The ferry to the mainland was crowded and Mark saw no sign of Hazel until they were leaving the boat. She was about thirty people in front of him and he watched as she casually made her way to a waiting limousine where an older gentleman stood near the back door. They hugged and he held the door open for her. Before Mark could step across the bridge from the boat to the dock, they had left the parking lot.
Mark’s father stood waiting beside a different limousine and Mark rushed forward to pull his dad into his arms for a hug.
“I’ve missed you, son,” Benjamin said, pulling away and holding Mark at arm’s length. “Look at you. You’re all grown up.”
“Father, you came to visit me last summer. It hasn’t been that long.” Mark stepped away and waved his friends over. “Dad, these are my roommates, Drew and Noah, and my best friend, Alex. Guys, this is my father, His Highness, Benjamin Sayid of Madain Saleh.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, gentlemen,” Benjamin said, shaking each of their hands and nodding his head regally to them as if he were meeting royalty rather than the other way around. They each nodded back as they said hello.
“Your Highness, thank you for having us,” Alex said. “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”
“Yes, well, I’m glad you’re here now,” Benjamin said. “Thank you for offering comfort and friendship to my son at this pivotal time.”
“Pivotal?” Mark raised his eyebrows. “In what manner is this a pivotal time for me?”
“Oh, well, you know, you’re about to lose your grandfather,” Benjamin stammered, shifting his eyes away from Mark’s quizzical gaze. “Let’s head over there.” He held open the door as if he were the driver, then climbed in last and pulled the door shut.
“Mom!” Mark scooted to the other side of the limo and pulled his mom into a hug.
“Hello, darling,” she said, patting him on the back as he hugged her. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Guys, this is my mom, Nisha Sayid,” Mark said with excitement.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Sayid,” Noah said respectfully. He and Drew both reached to shake her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness,” Alexander correctly addressed Mark’s mother without even being prompted. He took her hand in a way that he would a lady and nodded regally to her.
“Your friends are charming, Marcos,” she said as they all settled in for the drive to his grandfather’s palace, where Mark had spent nearly half his childhood.
The drive down the coast was uneventful and they made small talk about what each of the guys were studying in college, where they were from, who their families were, what they wanted to do after graduation. Mark’s dad was avoiding eye contact and that was concerning.
As they drove south, they hugged the coastline just enough to be aware of its existence yet not close enough to view the ocean. The harbor town of Puerto Aventuras was modern with golf courses and restaurants and resorts and palatial homes each with their own boat slip where the owners could park their yachts and sailboats.
“Do you know the story of how my father came to live here?” Benjamin asked.
“Didn’t one of his friends own a yacht company or something?” Mark answered.
“Nicholas Cohen, yes.”
“Hazel’s grandfather?” Mark leaned forward in his seat.
“Who’s Hazel?” Benjamin asked with almost calculated innocence.
“This snarky little spitfire your son was flirting with on the plane down here,” Alexander answered.
“Really?” Benjamin turned to Mark. “Your grandfathers will be thrilled that you’ve already met.”
“She thinks I’m a spoiled, rich prince and wants nothing to do with me.”
“Got news for you, son. You are a spoiled, rich prince and you’ll need to work on that persona if you’re ever going to get along in society. Don’t think you’re better than everyone else just because of your lineage.”
“I don’t, father.” Mark shrank in his seat, mildly deflated.
“Anyway, the Cohen’s wealth makes ours look like we’re paupers,” Benjamin continued. “Nicholas and your grandfather married within three weeks of each other and part of their honeymoons were spent at a resort right on the coast and they all fell in love with Puerto Aventuras while here. When they needed to escape their own countries to avoid… uh, persecutions, they sailed their pretty little yachts right over here and put down roots. Now our families are spread out across the Northern and Southern continents, but many stayed right here in Central America.”
“It’s beautiful down here,” Mark said, glancing out the window as the limo slowed to enter a gated community. “But I can’t imagine leaving the United States now.”
“Perhaps that’s where you’ll put down your roots,” Benjamin said with a soft smile. “I just want you to be happy son.”
Their conversation ended when the limo pulled down a long driveway to a mansion that was nearly dwarfed by the cruise ship sized yacht in its private boat slip. To describe either as intimidating was an understatement.
The circle driveway already had one limousine parked in front of the home and several young men were lifting suitcases from the trunk and carrying them inside.
A butler opened the limousine door almost as soon as the car had come to a stop. “Buenas noches, su Alteza.”
“Good evening to you as well, Pedro,” Benjamin nodded that same regal greeting to his butler as he had to Mark’s friends. “May I present my son, His Highness, Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh and three of his advisors.”
“Su Alteza, bienvenido,” Pedro said with a nod.
“Gracias,” Mark said with a curt nod he borrowed from his father’s example. “Mis amigos, Alexander, Noah, and Andrew.”
“Bienvenidos, senores,” Pedro said.
“Gracias,” they each answered.
“Come, let’s go inside,” Benjamin said.
Mark fell into step at his father’s side, Alex to his right and one step behind, Noah and Drew two steps behind Alex.
Coming home to the mansion where he grew up was different than Mark anticipated. Although still elegant and spacious, the home seemed smaller than he remembered. His three friends were experiencing the home for the first time. Their wide eyes and gaping mouths were evidence that this lifestyle was beyond their limited experience.
“The staff will take your things to your rooms but let’s go see your grandfather immediately,” Benjamin said. “That’s why you’re here after all.”