At first light, the small group was assembled and ready to hike to Tikal. Chief Gabor and Tiani had enlisted two of their warriors to accompany them, and Timothy had asked the expedition’s field guide, James, to come along. Becky of course joined Nicholas so that made nine people including Levi. They would need two Jeeps to get from Tikal to Flores.
Trekking along ready-made trails and under the mounds using tunnels made the four-hour walk to Tikal seem easy compared to hacking through the jungle with a machete.
After the tension from the previous day, everyone kept their speaking brief and simple, and always in Spanish.
The previous evening at the campfire in the middle of the village, Levi and Tiani had developed a system of communicating where she would lift her eyebrows a certain way to tell him she had no idea what one of them was talking about and he would know to give her a better explanation in Yucatec.
They had also begun some very basic lessons on English using things they could see in the circle of light from the campfire such as the words for tree, rock, foot, or hand. That morphed into simple phrases of salutations and declarations. My name is Tiani. I am hungry. I don’t speak English.
She was an eager learner and picked things up quickly. Levi had no doubt Tiani would eventually be able to pick up the language.
Inevitably the topic of their pseudo-betrothal came up and Tiani thanked Levi for working with her father to deescalate the situation. He hoped to convey to her that he did want to marry her. He just wanted their marriage to be a choice rather than forced. Levi hoped she understood.
When they reached Tikal, they hurried into the waiting Jeeps, not wanting their unlikely group to be scrutinized by outside observers.
“Is this your first time in a car?” Becky asked Tiani since they sat together in the middle seat. Levi’s ears perked up to hear the answer.
Tiani gripped the arm rest, her eyes wide and her body tense. “I don’t know what this means.”
Becky patted the seat beneath her and said, “This car will take us to the next village very quickly. We would not be able to walk so far in a day.”
“Okay,” Tiani said, but didn’t loosen her grip the entire hour drive from Tikal to Flores.
Levi fought the urge to hold out his hand and help Tiani down from the car just like Nicholas helped his wife Becky. He had promised not to touch Tiani again, but he wanted to be able to hold her hand, or touch her lower back, or give her a hug. Even that tiny level of intimacy would have to wait.
While Levi and Nicholas escorted Tiani and her father into the bank, Timothy took the rest of the group to a local shopping mall and to the island for sight-seeing.
Thankfully one employee at the bank had a primitive understanding of Yucatec and the Mayan traditions. With Levi’s ability to translate between three languages, and the twins’ knowledge of the Sayid royal family, they were able to find the correct account from two generations prior. By some miracle they were able to access the account even though Tiani and Chief Gabor had no formal identification.
The tribe had no need for cash so they left all the money—just over two million U.S. dollars—in the bank account. Wishing to remedy the lack of identification, they headed next to the Superintendent of Tax Administration office.
Again, Levi’s ability to translate between three languages was invaluable. There would be several hoops to jump through in order to obtain birth certificates, personal identification, and passports. The process might include a trip to Guatemala City to the office of the National Registry of Persons. Levi suspected he may need to call in some favors and bring down a private jet to fly from Flores to Guatemala City rather than make the nine-hour drive.
Levi wondered when his archaeological expedition had morphed into a civil liberties procurement expedition. He glanced over at the elegant Mayan princess, Tiani Sayid, daughter of His Highness, Mayan Chief Gabor Sayid, and knew his expedition changed the minute she yelled at him for understanding her language.
As if sensing his gaze, Tiani turned her face briefly in his direction and he caught a tiny pull of her mouth that was almost a smile. He couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face and his twin nudged him with an elbow.
They had arranged to have an afternoon meal at La Villa Del Chef on the west side of the island and stood on the outdoor patio watching boats on the lake and waiting for the rest of the group to join them. Levi wasn’t sure if the flutter in his stomach was because they’d skipped lunch or because Tiani had glanced his way.
“She’s always so poised, isn’t she?” Nicholas whispered. “Like she can’t let her guard down for a second.”
“You and Becky should join us at the campfire tonight after the rest of the village retires. She’s like a different person.” Levi sighed and his shoulders relaxed, thinking of their long talks. “She laughs.”
“No way!” Nicholas turned to Levi with incredulity in his countenance. “I cannot picture this scenario. I have every intention of joining you at the campfire this evening. May need to take a quick nap first so that I can stay awake.”
“Yeah, right. I know what your version of a nap entails.” Levi shuddered, not wanting to think about what his brother and Becky were doing so frequently.
“The way your little princess looks at you with those bedroom eyes, I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll know first-hand sooner than later.”
“What would mother and father say if we both come home married?”
“They will be excited to meet their new daughters-in-law,” Nicholas answered.
“What about when they find out one of their daughters-in-law lives in Houston, and the other…” Levi hesitated. Was this really happening?
“Moving down here, aren’t you?” Nicholas whispered.
“I don’t see any other way of making this work,” Levi said.
“We’re wealthy enough that you can have a home in Houston and one in Guatemala,” Nicholas said. “Like snowbirds who live in Michigan half the year and Florida half the year.”
“We’re not talking about driving across country here,” Levi said. “This is a different continent.”
“So, let’s purchase a private jet,” Nicholas suggested. “We can all travel back and forth any time we want. Come down for research expeditions, come home to the States because we’ve been detached from each other’s hips for too many hours. Bring our parents down for a weekend getaway.” Nicholas pointed down the beach to the fancy hotel next door.
“You really think it’s do-able?” Levi gulped, feeling vulnerable.
Nicholas pulled his shoulder around so Levi would look at him. “We can do anything we put our minds to. We’re the geek twins.”
“Even purchase thousands of acres of land surrounding a pyramid in the middle of a jungle?” Levi asked with a grin and a tiny bit more hope.
“Yeah, like that.” Nicholas looked over Levi’s shoulder, then smiled and pushed past him to run ahead and grab his wife in a hug.
“Seriously?” Levi muttered to himself. “They’ve been apart for two hours. You’d think they hadn’t seen each other in months.”
“Translate for me?” Tiani came up beside him and they stood side-by-side watching Nicholas swing Becky in a hug. He knew she wasn’t asking him to translate what Nicholas was saying to the rest of the group who had finally joined them at the restaurant. She wanted to know what Levi and his brother had been saying to each other in English.
“Nicholas thinks I should move to Guatemala,” Levi whispered in Yucatec. They were far enough away from her father, who was leaning against the railing watching the boats, for him to hear.
“What if I want to move to America?” Tiani asked. They were still standing together and apart from the others, and her pinky finger brushed his, purposely. Levi glanced toward her father, noting he was still facing the other direction.
“We don’t have to choose,” Levi said. “We can have two homes. One here in your village…” He hesitated and finally turned to her, searching her eyes.
“And one in yours?” she whispered.
“Yeah.” His nod was subtle. “One in mine.”
“Does your village have a lot of trees?” Tiani asked.
“Not as many as yours. But I could take you all over the world and show you places with many trees and places with no trees, and places where other people speak Yucatec, and places where neither of us will understand the languages.”
“But you speak three languages.” She creased her brow. “Are there more?”
“Many, many more.”
“Levi?” She lowered her gaze and bit her lip.
“Yes?” He gulped.
“I feel the way you tell me I should feel,” she said. “I feel pulled to you and I want to be with you. You said that is all I need to feel in order to know I want to marry you.”
Levi wanted to tell her there were so many more things she needed to know but he didn’t want to dissuade her. She would have a great deal more to learn about his world, but she would have to experience his world in order to understand. “Tiani, do you want to marry me?”
“Yes.” She nodded, but kept her face lowered.
Glancing over to her father again to ensure the chief was still facing away, Levi boldly raised his hand and lifted her chin with his finger. How badly he wanted to lean down and press his lips to hers, but he didn’t dare. He was already crossing a line by touching her chin. “I want to marry you too.”
She visibly relaxed and Levi’s heart raced in excitement and anticipation. She wanted to marry him. He couldn’t believe his own luck.
“I’ll speak to your father,” Levi said. “I’ll ask him if I’ve proven myself worthy of you.”
“If you take me to your village, I am allowed to decide that for myself?”
He chuckled. “Yes, you would be allowed to decide.”
“Then I want to go there. I want to tell your father that you are worthy.”
“I want you to meet my family.” Levi nodded. “Maybe I can bring them here for our wedding. But, either way, I think your father will decide I am worthy. Especially if you tell him you think I am. Your words mean a great deal to him.”
“Will you still take me to your village?”
“Yes, princess, I will take you to my village.”
Levi noticed the group coming in their direction, ready to head into the restaurant and he stepped away from Tiani. He purposely sat at the opposite side of the table, right next to her father, where he knew he wouldn’t be tempted to hold her hand, or do anything else.