PROLOGUE

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CROWD HAILS CASTRO AS HE REACHES U.S. FOR AN 11-DAY VISIT

THE NEW YORK TIMES

APRIL 16, 1959

"Talia, I'm going to be sick."

"Oh, no. Otra vez? How can you even have anything left?"

But Carlito was already leaning against me, the harsh, dry rattle of his heaves contrasting with the sloppy wet sounds of the waves slapping against the sides of the boat. I fought to suppress my own gagging as bile soaked through my skirt, hot and acidic and smelling faintly, ridiculously, of maduros. Probably nothing more than a product of exhausted and overwrought imagination. Wistful memory of the final meal served at home before we left, colluding with the terrifying uncertainty of our future.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything out of the ordinary.

None of the servants any the wiser that it would be the last time they'd be cooking for us, serving us, cleaning up after us.

Or maybe they'd known. No one could trust anyone else any longer. I wonder how many of them at least suspected? Might have been watching, waiting ...

We should have just flown. We should have left—long before Papi made the decision. I tried telling them. I had desperately wanted to leave. Almost as much as I wanted to stay. Wanted things to be the way they'd been, childish pipe dream that it was. Wanted to curl up and die.

But Papi insisted that not only could we bring more on the boat, it would also serve us well in bringing extra money since we'd be leaving almost everything behind. What we still possessed was tied to the country in ways that would all too easily rouse suspicion if we tried to make substantial changes. Another reason we'd taken so long to leave. Gathering money and items in small increments, all very cloak and dagger in a way that might have been thrilling and exciting if not for the sheer terror overlaying every step or word.

Not that any of this was discussed directly with me. After all, I was just la niña—la princess—no need to worry my precious little head with such trivialities.

What a joke.

Yet so typical that he'd still think of me in such a way. Attempting to keep me locked away and preserved in some airtight box despite all that had already happened. So willfully blind to the fact that I'd left innocence behind in one shattering moment weeks ago. How could he be so callous? Who knew? Perhaps it was for his own benefit. Protecting himself.

Mami and Abuela had always said it wasn't that the men in our lives didn't care or weren't aware. Just simply that they couldn't handle our pain. It overwhelmed them. So instead they focused on believing we were delicate flowers requiring protection. We allowed them the illusion. To protect them. And because it suited our purposes.

However, I didn't want to be strong. I didn't want to protect anyone. I wanted to howl and scratch and spit and rip flesh from bones and rail at the inhumane unfairness of it all.

Perhaps I was better at this pretending than even I had imagined. Because they—Papi, Mami, Abuela, Carlito—every one of them thought I was strong enough to cope.

Using a clean section of my skirt, I wiped Carlito's mouth, dabbed the perspiration off his sweet face, trapped in that shimmering moment somewhere between boy and man. Pobrecito-there was so much he'd be missing. So much he should be experiencing that wasn't this hell.

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