“You are late and, therefore, you suck!” she greets him.
He chuckles. “And you are even more late than me,” he observes. “And as sweet as always.”
She looks at him through squinting eyes. “And you are uglier than usual” she retorts.
He squints back. It’s their thing – the expression they always use when they are “pretend-pissed” at each other.
Then, a smile forms on their lips, and all mock-anger leaves their eyes. His eyebrows soften, his chin relaxes, and she can feel her own face loosening up, as their eyes become livelier… lighter. It’s almost exactly like it used to be, except the rest of their world feels so much heavier now, she thinks.
That’s when the first, innocent raindrop hits the bridge of her nose. She peers at the sky, her tiny eyebrows furrowed, her blue-green eyes turning grey. Fantastic, she tells herself. The one day she gets to go on a walk with him, and the weather sucks.
During the weeks before this moment, she had spent the better part of her evenings fantasizing about what seeing him again would have been like. She had envisioned the two of them lying on the grass after a long, satisfying walk, their faces turned towards the blue sky, their skins soaking up the sun, birds chirping all around and the faintest smell of jasmine flowers tickling their noses.
She had accepted that reality would have differed from her dreams somewhat, but not this drastically: the streets are quickly turning the color of cement, as the light gets sucked out of the sky, and the air around them becomes stickier and gloomier.
“It’s only a little rain” he reassures her, tugging at her skirt, gently. Just like that, she feels a tad less pessimistic, and the two of them start walking, in silence. He keeps his hands in his pockets. She keeps hers crossed over her chest.
“You are not going to be intimidated by a little rain, right?” he prods her. She ignores him, her eyes skeptically evaluating the large black sheet of clouds steadily mushrooming above their heads. The drizzle quickly turns into a light shower, tickling the surface of their skin.
“Do you know how to swim?” she asks.
“Do I have to remind you that I’m a certified scuba-diver?” he replies.
“Then perhaps you should have brought your gear…because you’ll need it,” she tells him, ominously.
Seconds later, it’s pouring.
“Rain in August!” he exclaims. Frankly, he’s almost as pissed as she is. He had been looking forward to this walk for months now, maybe years. And, now, the whole day is ruined.
“This is not rain,” she complains. “It’s a monsoon! It’s…. it’s like Fantozzi’s cloud – Bad luck literally follows us around!”
He looks at her closely, trying to detect early signs of disappointment in the almost invisible line on her forehead.
“What are you staring at?” She quickly places a hand over her forehead. Although she is only twenty-three, she feels old.
“Your boobs” he replies, shrugging his shoulders.
“Ha… ha… Very funny.” Out of nowhere, she covers his face with her hand and presses hard enough to make a point, while being careful not to hurt him. She then pinches his nose, sighs loudly and calls him “peste,” which is a cute way of saying that someone is being a pain in the ass. Seven years ago, she would have reacted in the exact same way, the only difference being that she wouldn’t have been self-conscious about wrinkles, but about a bad grade she got, or having a big pimple on her forehead. Even though he never understood why, he had missed her slightly overblown reactions, the “pestes” and the nose-pinching. A lot.
“We are getting drenched.” She observes, taking him back to the present moment.
“Should we take shelter inside a cinema or something?”
“You are wearing white pants, and I want to see your underwear, so no!” she replies, her eyes glittering with energy and a shade of malice, which he finds terribly sexy.
“I don’t care: it’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” he shrugs.
“Great then. Let’s go!” She grabs his hand and pulls him decisively towards the darkness, the rain now beating furiously on their faces and backs.
They are walking towards the center of Rome. More than walking, it feels like swimming. Water drips from their hair and eyelids, collecting in the creases of their clothes, soaking into his socks, and making her shirt stick to her body. Seven years, and her figure has retained the slenderness of youth. Her breasts have grown, however, he observes. (Or “matured,” as she puts it.)
He, instead, is heavier around the belly. “Long gone are the days in which I could eat junk food all day!” He complains. Then, he gives her a longing look, with those deep, almost black eyes of his. “I remember those days,” she says, placing her hand comfortably around his waist. Organically, perhaps unwittingly, their feet adjust to each other’s pace. Soon, they are moving in unison, warmth irradiating from their bodies, protecting them from the cold.
Apart from getting completely drenched, they don’t do anything special. One of her sandals breaks in the middle of an intersection, so he is “forced” to carry her, like a newly wed bride, down the crowded street of Cola di Rienzo. People stare at them and laugh openly, but that’s okay, because they are the first to find this situation hilarious.
At the store, the only sandal that fits her is a size 40 (which, in case you are not familiar with European sizes, is something that only one of Cinderella’s evil sisters would wear.) He teases her. She calls him “peste” again, pinches him, and threatens to kick his ass. They look at each other in that way, with lust, with brightness, with the faith that you have in someone who has loved you deeply, hungrily – not like the others.
But, this small episode aside, nothing transcendental happens.
They talk about light things:
“Only because a chandelier fell over my head once, that doesn’t mean che sono sfigato!” he says.
“What about the time you fell from the never-ending flight of stairs at Piazza del Popolo, crashing into a poor old lady?”
“I only almost hit her… I didn’t crash into her. And she wasn’t that old,” he protests.
“And the time you got hit by a taxi?” …
“That was not bad luck – just the consequence of living in Italy!”
“Fine, but the monsoon…” she says, pointing at the sky “this is bad luck! Pure sfiga!”
They talk about heavy things:
“I’m relieved that you are single, you know?” he confesses. “Every time you sent me a message or called, I was always terrified you were inviting me to your wedding.”
“Oh, he would have rather cut his balls than married me,” she says, dismissing the whole thing with a light wave of her hand, as if she were shooing a fly from under her nose.
She is acting tough, but he knows that, inside, she is hurting. Although he wants to stop, turn to her, take her by the shoulders, look straight into her eyes and state the simple truth – “the guy’s an idiot!” – he keeps his mouth shut. That’s what you do when you love someone: you don’t say anything bad about the people they love. Not even when it’s true. Especially if it’s true.
Instead, he changes the subject. “Seriously, I think about it sometimes. Wouldn’t it be funny if…” They are walking near St. Peter’s now. She is wearing her Cinderella’s evil sister’s shoes, he is carrying a box containing her old sandals, and, perhaps not so trivially, they are holding hands.
“If the two of us ended up getting married, you mean?” she says, gently squeezing his arm.
“Yeah.” He nods. And, simultaneously, a thought occurs to him: this is one of the things he likes about her – how she delicately brings unspoken dreams into the realm of the real, by simply having the courage to acknowledge them.
She doesn’t say anything, and, for some time, they walking in the most noisy of silences, overflowing with blaring horns, angry drivers cussing each other, and the annoyingly high-pitched voice of a tiny guide trying to sell her private tour of St. Peter to a group of clueless tourists who probably don’t understand a word of what she is saying.
Amidst the Roman chaos, the two of them are incredibly quiet, their souls incredibly close, their attention focused solely on the warmth of unspoken possibilities.
“It would be funny… but strange,” she says, finally.
“Why strange?” he asks, in a whisper. Honestly, he’s almost afraid of the answer.
“I mean, after all these years… “ she turns around, places her free hand on his shoulder, to stop him. “We were teenagers when we got together.” She makes sure to focus on his dark, deep eyes as she speaks to him. “Now we are adults. It would be insane if the first person we loved ended up being the person we finally end up with!”
“Not insane…more like a fairytale…” looking right back at her. He hopes that, if he looks hard enough, he will not just see her eyes, but know what she thinks, what she feels…
She holds his gaze for about a millisecond, then looks away. He can see she is frowning.
“What’s wrong with fairytales?”
Her usually blue-green eyes, now still greyish, look beyond him now, as if they were piercing through his body.
“Nothing” she finally brings herself to say.
Maybe, she reflects, there isn’t anything wrong with fairytales. After all, the time they are spending together has a surreal quality to it – almost fairytale-like, if you wanted to be cheesy about it.
She pulls his t-shirt forward gently and, just like that, they resume their walk.
They buy an umbrella.
Then, capriciously, the rain stops.
For the rest of the day, it’s as though nothing has ever changed. She leans on his shoulder while they watch a movie; he whispers sweet things to her ear. She gets tipsy on raindrops of wine; he offers to carry her purse. Simple things, really, ordinary gestures of affection that have been exchanged between billions of other people already, for hundreds of years. But, when they hug goodbye underneath the stairs that lead to her house, he tells her: “I am here for you.”
Just like that, her tough façade breaks, and she starts crying.
Her reaction is not out of the ordinary. After all, she has had a rough year. No, the extraordinary thing is that she feels comfortable enough to cry in front of him because, when he tells her that he is there for her, he means it.
With him, she doesn’t only feel safe: she is safe.