Carolina had ruled over Havana Land Holdings for over thirty years and over her household since she married Antonio, her husband of fifty-two years. Everything about her radiated wealth, power, and confidence. She was not a tall woman, but with her high heels, erect posture, and regal manner, she seemed to tower over everyone around her. She walked with purpose, and once Carolina left a room, there was no further purpose for being there; she took all its energy. It hadn't always been like this. As a child, Carolina had begged for food for herself and her four siblings. She had seen two die from malnutrition before reaching the age of seven, and the other two had lived long enough to be destroyed by violence in the streets of the small town where she had grown up. She struggled and worked hard but there was no way to escape poverty. Carolina's luck changed when she met Antonio. Together they had built an empire which was, in the early 1960s, threatened by Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution. Carolina and Antonio had one son, Julian. He was Carolina's pride and joy, the heir to the throne.
Antonio was a hardworking but weak man. He had met Carolina when he was starting in commercial real estate sales. She had a good head for business, and his company had taken off after they married. Within a few years, they had amassed multiple properties, and Carolina had helped him build a multimillion-dollar empire. Antonio lived in awe of his wife, a mixture of love, respect, and fear, for he knew she had been mostly responsible for their success. At first, Carolina worked behind the scenes, mostly taking care of the home and raising Julian but as soon as he was old enough, she placed Julian in boarding school and became more involved in the company. With time, she was making all decisions. Rather than argue and fight, Antonio allowed Carolina to take charge. The more he gave in, the more she demanded, and she soon governed their household and their business.
Julian was a rare soul, fortunate to be born into wealth, educated at the best schools, and charmed with good looks but still kind, generous, and attentive to others. After completing his education abroad, he assumed his role in the family enterprise. Since Carolina managed every aspect of the corporation, Julian mostly traveled, bought fine clothes, drove fancy cars, and chased after women. All at his disposal, courtesy of the family's capital. He appreciated his parents' largesse and always looked to please them. The only rebellious act Julian ever committed was to marry Elena. He met her while she worked at a nightclub and fell utterly in love. Head over heels, once in a lifetime, no one is ever going to tear us apart kind of love. Their union was tested often because he had married a poor girl and without Carolina's consent.
Similar to Carolina, Elena also had come from humble beginnings. She was orphaned when she was seven years old and lived with an aunt and an abusive uncle, who since she had turned twelve, raped and made her life a living hell. Elena ran away and lived in the streets until a priest found her shelter at a couple's home, where she worked as a maid. Elena saved every penny she earned, and when she had enough money, moved to Havana. Her good looks and dancing abilities got her a job as a waitress and nightclub dancer. One night, she met Julian, and her fairytale began. When her shift ended, Elena left the nightclub with Julian, fully expecting never to see him again after that first date. One night turned into weeks, followed by a marriage proposal, a wedding before the justice of the peace, and a year later, the birth of a beautiful, healthy daughter, Ana.
"Ana isn’t going anywhere!"
"Elena, calm down," Emilio shouted. He wanted Elena and Carolina to stop arguing.
"It's for her own good. You're an idiot not to see that." Carolina stuck her index finger in Elena's face.
"Carolina, please don't insult the girl."
"Shut up, Antonio, don't get into this," Carolina barked. Antonio slumped further into the sofa, hoping the giant cushions would swallow him.
"Julian, please don't let her do this. Ana needs us," Elena implored. Her face was red, and her clinched fists trembled in fury.
"We have to do what's best for Ana. If she stays here, the government will take her from us."
"And what do you think will happen if we send her to the United States?"
"I’ve already told you! The Church will take care of her. It's a special program for unaccompanied children to get them away from Communism."
"Why can't we all go together?" Elena cried.
"We can't. Ana will have to go first."
"No! I'm not letting her."
"Elena, be reasonable. Carolina is doing it for Ana's own good."
"She's only five!" Julian's resolve weakened.
"You don't love your daughter," Carolina declared.
Behind the closed doors, Ana covered her ears and wondered, what's going to happen to me?