Will and Dana grew closer by the day. Indeed, the two months rolled by calmly and happy than either of them expected. Dana’s endless well of optimism intrigued Will rather than annoyed him as he feared it would. She didn’t share his often jaded view of the world and challenged his cynicism and called his bluff when others wouldn’t have bothered. Most important, Dana had a mind of her own, reason, and sound opinions. She was quick witted and deceptively sassy. Will had fallen prey to more than a few of her jabs. Oh, he loved a good sparing match with a worthy opponent and Dana was more than up for the task. But she went one step further; she held him to his word. She’d given herself wholeheartedly to their experience and she expected the same of him. No grumbling. No excuses. No lies. He agreed to allow her a certain measure of control; he’d to let go and try anything once with some semblance of happiness.

Being dictated to, it was certainly a departure from the norm.

Will’s family, the Rothschild’s, were of German Jewish origin who, with keen business sense, fought their way out of ‘Jew Ally’ to become a European banking and finance dynasty in the late eighteenth century. With cunning wit and heavy pockets, they married into influential families and rose to nobility in 1816; amassing one of the largest private fortunes and, some say, expunging their Jewish past. There may have been a kernel of truth to that rumor. Will’s family rarely spoke of their Jewish heritage and they certainly no longer ‘looked’ Jewish.

The family’s fortune was secured by Mayer Rothschild, Will’s many times over great grandfather, and his five sons. Mayer wasn’t the warmest man, but he understood business and his sense of family duty was strong. He sent his five sons away to the corners of Europe to conduct business in person. This was the essential part of his strategy for future success: Power and control of their businesses would remain in the family’s hands, allowing them to maintain full discretion about the size of their wealth and their business success.

Yes, Mayer built a wealthy powerful family—but it was hollow, save his immediate family. The male family members were tied to the family firm from birth while the females were birthing machines, pumping out the next generation as quickly as possible. At thirty-five, Will was the youngest of his father’s four sons and he refused to marry under any circumstances. His out? He oversaw the family’s American hotel holdings and oversaw them well. Too well his brothers thought. They urged him to take some time off. Thankfully, it was around the time he met Dana, making his decision to take a holiday a little easier.

After Will broke her habit of calling him ‘Sir’ Dana visibly began to relax—she began to trust him. She was taught that all men were inherently sinister and their attentions should instinctively cause women to recoil and scramble back on her hands like a frightened crab but she never bought into that notion that all men were depraved. Her body, her sex appeal, her curiosity was nothing to fear. Dana, the middle of three sisters, was raised in an extremely strict Christian family—very traditional and painfully ordinary. Beyond college, nothing was expected on them. Then again, she was the middle sister and rarely caught anyone’s eye—her parents included. She was nothing more than a beep on the map as far as anyone was concerned. She voluntarily stood in the shadows; at least there she could be her own person, have her own ideas, and think for herself.

Bored stiff and sitting on a sociology degree she’d never use, Dana moved away from her family and broke away from the bullshit. Thank goodness she’d done it years before Will walked into her bookstore. Were it not the case, she wouldn’t have had the nerve to take him up on his offer.

As agreed, she and Will never spoke of their past. They saw glimpses of it in context to their conversation but nothing more. Of course there were unspoken hints of their past in their mannerisms and so on but neither questioned. Dana knew Will came from an old family. Hell, his surname was plastered on the side of the hotel. And Will wagered that Dana’s lack of swearing outside of the bedroom hinted to her traditional upbringing. It wasn’t rocket science; merely perception. They’d started anew, just the two of them. For both, it was liberating. Nothing mattered but the here and now. They could be who they wanted to be, do whatever they wanted to do, see and taste everything life had to offer without prejudice.

There was still so much about one another left to explore. Would a year be long enough? There were only ten more months to go. Ten months, Will didn’t plan on sitting idly in his penthouse. Having agreed to take turns choosing their destinations, Will graciously allowed Dana to choose their first locale: Rome.

Rome? The very word jarred Will to the point of concern. Oh God, she’s a papist.

Sensing Will was prepared to denounce the pope as a homophobic Nazi and she a lockstep value voter, Dana quickly expressed her long held desire to see the city of Rome itself, not as a Catholic pilgrimage. Their first crisis averted; they arrived in Rome shortly after noon giving the awestruck Dana plenty of time to take in the sights before dinner. Will, having visited the city more times than he cared to remembered, sat back and admired Dana absorbing her surrounding and identifying points of reference from one of the many guide books she snagged from the airport. To Will’s astonishment, she knew the street names by heart and called them out as they approached. Foot traffic stopped them briefly in front of the Vittorio Emanuel Monument long enough for Dana to marvel at its beauty. Will never cared for the monument and generally regarded it as the large marble monster which destroyed the ancient remains that abuts it. But now, through Dana’s eyes, he slowly began to see the city anew. He still regarded it as a congested collection of tourist spots but without as much venom. He asked the driver to take the long way around, giving Dana a tour.

The driver turned down the Corso, one of the busiest streets in the city. The area itself was a seamless mixture of old and new. On the high end the street boasted a series of imposing Renaissance and Baroque palaces and striking churches—while on the low end there was a TGI Friday’s. Will rolled his eye as they passed.

In quick succession, they past the Palazzo Colonna and several other sites. Instead of turning towards the Spanish Steps as Dana had hoped, they continued northeast around the Villa Medici and arrived at their hotel, the Eden, moments later. Spying the antique oil paintings flanked by rich hanging tapestries adorning the walls of the lobby, Dana knew this wasn’t her type of lodging and swiftly convinced Will to pull up stakes. Her choice, the Ausonia, was a small family owned hotel located on Piazza di Spanga overlooking the famous square and the Spanish Steps.

“So, what do you think?” Dana asked sweeping her hand dramatically as Will took in the vista of ordinariness that was the lobby.

Reception desk, table, chair, other chair, a plant, and more chairs, Will took a mental inventory then asked, “What’s with all the chairs?”

Lips pursed tightly, Dana ignored Will’s thinly veiled contempt and pulled him to the reception desk.

If the lobby hadn’t impressed Will, the understated elegance of their room had. It was a spacious Empire style room decorated in a sumptuous palette of dusty blues, muted golds, and creams anchored by a stately wrought iron bed laid with rich damasks in complimentary colors which matched the smartly placed period furniture. The bathroom was ample, with a bathtub and shower—and of course, a conspicuous chair seated at the large open glass door leading onto the terrace. “Seriously, what’s with all the chairs?” Will asked joining Dana on the terrace. He followed her eyes across the Medici Gardens; like a coddling parent, the ancient pines, cypresses and oaks shielded the flowering botanicals below them from the direct rays of sunlight.

The view left Will speechless. It was without a doubt the most stunning view of the city he’d ever seen. He’d always associated the square noise and congestion but overlooking the expanse and light foot traffic, he admitted his error in judgment. He looked at Dana; her face was void of all emotion as if she was unmoved by her breathtaking surroundings—as if her thoughts were a million miles away. There wasn’t the slightest hint of the bouncy tourist he expected. There was silence, stillness with a note of solemnity he dared not disturb for fear of breaking it. Unmolested, this was when Dana was most beautiful.

Dana interlaced her fingers with Will’s, closed her eyes and drew a lung full of floral scented air, “From our moment of birth, we begin our journey towards death,” she slowly opened her eyes. “It’s what we do between those two momentous events that will be our legacy.”

“And what will be your legacy?”

Reflectively, Dana paused in thought. “I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’ll be far reaching and a comfort to those I love.”

“I’m sure it will.” Will smiled, kissed her hand and left her standing on the terrace with her thoughts. The porters left their luggage sitting near a small closet abut the bathroom. Will began unpacking, hanging their clothing as neatly as someone who’d never hung their own clothing could. When the dust settled, he stood back looking at the disheveled mass of hangers self-satisfied and rather pleased with himself.

“Oh God,” Dana came and stood beside Will. “What happened here?”

Will cut his eyes at her and walked away.

“Sorry.” Dana mocked under her breath. 


Forgoing their reservation at Lord Byron’s, Will and Dana threw on light casual attire and strolled the short distance to Campo dei Fiori, Rome’s largest and most colorful outdoor food market. In minutes Dana stuffed their hand basket full of meat, cheeses, and other offerings from the various stalls. Will trailed behind her paying the vendors in her wake. Remembering they had no blanket for their impromptu picnic, Will purchased one from one of the food venders while Dana skipped off to buy water.

“It’s like we’re on a scavenger hunt.” Will said jokingly as he handed the vender his money. The vender stared at him, blankly. “Ah, you don’t speak English.” The vender shook his head, smiled and handed Will his bags. “Grazie.” He turned looking for Dana when he was confronted by an older lady saying something in Italian. Will fought the urge to step back. The woman’s breath smelled rotten. She smiled, took the plastic bags from Will and placed them inside of a cloth satchel with handles for easier transport. Again, he said thank you and turned to find Dana. Get me the hell out of here, he mumbled to himself. He didn’t realize Dana had seen the exchange and was more than a little put off by his disingenuousness towards the venders.

There weren’t many tourists in gardens of Colle Oppio; a few people here and there…mostly locals laying about reading, napping, or snogging. They spread their blanket and ate in a shaded spot on a small hill near the ruins of Titus’s baths. Afterwards, Will lay staring up through the tree while Dana lay on her stomach beside him, reading off sightseeing options—all of which he rejected for one reason or another.

“You promised you’d do whatever I liked,” Dana pointed out. “This is my trip. My trip, my choices.”

“Don’t remind me.” Will covered his eyes with his forearm. When Dana didn’t reply, he glanced over at her. Her pouty lips were pinched not in anger, it was something else. It was hurt. He hadn’t meant to sound so condescending, but he had. He reached over to touch Dana’s face but she moved away, snapped her book shut and stood.

“I’m going for a walk.”

Will rose to his elbows and called to Dana’s back. “Wait, I’ll come with you.”

“No,” she turned briefly. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Well, that was badly done.” Will fell back again, mentally kicking himself for acting like an ass. He honestly tried to go with the flow…he hadn’t put up a stink about the hotel; in fact he’d held his tongue about the trip in general. But had his remark warranted Dana’s reaction? Yes, it had, he conceded. It’s like the old adage saying “It’s not what you say but how you say it”. In this case his actions spoke louder and harsher than his words ever could. Will closed his eyes and listened for Dana’s return. He’d behaved like a self-important snob; the exact opposite of who he was. But try as he might, giving the reins to someone else was difficult and his “been there, done that” attitude only made matters worse. It was time to jump in with both feet.

It was getting late. An hour past, then another—Dana hadn’t returned. Will returned to their room half expecting her to be gone. It was quiet and Dana lay curled in bed with her back to the room. Will brought the sheer curtain inside and closed the door leading to the terrace; the hotel was hosting an outdoor dinner party for the guests in the square below. Will returned to Dana and kneeled beside the bed. He brushed her fringe away from her face thinking his touch would break the ice between them. But Dana looked straight through him, making no attempt to conceal her disappointment. Will’s words escaped him—‘I’m sorry’ wouldn’t cut it.

“I’m sorry my behavior hurt you,” Will said unreservedly. “This trip isn’t about me…I’ve behaved appallingly. I’m…”

“Stop. I’m fine.” Dana interrupted. “Really, I’m alright. It just…” her thought hit a speed bump. “It’s just; you have a way of making people feel small, common people. You don’t realize you’re doing it…but you are…and you should stop it. Not everyone has had the same breaks as you. They see the world a little differently but that doesn’t make them…us inferior.”

Her words snatched the air from Will’s lungs. How could she have such a misplaced impression of him? He felt anything but entitled, and it certainly wasn’t his intention to make anyone feel inferior, her of all people. Intentional or not; valid or not, his actions had struck a nerve with Dana—and, from what little he knew of her, she wasn’t one to react without cause. No amount of apologizes would suffice; his actions would speak louder than his words. “Fair enough.” He said—awkwardly, as if the words were new to him, an ancient tongue. His brow furrowed and a faint smirk colored his cheeks—he’d been admonished by her, rightfully so but admonished nonetheless.

Dana flashed a weak smile. “Don’t worry; I’ll keep you in line.”

“You always keep me in line.”

“It a thankless job but someone has to do it.”

“No pressure,” Will raised his eyebrow. “I saw a cute little receptionist downstairs. I’m sure she’d loooove to relieve your burden.” He tried to rise to his feet but Dana took his face in her hands and pulled his lips to hers.

“Don’t you dare!” she kissed him and laughed. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“I thought you were angry with me.”

Dana inched across the bed, making room for him to lie. “Not enough to let you go.” She could tell by Will’s halfhearted grin he was biting his words, pacifying her; there was something he wished to say. “What is it?”

Will bought a few seconds by looking at the clock seated on the side table. “It’s quarter past nine. If we hurry, we’ll catch the rest of the guests for dinner.” He stood and offered Dana his hand. She took it and stood flush against him, forbidding his escape.

“What?” she asked again, forcing him to look at her. “We don’t have to go downstairs. We could stay here and play around.”

Will put a few much needed inches between them and kissed her lips, “You never get enough, do you?”

“Not really. But I suspect you like it that way.”

What’s that supposed to mean? Will wondered. A ball of hormones? Is that really how she sees me? “Come on, we’ll miss dinner.” He said breaking the pregnant silence. He went to the closet to retrieve a light jacket, more for her than him, while Dana went to freshen up in the bathroom—chatting away about something or other. From his jacket pocket, Will produced a small black box containing a brilliant cut diamond and ruby ring he commissioned after the first time he saw Dana in the bookstore. He meant to give it to her weeks ago but wasn’t sure how it would be received. Yes, he’d given her other gifts but this ring was intimate, it meant more to him than he let on or dared to admit. It was a replica of his mother’s wedding ring. He rarely spoke of his mom because, being the youngest child, he’s memories of her were so little. But he remembered her ring; she never removed it regardless of her task. The gesture stayed with him and shaped his view of marriage and commitment beyond the business of making babies. “Yeah, I’m listening.” He said when Dana called out to him. His attention still divided, he punctuated her conversation with a distracted “You don’t say”. He thumbed the box closed and placed it in his pants pocket.

As custom, they checked their room key and personal affects with the front desk. By the time they made it outside, the square burst with guests from the two neighboring hotels, food, music, and drink. Such was Rome; once you’re away from the tourist traps, the hominess and warmth of its people abound. It was a homespun jovial atmosphere that couldn’t be reproduced no matter how much money an hotelier pumped into his project. Off duty hotel staff from the various hotels stayed on and mingled with other staff and guests alike…and no one seemed put off by it, no one cared. The least of which was Dana. They were introduced to a Roland Hawkins, a handsome dark haired Canadian who traveled to Rome for his friends’ stag week. He had a broad smile and deep brown set eyes. More important, he was instantly taken with Dana.

Will fingered the tiny box in his pocket and glanced across the small lawn to where Dana stood with Roland. It was apparent from the way Roland hung on to her every word that he was besotted. Will couldn’t fault him, Dana was amazing. Her natural beauty outshone every woman in her presence. Will sat listening to one of the toddlers belonging to the hotel family tell of his day in full detail…it seemed he’d made a new friend as well. Will asked him question after question, and indulged his curiosity about America. The little boy sat posed with his chin in his hand, he seemed the embodiment of the classical contemplation. Will was actually fascinated with the little fellow so much so that he promised to get his address from his mother and send him a gift when he returned home. The doe-eyed boy babbled on about the next evenings fireworks display, fuochi d’artificio. Will attempted the word but failed miserably. The boy shook his head and gave Will a ‘Why do I even try?’ look.