* sequel to The Inn of the Basilica
Clare fidgeted in her seat a little as she listened to Andreas explain some of the finer points of Italian history to three others in her tour group. Everyone was leaned back in their chairs, taking a break in a cute little outdoor cafe that got enough business from tourists to stay open during the siesta. The rest of the town had rolled into itself for the hottest part of the day, leaving tour groups to pursue ice cream and photos from the few unlucky waiters and waitresses who couldn’t get a job somewhere that let their employees rest for three hours in the afternoon. Clare was not about to waste any time she could have with Andreas, no matter how hot and tired she was, and had managed to get a seat next to him again, to the chagrin of the other women in the group. She was unabashed. The tour was only ten days, which did not give her a lot of time to convince him that he wanted to come study American history instead – specifically, the history of the American Clare Dunnell.
The afternoon was still hot and she felt sticky and saggy. Her shoes, which she considered her walking shoes, kept getting caught in the cobblestones and turning her ankle, and she thought she felt blisters starting up on both heels. She knew the volume had gone out of her hair, which she had spent forty-five minutes on that morning. In fact, that was without her make-up routine – she had monopolized the bathroom for an hour and fifteen minutes while her friend, Christy Solomon, waited out on the balcony of the hotel room. Christy had not seemed impatient, so Clare hadn’t hurried. Christy had even remarked, “You can fluff and mousse all you want, but your hair will never look as good as the Italians’!” Clare had snapped back that of course it wouldn’t, because there was not a single true blonde in the country, and she didn’t want to be Italian. “Like you do,” she had added, but Christy hadn’t replied and Clare had rolled her eyes at the mirror. That was typical of Christy, staying quiet except to point out Clare’s shortcomings. Or to tell her something completely unremarkable, like “Look at how many rocks it took to build that wall” when they were supposed to be looking at the chapel (or tomb, or gate, or giant house) as a whole. Christy seemed so different than the shy, never-smiling girl Clare had become friends with their freshmen year. Four years ago, Christy had admired Clare for her gregariousness, her opinions on everything (and her defense of them), and how well she knew how the minds of the opposite gender worked. Clare had helped Christy with her math homework, and Christy had proofed Clare’s papers, and they had been fast friends that even worked it out to be roommates once they got a little apartment instead of a dorm. There had been plenty of people who said their friendship was not one they would have predicted – but, as Clare was always quick to point out, it was not like they were getting married.
She realized she had stopped listening to Andreas and was staring at his lips forming the words. She had been joking about how the only thing some of the others would remember was the back of their camera – well, she would only remember the shape of Andreas’ lips. Now they flashed a smile at her and cut Italian history short with, “And what was your favorite part of the day, Clare?” His accent made the most kindergarten of questions seem sincere and intellectual. She rather thought his lips had been worth the airfare.
“Oh, the Basilica,” Clare replied with no hesitation, and realized it was true. It hadn’t seemed like it as they had toured it, due to Christy’s distractions, but now she found the place had a large, permanent place in her memory. The sheer bulk of it determined that; but it was also a place that seemed to distill reverence into serenity, that the people coming in might find peace no matter why they stepped through the doors. Everyone in the tour group had gotten quiet. There were no photos allowed in the Basilica, so even the most shutter-happy of tourists were forced to absorb the massive dignity of the place. Clare was a little uncomfortable remembering how she had broken her own peace with Christy, but Christy had had it coming for awhile. She was a terrible traveling partner. This trip was supposed to have been a fun getaway to let loose all the energy they had cooped up over their last semester. Clare had voted for a Mediterranean cruise, and it had been Christy who found a deal with a touring company and convinced her that she would see more Italian men on dry land than on a boat. That much was true, but Clare had found few who actually seemed interested in her. Even the waiter here was immune to her smiles, and his tip was depending on his charm!
Andreas was talking again. “I have not seen your friend since the Basilica. Did she go back to the hotel?”
Clare nodded, her heart sinking. Was Christy really not coming back to the tour group? She always took her too seriously when Clare lost her temper. It had gotten them in trouble before. What would she do with all her luggage?
“She must have. I haven’t seen her since then. She’s prone to migraines.”
“Very good for her to rest, then. We have a big day tomorrow! Our next town is at the sea!” Andreas winked and Clare’s heart soared. Christy would come back as soon as she was ready – she knew when their plane was leaving – and meanwhile, she had a new bikini to wear. The other tourists were also excited about the beach, but some started to complain about how long the food was taking to get to their table. They were right – the cute little cafe was very little. Their tour group packed it out at fifteen people. Meals took hours here, and Clare found herself wishing absurdly for a cheeseburger. She sighed and pulled out her phone. Cell service was abysmal here, despite the extra fees she was paying her server, and she was certain texts were piling up. Back home, Melissa and Tina were wanting to see how she was getting along with Andreas. She had managed to get a great photo of him while he was wasn’t looking, and they both agreed he was one of the “classic demigod” types.
Three hours later, in the cool of the day, Clare stood on the balcony of the hotel where Christy had stood that morning and wondered what there had been to look at. It was a gorgeous scene, with the sun pouring gold into all the age-worn color and charm of Italy, and the Basilica rising up above everything else to soak up the most light. The hills rolled away beyond the old city limits, dotted with groves of trees and narrow roads. Beneath her, Andreas walked back out onto the street, and Clare perked up. Miracles did happen – he was alone. Clare checked her watch. He was probably off-duty by now, since their group had no evening activities. So where was he going, walking quickly like that?
Christy would not be the only one spreading her wings beyond the tour group that night. Clare tore down the stairs – elevators were so slow here – and flung herself through the revolving door into the sunset on the cobblestones. Those cobblestones wreaked havoc with her heels and she wished the city had opted to replace such archaic architecture instead of opening a small museum about it. She was making a clomping racket and was bound to twist an ankle, but Andreas seemed too intent on his goal to notice. Other women strode by in heels as tall as hers (and taller – she spared a look of envy in her haste), and Clare pushed on. He was tall, even for an Italian demigod, so keeping him in sight was not hard. He was walking faster now, down streets away from the Basilica and into the most modern part of town. Nightlife, Clare thought excitedly. How perfect if I happened to meet him in a bar!
He continued for what seemed like a hundred blocks before slowing down and appearing to scan the street. Clare slowed too and checked her surroundings. The pepper spray was ready in her purse, but this appeared to be a quiet part of town. The street had apartments on either side, modern ones, with no laundry hung above her head. The end of the street opened up into a little plaza with some shops and bars still open.
Andreas went up to an apartment building and raised his finger to press the buzzer. Clare opened her mouth to exclaim that it was such a relief to see him when she was so lost! – but the door opened before he could press it. An Italian woman, also worthy of demigod status, basked in the doorway, resplendent in red silk and heels higher than Clare’s. And her hair – the volume of it! She had masses, a cascade of black waves that caught the light in its liquid curves. Andreas was kissing her before Clare could blink, and a stunned anger was born somewhere around her spleen. This Italian woman was perfect – the type you did not compete with, the type that never stood but basked. The woman took Andreas’ arm and they floated down to the little plaza, never looking around and certainly never wishing they had a blonde American to keep them company. So this is what it’s like to be dumped, Clare thought peevishly. She had only been on the other side of the exchange before.
An empty hotel room did not sound soothing to her frustration, so she wandered aimlessly after Andreas and his Venus. They disappeared into a bar and Clare walked into the only shop that looked like it had air conditioning, unsure of her next step.
* (more soon in another post)