to his shoulder. There were no complex spins or showy tosses in this dance, just light steps back and forth, twisting in time to the beat. She knew by the slightest touch where to go next. When he kicked one foot out in a sharp turn away from the courtyard wall, she couldn't help answering, despite her slippers, flicking her heels up. He immediately responded, allowing her room to maneuver, only keeping time and almost allowing her the lead.

They ended by coming closer together in preparation for one spin before the last note. She barely recognized his bow, distracted by her own exhilaration, until he kissed her hand with a flourish, not staccato at all. Then Enrique turned and quickly began putting his things back in the bag. "Unfortunately, I won't be able to stay to greet Señora Aguirre, but I trust you will let her know I await my promised dance with anticipation. Gracias again for all your help today Catalina."

She perked up from her daze to reply. "Yes, gracias again, I really enjoyed it." Her babbling stopped as quickly as she began in recognition of how forward it sounded, as if she were not speaking about therapy but something else entirely.

"It was my pleasure," he assured her, eyes twinkling, seemingly untouched by their dance with hardly a hair out of place. "And here," he handed over Tío Ruy's folder. "Make sure you put all your notes down from today. You can turn it in tomorrow morning when you arrive at the clinic. Congratulations on a very successful first session."

He left with his phone already out to check the address for his next appointment. There was no trace of unease or passion, nothing to suggest he was anything but what he always was: happy and professional.

Catalina vowed she would be professional too. She dutifully noted all her observations in the file, agonizing over the correct phrasing, and then carefully put it up on her dresser to be ready to take with her in the morning. Dinner was lovely and peaceful, and she was able to discuss things with Tía Lola without a qualm. Only when she got her journal out that night did she allow herself the tiniest hope that Enrique might be more than friendly. After all, who could have guessed that Javier and Isabel would get engaged out of the blue? Sometimes these things happened.

But only sometimes, she reminded herself, closing the book and turning the light off. It was one thing to laugh and speculate if two costars would ever get together; playing with her own heart felt a more perilous. Still, she prayed that they might keep dancing together. That was all she would give herself cause to dream about.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 14: Ocho Cortado

MichelleRWFebruary 24, 2023 05:00PM


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