idol season nine | week 36 | 1579 words
Louisa Mae Danvers was not an experienced traveler, but when she came across a brochure for a company catering to older women, she decided the idea was too good to pass up. Besides, she had always wanted to go to Europe.
She packed travel guides and clothes, and a set of those funny electrical adapters. She also added sunscreen, a good pair of tennis shoes, and an umbrella that would serve as portable shade, a walking stick, or even a weapon—depending on what the occasion required.
On the long flight to Rome, Louisa Mae read and dozed and watched some incomprehensible mess of a movie trying to pass itself off as comedy. The plane landed in Rome just before noon, and the tour group arrived at the hotel lobby at one-thirty.
"This is a free afternoon," the guide said, "so you're welcome to rest or go out on your own."
Louisa Mae had no intention of wasting her first day in Rome. "I'd like to go out for a bit," she said. "Would anyone care to join me?"
The other women were more interested in napping. Louisa Mae took her things to the room she would be sharing with Effie Miller from Duluth, deposited her luggage and changed into her tennis shoes. She went back downstairs, taking her purse and umbrella with her, and asked the nice man at the concierge desk what sort of places he would recommend nearby.
While the rest of her tour group wilted and dozed, Louisa Mae made her way to the Piazza Navona. She spent a lovely afternoon there looking at the fountains and admiring the flowers, handicrafts, and paintings being sold. She drank coffee under a shady awning and watched the people and colors drift past. It was everything she'd dreamed of.
Oh, how I wish Frank were here to see this! Louisa Mae's husband had died five years ago, and she missed him terribly. He'd never had time for more than a week's vacation while he'd worked, and he hadn't retired until the age of seventy. He'd suffered a fatal heart-attack just months afterward.
Louisa Mae returned to the hotel to meet up with her group for dinner. They went to a café a few blocks away, where most of the women ordered spaghetti, of all things. She opted for fettuccine puttanesca, and tried calamari for the first time. The first was delightfully spicy, the second chewy, but she enjoyed them both very much.
She slept well that night. The next morning, the tour group set off in earnest, visiting the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. They had dinner at the Piazza Navona, an entirely different experience by lamplight and candlelight than during the day. The following morning was spent at the Colosseum, the afternoon at the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. The tour would shift to Florence the next day, so the rest of the sights would have to wait until they returned to Rome again before flying home.
On the train ride to Florence, there were all sorts of interesting things to look at. Most of the women were tired, and dozed or read all through the trip, but Louisa Mae was quite entertained just looking out the window. Imagine living here, she thought. I wonder what it would be like?
After checking into the hotel and leaving their luggage, the group went to see the Duomo.
Isn't this something! Louisa Mae gazed at the color patterns and ornate sculptures that went up and up and up. She took several pictures, and posed for a few with Effie and a nice woman named Grace. The inside of the church was quite spectacular as well. When they finished visiting the Duomo, the tour guide pointed out the shopping district—something the ladies could visit on their own time, if they wished. The local tour bus took them to the Ponte Vecchio, stopping on the way for lunch. Louisa Mae bought a wide-brimmed hat from a sidewalk vendor two doors down, as the Italian sun was really rather fierce.
After the Ponte Vecchio—busy and fascinating—the bus returned to the hotel. Even Louisa Mae was ready for a nap by then, if only to rest her eyes. Dinner was at a nearby café, and Louisa Mae and Grace walked for a bit afterwards. They passed a gelato shop at one point, and simply had to try it. Different from regular ice cream, Louisa Mae thought, but very nice. Quite refreshing!
The next day featured the Uffizi Gallery, and then a free afternoon. Most of the ladies went to the shopping district, but Louisa Mae decided to visit the Da Vinci Museum, which was not in the tour schedule
A bicycle? I had no idea! She'd always known Da Vinci was a clever man, but the museum still held several surprises. Frank loved mechanical things, he would have enjoyed coming here so much.
The group toured the Accademia Gallery and a church the following day, and turned in early to prepare for the morning's train ride to Venice.
For all that she had heard about Venice, Louisa Mae could never have imagined anything as spectacular as the reality of it. The tour group left the train station and started to cross the canal bridge, but when they reached the middle, they all came to a complete stop. The winding turquoise water, the white buildings and arches, the flowerboxes hanging from the surrounding buildings—it was magical. The ladies clutched each other in a surge of joy.
"Dear Lord, thank you for letting me live to see this!" Bonnie Euler said, and Louisa Mae quite agreed. A young couple next to them also stopped to take in the view, the woman's head on the man's shoulder. Louisa Mae took out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. Oh, Frank…
The tour guide had arranged for the luggage to be sent ahead to the hotel, allowing the women to take their time in getting there. They strolled in wonderment, and even Louisa Mae was in no hurry to go faster.
Lunch was at the hotel itself, and quite good. The group took the vaporetto to St. Mark's—A water bus, Louisa Mae thought, what fun!—and spent the rest of the day touring the church. That night, Effie, Louisa Mae, and Bonnie went for a gondola ride, just to say they'd done it. The light reflecting off the water was soft and beautiful.
In the morning, there was a visit to the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge's Palace. It was enormous and spectacular, a bit overwhelming, even. The group had a late lunch, and then a free afternoon. Louisa Mae was in the mood to wander the city itself, so unlike anything she had ever seen or ever would.
Venice was wonderful for walking. It was hard to be sure where you were going, at times, but the city was not very big and you would always eventually come to the Grande Canal or to the sea. Someone would help if she needed directions, Louisa Mae was certain. She had already discovered that Italians were very nice to elderly women, and she was far safer than she'd ever been at home in Cincinnati.
The temperature was a bit hot, and her umbrella provided welcome shade. It had been unfurled only a few times during her trip, once to fend off a rather determined-looking rat on a side-street in Florence.
Louisa Mae walked along the city streets, past homes and businesses and back and forth across the canal. She found a lovely little garden at the end of a quiet street near the sea, and stopped for a moment to look at it.
At the middle of the garden was a large, circular mosaic, set right into the ground. The tiles were ceramic and glass, depicting another flower-filled garden that held a fountain and a bench. Louisa Mae stepped in to look closer. The mosaic garden seemed familiar.
But that's where Frank and I used to go, when we lived in St. Louis. She leaned down to trace her finger over the bench. We would sit here and talk for hours…
A sense of dizziness overcame her, and everything grew dimmer and then suddenly all too bright. The flowers smelled different now, roses instead of geraniums, and she felt someone touch her arm.
Oh, she knew that voice, but it had been so long. She turned toward it, almost afraid to hope.
"Frank… Frank, is it really you?"
"You bet," he said, and he beamed at her, his smile the same one she'd fallen in love with so many years ago.
He put his arms around her and kissed her, held her close and stroked her hair. "I've missed you," he said. "But I knew one day you'd come, if I just waited long enough."
"But what about my things, the boat trip to Burano in the morning?" she whispered.
"It'll take care of itself. We have a different destination now, one we can finally make together."
Louisa Mae smiled, so full of unexpected happiness she could hardly breathe. She kissed him again, and laid her head against his shoulder.
"You know I'd follow you anywhere," she said. "I always have."
"You sure?" Frank asked.
"Yes. We can leave anytime you want." She put her hand up against the side of his sweet, sweet face.
"It's all right," she said. "I'm ready."
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