"Oh, my God. Unbelievable." Stephanie pulled me close. "Don't turn around."
Not much of a challenge to obey, to maintain steady focus on the rolling Tuscan patchwork below. Lovely enough on its own, but I had really been more absorbed in the question of how from below, a few hours ago, the journey up to this town – bluntly carved out of an enormous pile of rock, cubes stacked on a plateau with no visible road up -- had seemed crazy impossible. But now we stood on top of that same pile, and it was nothing. Well, not nothing. It was Italy, old and beautiful, ours to survey, but being up here wasn't the startling break in reality that the view from below had led me to assume. We were still just us, in a place on earth, seeing things. And apparently on the run.
My daughter was now turning us away from the view and back towards Pitigliano's blocks of gray medieval stone. She was going for casual, but her grip was firm, and I still had no idea who or what we were avoiding.
Stephanie was right. It was, indeed, unbelievable. Perhaps even the definition of it. I slipped the room key into her hand. "Go back to the hotel if you want. Maybe see if you can figure out the menu at the place next door."
On her way through the piazza, she paused at one of the radiating streets, near the green cross of a farmacia, a question on her face. I pointed to the corner behind, a Madonna gazing down from her shrine stuck halfway up the building's stone wall. She nodded, waved, and was gone.
"Isn't this crazy? This. Is. Absolutely. Crazy."
She was about my height, but thinner, more fit, which, because I am a terrible person, would shade my views even if I liked her, which I was pretty sure was not the case. Yoga? Barre class? Pilates? All of them, plus a deity who clearly loved her more? In capris, just as in the other two encounters, pastel blue this time, a white baseball-type cap shouting ITALIA in red and green letters, and a big American smile. "Unbelievable!" She lunged my way and laid one warm hand on my arm and with the other she did that thing with two fingers pointing between her eyes and mine. I see you. "You stalking me, girl?" Like it was our joke. I just shook my head. In the twenty minutes of my life I'd spent in her company, I'd learned my participation was optional. She could carry it.
"Assisi, Orvieto – and now this – Pitano? Pigano?"
She waved a hand. Foreign whatever. "What are the odds, Chrissie?"
"Christine. Pretty high."
"Pretty darn high!" She took a step back and cocked her head. Her name might have been in my consciousness for a second last week, but no more. "Didn't you say that you all were going to be in Orvieto for a few weeks? Daytrip?"
"Our plans changed."
"Well, there you go. If you want to make God laugh, right?" she paused. I had nothing. She gave me a second, eyebrows raised in expectation, but still. Nothing.
"Tell him your plans! If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans. Story of my life, girl." She slipped a phone out of her purse and started scrolling, brushing and pinching with purpose and impressive speed.
Plan one: Glenn would teach something about medieval architecture in the college's summer program in Orvieto, and of course I'd accompany him. Stephanie was already signed up to work at camp in the North Georgia mountains, but it was fine. She was young, she'd have another chance at Italy someday.
Plans change: Glenn became unavailable in March when he dropped dead of a heart attack during his stupid weekly pick-up basketball game. I considered asking Serendipity Jones here if there might have been a warning. Should I have been listening for laughter from the sky?