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It had been a long, hot day of travel and, although it was not yet time for dinner, Loretta wanted to sleep. They’d been up since before six that morning to catch the early tour bus from Cortina through the Dolomite Mountains to Venice — the most romantic city in the world.
This trip was Loretta’s life-long dream: ever since she’d read Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age era of American literature, she’d wanted to come to Italy. She wanted to sit by the sea with a bottle of wine, some fresh-baked rustic bread, and a wedge of cheese — the way Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.
She got up to pull the lace curtains shut and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, then lay back down. Her blonde curly hair splayed around her head on the pillow. She knew she looked nothing like the Italian girls she saw in the street. Yet now, sitting back up to take a look out the window, she felt like she belonged — somehow, she felt at home.
The touch of Gherard’s hand on her shoulder, signaling that he wanted to make love to her, sent a shiver down Loretta’s back. She stiffened and impulsively started to pull away. Not wanting Gherard to notice, she stayed still. They’d taken this trip to try again and there wasn’t any point in stirring up that old issue and risk upsetting him at the beginning of their vacation. But his earnestness and effort in trying were painful for her to see — for the thing which he was so afraid of losing had already begun to be lost. The change he feared had already come into being. She’d known from the beginning that he loved her more than she loved him. She’d thought that, for him, having her would be enough. But the way he now looked at her, she knew he wanted her to feel something she didn’t.
As was her habit, Loretta diverted her mind from the tension of the moment by thinking about someone else.
All afternoon, after arriving in Venice, as they’d meandered through the streets around the Rialto Bridge, Loretta had noticed how the Italian men were so beautiful and exotic compared to the milky-skinned men in Peggy’s Cove. Some of the Italian men though, Loretta had observed, seemed high-strung and wound a little too tight. Construction workers who were overly emotional would chase her down the street calling “Blondie, Blondie,” behaving like purebred dogs, yelping and jumping.
But she loved the way they liked to dress up in their wool jackets, neatly pressed pants and Italian leather shoes, and sit in wicker-back chairs at wobbly sidewalk tables, sipping tiny cups of caffè espresso, as they pondered, or engaged in jocular conversation with their friends. It wasn’t like home, where most men hated to wear suits and were always in blue jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps, drinking beer straight from the bottle. And she thought of Flavio, the gondolier again then too, because he’d been wearing a suit.
She’d met him on the gondola that brought them across the canal to the hotel. Flavio had teased Loretta about the weight of her luggage and the number of suitcases she had brought with her, adding with a twinkle in his dark eyes that for her, for his “Blondie,” he would “carry them anywhere.” Their eyes met for an instant and Loretta flushed with embarrassment at his brazenness.
When she had accepted the hand that Flavio offered upon her careful descent from the bobbing gondola, she’d taken a slight fall forward and her breast brushed against his shoulder. She couldn’t help wondering whether he’d done it on purpose. He was so close she could smell the scent of his body — a masculine scent, a hint of perspiration.
She touched the sheet on the bed lightly with her hand and caressed the warm cotton, as though it were the skin on Flavio’s taut body, willing him to be lying next to her, silent in her longing. She let out a whimper when she thought about kissing Flavio and, suddenly remembering Gherard, hoped he hadn’t heard.