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Estancia Aldea Norteña 19: Riesgo Cardíaco

March 13, 2023 10:35AM
"Risk to the heart," the source of sympathy or generosity; compassion (Free Dictionary).

Catalina hoped to spend as much of her limited time left in town with Isabel. Beyond her promise to Javier she realized that with everything going on, they had barely spent any time together lately. But there was also Tía Lola and Tío Ruy to think of, who had been so kind to her, and were the whole reason she now knew so many people.

Sra. Aguirre solved her dilemma by proposing a shopping trip with the Lobos. "You need something different to wear at a ranch, dear, none of these city things will be quite right." So on Wednesday the Aguirre's driver picked Catalina up from the clinic, and after a quick stop for the other girls, they headed to the main stores.

There were so many things to see and try on, and so many competing ideas of what Catalina should wear, that the time passed far more quickly than she could ever have realized. Tía Lola bought several new gifts: a few hats, some beautiful gloves, a brand new sundress the woman declared matched her dark coloring perfectly. Isabel and her sisters parked her in front of a makeup mirror and tried various fancy colors on her, but Catalina bought very few of those. "I'm going to be working," she protested, hardly recognizing herself.

"Yes, working very hard," Angela giggled, raising an eyebrow. She turned to Maria with wide eyes. "I'd like to work that hard, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, yes, with someone so tall and friendly," Maria murmured back, so that Catalina's cheeks turned even more pink than the blush already on them.

"Stop it brats, you're just jealous," Isabel snapped, then critically eyed the mirror. "You need more eye shadow, Catalina, come on, let's try some violet."

Fortunately the attendant shooed them away soon after, and Catalina was able to wipe off most of it before she felt completely ridiculous. She bought a few things for her own oldest sisters and a toy each for Jorge and Raquel. "But what should I get Mamá and Papá?" she asked Isabel as they sat down with their bags outside a cafe. Tía Lola and Sra. Eva were chatting together at another table, stirring sugar in their tea and loudly commenting on fashions. Maria and Angela had grown restless and were back inside bickering over jewelry.

Isabel shrugged and turned her head back to the street, where she kept looking every few minutes. "I'm sure you could buy anything, it doesn't matter, does it?"

"I want to get them something nice." Catalina thought again, sipping the last of the ice from her cup. "And I haven't even thought of Antonio! I wonder what he'd like?"

"I wouldn't get him anything at all, if I were you," Isabel said with a shrug. "I mean, does he ever call you? Older brothers are a real pain."

Catalina realized her mistake at once: mentioning one brother inadvertently brought up the other, who would not return to Mar del Plata, and who Isabel must be missing. Since the other girl hadn't actually mentioned Javier by name, Catalina wouldn't either, but she nevertheless strove to provide comfort. "I'm sure they're all just very busy with school. I don't expect them to call me all the time. But I'm sure someone will call you very soon."

Isabel whipped her head around, startled, then she laughed loudly, drawing the attention from a few other tables nearby. "You're a sweetheart, Catalina, always, just such a dear. But I'm not sitting around waiting for Javier. Take my advice: don't let boys think you need them for a good time, ever. Show them who's boss. You know I don't let anyone tell me what to do, not even Fernando, so there. But I forgot, I was supposed to give you a message."

"From who?" Catalina asked, confused, and wondered why Isabel had mentioned Fernando of all people in the middle of their conversation.

"Who do you think has been asking about you? Juan, of course. Or have you forgotten all about him? I can see why, certainly, though I thought you wouldn't be so fickle, but I wouldn't tell you what to do of course, everyone should get to manage their own love affairs."

None of the words Isabel uttered made any sense, and Catalina begged her to explain what she meant.

Her friend sighed heavily, leaning forward and putting her chin in her hands, forcing Catalina to lean forward to understand her whispers. "I don't blame you for getting annoyed, Catalina, but not everyone can buy a ring like mine. So don't blame Juan just because you wish you had one so nice."

Catalina fell back in her chair, almost dropping her cup. "But Isabel!" Catalina forced herself to lower her voice, not wanting to draw any more attention to the conversation, even as she felt like everyone must be listening and watching them. "Why on earth would Juan give me a ring? We're not even dating."

"How can you say that?" Isabel snapped back, suddenly annoyed. "After all he did for you: going dancing, buying tickets to fancy concerts and taking you out to good restaurants, and even a trip out of town. You think he did that just to be nice?"

"But...." Catalina hadn't thought of it that way. He was Javier's friend, and Isabel's brother, and never seemed interested in her much. Sure, at the game, he had been overly friendly, but he’d barely spoken to her afterward; she hoped maybe it had been a weird passing tease, something to happen over a vacation but nothing serious.

"He's got your picture on his phone, you know, and shows it to everyone. He's broken I don't know how many hearts because he refuses to be disloyal to you. But don't think I blame you for going after Enrique, that's just for fun I know, and serves Juan right for not paying more attention. A girl should always have as much fun as possible, whenever she can." Isabel eyed her meaningfully, grinning like a cat. "And he certainly looks scrumptious: does he taste as good as he moves?"

"What! No, I mean, I wouldn't know." Catalina stumbled over her words, not daring to think about those few kisses on the cheek that now flared like reminders on her skin, making her feel untruthful even when she knew she wasn't lying. "And he's going to be my supervisor now, why would that ever happen? We're just friends. And I barely even know Juan!"

"Oh, well, if that's the way it is, keep your secrets." Isabel turned back to the street, leaning back in her own chair, arms crossed. "I thought we were friends, too, but I suppose you've moved on. You might have at least told Juan. I don't really mind, he's a pest sometimes. Still, he is my brother, and after leading him on like that I think he deserves some small consideration."

Catalina blinked away a tear, feeling the remaining makeup on her face run, and pulled her chair around to sit as close to Isabel as possible. "I'm so sorry, if I hurt anyone, please, I didn't know! I never thought he cared at all, he always seemed to be doing other things. If I had realized how much he felt, I would have said something at once. Please, can't you talk to him and explain?" She wasn't certain what should be explained, it was all so crazy to think about, only that she was terrified of having done something unforgivable. No wonder Javier had been annoyed with her: he probably thought she was behaving like some awful girl on television, the kind who swooped in and broke everyone's heart.

Maybe she had? Catalina tried to think of when she could possibly have done anything to imply her interest, but everything was so muddled in her memory. Maybe her obvious crush for Enrique had confused things. She didn't think she'd been after him, either, not really, she couldn't possibly have done more than smile, and dance, yes, but....

Isabel laughed, interrupting her thoughts, and slapped at her hand playfully. "Oh my god, stop fretting Catalina, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to argue about it. Really, Juan was just being stupid, I told him so, but you know brothers never listen to their sisters. Besides, with the way everything's so up in the air with the money, it would be too terrible for you to get tied down right now. Plenty of time for that later."

Catalina swallowed, not fully reassured. "So you don't blame me? And you'll speak to Juan?"

"Oh, you can talk to him, or Javier can, who cares?"

"I hope you don't think I kept anything from you, though," Catalina said. "I mean, we're to be sisters, so it's important to be honest with each other."

"Yes, of course, but that can happen so many ways, right? I mean, we're practically sisters now, you know. And you must keep in touch and tell me all about this ranch. How I wish I could go too!"

"I thought you didn't want to be around the Tilves too much."

Isabel shrugged again. "They're not so bad. At least some of them. Why, speak of the devil!" She sat upright and waved as a motorcycle passed by. The cyclist waved back, popping his front wheel as he maneuvered around to a parking spot. Catalina only realized it was Fernando after he took his helmet off, walking toward them with such a familiar lopsided grin her heart caught in spite of herself.

He sat at a nearby table, kicking his feet out and leaning the chair back in line with Isabel. "Watching out for me?" he asked, voice low, as he brushed his hair into place.

"Not at all. Catalina and I are having a very private conversation, so you can just show yourself out of it. I don't need to be on the lookout for you."

Her stern words clashed with the smile accompanying them. When Isabel reached a hand up to languidly push her own hair back, Fernando caught it playfully.

"What's this?" He fingered her engagement ring, which Catalina had been pleased to see Isabel wearing more often since Javier's visit. "Shackles, on a free heart? Or are you a prisoner of your own volition?"

"Ha!" Isabel slapped his hand, pulling hers away. "As if you didn't know. I'll ask you not to try those pretty words with me, I'm not a fool. Here, see, this hand is free indeed, admire it however you please." And she threw her other hand back while Fernando brought his chair closer to whisper.

"And what about the rest of you? How free are you tonight?" He spoke a mere breath from her ear, his eyes trained down as if to peer directly at Isabel's heart through her shirt!

Catalina waited for Isabel to push him away, or discourage him further, but instead her friend laughed, and whispered back, not looking unhappy at all. It was horrible, just horrible, and all of Catalina's previous fears returned as she watched them flirt quite shamelessly in front of everyone. She wanted to run away, but Javier was counting on her, and surely Isabel wouldn't want her to go either. Maybe she was just as unaware of encouraging someone as Catalina had been with Juan. Oh, why didn't someone teach that sort of thing in a textbook?

"It's getting late," Catalina said finally. "Didn't we want to go to another store before they closed?"

"Go on, I'm sure I couldn't look at any more shops!" Isabel exclaimed with a dramatic sigh, fanning herself. "It's so hot in there."

"Yeah, it's very hot," Fernando murmured. "You should take a ride, cool down."

"I suppose you think you know best," Isabel shot back, sounding irritated, but still smiling. "Why don't you just take that motorcycle off and show us what you can do, if you dare?"

He leaned even closer, whispering, then abruptly stood and strolled away.

A great weight flew off Catalina's heart, and she was even more relieved when they all got back in the car. But she couldn't help fearing that Fernando was following them, especially when they dropped the Lobos off later in the evening. A motorcycle circled around the street as the Aguirre car left Isabel still outside, looking around.

Catalina had tried to whisper a word of warning to her during the rest of their shopping, nervous and unsure of herself, but wishing to help a friend as much as she could. Isabel would not hear her, not even to laugh, only kept changing the subject, or joking around with her sisters. They all continued to tease her mercilessly about Enrique and her work, and finally Catalina kept quiet for fear of what Sra. Eva would say if she got involved.

It troubled her that night, and she woke up to clouds in the sky as well as in her own heart. Isabel couldn't mean to lead a guy on, surely not, especially when she had just finished warning Catalina about the same thing. Papá always said it was easier to see the faults in others. Catalina realized she must have done something wrong when speaking to Juan, even if she would never have knowingly encouraged him. She would have to speak to Javier about it, to get advice on what to say to his friend, and apologize.

Yet talking to Javier would require mentioning Isabel's behavior, which would be horrible. It would distract him right when he needed to focus so much on his studies. Besides, she told herself on the tram ride the clinic, it wasn't like Isabel had actually gone off with Fernando, or even done anything specifically wrong. She was just kidding around. She still loved Javier, of course, or she wouldn't have worn her ring specifically to show her loyalty.

So Catalina told herself, and so she believed. Only she didn't know how Javier would take it, and without being certain she could explain everything, she didn't know if she should say anything at all. If only she could ask someone for advice!

Sra. Mundo had a large stack of files for her to work on, which helped take her mind off the problem for a while. It was soothing to lose herself in the rhythm of typing and filing, where there were no hearts to break or people to disappoint, except Sra. Mundo of course. When noon rolled around Enrique came up to the desk. "Here you go, ladies, all my outstanding paperwork for the last month ready to turn in. Not a single page left out, I promise."

"Hmmm, I hope not," Sra. Mundo said sourly, leafing through the folders. "So you're not going to be able to take any patients at all for the next month?"

"I may come back to work with the Sosas, and if there's an overload I can be called. But no new appointments here for me. And I'm afraid I must borrow your pretty assistant for the rest of the day, since Doctor Figueroa wants to go over some of the rural clinic duties. So very sorry but what can we do? Doctor's orders after all."

The woman snapped the last folder onto her desk, tapping a finger on the pile. "Well, of course Catalina needs to speak to the doctor, where did you think I was sending her next? Go on, you've done everything I need. You, sir, can finish signing some of these forms Doctor Figueroa gave me."

Enrique took the pen from her, and shook his head gently, but also gave her a sly wink as she walked past. Catalina wondered whether he had really forgotten to sign the papers, since he was usually so conscientious. But why would he do so on purpose?

Doctor Figueroa was pleased to see her. "Well, well, are you ready for your adventure?"

"I hope so," Catalina answered, her notebook firmly in hand. "Is there anything I need to finish up here first, though?"

They discussed things, but it was clear Dr. Figueroa was not concerned about her work that day. "No, I've already spoken to Señora Mundo, you shouldn't have to come in tomorrow when you're leaving that afternoon! As for the rest, Enrique can explain things, I think he's got a whole set of instructions for you. Ah, there he is."

"Yes sir, here it is," and Enrique produced a large three ring binder, full of papers and charts, which Doctor Figueroa glanced through for only a few moments.

"Perfect. I appreciate your help with that, I never know what's going on out there. Hopefully the two of you can get things in better order."

Catalina didn't quite understand, but assured Dr. Figueroa she was ready to help in any way possible.

"Of course, and gracias for all you've done so far, we appreciate it. Keep in touch, Señorita Moreno, and good luck with your studies."

Enrique kept hold of the binder as they left the office. "Don't worry, these are just some of the papers we've been meaning to move to the regional site, they got mixed up a while back and no one's taken them back since. No extra studying tonight required."

"Then why did Doctor Figueroa want to speak to me?"

"He might have forgotten, without this reminder," Enrique answered, his dimples creasing even as he kept his face neutral. "But I figured he would want to say something and that you might like to escape the desk. Besides, it's time to eat. How about lunch?"

"Sounds good. Let me just grab my things," Catalina answered, and after packing up she said adios to Sra. Mundo with much gratitude for her help.

The woman nodded, not looking up from her typing. "Make sure you sign out. And keep track of your hours, I don't want any phone calls or complaints later."

"Yes ma'am, of course, and gracias."

She was just as happy to escape, since however kind Sra. Mundo had been, she had never quite warmed up to her, and seemed to fuss at everyone after the slightest provocation. Catalina turned in her volunteer badge, and hurried away to the door where Enrique waited. He held the door open for her, but instead of turning toward the back picnic tables got his keys out. "For your last day in Mar del Plata, we should get you something special. I know just the place."

As they pulled out of the driveway, Catalina couldn't help glancing through the big notebook, full of curiosity about anything remotely connected to her new assignment. "Are all these people patients at the remote clinic?"

"They used to be. Honestly, the records there are a mess, I'm sorry to say you'll probably be right back to typing work when you arrive."

"I don't mind, that sounds exciting!"

He smiled wide, glancing at her before he looked back at the road. "Well, anyway, it will be enough work to justify your first week, maybe more."

Catalina nodded, and closed the notebook, clutching it tightly and drumming her fingers in time to the radio's music. "Do you want me to call Elena?" she asked suddenly, remembering she hadn't spoken to the girl at all the day before except in a few texts.

Enrique didn't answer at first, caught up in merging lanes and turning at an intersection. "Actually, I thought you might have last minute questions about the internship, or just classes and credits in general. She finds all that stuff super boring. Besides, she needs to finish packing, and giving her an excuse to put that off is just asking for trouble."

"Oh, right." Catalina should be disappointed, if only because it would be nice to talk some more with Elena about the ranch, but her heart could not help beating faster at the idea of eating out with Enrique alone, even if it was just to talk over work. And anyway, there was nothing bad about that: she was interested and he knew so much, it would be fun regardless.

"Here we are!" he announced, parking the car. "Another good reason to leave Elena home: she thinks this place is gross. I have high hopes you possess better taste."

They entered a cafe nestled between two larger buildings. Inside it was long and narrow, just a few people sitting around on bean bags in the front by the windows on laptops. A café bar took up one side of the wall with a full display case of pastries and sandwiches. There were old streamers and washed out posters framed along the walls, and a signed record with a picture of a man holding a big guitar. The lights were all different shapes and sizes, some in multiple colors, making the place feel like a painting. Soft music played in the background, mixing with the sounds of the people: some chatting over espressos, one table taken up with a game of dominoes, and another group with several chairs studying over some books, calling out to each other.

"Come on, it's less crowded up top," Enrique said, guiding her to a rattling staircase. "They actually have an elevator too, but Elena doesn't like it, says the thing makes her think of a horror movie. But the view is totally worth it."

Catalina couldn't help but agree when they arrived: from this height they could see all along the boulevards in any direction, and even more distantly the surf pounding upon the beach. There was a sturdy iron rail circling the rooftop covered in graffiti and spray paint, leaching into the floor and creating patterns. The scattered tables all sported umbrellas with ticky tacky colors. None of the chairs matched, and some of the surfaces sported words written in different colored sharpies, mismatched quotes and song lyrics and poems, even what looked like a scientific equation on one. It was like nothing she'd ever seen.

"It's amazing!" she breathed, looking around in surprise and wonder. "How did they come up with all of it?"

"I think you're giving the owners too much credit," Enrique said, laughing, as he pulled a wrought iron chair out for her that looked like it came from a formal garden. "They buy the furniture at flea markets and estate sales. I think half the decorations downstairs were cast offs from fraternities or University clubs. And all this," he waved at the largely empty tables, taking a seat across from her in a cheap folding chair, "is left over from customers. They encourage you to make any mark you want. Anything they don't like, they just sand off or paint over, or eventually replace. It's all super cheap, so they don't care. And the best part is they sink all the money in the food."

A waitress brought a bowl of appetizers with their menus. "Let me guess, café and cream, no sugar, right?" she asked Enrique, already jotting these items down as he nodded. "Two tickets or one? And do you want the usual special as well?"

Before Catalina could say anything, Enrique said, "One check, but we'll hold off on our order a minute. What would you like to drink Catalina?"

"Um, lemonade?" she said automatically. Then she studied the menu in earnest, trying to figure out what to order that wouldn't be too expensive since Enrique insisted on paying for it. "Really, though, I have my card with me," she said again, "it's no trouble."

He smiled and shrugged, drenching a few chips in salsa. "After all your hard work at the clinic, and volunteering to be my slave for the foreseeable future? I hope you don't think I'm so horrible as all that, especially when I chose the venue without even consulting you. Go on, order anything you like, it's all good."

"There's just so many choices," she said, mulling it over, not knowing what to do. Looking up, she asked, "What would you suggest?"

Enrique thought for a minute, chewing. "Do you like noodles? They've got several bowls to choose from, all delicious."

With his encouragement, Catalina was ready to order once their drinks arrived. "You must eat here a lot, for them to know what you want already," she commented as the waitress left, again having anticipated Enrique's order.

"Not as often as I used to, when I was a student, but I still come here often. It's got a lot of character. Nothing better for a brief distraction during the week, or taking your mind off a day of work."

She nodded, looking around again. "It's very colorful. But probably not so good in the rain."

He chuckled. "There are some really comfy sofas downstairs in the book nook, perfect for stormy days. And not a TV in the whole place."

"Does that make it better?"

"I'd rather watch when I can enjoy it," he said, snapping a chip in two. "Otherwise it's just noise, and annoying. Meals are not a spectator sport. Che, that's a good one, might want to write it down." He picked up a marker left by the waitress. "What do you think, leave it here, or wait for something more brilliant?"

"Maybe we should eat first," she suggested, smiling at the idea, and thinking of the horror her mother might feel over a place you actually wrote on the table.

"Very wise, I agree." He tapped the marker against his palm idly, and yet in perfect rhythm, as if to a song. "Besides, that will give you time to come up with your own."

"Me?" Catalina sputtered.

He smiled and leaned back in his chair, still tapping the marker. "Sorry, I suppose at home no one does such a thing. You don't have to, of course, it's just a tradition I have to always think of something new to write. But perhaps you share Elena's opinion and find it utterly boorish behavior?"

"No, no, it sounds fun, I just could never think of anything good to say," Catalina said quickly, not wanting him to misunderstand. The idea, once introduced, grew irresistible, and she struggled to think of anything profound enough to warrant her taking the marker. "I'm not very clever."

"So you think I am?" He smiled wide, dimples deepening. "I wish it were so, but I must admit I have sometimes been very slow witted. One time all I wrote was a question mark, for lack of anything else to say."

"But that sounds so mysterious, like, a clue for someone to puzzle out. I would never have thought of that."

"No indeed; probably you would not be so crass as to write on a table, ever. So perhaps we'll save it for another time." He set the marker down on the table beside them, within reach if they wanted it, but also out of the way and unobtrusive.

"Did you do an internship like this one?" she asked, sipping on her lemonade, trying to think of appropriate questions to ask on what must be a lunch with a colleague.

"So conscientious, asking about work even before the food arrives. Ah, well, I suppose I should expect that, given how little time you've had to learn about things. Ask away, and I will attempt to answer as I can."

They spoke about clinical procedures, university programs, and her own studies, comfortably weaving between subjects. The food didn't interrupt them long, and was as good as Enrique promised. He ordered a desert of yogurt with blueberries and nuts, soft and gooey and excellent, to finish off the meal. Catalina licked her spoon clean, feeling safe and warm and happy, not to mention even more eager to leave tomorrow.

"Is there anything else you want to know?" Enrique asked, setting his bowl and spoon down.

She almost shook her head before realizing there was something she would like to ask, if she dared. "It's not about work," she admitted, picking up a napkin and busying herself by wiping her fingers off.

"Good!" Enrique laughed, pulling his chair forward and leaning his elbows on the table in reckless abandon, which encouraged her to do the same. "Time enough for all that later. Let me guess, it's about the ranch?"

"Um, no, Elena told me about it," she said, hesitating. Then before she could lose her nerve, Catalina blurted out, "It's about your brother. Is he coming with us?"

It was as if a cloud blew over their table; actually, the sun had shifted, and Enrique's eyes were darker from the shadow thrown by the umbrella. He shook his head. "I think he plans to remain here in Mar del Plata for the rest of his leave. He can, of course, the house is always here, and I can't blame him: the beach is best this time of year."

Catalina would gladly have dropped the topic for her own sake. However, she thought of Javier and forced herself to continue. "But does he, I mean.... I'm worried about him. He and Isabel are so friendly, and he might not realize she's engaged, since sometimes she doesn't wear her ring. To keep it safe."

Enrique's smile fell by another degree, no longer quite so bright and happy. "You needn't worry: I told him about it as soon as she was invited to the boat party." He started to say something, closed his mouth, then reached for the marker again. "Let's come up with something to write together. What's your favorite song?"

"I don't know, there's so many," she answered, pondering his words, and trying to piece that together with the behavior observed yesterday. It didn't make sense, except that Fernando must not have fully believed his brother. "I think he must not understand the situation fully. So it would be much better if he went back home; I know Elena said she would like to spend more time with him. Couldn't your father ask him to come? I'd hate for him to get his feelings hurt, which might happen if he stays behind."

Enrique tapped the utensil against the table, staccato and percussive. "That's very generous," he said, eyes even more shaded by the umbrella's shadow. "But really, Fernando is quite able to take care of himself, including his feelings."

"Doesn't he want to stay with his family?" she kept asking, willing herself to understand.

He shrugged. "Fernando has a lot of friends to catch up with before he returns to his base. No surprise he doesn't want to stay cooped up far away from everyone, especially when the neighbors might be friendlier here. Nothing to fuss over."

"But he can't possibly realize all the problems he's causing! I mean by mistake." Catalina recalled Isabel's insinuations about her own conduct, and what it had almost led to. "Javier didn't actually say anything, of course, and I know it's all just a big misunderstanding, but still, it would be better for him not to hang out so much with Isabel."

"And the only way for him to do that is to come back home to the ranch?" Enrique asked quietly, raising an eyebrow. "Mar del Plata is a big place; I'm sure if Isabel wants to avoid him, she can."

"Well, she ought to," Catalina replied, her nerves bunching as she remembered Isabel texting mysteriously, and the giggling comments of her sisters. "But I thought, maybe, it would just be easier for everyone if he weren't here. I would hate for him to stumble into something and then have his heart broken."

Enrique coughed, turning his face away briefly, and she wasn't sure if he were offended or amused until she saw the hints of his smile as he answered her. "I can safely assure you that Fernando is not likely to suffer such an ailment; the army would be sure to spot any cardiac issues, and has trained him to weather any storm with ease."

She felt more than a little foolish, and suffered the teasing in quiet, wishing she could believe him and give up her fears.

"Besides," Enrique continued, slightly more serious. "I'm not sure his staying or leaving is really going to change anything. In matters of the heart, like all things between men and women, responsibility is equal on both sides. How could any couple be happy, if it depended solely on avoiding everyone who might make them otherwise?"

There was a great deal of truth in what he said, so like something Mamá would have cautioned her, that Catalina felt the first stirrings of hope. "So, you don't think it means anything, their hanging out?"

"I couldn't possibly say without more details, which I am not asking for. You and your brother will have to be the judge. All I can say is that trust is necessary in any relationship, and especially marriage. Do you think your brother trusts her?"

"Yes, of course, he loves her so much!" Catalina answered at once, on much firmer footing with this question. "And she's so devoted. When Javier was here all she wanted to do was sit with him and talk, and she misses him so much now, she even forced herself to get up from being sick to see him before he had to go. They are the most in love couple I've ever seen off television."

His smile quirked a touch higher, and he tossed the marker in the air, catching it with ease. "Just like on television: so she's in love with one boy, and flirting with another, I understand completely."

"No, no, that's not what I meant. No one really in love could ever flirt with someone else, it would hurt far too much." Catalina spoke from her heart, remembering all the warnings of her catechism, and the example of her parents and their siblings and even some of her cousins, all the beautiful marriages she knew of. "Papá says love is like the plains: it is too wide and large to see the end of it, so God put it in a person, that we might hold it in our arms." It was the most romantic thing she had ever heard as a fifteen-year-old, not ruined at all by being uttered by her father, and she had carried it in her heart like a promise ever since.

Enrique's smile grew without any obvious teasing, and he uncapped the marker at once. "Now that is exactly the turn of phrase these tables were made for. Come on, let's find somewhere with more space, I think it deserves a place of honor up here." He tried to give her the marker but she took hold of his hand to keep him seated.

"Please, though, I want to know what you think," she begged, sure he must know better.

He let her hold onto his hand, not gripping it back but not shaking free either. "I'm not sure what else I can tell you," he answered without fully looking at her. "People kid around, you know, and it doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"You really don't think Fernando cares about her?"

"I don't know. He doesn't tell me everything."

"But, as his brother, I'm sure you could guess."

"Maybe the Morenos share more of their hearts. That's not always the way it works in families." He shook his head, then threaded his fingers through hers, squeezing reassuringly. "I can see you're very worried, so I won't say not to. I know that never does any good. Seriously, I don't know, and I don't think anyone really does, except the people we're talking about. Otherwise it's just guessing and rumor, and that's always dangerous to play with. Here's what I can say: when Fernando is on leave, he likes to enjoy himself, sometimes at the expense of his brain." Enrique's voice darkened a moment, but then he quirked a smile again. "I guess all soldiers do. So that's for him. But you must know your friend best, and your brother, and I'm sure you can better judge how things stand between them. Surely they know how to settle matters between them plainly. Do they keep in touch, by phone maybe?"

"Yes, and I know they’ve already talked it over," she admitted, cheering up despite herself. "So I guess I'm just being silly."

"No, it's very good of you to feel so concerned for your brother." His thumb played lazily over hers, with apparent unawareness of how pleasant the sensation was to her. His next words were even better. "Look, Fernando won't even be able to stay here in Mar del Plata very long, he'll need to return to his unit. And he goes months at a time without breaks, during which he forgets about everything else. So this whole thing will probably blow over and be a funny story you can tell to your nieces and nephews one day, to embarrass their parents and make everyone laugh."

She smiled at the idea, cheered and warmed. "Muchas gracias for listening," she said, relief sweeping her last worry away. "I just didn't know who to talk to."

Enrique answered her smile just as warmly, and patted her hand with his other one. "Any time. What is a good supervisor for? Now let's get your quote written down and I'll drop you back off at the Aguirres. I'd like to see the good man one more time before leaving."

They chose a place on the wall by the door, Catalina reaching up to write with the marker in letters as crisp and legible as she could manage on the rough surface. It didn't come across very pretty, but Enrique said it was perfect, just right for the view, and it did come across as very like the rest of the homespun environment.

"That was great," she said as they got back in the car. "Maybe you and Elena can try it again some time, when you're both back in town. She might have just had a bad day before."

"We'll have to wait until you can join us," he answered, putting the car in reverse. "Otherwise I don't think it will work." He winked at her as he placed his hand on the back of her seat, turning his head to look behind as he backed out. "Bad times don't seem to stick around when you're nearby. Very good for a career in medicine."

Today's bonus blog content is on educational opportunities found in Austen and Argentina.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 19: Riesgo Cardíaco

MichelleRWMarch 13, 2023 10:35AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 19: Riesgo Cardíaco

NN SMarch 13, 2023 04:54PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 19: Riesgo Cardíaco

MichelleRWMarch 13, 2023 06:28PM


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