As I spoon the melting hazelnut gelato from my tilted bowl, Susan says, “I think I’ve had too much wine. Maybe we should go back the hotel.”
“Are you kidding? Seize the day. We’re in Italy. It’s all about the wine. Let’s go somewhere else,” I say.
We leave the restaurant and stroll, living la dolce vita. We approach Caffe Veneto, with a glassed in patio, crystal chandeliers, and live music.
“Are you ladies ready for dinner?” asks the host.
“We just had dinner,” I say.
“A glass of of wine?” he asks.
“We had a lot of wine, too,” says Susan. She turns to me. “Let’s go back to the hotel.”
“Ladies, you’re in Roma. Enjoy yourselves. Have another glass of wine,” he says.
“Yeah, Susan,” I say. “Let’s have more wine.”
“Not me,” says Susan. “Maybe a coffee.”
The host, Antonio, leads us to a candle-lit linen-covered table. Over my glass of wine and her cappuccino, he and Susan hit it off.
The piano player, Stefano, sings “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” As his fingers dance across the keys, he nods for me to join in. I leap from my seat. We make music together, singing “Unforgettable.” Pedestrians curiously watch me on the other side of the glass. I’m amplified on the historic Via Veneto, but I’m no longer self-conscious. Antonio and Susan dance in front of the piano, sliding sideways as waiters weave, carrying silver platters of lobsters and colorfully garnished whole fish. Soon they prepare to close the restaurant.
“Are you tired?” asks Antonio.
“Why?” asks Susan.
“Do you want a ride on my Vespa?” he asks.
Susan turns to me, her eyes narrowing. “What do you think?” she asks.
“Let’s go,” I say.
“We don’t know them. We could be kidnapped,” she says.
“We know where they work,” I reply.
Victoria, the server I danced with earlier, passes me. “Victoria,” I say, “Antonio and Stefano want to take us for ride. Can we trust them?” I ask.
“Yes. They’re fine. I’ve known them for years,” she says.
“Come on, Susan, when in Rome,” I say. I hop on Stefano’s Vespa.
Susan plants herself on the sidewalk, arms crossed. Antonio smiles, extending his helmet.
“Come on, be brave,” I say.
Susan cracks a smile and accepts it. We take off like rockets downhill. The wind shakes the hair sticking out from my helmet. At a stop, Susan and I look into each others’ grinning faces, a moment of thrill, anticipation, and invigoration. We speed through the Eternal City’s curves, passing miniature cars, historical buildings with floodlit columns, and luxury hotels with Christmas lights climbing several floors toward the moonlit sky.
A long, straight stretch appears ahead, the Circus Maximus. Antonio and Stefano race our motorized chariots. We cheer them on. A few turns and I’m breathless. We’re circling the lit up Colosseum. My mouth drops open. Susan shakes her head. In the side mirror, I see a glimmer in my eyes and an incredibly wide grin I haven’t seen in ten years.
We enter Piazza Venezia, a circle of honking cars, darting Vespas, and crowds of pedestrians. The Victor Emmanuel Monument is massive and breathtaking. It screams, “This is Roma. Hear us roar!”
In the center is a gigantic Christmas tree. It radiates in synchronized red and white, starting from the bottom, building momentum toward the starry sky. I shout “Buona sera!” as I wave to the tourists snapping photos below it.
We turn onto a pedestrian street. We brake and dodge passerbys. People huddle in a line in front of a store ahead. Antonio and Stefano brave the line of shoulders and elbows.
“Incredible!” says Susan. “What’s this line for?”
“I’ll find out,” I say. Customers emerge cradling a box of something looking creamy and chocolaty. We get our own personal box. We create a new huddle on the cobblestone, canopied with Christmas lights strung between centuries-old homes.
“This is the best tiramisu in Roma,” says Antonio.
I unlock my little treasure, a fluffy white pillow dusted with chocolate. My spoon sinks into the crafted layers of espresso, ladyfingers, and sweetened mascarpone. My tastebuds water. I taste the heaven and close my eyes.
“Do you like?” asks Stefano.
“It’s the best I’ve ever had,” I say. I scrape the box, savoring every bite.
“If we went back to the hotel, none of this would’ve happened,” says Susan.
“I know,” I reply.
“Thank you for urging me to seize the day. I’ve never felt so alive,” she says.
“Me, too,” I reply, reaching my hand toward her. Our smiles light up; our eyes crinkle. We hook hands. We’ve discovered that our bravery in seizing the moment is the key that unlocks our happiness.
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