The border town of Melchor de Mencos sat on the banks of the muddy Mopan River, and that’s the nicest word Aaron could find in his vocabulary to describe the smelly brown stream. He was used to the crystal-clear sparkling waterfall that ran quite literally through his New York treehouse.
Aaron grew up in the elegant foothills of the Hudson Valley in a four-story home built within and around the forest with a foundation that crossed the top of a waterfall. Pure elegance and beauty compared to this poverty-stricken city. He wished he could bottle the purity in his world and bring something positive to this region.
The strange realization was that these people seemed happy. Aaron had never met a woman as happy to be alive as Felicia. At least until she learned Aaron and his brothers were planning to stay the night at a fancy hotel in Belize. He would need to drag that story from her. But for now, he would enjoy getting to meet the remainder of her family.
With directions from Felicia and Dominic, the limo driver maneuvered through the narrow streets and up the hills to a rural neighborhood.
Where Felicia’s family lived wasn’t in the slums but was not the kind of place where a limousine would casually pull up and let out three American guys.
Their home was smaller than a farm but had a large garden area with a few chickens and a goat who Aaron remembered was named Lui. The property seemed well-maintained but lived in. With all the kids who came running from inside, Aaron was glad to have a hotel reserved across the river rather than encroach on an already crowded residence.
Not all of the children belonged to Dominic and his wife Yris, but it was nearly impossible to keep track of them so Aaron didn’t try. The adults were all considered aunts and uncles, and the children were all considered cousins.
Felicia seemed to live in the world in between the aunts and the cousins. Not quite an adult, but not one of the children either. Aaron wasn’t sure what to think about his relationship with her. She was purity and youthfulness and light wrapped in a colorful, flowing dress that hugged her curves in all the right places reminding him she was definitely not a child.
Although Aaron was a man—an experienced man—Felicia reached into his heart and made him wish he could turn back time and return to the innocence he saw in her eyes. He felt unworthy of the hero worship that emanated from her and all her little brothers and sisters and cousins. They all wanted to hug Aaron and his brothers. They all wanted to climb inside the limo, which their driver, Joab, graciously allowed.
Aaron was glad Joab had been willing to stay here for the night and suddenly wondered how he would travel around once Joab headed back to Flores. Would he need to rent a car? Take public transportation or a taxi? None of those sounded like something he wanted to do. He wished he could keep a driver, but certainly didn’t want to travel around in a limousine for days or weeks. Maybe there was a local service. For now, he tried to concentrate on his new friends, or more accurately described, his new family.
After many hours on an airplane, and almost two hours in a car, Aaron was thankful to hear that Yris had prepared a big meal. She served a thick and spicy stew called pepian that boasted a strange combination of pear, squash, carrots, potatoes, and corn, and was served with homemade tortillas and chilled soda in bottles that had not been opened. Aaron was thankful for that. He wasn’t prepared for the horror stories relating to drinking water in third world countries. He hoped at least the food would not make him sick but didn’t consider the possibilities until halfway through his meal.
Joab was included in the meal and the conversation and treated like one of the family. The adults all sat around talking and enjoying the cooling evening, excited to have American cousins visiting. Aaron wished he didn’t have to leave but he and his brothers kept yawning. They promised to return in the morning and tour the city and the area and get to know them better.
When the time came to head to their hotel, Felicia grew quiet as she walked Aaron to the limo. Hayden and Owen climbed in the car, and Joab waited in the driver’s seat while Aaron stood near the back of the car, holding one of Felicia’s hands.
“I don’t want you to go over to Belize,” she finally admitted in Spanish. “They are bad people.”
“We’re going to stay there tonight, but tomorrow I want you to tell me the story about why you think they are bad people,” Aaron said. “Help me understand.”
“Okay, I will tell you tomorrow,” Felicia said.
“And I want you to show me everything fun about your town and this area and take me to see things that most tourists don’t get to see.”
“Okay.” She chuckled and reached up to place a quick kiss on Aaron’s check.
Aaron wished he could pull her into his arms and give her a real kiss but was keenly aware that they had an audience of her mom and dad and aunts and uncles and grandparents watching. Some other time. He leaned forward and kissed Felicia on her forehead, then waved lightly as he tucked himself into the limo. His brothers chuckled at him when he sighed with a cheesy grin. He was losing his heart to that girl, and they all knew it.