“Explain this to me as if you were my tour guide,” Aaron asked Joab and Kisa, who sat in the front seat of Highlander. He asked in English because this was too important for his limited vocabulary in Spanish.
“That is what you hired me for, yes?” Joab grinned at Aaron through the rearview mirror. “To be your tour guide.” He kept his hands on the steering wheel as they moved away from the Guatemala border and into Belize.
“I actually know the history better than the rest of you,” Kisa said.
“Hey, I know the history,” Felicia said, in Spanish, her brow creased. She sat in the middle row, her hand permanently attached to Aaron’s since the time the guys picked her and Kisa up from their house.
“You’re too emotionally involved.” Kisa waved her hand dismissively at Felicia, switching back to Spanish in order to chastise her niece. Aaron wondered why Felicia was emotionally involved but didn’t want to interrupt Kisa. He needed to understand where they were heading and why. Kisa switched back to English. “The Mayan reservation is mostly within the adjacency zone between the borders of Belize and Guatemala.”
“You’ve lost me already,” Aaron said. “What’s an adjacency zone?”
“Kind of like a buffer zone on either side of the border between the two countries so that people won’t be shot for crossing into the country illegally.”
“That’s a thing here?” Hayden asked from the third-row seat. He sounded frightened.
“Not that often.” Kisa cleared her throat like she was nervous. “Anyway, the situation goes back pretty far in our history because of some treaty made between Spain and Portugal in the late fourteen hundreds, and then a different treaty between Spain and England in the eighteenth century.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the only people who really belong there are the Mayans,” Felicia said with a huff, grumbling in Spanish. Aaron was beginning to believe that Felicia understood a great deal more than they gave her credit for. She seemed to listen in English but answer in Spanish.
Kisa continued. “Anyway, the Belize government claims they own the land. The Guatemalan government claims they own the land. But like Felicia said, the only people who have ever lived in the area were the Mayans.”
“Now the Mayans are forced into this tiny reservation,” Felicia said with such passion that Aaron could see what Kisa meant about her being too emotionally involved.
“Do you have family up there or something?” Aaron squeezed her hand gently. “This seems really important to you.”
“My best friend growing up is a member of that tribe and she was forced to go live up there.” Felicia almost sounded like she was going to cry. “I haven’t seen her since she moved.”
“Will you be able to introduce me to her today?” Aaron asked quietly.
“Maybe.” There was hope in her eyes.
“Do you talk to her or text or Facetime or anything?”
“She doesn’t have a cell phone.”
“What’s her name?”
“Xpiayoc,” she said.
“Really? Spee-i-ick?” Aaron tried to recreate the pronunciation of that very strange name.
“Her name means the mythological goddess of matchmaking,” Felicia said.
Aaron leaned closer to Felicia and whispered near her ear. “Do you think she’ll be able to predict if you and I will ever get married?”
“I don’t think we need a goddess to predict that,” Felicia whispered back.
Aaron wanted to pull her close and press his lips to hers, but he was aware they had a very captive audience. Instead he kissed her neck right behind her ear and she let out a tiny noise that was almost a whimper.
Aunt Kisa cleared her throat from the front seat where she had turned her body in order to glare at him.
Aaron sat up, forcing his most innocent expression. “What?”
“Hmpf,” Kisa said then warned under her breath. “Watch yourself.”
Owen and Hayden both snickered from the backseat.
Aaron didn’t let go of Felicia’s hand.
“Hey, we’re really close to our hotel,” Aaron said as they slowed the Highlander through the city of San Ignacio. “We should stop there for dinner on our way home. I’d love to show you ladies our obscenely large hotel suites before we abandon them for something smaller and less ostentatious.”
“Yes! I want to see where you sleep!” Felicia was practically bouncing on the seat. That brought more suppressed laughter from the back row and another stern look from Aunt Kisa.
“She didn’t mean anything by that,” Aaron told Kisa through clenched teeth. “And anyway, I’m a gentleman. I’m not going to take advantage of her youthful innocence.”
“I don’t trust you, Aaron Sayid,” Kisa said, narrowing her eyes.
Aaron gulped. The woman saw right through him. How was he supposed to reconcile the man he had been a year ago with the man he wanted to be? He couldn’t go back in time and change his checkered past, but he could temper his own desire for this adorable girl holding his hand. The best he could do was try to stay worthy of her hero worship.
They turned north out of San Ignacio and climbed the foothills toward the reservation. The Highlander took the unpaved mud paths without trouble. The limo would have gotten stuck two minutes up the road. They’d made a good choice waiting.
The dense forest hid secrets from the past, concealing ancient Mayan ruins that were still under threat from looters even though El Pilar had a thriving tourist business and a modern-day tribe of Mayans living just off the beaten path.
That beaten path didn’t have access by Highlander, so they needed to hike from the tourist parking lot. Few people knew where the entrance to the reservation began and the posted signs for private property kept the tourists at bay. But Kisa had been here before and had called ahead to one of the tribal leaders she’d known for years. The tribe knew exactly why the three Americans had hiked down the hills to their home, and the brothers were welcomed with a feast.