Coxen Hole, Roatán
Bay Islands, Honduras
Eva awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing followed by a car honking. Without opening her eyes, she rolled over and put a pillow over her head. Just five more minutes. In her noisy neighborhood in Coxen Hole, she never needed an alarm.
The honking escalated and the rooster sounded like he was suffering from acute lovesickness—or being run over to be made into arroz con pollo. Eva couldn’t take it anymore. She jumped out of bed, threw on shorts and a T-shirt over a bikini, and strapped on her Tevas. She grabbed her backpack that held her waterproof laptop and headed to the kitchen.
The kitchen was dark, cool, and entirely too quiet. Her mamá Romina now lived with her new husband Mel aboard their boat over at the Parrot Tree Marina, along with their young, adopted son Luis Junior.
Eva made herself a cup of hot tea, then grabbed a jar of peanut butter from the cabinet and the jelly and bread from the near-empty fridge. She quickly made herself a PBJ—her favorite—to eat for lunch later, then sat down to enjoy reading for as long as it took her to drink her tea—a New Year’s resolution she fulfilled at least once a week.
She read a section about compassion in Brené Brown’s newest book and sighed, wondering what the world would be like if we all practiced compassion more, not just with ourselves but each other and those we shared the planet with. She was trying, honestly trying, to understand emotions better so that she could better understand others and express her feelings. She found the dolphins she worked with were easy to understand, but people could be difficult.
It’s you, Eva, that needs to do the work. Focus on what you can control. No… control is an illusion.
But she could only take this self-reflection in small doses without triggering the waterfall of trauma from her past. So, she set the beautiful book aside and picked up a journal article she’d been meaning to read about the intricacies of balancing conservation with green energy, which at times could be a surprisingly difficult challenge.
She breathed in the tea, a mint-ginger combo that gave her energy and focus—not to mention relief from her frequent heartburn—then considered the mug, decorated with custom artwork by her daughter, Soledad. It was Soledad’s absence that Eva felt most deeply. Eva could see her mamá and Luis Junior on evenings or weekends, but Soledad was now with her father in the States so that she could attend high school there. At times, Eva missed Sol so much her heart felt like it would burst. There was no tea in the universe that could address that kind of heartache.
And thinking of Sol always got Eva thinking of Thomas, Sol’s father. Eva and Thomas’s relationship was in a limbo of sorts, or perhaps a stalemate. Between Eva’s communication research with the dolphins here on Roatán and Thomas’s gene therapy research in Kansas City, it seemed impossible for them to ever be in the same place for long. Yet there was still something there, if only they could give it a chance. Eva hadn’t dated anyone else since she and Thomas had crossed paths again a couple years ago. She had to first love and trust herself before she could be fully available to another.
Her cat, Angel, meowed and stretched. He was spread out in a spot of sun streaming through the window, lying on his back with his tummy exposed.
Eva smiled. “Good morning, Angel.”
The cat meowed again, sauntered over to her, and weaved between her legs, striking up a steady purr.
“Ready for your breakfast?” Eva asked.
She fed him his favorite—fresh fish scraps that Luis Junior had saved for him.
When they were both done with their breakfast, Eva took the time to give the cat a few soft pets, which he very much appreciated. At least Eva wasn’t entirely alone here—she still had Angel, who was excellent company despite his fish breath. This house had once been so full of love and activity that sometimes it felt too full. But life moves forward, and people move on, hopefully to better things.
And yet I’m still here. When am I going to move on?
A short while later, Eva arrived at RIMS—the Roatán Institute of Marine Science—where she worked on communication research with dolphins. She was greeted by the ever-loyal Rascal, his tail wagging, and a smiling Gilberto, the old dolphin trainer. Gilberto had been here so long that he had been Eva’s mentor back when she was just an intern, before college. The day had turned overcast, and the early morning sunlight cast shadows from the clouds everywhere.
“Need a ride?” Gilberto asked.
“Sure.” Eva parked her Vespa, took off her helmet, and grabbed her backpack from the scooter’s satchel, then boarded the boat taxi. Rascal sat beside her, leaning against her leg, begging for attention. She petted his head while making small talk with Gilberto. His conversation was as predictable as ever.
“What’s the news from Soledad?” he asked.
“Last weekend she went fossil digging in west Kansas with her aunt and uncle,” Eva said. “And she’s got a swim meet and a math test coming up.”
The truth was, Sol was very busy. She was taking Honors Biology and Honors Algebra, she ran cross country for her high school, and she’d made it onto an elite private swim team club. She was adjusting well and making friends. But Eva thought she spent entirely too much time hanging out in her father’s genetics lab.
Gilberto raised his eyebrows, a small movement that spoke volumes. “And what about Thomas? How’s he doing?”
Eva pointedly avoided giving any personal updates on Thomas; she didn’t relish getting others’ opinions on their relationship. Instead, she told Gilberto about the success of Thomas’s new CUTR gene therapy protocol at customizing cancer cures for children with otherwise terminal malignancies.
“I’m sure they miss you,” Gilberto said. “When will they visit?”
Eva looked out at the horizon, trying to check her emotions. She longed for Thomas, and she missed Soledad something fierce. “Thanksgiving at the earliest. That’s when Soledad gets a break from school and Thomas’s clinic closes for a long weekend.”
“Thanksgiving?” Gilberto asked.
“Yeah, it’s a November holiday in the States where families get together to eat turkey and count their blessings. It was my favorite when I lived there since it was an opportunity to practice gratitude. It commemorates a time when colonists and indigenous people shared a meal after getting through a tough time.”
Gilberto gave a curt nod. “That explains why the tourism always picks up around then. I figured it was just due to the cold weather up en el norte.”
When the boat taxi pulled alongside the dock at Bailey’s Key, the small island where the large dolphin enclosures were located, Eva was greeted by the usual cacophony of whistles and squeaks. Rascal leapt from the boat, bounded down the walkway, and jumped into the shallower water near the beach to frolic with his best friend Finn, the rare wholphin hybrid, along with Finn’s mate Taffy and their very large son Chico.
Finn’s father had been a false killer whale and his mother a bottlenose dolphin. Wholphin hybrid males like Finn were extremely rare, and they had been thought to not be able to breed, so Taffy’s pregnancy had been a big surprise—but a welcome one.
Eva scouted the enclosure for Cleo, the young female dolphin with the malformed bite who served as Chico’s ever-present babysitter, even though Chico was now bigger than her. But when she spotted Cleo, she did a double-take. There was another dolphin with her, a large male, and it was notone of the other RIMS dolphins.
Cleo had a visitor—and a suitor from the looks of it.
The male dolphin swam around Cleo, rubbing his pectoral fins against her. Cleo, turning her attentions away from him, popped her head above water and began a long, loud series of whistles and clicks. She was trying to tell Eva something. Without her program fired up, Eva could only make out the whistles for pod, bang, Finn, and Lusca.
Recognition dawned. Eva crossed her arms and gave the large male a long, appraising look.
“So... you’re that young male from the wild pod that helped save Finn a while back.” She smiled at Cleo. “Girl, if he sticks around much longer, we’ll have to name him and put him to work.”
The male dolphin peered at Eva curiously and gave an affirmative-sounding whistle.
Eva crossed her arms. “Well then, it’s decided. We’ll call you Romeo.”
Cleo emitted a three-part whistle—most likely her name for Romeo—and shook her head in satisfaction, her teeth showing through her dolphin smile.
Eva laughed and just shook her head.