Authors: Jinsey Reese,J. Meyers
“Sorry I’m late, babe,” a familiar voice said in my ear as an arm slipped around my shoulders. I looked up into Asher’s face and had literally never been happier to see someone than I was in that moment.
He held out his hand and said, “Thanks for keeping my girl company. I got held up.” Then he turned to me and waved his arm to the far side of the bar. “Shall we?”
“God, yes.” I slid off the stool and followed Asher to some open seats around the other side. When we were both settled, I said, “Thank you. I was dying over there and didn’t know what else to do. He wouldn’t take the hint.”
Asher smiled at me, his dimples deepening. “He probably just thought you were playing hard-to-get.”
“Funny, because I was actually playing Leave-Me-Alone.”
“Yeah, I don’t think he was picking up on that AT ALL,” said a blonde sitting on the other side of Asher. She was tall and slender, with tight curls to her shoulders. She leaned forward and held out a freckled hand. “I’m Julia. He was hitting on me last night. I was just about to come save you myself.”
“Skye,” I said as I shook her hand. “This is my friend, Asher. And it’s really nice to meet you.”
“You two traveling together?” Julia said.
I looked at Asher and he waited for me to answer. I just shrugged and said, “We met in Paris.” Then I grinned at Asher. “Oh my god, I love that I can actually say that. Of course, it sounds much more romantic than it is, but still. Not EVER going to get old.”
Asher leaned toward Julia. “The European Shine hasn’t worn off for Skye yet.”
“It never will! I love this place,” I said. “I could stay here forever. Couldn’t you?”
“Nah,” Julia said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love it here, too. But going home makes traveling so much more fun. The difference between the two is great—the ordinary and the exotic. If it were all exotic, all the time, that would start to feel ordinary.”
“I can see that,” I said. “But I still think I’d be okay with this being my ordinary.”
Julia waved to someone coming in and I turned to see a guy and a girl.
“You traveling with friends?” I said.
“Yup.” She nodded, her eyes following them as they rounded the bar. “We’re staying at the hostel next door. What about you?” I nodded. “Good. It doesn’t seem too bad. Pretty clean in comparison to the last place we were at.” She pointed to her friends who’d joined us. “This is Tommy and Shayne.”
Tommy was tall and lanky with thick, dark hair, and big brown eyes behind metal-framed glasses. Shayne was a touch shorter, had warm brown flawless skin, and was perhaps the most beautiful person I’d ever met. Her long black hair hung down her back, and she wore a spicy orange flowing sleeveless shirt and long skirt. She was gorgeous.
The five of us got a table and ate dinner together, hanging out until we were too tired to do anything but fall into our respective beds. Julia and Shayne were in my dorm, which made it feel kind of like a sleepover. After spending the evening together, these two now felt like friends.
This whole experience of meeting people and hooking up with them for dinner, the ease of fitting in with strangers, of sharing things with them, and becoming less than strangers so quickly—it was an amazing thing.
“So how long have you and Asher been together?” Shayne said as I secured my pack to my bed and slid under the sheet. My feet were killing me after walking all over—it felt so good to be laying down.
“Oh,” I said, shaking my head, “we’re not. We traveled from Paris to Rome together, but we’re not
together. We only met yesterday.”
“No way. Really?” Shayne looked at Julia, who nodded.
“I know, right?” Julia said. “You noticed too, huh?”
Shayne sat down on her bed and slid her legs under the covers, then she started to braid her long hair.
“You should see how he looks at you. It’s like you’re the sun and he’s been waiting for you all winter long.” She clapped her hands together, reached for her bag, and pulled out a tablet. “Oh! I like that. I gotta write that down.”
“Shayne’s a writer,” Julia said. “A poet.” Then she looked at me and paused. “She’s also right about Asher.”
I was still shaking my head. “We spent one night talking on a train and he saved me from that guy in the bar. We’re friendly, that’s all.”
Shayne looked up. “He saved you?”
I nodded as Julia said, “The same guy from last night was all over Skye.”
“Hmm,” was all Shayne said.
I let that
hang there in the air until I couldn’t stand it any longer, realizing Shayne wasn’t going to say any more unless I asked.
“What’s ‘hmm’?” I finally said.
“Maybe he wasn’t,” she said.
“Saving you. Maybe he was really protecting his interests.”
I looked at them in silence, then turned my head and stared up at the ceiling. God, what if they were right? What if he
been protecting his interests? I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t ready for that—getting involved with someone. I’d just barely broken off my engagement and run out on the wedding that was supposed to take place a few days from now. And besides I was traveling for three months—it wasn’t exactly the prime time to start a relationship. We’d be going our separate ways eventually.
And I didn’t want a rebound guy—that had never been my style.
So now I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want Asher getting the wrong idea—he seemed like a great guy, and I didn’t want to lead him on. I’d have to be upfront with him the next time I saw him, so we’d be clear from the start.
I was not getting involved with anyone. Not even a little.
ulia and Shayne were still asleep when I got up the next morning. We hadn’t ever talked about sightseeing together, so I just decided to head out alone. I didn’t want to assume I could hang out with them, and then make things awkward if they’d rather not.
There was a display of maps and brochures by the front desk. I put my backpack down on the floor next to it and looked it over. I’d glanced at this briefly yesterday, but hadn’t really looked at all the historical sites Rome had to offer. I was just reaching for a brochure when Asher spoke from behind me.
“The Forum, huh?”
His hair was wet and curling at the edges, he had on a deep blue t-shirt and shorts, with his pack slung over his shoulder. He was kind of cute first thing in the morning…and I was
going to start thinking things like that. I didn’t want to be interested in him, I just wanted a friend.
He nodded at the brochure in my hand.
“Mind if I tag along?” he said. “If I’m going to have Twice the Fun, I think I’m going to need some help.” He raised an eyebrow at me, his blue eyes twinkling. “I don’t mind being your Plan B if you don’t mind being mine.”
I grinned and shook my head. “I don’t mind at all.”
“Well, then,” he said, offering his elbow, “
I slipped my backpack on and gawked at him. “You speak Italian?”
“Of course,” he said, looking mock-outraged. “What kind of lame-ass American tourist do you take me for?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “How much Italian do you actually speak?”
He laughed. “Just enough to get by.”
“So then you’re just a half-assed American tourist.”
“Ah, quick witted and a smart ass,” he said as we started walking down the street. “My favorite combination.”
Asher was the perfect touring companion. Seriously, if I’d been looking for a good stand-in for Paige, Asher would have been it. We sought out breakfast first, finding a little café where we got ridiculously strong coffee and amazing pastries. It was a good start to the day.
“So,” he said, “where do you want to go today? The Forum?”
“I was actually thinking about the Colosseum first, if that’s okay with you?”
“Anywhere is okay with me,” Asher said. “I’m easy.”
“Duly noted,” I said before I could stop myself. When he looked at me with a wicked grin, I could feel my face heat up—I’m sure turning three shades rosier. Maybe saying what was on my mind wasn’t always the best idea. I mean, I didn’t want this to turn into a flirting thing with Asher. I definitely shouldn’t go there.
Twenty minutes later we were walking through the ruins of the Colosseum and I was bursting from the awesomeness.
“This place was
almost two thousand years ago,” I kept saying, more to myself than to Asher. “Like people actually stood where I’m standing two thousand years ago. Crowds were roaring…”
“People were dying…” Asher said.
“I know…it has a horrific history but it’s so freaking majestic even though half of it is gone. I mean, look at this place!” I waved my arms all around. “It seated like fifty thousand people. It’s the original huge sports stadium made TWO THOUSAND years ago.” I looked around the immense arena, the pinkish stone of the interior crumbling, one outside wall half gone. I was
on history. “Doesn’t that just blow your mind?”
Asher didn’t respond, so I turned to find him looking at me with this great smile on his face.
“Nothing,” he said, still smiling. “I just like how excited you are by all this.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I am. But so many people come to Europe just to drink and party. You’re not like that.”
“I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.” I looked around again. “Okay, maybe not my
life, but for the past four years I’ve been planning this trip. And I was crushed when it wasn’t going to happen. So the fact that I’m actually here—” I swept my arm out. “—standing in the Colosseum in the middle of Rome—I’m not going to waste this experience on getting drunk and ending up in bed with some guy whose name I can’t remember the next morning, going home with a few months of blurry memories. I want to soak this place up and remember everything about it.”
He was smiling at me again.
“What? It’s dorky, I know.” And a part of me panicked for a second that he wasn’t going to like this part of me, that maybe I should pretend to be interested in partying too. But what I’d said was true. It was me, and I was committed to being myself. So I shrugged and blew the hair out of my face that had escaped from my ponytail.
“It’s totally dorky,” Asher said, then laughed at my incredulous expression. “And adorable. You’re adorkable.” He reached out and tucked the hair behind my ear, and I noticed a fine dust still covered his fingers—he’d picked up some sand and let it run through his fingers earlier, and then run his hands over the walls wherever he could. He seemed to experience the world as much through touch as he did through sight.
I kind of liked that. It made me want to touch more of the world, too.
“Hey, Skye! Asher! Over here.” On our way out of the Colosseum, Julia, Shayne, and Tommy were waiting in line to get in.
“You disappeared so early,” Shayne said.
“What do you mean?” I said. “I was up at nine.”
“Oh, see,” Tommy said, placing his hand on Shayne’s shoulder. “Shayne here doesn’t get up until noon most days.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said, slapping his hand away and then poking him in the chest. “I haven’t heard you complaining about getting to sleep in every day.”
“Not complaining,” Tommy said. “Just explaining.”
I laughed. “I’ve always been an early riser,” I said. “I used to sign up for the eight o’clock classes just so I’d be done by two and could have the rest of the day off.”
Tommy and Shayne looked at me like I was insane.
“I don’t even know what to say to that,” Shayne said. “That’s just crazy talk.”
Julia put her hands over Shayne’s ears. “I do the same thing. But when I’m on break, I creep up onto Shayne’s schedule.” The people ahead of them started walking forward. “Oh! Looks like we’re going in. Meet us on the Spanish Steps like around seven? We’ll go for dinner!”
We waved goodbye and wandered off in search of lunch. Not far from the Colosseum, tucked away on a little side street we found this cute little restaurant where we had the worst pizza I’d ever tasted.
“Pizza was invented in Italy,” I said between bites. Yes, the pizza sucked, but give me a break, I was starving. “Shouldn’t this be like the best pizza of my life?”
“Maybe we just haven’t found the right pizza place yet. Perhaps this should be our Quest.”
“Do we need a quest?”
“EVERYONE needs a Quest.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever had one.”
“Sure you have. Anything you’ve ever worked for is a Quest. Anything you’ve ever searched for. Quests, whether we name them as such or not, are what make life interesting.”
I looked at him for a moment. “You’ve thought about this a LOT.”
“And you’re trying to make Rome
interesting by questing for pizza? Seriously? Isn’t Rome interesting enough all on its own?”
“Sure it is. But a Pizza Quest makes it Twice the Fun.”
We finished the awful thing and then paid our bill. As we started walking, I fished around in the side pocket of my pack for a roll of mints, popped one in my mouth, and held one out for Asher.