“And you think you can bring that to Cuba?”
“Me and others like me. Fidel Castro for one.”
I know little about Castro besides the mentions of him I hear in the news and the derision in my brother’s voice. Fidel is calling for those running for the upcoming presidential elections to be shot and jailed; he says he will bomb polling places where people will gather. Perhaps Pablo thinks he is a good man, but the little I’ve seen of him has yet to convince me, and as much as I might disagree with my brother, I can’t ignore his thoughts on the matter, either.
“Were you with Fidel on the Granma?” I ask.
“Yes. I’ve been with him throughout the journey.”
“He’s your friend.”
I don’t bother hiding the fact that I’m mildly appalled. My mother has always cautioned us that we are to be judged by the company we keep, and it is difficult to not do the same to Pablo. Just as it appears difficult for him to not do the same to me.
“He is,” Pablo answers. “He’s also one of Cuba’s best chances at stepping out from under Batista’s shadow. He’s a good man, a lawyer, a reformer, a constitutional scholar, and a student of history.”
The bombs going off around Havana—some of them have belonged to Castro’s 26th of July Movement. Some of the Cuban blood that has spilled on the streets, the lives lost, have been at their hands, too. Either directly or indirectly, he’s been responsible for those deaths.
How can I admire such a man? How can I care for him?
“Isn’t Castro in the mountains? Shouldn’t you be with him now? What are you doing in Havana?”
He’s silent for a long time. “I was with him in the mountains for a while. I was needed here. It’s best if you don’t know why.”
“What happens if you are caught?”
“They question me. Throw me in prison.”
He doesn’t flinch. “Maybe. Probably.”
He takes my hand, lacing our fingers together, his gaze on me. He leans forward, shattering the distance between us, his voice lowering again. “If you don’t want to see me again, if you can’t understand . . .” His voice trails off. “My family—” Emotion splinters the words. “My family wanted no part of this, either. Wanted no part of me now that this is my life. I understand. They’ve gone to America. To Florida. We don’t speak.”
“I’m sorry. That must be hard for you. I can’t imagine my life without my family.”
“When my brother—” I take a deep breath. How much will I trust him with? How much of myself, of my family, should I give? Pablo just shared enough to see himself hanged. Can you have a relationship where you exist in half measures, or does the very nature of love demand you throw yourself into it with gusto?
“It’s been hard on everyone.” I twist the white linen napkin around in my hands. “He wants nothing to do with our parents, the money, his legacy of running our family’s sugar company.”
“He’s with the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil,” Pablo says.
The DRE, who a year ago stormed the Presidential Palace and attempted to assassinate President Batista. With the death of their leader José Antonio Echeverría after he took part in an assault at the National Radio Station of Cuba, the group all but collapsed, many of its members choosing to join the 26th of July fighting in the mountains. My brother has remained in Havana with his friends who refuse to join Fidel and his men.
My stomach clenches. “Yes. How did you—”
“I asked around. Discreetly, of course.”
My eyes narrow. “My parents have told everyone he’s studying in Europe. Everyone thinks he’s studying in Europe.”
“The people who know of your brother run in very different circles from the ones you likely see at the yacht club. We’re a small, disreputable lot, but word travels quickly.” He hesitates, the smile slipping. “Your brother has gained notice lately. His writing is . . .”
“You’ve read his papers?” Pablo asks, his tone fairly incredulous.
“He is my brother.”
“But you don’t share his views?”
“Of course not. He’s still my brother. I don’t always like him, don’t always agree with him, but I love him.” I think about it for a moment. “I’m proud of him for believing in something so passionately, even if it isn’t something I believe in. Even as his beliefs drive a wedge between him and the rest of the family. He wouldn’t be happy to be a replica of our father; he needs to be—is—his own man. And at the same time, I worry about him. Constantly. With each day he’s gone, it feels like he’s further and further away from us.”
“And where do you fit in all of this?” Pablo asks.
“It’s different for me. It’s different to be a woman in Cuba.”
“Perhaps. But it doesn’t have to be.”
I shake my head. “You hope for too much.”
“And you ask for too little.”
“Perhaps,” I acknowledge.
We break apart as the waiter sets our plates on the table. Pablo ordered us a dish that looks and smells wonderful, chunks of meat mixed into the rice.
When the waiter leaves, I say calmly, “How long will you be in Havana?”
“A few weeks, maybe. I’m not sure.”
Then we’ll have a few weeks.
“I want to see you again,” he says, his gaze intent. “Can I see you again?”
Perhaps I fell in love with him while walking on the Malecón. Or maybe it was at the party, or a few minutes ago when he spoke of his dreams for Cuba. Or maybe this is merely a precursor to love, an emotion singularly difficult to identify by name when you’ve yet to experience it; maybe there are stages to it, like the moment when you wade into the ocean, right before the waves crash over your head. And maybe—
Relief shines in his gaze.
Pablo takes my hand, his thumb stroking the inside of my wrist, teasing the soft skin there.
“You’re going to be difficult to walk away from, aren’t you?” he asks, his voice resigned.
My heart thuds.
“I hope so.”
* * *
• • •
He drives me back to Miramar in a car he says he borrowed from a friend, dropping me off a few streets away from my house to avoid anyone seeing us together.
Pablo turns in his seat to face me. “Would you like to go for a walk with me tomorrow? I have some business in the morning, but we could meet in the afternoon if you’d like. On the Malecón, near the Paseo del Prado.”
With each day we spend together, the risk of discovery grows—and yet—
We decide to meet at two o’clock, and then with a brush of his lips against my cheek, he is gone, leaving me walking down the streets of Miramar, my skin warm from his kiss.
My home looms ahead, the pink edifice framed by looming palm trees. I walk toward the gate—
A little scream escapes my lips as a hand closes down on my forearm, tugging me to the side of the fence, away from the view of the house.
Alejandro is suddenly there in front of me, his hand gripping my arm, pulling me out of view of the street until we’re hidden by the massive walls flanking our estate.
My brother’s voice is low, urgent, so different from the teasing, mischievous boy I grew up beside. I’m not sure exactly when the change began, when he started looking at the society we inhabited with a different gaze than the rest of us. University, perhaps? He made it through a year at the University of Havana before its doors shuttered, and at some point during that time, he transformed from future sugar baron to revolutionary.
“What are you doing here?” I hiss.
My father made it clear the day he threw Alejandro out of the house—my brother could leave with the clothes on his back and nothing more, never to return again, his name expunged from the family bible, the sugar empire left to whichever one of our future husbands was most deserving in our father’s eyes, making us eminently marriageable. While our father’s edict hasn’t been strictly followed, Alejandro’s visits are typically relegated to evenings and days when our parents aren’t in residence. That our father is somewhere in the cavernous mansion, our parents returned from Varadero, makes this even more brazen.
“What are you doing with him?” Alejandro asks, his eyes dark, ignoring my question completely. His gaze runs over my appearance as though I am a stranger to him.
My heart pounds.
Brothers, too, are both a curse and a blessing.
“That didn’t look like nothing.”
What did he see? Me in the car? Walking away from Pablo? That moment when Pablo pressed his lips to my cheek?
“Well it was,” I lie. “And it’s not like you’re in any position to lecture me about being circumspect in my behavior.”
“This isn’t about being circumspect; it’s about your safety. He’s dangerous.”
“Not to me.”
“Especially to you. Do you know what they’re doing in the Sierra Maestra? They’re animals. Do you know how close he is to Fidel?”
That name drips with scorn falling from my brother’s lips. I’m not entirely shocked that my brother knows of Pablo; despite their ideological differences, my brother is every inch my father’s heir—he appreciates the value of information: hoarding it, trading it, using it to his advantage.
“He’s a good man.”
Alejandro snorts. “Aren’t we all?”
Something in his tone breaks my heart—what has Batista done to us? What have we done to ourselves?
“You’re still a good man.”
Alejandro runs a hand through his hair, grimacing. The hand falls to his side and he stares at it, pained, as though blood drips from his gaunt fingers.