"Ahhh! Si, Signorina!" he answered, hurriedly disappearing into the kitchen. I was beginning to believe the swinging door had the power to erase his memory because each time he emerged, he carried someone else's order, forgetting our bill entirely.
I sighed helplessly and leaned back into my chair, the wood worn smooth by years of steady patronage. So lunch was taking longer than scheduled. At least we were in Rome.
The city Cheryl, with her Italian roots, had wanted to visit for as long as she could remember, and one I had loved since my first visit, years before, as a study abroad student. Spending the half term break here was an easy choice, and we hoped it would revive us from the deadly exhaustion of our teaching jobs and the long, dreary English winter.
With only a week to travel, and day trips to Florence and Pompeii already planned, our goal was to take in as much of the city as possible. It was our first full day, and we had woken that morning with plans to hit the Capitoline Hill, Roman Forum, and Colosseum. Afterwards, we would eat lunch and decide how to spend the afternoon.
Heading east from our hotel in Campo de' Fiori, we breezed through the first monument, then took the staircase leading down into the Forum. At the bottom, standing in front of a set of columns, was an American tour group. Cheryl and I hung back, trying to listen inconspicuously, until the leader invited everyone to follow him to the next stop on the free tour. Free was right in line with our budget, and we lost track of time, meandering around the Forum, soaking up Roman history. When it finally ended, we realized the morning was gone and we were starving. It was obvious, the inside of the Colosseum would have to wait until after lunch.
Experience had taught us the best places to eat were slightly off the tourist path, and making a couple of turns down side streets across from the Colosseum, Cheryl and I found a small restaurant tucked between two shops. After a quick glance over the menu posted beside the door, we entered and found ancient tables fitted with mismatched chairs and, most importantly, locals - the guarantee of delicious food. We feasted on handmade pasta (Cheryl) and pizza dotted with fresh mushrooms (me), and drank red table wine out of simple, wide-bottomed cups.
But as wonderful as lunch was, we were anxious to get back to sightseeing, and our waiter's forgetfulness was getting annoying. Just when I thought I couldn't hide my impatience any longer, he pushed through the kitchen door and, with a gallant smile, laid the check in the middle of the square table. Cheryl and I quickly split the cost of our lunch and headed back out into the sunshine.
Turning left, we walked down the Via degli Annibaldi, a wide street with cars filling every parking spot.
That's when I saw him for the first time.
Tall and handsome, with black hair and a natural tan, he stood beside a white passenger van, turning his head, taking in the entire city, as he waited for everyone else to filter out.
Cheryl and I strided past, careful not to make eye contact with anyone, still talking about our waiter and thinking about what to do that afternoon.
As we waited to cross over the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum, he and the others in his group joined us on the sidewalk, talking excitedly in American accents. My eyes flickered over them, taking in the details.
Apart from a female with long blond hair, they were all men with hair cropped short, but not too short. And ranging in age from mid-20s to early 40s, their fashion choices varied widely. One wore cowboy boots and a giant belt buckle, another, a velour track suit. He, on the other hand, wore a blue button-down shirt with jeans, his hands shoved in the pockets of a light-weight Columbia jacket.
It was such a strange combination of people, my mind went into overdrive. Why were they together? What did they have in common?
Finally the answer pinged inside my head. They were military. Navy or Air Force, by my guess.
I glanced his way again for a brief moment before staring into the traffic, still whizzing by the tattered stadium. The flutters in my stomach confirmed it; he was definitely still handsome. Too bad he was in the military. And a stranger. And I was...well, I was not interested in flings.
Jarring me from my thoughts, a moped roared with acceleration as its driver swerved around a car, only to be knocked down in the middle of the street. Without missing a beat, the man pulled up his bike, adjusted his helmet, climbed back on, and, with a wave to the car that had hit him, rode off.
The signal illuminated and, still reeling from shock, we briskly crossed the street to the Piazza del Colosseo and dispersed into the crowd of tourists.
Focused on finding the ticket line, I didn't even notice I'd lost sight of him.
This is Part 1 of the unbelivable, but completely true story of how I met my husband. This week we celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary, and as a gift, I'm writing the beginning of "us."
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