Senserial: Love Around The World by Kathrine Russell – Episode 1

Senserial is an innovative digital reading platform that offers serialized novels. New episodes are being released every week.

Ebook Friendly was given a permission to republish entry episodes from selected books.

The episode to read today comes from Kathrine Russell’s Love Around The World.

Love Around The World

Kathrine Russell

Episode 1

The breakup started in a Rite Aid store. Maris’s boyfriend was holding a bottle of PeptoBismol in one hand and Rite Aid Pink Bismuth in the other. He was comparing the colors, ingredients, and medical warnings.

“Just pick one already,” Maris urged.

“I just want to know why one costs a dollar more than the other,” Tom defended.

“Because it’s a brand name. Come on, Tom. Let’s just go.” It had been a long day of this: Tom comparing shirts at the mall, Tom holding out on filling the gas tank in case they could find a station with gallons a few cents cheaper. He was always this way. He had his own special anal-retentive logic for every situation.

“I know that, but maybe there’s a slight difference in the ingredients,” he went on, ignoring her tugs.

“Damn it, Tom, I swear to God.” She dropped her head into her hands. “I just want to get home. It’s just one thing after another with you.”

At that, Tom sighed, heavily placed the medicine bottles back on the shelf, and turned to leave.

“Tom, you dragged me all the way here. Let’s at least buy the Pepto,” she argued.

“You weren’t giving me time to think,” Tom said.

“Just get Pepto! I’ve used it my whole life. It’s safe, reliable, effective…” Maris’s tone was agitated, calling some attention from an elderly woman browsing the eye shadow palettes.

“That’s just how you are, Maris. You try one thing, it works, so you stick with it forever. It doesn’t matter if there are other options out there that make more sense.”

“Oh? And this is coming from someone who thinks there is a difference between two blue polo shirts from the same exact rack!”

“The collar was sewn differently! What’s wrong with putting a little thought into making the right choice?” Tom challenged. “Seriously, if you hate shopping with me so much, why do you come at all?”

Maris shrugged. “That’s what normal couples do.”

Tom turned. “Normal? No. Normal couples like to be around each other.”

“Well maybe we’re having an off day,” she said, feeling a little guilty that she didn’t correct him. She was realizing more and more how much she didn’t like to be around him, yet she was still waiting for things to improve. She’d come this far – why not go a little further?

“I don’t know what it is. I like to think of myself as a laidback person. You’re just agitated all the time.” Tom snagged the Pink Bismuth and started for the checkout counter.

“No, I’m just stuck with Mr. Pros and Cons Checklist.”

“It’s not like you don’t play it safe either.”

“Play it safe? You think I play it safe?”

“Well, yeah,” he said, blinking.

Suddenly they segued into a conversation about their relationship that oddly resembled their argument on antacids. The part that stung Maris the most was that Tom was right – 100% right. He was the first person she’d ever dated, and since her complaints were minimal, she never had the energy to break it off. They were two safe and practical people who liked comfort. There was nothing dysfunctional about that, but the realization that they were one in the same felt…wrong.

The faint, faux-jazz shopping music playing throughout the store filled the silence that ensued.

“This register is open,” a woman called awkwardly from the checkout counter. She stuck her long fingernails into her curly bunches of hair and scratched.

Tom plopped the medicine on the counter and turned to Maris.

“Maybe it’s just time to see other people,” he said.

Maris froze, feeling hot under the fluorescent drugstore lights. She watched the cashier act busy with the register to avoid the awkwardness.

“You’re doing this here?” Maris asked, panic churning her stomach. She pictured herself frantically opening that antacid and taking a few gulps to keep from vomiting.

“I’m sorry, Maris,” Tom said more gently. “We’ll discuss this later.”

He paid the cashier and took the bag from her dainty fingers. The car ride home was silent.

When they got to their one-bedroom apartment, Maris fell into bed and buried her face in a pillow. She wasn’t crying; she just wanted to think. All her life, she’d wanted to be carefree, silly, adventurous, and profound. But those qualities couldn’t be forced on a person; they had to develop and emerge naturally. Instead, what developed and emerged were practicality, sensibility, and a fear of the unknown. She’d always felt that Tom wasn’t her ideal, but a transparent glue called Comfort held them together. That’s not to say they didn’t have moments of happiness. He made her laugh in his own way, and he taught her how to make crème brulee with a cooking torch. They’d met in grad school, and their lives became so intertwined that it was difficult to extract themselves for any period of time. They were never unhappy enough to say moving out was worth it either.

She felt, in a way, that she’d been cheating this whole time. She’d cheated Tom by not loving him as much as she claimed she did. She’d cheated herself by blindly stumbling through the last five years, always promising better but never seeking it. What about all that money she’d saved to travel? It was sitting in a bank, untouched. Her parents had traveled a lot together, and a part of Maris had always wanted to do the same with a significant other.

Tom had been right. She didn’t take risks. She had never tasted true adventure; she’d only planned on it. She’d never soul-searched, never looked at someone else for perspective on herself, and never seen a world outside her own. She’d also never challenged herself to do anything mind-bending or new. Any challenges she’d faced in life were either circumstantial or imposed by someone else.

She heard a creak from the doorway. Tom was standing there, probably listening to see if she was crying.

“Maris, you okay?” he said softly.

“Yeah,” she said, the pillow muffling her voice.

“Do you want to talk?” he asked.

She rolled over, taking in a burst of fresh air. “Is it really over?”

Tom seemed doubtful. He sat at the edge of the bed. “I don’t know. I love you, Maris. I really do.”

A part of her wanted to use those words as a jumping point to beg him to stay. If you love me, then let’s try. Let’s make it work. Then she asked herself why. What would they gain from trying?

“Maybe we’ve gotten too comfortable,” Maris said.

Tom made an obvious expression. “I think we’ve gotten bored. Maybe fighting has become the most exciting thing for us.”

“So that means it’s over?” Maris said, feeling her anger rising. The thought of being boring terrified her.

“Maybe there are just other people out there who are better for us,” Tom said.

“Yeah?” She questioned, biting her lip.

“Don’t get angry.”

“I’m not angry,” she replied, trying not to raise her voice.

“Do you agree with me?” he asked, looking at her earnestly.

She drew a deep breath. Five years. Five years!If they ended it now, would that mean it was all a waste? Did she waste all that time being boring and becoming the type of person she never wanted to become? At the same rate, her reason for saying ‘no’ were just as much of a reason to say that ‘yes’. She agreed with him. Five years were already gone – but that was no reason to keep on making the same mistake.

She hugged her pillow close. “I do,” she said detachedly. “I do agree with you.”

And that was the end of their relationship.

For Maris, it was the end to “playing it safe.”

• • •

The weeks after Tom moved out, Maristried to shed the remnants of her old life. She wanted newness to unfold like a carpet over stained hardwood. Where she met emptiness on the outside, she hoped that emptiness on the inside would be taken care of. She bought a Moroccan lamp and drank espresso for breakfast. She took long walks, offering smiles to strangers in hopes of cheering herself up. She read travel books and painted Japanese watercolors. She thought these changes would transport her somewhere. She thought they were ways to be adventurous.

It was interesting how quickly she fell back into routine. She didn’t pursue “newness.” She missed Tom. She started to think, Well, what was so bad about what we had? Two weeks after the breakup, she met her friend Emily for lunch. She was in a bitter state.

“I almost called Tom last night,” Maris confessed, bringing a glass of ice water to her mouth. She left a smudge of lipstick on the rim. It had been weeks since she’d tried to look nice. Her long brown hair was brushed straight, with the front ends pinned up. Her eyelashes were lengthened and darkened by mascara around her green eyes, though Maris had to apply it twice before leaving the house because she was caught off guard by a crying fit.

Emily slapped her palm to her forehead. She was a beautiful blond with a degree in banking and an extremely organized love life. She always seemed to find the right partners and get out of relationships at just the right time, yet this uncanny luck was met with a degree of immodesty that Maris couldn’t stand.

“Maris, hon, that’s pathetic.”

Maris sighed. “I know,” she said, but she didn’t really believe it. “But what if I can make these changes with Tom? I want to talk about it. I want to talk to him, even if it’s just to get more closure.”

“Closure? You want closure? Let me count the ways you weren’t right for each other.” Emily held up her fingers and began to count. “He didn’t satisfy your desire for adventure. You didn’t have any of the same interests. He drove you crazy – in a bad way. He never wanted to do anything you wanted to do, and he complained if you made him. You two just weren’t compatible.”

“In some ways, we were,” Maris protested.

“Face it, Mar, you were like that awkward couple at the diner that eats in silence and eavesdrops on the other tables with envy.”

“Not always.” She felt her face flush. It was true, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit it.

“Loneliness has a way of romanticizing the past,” Emily pointed out. “You’re lonely, and of course you miss the guy you dated for five years. You had a lot of special times together. But look, that doesn’t mean you should repeat the same mistakes. You’ll only rediscover unhappiness. This here,” she said, waving a hand in front of Maris’s sullen face, “is all temporary. It’ll suck for a while, and then get better. But if you go back to Tom, you’ll be choosing long-term unhappiness.”

“How do you know?” Maris asked, grasping at straws.

Emily picked up a breadstick and took a hefty bite. “Maris, you spent five years complaining about wanting more. How will things ever change if you keep doing the same thing?”

Maris was silent.

“Exactly. You need to get what you want. Take all those complaints and turn them into fire.”

Maris laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you gotta get out there and get what you want.”

“I’m not sure I really know what I want,” Maris said.

Emily raised her eyebrows. “Really? You don’t have a clue? I doubt that.”

Maris narrowed her eyes. Perhaps Emily was right. Deep down, Maris knew she wanted someone who was the opposite of Tom. She wanted passion and adventure. She wanted someone who did more than understand her; she wanted him to live out his ideas and inspire her to be more than average.

Emily leaned forward. “I want you to do something for me. Well, for yourself.”

“What’s that?”

“You need to make a list. Write down ten things you want in a man. By that, I mean write down your ideals. If Tom matches half of the things on your list, then you have my permission to call him.”

“Ideals are unrealistic, Emily,” Maris said. “It’s about my history with—”

“You need to start thinking about what you want before you can get what you want.” Emily took cash from her wallet and paid the bill. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she said, “I gotta run back to work, love.” She pointed her finger in Maris’s face and raised her eyebrow sternly. “Make that list.”

That night, Maris started making lists. Things she always wanted to do but didn’t. A bucket list. A list of men she’d turned down over the years. A list of friends she’d gained. A list of friends she’d lost. Things she liked about Tom. Things she hated about Tom. And finally, a list of qualities she’d always wanted in a man. It was scratched up with scribbles and crosses, but finally she had drafted something she felt was sincerely accurate.

adventurous

appreciative of the arts

a man striving for greatness but not consumed with himself

in tune with his emotions

romantic

self-reflective

spontaneous

appreciative of nature

good manners/gentleman

good in bed

When she stepped back and looked at the list, she couldn’t help but laugh. Now, where to find a man like this? He certainly didn’t exist in her circles.

Then a thought occurred to her – maybe she didn’t have to look for all of these qualities at once. Maybe she needed to explore the men who embodied each ideal before knowing if she really wanted it. She looked from her bucket list to her “Ideal Man” list, and a connection formed.

Her mother once told her that she’d never understood Maris’s father better than when they’d traveled together. She saw how he was similar to the other men around the world; she saw how he was culturally different. In that, she found a greater appreciation of him as a man. Once she understood how culture shapes an individual, in good and bad ways, she was able to accept her own culture.

Maris considered that maybe the ideal man she was looking for was nowhere near Boston. Maybe he was nowhere near the United States. Maybe she’d find a romantic man in Argentina, dancing the Tango. Maybe she’d find a self-reflective man in Turkey, praying five times a day to Allah in a mosque. Maybe she’d find a man of the arts in Italy, gazing at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Her heart was beating with excitement. Before she knew it, she was pricing flights and pinning a route around the world.

It was the end of hoping, waiting, and planning. It was time to search.

• • •

The trip took a month to plan. Maris was set to leave in the summer, when she had two and a half months of vacation from her teaching job. She had enough money saved in the bank, and her parents were happy to chip in a little. Even Emily was happy to donate a little money to the cause.

“I’ve never been prouder,” she said as she wrote a check.

Maris rolled her eyes. “I’m not doing this because of you, you know,” she said stubbornly.

Emily looked up.

“Well, maybe a little,” Maris said with a wink.

She packed a large traveler’s backpack with her favorite heels, several cute dresses, hiking clothes, and comfortable yet stylish outfits for when she wouldn’t mind looking like a tourist. She had an e-reader full of books, a healthy amount of protein bars, a stack of traveler’s checks, and a toothbrush. She hoped that was all she needed.

June rolled around quicker than she anticipated. Part of her regretted booking the trip. The thought of leaving Boston caused her severe anxiety. She would be all alone, exploring city after city, meeting strangers, and trying things she’d never tried before. Who could she trust? What if she needed help?

She often called Emily in those moments of panic. She’d greet her with, “What was I thinking? I’m not adventurous. I want to be, but I’m not. Case closed. Trip is canceled.”

Emily would reply in her steady voice, “Maris, repeat after me: I will not be boring.”

After a long pause, Maris managed to force the words through a tight jaw. “I will not be boring.” She hated Emily in those moments, yet loved her all the same.

“I will not live with unhappiness.”

Sigh. “I will not live with unhappiness.”

“I will take chances, and I won’t regret it because I deserve to find what I want.”

The last part came easiest. “I will take chances, and I won’t regret it because I deserve to find what I want.”

“That’s better,” Emily would say.

Maris could practically hear her smile through the phone.

These phone calls ensued all the way up until June 18, the very day Maris’s flight left for her first destination: Costa Rica. She was off to find a man who appreciated nature. She was positive she’d find what she was looking for while spending two weeks on an organic farm in a country with some of the most diverse wildlife in the world.

Emily saw her off at the airport with a firm embrace. “No chickening out now,” she said with a laugh. “Or I’ll kill you.”

People were rushing past them with luggage and children in tow. All Maris had was a tall backpack, and occasionally oblivious travellers would knock into it as they hurried by. Maris tried to keep her balance. She squeezed Emily’s hand with one last goodbye, then drew a deep breath and headed toward the airport security line.

• • •

After landing in San José, Maris had to take a puddle jumper to the Nicoya Peninsula. It was a fifteen-seat plane with the cockpit in clear site. Maris wondered if such a small thing was completely at the mercy of the wind. Her nails dug into the seat as the plane wobbled into takeoff.

The wings shook as they ascended, but Maris couldn’t help but look out the window as if waiting to witness some great disaster. Instead, she witnessed something incredible. The smoggy city of San José grew sparser and sparser, and soon they were leveling off over thick forest and curvaceous landscapes. Rivers that had been shaped by gravity and erosion into winding blue ribbons, hills that dropped and rose in one breathless gesture, and lush vegetation that she could only wonder what ecosystems it beheld.

Suddenly, her curiosity and her excitement were reignited. She hadn’t felt this way since she was seventeen and her mother took her to New York City to see Wicked on Broadway. The buildings that encased her, the whirring traffic, the floods of pedestrians, and the myriad smells had all fascinated her. For someone who grew up in the suburbs of Boston, New York City was a whole new flavor.

As for Costa Rica, Maris was overwhelmed all over again, but in a different way. She was entirely alone, but this lent a sense of freedom she’d never felt before. What once scared her now excited her. She could meet anyone, do anything, and see whatever she wanted without someone else giving input. It was finally a chance to explore a new side of herself.

After the plane landed, she took a shuttle to the organic farm. She met the manager, who took her in with a great smile.

“Bienvenido a Tierra Verde!” he exclaimed, offering a brisk handshake. “I’m Mr. Borguarde.”

“Encantada,” she replied, recalling some Spanish from high school. She took care of the general check-in procedures, and then hiked her backpack over her shoulder.

“Let me show you where you’ll be sleeping,” Mr. Borguarde said.

She followed him to the back of the check-in center, where a series of red canvas tents were set up. A couple of tourists were hanging up their clothes to dry. Maris was given a tent next to a scrawny, bearded man eating a sandwich.

“We’re giving a tour of the farms at two o’clock, and you can look at our check-in center for a list of activities. We have conservation tours, bird watching, zip-lining…” He handed her a brochure. “Did you know that the sea turtles lay eggs on Nicoya Peninsula? Big projects to conserve the species.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“De nada,” he replied with a smile. “We’ll see you at two at the check-in center!” At that, Mr. Borguarde left Maris with her tent, cot, and a bearded man eating a sandwich and staring at her.

“Buenos días,” he said with a slight Southern American accent.

Maris smiled. “Hi there. I’m Maris.” When she shook his hand, she felt like she was crushing it. Her immediate thought was that he was not the nature-loving man she was looking for. In a moment of weakness, she let herself overtly glance at his rustic sandals, sporting a pair of knee-high socks underneath.

“Ralf. What brings you to Costa Rica?” he asked, shoving the last of his sandwich crust in his mouth and chewing in a bovine manner.

A bad breakup, she almost said. “Just wanted to travel.” She laid her backpack on her cot and pulled out some of her toiletries to freshen up.

“You’ll love it here. I’ve been here almost two weeks. I’ve been helping around the farm and such. Toured the canopies last week.” He swallowed the rest of his food and grabbed a camera. “Saw thirty different bird species. Thirty! Want to take a look?”

Maris fidgeted with a compact case of facial cleanser wipes. “Maybe later,” she said.

“Tomorrow I’m headed to the Ostional Wildlife Reserve to do some work for the sea turtles.”

“Like what?” she asked, dabbing her face, wiping away hours worth of travel.

“Cleaning debris off the beach, mostly. They’re not hatching anytime soon.Usually August to September for the Olive Ridley. The Leatherbacks hatched in January. Man, I wish I saw that. Did you know that only one in five thousand Sea Turtles make it to adulthood?”

“You sure know a lot about turtles,” Maris said, humoring him.

“Oh, I studied conservation after high school,” he said.

“Yeah?” she said.

“I read book after book,” he said. “Then picked up a couple jobs in Florida with different organizations.”

“Ah,” she said, realizing he hadn’t attended college. “Self-taught?”

“Sometimes that’s the only real way to learn,” he said.

She chuckled.

Ralf continued, “I think I’ll stay in Costa Rica‘til the Olive Ridley come. They’ll start in July, but at the peak, you can see them every night. We’re talking millions of eggs heaped across the beach, Maris. The turtles make their voyage out here, lay their eggs, and hope for the best.”

“Hope for the best,” she repeated.

“They have no choice. Mamas just disappear back in that water and wait for those eggs to hatch. Then all at once it seems, those babies start a pilgrimage from the beach to the Pacific. Most get picked off by crabs and coyotes and all those nasty predators, but a strong few make it through the waves.”

“That’s horribly sad,” Maris said.

“It’s nature’s deal,” Ralf countered. “Some animals get to eat, some get to escape, everybody wins.”

Maris glanced at her watch. “Almost time for the tour,” she said, standing.

“Hope I haven’t talked your ear off,” Ralf said.

“Not at all,” Maris lied. “Later, Ralf.”

“Later,” he replied with a friendly wave.

At the front of the check-in building, Maris waited for the group to gather. She was twenty minutes early. Someone was hunched over, his back turned, pulling weeds around their front garden which was strung with vibrant flowers and soft ferns. She watched two strikingly colorful birds pick around the pebbled ground. She was speechless by their rainbow plumage: black and blue-tipped tails, green wings, and backs that resembled a Caribbean sunset.

“Excuse me?” she whispered toward the gardener. “Psst. Excuse me?”

The man turned with a frazzled expression. His eyes were dark, his hair a thick wave of brown, and his nose a gentle slope to his mouth. He was young, his chest built from farming, and his skin browned from the sun.

“I’ve never seen birds like that,” she said, suddenly sheepish. She blushed. She’d been so excited about the colorful birds that she’d wanted to share it with someone, anyone.

“Es un…Turquoise-browed Motmot. Beautiful, no?” He smiled and returned to gardening.

Maris found herself wanting to say more, but she was suddenly too shy. She stepped closer to the birds, but they got startled and took off.

“Ohp! I scared them.” She laughed. She turned back to the gardener, who hadn’t heard her. “Do you know when the tour starts?” she asked.

He turned back to her. “Tour? Oh, fifteen minutes.” He stood, pulled off a pair of leather gloves, and tucked them in his pocket. He was tall and notably handsome. “Are you waiting?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Do you work here, or…” Her voice drifted off.

“I’ll be giving the tour. Just thought I’d straighten the garden up. I’m a permanent resident. I’m Estefan.”

“Maris,” she introduced. “You work on the farm?”

He smiled. “You’ll see on the tour, it’s much more than that.” He glanced around. “Honestly, I think you might be the only person coming, so we can start it now, if you want.”

A private tour with this beautiful man?She was eager, to say the least.

“Follow me,” he said, leading her to a beaten path in the trees. The trees were alive with the sounds of chirping and rustling. Overhead, a twitchy squirrel was nibbling on a coconut. It wasn’t grey like the ones in Boston; rather, it was chestnut brown with a black strip along its back and down its frizzy tail.

“At Tierra Verde, we use the benefits of the land to grow bananas, grenadines, pineapples, and coffee. We supply to local hotels and participate in local farmers markets. Some of our food is exported, but for the most part, we grow food for Costa Rica.” Estefan maintained a professional tone, which disappointed Maris slightly.

“Is there poverty around here?” she asked.

“Oh, no. Costa Rica has the lowest poverty rate in Central America. And where there is poverty, there is still food. Here, nature is truly our wealth and survival.” He bent over to remove a stick that was blocking the trail. “It’s why we work so hard to conserve.”

“That’s really what drew me to Costa Rica,” Maris replied. “I’ve heard of how beautiful it is.”

“I grew up here in Nicoya,” Estefan said. He stopped and looked up into the trees. “And still, it has the ability to take my breath away.”

Maris looked at his appreciative gaze until he caught her staring. He smiled politely, and then continued to move down the path.

They emerged in a small clearing with several rows of fence-like structures. Leafy greens were crawling upward and shooting off the structures. Maris could see fruit hanging in bunches here and there.

“As you know, we don’t use pesticides and we only do sustainable farming. We use a local water source from a spring nearby to water our crops. We make sure the ripe produceare picked at the right time, and we see when plants aren’t getting enough water. See? Look at this one.” Estefan gestured for Maris to come over, and he pointed to a vine that was starting to shrivel.

When she leaned close, she could smell his sweat, see the earth on his hands, and at that point, a deep attraction was already forming. He was the man she had come here for; she knew it.

Just then, she heard a rustling behind them, and they turned to see a pair of socks and sandals approaching them.

“Hi there!” he said, waving a pad of paper.

“Ralf!” Estefan exclaimed.

Ralf was out of breath. “You took off early!”

“I didn’t expect you to need the basic tour,” Estefan replied.

“I don’t,” Ralf said with a laugh. “I thought the nice lady would like a paper and pen to take some notes.” He handed Maris the notepad.

“Thanks…” she said, taking it. She was a little perturbed by the interruption.

“Hey, have you told her about the thieves?” Ralf said with an eager smile.

“Was getting to that.” Estefan turned to Maris with a smile. “The Pizotes and Mapaches like to take our fruit. You can tell they’re bandidos by the masks they wear.”

“Raccoons,” Ralf blurted. “We gotta keep an eye out.”

“Ah,” Maris said with a laugh. For a moment, she caught Estefan’s eye. “Bandidos.”

“Now the worst are the…” Just then, Estefan was distracted by a rustling to the side. He gently grabbed Maris’s arm with a playful smile. “Maris, let’s see how you treat the bandidos in action. The Capuchins are the worst offenders of all.”

It took her a few seconds, but soon Maris’s eyes had spotted the evil culprit: a fuzzy black monkey with a cream-colored face and a thick, curled tail. His body was wrapped around a branch as he maneuvered toward a bright bunch of bananas.

“Don’t let him get those bananas!” Ralf laughed.

Maris approached the monkey timidly. He didn’t pay any attention to her. He was fixated on the bananas.

“Will it bite?” she asked.

“You’re fine,” Estefan said with a wave.

“Hey!” she called up to the Capuchin, waving her hand. “Hey, that’s not yours!” She could hear the men snickering behind her. She turned to Estefan with mild embarrassment. “What do I do?”

“Take the banana!” Ralf egged on.

Maris turned and reached for the bananas.

“No, no, don’t do that,” Estefan said, coming toward her.

When Maris reached for the bananas, a small, furry hand slapped hers. The Capuchin cried out angrily. Terror surged through Maris, but Ralf was howling with laughter. Estefan finished the job by taking the fruit, then shooing away the angry monkey. They had a brief argument that escalated quickly, but eventually, Estefan won.

He touched Maris’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about that. Are you afraid?” His eyes were apologetic and kind.

“My heart is beating out of my chest,” Maris said, holding her heart.

“Capuchins won’t hurt you. They’re just obnoxious.”

From a distance, the monkey was watching them with daggers in his eyes.

“That wasn’t a nice trick,” Maris said, aiming her words at Ralf, but then she began to laugh. She remembered the monkey’s wild face opening to bear its plaque-covered teeth, its black eyes signaling betrayal. She still could feel its quibbling slap on her hand. She looked to Estefan, who was laughing with her.

“What a little brat!” she said, making a face at the Capuchin.

“You’ve already made an enemy!” Estefan said. “That’s good. Maybe he’ll stay away now. We call that little guy, Marcus. He’s one of our regulars.”

He took Maris by the hand and led her to another part of the garden. His touch came as a mixed signal. She couldn’t tell if he was just being friendly, or if he was feeling something, too.

He showed her how to tell when fruit was ripe enough to pick. He explained how to tell the difference between a good plant and a weed. Of course, Ralf interjected from time to time with his two cents.

The tour ended at a little hut set up for dining. Estefan poured Maris and Ralf cups of coffee, and they chatted for a while about the history of the farm and the future of ecotourism. Maris was positive she had found her man.

When Ralf got up to retrieve some more sugar for his coffee, Estefan leaned toward Maris. “Tonight, you should see the sun set at the beach. The colors are magnificent,” he suggested. “I’ll show you the best place.”

She had never been so sure someone was inviting her on a date. A smile broke across her face. “I’d love that,” she said.

Then he added, “My wife and I go there all the time.”

Mariscaught something in her throat at this information. She meant to clarify what his intentions were – if it was still a date, or if she was just being a fool – but Ralf came back at that moment. He plopped himself into the chair, rattling his coffee cup and nearly spilling it.

“Nothing like a strong cup of home-grown, organic coffee,” he said. He held it up to Maris with a twinkle in his eye. “Cheers to your arrival in Costa Rica!”

She was so confused in that moment that all she could manage to do was robotically lift her cup and respond, “Cheers.”

⇢ Next episode

Kathrine Russell Love Around The WorldLove Around The World

Kathrine Russell

Following a break up and feeling disappointed with her life, Maris writes up a list of all the ideal characteristics she looks for in a man. She decides to travel around the world to look for men who embody each characteristic.

In this whirlwind search for love, you will be taken from the colorful canopies of Costa Rica to the rugged mountains of Peru; from the Sistine Chapel to Turkish baths; from Pamukkale to Kanyakumari.

Through Mari’s journey, she will find more than love; she will find a better part of herself that she always knew was there.

The ultimate Christmas 2019 gift guide for book lovers

Is there a book lover in your life whom you would like to give an exceptional gift this Christmas? Explore these gift lists to find the most refreshing ideas!

Best gifts