"Let me get you some water, hermanito."
"Don't go." His voice cracked. Definitely more boy there, as his arms tightened around my waist—afraid I'd leave.
"But it'll make you feel better."
"It'll make me throw up again." Shades of a deeper tone. A surety. Almost against my will I smiled. So stubborn, my little brother. Since the cradle, no one had known him as well as he knew himself—or so he very firmly and vociferously believed.
However, this wasn't simply a matter of wanting to get him water—I also desperately wanted to change my clothes. Get out of this dress with its soaked, filthy skirt. Never mind that in sacrificing clothes in order to leave room for other items and the fact that this was far from the first time I'd held Carlito through a bout of nausea, I didn't have much left. At the very least, I could always borrow a pair of Carlito's pants and a shirt. Anything would be better than sitting for God only knew how much longer with sodden, smelly cotton clinging to my thighs. Perhaps if I'd still been wearing my girdle, I could have simply shimmied out of my dress and left myself in the equivalent of a bathing suit, but the torture device had long since been discarded-along with the gloves and stockings. It was simply too damp for that many layers of clothing. What could Mami have been thinking when she insisted we dress in our Sunday best—that we were going to wash ashore at a yacht club? It was absurd.
So many things—once considered of paramount importance—all of a sudden seemed absurd.
"Carlito, I have to change my clothes."
"Stay." A command, coming easily from the young prince accustomed to getting his way, yet easy for me to ignore. That is, until his gaze fixed itself on my face, his eyes enormous dark smudges in the pale oval of his face. An unnerving deception, since those eyes, in the light of day, were the same pale, brilliant green as Papi's. The "eyes of the San Martín men" as Abuelita proclaimed time and again from her spot of honor at the foot of the French mahogany table. But in the dark, the color was lost—overwhelmed by fear. Ignoring the wet and the stink and my own terror and fury, I gathered him close, my little brother, taller than me now, the future man of the family yet forever the baby, holding him as the yacht bobbed quietly along the waves. We were saving our last bit of gas, I knew. For those final crucial miles.
I closed my eyes and turned my face into the breeze drifting through the cabin's open door, breathing deeply. Sea air always helped. Always soothed. Even under these circumstances.
I blinked, not sure if I'd drifted or not. But I must have, because where before there had been nothing but infinite dark—
Through the window-tiny pinpricks of light in the distance, piercing the black, gracias a Dios.
Lights that appeared to be standing still, only their reflections bobbing and weaving the slightest bit on the dark water. Looking like fireflies. Difficult, but not impossible to catch.
Beneath the smooth leather soles of my shoes, I felt the engines rumble to life, the distant lights continuing to beckon, reaching out, guiding us in.
"We're here," Carlito whispered, struggling to sit straighter. "Natalia, we're here."
"Yo se," I whispered absently. But where?
My stare never strayed from the lights that drew closer, closer ... so close I could practically touch them, then—gone, my hip stinging, fingers digging into the padded cushions of the bench as I struggled to regain my balance, to sit up, shaking my head to clear it of the buzzing whine.
YOU ARE READING
Between Here & GoneGeneral Fiction
Chosen as one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2016 ** In 1959 Cuba, Natalia San Martín was nothing short of a princess: sheltered, pampered, and courted by her very own prince, a childhood friend turned lifelong love. All that changed on the fa...