HOW WAS NO one else seeing this?
The two middle-aged tourists in queue to enter the Colosseum were going at it like randy teenagers. The woman had her leg coiled up around her lover’s waist and his hand had disappeared beneath her skirt fifteen minutes ago—the thing hadn’t come up for air since.
She moaned into his mouth and fingered his hair. He growled like an undersexed werewolf, and then went back in for another snog with enough tenacity to suck her lips off.
I sat ensconced from my vantage point a few yards away, picking at a croissant and pretending to pay attention to a travel podcast about the Colosseum. In the last few minutes, the spirited performance had completely stolen my focus. Surely their oxygen levels were getting pretty low.
In all my twenty-six years, I’d never once kissed someone the way they were kissing each other. It was as if they were newlyweds on a transatlantic flight and the pilot had just announced that they’d lost both engines. God, if they went at it like that in full public view at the foot of a crusty old ruin, what on Earth did they do in private?
I blushed just thinking about it.
Eventually, a security guard with a red, pudgy face and an awkward manner asked the couple to politely refrain from boning in line, or so I imagined—his words were in Italian, so I couldn’t be sure. The unflinching lovebirds disappeared inside the Colosseum and I was left with my pastry once again. It’s just me and you, carbs.
I glanced up to find a devastatingly handsome Italian man with cool trainers and slicked-back hair. He was smiling down at me, pointing to the bit of stone to my left. I tossed my croissant aside and yanked my earbuds out so quickly they nearly took my ears with them.
In front of the Colosseum, there’s not much in the way of seating. It’s all brash vendors peddling plastic crap, pale-thighed sightseers running after their bored children, and pushy groups of veteran tourists spilling out of buses with expensive cameras around their necks. I’d sought refuge from the swirling sea of humanity on a distant rock in the only bit of shade I could find.
“Oh, yeah. All yours,” I said with a big smile.
The man sat down beside me, pulled out a water bottle, and took a long swig.
“Bellissima,” he said, tipping his water bottle in my direction, and for one tiny moment, my heart leapt. I didn’t know much Italian—nearly none in fact—but every woman on Earth knows that word.
I blushed and opened my mouth to thank him before he pointed to the Colosseum. “It’s beautiful,” he repeated, this time in thickly accented English.
Of course. The crumbling heap.
“It’s all right,” I grumbled, glancing back to the Colosseum so he wouldn’t see my frown. Truthfully, it wasn’t what I had expected. The street was crowded, the sun was blazing overhead, and the street performers waltzing around in skimpy gladiator outfits for photo-ops weren’t half as sexy as I’d assumed they’d be. The latter was the issue that bothered me the most.
“You aren’t going in?” he asked, tilting his head to the queue spiraling around the base of the building.
I scrunched my nose. “It seems fairly self-explanatory from the outside.”
“You’re missing out,” he said before stuffing his water bottle back into his backpack and turning his full attention to me.
I shrugged. Maybe I was cheating myself, or maybe I was smarter than the sweaty masses filing in. Perching on my rock with my croissant and my podcast had been pretty nice up until the canoodlers had distracted me with their tonsil tennis.
“How long are you in Rome?” he asked, flashing a wide smirk in my direction.
This man was handsome, really handsome, and though I was due to leave the next day, I was hesitant to tell him that. If he wanted to sweep me off my feet and put his hand up my skirt while we stood in line at the Colosseum, I’d consider extending my stay.
“Well, actually I…”
My sentence faded out as a glamorous woman appeared behind him. The sun shaded her face so I couldn’t really make her out until she’d bent low and wrapped a possessive arm around the Italian man’s shoulders. There, with his head shading her face, I suddenly saw her dark eyes narrow into little slits right at me.
“Luciana, look, I’ve found us a new friend,” he smiled.
Luciana didn’t share his excitement.
I’ll spare the superfluous details and cut to the chase: Italian man had a girlfriend. The good ones always do. After a few minutes of terribly awkward conversation in which I tried to pretend Luciana wasn’t wishing me a swift, sudden death, my phone rang on my lap and I seized the excuse to flee. I scooted off the rock, gave my spot to Luciana, and promised to come back after I’d finished my call. It was a lie—there was a better chance of me sacrificing myself in the arena.
I curled around the side of the colosseum, using the massive structure to shade me as I answered the call.
My brother sounded exasperated.
“Hello ol’ chum. What do you want?”
“When will you be at Mum’s? We’re waiting for you before we sit down for dinner.”
Oh, oops. Had I forgotten to phone and cancel?
“Don’t bother waiting for me, Fred. Eat up.”
“You aren’t coming? Mom’s expecting you.” He sounded a bit sad about it, which made me feel good. He used to find me so annoying when we were younger, but he was finally coming around. As he should. I was (objectively) the only person in our family with any personality.