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The distance up and over the first mound was almost a full day’s walk. Instead of chopping down saplings and shrubs with machetes to make the trek easier—as they would do once over the first mound—they held branches out of the way for each other, creating as little trace of their path as possible to be visible from the road.
They relied heavily on GPS coordinates and compasses to maintain the correct heading, depending on faith and intuition as much as possible. Trusting that their field guide, a local man they called James, would know the proper techniques for navigating the jungles of Guatemala, the team followed his lead.
As part of their advance training, they’d all received basic cartography skills, beyond what any of them had learned in the computer lab. On this exploration, they weren’t just creating their own path, they were creating a map that could someday be used by others to reach this same sacred site.
The slope of the mound was gradual, almost to the point of being invisible to the eye but was obvious on the legs. By the time they reached the apex there was very little relief because they were too exhausted to be excited.
Gradually they made their way down the other side of the mound, the only evidence of the slope coming from the subtle difference in the ache of their legs.
Lunch had consisted of protein bars eaten on the move with the promise that their campsite would allow a tiny fire to warm up some premade meals and a few downed trees as logs to sit together as a group.
By late afternoon, the grumbling had turned to humor, especially after Becky started planning the trip to the spa that awaited them at the bottom of the hill.
“I sure hope the hot tub is ready when we get there.”
“It’s too hot for that tonight,” Tim answered her. “Maybe the pool will be open though.”
“But my sore muscles need the hot tub,” Becky whined playfully. “That or a massage. Hey, which one of you guys is trained as a masseuse?”
Levi was the first to jump on that opportunity. “Nicholas graduated top ten in his massage therapy class.”
“Really?” Becky turned to look at Nicholas. “I would have thought he was better than that. At least top five or top two.”
“You know this from experience?” the site manager, Jonas, asked. “Maybe we should all get in line when we’re done setting up our tents.”
“Very funny,” Nicholas said, winking at Becky and wishing he could fulfil her need for a complete rub down at the end of the evening. He wished he could fulfil her need for a lot of things at the end of the evening. He’d settle for helping set up her tent and dig her own private latrine far on the other side of the camp, away from the guys.
Now that he was in love with Becky, her comfort and security was almost paramount above his own. Anything he could do for her, he would. As independent as Becky wanted to portray herself, there was a soft heart underneath, and a vulnerability in her eyes when she spoke of her dreams for the future. He wanted to wave a magic wand and help make those dreams into their own two-person reality.
“Keep your eyes peeled for the campsite,” James called out. As field guide, he was paying close attention to the compass and GPS coordinates. “The foresters may have done such a good job with camouflage we might walk right past and miss it.”
“What are we looking for exactly?” Becky asked. Although she was the only person who hadn’t been on an exploration before, she was not the only one experiencing this extreme travel.
All other expeditions Nicholas and his brother had been a part of were at well-known and settled camps, where tents and cabins were already available. This was extreme wilderness survival.
“Remember those photographs we looked at a few days ago?” James asked. “The foresters took images of each camp site so we would know them when we saw them.”
“We looked at thousands of photographs this week," Becky said. "Remind me about some specifics.”
“From this viewpoint, we’re looking for pockets that seem to have fewer trees than the surrounding areas,” James told her. “Once we arrive, there should be obvious patches cleared of trees and shrubs large enough to fit a tent, and not much else.”
Nicholas saw the location about the same time several other people did and a general excitement embodied their renewed enthusiasm as team members pointed and said, “Over there,” and, “That’s got to be it.”
The team’s excitement was squashed upon arriving at the prepared campsite when they discovered there was barely enough room to fit the tents. Because of the need to maintain the integrity of the tree canopy, the foresters had cut as few trees as possible.
They got to work immediately setting up tents as best they could, helping each other out as much as possible to make quick work of the task. Rain threatened the evening, so they opted out of building a fire, choosing instead to prepare for an early retreat into shelter and a healthy dinner of MREs.
Nicholas and Levi set up their tent as close to Becky’s as possible in hopes she wouldn’t feel as alone. Most of the team had zipped themselves into their two-man tents already but Nicholas couldn’t bring himself to leave Becky.
“Nick,” Levi hissed from inside their tent. “Come here.”
“What?” Nicholas peered through the mesh tent flap where his brother lay on his back with his favorite Mayan codex in his hands taking advantage of the waning light to study a book he probably had memorized.
“Get in here and grab your bedroll and backpack and take them over to Becky’s tent. Nobody’s going to think less of you for comforting her on a stormy night.”
“Let me guess, tonight’s the night you would win the bet?”
“Screw the bet. I don’t want my future sister-in-law sleeping by herself in the middle of a jungle.”
That was all the prompting Nicholas needed to unzip the tent he was supposed to share with his twin brother, grab his things and brazenly move them all into his girlfriend’s tent.
“Does this count as sleeping together?” Becky whispered in the dark, tucked in Nicholas’ protective arms. “Have we officially lost the wager?”
“I lost that wager the first time I looked into your blue eyes.” Nicholas kissed the top of her head and relished this moment. Abandoning his preplanned accommodations in favor of sleeping in Becky’s tent had been the best choice he’d made in years, maybe his lifetime. “Do you mind losing the wager?”
“No. I’m just glad you’re here.” She snuggled closer.
“Me too. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing you were over here by yourself.”
“What about Levi? He’s by himself.”
“He and I have slept in the jungle before. This is your first time.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” Becky’s statement had open-ended insinuations and a hint of innuendo.
“And some things are worth waiting for until the moment is right,” Nicholas said definitively, not wanting either of them to let their imaginations wander.
“I look forward to the day when the moment is right.” Becky sighed.
“Me too.” Nicholas pulled her closer. “Now, let’s get some sleep. We’ve got a long trek over another grueling mound again tomorrow.”