As wise Snoopy says, it was a dark and stormy night, which often happens in my city in September and October. I just hoped the rain did not cause any major damage.
I was home alone, working with my PC… Well, working is not the right word: playing is more correct… So I was in my bedroom playing with my PC, finding new and more complicated ways to catalog the 100 plus Gladiator photos I have in my files. All was going well until lightning fell very near my house… there was a moment of intense pain in my hands, a sensation of falling and then all was black.
When I woke up I found myself in the dark, the only light coming from the street lamps outside. I checked myself, remembering what had happened, but luckily I was OK: only my fingertips were slightly painful… I sniffed the air and an acrid smell of burnt plastic reached my nose. //Oh hell!// I thought, //The PC is gone!// All my precious files… ARGHH! I decided it was better to stand and go to check the fuse box of the house when suddenly I realized I was laying on my bed without my shoes. How did I arrive there? When I was knocked out, I was in the chair by the desk, and I had my shoes on…. It was then I heard the voice for the first time.
“How are you feeling?” It was a deep soothing growl. I frowned. Who was speaking? And why did the words sound so strange? “Are you all right?” the voice asked again.
//It must be my subconscious.// I thought… But since when did my subconscious speak to me in Latin? Because it was LATIN. Probably the electric shock had done more damage than I first believed. And then I sensed a soft noise and a light air movement near the right side of the bed. My eyes widened in the dark, and I hesitantly reached out an arm. My hand connected with something warm and hairy, but it was not my cat. I tried again… It was a knee, with the rest of the leg attached to it, and it was a man’s knee, judging from the size and the hair. froze. There was someone in the room with me, and it was not my brother, I was sure of it. Don’t ask me why! I collected my spirits and my strength, and I jumped from the bed, putting it between me and the stranger in my room.
It was then that the lights came back on.
I could not believe what I was seeing. I closed my eyes then opened them again, but he was still here, staring quietly at me. He was in my chair, dressed in his uniform, his armor and his fur cloak. His sword was resting against the wall, and his helmet was on my desk. His blue-green eyes were locked with mine, and a little smile graced his lips. I felt myself swaying, ready to fall, but he jumped from the chair and caught me in his arms.
“Maybe it would be better for you to stay on the bed,” he told me in Latin, and I nodded. He put me down and returned to the chair. My brain was working hard: maybe this was only a wonderful hallucination, but maybe… maybe it was not. His arms had felt very real to me when he had caught me. I decided not to question the whole thing and to play along: if it was only a dream, the end of it would arrive much too soon, and I did not want to waste a single moment of it.
I watched him and spoke to him for the first time. “General, it is a pleasure to meet you.” I spoke in Latin, surely with a lot of mistakes, but I could see he understood me and was very pleased I knew who he was.
“My lady,” he said with his deep voice and bowed to me. “You have the advantage over me: you know who I am, but I don’t know who you are.” I was speechless for some seconds. No one had ever called me “my lady” or bowed to me.
“My name is Ilaria.”
“It is a beautiful name. A Latin name. But I know Latin is not your language… So please tell me, where I am and what happened to me?”
I spent the next two hours trying to explain to him what I thought had happened. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done because I too was not sure about what had happened, and moreover I had to explain it in Latin… Luckily he was more understanding and open-minded than I dared to hope, and he did not question my explanations. He accepted the fact he was a character in a movie, portrayed by an actor called Russell Crowe (to explain this I showed him my bootleg copy of ‘Gladiator’ and some other RC movies), that he was now in 21st century Italy and that he was generated by my PC short circuit (that was really difficult to explain!! How do you say personal computer or short circuit in Latin?!).
In the end he asked me if I thought he could return to his reality, and I told him I did not know. He remained silent for a long time then smiled that breath-taking smile of his.
“My lady, may I ask your hospitality for the time being?”
“Of course; you will be my guest, General, but please, call me Ilaria. I am not used to being called ‘my lady’.”
“All right, Ilaria, but you must stop calling me General too.”
I shivered hearing him say my name, and I said, “Agreed, Massimo.”
“Massimo?” he asked, surprised.
“Yes, it is your name in Italian. I prefer it to the Latin version, but of course if you want to be called Maximus, I will call you so.”
“No, no, I like it. Massimo. Yes, it sounds good.” He smiled again, and I felt my knees tremble. My God, what was happening? I’d never had this reaction with any man, but of course he was not an ordinary man. Embarrassed, I turned to check the clock, and I saw it was nearly 2:00 AM. Suddenly I felt very tired, and knew he must be too, considering what had happened to him.
“Come, Massimo, let me show you your room.”
He followed me along the hallway to the my parent’s bedroom. I opened the door and showed it to him when I took him to the bathroom… Another entertaining moment followed when I showed him how the WC worked, but once again he surprised me with his quiet acceptance of things he couldn’t possibly understand. He simply asked me how it worked, and I explained it as best as I could. We returned to his room, and I took out some towels for him. While I was rummaging in the shelves I found one of my father’s pajamas… I thought about offering it to Massimo but I did not: Romans did not sleep in pajamas.
In the end, it was time for me to leave him.
“Good night, Massimo.”
“Good night, Ilaria.” He took my hand and kissed it. I felt his soft beard grazing my skin, and my blood pressure went to the stars. I muttered something in Italian and fled to my room, trying to calm down in order to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up well rested and very excited. I bathed and dressed in record time and went to Massimo’s room. I stopped in front of the door, suddenly afraid about what I would find, or not find. What if I discovered that, with the cold light of day, it had been only a dream and the room was empty? I crossed my fingers behind my back and knocked.
The door opened at once, and there he was, wearing only his tunic, a welcoming smile on his ruggedly handsome face.
“Good morning, Massimo.”
“Good morning, Ilaria.”
“Would you like some breakfast?”
His smile widened. “Very much so, I don’t remember the last time I ate.”
I smiled back and guided him to the kitchen.
While I was washing the dishes after our meal, I saw Massimo pick up a newspaper and begin to turn the pages with curiosity. When I had finished, I joined him, and he pointed to an article concerning a book review. “I am able to read this,” he told me. “I don’t understand all the words, but many are very similar to the Latin ones.”
“Of course,” I told him. “The Italian language derived from Latin. Some words changed meaning, but many of them maintained the original one.”
“Can you teach me some Italian? I don’t want you to struggle with Latin all the time.”
I wanted to protest “I am not struggling with it” but, looking in his eyes, I understood he only wanted to make things easier for me and that his words were not a criticism.
“All right. Wait for me here while I go get something.”
I rushed into the study and came back with my high school Italian-Latin dictionary.
We spent the rest of day with the books, and by dinnertime we were able to communicate in a very peculiar way: I spoke to Massimo in Italian, and he replied in Latin and vice-versa. It was a little strange, but it worked well.
While I was cooking dinner, Massimo went to explore the house and came back with two photographs he had taken down from my bedroom wall.
“Do you own horses?” he asked me, pointing to the photos.
“Yes, these are my two saddle horses. This is Furetto and this Harlem’s Bay Starlet, Starlight for short. They are my best friends.”
Massimo touched the photos and murmured, “I too considered my two horses more than animals… Their names were Argento and Scato… Unfortunately they were taken away from me….” His voice died.
I tried to dispel his sadness. “If you like, tomorrow we can go to the stable for a ride.”
“Really?” he asked brightly, reminding me of an excited child.
“Thank you,” Massimo told me, hugging me briefly. I returned to my cooking, trying to still my shaking hands.
Then next day when I woke up, I found Massimo already dressed in his full uniform, pacing back and forth in the hallway. He greeted me with a happy smile and followed me into the kitchen, where he helped me set the table. I was grinning to myself at seeing how anxious he was to go to the stable, but before we could go out he needed to change his clothes. It was not possible for him to leave the house dressed in his uniform.
I tried to be as diplomatic as I could. “Massimo, before we go out you must change your clothes.”
He frowned. “Why? They are clean.”
“Yes, but… they are not appropriate. Not in this time period.”
“Ah. And what should I wear?”
“Trousers and a shirt. We’ll find something in the clothing my family forgets here every time they come to visit me.”
I raided my family’s wardrobe and presented him with a wide choice of garments. Then I left him alone to try them on… I am a rather shy person, and I was not ready to see him in any state of undress. After some time, Massimo came out of the room wearing a pair of my brother’s linen trousers and one of my father’s cotton shirts. He was quite striking in white and light brown, and I felt my heart jump in my chest.
“Do you like it?” he asked, searching for my approval.
“Yes, you are perfect.” //And you are beautiful….//
“Do you mind if I keep the other clothes here in this room?”
“Of course not. You will need them.”
“All right… but you can take these away: I hate them.” Massimo gave me two pairs of jeans and added, “They are too tight.”
I nodded. I could understand his point of view: for a man used to wearing large tunics, it was natural to find jeans too constricting. However it was a pity… I would have liked to have seen him in them…
When we arrived at the stables, I introduced Massimo to my friends, telling them he was a distant relative. He received a lot of looks from the many women in the stables, but he was much more interested in my horses. He quickly made friends with them, even with Furetto, who is not the most trusting of animals.
He helped me to groom the horses, and then we took them in the outside arena. I told Massimo to ride Starlight, and he did so, mounting him bareback. This attracted the attention of all the other people in the barn, because everyone knew how jealous I was – and I am – of Starlight, my precious American Saddlebred, the only horse of this breed in Italy. Massimo spent some time getting to know the horse then pushed Starlight into an easy canter.
I stopped Furetto and watched them…. They made a striking picture; they were both proud and elegant, moving with perfect balance and little effort. After some time they slowed down, and Massimo approached me. “He is quite a horse,” he told me, patting Starlight, his face slightly flushed and his eyes shining. “Thank you for letting me ride him.”
I felt extremely proud, like a mother whose son has just been praised by his most demanding teacher. I smiled to Massimo as we started to walk again.
In the following days we established a routine: in the mornings I worked on my historical research while Massimo read books, always eager to learn more about his new world; while in the afternoons we went to the stable, where we spent much of our time. Massimo loved to take care of Furetto and Starlight, grooming them until their coats shined and their manes and tails were tangle-free. We often went on trail rides in the woods, during which he always rode bareback. He had tried to ride with the saddle, but, to my great amusement, he told me it was uncomfortable!
As time passed, we became closer and closer, but nothing happened between us. I was too shy to start anything, and he was too much of a gentleman to presume anything. So we watched each other when the other one was not looking and were content to be friends. Until one afternoon, when something happened and everything changed…
We were in the stable, and I had just put the horses back in their stalls after our ride. Then I washed my hands and went to search for Massimo.
I found him watching some of the riding school pupils. “Are you ready to go home?” I asked him, but he did not answer. So I stepped closer and repeated the question, but once again he remained silent. Concerned, I touched his arm, and he turned to me. He was pale as a corpse.
“Massimo? What’s going on?” I asked him, very worried. He did not speak but pointed towards one of the riders he was watching. I followed his direction and saw what had shocked him. There was a little boy riding a gray pony. The child was about eight years old and bore a striking resemblance to Massimo’s own son… the little boy so cruelly killed by the Praetorians. I again turned to Massimo and saw how his eyes were filled with tears. My heart broke, and I took his arm, leading him away from that boy and the memories.
Massimo did not speak a single word during the trip home, and when we arrived he shut himself inside his room. I went to the kitchen to prepare our dinner, but my mind and my heart remained with Massimo. I did not know what to do; I wanted to help and comfort him, but I also wished to respect his privacy. He was a proud and very private man; perhaps he did not want to be seen crying or mourning. However, I cared deeply for him, and I needed to do something to help him.
I went to his room and knocked. Nothing. I tried again with the same result, so I slowly opened the door. Massimo was on the bed, lying on his right side, his back to the door. I saw he was shuddering and, caution be damned, I approached him and touched his shoulder. When he turned to me, his face was streaked with tears.
“Please,” I told him softly. “Let me help.”
He nodded and pulled me into his arms, hugging me hard, as if his life depended on it. I put my arms around his back, caressing it, trying to ease his grief. Very slowly his body stopped trembling and his sobs decreased until finally they too stopped. His breathing became regular and deep, and I realized he had fallen asleep. I smiled and tried to get up, but his arms tightened around me, and he mumbled something in his sleep. It was clear he did not want me to leave him, and I was more than happy to oblige him. I fell asleep basking in his warmth and scent.
The next morning when I woke up, I was still in Massimo’s arms. I found him awake and watching me with tenderness.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“You don’t need to thank me… I care for you, and I wanted to help you.”
“I too care for you…. very much.”
We stared at each other for several seconds when Massimo lowered his head and kissed me, very gently at first, then with more ardor. I responded to him with all the pent up feelings of the past several days, and soon things progressed beyond the point of no return. I did not have any doubts or fears… I trusted Massimo with all my heart and wanted to feel his passion and his urgency…
When our desires had been fulfilled, we cuddled together under the sheets, and Massimo told me, “I trust you to know I did not do this as a thank you or anything like that… I made love to you because I wanted to do this from the second day I spent with you.”
I stroked his arm and said, “I know, Massimo; I know.”
He kissed the top of my head, hugged me tighter, and then we dozed off together.
The following days and nights were beautiful. We spent all our time together; I was happy as I had never been before. However, I could not help but sense something was wrong with Massimo. He no longer loved to linger in the stable, instead finishing his tasks very quickly so that we could leave as soon as possible. I was sure it was due to his fear of seeing that little boy again. At home, he grew more quiet and withdrawn with each passing day, and his curiosity about his new world all but disappeared. He also started to eat less and less. Every time I asked him if something was wrong, he shook his head, smiled a little and hugged me.
In the end, I felt neither of us could go on in this way. Massimo needed help, and I knew only one place where I could find it: Crowe’s Tavern. So I looked for the Tavern phone number and dialed it as soon as it was morning there, as it was many time zones away.
“Crowe’s Tavern,” answered a familiar voice.
“Laura? Is that you, my friend?”
“Yes. Thank God you’re there. You are just the person I need. You and Maximus.”
“What’s going on?” Laura asked, worried.
“I can’t explain now, but it is very important. Please, can you ask Peaches to prepare my room? We will arrive tomorrow evening.”
“We?” Laura’s voice was surprised.
“Yes, we. But I must go. I have a lot of things to do before I leave. Thank you, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Ciao.”
The next day Massimo and I took a plane and traveled to the States. During the trip he was quiet, too quiet considering he was flying for the first time. When we arrived, I found my rented car ready for us and, after driving for a couple of hours, we reached the Crowe’s Tavern – Hotel complex. The place had changed little from the last time I had been there; Maximus’ garden was full of multicolored flowers, Jeffrey’s golf course was green as usual, and John’s ice rink was still in its place. Faraway I could see the hangar where Lachlan kept his plane.
I stopped the car in front of the Tavern doors and told Massimo, “Please wait for me here.” He nodded, and I got out of the car, entering the Tavern.
“Anybody here?” I asked aloud, hoping Sid was not lurking in the shadows.
Laura stuck her head out from behind the doorframe and shouted, “Ilaria!” She and Maximus came into view, and I greeted both of them.
“You two look wonderful!”
“Thank you,” said Maximus, putting his arm on Laura’s shoulder. “Don’t keep us in suspense any longer; who is the other person with you…? We’re dying of curiosity! Where did you leave him — or her?”
“He’s outside, waiting for me. I just wanted to be sure you two were here before calling him in.”
Laura and Maximus looked at each and then at me with a puzzled expression.
I shook my head. “Stay here, don’t move. I’ll be right back.” They nodded, and I rushed outside. Massimo was still in the car, waiting for me. He opened the door as I approached him.
“Come, Massimo, I want to introduce you to someone.” He smiled, and followed me inside.
As soon as we stepped inside I heard three deep intakes of breath while Massimo and Maximus looked at each other, and Laura stared at both of them.
Massimo approached Maximus, and they looked at each other, while Laura and I watched them.
“What’s going on?” asked the two men, one in Latin the other in English.
I tried to explain as best as I could. First I told Maximus and Laura about the PC short circuit which had given life to Massimo, then I switched to Latin and told Massimo, “I am worried about you. I can feel something is wrong, but I don’t know what it is or how to resolve it. This is Crowe’s Tavern where all Russell Crowe’s characters live. They all come from a different reality like you, and they know how difficult it is to adapt to this new world… I hope they will be able to help you, since I am not able to do so…” My voice broke, and Massimo, feeling my distress, hugged me. While I was pressed against his broad chest I could hear Maximus translate my words to Laura.
After a while, Massimo released me, and I stepped out of his arms. Maximus then smiled and said in Latin, “Well, Massimo, would you like a tour of the place? We have a big garden and a great barn with a lot of horses.” He paused. “Argento and Scato are here too.”
“Really?” said Massimo, surprised.
“Yes. Come, follow me, I’ll take you to see them.” Massimo turned to me, and I nodded, watching him walk away with a smile on my lips. I had been right to bring Massimo here. I was sure Maximus had already guessed the problem and had already started the “therapy”.
I continued to stare at the closed door until Laura touched my arm.
“Hey, are you still here with me?”
“Eh? Oh, yeah, sorry. I was thinking.”
“Don’t be worried; Max will help him.”
“Yes, I know that. In fact I am not worried — I’m relieved. I know I’ve done the right thing bringing him here.”
“You certainly have. Now let’s have a drink… And then you’re going
to tell me everything that has happened between you and him. And when
I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.”
I laughed. “Oh my, but you are curious!”
With a gleam in her eyes, Laura said, “My dear, do you remember YOUR curiosity about me and Max? Well, now it’s time to return the favor!
So spit it out!”
I laughed at her words. Laura, like me, is a quiet person but not where Maximus – or in my case Massimo – is concerned.
We got something to drink and sat at a table, and I obliged her, telling her EVERYTHING had happened since Massimo entered my life. I don’t know how much time had passed, but while we were giggling like teenagers and comparing Massimo’s and Maximus’… let’s call it… ahem… ‘style’… we were interrupted by a voice that was both honeyed and sarcastic at the same time, “Oh oh oh, look who’s here! Two of my favorite girls!”
“Victims would be a more appropriate word, Sid. What do you want?” said Laura.
“Hey,” he replied, putting his right hand flat over his heart and assuming a little innocent boy look. “What terrible manners you have! I only wanted to be nice.”
“Yeah, sure, Sid. I repeat: what do you want?”
“I want to keep Ilaria company. You dropped me because of that soldier-boy Maximus, but I am sure Ilaria has better taste… Don’t you think so, ma cheriè?”
I laughed in his face. “I don’t want to disappoint you, Sid, but I already have a mate. And he is here.”
“You brought your boyfriend here? In this place full of studs? Poor guy, he doesn’t have a chance against us! Or maybe he is not a ‘guy’ but a ‘gay’, and he wants to enjoy the atmosphere…. I’m sure Jeff would be more than happy to ‘entertain’ him while I take care of you.” Sid grinned in a lascivious way I found disgusting. I liked him in the movie ‘Virtuosity’ but, boy, I could not stand him in person.
Anger colored my face, and Laura touched my arm. “Don’t give him the satisfaction of getting on your nerves. He loves it. And remember, he’ll have a big surprise soon. This place is not very big, and soon Max and you-know-who will be back,” she whispered in my ear.
When her words registered in my brain, I smiled. Yes, I was willing to suffer Sid’s harassment a bit longer in order to have the opportunity to watch his face when Max and Massimo returned. So I played along. “Laura, be a dear, and leave us. This a private conversation.” I gave her a meaningful glance, and she nodded, going outside.
Sid took her place, the grin on his face as big as a house. My fingers itched with the desire to smash in his teeth, but I restrained myself. I dropped the level of my voice and said in the sultriest way I could manage, “So tell me, Sid, how will you… entertain me?”
He beamed, thinking he had won the battle and began to purr the details. I feigned interest, trying valiantly not to laugh in his face, hoping Laura and the guys would return soon. When Sid began to demonstrate his words, I began to panic…. I had been playing with fire, and now I risked being burnt by it. Luckily, I heard the front door open with force behind me, and I let out a relieved sigh.
“Sid, what are you doing?” shouted Max.
“It doesn’t concern you, soldier- boy. You already have your chick.”
“You’re wrong, cyber-pervert, it concerns US.”
I turned just in time to see Massimo and Maximus walk up to Sid, lift him from the chair and pin him against the wall.
Sid watched his attackers, and his eyes bulged. “No! No! No! This is not possible!”
I smiled and approached Massimo, who released Sid and put his arms around me. “Are you all right?” he asked, kissing my hair.
“Yes,” I reassured him. “I am all right.”
Maximus smiled at us, then turned to Sid. “Will you leave us *on* your legs or do you want to be dragged out *by* your legs? He asked, crossing his arms on his chest.
For the first time in his existence, Sid neither protested nor retorted. He simply adjusted his tie and purple suit and walked away… Straight into the wall because he was not looking where he was going but had his eyes fixed on Massimo and Max!We all laughed, then went to the bar to open a champagne bottle to celebrate the event. I usually don’t drink – I don’t like wine or beer or liquors, and I can’t tolerate alcohol – but this was a very special occasion!
We were cheering and laughing when Tina, John, Michelle and Bud walked in.
“Hey Laura, what’s going on?” asked John. “We just saw Sid outside. …. He was pacing back and forth in the yard, knicking at the dirt, waving his arms, swearing and muttering to himself… He said there are now TWO Maximuses! I think his microprocessor is out of order!” He started to laugh but suddenly stopped when Massimo, who until then was leaning on the counter with his back to the door, turned around.
“OH MY GOD!” the four newcomers said as one. “It is true!”
Maximus took Massimo by the elbow and led him near his friends. “My friends, let me introduce to you Massimo Decimo Meridio.” Then he switched to Latin. “Massimo this is Michelle, Tina, Bud and John.”
Massimo shook hands with everyone, and then the whole group came and joined Laura and I at the counter.
Another bottle of champagne was opened, this time to celebrate Massimo’s arrival at Crowe’s Tavern, while I explained the details of his ‘creation’ and of our meeting with Sid. After that I don’t remember anything else of the evening… I told you I can’t tolerate alcohol!
Massimo spent most of the following days with Maximus, helping him in his garden or caring for the horses. They often sat in the shadow of a big poplar and talked for hours. I did not know what Maximus was saying to him, but as time passed, I saw Massimo’s behavior change and slowly he returned to his former self. He smiled a lot, ate like a wolf and his curiosity returned in full scale.
Massimo spent time with the other characters too, and, since he was very bright, he even learned to speak some English so he could depend less on Maximus’ or my translations. One day they went out for a trial ride, Max on Argento and Massimo on Scato and were joined by East on Nero and The Man on Thowra. I saw them gallop through a field, two Roman generals in full uniform riding bareback and two Australian stockmen with hats and long whips… It was quite a sight, especially when they returned to the stable, all four side by side. As for me, I missed him during the days – as Laura missed Maximus… She even told me she was beginning to be jealous of Massimo! But I had him all to myself in the evenings and nights, and I was happy to see him so relaxed.
Unfortunately those peaceful days past much too quickly, and the time for me to return arrived much too soon.
As I stood in my room in the hotel packing my suitcase, my heart was breaking. I hated the idea of leaving Massimo, but I knew I had no choice. He was meant to live with his other ‘brothers’ here in Crowe’s Tavern, but I could not stay with him forever. My family needed me in Italy, and I had a job to complete. “What are you doing?” asked a voice from behind my back. “I’m getting ready to leave,” I answered Massimo without looking at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I still have all my clothes scattered around the room and some are in the laundry…”
I turned to him. “I’m leaving, Massimo. You’re staying here.”
“What!?” he exclaimed and was on me in two steps. “What are you saying?”
I gathered my courage and looked in his eyes. “Massimo, you are meant to stay here. This is your natural place, but I must go home. You will be fine here. You have a lot of friends who care about you. Here you have the freedom to be yourself and act as you wish, without people pointing at you or criticizing your clothes or actions.” I lowered my eyes so he could not see my tears: I loved him so much that the thought of leaving him was breaking my heart.Massimo raised my chin with a crooked finger and said gently, “I don’t want to stay if you are not here with me.”
I took his hand and kissed his knuckles “Massimo, I love you, and I want to see you happy. It is the most important thing for me. And you were not happy living in Italy, don’t try to deny it. I know. You came from a different reality and need to live in a different place.
And I…” My voice broke, and I turned away. He hugged me gently and turned me, waiting for me to meet his gaze. When I did, he said, “Ilaria, listen and listen well, because I will say this only once. I love you, and I want to stay with you. Stop. It does not matter to me where I live, but I want you at my side. You are right, I was not happy before we left Italy, but not because of the place or the fact I couldn’t go around in my uniform… I was not happy because I loved that place too much.”
I frowned, terribly confused, and he smiled. “I will try to explain as best as I can. I was taken away from my reality and from a dark, cruel and brutal world and thrust in a beautiful, peaceful place, with wondrous new things to be discovered and a wonderful girl I began to love from the first time I saw her.” He smiled again and continued, “That new world was so beautiful I was overwhelmed by it, forgetting all the rest, my past life included. All I wanted was to savor it… Until I saw that boy so like my poor son… Suddenly I felt very guilty; how could I be so happy and carefree while my wife and son were dead? And how could I have forgotten them so quickly, finding a new love? I was consumed by guilt and confusion because I did not know what to do; I didn’t want to betray their memory, but I did not want to leave you either… Thanks to the gods you then brought me here, where Maximus and the others have helped me to understand myself better. They too had problems adapting to this reality, and they helped me to overcome my guilt. Maximus told me ‘our’ wife and son are surely happy to see us find new meanings and new loves in our new lives, and now I know he is right. I will never forget my family, but since I am here now, I want to be happy — which means I want to stay with you, my love. All the rest – this place, the horses, the clothes – is dust and air.”
I looked in his beautiful, gentle and wise eyes and nodded. I brushed away the tears from my eyes, then I hugged him with all my strength. I don’t know how long we stayed like that, but while I was in his arms an idea came to my mind.
“Darling, I think I found the perfect compromise.”
“My grandparents own a villa in the countryside. It is not very big, but it has a garden, an orchard with pears and apples and a lot of trees. We could transfer there, taking the horses with us. I will do the historical research for my book, and you will take care of the villa. What do you think?”
“It sounds wonderful, but how will your family take my arrival?”
“They will be overwhelmed with joy! My grandmother is always telling me to find a good man and settle down! Moreover, they need a caretaker for the garden; my grandfather is becoming too old. And in the summers we can spend our holidays here, with the other guys.”
We had been silent for several moments when he asked me, “At what time does our plane leave?”
“So we have plenty of time…”
“For doing what?”
“I don’t know about you, darling, but I want to celebrate first… privately… then with the guys and the girls downstairs…” He winked at me – a gesture he had never done before – and looked at the bed. “Do you want to join me?”
“Yes, Massimo, it is a wonderful idea.” I happily tossed the still-open suitcase off the bed and onto the floor, then sat down, pulling him to me, eager to start our private celebration and the beginning of our new life.