Victoria Jackson, Tori for short, walks into lobby of her apartment building, immediately heading to the mailboxes. As she sifts through her letters, she hears heavy footsteps on the stairs, praying that whoever it is will just ignore her. No such luck, of course.
“Oh Tori, how are you honey?” Tori suppresses an eye roll as she turns around to face Beth, the middle aged widow who lives in the apartment across from her. “So sorry to hear about your mom. Her funeral was today right?” Beth reaches out to rub Tori’s arm, and she lets her. It’s easier to take the sympathy now than to have to apologize for being rude later. At least the other woman hadn’t tried to hug her.
Tori nods, lip pursed tightly. “Yep, just arrived back from it. She’s six feet under now with gram, like she wanted.” She sees Beth cringe at her crassness, but Tori is sure she’s used to it. “I hate to cut this short, but I’ve got an important letter to respond to.” Tori gestures to the stack of mail in her hand and Beth nods, a sympathetic smile taking over her face.
“Well listen, honey, if there’s anything you ever need, you know where I live.” Beth smiles brightly at her, and Tori can’t help but notice the fine lines around her mouth and eyes, but they manage to make her look more beautiful. The older woman has got the beginnings of gray streaks in her deep brown hair, but again, they make her appear more elegant and distinguished. Beth hikes her purse higher onto her shoulder and gives Tori’s shoulder a final squeeze before heading for the door.
Tori breathes a sigh of relief and starts for the stairs, dreading the three flights like she always does. “Honestly, would it kill them to fix the elevator? It’s like I’m in a horrible episode of The Big Band Theory.” She says out loud to herself as she makes her way up the stairs, quickly, eager to open Mari’s letter.
She drops her purse and the other envelopes onto the hall table, already tearing into the letter in her hand. Mariposa has been Tori’s pen pal since they were each eight years old, thanks to part of each of their after school programs. Mari lives in Havana, which is about 1,300 miles from Queens, New York where Tori lives. They’d considered emailing, but the sense of tradition appealed to them too much. They talk on the phone, at least twice a week, but still, there’s something that sparks a childlike joy when you receive a letter.
Tori plopped into her recliner, the envelope sliding down to the floor as she unfolds the paper. The letter read:
Again chica, I’m sorry about your mom. I know you’re not heartbroken, but you have my condolences nonetheless. I’ve been thinking. Now there’s really nothing holding you back. You’re free to do what you want, you don’t have anyone to take care of. Come here, to Havana. Get a change of scenery. You can stay with us, Abuela won’t mind. Maybe a change will help your writer’s block. Think on it, sí?
Talk soon, xoxoxo,
Tori takes a moment to digest the suggestion, then fishes around in the pocket of her jeans- imagine the dirty looks she got for wearing those to her mother’s funeral- for her cell phone. Mari is under her favorites, of course- and the only one, now- and dials. Four rings later, Tori hears the familiar voice of Mari’s grandmother. “Hola Abuela, puedo hablar con Mariposa, por favor?” She hears Abuela laugh at her poor pronunciation before she says “Sí, sí. Un momento.”
Moments later, Tori hears Mari’s cheerful voice echoing through the phone. “Tori! How’s it rocking, chica?”
“You, are loca, girl. Crazy, I tell you.” Tori starts. Mari laughs, and Tori remembers exactly why she loves her best friend.
“So you got my letter?” Mari says, and Tori can tell she’s smiling.
“Yes,” Tori’s shoulders sag. “It’s crazy, Mari. I can’t move to Havana!”
“I didn’t say you had to move here, and why not? You’re a writer, Tori. You can write from anywhere. No offense chica, but there’s nothing there for you. Havana is a can be like a whole new world!” Mari speaks gently, and it isn’t a mystery to Tori how Mari is a hit with all the men in Cuba, the way she’s so naturally kind and gentle. It could persuade anyone to do anything, not to mention that she looks like a damn angel. She’s got the prettiest deep chestnut hair, chocolate brown eyes, and olive skin. Tori on the other hand, was the complete opposite. But you know what they say, opposites attract.
“Yeah, but what about Chester?” Tori says, looking down at the orange tabby nuzzling at her leg.
“Tori, stop trying to make excuses. Bring him along. Abuela will absolutely love him. She’s been so upset since Pancha died.”
Tori sighs loudly and takes her hair down from her bun. She tries to run her finger through the strands, but quickly enough she gets stuck on a snarl. “Ow, dammit.”
“What’s the matter, didn’t brush your hair this morning?” Mari laughs knowingly.
“Hey! Stop… knowing me so well…” Tori says, pursing her lips, which makes Mari laugh harder.
“You know, for an author, you’re not very eloquent.” Tori can practically hear the other woman’s smile. Tori manages to remove her hand from her hair, knowing she most definitely looks like a wreck. She brushes the strands out of her face, thinking on what Mari suggested. Could she really uproot her life and go to Havana? She thinks a few moments longer, realizing there’s really nothing that would be uprooted. Mari is right, there’s nothing here for her. Now that her mother was dead, she didn’t have anyone. No siblings, no friends, no boyfriend. The blonde leans down and scoops Chester into her lap, stroking his fur.
“Tori?” Mari says questioningly, not having gotten a response.
“Mari, you’re right.” Tori says, creasing her brow, just now realizing she has no idea why she would ever want to stay in Queens.
“About you being ineloquent? Well, I know-”
“No I mean about Havana. I’m going to come stay with you. Like you said, I have no reason to stay here. Besides, why would I pass up time with my best friend?” They’d seen each other a few times over the years, the last time a year ago when Mari was in the States to visit her cousin.
“Aw, Tori! I knew you missed me!” Mari giggles, and Tori had to roll her eyes, purely out of affection of course.
“I’ve got to have some time, but ideally I’ll be in Havana within the month.” The friends share a goodbye, promising to talk again soon.
Tori sets her phone down on her coffee table and nibble at her thumbnail, almost -only a little- giddy at the idea of leaving this life behind. After a few moments of thinking about it, really thinking, she’s overcome with elation. She’s smiling wide enough for it to hurt her face and she squeals, succeeding in scaring Chester away, and kicks her feet. She covers her face for a moment, then breathes, calming herself down. “That was embarrassing, Tori. Calm yourself down.” She says to herself, but still can’t make herself stop smiling.
Read the next part!: Havana: Part Two