"Listen," Cayden whispered near my ear. His breath tickled my neck and my shoulder pinched against my ear on impulse. My eyes stayed shut. I wasn't ready to admit I was fully awake just yet. My entire body ached from the previous day's hike, not to mention extracurriculars before and after dinner. My inner thighs ached.
I heard birds chirping. Wind whistling through the trees. Dogs barking in the background. The hum of cars off in the distance. It reminded me of Saturday mornings when I was young, in the suburbs of St. Louis. I loved to lie in bed and listen to the trees and the birds and the sounds of voices from the neighborhood kids already outside on their bikes and rollerblades. Then I'd listen to what was going on inside: I'd listen for Meg's breathing to decipher if she was still asleep in the bunk below mine or if she'd already made her way downstairs. I'd listen for a toaster ding, indicating that someone's Eggo minis or strawberry Strudels were done. I'd listen for the whistle in theme song to the show Recess to decide if it was time to get out of bed to watch One Saturday Morning.
"Are you listening?" Cayden whispered, closer this time. His voice brought me back to present day.
Instead of answering, I rolled over onto his chest, adding his heartbeat to the soundtrack.
Thump thump. Chirp. Whistle. Bark. Thump thump. It sounded like Saturday mornings and Cayden, my two most favorite things. I could listen to that soundtrack on repeat everyday of my life from that day on out.
Cayden ran his fingers through my hair, and I tried not to laugh when they got tangled and yanked my hair on accident. Then he took to patting my hair instead.
"This is perfect," I said, finally opening my eyes to see the sun streaming in through the window, illuminating our white bedspread. I almost had to squint against it. "Can we stay like this all day?"
He laughed, causing my head rise and fall with his chest. "How about we stay like this all morning, and then we start our day in the afternoon?"
That's exactly what we did. We stayed right there, holding each other, talking lightly and listening to Rome through the window. It was the perfect moment. The Colosseum was astonishing, the view from Janiculum Hill was breathtaking, but nothing compared to that moment, that quiet morning on Cayden's chest.
"Babe, I think this is a strip club," I said after our waitress walked away with our drink order.
We both craned our necks, scoping the place out from corner to corner. Big, flatscreen TVs played rap videos featuring fat Italian artists singing to crowds of mostly naked women. Tall speaker towers decorated the corners of the rooms. Our waitress wore 5-inch heels. It was Wednesday at 1:00 pm. No one should be wearing hooker heels on a Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm serious babe. I think it's a trattoria by day, strip club by night. And they use the same staff."
"I think you're onto something," Cayden said, taking in our surroundings.
"Oh my god!" I whispered loudly, pushing the menu into his hands. "Look! It's called TWINS. This is definitely a strip club!"
We both busted out laughing at the realization. Two Italian men at a nearby table glanced our direction. I tried to compose myself.
We'd chosen the trattoria because a woman on the street had wooed us with 6-euro pizza lunches, complete with fries and Cokes. We couldn't turn that down. The pizza was greasy and gooey, almost as good as the pizza from the day before, but not quite.
"Well, now that we can cross strip club off our to do list, where else will today take us?" I asked between sips of Coke.
"How about the Trevi Fountain? I hear it's impressive," Cayden said. I wanted to capture his accent in a jar and take it home with me. Surely the waitress had an extra tip car I could borrow.
We finished our stripper food, tipped an appropriate amount, and headed back toward the subway. We took the A Line from Termini to Barberini and walked headed on foot to the Piazza di Trevi in the Quirinale district. Before we got there, I saw a pharmacia with orthopedic-looking shoes in the window and I caved. I pulled Cayden inside.
I held the Birkenstock-like clogs up to my face and looked for anything that resembled a size. I squeezed the soles between my finger and thumb and felt bouncy comfort. I needed my foot inside that thing STAT. Turns out, Italian women don't wear a size 10.
"What about these?" Cayden asked, pointing to a display of gel inserts.
"Perfect! I said, as that's what I'd been looking for before settling for the thin foam ones at the airport. I made my purchase and added the squishy gel insert to my foam-insert-and-sock-layered boots. I had a hard time zipping them back up with all that padding. I walked out with a renewed sense of optimism.
We heard the fountain before we saw it. We followed the sound but couldn't quite pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. The splashes echoed off surrounding buildings.
I saw a family wearing matching "I <3 Rome" T shirts heading down a nearby street.
"Let's follow those tourists," I said, pointing. "The Americans will show us the way."
Sure enough, seconds later we found ourselves with our mouths hanging open as we stood in front of the most beautiful fountain I'd ever seen, and we'd seen a lot of fountains in Rome by that point.
"Holy crap," I said.
"Holy crap," Cayden echoed.