"Dude, your little neighbor friend sounded exactly like Old Greg!" I said to Cayden as soon as we walked out of the pizzeria.
"Is that what had you cracking up?" Cayden asked, putting two and two together.
"Yes! C'mon, you can't tell me you didn't hear it."
"I did hear his accent, and that's why I asked where he was from. I knew he was from Bury because of that accent. That's a Manchester accent."
"Wait.... so the real Old Greg is from Manchester?" I asked, and then, "Uh, does that mean YOU used to sound like that??"
I tried to imagine how I would have reacted if Cayden had come up to me at the bar after I'd kicked him and said, "Did you kick my ass?" in an Old Greg accent. I would have asked him to order me Baileys in a shoe, and I also probably would have peed my pants.
"People from back home say I've lost my accent," he said, "I kind of adapt to how people talk around me. So I think when I moved to Cyprus I lost it."
I thanked my lucky stars for that move. I could not date Old-Greg Cayden.
"Does that mean you'd be saying 'yall' and 'fixin to' when you move to Texas?"
He bent down and kissed my forehead. "I just might."
We walked hand in hand through the narrow streets of Trastevere. I looked up at the garden rooftops. I pictured myself living there with Cayden, eating pizza or pasta every night on our rooftop garden, getting buzzed on red wine, having sex with the windows open so the breeze would keep us cool. I'd have a closet full of orthopedic shoes.
"We have to find Janiculum and find the stairs to the top," I said, pulling Cayden along.
I tried to calculate how many miles we'd walked already. I decided it was somewhere between 5 and 25. I was in pain, but I was determined to find that damn hill. I didn't stop to think about how we'd have to walk another 5-25 miles back to our place.
"Are you sure you're going to make it?" Cayden asked, analyzing my walk.
"There!" I said, pointing in front of us. "Steps!"
We ran across the street and looked up. It was definitely a hill. But was it Janiculum?
The stairs were covered in leaves and surrounded by trees and bushes. I couldn't see how high the stairs went. I looked down at my feet and had a silent conversation:
"Listen up, you little bitches. Quit throbbing and aching and just lock it the fuck up. We're all a team here, and a team is only as strong as its weakest players. You two are my weakest players," I wondered if my feet would argue with me if they could. "So get your sit together or you're off the team."
"Babe," Cayden said, interrupting my internal pep talk. "You sure you want to go up there? I mean, you're in so much pain. I mean, my feet and back are killing me and I'm wearing trainers."
"Cayden, the most beautiful view of Rome is at the top of these stairs," I said, tapping the first step with an aching toe. "We made it this far, we're going to make it to the top. Can you handle it?"
I didn't wait for his response. I leapt up the stairs, taking them two at a time. My pep talk must have instilled some fear in my right and left feet because they pulled out their A-game.
Cayden caught up to me and passed me in no time. I switched between watching Cayden's perky ass in front of me and the slick steps below me to make sure I didn't miss a step and roll down to the bottom where I'd probably bulldoze a lady with a baby. I felt a slight wheeze in my chest.
"You good?" Cayden asked, checking on me over his shoulder.
"Damn right," I lied.
The stairs zigzagged right and left. I stopped at a platform to catch my breath. Cayden did, too.
"I can't believe that guy carried a double stroller with twins up and down this hill!" I said, shaking my head.
I lifted my hands to the sky and took a deep breath, then bent at the waist to touch my toes. I flattened my hands on the stone beneath me. Glad to see I hadn't lost my flexibility. That would come in handy later.
Cayden and I reached the last step at the same time. He took my hand and led me across a parking lot to the edge of the hill. We had definitely found Janiculum.
"Wow," I said, squeezing Cayden's hand for stability. I felt lightheaded and drunk.
"Wow," Cayden echoed.
We both stood there in silence. Complete silence. Ever since we'd landed in Rome we'd been surrounded by people. People talking different languages in different accents. People talking about the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain. People talking about pasta. People talking about pizza. People talking about people. Or we were surrounded by cars and taxis and honking and tire screeching. But right there, on the edge of Janiculum Hill, there were no people. No cars, no tourist, no noisy discussions. All I could hear was the wind through the trees, my heart pounding, and Cayden sigh.
"It's so quiet," Cayden said, breaking the silence.
"Kind of a relief," I said, leaning my head on his shoulder. He turned me to face him and cupped my face in his hands.
"There's no one I'd rather be here with," he said as I looked up at him.
"Well, I sure as hell hope not."
Then he kissed me softly, careful not to disturb the silence. My stomach did cartwheels the way it did anytime Cayden's lips touched mine.
"So, you made it to the top of Janiculum Hill," he said when he pulled away. "Are you satisfied now?"
"No! Now we have to find the fountain and the palace and his apartment next to the palace. Oh, and the crosswalk where the mom and dad of a 10 year old were hit by a car driven by an American tourist."
Cayden gave me a look that said, "What the fuck are you on?"
"It's in the book. The parents died. It's right by where he used to live."
The ledge we were standing at was behind a large two-tone orange building.
"Maybe that's the palace?" I asked.
We walked around the building and found an opening to a courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard was what looked like a mini church, dome and all. (I now know it's called a tempietto for "little temple.")
I looked for any clue that we were in the palace. In the book, the author said the palace had a six-foot gate all the way around it. Well, we were inside the courtyard and hadn't hurdled over any 6-footers. Turns out, we were actually in the San Pierto in Montorio.
We walked up the road a little farther and we both kept our eyes peeled for anything that could resemble a palace.
"There!" Cayden said, pointing. I followed his gaze with excitement but I was bummed when I didn't see a palace.
He saw my face drop. "No, there. He pointed again. "The fountain." Fontana dell'Acqua Paolo, to be exact.
I tugged his arm and walked faster toward the fountain.
"There it is," I said. "Doerr used to walk over here just to listen to it."
"That means we have to be close to the palace and his apartment!" I said, tugging his arm again. We walked around the fountain and then walked up the street to our right. We both noticed the definite incline and we rubbed our lower backs at an intersection.
"Which way?" I asked Cayden, the beholder of the map.
"This way," he said, pointing to the right. He didn't even know what we were looking for, but I followed his lead. We came across another intersection and things started to look familiar, not because we'd been there before, but because Doerr had. The way the three streets met at a weird angle, the way cars merged without turn signals and crossed the intersection without regard for any of the other cars.
"This is where they died," I said to Cayden, killing he mood.
I remembered Doerr saying something about a giant arch at the intersection. The Porta San Pancrazio stood in front of us, covered in a transparent sheet, probably undergoing renovations.
I looked around for any sign of a palace, gates, a guardsman, anything. My feet were screaming at me. My lower back felt like I'd been beat with an aluminum baseball bat. It was time to call it quits.
"What do you say we walk up one more street and then turn around if we don't find it?" I asked.
"It's your feet, not mine," he said, taking my hand.
We didn't find a palace, but we found something better: a park with the perfect overlooking ledge. Benches lined the ledge for comfortable viewing pleasure. I was more excited about the bench than the view. We grabbed the first open bench we could find and plopped down. I leaned against Cayden and stretched my legs out in front of me so that the only part touching the ground was the back of my heels. My feet pulsed and tingled. I started to wonder if I had stress fractures in both feet. When I lived in New York, I got a stress fracture in my foot from walking in non-supportive shoes. I thought it was just a pinched nerve, so I walked on the fracture for five weeks. You'd think I would have learned my lesson.