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Estancia Aldea Norteña 20: Cambio de Escena

March 17, 2023 10:30AM
"Change of scene," when the protagonist makes sense of and assigns meaning to incremental changes or unexpected events (Story Grid).

The next morning Catalina hugged Tía Lola, repeatedly expressing her appreciation for all the many ways she had been such a good friend. The good lady kissed her back, said how much she would be missed, but encouraged her to have a good time. "You're growing up so fast dear, I can't believe it. And here, take this, I loved seeing it in your hair." She pressed the brooch into Catalina's hand, which prompted yet another round of hugs and kisses as she had yet another reason to express her gratitude.

Tío Ruy settled for a more sedate farewell during the car ride to the beach house. "It's been so good having you here. I'm afraid we'll be rather dull without someone younger to liven things up," he said, rubbing his knee. "But I promise to faithfully do my exercises, you may assure Señor Tilve there will be no more backsliding. And keep in touch: we're very interested in your progress."

"I will, of course, gracias again for everything."

He clasped her hand and even kissed it like when she would come play at tea party as a girl. "Well, after all, it's been a good investment. We'll see what the dividends are, come time, but I've no doubt you'll do very well."

It was high praise and Catalina assured him she would do her best. When they arrived, Tío Ruy walked her to the door while the driver carried her suitcase and the garment bag Tía Lola insisted packing the new outfits in. Señor Tilve welcomed them himself and began chatting about business almost before they had gone through the door. Elena sat waiting by the living room entrance and grinned widely when Catalina walked over. "We're almost ready to go," she said, wheeling herself around to face the kitchen. "Do you want something to eat? There's plenty left from breakfast."

The men's conversation lasted for the span of time it took Tío Ruy to share a cup of café and offer some final parting words. After his departure Catalina kept beside Elena, sipping yerbe mate and munching on a pastry. Señor Tilve paced in front of the large windows, talking on the phone to somebody, and occasionally yelling commands from the bottom of the stairs.

"We're just waiting for Enrique to return, he had one last appointment this morning," Elena explained quietly. "And Papá wants Fernando to come down and say adios to us. He was out very late."

Catalina nodded, no longer quite as unsettled by a mention of his name. The night before the Lobos all come over for dinner and Isabel had talked with her about Javier for so long, so ardently, it proved how much she really loved him, as if proof was needed at all. Javier called and Isabel talked with him a long time, even hogging the phone away from Catalina, who Javier specifically asked for. There had seemed a moment when she frowned and spoke harshly, but it was soon followed by smiles and tender endearments, just like a proper lover. Catalina admitted her ignorance and inexperience had probably led her astray, making her worry over nothing, and she vowed not to make the same mistake again. She would let Javier and Isabel settle matters themselves, without her interference, and become as supportive as a younger sister should be.

At last Enrique arrived, grabbing a bite before leaving to change clothes. "Be right back," he promised on his way to the stairwell. "Sorry for making you all wait."

"It's fine, Fernando's still not up," Elena called after him.

As if to prove her wrong, one brother came down as the other ran up. Fernando was dressed like he'd just rolled out of bed, in pajama bottoms and a tight army T-shirt, hair disheveled and prickles all over his chin. "Good morning, Elena, what did you make me this morning?" he asked, and stole some fruit straight off her plate.

"There's plenty in the kitchen if you want something," she said, pulling her plate into her lap protectively. "You needn't be such a pig." This advice was repeated more sternly by Señor Tilve, with a warning against further bad behavior that sounded so strong, Catalina was embarrassed on Fernando's behalf. It was never pleasant for parents to fuss in front of others, and she quickly excused herself to go fill her plate again, even though she wasn't that hungry.

Fernando followed her in, picking at things halfheartedly, then opening the fridge. "I'll be glad when you've all left," he muttered, pulling out a can and popping the lid. He gulped the drink down, wiped his hand across his mouth, and eyed her as he leaned against the counter by the sink. "So, you're Isabel's friend, right? The little Lina?"

"Catalina," she corrected gently, wiping her hands on a napkin. "Your whole family's been very kind to me, gracias for having me over."

He nodded, playing with the pop top on his can. "Yeah. Elena won't stop talking about you."

"I'm looking forward to seeing your home." Catalina tried to think of something else to put him at ease, although it was hard to know what to say to someone so much older and barely dressed. Maybe she could go back to the living room soon without it looking too rude.

Suddenly he broke into a wolfish grin, teeth bared and eyes sharp. "Right, the ranch. That'll be so much fun." He pushed himself off the counter, coming beside her to reach for a churro. "Want one?" he asked, holding it over her plate until she nodded. "You ever been out to a ranch? Go riding, maybe?"

"Not so much, although it sounds interesting," she answered, backing away and wishing she didn't have to try to gulp down such a large pastry now.

"Maybe Enrique can teach you. After all, he's going to be watching over you, right? Hope he behaves himself." Fernando grabbed the churro back. "Mmm, maybe this one's too big, we'll have to cut it down to something you can chew, ¿che?" He bit into it, laughing at some private joke, and Catalina quickly stepped away to the trash can.

"No problem, I'm not that hungry, you can have it." She dropped her plate and napkin in the garbage and moved to the door in a hurry, the sound of his laughter following her unpleasantly.

She nearly collided with Elena coming to check on her. "Everything good?" she asked with concern, and Catalina nodded at once, not wanting to cause any further unpleasantness.

"Can we look at the beach one last time?" she asked to change the subject, and Elena followed her over to the large windows after a glance at her brother. Fortunately nothing more was said and the view of the waves was very soothing. Fernando flopped onto a sofa and played with his phone, which suited Catalina just fine, even if Señor Tilve glared at him again. It didn't take much longer for Enrique to rejoin them, after which they headed outside to the cars. Señor Tilve wasn't very happy about the way things had been arranged: he snapped at the driver and ordered the luggage repositioned, almost sending Catalina's garment bag back in the house before she could claim ownership.

Elena fidgeted with her wheels while Catalina silently wished they could just be on their way. Then Enrique stepped in and soothed everything over, offering for Señor Tilve to ride with him and moving some of the suitcases back into the main car. He didn't once raise his voice or contradict his father, only encouraged everyone along with the same encouraging tone he used with patients. After a few minutes Señor Tilve agreed with a shrug. "Let's just get on with it, we're already late," he said irritably, and marched over to Enrique's car while dialing a number on his phone.

Enrique hugged his sister. "Have a good trip," he whispered after kissing her cheeks. "I'll try to talk him into a better mood by the time we arrive."

At last they were off, Catalina and Elena sitting together in the back of the large Tilve car with everything tucked neatly behind them, Enrique following in his smaller vehicle. The sun was out and bright, and once on the highway there was so much to talk about, the time passed quickly. Elena's spirits gradually improved when answering Catalina request for details about the approaching countryside, detailing the lake and grasslands with an artist's enthusiasm.

It took a good three hours to reach their destination since half the journey took place on back country roads. They stopped at a petrol station upon exiting the highway where Señor Tilve insisted on lunch at the adjoining shop. Catalina tried to demure, still stuffed from eating two breakfasts. After much prompting she politely ordered a bag of fried biscuits which Elena shared. After a quick trip to the restrooms everyone returned to the cars. However, once Elena was helped into the backseat, Señor Tilve stopped Catalina from joining her. "It's such a beautiful day. I'm sure you'd enjoy it better from Enrique's car, with the sunroof open and the windows down."

"Oh, gracias," she said, for lack of knowing what else to say.

"Good! Elena and I must rush to make things ready at home, but you should take your time and enjoy the sights, no need to hurry your first trip."

She nodded, struck again by his consideration, and after waving to Elena walked over to the other car. Enrique hung back, keys bouncing between his hands, but now quickly approached and spoke a few low words to his father. Señor Tilve shut the door in his son's face and must have ordered the driver to go away, because it zoomed off down the road.

Catalina hugged herself, not sure exactly what had happened. "Is everything good?" she asked in concern when he walked over, still jangling his keys.

He looked up suddenly, frown disappearing, and opened the door for her. "Yes, sorry to keep you waiting, here." He closing the door behind her then walked around and slid into the driver's seat. "Did you want the sunroof down?" he asked after a pause, gripping the steering wheel but not backing out, sounding almost hesitant.

"It doesn't matter," she assured him. "I'm sure it's fine up, if you don't want to."

He shook his head, smiling, and then pushed a button. "We might as well: Papá is right, it is a very beautiful day. I promise not to go too fast." Enrique's laughing voice was back, and Catalina was pleased that whatever discussion he'd had with his father must not have been too bad.

"Well, I tied my hair back, so it won't matter," she answered, happily leaning back in the seat and looking out the window. "It's very pretty outside."

He murmured something while flipping on the radio. She turned back to him and asked him to repeat himself, but he only winked and said, "I was agreeing with you: it's very pretty indeed."

True to his word, Enrique drove with care, expertly taking the turns without any trouble, and so the wind from the open roof was only pleasant instead of overwhelming, especially with the sun shining so bright. Catalina was privately certain he would never be surprised by a flat tire. He certainly looked very capable and even dashing: jeans immaculate, shirt perfectly fitted, a white cap shielding his eyes.

"Gracias again, by the way, for agreeing to spend so much time with Elena," he said as they turned down yet another winding road deeper into the trees. "It's very isolated out here. Then Papá and I are both gone so much, sometimes she's all by herself up at the ranch. It'll be good for her to have a friend around."

"I'm happy to," she replied, and looked around to admire the scenery again. "It looks amazing already. I see why Señor Tilve wants to get back so soon; you must hate leaving home all the time."

"Well, I miss Elena," Enrique answered after a second, drumming a rhythm on the steering wheel.

"Yes, of course, but then also to leave the ranch! That would make anyone sad."

He laughed, turning the volume on the radio down as they talked. "So, you know all about the ranch. In love with it already?"

"Not really, but it sounds incredible. I tried to look up pictures online but I didn't see many."

"No, Papá likes his privacy; it's not a true hacienda, no tourists or students, usually. Just kilos of space everywhere."

"Does it look like the ones on TV?" she asked, curious again, even after talking it over so much with Elena. "With mesa bricks, and a red roof, and all those little designs carved into the columns?"

"Maybe with a large fireplace in the front hall, and a giant staircase, and some secret passages? I think you may be confusing it with somewhere in Colombia, maybe with three handsome brothers all working together to avenge their sister."

"Oh, right, I know it's not exactly like the Elizondo place, but is it close?"

"Yes, of course, what else would a ranch be?" he asked seriously, never taking his eyes off the road, but with a few darting glances he continued. "And you must prepare yourself, because whenever the pretty young girl leaves the city, we all know that means she has put herself in deadly peril."

"But that's when she goes out by herself," Catalina answered, grinning at his sly reference. "I'm not worried about your ranch, especially with everyone there."

"Hmm, yes, but what if you should find yourself alone one day? Papá gone to see one of his friends, Elena busy with her art books, and I unhappily drowning in work. Don't let someone call and lure you out to meet them at the edge of the property. Especially don't let our housekeeper assure you that everything will be fine, and you can easily get back, without needing to pack a lunch or anything. Even if the sun is shining, don't trust it, I beg you señorita, because we all know as soon as you're far away from everyone the clouds will roll in, a storm will blow up, and you'll fall into a rushing ravine that just happened to fill with water right as you rode by, and which we've never even realized was there before!"

Catalina was laughing now, trying to control herself but unable to stop from picturing the scene exactly as he described playing out on television. "But I don't even know where your horses are!" she protested playfully. "So I'm sure none of that will happen."

"Counting on innocence to protect you? That's very unwise. But maybe you'll survive the fall by recalling the gymnastics lessons you learned as child, when you lived with your old family in a circus before being adopted into the Morenos, and forgetting all about your old life because of a hit to the head. Amnesia will disappear, and you'll realize that the answer to all your burning questions must lie in the old mine farther out on the grounds, and what luck! When you take shelter in a cave, it'll wind in a passage down, down into the earth, and reveal a treasure chest, which the circus performers buried when they were being hunted by the police, on the off chance that you would find it one day. You'll have to find a way to open it, of course, and maybe break your leg in the process, but what a small price to learn the truth at last! You'll break open the lock, discover a diary, and discover your name is in fact not Catalina Moreno at all, but actually Dorothea de Peron y San Luis!"

He was barely able to finish, laughing as well, and when Catalina begged him to continue, he shook his head and said, "No, no, it doesn't work, for how did you read it in the dark? Your flashlight probably died, all hope is lost, cue commercial break. Hmm, what would be best, maybe an ad for cooking spray, that would help you a lot in a cave all alone and abandoned."

"But it's so good, you could make a telenovela all your own," she said, still taken with the image, and wishing it were an actual episode to watch. "And besides, I'm sure none of that would ever happen to me, and especially not at your own home."

Enrique tilted his cap up and grinned widely. "Certainly not. Even if you somehow stumbled out on the grounds, I'm sure you would break your toe, not your leg."

That set Catalina laughing all over again. Eventually they drove up to a small town only slightly bigger than Fortuna back home, even if the houses were much nicer, with a row of cute tiny stores. "There's the clinic," he pointed, and she looked to see a white building bright and shining at the end of a street. "It's not really finished yet; there's supposed to be construction on it to finish building proper examining rooms instead of the little closet we use. But it has to do for now."

"How far to any hospital?" she asked, thinking it was a long way back to Mar del Plata in case of an emergency.

"Not so many kilometers by distance, but it takes a while given the curve of the lake and state of the roads. It's a struggle to staff it with enough doctors: a private practice has practically no shot at getting anyone permanent to settle with patients scattered all over, and most of them gone half the year. This satellite wouldn’t exist at all if Papá didn't help so much with the financing."

She nodded and watched as the town slowly melted away into more trees when they turned onto a country dirt road. Enrique closed the sunroof as they bounced but handled the path with practiced ease. Then she gasped at seeing a large wooden fence with a giant gate open for them, just like a movie.

A few sprinkles of rain began to fall, so Enrique drove underneath a large covered driveway. It looked far more like a fancy hotel than a true old ranch. "Here, hop out, I'll get the things," he said, unlocking her side from the driver's seat.

The front door was opened for her by an older woman in a very nice dress, who offered to show her into the den. Catalina found it was not at all like she had imagined: there was no rug on bare wooden floors, woven in the style of a hundred years ago, nor oil lamps glittering from sconces. Instead, contemporary electric lights cast out any shadows that might wish to form, and the thin stylish carpet hushed any potential ominous footsteps. It looked just like any house might, and even though Catalina realized Tía Lola would be ecstatic at the furnishings, she couldn't help wishing it were less polished and a bit more rustic.

"I trust your drive was pleasant," Señor Tilve greeted her, bowing over her hand with his usual formality.

"Yes, gracias, everything looks very good," she said at once, shamed at her musings, and smiled at Elena. "I'm glad we finally made it here."

Before Elena could answer, Señor Tilve grunted. "Yes, Enrique cut it a bit fine, you've barely time for a proper tour of the house before it'll be time for dinner."

As it was barely past two o'clock, Catalina wasn't sure what to make of this statement, especially since Señor Tilve had seemed to indicate before that he wanted them to go slowly. When Enrique joind them, Señor Tilve mercifully kept his concerns silent, only announced he had some important calls to make, and trusted his son could show Catalina around. "You're eating with us of course," he said to Enrique before parting, phone already in hand.

Enrique only answered with a nod, keeping his thoughts to himself while his father left the room. Then he tossed his keys into the air, catching them one handed and pushing them down in a pocket. "Alright, let's show our guest around."

Elena took the lead in pointing out the different rooms, of which there were plenty. "We can go out tomorrow, I'm sure it won't be too wet," Elena told her as they admired the view from a large sunroom, again very modern in design and without a hint that they were in an ancient ranch house. Catalina wondered just how much work had been done to the place over the years to make it look so new, and realized even the wallpaper and windows looked new, as if everything came from one of Tía Lola's recent catalogs.

Enrique's phone beeped, and when he checked it he groaned theatrically. Elena almost grabbed it from his hand. "No, no more work today, you promised!"

"I just need to find out what's going on, I'm not jumping back in the car," he assured her as he dialed a number. "Go on and finish the tour, I'll catch up later." He walked out of the room, listening to his phone, and fingered his keys at the same time despite his words.

"Sometimes I hate his job," Elena admitted, crossing her arms. "Every time he gets away, someone has a panic attack, as if no one else can take care of them when there are plenty of other people to call."

"I'm sure it'll all get straightened out," Catalina comforted her. "He said he wouldn't leave, after all."

Elena nodded slowly, her hair falling in her eyes before she pushed it back. "I know, and I am proud of him. I just wish...." She didn't finish, then smiled and hugged Catalina. "But of course, he has to stay more now, since you're here! Come on, I’ll show you my room."

It was immaculate, not a thing out of place, even at the large easel on one side specifically designed to accommodate her wheelchair. Catalina admired all the beautiful art projects on the wall: paintings, sketches, photographs, all framed and labeled like a museum. It was such a big space: twice the space Catalina shared with her sister back home, and Elena even had a bathroom all to herself!

"That's nothing, everyone does here," Elena said diffidently, clearly not realizing her good fortune. "Your room too, of course, here, it's this way."

The change of scene sparked amazement all over again: there was more art on the wall, and when she got closer found they were once again by Elena. "You do so many things!" she marveled, admiring a watercolor of a horse galloping in the grass, the colors mixed to perfection.

Elena's smile faltered as she wheeled herself over to where Catalina stood. "No, these aren't all mine. That one was done by my mother. She taught me to paint, when I was little, before.... See, she uses her middle initial when she signs her name."

Sure enough, when Catalina leaned forward, she could clearly see it read "Elena D. Tilve," in a script much more elaborate and decorative than the signatures she'd seen on the other pictures. "She was a wonderful artist," Catalina said, still admiring the painting.

"Yes. There's some pottery, too, we can look at it some time if we go out to the sheds."

"Aren't there any inside?" Catalina asked, surprised.

"No, Papá doesn't like to have them out where they could break," Elena said absently. "Do you like your room?"

"Yes gracias." Her suitcase had already been unpacked, the closet full of her things neatly hung up, her clothes folded in the dresser, and everything else laid out with care in the bathroom. "It was very kind of them to get everything out for me," she said but Elena just shrugged.

"Papá wanted to make sure you didn't need anything. And if you do, just ask anyone, we have a ton of stuff. Being so far out it's easier just to stockpile than to wait for things to arrive at the store."

Sure enough, there was shampoo and lotion in the bathroom, just like a hotel, and so many towels Catalina wondered if maybe it was actually a storage closet as well.

"Do you want to take a shower before dinner?" Elena asked as Catalina looked around. "I already took mine, but it's almost time for me to change. I'll catch up with you in a few minutes."

It was becoming clearer to Catalina how Elena might not like the cafe back in Mar del Plata, if the Tilves were usually so strict about keeping everything neat and orderly. Even Enrique never looked too out of place, his clothes always pressed and perfect, his hair nearly always perfectly combed back. Catalina ordinarily didn't think anything of being out for a long trip. But she decided it would best to appear her nicest for dinner, and so took a quick shower, changed into one of her new dresses, and took special care to brush her hair. She debated whether she was making too much fuss, then took up Tía Lola's brooch and threaded it through her fresh braids, in honor of the lady.

With nothing else to do, she took to admiring the pictures on the wall again, identifying the ones clearly made by the mysterious Señora Tilve. It was odd, she realized, how seldom any of them spoke about her. Even Elena never said anything beyond the stray reference. Well, after all, Catalina hadn't spoken of her mother much either, but surely that was different. Mamá was alive and plain and just a nurse. Señora Tilve had died so tragically, everyone said, and was obviously a very passionate person, judging by the canvases on display.

One painting in particular drew her eye, a line drawing without color, the shading and contrast alone bringing the landscape to life. It was expertly done, and Catalina was happy to identify the perspective, feeling like she could admire it all the more for knowing about its form. She leaned forward, trying to identify something in the background, and was startled to realize it was a cave by a river, just like Enrique had described on the car ride over!

She reached up to touch the glass, and was further surprised to feel the frame move, tugging to the side as if weighted down. Catalina reached to steady it and felt something taped to the back, long and papery and heavy. What could it be?

"Are you ready?"

Elena's voice startled her, and Catalina whipped around, nearly taking the picture with her. "Oh, yes, sorry, this frame started to move," she explained, flustered to have been found playing with it, and she quickly straightened it.

The other girl didn't look upset at all, just wheeled herself further into the room, looking simply beautiful in a white blouse and khaki skirt, her hair done up in ribbons. "I never knew what to do with that one," Elena said, looking the picture over. "It doesn't really fit with any of the others; it's one of her earliest works, from when she was my age. But I thought it would cover up that bare spot on the wall. Do you think the frame is too big?"

"No, it's perfect, I like it," Catalina said, tucking her hands behind her back. She almost asked what was behind the frame yet not certain how to explain her discovery and interest.

"Well, if you're ready, Papá's getting restless. It's probably best we start back toward the dining room."

Catalina was more than happy to leave and follow her friend, with only a quick glance behind as they left. Whatever mysteries the frame held would have to wait.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 20: Cambio de Escena

MichelleRWMarch 17, 2023 10:30AM


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