Roman Holiday (an excerpt)

roman holiday

And as she fell asleep, Denise remembered.

The European spring had been brilliant, unplanned to the last mishap.  Twenty-three kids from Mr. Marshall’s History and Civics Class, off to conquer Europe.  They had saved their pennies all year and a month before graduation had set out to boldly go where no eighteen year old had probably ever gone before.  In fact, given the complete lack of planning and supervision, it hadn’t gone too badly.  They lost Ms. Reynolds and most of their luggage in London, missed any number of buses and trains, had four cases of food poisoning, one serious illness, two and a half arrests and a traffic accident.  They lost tickets, they lost passports, a couple of times they were robbed and Jerry Painter got stabbed in Seville.  There was one serious drug overdose (the rest were minor), six or seven declarations of undying love, at least two fistfights, somewhere around nine cases of post-virginal depression, one pregnancy and one defection.  And that didn’t include all the minor scrapes, bumps, arguments, tears and swearing.  Stranded in Amsterdam, the bus happily chugging away without them, Mr. Marshal quietly gave up and took to drink and so, by the time they got lost in Rhiems, Mr. Marshal’s friend Call-Me-Janet was spending her days clucking and Wendy Sherwood and her clique were running the show.  It became Lord of the Flies with museums.

Yet the spring had indeed been brilliant.  Everything was new and they were immortal, fearless gods and goddesses with bright big eyes and smooth skin.  They knew everything, saw everything, tasted, smelled and felt everything.  And Europe did its best to help them.  Hot humid days, sticky to the touch, and nights dark and silky, shivering with promises.  Unknown narrow streets shadowed in grey stone and smooth cool white marble.  Holy chanting churches and painted pagan rituals.  Strong spices, sweet fruit, dark eyes and lisping vowels.  Their families and bedtimes and televisions oceans away, they reverted to adolescent savagery.  They ran mad over the cobblestones, each catastrophe binding them closer together, until they became a primitive tribe.  Teenage warriors marauding across the continent, looting with their senses and brawling with their emotions.  Their passions bubbling alive, their nerves high and open, dripping with hormones, they fought and danced, laughed, sang, kissed and hated.  Then they all sobered up and went home.  All of them — except Denise.

The next morning Denise woke up early.  She brought her coffee out to the cool of the balcony and watered her plants.  It was going to be a hot day, and she wondered what to wear.  Amsterdam had been hot, brilliant-sunshine warm, not like Paris, close and muggy and irritable.  It had rained in Paris and the group couldn’t get away from each other.  The hotel smelled of onions and old pee.  Karen and Denise, fighting with Wendy and flung out into the streets.  Long overcast walks and chilly dingy cafés and the crying cold midnight at Jim Morrison’s grave.  She stopped it there.  That was ahead of it; Amsterdam was first.  Nothing she remembered could remember Amsterdam.  Jerry Painter slumped over his shoes, drooling.  Tammy Tamara dancing in the streets with the German boys.  No, it was all blind stoned and stumbling on black beer and harsh sweet smoke and the night she pulled Wilcox — he was still Wilcox then — through the hot neon streets, kissing and touching and watching, until they couldn’t stand it anymore.  In the hard shadows of some brick broken alley they groped and grabbed and slipped down the stones like thickening oil, twisting and pulling at their clothes until they were on the ground.  Then, barely on top of her, their tightened adolescent energies simply overflowed against each other.  That she remembered, and moved slightly in her chair: the weight of him on her.  She teased him unquenchably, holding herself to him, provoking and promising, watching the want of her in his eyes. And he so loved her, like a warm sleepy puppy.  He wrote her sweet notes and poetry.  She still had them — somewhere.  He opened doors for her and gave her advice, secretly planning his – uh — their future.  And she loved him back, but not that way.  She knew that, even at the time.  She loved him because he was nice, because he loved her, because unconsciously he taught her how to be adored, how to be enjoyed, and how to use power — not hers — she already knew that — his. The male power of him moving through a crowd so she could see, dominating the background so she could win arguments.  The tall shoulders beside her that made it easier to wait on a corner or walk at midnight or swear at cab drivers.  And she showed him the power of the secret, more intimate than desire or sex or love itself.  The secret shares a single soul so holy you dare not speak its name.  It entangles and binds two people together so completely that forever, they are never alone in the world again.  But that was later; that was Paris.  She finished her coffee and set the cup down.

“Spanish blue dress, red purse and sandals,” she thought, “Generic Italian: simple, cool and sexy.”  The dress touched in the right places but didn’t cling, and the sandals had enough heel to tighten her calves, but she could still walk easily.

She stroked her shin and decided against another cup of coffee.

“And not too flamboyant” she thought.  After all, she didn’t want to scare anybody.  But then she needed a hat, wide brim with a red band, to match the shoes.  That was for Cat.


Available as an individual story here or as part of The Woman In The Window collection at Amazon


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