I am sweating. Last night’s black blouse and black jeans with a denim shirt slung over top aren’t faring well in the morning-after’s sun. When her building finally comes into view, I think I will collapse with relief. Va bene qua, grazie. Here is fine, thanks. I toss some cash at the driver and practically leap out the door, breaking into a jog almost before I hear it slam shut behind me. I jog around the corner and up to the gold panel, which has what seems to be hundreds of names on it, for the whole palazzo, divided into several sections. Fuck. What was her roommate’s name again? I waffle for a moment, before trying one that could be it.
Sono Allie, mi puoi aprire?
The door buzzes open and I dash up the four flights of old stone steps, three at a time. When I reach the top, the door is already open a crack for me. I step through in a hurry, tossing a look at her roommate, who is cleaning the kitchen with her sleeves rolled up. Good night? She asks, raising an eyebrow at me.
I push Juliette’s door open and find her still curled into bed. I collapse onto the bed next to her, letting out the breath it feels like I’ve been holding for the past two hours, wandering aimlessly around Rome. She looks up, rubbing her eyes. Where the fuck were you?
I stepped off the train, buzzing to see her. It had been too long, and I couldn’t wait to catch up. I wandered around the station, getting jostled by people and rolley suitcases for a while, before spotting her standing outside of Sephora, looking towards the platforms, a half smile on her face as she waited. I smiled to myself and watched her for a moment. Her hair looked shinier, and her skin bright, her grin revealing what I knew to be good-humoured impatience. I made my way over and threw my arms around her.
I had forgotten how much I missed her, and our wild Roman nights. It had been too long, and now everything had changed. We had catching up to do.
After dropping my backpack at her apartment, we wandered our favourite streets, had lunch, had a nap, then around dusk made our way down to a shop in her neighbourhood where you could bring old bottles and fill them with wine from large silver vats for 2euro per bottle. We went to the alimentari and got some vegetables, and were ready for our night to begin. We cooked dinner in her tiny old kitchen with her roommate, the window facing the square below in gritty, student-populated San Lorenzo.
By the time we had cooked and eaten our pasta and vegetables, we were all a little tipsy, the large bottle now somehow empty. Her roommate headed to bed, while the two of us touched up our makeup, slipped into shoes, light jackets, and were soon out the door. While we were walking to meet her friends in Monti, a boutique quarter about twenty minutes on foot filled with quaint bars, cobbled streets and cozy cafes, I had a thought and turned to her.
Remember barman Marco?
The bartender from APT? With all the tattoos? From last year?
Yeah. Should I text him? I wonder if he still works there.
You never know, we’re heading that way anyways. He was always giving you cheap cocktails.
We reminisced a few blocks about those nights. We used to meet at APT, a cozy basement bar that smelled like old books, every Wednesday after work. We would bring scraps of paper and fold paper cranes while we talked about life. We wanted to make a thousand, it’s good luck. Really we couldn’t afford to drink in that bar, but we were so regular we often got free drinks. I think they liked having us in the corner on quiet Wednesday nights, folding away and sometimes leaving a few cranes behind on shelves or tables. When I got my first big contract, at the university, we celebrated there with a bottle of sparkly wine in a bucket of ice, something neither of us had ever indulged in. We cheered when he uncorked it and happily clinked our glasses together while dreaming about renting an apartment in that quarter, with high ceilings and wood floors, something we of course never did.
Turned out barman Marco worked at a different bar now, but upon realizing I was back in Rome offered to pick me up later. So no free drinks from APT. Oh well. I let him know we would be in San Lorenzo later and that he was welcome to meet up with us, then tossed my phone into my bag again.
After a few drinks in Monti, we left Juliette’s friends, a collection of med students from various countries around the world, all studying at the university, and we made our way back to S. Lorenzo to continue our night in the lively square below Juliette’s kitchen window. My eyes lit up when I saw that although it was now close to three a.m, the square was still packed. There was a group of hippies seated on the pavement playing various musical instruments, the rest of the people dancing recklessly around them. There was a girl, about my age, juggling fire with a huge grin on her face. Their happiness and freedom were contagious, and I dove into the crowd, starting to sway to the music while Juliette rolled a cigarette. We were offered drugs, two, three, maybe four times while we danced and drank, vuoi fumare? You want to smoke?
Where are you from? Said a voice over my shoulder in Italian, with a strong Spanish accent. I turned and saw a very beautiful man, with long dreadlocks reaching towards his belt, tied back with a large elastic. I was drawn to him immediately, he smelled like spices and sweat, making me feel more intoxicated than I already was. Hi. He looked directly into my eyes as he repeated his question. He was from Argentina. I found myself completely lost in our conversation that I can’t for the life of me remember now. Lost to the point that I was surprised when I checked my buzzing phone to see several missed messages from barman Marco, the latest of which reading, Sono qua, in piazza. Macchina nera. He was in the square, black car. Shit. I looked around me and saw a black car, dark windows, lights still on, parked at the edge of the square. I hadn’t thought he would come. It would be rude to ditch him after he drove all the way here to see me, but…Where? I don’t see you, I texted back to gain a few more moments with Argentina. There was something about his soft manner and gentle eyes that made me want to stick around.
What’s wrong? He asked. You are distracted by your phone.
I’m not, I responded, smiling at him briefly before eyeing the car again. But I have to go, I said, leaning in and kissing him softly on the mouth, something I might not have done sober.
I tried to step away, towards the car, but he wrapped his arm around me tightly then and pulled me close to him, kissing me deeply. He really did smell good. I have to go, I repeated, backing away. I quickly turned around and scanned the crowd for Juliette, spotting her a few feet behind me chatting with Argentina’s friend, who I could tell she didn’t want to be chatting with. She shot me a look.
I’m leaving, I called to her. I’ll see you in the morning.
What? No. She called out, Where are you going?
But I was already striding towards the black car waiting for me. I hated keeping people waiting. Argentina trailed after me, Where are you going? Wait! He caught my hand and pulled me in for one last kiss, and I was nervously aware of the fact that I was now just metres from the car, well within the spray of the headlights. The engine was running. I have to go, I said one last time before jogging over to the car, opening the door, and sliding into the passenger’s seat.
Buonasera, said barman Marco with a chuckle, eyeing me over, eyebrows raised.
Hey, I said, fastening my seatbelt. Let’s go.
I awoke with a start, my eyes on a ceiling I didn’t recognize. I heard heavy snoring that I assumed likely wasn’t coming from Juliette. Head pounding, I squeezed my eyes shut as I turned my head to my right, then slowly opened them again. Fuck. I was next to a very tattooed, very bearded man. Fuck. I slipped out from under the silver duvet as quietly as possible, tiptoeing to the living room, which was dark with all the curtains drawn. I felt around for my clothes, which were scattered around the room. Fuckfuckfuck. My mouth was so dry. I spotted my phone in the corner of the couch. Oh thank god. I unlocked it to send an s.o.s to Juliette, only for it to shut down mid message, out of battery. Fuck. I could still hear barman Marco snoring from the bedroom, I still had time. I was bursting to pee. I peaked towards the bedroom door, realizing I would have to go back in to get to the ensuite bathroom. Could I quietly slip in, pee, and get out without him waking? Didn’t seem likely, but I didn’t want to have to pee outside in broad daylight, so I held my breath, darted into the bathroom and relieved my aching bladder. I eased the fancy tap open to wash my hands, accidentally spraying water all over last night’s shirt. When I quietly opened the bathroom door, I noticed the snoring had stopped and could hear barman Marco stirring in the bed. With no time to waste on making a game plan, I grabbed my purse off the floor and headed out the door.
Rushing down the stairs, I reassured myself that I couldn’t be that far from Juliette’s house…I would surely recognize something. I let myself out of the building after fumbling a few moments with the apriporta before stepping out into the seven a.m sunlight. I took off at a brisk pace down the street, not recognizing anything in this little suburb that I had never seen before in my life, trying not to panic, wishing I had sunglasses. I spotted a tram stop and read the list of stops. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele…I was sure that was close to Juliette’s. From there I could probably find my way. Unfortunately, I had no ticket and all the shops were closed, with it being a Sunday, but I decided to risk it. If the ticket checkers came around, I would turn on the waterworks and hope they let me off without a fine. I hid my money in the secret pocket of my purse so I could claim I didn’t have any, should they ask.
When the tram finally rolled around the corner, I jumped on, choosing not to take a seat but to stand with my face pressed against the door, hoping to recognize something, or to spot the ticket checkers before they spotted me. When we reached Vittorio Emanuele, I hopped out, feeling confident that I had seen this large piazza before, and that I would be able to find my way back to San Lorenzo from here. At least I was back in the city. I set out with a confident step, deciding to do one big circle around the square, individually evaluating each of the streets leading out of it for familiarity.
One big circle became about fourteen, round and around, my confidence quickly becoming desperation as I realized that the way home could be any one of these streets fanning away from the piazza. I began to sweat, my head pounding, as I repeated my circular track again and again, frantically searching for details that would indicate which was the correct street to take. I weighed my options: maybe I could hail a taxi? I tried. My limp and dejected hand wave just wasn’t cutting it. Maybe I should just go about my day and pretend I wasn’t lost at all? I had some cash, I could simply go for breakfast, read a paper, go for a walk and forget getting back to Juliette’s until a later time. No. That was a bad idea. I decided to try to make my way to the station, which I knew to be close by, and then get a taxi from the taxi station there. It would cost me the last of last night’s cash, but I was all out of options. I stopped and asked a woman with a large backpack which was the right way. She didn’t really know either, but she gave me some hope and a vague indication of the general direction. I finally exited the circle I had been turning for the past hour and struck out towards the station (hopefully).
When I finally made it, I marched up to the first taxi I saw and got inside. San Lorenzo, per favore. I was going to make it. My throat was dry with anticipation as we sped through the Roman streets, weaving through traffic, familiar monuments rolling past, swarming with tourists in sunhats carrying cameras around their necks. God I must look like shit right now. When her building, overlooking the scene of last night’s debauchery, finally came into view, I thought I would collapse with relief…
When I finally plugged my phone in to charge, it immediately buzzed, indicating a new message. Where did you disappear to last night, segnorita? You left me with a mouth full of kisses and my head full of your perfume…
I smiled. I’m leaving today, meet me at the station?