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In order to fully understand the imaginary country of Madain Saleh, you have to understand the imaginations within the creative mind. I have selected an actual location with history that dates back thousands of years and created a country wherein my princes would live, if they existed, which they don’t. Except in my creative mind, wherein they are loved and happy. Hopefully exploring Madain Saleh will help me finish Alexander’s story. I know how the story ends, and I know how it begins, there’s just this place in between where I can’t seem to connect the dots. Be patient with me. What would you like to see happen here in the middle? -Julie L. Spencer
“Dr. Stephenson, are you almost ready to go?” Nicholas called up the stairs to his twin brother, Levi. He already had the kickstand lifted, his helmet on, and his backpack strapped in place. His patience was wearing thin. “I have a meeting with a grad student in twenty minutes.”
“Dr. Stephenson, why do you insist on calling me Dr. Stephenson when we are still at home?” Levi answered as he hurried down the stairs to where his bike propped against the wall in the ground floor garage of their townhouse. As Levi walked past the candy apple red Lamborghini Urus that they supposedly shared, Nicholas snapped at his brother.
“Don’t scratch my car, dude.” Nicholas realized a luxury SUV imported from Italy was the least likely choice of a Harvard professor, but he just couldn’t resist temptation when he saw the concept car at the Beijing Auto Show. Without blinking an eye, he paid the $270,000 in advance and secured one of the coveted first run of a thousand off the production line. The perks of growing up a billionaire.
“Did I, or did I not, pay for half of that beauty?” Levi asked, strapping on his helmet and lifting his bike from where it rested against the inside wall of the garage. “Not that I’ve ever driven it.”
“I’m oldest. I get to drive,” Nicholas said, rolling out into the parking lot.
“By seven minutes. That hardly counts.” Levi mounted his bike and reached for the button to close the garage door.
Nicholas watched longingly as his prized possession disappeared behind the protective barrier between his baby and the elements that threatened its paint job. He wondered if he’d ever get tired of looking at his new toy. He shook off the nostalgia and pushed away from the curb, engaging the pedals of his bike.
The light breeze blowing through his thick brown hair made him smile as he let gravity and momentum pull him toward campus where they both taught.
As a professor of environmental archaeology, he worked closely with his brother’s expertise in ancient languages to reconstruct past civilizations, particularly the Mayan culture. Levi was at least partially fluent in all the main branches of the Mayan languages, particularly the Quichean.
The Geek Twins, as their childhood friends used to call them, had been fascinated with the cultures in Guatemala all their lives. There were interwoven ties between their father, who served in an Army Special Forces unit during a humanitarian crisis along the Texas-Mexican border helping Guatemalan refugees, and their father’s cousin who married a Mayan princess who was also somehow a distant cousin of theirs and shared their last name.
The confusing blood lines and generational interconnections were fascinating, and the twins had devoted their life’s work to understanding and preserving their heritage.
Because their family was so wealthy, Nicholas and Levi had never needed to work traditional jobs. They had devoted one hundred percent of their adult lives to their studies and flown through their undergraduate and post-graduate programs. At the ripe old age of twenty-nine they were world-renowned in their fields.
They were also bachelors. Dating and marriage had barely crossed their minds. They joked they’d have to find girls who were also identical twins, loved traveling to archaeological sites in Meso-America and didn’t mind microwave meals and long nights of research. In other words, they’d be bachelors forever.
The bike rack beside the door to the Tozzer Anthropology Building, where they shared an office, was sparsely populated this early in the morning. They locked their bikes and Nicholas held open the door for his brother, who unhooked the strap from his bike helmet as they began the three-story trek up the stairs.
“Man, I hope I don’t look as ridiculous as you do with your sweaty helmet head,” Nicholas said, chuckling as he removed his own helmet. He ran his hand through his thick hair, trying to straighten out the fly-a-ways, and fluff the parts that were matted down.
“We’re identical twins,” Levi said. “If I look ridiculous, you look ridiculous.”
“Good thing I don’t have any meetings this morning.” Nicholas turned at the first landing, his legs still strong even after their bike ride. He was proud of their commitment to maintaining an active lifestyle, a requirement if they were going to be ready at a moment’s notice if someone needed them at an archaeology dig.
“I thought you said you were meeting with a grad student.” Levi had no trouble keeping up as they turned the corner at the final landing, and they almost seemed to race up the last section of stairs.
“Yeah, but he won’t care what I look like,” Nicholas said, pushing his brother out of his way, his spirit of competition kicking into high gear during those last few stairs. Just as he pushed open the heavy door to the third-floor hallway, he said, “No one cares what I look like.”
“I care,” a sultry voice startled him as he entered the hallway.
Nicholas stopped short when he noticed the gorgeous blond leaning against the wall next to the nameplate near the door to his office. Her blue eyes danced with amusement and Nicholas was caught in her gaze as his brother plowed into him.
She chuckled but didn’t move from where she stood with her arms crossed, a professional Navy button-down dress shirt and khaki slacks so different than the jeans and t-shirts worn by the college kids. She had a sport coat draped over her folded arms and computer bag at her feet.
“Becky?” Nicholas shook off his stupor. “I mean, Dr. Benson. What are you doing in Massachusetts?”
NOTE FROM JULIE: If you haven't read the chapter where Jacob meets Maryam, I strongly suggest you read that first. When you're done reading this chapter, there is another link to the chapter immediately following this one. Warning: completely inappropriate (but hilarious) topic of conversation!
“Little brother,” Liam spoke from the doorway of Jacob’s stateroom. “I bought you a gift when we went ashore.”
Jacob looked up from his iPad where he’d been typing a blog post. He was determined to follow the example of his older brother, Nicholas, and keep a record of their travels. His infatuation with the captain’s lovely daughter was a welcome distraction from the monotony of travelling the open sea, but Maryam worked long hours and could only fit in a few stolen moments here and there.
Plus, after her mother had caught Maryam flirting with Jacob, she kept her daughter working on the opposite end of the yacht, so those stolen moments were few and far between. Jacob needed a distraction from his distraction. Maryam knew where to find him.
“What is your gift?” Jacob was always leery of Liam. He was usually up to some mischief and straddled the line between right and wrong, often leaning more on the side of wrong.
Liam tossed a box onto Jacob’s lap that resembled a nondescript box of medical supplies, perhaps latex gloves or gauze.
When Jacob read the packaging, he gasped and tossed the box onto the bed beside him with disgust as if just its presence on his lap would taint him.
“I figured a box of fifty would be sufficient for our trip across the ocean.” Liam laughed at Jacob’s reaction.
“What makes you think I would need even one condom, much less a box of fifty?” Jacob croaked out. “Take them back. I will never use them. Ever.”
“You’d be surprised how quickly never turns into right now,” Liam said. He walked over to Jacob’s bed and picked up the offensive little box. He turned to the bedside table, opened the drawer, and tucked the box inside. “Trust me, you don’t want to be compelled to get married.”
“I will not need them until I get married,” Jacob said through clenched teeth. “At which time I will no longer need them because I will be married. I don’t see the logic in even keeping them.”
“There is nothing logical about what your body experiences when in the arms of a beautiful woman.” Liam patted Jacob on the shoulder as he passed him on the way out the door. “Keep one with you and use it when the time comes. And believe me, the time will come sooner than later. I’ve seen the way you look at each other when you don’t think anyone's watching.”
“That’s absurd,” Jacob called after him.
“Keep one with you,” Liam called back.
Jacob hesitated a moment, then, curious, he walked over and sat on the edge of his bed. Against his better judgement, he opened the drawer and stared down at the box.
“I just wanna see what one looks like,” Jacob whispered to himself. Almost as an afterthought, he stood and hurried over to the door, closing and locking it.
With trepidation he walked cautiously back over and sat on his bed again. He hesitated then reached for the box and slid his finger along the edge to break the seal. The box popped open as if by its own free will revealing dozens of little grey packages hooked together in rows. He pulled one row of five from the box. Ten rows of five. He shoved the row back in the box and tried to close the lid. Now that they’d been released from confinement, they wouldn’t fit back in the box.
He pulled a row out again and detached one little grey package. The visible ring slipped around inside as if lubricated. He wrinkled his nose.
Jacob just wanted to see what it looked like inside. Sure, his father had told him years ago about the changes his body would go through during puberty, but the topic of protection was barely mentioned in passing. The message had been clear: wait until marriage. Period. End of story.
So why did two of his brothers wind up getting girls pregnant prior to marriage? Maybe there should have been less insistence and more education? Maybe Liam was right. Maybe Jacob should learn more and not be so afraid of a natural part of being a man and a woman. He was a man now, after all. Nineteen years old was a man.
Jacob ripped open the package and pulled out the slimy ring. He didn’t understand how this thing could protect him from anything. He tried to unroll it, but it slid through his fingers. Everything about the little ring was offensive and gross. Without further consideration, he tossed the condom in the garbage can beside his bed along with the empty wrapper, closed the box as best he could and shut the drawer to his bedside table. He shuddered as he rose from his bed and hurried over to the bathroom to wash his hands.
“I am never using one of those disgusting things,” he vowed to himself as he scrubbed his hands with soap and water. The words Liam had said echoed in her mind. You’d be surprised how quickly never turns into right now.
“This is my stateroom?” Jacob turned in a circle, wondering how he was going to cram himself into this small a space.
“Isn’t it great?” Maryam asked. “This is probably the nicest yacht I’ve ever worked on.”
Jacob stopped and his jaw dropped. He realized with a single word he could offend this young lady, and he needed to be careful. “My brother helped design this boat.”
The yacht was a full 200 feet in length, had four decks above the waterline, two decks below, a helipad, two VIP suites in addition to the owner’s suite, a pool and jacuzzi, a movie theater, a massage parlor and beauty salon, a playroom, a bar, and a library.
“Wow, that’s so cool.” Maryam tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “He must be really smart.”
Jacob was momentarily distracted by the unique flecks of brown and gold in her aquamarine eyes. They were unlike any he’d ever seen. He shook off his stupor and flopped onto his bed and tucked his hands behind his head. “How long has your father been a captain?”
“Longer than I’ve been alive,” she said, sitting on the chair by the desk.
Jacob noticed his iPad was already plugged in at a port and waiting for him. He sat up and realized many of his things were already in place. “Did you organize my room?”
“Is it not to your liking?” Maryam hopped up and straightened the chair, pushing it back under the desk. “I can move things however you want them.”
“No, no, everything’s fine, please sit back down.”
“Are you sure?” She kept one hand on the chair and didn’t return to her seat.
“What do you do for fun around here?” Jacob asked, changing tactics.
“I work here,” she said.
“Well, they have to give you a day off now and then, right? I mean, it’s like thirty days that we’ll be at sea, right? They can’t work you twenty-four-seven.”
“No, I mean, yes, I’ll get some time off,” Maryam said. “But not for the first few days. When the family comes aboard, it’s our job to make sure everything’s perfect for them.”
“Well… I’m family.” He batted his eyelashes playfully. “You can be tasked with making sure everything’s perfect for me.”
Maryam giggled and Jacob’s heartrate increased. How was he going to be stuck together with this girl without eventually kissing her? He’d already practically asked her out and they’d known each other less than twenty minutes. He was in trouble.
“Hey, little brother, how do you like your home away from home?” Liam came around the corner but halted in the doorway. “Ooh, I didn’t realize I was interrupting anything.”
“Oh, no, sir, I was just making sure Master Jacob had everything he needed.” Maryam tried to duck past Liam, but he was leaning against the doorframe, essentially blocking her way.
“I’ll bet you were.” Liam wiggled his eyebrows playfully.
“Liam, leave her alone,” Jacob said.
Liam dropped his arm and stepped out of the way, offering Maryam a wink.
“And, Maryam?” Jacob called before she could get too far out the door. She turned back with hesitancy. “Please just call me Jacob.”
“Yes, sir.” She nodded respectfully and slipped down the hall.
“My little brother,” Liam said. “You are going to have one enjoyable trip across the Atlantic.”
“Whatever…” Jacob couldn’t help his mouth pulling into a grin, suspecting his oldest brother was right.