His free arm snakes around my waist, holding me against him, his breath on my neck, his face buried in my hair.
The door opens, revealing our hotel room. It’s small, but clean. Certainly not opulent, but enough.
We cross the threshold, Luis’s arm still around me, and the door closes behind us with a click.
We’re finally alone.
I set my bag on the floor near the door, my gaze on the bed. It overshadows everything else in the room, the implication contained there setting off a whole new set of jitters. Is this really about to happen?
I take a deep breath, then another, attempting to sift through the emotions tumbling around inside me. A part of me wants this desperately, has wanted it from the beginning, the desire intensified by our kisses on the beach, by each moment I spend with him. The other part of me is still mulling over the impossibility of us, guarding my heart as I listen to my head. A little caution seems prudent in this situation, even as my willpower crumbles with each second that passes.
“What are we doing here?” I ask, staring at the bed, the floral bedspread, the two pillows propped against the headboard. I imagine us lying there, limbs entwined.
“I don’t know,” Luis admits as he takes a step closer to me. Then another. “You are entirely unexpected.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No. Just complicated.” He takes a deep breath. “I thought you were beautiful when I watched you walk out of the airport. You looked so vibrant and excited, your hair blowing in the breeze. I hoped you were the one I was there to pick up, and then you walked toward me and I thanked whatever power it was that brought us together.”
I turn, facing him, the uncertainty in his expression surprisingly reassuring, the desire in his eyes sending a thrill through me.
“I thought you were laughing at me,” I confess.
“I thought you were charming,” he says. “And yes, you made me laugh, but not at you. And then I drove you through Havana, took you to your family’s house and saw the way you looked at it, heard the way you spoke of your family, of what being Cuban meant to you, and I knew.”
“That you were here for me.”
“How? How can this work? I don’t know what I want here,” I say, my voice barely above a whisper, the caution and control I clung to slipping away. “In this moment, I want you. But after that—”
“Then maybe we just have this moment.”
“Is that enough?”
He smiles, a tinge of sadness on his face. “I have a feeling there will never be enough moments with you, Marisol.”
If any other guy said that to me, I would dismiss it as another line, a move in the dating game, but there is something eminently trustworthy in him, and the sincerity I saw in him from the beginning, the solemnity in his expression, the truth in his words removes any doubt. He is not a careless man, and whatever the future holds, I know he will be careful with me.
My legs quiver as I sink down on the edge of the bed. My fingers fist the bedspread beneath me as I stare at the bright pattern—the garish colors blending together into a kaleidoscope before my eyes, my heart thundering in my chest.
How can someone be so comforting, and yet, utterly terrifying at the same time?
When I look up, Luis is standing next to the edge of the bed, the leg of his trousers brushing against my knees.
He doesn’t speak, but he doesn’t have to. There have been moments when I’ve found him to be impossible to read, but in this moment, in this hotel room, his guard is down, his emotions etched all over his face, in the tremor in his hand as he reaches out and strokes my hair, as I curl into his touch, as he skims the curve of my cheek.
My eyes slam closed.
I wait for him to kiss me, to lever me back onto the mattress, his strong arms wrapping around my waist, pulling me against his sinewy frame. I wait for a moment that stretches on and on, until I can’t wait anymore, the anticipation building inside me, the spark that was lit burning fierce and strong.
In the end, I’m the one who moves. Because while I don’t have the answers to any of the questions filling me with doubt and uncertainty, I know this—
If I don’t close the distance between us now, I will regret it for the rest of my life.
I lean into the arc of his body, pulling him down to meet me, catching him on an exhale, my mouth pressed against his, his breath becoming my breath, my hands taking over, my body colliding with his as the last of my misgivings retreat.
Luis bends me back, taking over the kiss, lowering me to the mattress, the comforter rough against the bare skin above my dress, his body firm against mine, a hint of breeze blowing across my skin from the ceiling fan rotating overhead, the distant noise of guests in the hall intruding on our privacy.
He whispers endearments to me in the language of my heart, his lips ghosting across my earlobe, his hands roaming over my curves, his fingers unhooking and removing clothing in a tangle of limbs, as I fumble with the buttons of his shirt, his belt, our shoes falling off the edge of the bed, our movements punctuated by the occasional bout of laughter, by a sweeping wave of desire that binds me to him with each moment that passes, until the rightness of this—of us—simply eclipses all else.
* * *
• • •
Afterward we lie in bed, naked, my head resting on his bare chest, his hand stroking my hair.
Minutes pass. The only sound in the room is the inhale and exhale of breath. What comes next?
His fingers walk across my skin.
I tip my head toward him for a kiss.
“I wasn’t expecting this when I picked you up at the airport,” Luis whispers against my mouth.
“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” I admit. “I came here planning to write an article about traveling to Cuba, and instead of paladares and sightseeing, my notepad is filled with politics.”
“Cuba is rubbing off on you,” he says, pride in his voice.
“I guess it is.”
“You could write an article about politics once you’re home, you know.”
“Politics aren’t really my thing. I write about accessible topics—the best restaurants to eat at when you’re in a particular city, a skin-care regimen that will help keep wrinkles at bay, the ideal way to pack your suitcase to maximize your storage space.”
“And politics aren’t accessible?”
I turn onto my side, facing him. “I suppose I’ve never seen myself that way. I’ll leave things like revolutions to people who are well versed in what they’re talking about. I’m not exactly known for being serious.” I offer a wry grin. “I’m sort of the flighty one in the family.”
Luis makes a disapproving noise in his throat. “You can write about revolutions and the best way to pack your suitcase. One doesn’t make you less than the other.”
I laugh. “If only it were that simple.”
“Why isn’t it?”
“Because my family expects things of me, because my last name carries a weight of responsibility and I’ve never quite measured up. I doubt anyone cares to hear what I have to say about politics. Every family has that one person who doesn’t fit; that’s always been me.”
Except for my grandmother. She adjusted to the curves and shifts of my life with agility and understanding, and occasionally, a plate of merenguitos.
“It can be simpler than you think,” Luis replies. “You can’t live your life to please others if you’re not proud of yourself. I saw the man Cristina wanted me to be, and no matter how hard I tried to pretend, I simply could not be that sort of man—the type who turned a blind eye to injustice and cruelty—and still retain some semblance of pride.”
“Are you happy now?”
He smiles. “Am I happy in this very moment? Right now, in bed with you?”
I grin, burying my head in the curve of his neck. “Yes.”
“Yes,” he echoes.
I look into his eyes, my fingers skimming the bruise on his cheekbone, his expression sobering. I open my mouth to speak—
“I don’t know—”
“—Things are complicated right now,” he says, finishing the thought for me.
I’m leaving in a few days, and he’ll remain here. Even as things are slowly, subtly changing, a wall exists between our countries—an ocean of differences—and I don’t know how to navigate it.
Luis sighs, his chest heaving with the effort. “These are difficult times in Cuba. Right now my fortunes are hers, and unless things radically change they’re on a decidedly downward trend.” He’s silent for a heartbeat. “I don’t want them to be yours.”
“Is it better for anyone? Than it was before?”
“Is the status quo better for some? Perhaps,” Luis answers after a beat. “For those involved in the upper echelons of the regime, sure. The military, for one. I saw that firsthand. For certain members of the artistic class, their art shields them from that which most Cubans experience. They can travel, tout their talent and the impression that it was nurtured in a Cuba that prizes education and art, making Cuba look good. Same for the baseball players and other elite athletes.”
“And for those who don’t agree with the regime?”
Luis grimaces. “Then it is very bad.” He sits up, pulling away from me, leaning back against the headboard. Gone is the man content to languish over my curves, interspersing his caresses with laughing kisses.
“It’s a bit better for the farmers, I suppose, for those living in the rural areas,” Luis continues. “They were pushed to the fringes of Cuban society under Batista. Under Fidel, they at least had the ability to feed themselves off the land, even if they risked imprisonment to do it. When we were hungry, life in the city became a curse.
“When I was a boy, we went to the country and a family friend gave us meat from one of his animals that he had killed. It was illegal for us to have it, but food was scarce then and we were so hungry. On the way back to Havana, our car broke down, the same one I am driving now, and I will never forget the fear in my grandmother’s and mother’s eyes as men came and helped us get it working again, as they worried someone would discover the meat in their trunk.”