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Estancia Aldea Norteña 16: Cuentos de Hadas

March 03, 2023 11:30AM
"Fairy Tales" an idealized or romantic story often to an unrealistic extent (Dictionary.com).

It was impossible to do more than sleep and recover after so long a night; even Catalina, usually in the habit of waking at dawn every day, didn't get up until almost noon. Then she must spend some time with Tía Lola, telling her all about how the evening went, although they got sidetracked several times as the good lady asked her more about the clothes everyone wore than the entertainment or the food.

"Well, it sounds like you had a very lovely time, I'm so happy for you," she said, patting Catalina's hand. "Every young lady deserves a night out like that. And that Señor Tilve is such a gentleman. Well, we'll see, who knows what can happen in the next few weeks?"

This encouragement should have made Catalina delirious with anticipation. Instead, rest, food, and sitting in the living room with her old friend helped her put the night in perspective. She still appreciated its magic while also remembering without too many frantic feelings. True, Enrique kissed her on both cheeks and said very pretty things. But as he might say, why not? They were friends out together having fun.

After all, she reminded herself as she helped Tío Ruy through his exercises, and then went to see Isabel later to enjoy an afternoon catching up and watching television, Mar del Plata was only a short vacation. She was lucky to meet so many great people and enjoy a few weeks more with them. Eventually, though, she would take the entrance exam for nursing school, then go to work in the clinic with Mamá all the time. Catalina would just enjoy the time left without worrying about what came later.

Isabel was distracted most of the evening, constantly checking her phone and then closing it before Catalina could see whatever she'd laughed at. "It's nothing, I just thought I heard a text," she would say, before typing something and then pushing it back in her pocket.

"You know, I hated dancing with that awful Captain Tilve last night, I hope you don't think otherwise," she said out of the blue while they were talking over future plans. Catalina had intentionally not mentioned it, thinking Isabel might have regretted her actions or, like her, wanting to just savor the memory without further examination.

Since she'd brought it up, though, Catalina decided to ask the question she'd been most wondering. "Why did you dance with him? I thought you wanted to be left alone."

"Well, of course I did, which was why I had to get up eventually, he just wouldn't stop bothering me!"

"I'm so sorry, but why didn't you say something? I'd have been glad to join at the table or walking around the boat."

Isabel giggled, examining her nails and then tossing her hair back. "But then how would you have been able to snag your man? I knew that nail polish was a good idea: next time you should do more with your face. You would look great with the right eye shadow, and maybe some sparkles around your temples. We could experiment tonight."

After having to scrub and scrub to get the glitter off her fingers in the shower, and finding it coated all over her clothes, Catalina wasn't sure she ever wanted to wear that kind of makeup again. "Maybe some other time," she said, not wanting to hurt Isabel's feelings. "Especially with Mass tomorrow, I couldn't wear anything like that on Sunday."

"Why ever not? Plenty of boys there too. Do you know which service the Tilves attend? Maybe we should sit near them."

The subject had quite got away from Catalina, so that she struggled to figure out what they were talking about. "I'm sure we could have found some way to keep him away from you. Did you try talking to Elena?"

"How could I? You were all gone for so long, and Fernando would go teasing me so terribly, and everyone watching. Well, if I hadn't got up with him, what would everyone have said?"

"I don't know." Catalina felt guilty for having abandoned Isabel, and after she had meant to spend more time with her, yet also unsure why Isabel was so insistent on learning more about a family she had declared so very bad before.

When the other girl took her phone out again, Catalina at last realized she must be checking to hear from Javier! No wonder she wasn't paying attention to the conversation. "I'm sure Javier will call us as soon as he can," she assured her friend. "He sent an email this morning, all about his professors and prepping for his coursework."

"Yes, I saw that, I think," Isabel said without taking her eyes off the phone. "But it doesn't matter you know."

"Maybe if everything goes well he'll be able to come back."

"What does that matter? I'll see him when we go back to Buenos Aires. But don't worry, I told Mamá we couldn't leave now, not when our good friend the Aguirres were staying in town." Isabel smiled secretively, giggling again. "So, who do you think is cuter? I know what you'll say, but you have to let me know at once."

The question was so oddly disjointed, Catalina couldn't figure out who Isabel was referring to at first. "You mean, between Javier and ... Juan?" she asked uncertainly.

"No silly: Enrique or Fernando? Because however partial you are, and I can see why the way he was looking at you, but you have to admit his older brother is way better built. That six-pack! and his arms, they're all muscle, it felt like he could have lifted me with only one hand!"

There didn't seem to be any way for Catalina to answer that would not either open herself to ridicule, or cause a quarrel with her friend, and so she only shrugged and said she couldn't possibly judge. Privately, she thought that however muscly the captain was, the therapist had to be just as strong to care for patients, and besides, Enrique was much nicer. It was a strange conversation, one she couldn't help still thinking about even as she closed her eyes for prayers during Mass. At last, with some concentration, she was able to set aside her worries and focus on the litany. Although it was all brought back to her when they spoke to the Lobos afterward minus Isabel. "She went earlier," Sra. Eva explained, "with a friend."

How very unusual! Especially when she saw the Tilves exit the church as she rode away with the Aguirres: father, son, and daughter, but no captain.

Catalina did not like what she found herself wondering, especially when she tried to call Isabel later and kept getting her voicemail. She was sure she was worrying about nothing, after all, and even if Fernando and Isabel had gone out to spend time together, well, there was nothing wrong with that. Only Catalina wished she might have gone with them, or that Isabel had not started keeping her engagement ring locked up in her room, even if it was much safer there (as she'd explained when Catalina asked about her not wearing it).

The day ended without Isabel calling her back. When Catalina tried to call her again after work on Monday, she still got no reply.

A call to Sra. Eva revealed that Isabel had been having phone problems. "Poor thing, the battery failed, and she's been so nervous trying to get it fixed!"

"Oh wow, that's awful, I'm sorry to hear," Catalina said, ashamed at her suspicions, and eager to help. "Please, does she need assistance? Tío Ruy knows all about these things, I'm certain he could tell us where to get it looked at."

"A friend is helping her, gracias Catalina, but it's all taken care of now. I'm sure she'll call you back soon."

"Tell her not to worry, I can wait. I'm just glad to hear it's taken care of."

That would teach her to think mean things. Catalina punished herself by spending extra time studying, even giving up that night's television program. At least she now understood why some of the terms were important; it was much easier to concentrate when she had a reason to learn what was in front of. She made it a goal to understand everything written in Tío Ruy's chart before leaving Mar del Plata, and kept checking back in her notebook to help her piece the information together.

She called Isabel at lunch the next day, leaving a message to say she would be happy to talk as soon her volunteer duties ended. "I understand you might have someone else you want to talk to, so no worries. Just thinking of you. Chau."

It was good Isabel didn't try to call her right at three, since Catalina ended up staying later: so many people kept coming into the clinic, everyone was running around, and it felt cruel to leave when there was so much she could help with. She checked with Sra. Mundo first, not wanting to make a mistake with the paperwork, and was rewarded when the lady told her, "Of course you can stay, now please, get these papers to Doctor Figueroa at once."

Catalina took a few breaks, if only to sip from her thermos and make sure there were no messages on her phone. She left one at the Aguirres to inform them she would be later. On a whim, she also sent Elena a text message, since she'd barely had a chance to say anything to her in several days: "Busy day. Hope you're all well. Maybe we can catch up tomorrow?"

Then it was back to helping patients and ferrying charts. At one point there were so many people, Catalina had to wait with a young girl whose left arm was in a splint outside the X-ray room. She found a stool and filled a paper cup with water, then knelt next to the girl to make conversation easier. Catalina found out that Belette loved to roller skate and wanted to be a gymnast when she grew up. "That sounds amazing, what tricks do you know?" This question sparked a rapid description of all the cartwheels and tumbles the child could perform when uninjured.

"I hope I can go back to it," Belette admitted, fidgeting and frowning as her words ran out.

"Would you like to hear a story?" Catalina took her hand to keep the sling safe.

"Yes please, a fairy story, like Cinderella?"

She spun out a story that borrowed heavily from the Floricienta television adaptation, with a mixture of unicorns, rainbows, and gymnastics as a personal touch. Belette sat listening very attentively, not once looking back at her arm, and eagerly guessed ideas for what should happen next when Catalina asked her. "Ooo, no, the prince should go find her himself, not send his friend, what if he picks the wrong one?"

"Well, maybe, but he is very important remember." Catalina wondered if she should try to find a nurse or go back to the lobby. Regardless, it was important for the story not to end just yet. "He has to help his father run the kingdom, and make lots of important decisions, so he can't just go out and do whatever he wants."

Belette considered this idea and shook her head. "But he's the prince! He should be able to get someone else to do those things. It's his job to find a princess, isn't it?"

As Catalina was not actually sure what a prince's job should be, she fell back on telenovelas to supply a different complication. "Actually, this prince has a secret to guard. Someone is locked up in the castle, bound by magic, and only the prince has the key. If he left it with someone else, something terrible could happen! So you see, he can't just go himself, and spend all day looking. And his friend has a method to discover the princess: he will take the missing shoe to all the houses, and look in the mud, and compare the footprints to see if they match."

"He's a detective!" Belette declared, excited. "That's very smart. He sounds better than the prince; maybe Cinderella should marry him."

"Maybe she should," a welcome voice said from down the hall, and Catalina smiled when Enrique approached. "But that would not be quite in keeping with the fairy tale, would it? Are you still waiting for an X-ray? I'll page someone to take care of it right now."

"Hooray!" Belette leapt up as quickly as her arm would allow. "Only," she suddenly grew shy, and gripped Catalina's hand tighter. "May she come in with me, please? I want to hear the end of the story."

"I can't stay while the X-ray happens," Catalina hurriedly explained, staying at eye level with the girl, "because, see, it's like the magic in the story, it might hurt if anyone else came in the room. But I'll be right on the other side of the wall, and as soon as you're done, I promise to let you know what happened when the detective found Cinderella's house."

After a few more reassurances, Belette allowed herself to be led in by the technician and sat very still as the X-ray whirred. Catalina quickly came back in, complimenting her on being so good, and managed to cram an entire climax and happily ever after into the short walk back to the lobby. Belette hugged her with one arm. "Please, could you stay some more?"

"Well, there are so many other little girls, and you know the fairy godmother has to help all of them," Catalina answered. "But I'll be glad to tell you another story if I see you again." She escorted the girl back to her waiting grandmother, who looked unable to walk very far herself. The two got in a waiting bus down the street for a long ride home out of the city.

Catalina hurried to bring the next patient back, knowing she had probably wasted a few precious minutes longer than was absolutely necessary. In her rush and distraction, she realized in alarm she had no idea where Belette's file was or what had happened with the X-ray after it was taken. She rushed back toward the nursing station, and was relieved when she saw Enrique handing everything to Sra. Mundo, complete with the doctor's signature. "Did the princess get home safely?" he asked, walking with her back down the hall.

"Yes, gracias for your help, it's so busy today!" Catalina exclaimed. "I wasn't sure what to do when we kept waiting."

"You stuck with the patient and kept her safe and happy, that's the important thing," he answered. "But in the future, just go back to the examination room and page someone. I'm afraid with some people out sick and Señora Gorda still on maternity leave, it was the perfect time for an onslaught. They even rescheduled all my afternoon sessions to keep me here. But shouldn't you be home already?"

"I couldn't just leave everyone like this!" Catalina said, taking a quick drink from her thermos.

Enrique clicked his tongue. "If you're not careful, you won't leave at all. It's liable to be a late night for everyone. Better escape while you can."

"I don't mind, really: I'm very happy to help out."

He started to say something else, but was interrupted by a page over the intercom. "I should take care of that, but really, at least sit and eat something. I've a few things labeled in the break room fridge: feel free to take anything." He picked up his pace as they neared a junction, then turned back to her before starting down the other hall and grinned. "Take good care of yourself, Fairy Godmother, or I'll call Elena and tell her what you're up to. You will wish you had a wicked stepmother to hide behind!"

Catalina laughed and promised she would take a few minutes to rest. Then he was off, with the intercom once again buzzing for someone else, and she was glad to have an excuse to find a corner of the break room to sit and munch on a few energy bars.

She saw him a few more times in passing, but never long enough to chat. They were both busy, as was everyone else, and his prediction that the lobby would remain crowded even at the six hour mark proved correct. Catalina found herself sifting through a hodgepodge of folders and charts, stacking and alphabetizing them, trying to help Sra. Mundo make sense of the day's work, even as she could hear people being escorted out and a few being squeezed in even past time.

"Do you know how to type?" Sra. Mundo asked suddenly while handing over another paper to file.

"Yes ma'am, only I'm a little slow," Catalina answered, double checking the name before sliding the folder in the proper shelf.

"At least you admit it. I'm sure you'd get faster. Tomorrow you should learn the computer system, we can set you up right beside me with a login. We'd go twice as fast if you could enter the patient information and leave the billing for me."

"Really?" Catalina gasped, wondering why Sra. Mundo would trust her with such important work.

The woman grunted. "We can get any monkey to run around the halls. That good-for-nothing Valentín could, if he'd ever come inside from his smoke breaks. I need someone dependable to help man the desk on days like this. Here's the paperwork to sign: bring it back tomorrow and we'll start you on the first round of patients as a training run."

"Yes ma'am, gracias ma'am, I'll be glad to," Catalina said, surprised and pleased all at once, and strove to be twice as thorough putting the rest of the folders away, not wanting to let Sra. Mundo down. When they were finished, Catalina signed out and was even more surprised to realize it was nearly seven. She had never taken the tram that late by herself, and was just wondering if she should try to call the Aguirres for a ride, when Enrique came by the desk with his bag slung over an arm.

"Why, Cinderella, what are you still doing here? Has your carriage turned into a pumpkin and left you stranded?"

"I trust that's not another set of files not turned in yet," Sra. Mundo said pointedly, eyeing the folders in Enrique's arm.

He smiled and shook his head. "No, of course not. Just my patients for tomorrow morning. You know I would never add extra work to your day if I could help it."

"Of course you wouldn't," she spoke with obvious disbelief, then stood after logging out of the computers. "I'm about to lock up so you'd best be off. See you in the morning, Catalina, and bring a lunch, you can use my fridge here."

As Enrique walked with her to the door he whistled. "My my my, how did you rate that honor? Señora Mundo doesn't share her space with just anyone."

"She's going to teach me how to use the computer system!" Catalina told him with fresh excitement, eager to share her good news. "She said she would start me first thing in the morning, isn't that amazing?"

He chuckled while holding the door open for her, shaking his head and tousling his usually neat hair askew. "I hope you're ready to be worked even harder than usual; Señora Mundo is very strict, and doesn't tolerate mistakes well. Don't let her keep you long every day, either, you're still a volunteer despite earning the dubious honor of becoming her personal servant."

"I know, but, it's only, I can't believe I'm getting to learn so very much already, and not even in school yet!" Catalina admitted with undisguised happiness, reveling in the feeling of accomplishment.

"Don't let me rain on your parade, you should be proud." He had his keys out, fiddling with them, but hadn't opened his door yet. "I could give you a lift if you need it?"

"To the tram?" she asked, thinking it might be better to wait there than the empty clinic if she called for a ride.

"If you like, but I can easily take you the entire way. No need for Cinderella to limp home: we wouldn't want one of your shoes to disappear." He smiled, so inviting and friendly, and Catalina had agreed and was in his car before she knew it.

They chatted about the day, comparing observations about patients and coworkers, the radio humming along in the background. The sun had just started to dip in the sky, bathing the world in deep crimson behind them. As they waited at a stop light, he tapped on the steering wheel, drumming to the beat of the music.

"I'm starving," he announced all at once, and with a sideways glance asked, "how about you?"

"Not too much," she said, "and gracias for those energy bars, they were very good. I'm sure there'll be something left over to eat when I get home."

"Leftovers? For a princess, and Señora Mundo's new assistant? I think we can do better than that." The light turned green, and after going through the intersection he shifted into a turn lane. "How about dinner with us?"

It took a moment for her to hear us, and she quickly realized he wanted to pick Elena up and take them all out to eat. "Sure!" she agreed at once, much easier in mind even if her heart skittered a beat; it took only a quick phone call tell Tía Lola not to wait up for her.

Elena was ecstatic to see her again, and they barely stopped talking from the moment she was in the car until they had found a table at an outdoor grill near the water. The food was excellent, and then afterward they rambled along one of the boardwalks.

"We never went to the aquarium," Elena said as they passed some fishermen on a pier. "Maybe tomorrow? When do you get off?"

"You have missed your chance." Enrique walked between them, one hand lightly resting on the handle of Elena's wheelchair, the other in a pocket. "Our dear friend will have no more free time: Señora Mundo will keep her chained to that desk from dawn until dusk, and no one will be able to rescue her."

"Stop clowning around Enrique, you're confusing everyone!" Elena cried, waving him off her chair and pushing farther ahead. "Don't listen to him Catalina, I think it's great you're getting a bigger job."

"Gracias. I hope I don't mess it up." Catalina felt so comfortable admitting such things to them, and realized how odd it was that even though Isabel was going to be her sister, she could never have felt the same way trying to explain it to her. Perhaps the strangeness of an engagement would fade; surely when Javier and Isabel were married they would all be able to talk about everything.

"I'm sure you'll be great," Elena encouraged her, and then prompted, "right, Enrique?"

"I think Señorita Moreno is quite capable of doing anything she sets her mind to, just like all the young ladies I know and am fond of. And as I think most of them have very little minds to begin with, that will not be too hard."

"What!" Elena stopped her chair, and swatted at him, laughing. "Take it back, you take it back right now, come on Catalina, we can catch him!" For Enrique had darted away just out of her reach, stepping onto the pier and backing away from them.

Catalina watched them chase each other, laughing and joking, then got pulled into the fun when Elena took her hand. Enrique was caught, eventually, and apologized with great elaboration, "I only meant other young ladies, of course, not counting the present company, who must be above reproach."

"He doesn't mean any of it, you know," Elena told her after Enrique went to get the car, his penance being to pick them up instead of their all going back to the parking lot. "He probably just wanted to make me feel better, thinking I'd be disappointed you weren't as available. He's always trying to do nice things for me."

"I don't mind, really, I've gotten used to it," Catalina assured her. "And he's always very nice to me too."

"Yes, very nice," Elena agreed mischievously. "Especially when he's dancing?"

Catalina hoped the twilight masked her heated cheeks. "He is a very good dancer, and so very good at his job."

"You mean jobs, that's what keeps him so busy. There's the clinics, and then the hospital, and then when they're busy like today he gets pulled into other work beyond even his therapy patients." Elena slowed her pace as they came to the edge of the pier again. "He has slowed down some during our stay. Maybe...." Whatever she had been about to say, she swallowed, then grinned up at Catalina. "What about Saturday for the aquarium? We could spend all day, if you like, and your brother could come too if he visits."

"I think Javier will be too busy with school to return that soon," Catalina admitted what she'd been unable to say to Isabel. "But even if he's here, I'm sure he'll want to spend it with his fiancé. They've barely seen each other since getting engaged, so I'd like to give them as much space as possible."

"That's so kind of you," Elena said, playing with the beads in her necklace. "I've always hoped if Enrique, I mean, if either of my brothers were to get attached, I could share them. It would just be so hard, when I barely get to see them as it is."

"Don't you live nearby?" Catalina asked, curious.

Elena shook her head. "We have the house here in Mar del Plata but usually we're only here a week or two out of each summer. Enrique has a tiny apartment downtown: he doesn't even have his own bathroom there! Papá and I live on the ranch near Laguna Goicoechea. Enrique comes as often as he can, and Fernando sometimes gets leave. But we don't live near anybody, not really."

"Oh, but, a ranch!" Catalina said, trying to think of something to cheer her up. "Do you have horses?"

"Yes, and of course lots of cows." Elena did not sound like she appreciated the luxury of owning herds of cattle, so Catalina changed the subject and asked about Elena's camera. They enjoyed a fun discussion about photography versus drawing, and Catalina had just learned how little she knew about the difference when Enrique honked his horn nearby.

The rest of the week flew by. She was able to find time for a text once or twice, to both Elena and Isabel, but only on very short breaks. Sra. Mundo was just as strict as Enrique had warned, and at first Catalina didn't think she would be able to do anything right. However, by Friday she had learned to not only get the patient information typed correctly, but also get a folder prepped and ready to send out with a clinician. She was extremely proud to hand one the charts she made to Doctor Figueroa and beamed when he complimented her work. "We'll have to see about getting you a proper internship once you've entered school," he said. "I hear very good things about your work."

When she finally got out the door that day, Catalina called her parents immediately to share her latest accomplishments. Only Mamá answered, but she listened carefully, and gave a rare "Well done, Catalina!" in response.

"Gracias, Mamá, I'm having so much fun!"

"That's very good dear, but remember to keep proper notes too. Perhaps when you get back we can update some of the records in the system here; I've thought it would be better to reorganize things for some time. You can teach Sofia to help you and get started on all those old drawers in the back."

"Yes, Mamá," Catalina answered, her joy slightly diminished at the thought of clearing out file cabinets back home, or trying to teach her sister how to use the old computer in the Fortuna health clinic, nothing at all like the bright modern machine she had just learned to appreciate. "Sorry, I have to go, but please tell Papá and everyone I miss them. Love you!"

The Aguirres were very happy to hear her good news as well, not having been able to keep up with their young friend as easily that week due to her late hours. They listened attentively over dinner, and Tío Ruy raised his lemonade in a toast. "To our future Nurse Moreno, a very worthy successor to the original!" Then he kissed her on the cheek, and Tía Lola crowed how it was a very good thing they had come to Mar del Plata, and shouldn't they come more often?

When she finally checked her email that night, she found the perfect way to end a wonderful day: Javier would return tomorrow and promised to stop by the Aguirres first thing to see her! She wrote back at once, telling him how happy she would be to see him.

Even though it was late, she called Isabel. The phone rang a few times, then she answered "¿Holá? Catalina? I'm so sorry, can't talk right now, I'm busy."

"I won't take long," she said, "but I wanted to say how happy I am that Javier's coming back tomorrow!"

There was a beat of hesitation over the line, and Catalina worried the connection had broken up. "Right, of course! Yes, isn't it fantastic?" Isabel laughed, clearly as excited as Catalina felt. "You sweet thing, I know he'll be so glad to see you again. And don't worry, I won't keep him all to myself, I know you two have missed each other."

The generosity expressed touched Catalina, and she immediately offered in kind, "But he'll want to see you as soon as he's stopped here, I know. Why not come over?"

"Maybe, I might, it depends, I'm all tied up right now. But we'll see each other tomorrow, promise! Later!"

As she was about to go to bed, Catalina dared to text a quick message to Elena, letting her know she might be busy, but promising to call when she could. It felt like everything was going so well: Javier would be back, he and Isabel were as close as ever, and Catalina would get to see them both. Her work was progressing and she had made her parents proud. She now knew so many good friends she never had to worry about something interesting to do. How could anything possibly be any better?

Estancia Aldea Norteña 16: Cuentos de Hadas

MichelleRWMarch 03, 2023 11:30AM


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