“A movement began within the country. It started, strangely enough, among children of the elites. Don’t forget, Fidel himself was the son of a wealthy farmer. The very people who enjoyed Batista’s largesse discovered their children sympathized with the revolutionaries. Their sons fought for democracy and change, and were willing to spill Cuban blood to achieve it. It would be easy to say that the revolution divided us along the lines of poor and wealthy, but it’s not that simple.

“It’s not shocking to me that Elisa fell in love with such a man, but Emilio Perez would never have accepted his daughter with a revolutionary. And it would have killed your great-grandmother. She was descended from Spanish royalty, and she expected her daughters to conduct themselves accordingly.”

“And my grandmother never told you his name?”

“No. He was from Havana, but I’m not sure what part of the city.”

“Was he her age?”

He sounded older from the tone of his letters—more worldly, certainly.

“A bit older, I think. Most of the men involved with Fidel’s movement were in their twenties or early thirties. Boys, really.”

“What else did she tell you about him?”

“One day, we were supposed to have lunch and go shopping at El Encanto. This was a couple months before everything fell apart. Late October or early November. I went to the house to see Elisa . . .”

Chapter twelve



This time he’s gone for longer than ever before, and the letters arrive sporadically, delivered through subterfuge and random messengers in his absence, read in the privacy of my room when I can sneak away from everyone and escape into his words.

The fighting is intensifying; the tide is turning, Batista is on the defense, his forces and resolve weakening. Hopefully, this will be over soon and he will be gone; hopefully, I will be back in Havana and we will be together again.

I write him nearly every day, my letters tame compared to the stories he tells me, of sleeping beneath the stars, existing on meager rations. He gives me enough detail that I feel as though I am there with him. There’s poetry in his letters, in the manner in which he describes his actions, his fidelity to Cuba, and in his words for me.

I think of you often. I try to imagine you going through your day, laughing with your sisters. I use my imagination to paint a picture of your life. It keeps me company when we’re marching, waiting for things to happen. I never realized war would be so much waiting.

I imagine what our future will look like, where we will live, how we will live together. Attempt to envision what my life will look like when we defeat Batista. I think I would like to go back to practicing law, perhaps become a judge one day. I can no longer fathom a future without you.

I write back to him, the act of committing my pen to paper giving me courage to share all that is in my heart.

I want a future with you, too.

I scour my father’s library for José Martí’s writing, for the men Pablo admires—Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau; the books are faithful companions as I wait for him. The days between his letters turn into a week, two, and pass by as I spend time with my sisters, shopping with Ana. Alejandro is gone as well, and I can’t help but fear that unseen forces are operating within the country, weaving disorder, and two men I care about—deeply—are involved.

The presidential election is held on November 1, and Batista’s candidate for president, Agüero, wins under mysterious circumstances. Murmurs ripple through the country—suggesting Batista rigged the vote in his favor. We waited and waited for elections, years, years of promises, years of hope for democracy, years of Batista, and it was all a foregone conclusion. Agüero will be Batista’s puppet.

The hope many held in their hearts is now reduced to tatters. After nearly a decade of Batista, we are now to have more of his rule in one form or another. We are fractured between those who are ambivalent to this outcome and those who mourn it. No one seems genuinely happy about Batista—he is not a man who garners great loyalty except perhaps within his most inner circle—but there is a sort of muted relief that envelops my parents.

Our house has become an uncomfortable place, everyone walking on eggshells. The servants smile, but there’s an edge to it now, a simmering anger lingering behind the flash of white teeth. Our nanny, Magda, is a buffer between the family and the rest of the staff, both parent by love and employee in our parents’ eyes. She’s the glue that keeps us together now that the family feels more fractured than ever—Isabel is consumed with Alberto, each day pulling further and further away; Maria is occupied with her games and toys, cocooned in an imaginary world where Cuba isn’t cannibalizing itself; and Beatriz and Alejandro—

They always had secrets as twins, but now I fear those secrets run far deeper and more insidious. I’ve already lost one sibling to this madness; how can I lose another?

Magda walks beside me and Ana as we drift through the store, our gazes lingering on the glittering jewelry ensconced behind glass cases. It seems incredibly indulgent to go shopping in times like these, but without these amusements to pass the time, the days grow stagnant, the waiting and wondering and tension unbearable.

“What do you think about this necklace?” Ana asks, pointing out a pretty set of pearls on display.

“More your style than mine, but pretty. They’d look nice with your new yellow dress.”

She smiles. “They would, wouldn’t they?” She lingers over them while Magda and I drift to the next set of cases, the next display of exquisite jewelry.

“I wish Beatriz would have come with us,” Magda whispers to me.

“Me, too.”

“What did she say when you invited her?” Magda asks.

“That she already had plans.”

I didn’t ask what they were; at the moment, it hardly seems in my best interest to inquire considering how much we’ve all been sneaking about lately.

“Plans.” Magda’s expression is grim. “She needs to spend less time up to no good and more time trying to find a husband.”

I can’t help but grin. “You sound like my mother.”

Magda and my mother are strange allies in the house. Their attitude toward me and my sisters might be different, but they work in concert, Magda a gentler, more affectionate version of our mother.

“Your mother knows what she’s about. And for as smart as she is, Beatriz can be incredibly foolish.”

“Headstrong,” I say, feeling the need to defend my sister.

Her expression softens. “Yes. Headstrong. And a bit stubborn, too.”

My lips twitch. Beatriz is undeniably stubborn.

I reach out and squeeze Magda’s hand, the familiarity of her touch a comfort in these tumultuous times.

Ana joins us, and all talk of Beatriz ceases; Magda, too, shares our mother’s devotion to protecting the integrity of the Perez name.

I wander off, half-heartedly looking at jewelry while Ana buys the pearls.


I turn at the sound of my name, at the faint pressure against my elbow.

My brother is suddenly in front of me, and for a moment, seeing him here in a store we accompanied our mother to when we were younger, it feels as though we have both gone back in time to when things were simpler and we weren’t divided by ideology and war.

Alejandro looks better than he did outside our home the day he saw me with Pablo, but he’s still unkempt, his appearance so different from the urbane brother I remember.

“What are you doing here? How did you find me?” I whisper, my gaze darting around the store. Magda and Ana are thankfully preoccupied with the pearl purchase.

His expression is grim. “I was waiting for you outside the house. I saw you leave with Magda and followed you. I need to talk to you.”

He pulls me into a corner so Magda and Ana can’t see us. “I heard a rumor the other day; they say Batista has arrested some rebels. Fidel’s men.”

My heart turns over in my chest. “No.”

Not Pablo.

“He’s alive. They’re holding him in Havana. In La Cabaña.”

My legs tremble. Batista’s prison is notorious.

“They say he’s being questioned on Fidel’s movements.” Alejandro’s voice lowers. “Did you know he was Fidel’s eyes and ears in the city?”

I suspected. That Pablo is on Batista’s radar is a death sentence.

Despite the ideological differences between us, Alejandro’s still my big brother, and in this I can’t help but search for reassurance.

“What will happen to him?” I ask.

Alejandro’s silence is answer enough, even if it’s not the one I wanted.

“They’ll kill him, won’t they?”

He nods.

That’s the thing about families. They always tell you the truth, even when you’d almost prefer the lie.

“What can I do?” I ask.

I’m not sure how much more helplessness I can stand.

Alejandro’s gaze narrows. “Do you care about him?”

The words are clogged in my throat behind a morass of fear and guilt. “I do.”

“Then there’s one person who might be able to help.”

If helplessness is my Scylla, then the solution is most definitely Charybdis.

* * *

• • •

I hover on the threshold to my father’s study. I’ve never done this before, never used my family’s influence in such a blatant, flagrant attempt to secure what I want. I’ve been in a daze since my brother came to see me, panic flooding my veins. My father is seated behind his enormous desk, papers spread before him. I wince at the sight of the newspaper shoved into a corner. Has he already read about the arrests? How will I convince him to throw his weight behind freeing Pablo?

He looks up from his desk, and his eyes widen in surprise. This study is my father’s domain, and we tiptoe around it, reluctant to bother him when he’s working, when it’s clear he has little time for our frivolities.