She sighed, rubbing her phone screen on her thigh. "So gorgeous. So amazing that I'm here." She squinted at me. "That you're here. That we're here. A total God thing, right?"
"Hard to believe."
"Absolutely." She studied me, thoughtfully. "So weird, but maybe not?"
It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to find out where she was headed next, so I'd be sure to drive in the opposite direction. But before I could ask, she snapped into action and motioned to me with her phone.
"Take a selfie with me, Chris."
Well, no. "That's okay. But sure, I'll take your picture if you want, like I did in Assisi."
"No, no, listen, sister. I'm standing here looking at this – " and she waved her arms, fuchsia bell sleeves floating in the breeze – "and thinking about you and me, and how we keep running into each other here, way across the ocean, so far from home, and I just – well, I just can't stop thinking about it. How weird it is that we ended up here, at the same time. Of course it absolutely means something. Absolutely. There are no accidents, right? No such thing. Not in God's time, my friend."
A little boy raced between us, dripping chocolate gelato in a trail behind him, his father muttering scuse as he passed, following.
The dean offered me the apartment for the term anyway. Not that a high school math teacher and a fifteen-year old girl would have much to contribute to a summer of Pasta! And Petrarch! but it was a very kind gesture, and why not. Stephanie didn't want to be apart for a month, especially now and especially with a cabin full of weeping, annoying (her word) six-year olds, so she sacrificed that gig, and we decided to do this. It was a new plan, but still governed by the old plan, landing in Rome, riding the train to Assisi, then to Orvieto for the term.
That first afternoon in Orvieto, I figured out the washing machine and the internet, and Stephanie, as she had in the other stops over that past first week, set out to explore. For a fifteen-year old girl from a bedroom suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, this was revelatory. At home, she had to be driven everywhere, and every trip took forever and required massive coordination and crawling on I-85. Here in Italy, she could just step outside the hotel or apartment and make her own way, whatever way she desired, on foot on stone-paved streets, wander into shops and churches, sketch cats on the overlook, grab a gelato, sit on some steps and savor it, watching kids kick a soccer ball. No permission, no carpool, no plan of action, no schedule, no license required. The first day, she was careful to ask me if was okay to go out, but by the time we hit Orvieto, she was cheerfully simply informing me and seemed, suddenly, to be about twenty years old. Thirty, even.
Settled in and practicalities wrapped up that day, I considered life outside the apartment and braced myself for the smiling. Smiling at Glenn's colleagues as I bumped into them in the courtyards and piazzas, at the dean in for the beginning of the session, at the students. Smiling at the social that night, smiling under the stars the second night, smiling until I realized that the assumption that had made all the good cheer endurable was a false one.
For no, Glenn was not waiting back at the apartment, where I would join him in falling back on the bed, kicking off our shoes and spending satisfying, cruel minutes picking apart the foibles and idiocy we'd just endured. Joint mockery was one of the strongest glues of a marriage, I'd always thought. Death where is thy victory? Right here, I realized as I made my way back to no-Glenn, no longer needing to smile, my steps echoing against stone underneath and on either side. Right here, you bastard. All the more painful because the platitudes I'd be unable to ridicule with him were about him. Him being dead.