“Okay, hold still and I’ll try to get some of these tangles out without hurting you too badly.” Levi’s mom had Tiani sitting on the stool in the kitchen, a large-toothed comb in her hand, working her way up and down the snarled mess. There were good reasons why Tiani always wore her hair braided and this was one of them.
Levi loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, cleared the table, and put all the leftover food in the refrigerator. Seeing they didn’t need him for anything else, Levi hitched his thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to try again to take a shower… without the distraction this time.”
“Is that what caused this rat’s nest?” His mom’s eyes gleamed with understanding.
“I don’t know.” Levi sighed and leaned closer to kiss Tiani’s lips before heading upstairs. “It was all kind of a blur. And then I fell asleep.”
Tiani giggled and pushed him away. “Go take a shower. Don’t bother us. Your mom’s trying to fix the mess you made.”
“As you wish, Your Highness.” Levi bowed regally to his princess and climbed the stairs to his room, his hunger for breakfast the only need completely satisfied.
By the time Levi returned to the kitchen, his mom was just finishing an elegant braid that wrapped all the way around Tiani’s head like a crown.
“Oh, wow, you look elegant,” Levi said in Yucatec, his words laced with awe. Then he switched to Spanish. “Mom, you’re a miracle worker. Where did you learn to do that? You don’t even have any daughters.”
She smiled wistfully, pulling together the final touches. “When I helped with the refugees, the children often arrived with matted, snarled messes and they loved to have someone pamper them a little, cleaning off the dust and grime, washing their hair, combing out the tangles. And braids. Every little girl needs braids. Whenever I would wrap their little heads in a braided crown they felt like princesses.” She leaned around and smiled at her daughter-in-law. “Do you feel like a princess now?”
“Mom, she is a princess,” Levi said.
“But now I feel like a princess.” Tiani rose from the stool and wrapped her arms around her mother-in-law. She whispered close to her ear. “Thank you for giving me your son.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”
This was a far cry from the woman who all but demanded Levi not marry Tiani. All his mom needed was to meet this woman to agree she was captivating.
“Now, go get dressed so we can do some shopping.”
“You need any help?” Levi asked Tiani, baiting his mom.
“You stay here.” His mom grabbed his arm. “You are the opposite of help. We’ll never get to the shopping mall if you keep that up.”
Within two minutes of Tiani walking up the stairs she called down to him. “Levi, I have a problem.”
He took the stairs two at a time and found her standing in the middle of their bedroom holding two very threadbare and filthy dresses. They’d looked beautiful while amongst the other villagers in the jungle, but they would never do for Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“I need new clothes.” Her shoulders slumped.
“Yes, you do.” He came to her and pulled both dresses from her hands and draped them over his arm. “I will put these in the washing machine, and you can stay in those jogging shorts for now. The first place we’ll shop will be a clothing department store and when you leave that store, you’ll be wearing something almost as beautiful as you.”
She followed him back down the stairs, still wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and slipped into her laced moccasins. “This looks ridiculous.”
“We’ll buy you some shoes also.”
“I have my gym clothes in the car,” his mom exclaimed. “Tiani will probably fit better into my jogging pants than yours. Plus, my sneakers are in there.” Without another word, his mom hurried out the door and down the porch steps to her car, returning with a gym bag filled with women’s clothes.
“Perfect,” Levi said.
“Thank you so much.” Tiani clutched the clothes to her chest the way she’d done with his T-shirt and shorts, minus the deep breath to treasure the fragrance of Levi’s cologne. He couldn’t imagine his mom’s clothes smelled quite as good after being worn to an aerobics class.
Tiani hurried up the stairs with her treasures and came down a few minutes later with a smile. She was an entirely different person than he’d met six weeks ago. The cold, aloof mask of royalty had been stripped away to reveal a happy, shining beacon of love. Maybe that was just his perception. Whichever part she played, the Mayan princess and daughter of the chief or the playful woman who shared his bed, he loved them all.
As Tiani laced up the shoes, which were a half size too large, his mom dug her keys from her purse.
“I’ll drive,” his mom said. “Tiani can sit up front with me and you can sit in the back and tell us where to go.”
“Easy,” Levi said. “The Prudential Center. That’s where all the upscale department stores are.”
“Sweetie, she’s not going to feel comfortable going there in sweatpants and oversized shoes.” Levi’s mom glanced at him in the rearview mirror with a condescending raise of her eyebrows. “Let’s try something… less… upscale.”
“Okay, let me do a little Googling.” Levi pulled out his smart phone and searched for clothing stores, which brought up three-hundred choices. Wondering how best to narrow the search he typed in “ethnic clothing” and up popped a boutique selling Peruvian clothing. Perfect. Clothes made in South America. Can’t get any better than that. The Incans were often compared to the Mayans. He requested directions from Google Maps, and they were on their way.
Ten minutes later they walked into the most elegant collection of women’s clothing Levi had ever seen. The place even smelled authentic.
A rather uppity salesclerk approached them. “Buenos días, how may I help you?”
Tiani jumped on the chance communicate in Spanish and told the woman she needed to buy some clothing.
“I… don’t speak much Spanish,” the woman said.
Tiani turned to Levi, frustrated that the woman was speaking English. Skipping back to her native tongue, Tiani spoke in Yucatec. “What is she saying?”
“She said she doesn’t know how to speak Spanish,” Levi answered in Yucatec.
“Then why did she address us in Spanish?”
“I think she was being snooty,” Levi said, not sure if the word he used in Yucatec was even close to the message he was trying to convey. “I have an idea. Play up the confident tribal princess thing and I’ll translate for you. Sound good?”
Tiani lifted her chin in the air and said in her most aloof manner. “That will be acceptable.” Perfect.
Levi winked at Tiani and turned to the salesclerk again. “Her Highness was confused why you addressed her in Spanish if you don’t speak the language.”
“I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you… or her… uh, what language were you just speaking? That didn’t sound like Spanish.”
“We were speaking Yucatec, one of the Mayan languages the princess uses among her tribal members.”
“Are you one of her tribal members? You spoke that language perfectly.”
“No, I am her husband. Her Highness has given me permission to translate so that you can help her replace the wardrobe that didn’t make it onto our private jet when we left Guatemala yesterday. Would you be available to assist her? She will feel much more comfortable when she is clothed in proper attire.”
“Of course”—the woman gulped and stuttered— “I’ll be more than happy to assist… uh… the princess.”
“Allow me to introduce Her Highness, Princess Tiani Sayid, daughter of Prince Gabor Sayid from the Republic of Guatemala.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.” The salesclerk held out her hand but Tiani glanced down her nose with disdain.
“It is not customary for people to shake hands in her culture, nor would she… since you are beneath her in stature and lineage. Could you please direct us to something more fitting than my mother’s gym clothes?”
The woman pulled her hand back and lifted her chin. “Of course. Right this way.” She turned and headed toward the back where more high-end clothing hung from racks.
Over the next two hours, Tiani enjoyed the pampering that only comes to the uber rich and royalty, both of which she was. Once she tried on the first classy pima jacquard dress and slipped on a pair of matching heels, she transformed before their eyes from a dowdy little girl to an elegant woman.
She didn’t bother with Spanish for the remainder of the excursion, choosing instead to continue the haughty façade of exclusivity that comes with speaking a language no one else understands. His mother hung back, knowingly grinning as she chose dresses and slacks and tops she thought Tiani might like.
As much as Levi wanted to snub this woman who had spoken rudely when they arrived, he wanted to please his wife even more. The salesclerk earned her commission check, and by the time they were done shopping, her commission would likely feed her family for a month.
Levi carried bags of clothing to the trunk of his mother’s car then took Tiani’s hand to help her into the front seat.
Now she was ready for upscale shopping at The Prudential Center.
Levi hoped finding Lemongrass oil would be that easy.