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Elizabeth and Franco: One Day in Venice

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"The light is beautiful. You're beautiful," Franco says, eyes warm on Elizabeth, pencil gliding over the sketch pad propped on his knee. He's sprawled naked against the headboard of the rumpled canopy bed... and she's sprawled naked at the foot of it, sketching him just as intently as he's sketching her.

"Stop changing the subject," she says.

He's been gentle but steadfast in his refusal to do gondolas or San Marco's or pigeons in the Piazza, despite her protests and reminders that this is her honeymoon, too...

"Next time... I promise," he says. "And we'll do whatever you want next week in Florence. Museums full of martyred saints 'til the cows come home... but here, it's intrigue and color and romance."

With that, he slowly crawls toward her, sweeping aside the drawing materials as he goes, and takes her in his arms yet again, rolls her beneath him in the tangled silken sheets.

"I'll take care of everything," he says... and doesn't say anything more.

#

They're staying in a palazzo along the water in the less-touristed Dorsoduro area across the Grand Canal. The room is huge, seems untouched by time — with the canopy bed, tapestry-covered walls and floor-to-ceiling windows that open out onto the sea and islands. When they finally dress each other and leave for the day, she remarks on the rubber boots and brooms piled high on the first-floor landing.

"It's to push the water back into the sea after high tide," he says, kissing her hand with a meaningful smile. "Why fight the inevitable?"

She knew he spoke a little Italian, but is surprised to learn he's fluent — the musical sounds rolling effortlessly off his tongue — and he uses it to take her places that feel secret and forbidden. Outside a tabacci shop, he exchanges words with a beautiful, seemingly idle, dark-haired young man who nods, pockets the folded bills handed to him and guides them to a break in a rough stone wall, through a mysterious passageway by flashlight, then into a crumbling palazzo — once grand, now spectral — with enough broken windows to illuminate walls covered in peeling frescoes, floors inlaid with ornate mosaic patterns…

Franco takes the flashlight, points out to Elizabeth subtle details and motifs, his voice echoing in the cavernous place. He lovingly explains the techniques, the long history of what she's seeing… and the probable future…

"There's only so much the city can afford to save," he says. "All this will be gone in a few years."

"That's tragic," she murmurs, frowning at the flakes of plaster at her feet.

The beautiful young man merely shrugs, engrossed in his cell phone…

#

Elizabeth and Franco set out to scout locations to paint tomorrow, wandering hand in hand over dozens of unique foot-bridges, down narrow cobbled streets, emerging onto small neighborhood piazzas with tiny shops and market stalls, clusters of women with strollers, children playing soccer in brightly-colored jerseys…

They stop in a particularly scenic and busy square, buy cured meats and cheeses, bread and wine, and perch on the low wall surrounding the central fountain, with the meal arrayed between them. A soccer ball rolls toward them and she smiles as Franco kicks it back into the scrum of laughing kids.

The sun is still spring-warm, not yet hot, and she basks in it, and in the rich flavors, scents and sounds, in the rare freedom from demands, the pleasure of turning the reins over to someone else... until she notices that Franco's face has gone slack, his eyes have lost focus… as sometimes happens since he discovered his past. She never touches him then… just lets him resolve the moment and return to her in his own time, which he always does... with a sad smile. Sometimes he'll reach for her… other times he'll move farther away. She understands. 

Today he reaches for her, his gold wedding band glinting in the sunlight, and runs his hand over her hair.

"I know an awesome little place for souvenirs," he says. "Is Drew on the list? We can't forget Drew…"

#

Later, he has a secret destination in mind, and hires a private boat and guide to take them through a maze of canals, some so narrow she can reach out and touch the roses and wisteria cascading down the walls on either side. When they pass under low bridges, he leans close and whispers her name, the syllables amplifying and surrounding them in the brief, cool darkness, then vanishing at once as they re-emerge into sparkling sunlight…

Too soon, they're on land again and Franco is leading her into a small, empty church, through a ravaged wooden door and up worn circular stone stairs… up, up to a bell-tower with spectacular views of the Veneto stretching in a patchwork of blue and green to the horizon. The sun slices through dramatic, Renaissance-painting clouds like the gaze of God himself, and she's overwhelmed, breathless as Franco slips his arms around her from behind.

"I love you so much," he whispers into her hair, and his size and heat, his casual confidence in this strange place, make her turn in his arms to find the heavy-lidded expression that says he's wanting her, now. She takes his face between her hands, kisses him hungrily… and he responds with a growl, leans her back against the cool stone, lifts her skirt… and they make love there, to the sound of the wind and pigeons cooing… clinging to each other high above the ancient city…

#

As they make their way, flushed and giddy, toward the cafes and shops and Trattorias lining the Grand Canal, she's startled to find that he's increasingly recognized… with a shout of his name, a clap on his back, a kiss on both cheeks…

He seems uncomfortable… nodding stiffly, smiling politely…

"The Italians love a good celebrity scandal," he mutters when she arches a brow at him.

And those who know him do treat him like a celebrity… and her, by extension. They're offered free trinkets, espresso, cicheti, glasses of wine and grappa — all of which he scrupulously pays for with quick, eagerly-accepted pencil sketches. He always makes sure to include her, keep her close, translate for her… until she notices a group of men standing around a high cafe table, leering at her so blatantly she bristles, grips his arm…

"Ehi! Franco!" the biggest of the men calls, and adds something rough that makes Franco's jaw tighten, his eyes flash. He doesn't translate then, but puts his body in front of hers and speaks so sharply that the men seem stunned, and apologize profusely with words and gestures even she can understand…

As he wraps his arm around her and urges her away, she has a sudden realization. "You lived here. When…?"

"Long time ago. Very briefly," he says.

"Long enough to make an impression," she laughs… fully intending to ask him later why he never mentioned it…

#

Somehow it gets around that they're on their honeymoon, and with great fanfare and well-wishes, they're ushered into a small but stunningly atmospheric ristorante beside the Grand Canal, walls dark with soot from centuries of firelight… where they're given far too much complimentary, mouth-watering food and drink, and linger far too long in the glorious company of the chef/owner and her English landscape-painter husband. The rich, far-ranging conversation is as intoxicating as the wine… and when they finally stumble outside near midnight, they're so enraptured by the beauty of the moonlight on the canal and the vaporettos gliding in the distance like black swans… that it takes them a moment to realize the canal itself is splashing around their ankles…

"Oh, shit!" Franco cries, grabbing her hand. "Shit! High tide! Full moon! Run!" He takes off, laughing, half-dragging her behind him, explaining that the water will rise so unusually high they'll be cut off from their hotel, if they haven't been already. She's doubled over with giggling, trying to keep up as they pass fleets of gondolas tied up for the night, rocking gently on the rising tide. Finally, it's surging too fast and he veers off — "A shortcut," he tells her — but even that way is swamped, and he effortlessly swings her up into his arms and runs, their laughter and his wet footfalls echoing off the walls of the deserted passageways…

They barely reach the hotel in time, water chasing them through the open door, and he carries her past the boots and pushbrooms piled on the first-floor landing, up the marble stairs to their room… and falls with her onto the sumptuous bed. They're delirious with drink and adrenaline and tear at each other's clothes until skin finds skin, until she's wrapped around him and he's moving deeply inside her…

"Franco," she moans, loving they way they say his name here — the rolled 'r', the long 'a' — loving the way it feels in her mouth… so exotic, momentarily making him a stranger to her. She feels exotic in this history-haunted place, and with the full moon pouring in through the open window, the salty sea breeze lifting the floor-length lace curtains… she could easily imagine she's a Venetian noblewoman in the passionate embrace of her lover…

But that would pull her away from the perfect intimacy of this moment, from the intense love she feels for this man she's chosen to share her life with — a love as irresistible and inevitable as the tide.

He promised her a day of intrigue and color and romance... and that's exactly what he gave. And gives her every day.

How could she ever have doubted him?

-end-