Grey Continued—Condensed: Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

Warning—History ahead!

This is the CONDENSED version of the chapter.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.

Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

ANASTASIA

It’s raining outside again—not pouring like it was when were at Ara Pacis, but not drizzling like it was when we got here. We’ve got a good little amount of water now.

The walk down the steps is surprisingly easier than the walk up. It’s usually the other way around for me, but Christian holds my hand and we just stroll through the rain with the other Romans and tourists. The steps are made such that the water flows down and disappears into a grate on the front of each step. So, I get a very pleasant surprise when I get to the bottom of the stairs.

Puddles!

I don’t want to be sopping wet with dirty rainwater, but I can’t help jumping into one small puddle like a 12-year-old before we continue our walk.

We cross the street, bend a corner, and tucked away at the end of one of these little alleys is a quaint little eclectic restaurant with a café outside and rose red walls inside. Red walls! I look over at my husband.Edoardo Red Walls “Red walls?” I say with a knowing smile.

“Bonus!” he says, wagging his eyebrows.

We all walk in a sit down at three tables pushed together. I’m contemplating what gastronomical wonders I’ll be experiencing for lunch today when Ben stands and breaks my chain of thought.

“I’m going to eat outside, sir,” he says to Jason and heads to the door before Jason can stop him. What? It’s raining out there!

“Ben,” Jason calls out to Ben’s back.

“Let him go,” Christian says, just as he’s clearing the door. “He’s trying to prove some goddamn point and I don’t know what that point is. Chuck’s not here. The object of his ire has left the building and he’s still pissy. Fine, let him be pissy. He did right to go outside and not spoil our lunch, but since he’s being an ass, if he gets sick, he still has to work.” Jason sighs and rolls his eyes.

“So, what’s good to eat here?” he asks.

“Everything,” Christian replies, “and we’re going Dutch, gentleman. So, you might want to tell him to bring his ass back in here and order some food unless he plans on having air sandwiches and aqua cocktails for lunch.”

Jason stands to go outside while Christian heads for the cashier to order. Al and I sit there at the table just looking at each other.

“I am normally alone,” he says. “I do not normally have coworkers… partners. I am new at that. Do they always behave this way?”

“Never!” I emphasize. “In the entire time I’ve known my husband, I’ve only seen one person behave this way and he was fired the same day.”

“It is hard to concentrate,” he says, “to do my job. He behaves… unreliably… untrustworthy. Is he competent to do the job? I am not asking you, signora. It is just something that I think when I am ever in a multi-person assignment, which is not often. I must protect his back. Will he protect mine?”

I get what he’s saying. You can’t be sloppy or emotional in his line of work. Depending on the situation, it could cost your life. You have to be sharp, and right now, Ben is behaving like a college girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m talking behind anyone’s back,” I say, “but for the most part, we’re family here… or like family, and I mean really like family.” If anything, Ben’s the odd man out. “You know families don’t always get along, but in the end, they won’t let anything happen to each other.”

“I will take your word for it, signora… and I will still watch my back.” He raises his gaze and stands.

“Signore,” he says and leaves the table. He’s good. He wouldn’t leave the table while I was here alone. He waited for Christian to return.

“What was that about?” Christian asks. “He’s got to watch his back?”

“This whole thing with Chuck and Ben, and Ben’s behavior,” I confess. “It’s very unprofessional, and he’s on a team with these guys. So, he’s worried about how professional they are.”

“And he told you all that,” Christian says. It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips and cock my head at him.

“I wouldn’t worry about his professionalism if I were you,” I retort. “When the two of you split in different directions, he asked me if they normally behave this way. He’s usually a one-man band and doesn’t often work with partners, but when he does, he wants to know that they’re precise and they’re going to have his back. You can go ahead and confront him if you want, but I can guarantee you’ll need another Italian guard by the morning because he’s not the one behaving like two schoolyard boys playing ‘King of the Hill.’”

You didn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you about bringing this up to Chuck in the first place. You might want to listen now.

“I’m giving away one of my secrets,” he says, “but you know your eyes say everything that your mouth doesn’t, right?”

“Is that so?” I say. “And what are they saying now?”

“That you don’t believe me,” he says, “and that I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Dammit!

“And now you’re thinking that I’m right…”

“Okay cut that shit out it’s creepy,” I say all in one breath. “How am I supposed to be all mysterious if you know what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t always know, but sometimes, you’re pretty easy,” he chuckles.

“It’s not raining anymore,” Jason says when he comes back to the table. “I’m going to order my food.” Ben walks past the table just as Jason arrives and heads towards the cashier. Christian just nods at Jason, who follows Ben shortly thereafter.

“Jesus,” I say. “Something’s got to give. I’m not spending the next five weeks like this.”

Lunch is amazing. The restaurant Christian took us to is called Edoardo II. It has a beautiful outdoor patio that I would have loved to eat on had it not been raining—and the pouty college boy wasn’t sitting out m,cv there.

The food is outstanding—antipasti and bruschetta; ravioli, Paccheri, and spaghetti with various savory sauces; sea bass, meatballs with sauce, sliced pork and potatoes, chicken romano… there is so much food! Even the salads are delectable, and conversation flows just as freely as it did yesterday.

In the interest of full disclosure, Al makes it clear how he feels about the bickering between the security staff and his concerns about them being sharp on the job. Jason thanks him for openly voicing his concerns and promises to talk to his staff. I don’t look at Christian. I don’t want him to read my eyes.

“So, what did you think of the museum?” Christian asks in the middle of the meal.

“It seems like there was a lot of ‘look at me, look at what I did’ and ‘look how much better I am than the other guy,’” I point out. “Was there even enough focus on the Empire with all that cock-strutting? Maybe that’s why there’s so much dick in the art.”

“And there you go with that fixation on penises again,” he says, shaking his head.

“I’m going to be fixated on penises the entire time I’m here. They’re everywhere. The woman’s snatch is covered everywhere I go, but even the woman with the dick had her dick out,” I point out as I take a bite of my food.

“Baby!” Christian exclaims, his voice dripping with mirth. I raise my gaze and people are staring at me throughout the restaurant. I quickly swallow my food.

“I’m talking about the art,” I say loudly. “If you didn’t see it, don’t blame me. It even greeted you on the stairs before you even got to the square!” What the fuck are you people gawking at? Dick is abound all over the damn city and you’re looking at me funny for pointing it out?

There’s a mixed reaction of laughter and people quickly averting their gazes. I turn back to my lunch and continue my conversation.

“There’s no way they can be sensitive walking through here with all this nudity,” I say to Christian.

“Apparently, some of them are,” he replies, still suppressing his laughter.

The Spinario--A young boy puling a thorn from his foot“Well, they need to get over it,” I reply. “Even the little boy taking the thorn out of his foot had his twigs and berries swinging freely.”

And Jason sprays some of his soda.

“You really have to stop,” Christian says, no longer suppressing his laughing. I look over at Jason whose body is shaking with laughter as he covers his mouth with a napkin.

“Okay, okay,” I say with a chuckle.

*-*

Rome is magical and comforting and a bit mysterious when it’s wet. It doesn’t seem like any other place I’ve been after a rain. It’s serene, but it’s almost like the ghosts of the past all join us in our stroll down the streets or our gazing at the city or our long moments of contemplation about a ruin or a structure or even a statue or a new building and they whisper secrets in our ears about days gone by. It’s not creepy like visiting a dark, dank crypt. It’s like the grounds have been disturbed and the spirits are stretching their legs and telling us stories of old.

We’ve come back the way that we came and around the Altar of the Fatherland to the site that Christian promised me that we would see before we left Rome—Trajan’s Column and Forum. I’m really excited to see this because I did research on this one and I know what I’m looking at. The ruins girl is happy again!

I believe Christian may already know this story, but he obliges me anyway and allows me to share my knowledge since I’m so happy to be here and even happier to tell my tale.

Trajan actually came from Spain and was one of Nerva’s top generals, who eventually adopted him. The Praetorian Guard suggested Trajan become emperor in favor of the military. And so it goes that Trajan was the first non-Roman emperor in the empire. He was a man of the people—a military man who also got along with the senate. Although he built a pretty large forum in his own honor like other emperors, Trajan’s Forum included public space and buildings, and was funded by his own spoils of war.

At the opening of the forum is Trajan’s Column, a vertical spiral comic book depicting and celebrating his conquering of Dacia and is the location of Trajan’s tomb. Right next to the Trajan Column are the columns that remain of the Basilica Ulpia, the main building of Trajan’s Forum. The brilliant colors that covered these columns as well as Trajan’s Column have faded over the centuries. The basilica columns all came from different areas and would have been a rainbow of colors, and the pictures of Trajan’s Column would have been in full color, making it look like a comic strip.

You can see these things from street level for free, but we’re going in through the museum so that I can see the inside of the Trajan markets. Trajan was one of the few exceptions to the commonly known notorious emperors, and one of the things that he built during his reign was the first shopping mall ever built. It’s constructed out of several little niches called tabernae and each one of those tabernae was a store—furriers, oils, pottery, you name it.

Trajan wanted to build a huge forum for himself, but the forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc., were already built. There was no room for Trajan. So, he tore down a large part of Quirinal Hill behind the existing forums, built his huge forum, and built the Trajan Markets in a concave shape nestled inside of the hill behind it to help stabilize the remainder of the hill. Trajan’s Column is exactly the height—125 feet—of the hill that he had destroyed to build his forum.

There’s a lot of walking and stair-climbing in the Trajan Market, but it’s totally worth it. The architecture is amazing and you get to see the whole concrete/brick/mortar construction up close. It’s one of the reasons the Markets remain standing today—that, and the fact that they were still in use for so many years. As we’re walking down the cobblestone street inside the market, a piece of trivia comes to mind.

“Here’s a fun fact,” I say as we’re walking down an actual ancient Roman street inside the Markets of Trajan. “Romans loved ketchup.”

“Ketchup?” Christian says, skeptically.

“Yes, ketchup, but it wasn’t the ketchup that we know now. It wasn’t made from tomatoes; it was made from fermented fish oil, but they called it ‘ketchup.’ It was more like soy sauce.” I look back at Al who flattens his lips and nods.

Ben still looks like the out of place tin soldier with a stoically sour expression. I totally forgot he was here. That’s a good plan.

“Anyway, tomatoes replaced the fish oil when they discovered the New World. Just a little fun fact for you.”

“Hmm,” he says, “they probably should’ve kept the fish oil. It’s better for you than this processed shit we’re eating and it probably tastes better, too.”

“The ancient Romans would most likely agree with you, signore,” Al chimes in.

“What made you think of that now?” Christian asks.

“Because one of these shops most likely sold nothing but ketchup… Oooo, look!” I quickly make my way over to an open taberna with a glass covering over the bottom half of the opening. It’s full of tall clay jars covered or partially wrapped in some kind of plastic or something. Some of them are sitting on what looks like stacked rubber rings and some of them are broken. They look quite aged—like the color is partially faded on parts of them.

“That was most likely a pottery shop, signora,” Al says.

One of the shops in the Trajan Market still filled with potteryA pottery shop? From ancient Rome? With pottery still in it? Is it real? I don’t care, I’m thrilled! I take about 10 pictures of the same little taberna. It’s already exciting that we’re walking down real ancient Roman streets, and now we stumble on what probably was a genuine ancient Roman pottery shop still containing genuine ancient Roman pottery! Maybe…

I get caught up in wandering around the ancient streets and climbing higher up into the markets because it looks like a village, complete with birds strolling around and cats lounging on the cobblestone. I’ll admit that I got a little lost until I found the back entrance to the museum that got us here. We stroll through the refurbished museum inside the extremely well-preserved marketplace, showcasing relics mostly from the Basilica Ulpia. The life-sized marble sculptures that once stood near the ceiling of the basilica gives you an idea of the scale of the building as recreations of the structure make them look pretty small from far away.

Trajan wasn’t a paranoid ruler like many of the younger and older emperors before him. He was middle-aged, experienced, and intelligent, unlike the younger emperors who most often took power in their early twenties. Murder was a commonplace thing in the high ranks of the Roman Empire—especially among family members—to facilitate the change of power. Not so with Trajan, who brazenly invited his only rival to dinner at his palace.

Trajan didn’t harm him at all, but he did show his true power. He had dinner with him, they hung out, and he let him go. Trajan openly showed his rival that, yes, I can bring you into my home, feed you, turn my back on you while you sit at my table, and still not worry about you. The rival got the message. This was not a man he wanted to fuck with.

As it were, Trajan ruled during one of the most peaceful and thriving periods of the empire. Upon his passing, Hadrian—his trusted general—became his adopted heir and the next emperor of Rome. Hadrian was experienced and level-headed, just like Trajan, and turned out to be a very good choice for emperor. Hadrian ruled as judiciously as Trajan did, continuing on the period of thriving and peace and the time of the five good Emperors of Rome.

I had no idea that we had spent so much time in the Trajan Forum, but I’m glad that we haven’t missed our tour of the Domus Aurea. It’s going to be our last stop for the day before we go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

Jason heads back the way we came to get the car while the rest of us take the one-kilometer stroll over to Domus Aurea, which is about a quarter mile north of the Colosseum. I didn’t do any research on this one, so I leave all the explaining to our tour guide.

Nero's Domus Aurea“After the Great Fire of Rome which swept through and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero set out to rebuild. However, he commandeered a large part of the best land for himself—reportedly 200 to 300 square meters, spanning across parts of the slopes of four of the Rome’s famous seven hills to build a huge palatial complex for himself,” the young female guide tells us.

“The palace was a statement of largess and over-indulgence with marble-covered pavilions and marble floors, walls covered in stuccoes and frescoes, and various rooms laminated in gold leaf, which lends itself to its name Domus Aurea, meaning ‘Golden House.’ The enormous complex came complete with nature parks, gardens, fountains, a man-made lake, huge atria in the structures as well as numerous sculptures, statues, and porticos all made of the finest and most luxurious precious materials from all over around the empire. It was a huge party palace used mostly for entertaining because there’s no evidence that it had any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms.”

Wow, talk about MTV Cribs. All this was basically an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house with no functional rooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

“Although the entire complex eventually became known as the Nero’s Domus Aurea,” she continues, “this building we are about to enter is the actual Domus Aurea building.”

She turns around and ushers us into the gate.

“As you probably know, Nero’s complex spread from here all the way over to Palatine Hill. Just southwest of here is the Colosseum, and that was the location of his man-made lake. His structure even occupied part of the Roman Forum. This exedra that we are entering is part of a later construction by Trajan when he was burying Nero’s palace…”

Burying the palace?

“I’m sorry, did you say burying the palace?” one of the members of our tour asks the same question I was just thinking.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says as we enter the building and head down a very tall hallway. “You would think that Nero would have tried to keep a low profile, seeing as to how he was very unpopular, but this was not the case. Not only did some of the populous believe that he set the fire on purpose, but he also taxed the upper class for funding to public and private works. His list of malfeasances—real and imagined—are far too many to name, but one source sited him as one of the most hated leaders of all time. In the end, there was a rebellion and Nero escaped Rome before they could kill him. It was of no avail, however, because he was sentenced to die anyway, and opted to take his own life instead.

“Once he was gone, nobody wanted to be associated with Nero. In fact, the senate issued a ‘Damnatio memoriae,’ a Latin phrase that translates into ‘to condemn his memory.’ They wanted to do everything they could to erase Nero from history and the peoples’ memory. So, subsequent emperors went about the business of actually burying his party palace under new structures of Rome.

“Most of the Domus Aurea building was buried under Trajan’s bath complex. The Palatine section is buried under Domitian’s palace. Nero’s artificial lake was filled in by Vespasian to create the Flavian Amphitheater, which is now called the Colosseum. It gained this name as Nero’s ginormous bronze ‘Colossus’ of himself portrayed as the Sun King was moved from its original location in the vestibule of his palace to its new home next to the Amphitheater to make way for a temple to Venus and Rome.

“Portions of the magnificent Golden House have now been excavated, and we are able to see 30 rooms of the once 300-room palace.”

So, basically, this was an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house because it didn’t have any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

Once we traveled down the long hallways to get to the center of the structure, it’s hard to discern which parts were built by Trajan and which were built by Nero. There were walls built where it was once Nero’s courtyard. The walls had to be built to support the dirt or the dirt would have collapse when Trajan built his baths.

Although many of the rooms that have been excavated remain remarkably intact, Trajan stripped much of the Domus Aurea of its precious materials before he buried and used them in his own construction. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose. We want to erase the whole idea and memory of Nero… bu-u-u-t I’m going to rip all of his expensive shit out and use it in my building.

Hmm…

We did see the multiple rooms that lined the courtyard that obviously have different color schemes based on what was left of the wall coverings. Even the servant’s hallways were covered with lavish paintings.

“The palace was built strictly for entertainment, and there’s no evidence that any of the rooms had doors. However, the structure was designed to take advantage of the natural sunlight at different times of the day. With the sunlight beaming in at different angles and hitting all the jewels, ivory, gold, and marble, the house sparkled, further lending to its name.”

We move further into the palace, and I’m surprised to see a mosaic floor still perfectly intact. The guide tells us that Trajan couldn’t be bothered to remove the tiles because it may have taken too long, so he just left it. To be several centuries old, the floor is in pristine condition.

When we get to the center of the structure, there’s an octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling.

“This was strictly a party and entertaining hall,” the guide says. “When people entered, they would be sprayed with perfume and rose petals from the opening. It afforded sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the starry sky at night. The walls here would have been decorated in marble and there was a waterfall in the wall over there that would drain through the floor.”

Aula Ottagona--Octogonal Hall

Once we’ve traipsed through the rooms that were once frequented by Nero and his guests, we get an added attraction to the tour—a projected movie on the wall of what the outside and some of the rooms would have looked like when Nero lived here as well as a 3D virtual reality experience through VR glasses to see what the rooms and the grounds looked like.

It’s spectacular!

This is amazing to me as I watch various 3D reconstructions and recreation of this indescribable palace and estate. It’s exquisite. It’s beyond measure and value, and Nero built this whole thing in four years. It’s incredible that they wanted to erase this man from history so badly that they literally just threw dirt over all his shit.

Smackety—you’re gone!

Strip the gold, strip the marble, strip the bronze, strip the ivory, whatever you can’t strip—bury it! They didn’t even repurpose the space. They were just like, “Smackety—bury him!” Where do you even find that much dirt?

Maybe they repurposed it when Trajan demolished that 125-foot hill.

He had a lake built on his property—a fucking lake! They built a sophisticated irrigation system and drained the lake and built the Colosseum over it. Then they kept the irrigation system in place so the Colosseum wouldn’t flood.

They moved his colossus to the Colosseum and built the Temple of Venus and Rome where the structure that held his huge atrium was.

What they didn’t tear down, they threw dirt over it. Palatine Hill was taller because they just threw dirt over Nero’s shit. Domitian built arches to serve as a foundation to extend Palatine Hill so that he could continue to build over Nero’s shit.

Rulers just said, “Just throw some dirt over that. I ain’t using that,” and for fifty years, they just went about the business of burying his palace and planting shit on top of it. After the fire of 104, Trajan was like, “Yeah, I don’t need that,” threw rubble over his crap and built a whole ass elaborate bath complex over it.

Do you get the idea that they wanted to separate themselves from Nero??

When we leave the Domus Aurea, it’s just about time for la Passeggiata, but we need to go home and change. My hair is all frizzy from the humidity and my skin feels pretty damn clammy, and Christian just admitted that his shoes are wet inside. If he catches a cold and ruins our vacation, I’m going to kill him.

We get back to the hotel and after I shower, I realize that the only thing I’m going to be able to do with this mass of hair that’s not going to take an hour and a half is either vamp ponytail or messy chignon. Vamp ponytail will require gel and flat ironing. Messy chignon will only require hair combs, mousse, and maybe a couple of bobby pins… a curl here and there if I feel so inclined.

Messy chignon it is.

Once I’ve finished blow-drying my hair, I notice how quiet the suite is… except for one sound.

I hear moaning.

WTF, Christian, we’re in Rome! I’ll put my legs in the air for you anytime you want. Are you serious?

I don my robe and go in search of my husband. I won’t stop his shenanigans, but he’s going to get a good scolding when I catch him in the act. I hear the shower in the other bathroom and I head in that direction. When I get there, my husband has just finished his shower and he’s humming. I just bet you are! All loose as a noodle, now, aren’t you? I fold my arms and stand there in the door. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees me.

“Fuck! Anastasia, what the fuck! You scared the shit out of me, what the hell?” he says, perturbed.

“You tell me,” I reply affronted. “I was two rooms over also in the shower. If you needed a fuck, all you had to do was join me!”

“Well, I could always use a fuck, but what are you talking about?” he says, suggestively. Oh, no, Mr. Grey, no sloppy seconds for me today.

“You don’t think I heard you?” I confront.

“Heard me what?” he asks bemused.

And then I hear the moaning again. This time, my husband hears it, too. He raises his brow in a quizzical way and quickly grabs a towel.

“Seriously,” he says as he wraps the towel around his body. Seriously, what? What the hell is that?

He walks out of the bathroom and out of the main suite and he goes searching. I know he’s looking for the source of the moaning, and I immediately remember that Chuck is in our suite. When he locates the sound and heads in that direction, I grip his arm.

“Chuck,” I say.

“I know who the fuck it is,” he says, his voice low, and he heads towards the sound. Why is he angry? I scamper behind him to the door of the room and catch his hand just as he’s reaching for the handle.

“Don’t just barge in on the man!” I whisper.

“Why the fuck not?” he whispers, harshly. “My security staff is all in an uproar and he had to take the day off and move up here because he and Lawrence are at odds over Keri, and now he’s gettin’ some ass?”

Shit! That’s right! What the fuck, Chuck?

Sure enough, we can hear his female companion cry out in ecstasy. We look at each other and a few moments later, Chuck joins her, not-so-quietly announcing his arrival at the promised land. I shake my head in disgust and roll my eyes. I was rooting for you, you unfaithful fuck!

We’re both standing, stunned and appalled as we listen to this asshole breathing through the aftermath and telling this tramp how good it was. Christian angrily reaches for the handle again when we both hear something that makes him stop mid-grab.

“I miss you so much…”

Now, we’re confused. You’re fucking her, how can you miss her?

“I miss you, too, Choonks.”

Choonks… that’s Keri! How the fuck did she get here? And so fast? Christian and I are looking at each other with the same questions on our faces as we shamelessly listen to Choonks and his intimate exchange with his Island Girl. The more we listen, the more we realize… she’s not in that room.

Facetime.

We come to the same conclusion at the same moment and simultaneously cover our mouths to stifle our laughter. Christian gently pushes my shoulder to guide me out of the hallway, and we quietly scamper back the way we came.

When we get back to our bedroom, we burst out into fits of silent giggles and laughter. We almost burst in on Chuck sexting with his girlfriend on Facetime. Hopefully, he’ll sleep well tonight.

Ana's dress for dinner in S5, E48After we’ve had our laugh, I head to the closet with instructions to dress classy as we’re having dinner at the Waldorf tonight. Tonight would be a good night for my simple green wrap-around dress—stylish, but sexy, and my green serpentine pointed toe stiletto heels. Soft make-up—just tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss—and a pair of, no doubt, outrageously expensive emerald earrings that Christian bought for me one day… just because.

Christian in his black suit at the La Pergola, S5 E48My husband is a simple man when it comes to clothes—classic, expensive, but everything is generally black, blue, or gray. It doesn’t matter, though, because he makes everything he wears look good. Case and point, the black suit with white shirt and textured tie that he’s wearing right now that simply looks like he’s going to the office… and makes me want to jump his fucking bones right now.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Mrs. Grey,” he says.

“Look who’s talking,” I retort, trying not to drool.

“Jesus, he’s suffering so bad,” Christian says, recalling Chuck’s predicament, no doubt. “I almost want to fly her out here… but it wouldn’t be conducive and I know that.”

“He’ll be okay,” I say, finishing my chignon. “He’s a grown man… and he has Facetime.” I giggle and Christian laughs.

We employ only Jason for the night, which is fine by me since Ben still had a bug up his butt all day even without Chuck being present. I’m glad we’re taking the car, because wearing one of the few pairs of stilettos that I brought on this trip, I would really prefer not to be walking. I would if I have to, but I prefer not to.

The sun is low in the sky, but still in the sky. The temperature outside is a balmy 79 degrees, and the smell of the rain from earlier still hangs in the air. I almost wish we could walk, but… stilettos. I take a deep breath of the clean, rain-drenched air before we get into the car to go to the Waldorf.

Once inside, I’m again wishing we had walked. Although the car is very comfortable, I’d like the fresh air, and if I open the window, my hair will look like I’ve been attacked by wolves.

“Jason, it’s a beautiful evening,” Christian says. “Open the roof.”

The roof? Open the roof?

Jason pushes a button and a panel slides back revealing a fully panoramic moonroof. Now, how did I not know that was there? Jason then turns a knob and the front panel of the glass slowly slides back while the back panel tilts up to open just slightly. A perfect breeze of rain-cleansed Roman air blows evenly through the car and out the back window, giving me that fresh air that I wanted without destroying my hair.

“Okay?” Christian asks.

“Perfect,” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “How did you know?”

“Because you did that before you got in the car,” he says. I smile and snuggle into the arm of my perfect husband. He always knows how to make me happy.

We arrive at the circular drive of the Waldorf and I immediately know… it’s nothing like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas wasn’t shabby, but Rome is like… wow!

Jason opens the door for Christian, who walks around and opens the door for me. I step out and enter the beautiful hotel, decorated in jewel tones and opulence.

Once again, not Vegas.

We make our way to the rooftop to La Pergola, a restaurant just as opulent as the hotel. Although many of the women are dressed somewhere between conservative and elegant, I still feel underdressed.

“Why are you covering yourself?” Christian asks, and I’m just noticing that I’ve clasped my hands in front of me.

“I didn’t know that I was,” I say, honestly. It must be my reaction to my plain green dress. Christian puts his hand in the small of my back and kisses me softly just behind my earlobe.

“You look stunning,” he says, before moving his lips away.

“You have to say that,” I say, unable to hide my blush. He leans in again and places a discreet open-mouthed kiss in the same spot… and I’ve got chills.

“You. Look. Stunning.”

Fuck, is it hot in here?

“You have a reservation?” the hostess says with a big smile.

“Yes,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “Grey, party of two.”

The hostess smiles again, retrieves two menus, and leads us to a table next to the floor to ceiling terrace doors with a gorgeous view.

“Oh, Christian!” I breathe. “This is beautiful.”

He smiles and pulls my chair out for me as the hostess sets the menus on our table.

“I’m going to tell you, I’m very hungry,” I say. “We missed aperitivo, and I’ve become accustomed to it now.”

“Okay, do you see anything on the menu that you like?” he asks. I open the menu. I should’ve know that he was setting me up… The menu is 11 pages. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!

“Yikes!” I exclaim quietly. Luckily, it’s in English. “Christian, what do I order?”

“Look around a bit,” he teases. I shake my head and try to decipher what I want from the menu. Where’s Sophie when you need her?

“Signore, signora, I am your server, Simón. We will start you with light antipasti while you peruse the menu,” the server says when he comes to the table. Christian nods and thanks him.

“So, this is the only three-star Michelin in Rome,” Christian tells me. “The executive chef is Heinz Beck. He’s been here for 20 years, executive chef for 10. The chef sommelier is Marco Rietano. I don’t know how long he’s been here, but he’s a three-star Michelin sommelier as well.” I nod.

“I feel like I should know what that means, but I don’t,” I confess. “I’ve heard of five-star restaurants and hotels, but you say three-star Michelin like it’s better.”

“It is,” he says. “In laymen’s terms, the 5-star rating system is for civilians. A hotel or restaurant can be rated 5-star because somebody liked it and gave it a review on Google based on quality, comfort, ambience, luxury, etc. The 3-star Michelin rating system is food and wine only. It’s a world-wide guide distributed by the French company Michelin for over 100 years. One-star means the dining is okay, worthy of mention. Two-star means the dining is good, worthy of a detour if you’re in the neighborhood. Three-star means excellent, worth a journey to eat there.”

“Are we talking about Michelin the tire company?” I ask. He nods.

“I don’t know if the tires came first or the food came first, but yes. Chefs, sommeliers, and restaurants strive for a 3-star Michelin rating. As this is the only restaurant in Rome to have that rating, as you can see it’s not something that’s very easily achievable.”

“Hmm,” I say. “In that case, I’m clearly out of my league, here. I need you to do this.”

“I was hoping you would say that,” he says. “I suggest the 10-course meal.”

Ten courses! Yikes, I said I was hungry. That’ll do it.

“And if you’re still hungry when it’s done, we’ll go somewhere for pizza.” He winks at me and I laugh demurely. He’s cute.

“You expect we’ll still be hungry after ten courses?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, they’re chef’s portions,” he informs me. “They’re usually pretty satisfying, but if not, we’ve got a backup plan.” He winks at me.

Simón comes over to the table and Christian informs him that we’ll be having the 10-course meal with whatever wine pairing the sommelier recommends.

“My wife is famished, so we’ll have a full range of antipasti while we await the other courses. And please send the sommelier over when he’s available,” he requests. “Each time I come I’m looking for a particular vintage. I’ll be eternally grateful if he has it this year.”

“Yes, signore,” Simón says, and leaves the table.

“Why did you have me toiling over that menu when you already had an idea what we would be eating?” I accuse.

“I wanted you to see if there was something on there that you wanted,” he replies. I shake my head.

“At this point, I don’t need to know where the pig was raised, how it was killed, who its family was, or how it’s prepared. If it’s dead and tasty, I’ll eat it,” I reply, causing my husband to laugh and shake his head.

“You read all that in the menu?” he asks.

“For one dish!” I point out. “No wonder the thing is 11 pages long!”

“Signore,” I hear from behind me, and a friendly-looking gentleman joins our table. “I am Marco Rietano. You wish to see me?”

“Yes, Marco, thank you for coming over. I’m Christian and this is my wife, Anastasia.” Marco smiles at me and does a bow and a nod, and I return his smile.

“Each time I come, I ask about a vintage that I know you were trying to get and I’m just wondering if you acquired it yet. Do you yet have the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985?” Christian asks.

“Sì, signore,” Marco replies, “we were able to acquire some bottles last year.” Christian’s eyes light up.

“You do?” he confirms. “Excellent! We will definitely be having that.”

“Very well. Will you have it now and the recommendations with the main courses?” Marco asks.

“I can guarantee you that if you keep the 1985 flowing, we won’t need anything else,” Christian assures him. He nods once and smiles.

“Sì, signore,” he says, and leaves the table. The moment he leaves, the first round of antipasti arrives—small finger foods, one for each of us.

“Now I know why you asked for a full round of antipasti,” I say. “I’ll starve waiting for the main course.”

“No, you won’t. I promise,” he assures me.

Aperitivo at La Pergola--Fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; Pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; Puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oilOur first round of antipasti is fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; and puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oil. Except for the carrots, they’re single bites of food, but they’re really good.

“Mmm,” I say after eating the pickled onion followed by a bite of the baby carrot, “that’s a real taste sensation.”

“I told you, give it a chance,” my husband replies.

Not a moment after we’ve finished the first round of antipasti, Simón is coming to the table with a plate stacked with… something, and Marco is right behind him with a bottle of wine. Simón sets the plate on the table and clears the empty dishes.

“Beet, turmeric, sumac, and poppy seed chips,” he says with a bow and steps away from the table. Marco takes his place, presenting the bottle to Christian. My husband nods and Marco proceeds to uncork the bottle, then pour a tasting of the luscious red into one of the incredibly large wine glasses on the table. My husband takes a sip, then nods, and Marco pours not much more than a tasting into his glass, then into mine. What, are they rationing the shit?

“Taste it, but only sip it… trust me,” he says. There’s nothing more than a sip or two in this glass. I don’t argue. I take the glass by the stem and take a small sip, allowing the wine to coat my tongue.

It’s like a long, warm hug from an old, familiar friend.

“Liquid silk?” I ask, turning a disbelieving eye to my husband. He chuckles.

“No, but close,” he says. “This is a Super Tuscan grape, and 1985 was an exceptional year. This vintage is very hard to find.”

“Christian, how could you do this to me?” I say. “I’ll never be able to enjoy my Cabernet again after this.” I take another sip of the elixir, trying not to chug it, not that I could. It’s a smooth, but robust and hearty flavor. You must sip it, but after each sip, there goes that hug again.

“It is good, yes?” Marco says.

“It is very good,” I reply, replacing the glass so that I don’t drink it all at once. Marco nods and another server appears with a wine bucket on a tall stand. Marco puts the wine in the bucket with a small towel, nods, and walks away. He’s a sommelier, so I know I don’t need to ask if there’s ice in the bucket. Chilling would totally ruin the flavor of this wine.

“So from the content of your conversation, there’s no likelihood that you’re going to be able to get some bottles of this illegally delicious nectar to go home with us, is there?” I take one of the chips from the plate and crunch into it as quietly as I can.

“Not very likely,” he admits. “It took at least four years for a three-star Michelin sommelier to get his hands on some. It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to get a hold of any.”

I frown, on my face and in my soul. I guess this is one of those experiences I’ll just have to enjoy for the time that I have it. I won’t be a brat although the Bitch is stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin.

And these chips aren’t bad at all.

Before we finish the chips, another beautifully plated antipasti comes out, this one a bit more substantial than the other.

“This is watermelon carpaccio marinated in an infusion of birch, cardamom, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine with seafood,” Simón says as his colleague clears the table again. “Enjoy.” He nods and leave.

I never would have thought to prepare watermelon this way. It’s thinly sliced, a mix of the sweet and savory with the hint of the citrus and floral spices. It almost tastes like meat, and I’m very happy that Christian got a plate of his own. I gobble the entire plate along with a couple more sips of “hug.”

Now, I’m not feeling so ravenous, and I can enjoy what they bring to us.

“Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam,” Simón announces as he presents the next course. “More wine?”

Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam“Please,” I say with a nod. Simón pours another small amount of wine in the glass which—as I have discovered—turns out to be enough while I admire the creation before me. It’s arranged in this unusual bowl with a wide, flat brim. There’s some kind of pastry or flaky bread decorated with sprigs of flowers and vegetables on top of the prawns arranged in a way so that they almost appear to be in their natural habitat inside the bowl. The entire thing looks like a tropical island sitting on top of a coral reef. It’s actually… fun.

And it’s delicious.

The flavors complement each other so well. There’s nothing overwhelming, and it’s not under-seasoned either. There’s just enough of everything to make you appreciate the dish. I now truly understand why chef’s dishes are so small. They’re not meant to be gobbled. They’re meant to be appreciated.

… Along with a few sips of a warm hug.

And the courses keep coming… Scallops, artichokes, and summer truffles…

… And a warm hug.

Mediterranean roasted eggplant with pomegranates and tahini…

… And a couple more warm hugs.

“More wine?”
“Yes, please!”
Warm hug, warm hug, warm hug…

After all the taste sensations and warm hugs, we finally get our pasta dish—Fagottelli “La Pergola.” It’s apparently the house specialty. It’s like ravioli, and there’s only six of them on the plate. Hmm… okay, chef’s servings.

I soon discover why there are only six ravioli on the plate.

“Where’s my fork?” I ask. “Why did I get a spoon with my pasta?”

“Okay, this is what you’re going to do,” Christian explains. “Don’t try to cut it. Take an entire piece of pasta on the spoon and put the entire thing in your mouth.” I do as I’m told.

It explodes when you bite into it—deliciousness all over your oral cavity. I have to take a moment to savor.

“Oh, my God, this is delicious. What’s in this?” I ask once I’ve finally consumed the creation.

“It’s the chef’s special liquefied carbonara pepper sauce inside a pillow of hand-made ravioli. The outside sauce is green onions in pecorino cheese.” I raise my gaze to him.

“How many times have you been here?” I ask.

“A few,” he confirms with a wink, taking a spoon of his pillow of ravioli.

“With a woman?” I ask. Why the fuck did I ask that question? He raises a surprised gaze to me as he chews his food. Oh, well, it’s out of my mouth now. I can’t take it back. What the hell is in this wine?

“Do you really want to know the answer to that?” he challenges. That response already gave me my answer. He’s a billionaire, extremely handsome, and he’s only been yours for the last three years. Why wouldn’t he have traveled with a woman?

“No,” I say, looking down into my bowl and spooning another ravioli, “no, I don’t.” Christian catches my hand before I’m able to lift my spoon from the bowl, causing me to look up at him.

“No, Anastasia,” he says, his voice sober, “I’ve never taken another woman out of the country. I’ve done a lot of things alone that are normally reserved for couples because I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of these things simply because there wasn’t a woman on my arm. I’m going to have several firsts with you on this trip… and this is one of them.”

I gaze at him for a moment and I feel a smile slowly creep across my face. I try to keep it coy, but I can’t. What he just said pleases me so much that I feel my cheeks about to burst!

Yeah, I bet it’s the wine.

“Now, enjoy your Fagottelli,” Christian says, chuckling softly. And that’s exactly what I do, and it is delightful—the best pasta I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Our meat course is lamb cerebellum with fava bean puree, peas, fried artichokes, and chicory marinated in culatello sauce with chili and mint. That course is paired with a varied selection of cheese from the trolley, and several sips of the warm hug. I’m forlorn to see Simón pour the last of the bottle into Christian’s glass, and elated to see Marco close behind him uncorking a second bottle to pour for me.

“Magnifico!” I exclaim, I almost leap from the table and dance with glee. Marco chuckles and places the bottle in the bucket before leaving.

Dolci is baked apricots with yogurt ice cream and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The red fruit turns out to be pomegranate, and there’s chocolate involved. It’s pretty, and it turns out to be one of the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.

I’m thoroughly satisfied as I sit back and enjoy the after-dinner espresso and more of the warm hug. The meal was exquisite and well worth the wait and I’m so satisfied, I could just purr.

To my surprise, Heinz Beck comes from the kitchen and begins to make rounds of the dining room, greeting each guest. Talk about your special touches! He smiles as he makes his way to our table.

“We have met before,” he says, when he greets my husband.

“We have,” Christian says, proffering his hand. “Christian Grey.”

“Heinz Beck,” he says, accepting my husband’s shake. “I am not so good with names, but I do not forget a face.”

Animated Emoji Chefs Kiss GIF by swerkChristian introduces me and tells Heinz that this was my first visit. He asks how I enjoyed the meal and I can’t tell him enough how divine everything tasted, the flavors all bursting in your mouth, at one point doing the chef’s kiss on my fingers, which pleases Heinz tremendously. He asks about our vacation and how many of the sites we’ve seen. He holds an actual conversation with us for about a minute and a half before he thanks us for dining and tells us to enjoy the rest of our vacation. Then, he moves on to greet the diners at the next table.

So, this is what dining in a 3-star Michelin restaurant is like.

As we’re leaving, probably some 20 or 30 minutes later, Marco greets us at the door. He’s standing there like he had no other purpose but to stand at that door and he’s holding a beautiful wooden case.

 “Grazie,” he says. “You come again?”

“We definitely come again,” Christian says, enthusiastically. Marco smiles and hands him the case.

“Grazie, Signore, for you and the signora.” He takes my hand and kisses it chastely. “Grazie, signora,” he says with a bow.

“Thank you, Marco,” I say with a warm smile. “It was delightful.”

We walk out of the restaurant silently, like we just did a bank heist and we’re trying to quietly make a getaway. Christian carries the case like it’s handcuffed to his wrist. With his hand in the small of my back, he’s kind of rushing me along a bit.

We both know what’s in that case.

When Jason brings the car around, Christian opens the door for me and I hurriedly climb inside. Once he’s inside and we’re on our way, we’re behaving like we just got a Christmas present… because we did!

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I say, unable to contain my glee. Christian unhooks the brass clasp on the case and opens it…

… showing me one of two bottles of warm hugs.

*-*

My husband instructs Jason to take us to the Trevi Fountain so that we can have a little stroll before we go back to the hotel. There are still a lot of people out here, but we’re able to stroll a bit without too much trouble and find a seat on a bench on the lower level right across from the fountain. It’s a little chillier over here by the fountain, and I foolishly didn’t bring a wrap, so Christian drapes his jacket over my shoulders… again. I kind of think my mind convinces me to leave home without an overcoat on purpose, but I probably shouldn’t have done it tonight since I was worried earlier about him catching cold from his wet shoes.

“Are you okay?” I ask when he gives me his jacket.

“I’m fine,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect for me and my arms aren’t bare.” I lean on his shoulder and we hold hands as we watch the Trevi Fountain at night. It’s an entirely different view from what we saw during the day. Even with all the people mulling around, it’s beautiful. And it’s water… I could sit here all night.

“It’s hard to believe you came here alone at all,” I say. “Rome is… magical. Historical and mysterious and romantic… it almost seems like a waste not to enjoy it with someone else.” He’s silent for a few moments.

“I never, ever wanted to be here with anybody else,” he says. “This place is too special to me to share it with some meaningless submissive. It meant too much… means too much to just… cheapen the experience that way.”

“Be honest,” I say, “did you ever want to bring Elena here? I know what she meant to you at one point.” He sighs.

“She came once,” he admits, “but she came with the family. We never had any time alone, which is probably… no, definitely as good thing. This is my special place. Had I made any lasting memories here with her, she would have taken this away from me, too, especially after I finally accepted what she really was.” I sigh.

“She hasn’t taken anything away from you, Christian,” I say, tracing his palm gently. “She’s a part of your past, and you can’t avoid it. She didn’t steal your innocence because, as much as I hate to say it, your innocence was tainted before she got to you. But for you to connect so spiritually to a place this remarkable, that says a lot about you.” I look up at him.

“There may have been emotions that you were unable to express or identify, but someone who’s heartless—like you want to believe you were—never would have been able the have the experiences that you’ve had here in Rome. The epiphanies and the appreciation, the introspection… that takes a deeper soul, a depth that was always there. You just didn’t know it, because the people that love you couldn’t get through to you, and the person that you loved was worthless.

“But in those moments when you were free, when you were on your own in the streets of Trastevere or wandering the Jewish Ghetto, that’s when the real Christian came out—the young boy who was always reaching for love, peace, and enlightenment. And you found that here, even when it was scary or painful. I’ve always known you were a good man with a kind heart. I’ve never doubted it, but now, I’m completely sure of it.”

I gently stroke his hair just over his ear and gaze into his beautiful gray eyes, sparkling from the water reflection off his irises.

“Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” I say, just above a whisper before I press my lips to his.


A/N: There are some very remarkable reconstructions of the Domus Aurea on my Pinterest page in the Domus Aurea album. If you want an idea of what the Golden House may have looked like before it was buried, I suggest you go take a peek! 

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include the Edoardo II RestaurantTrajan’s ForumLa Pergola in the Waldorfand the Domus Aurea. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued—Detailed: Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

Warning—History ahead!

This is the DETAILED version of the chapter.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.

Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

ANASTASIA

It’s raining outside again—not pouring like it was when were at Ara Pacis, but not drizzling like it was when we got here. We’ve got a good little amount of water now.

The walk down the stairs is surprisingly easier than the walk up. It’s usually the other way around for me, but Christian holds my hand and we just stroll through the rain with the other Romans and tourists. The steps are made such that the water flows down and disappears into a grate on the front of each step. So, I get a very pleasant surprise when I get to the bottom of the stairs.

Puddles!

I don’t want to be sopping wet with dirty rainwater, but I can’t help jumping into one small puddle like a 12-year-old before we continue our walk.

We cross the street, bend a corner, and tucked away at the end of one of these little alleys is a quaint little eclectic restaurant with a café outside and rose red walls inside. Red walls! I look over at my husband.

Edoardo Red Walls “Red walls?” I say with a knowing smile.

“Bonus!” he says, wagging his eyebrows.

We all walk in a sit down at three tables pushed together. I’m contemplating what gastronomical wonders I’ll be experiencing for lunch today when Ben stands and breaks my chain of thought.

“I’m going to eat outside, sir,” he says to Jason and heads to the door before Jason can stop him. What? It’s raining out there!

“Ben,” Jason calls out to Ben’s back.

“Let him go,” Christian says, just as he’s clearing the door. “He’s trying to prove some goddamn point and I don’t know what that point is. Chuck’s not here. The object of his ire has left the building and he’s still pissy. Fine, let him be pissy. He did right to go outside and not spoil our lunch, but since he’s being an ass, if he gets sick, he still has to work.” Jason sighs and rolls his eyes.

“So, what’s good to eat here?” he asks.

“Everything,” Christian replies, “and we’re going Dutch, gentleman. So, you might want to tell him to bring his ass back in here and order some food unless he plans on having air sandwiches and aqua cocktails for lunch.”

Jason stands to go outside while Christian heads for the cashier to order. Al and I sit there at the table just looking at each other.

“I am normally alone,” he says. “I do not normally have coworkers… partners. I am new at that. Do they always behave this way?”

“Never!” I emphasize. “In the entire time I’ve known my husband, I’ve only seen one person behave this way and he was fired the same day.”

“It is hard to concentrate,” he says, “to do my job. He behaves… unreliably… untrustworthy. Is he competent to do the job? I am not asking you, signora. It is just something that I think when I am ever in a multi-person assignment, which is not often. I must protect his back. Will he protect mine?”

I get what he’s saying. You can’t be sloppy or emotional in his line of work. Depending on the situation, it could cost your life. You have to be sharp, and right now, Ben is behaving like a college girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m talking behind anyone’s back,” I say, “but for the most part, we’re family here… or like family, and I mean really like family.” If anything, Ben’s the odd man out. “You know families don’t always get along, but in the end, they won’t let anything happen to each other.”

“I will take your word for it, signora… and I will still watch my back.” He raises his gaze and stands.

“Signore,” he says and leaves the table. He’s good. He wouldn’t leave the table while I was here alone. He waited for Christian to return.

“What was that about?” Christian asks. “He’s got to watch his back?”

“This whole thing with Chuck and Ben, and Ben’s behavior,” I confess. “It’s very unprofessional, and he’s on a team with these guys. So, he’s worried about how professional they are.”

“And he told you all that,” Christian says. It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips and cock my head at him.

“I wouldn’t worry about his professionalism if I were you,” I retort. “When the two of you split in different directions, he asked me if they normally behave this way. He’s usually a one-man band and doesn’t often work with partners, but when he does, he wants to know that they’re precise and they’re going to have his back. You can go ahead and confront him if you want, but I can guarantee you’ll need another Italian guard by the morning because he’s not the one behaving like two schoolyard boys playing ‘King of the Hill.’”

You didn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you about bringing this up to Chuck in the first place. You might want to listen now.

“I’m giving away one of my secrets,” he says, “but you know your eyes say everything that your mouth doesn’t, right?”

“Is that so?” I say. “And what are they saying now?”

“That you don’t believe me,” he says, “and that I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Dammit!

“And now you’re thinking that I’m right…”

“Okay cut that shit out it’s creepy,” I say all in one breath. “How am I supposed to be all mysterious if you know what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t always know, but sometimes, you’re pretty easy,” he chuckles.

“It’s not raining anymore,” Jason says when he comes back to the table. “I’m going to order my food.” Ben walks past the table just as Jason arrives and heads towards the cashier. Christian just nods at Jason, who follows Ben shortly thereafter.

“Jesus,” I say. “Something’s got to give. I’m not spending the next five weeks like this.”

Lunch is amazing. The restaurant Christian took us to is called Edoardo II. It has a beautiful outdoor patio that I would have loved to eat on had it not been raining—and the pouty college boy wasn’t sitting out there.

The food is outstanding—antipasti and bruschetta; ravioli, Paccheri, and spaghetti with various savory sauces; sea bass, meatballs with sauce, sliced pork and potatoes, chicken romano… there is so much food! Even the salads are delectable, and conversation flows just as freely as it did yesterday.

In the interest of full disclosure, Al made it clear how he felt about the bickering between the security staff and his concerns about them being sharp on the job. Jason thanked him for openly voicing his concerns and promised to talk to his staff. I didn’t look at Christian. I didn’t want him to read my eyes.

“So, what did you think of the museum?” Christian asks in the middle of the meal.

“It’s seems like there was a lot of ‘look at me, look at what I did’ and ‘look how much better I am than the other guy,’” I point out. “Was there even enough focus on the Empire with all that cock-strutting? Maybe that’s why there’s so much dick in the art.”

“And there you go with that fixation on penises again,” he says, shaking his head.

“I’m going to be fixated on penises the entire time I’m here. They’re everywhere. The woman’s snatch is covered everywhere I go, but even the woman with the dick had her dick out,” I point out as I take a bite of my food.

“Baby!” Christian exclaims, his voice dripping with mirth. I raise my gaze and people are staring at me throughout the restaurant. I quickly swallow my food.

“I’m talking about the art,” I say loudly. “If you didn’t see it, don’t blame me. It even greeted you on the stairs before you even got to the square!” What the fuck are you people gawking at? Dick is abound all over the damn city and you’re looking at me funny for pointing it out?

There’s a mixed reaction of laughter and people quickly averting their gazes. I turn back to my lunch and continue my conversation.

“There’s no way they can be sensitive walking through here with all this nudity,” I say to Christian.

“Apparently, some of them are,” he replies, still suppressing his laughter.

The Spinario--A young boy puling a thorn from his foot“Well, they need to get over it,” I reply. “Even the little boy taking the thorn out of his foot had his twigs and berries swinging freely.”

And Jason sprays some of his soda.

“You really have to stop,” Christian says, no longer suppressing his laughing. I look over at Jason whose body is shaking with laughter as he covers his mouth with a napkin.

“Okay, okay,” I say with a chuckle.

*-*

Rome is magical and comforting and a bit mysterious when it’s wet. It doesn’t seem like any other place I’ve been after a rain. It’s serene, but it’s almost like the ghosts of the past all join us in our stroll down the streets or our gazing at the city or our long moments of contemplation about a ruin or a structure or even a statue or a new building and they whisper secrets in our ear about days gone by. It’s not creepy like visiting a dark, dank crypt. It’s like the grounds have been disturbed and the spirits are stretching their legs and telling us stories of old.

We’ve come back the way that we came and around the Altar of the Fatherland to the site that Christian promised me that we would see before we left Rome—Trajan’s Column and Forum. I’m really excited to see this because I did research on this one and I know what I’m looking at. The ruins girl is happy again!

I believe Christian may already know this story, but he obliges me anyway and allows me to share my knowledge since I’m so happy to be here and even happier to tell my tale.

Trajan was a man of the people—a military man who also got along with the senate. That was unusual because normally, you had the favor of one or the other or neither, but never both. While most emperors were more concerned with building monuments and temples that honored themselves—palatial architecture—Trajan was more concerned with giving the people a center of commerce and a place for the equestrian class to mingle—public architecture. Granted, he built a pretty large forum in his own honor, but that forum included public space and buildings, and was funded by his own spoils of war.

Speaking of war, we start our tour of Trajan’s Forum at Trajan’s Column, which is pretty much a vertical spiral comic book depicting his conquering of Dacia, aka Romania. The forum itself is a celebration of that defeat. There used to be a naked statue of Trajan at the top. However, one of the popes replaced it with a clothed statue of St. Peter. Trajan’s tomb is actually inside of Trajan’s Column. You can climb to the top via a spiral staircase inside, but you need special permission to do that.

Right next to the Trajan Column are the remarkable columns once covered in marble that remain of the Basilica Ulpia, the main building of Trajan’s Forum. The columns of the basilica as well as Trajan’s Column would have been covered in brilliant colors in ancient times although the colors of both have faded over the centuries. The columns all came from different areas and would have been a rainbow of colors, but again, the pictures of Trajan’s Column would have been in full color, making it look like a comic strip.

We cross the bridge built across the middle of the forum to get a closer look. There are pieces of marble down on the ground—large pieces to us, but mostly used for sculptures and statues. Contrary to popular belief, the columns that held the structure up would not have been made of marble because it wasn’t fit to hold the weight. Some of them may have been covered in marble, but they weren’t made of marble. You can see these things from street level for free, but we’re going in through the museum so that I can see the inside of the markets.

Trajan MarketsYeah, markets. As it were, in a time where most emperors were considered somewhat notorious, Trajan was one of the few exceptions, and one of the things that he built during his reign was a shopping mall. One thing that you notice about the portion of the structure that still stands is that it’s constructed out of several little niches called tabernae. Each one of those tabernae was a store—furriers, oils, pottery, you name it—thereby making Trajan’s Forum the first shopping mall ever built, and it was pretty big.

Trajan actually came from Spain and he was one of Nerva’s top generals, who eventually adopted him. The Praetorian Guard suggested Trajan become emperor in favor of the military. And so it goes that Trajan was the first non-Roman emperor in the empire.

Trajan wanted to build a huge forum for himself, but the forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc., were already built. There was no room for Trajan. So, he tore down a large part of Quirinal Hill behind the existing forums, built his huge forum, and built the Trajan Markets in a concave shape nestled inside of the hill behind it to help stabilize the remainder of the hill. Trajan’s Column is exactly the height—125 feet—of the hill that he had destroyed to build his forum.

There’s a lot of walking and stair-climbing in the Trajan Market, but it’s totally worth it. The architecture is amazing and you get to see the whole concrete/brick/mortar construction up close. It’s one of the reasons the Markets remain standing today—that, and the fact that they were still in use for so many years. You can easily see the ruins for free on the outside, but for the 16 Euro it cost to get inside and see everything up close, I wouldn’t miss it. As we’re walking down the cobblestone street inside the market, a piece of trivia comes to mind.

“Here’s a fun fact,” I say as we’re walking down an actual ancient Roman street inside the Markets of Trajan. “Romans loved ketchup.”

“Ketchup?” he says, skeptically.

“Yes, ketchup, but it wasn’t the ketchup that we know now. It wasn’t made from tomatoes; it was made from fermented fish oil, but they called it ‘ketchup.’ It was more like soy sauce.” I look back at Al who flattens his lips and nods.

Ben still looks like the out of place tin soldier with a stoically sour expression. I totally forgot he was here. That’s a good plan.

“Anyway, tomatoes replaced the fish oil when they discovered the New World. Just a little fun fact for you.”

“Hmm,” he says, “they probably should’ve kept the fish oil. It’s better for you than this processed shit we’re eating and it probably tastes better, too.”

“The ancient Romans would most likely agree with you, signore,” Al chimes in.

“What made you think of that now?” Christian asks.

“Because one of these shops most likely sold nothing but ketchup… Oooo, look!”

I quickly make my way over to an open taberna with a glass covering over the bottom half of the opening. It’s full of tall clay jars covered or partially wrapped in some kind of plastic or something. Some of them are sitting on what looks like stacked rubber rings and some of them are broken. They look quite aged—like the color is partially faded on parts of them.

“That was most likely a pottery shop, signora,” Al says.

One of the shops in the Trajan Market still filled with potteryA pottery shop? From ancient Rome? With pottery still in it? Is it real? I don’t care, I’m thrilled! I take about 10 pictures of the same little taberna. It’s already exciting that we’re walking down real ancient Roman streets, and now we stumble on what probably was a genuine ancient Roman pottery shop still containing genuine ancient Roman pottery! Maybe…

A lot of the upper floors that still have glass in the windows were added during the medieval times, including a tower near the back of the structure. During that time, it was used as a convent and then as barracks.

I get caught up in wandering around the ancient streets and climbing higher up into the markets because it looks like a village, complete with birds strolling around and cats lounging on the cobblestone. You honestly expect ancient Romans to come strolling out of the doors in togas and tunics and start talking. We spend quite a bit of time in this area, and I’m glad that Christian kept his promise and made sure that we got to see it before we left Rome. We even happen upon a garden complete with mandarin trees.

I’ll admit that I got a little lost until I found the back entrance to the museum that got us here. We stroll through the refurbished museum inside the extremely well-preserved marketplace, showcasing relics mostly from the Basilica Ulpia. The marble sculptures are truly life-sized and stood near the ceiling of the basilica. This gives you an idea of the scale of the building because according to the recreations of the structure, they looked pretty small from far away.

You can easily picture yourself shopping in the various taberna in ancient times just like you would shop one of the fashionable malls of today.

As a ruler, Trajan wasn’t a paranoid man like many of the younger and older emperors before him. He was middle-aged, experienced, and intelligent, unlike the younger emperors who most often took power in their early twenties. It was a common thing for siblings to poison each other, heirs to poison predecessors, the senate to kill the emperor and his heir, and so on. Murder was a commonplace thing in the high ranks of the Roman Empire.

But, not with Trajan. He only had one rival who wanted to be the undisputed emperor of Rome. To show his true power, Trajan invited his rival to dinner at his palace.

Did he kill him?
Did he poison him?
Did he lock him up in a dungeon?
Did he do some unthinkable thing to him to show his power?

Yes and no.

Trajan didn’t kill him. He didn’t harm him at all, but he did show his true power. He had dinner with him, they hung out, and he let him go. Trajan pretty much showed his rival that, yes, I can bring you into my home, feed you, turn my back on you while you sit at my table, and still not worry about you.

The rival got the message. This was not a man he wanted to fuck with.

As it were, Trajan ruled during one of the most peaceful and thriving periods of the empire. He knew that he needed an heir, but he had no children. So, he had to adopt someone before he died to prevent civil war. However, remember, Trajan was smart. He knew that adopting an heir too soon would probably result in the murder of him and his heir by someone who wanted the throne.

He did adopt an heir—or so we think.

Hadrian, his trusted general, became his adopted heir and became the next emperor of Rome. Hadrian was experienced and level-headed, just like Trajan, and turned out to be a very good choice for emperor, but no one knows if he was named the heir and successor before or after Trajan’s death.

Trajan’s wife didn’t tell anybody about Trajan’s death for a few days. It was during the time after his death and before the announcement of his death that she informed Hadrian that he would be Trajan’s adopted heir. Once Hadrian was informed and became emperor, then Trajan’s death was announced.

Was he named heir before or after his adopter passed away? It doesn’t matter. Hadrian ruled as judiciously as Trajan did, continuing on the period of thriving and peace and the time of the five good Emperors of Rome.

I had no idea that we had spent so much time in the Trajan Forum, but I’m glad that we haven’t missed our tour of the Domus Aurea. It’s going to be our last stop for the day before we go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

Jason heads back the way we came to get the car while the rest of us take the one-kilometer stroll over to Domus Aurea, which is about a quarter mile north of the Colosseum. I didn’t do any research on this one, so I leave all the explaining to our tour guide.

Nero's Domus Aurea“After the Great Fire of Rome which swept through and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero set out to rebuild. However, he commandeered a large part of the best land for himself—reportedly 200 to 300 square meters, spanning across parts of the slopes of four of the Rome’s famous seven hills to build a huge palatial complex for himself,” the young female guide tells us.

“The palace was a statement of largess and over-indulgence with marble-covered pavilions and marble floors, walls covered in stuccoes and frescoes, and various rooms laminated in gold leaf, which lends itself to its name Domus Aurea, meaning ‘Golden House.’ The enormous complex came complete with nature parks, gardens, fountains, a man-made lake, huge atria in the structures as well as numerous sculptures, statues, and porticos all made of the finest and most luxurious precious materials from all over around the empire. It was a huge party palace used mostly for entertaining because there’s no evidence that it had any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms.”

Wow, talk about MTV Cribs. All this was basically an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house with no functional rooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

“Although the entire complex eventually became known as the Nero’s Domus Aurea,” she continues, “this building we are about to enter is the actual Domus Aurea building.”

She turns around and ushers us into the gate.

“As you probably know, Nero’s complex spread from here all the way over to Palatine Hill. Just southwest of here is the Colosseum, and that was the location of his man-made lake. His structure even occupied part of the Roman Forum. This exedra that we are entering is part of a later construction by Trajan when he was burying Nero’s palace…”

Burying the palace?

“I’m sorry, did you say burying the palace?” one of the members of our tour asks the same question I was just thinking.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says as we enter the building and head down a very tall hallway. “You would think that Nero would have tried to keep a low profile, seeing as to how he was very unpopular, but this was not the case. Not only did some of the populous believe that he set the fire on purpose, but he also taxed the upper class for funding to public and private works. His list of malfeasances—real and imagined—are far too many to name, but one source sited him as one of the most hated leaders of all time. In the end, there was a rebellion and Nero escaped Rome before they could kill him. It was of no avail, however, because he was sentenced to die anyway, and opted to take his own life instead.

“Once he was gone, nobody wanted to be associated with Nero. In fact, the senate issued a “Damnatio memoriae“, a Latin phrase that translates into ‘to condemn his memory.’ They wanted to do everything they could to erase Nero from history and the peoples’ memory. So, subsequent emperors went about the business of actually burying his party palace under new structures of Rome.

“Most of the Domus Aurea building was buried under Trajan’s bath complex. The Palatine section is buried under Domitian’s palace. Nero’s artificial lake was filled in by Vespasian to create the Flavian Amphitheater, which is now called the Colosseum. It gained this name as Nero’s ginormous bronze ‘Colossus’ of himself portrayed as the Sun King was moved from its original location in the vestibule of his palace to its new home next to the Amphitheater to make way for a temple to Venus and Rome.

“Portions of the magnificent Golden House have now been excavated, and we are able to see 30 rooms of the once 300-room palace.”

So, basically, this was an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house because it didn’t have any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

Once we traveled down the long hallways to get to the center of the structure, it’s hard to discern which parts were built by Trajan and which were built by Nero. There were walls built where it was once Nero’s courtyard. The walls had to be built to support the dirt or the dirt would have collapse when Trajan built his baths.

Although many of the rooms that have been excavated remain remarkably intact, Trajan stripped much of the Domus Aurea of its precious materials before he buried and used them in his own construction. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose. We want to erase the whole idea and memory of Nero… bu-u-u-t I’m going to rip all of his expensive shit out and use it in my building.

Hmm…

We did see the multiple rooms that lined the courtyard that obviously have different color schemes based on what was left of the wall coverings. Even the servant’s hallways were covered with lavish paintings.

“The palace was built strictly for entertainment, and there’s no evidence that any of the rooms had doors. However, the structure was designed to take advantage of the natural sunlight at different times of the day. With the sunlight beaming in at different angles and hitting all the jewels, ivory, gold, and marble, the house sparkled, further lending to its name.”

We move further into the palace, and I’m surprised to see a mosaic floor still perfectly intact. The guide tells us that Trajan couldn’t be bothered to remove the tiles because it may have taken too long, so he just left it. To be several centuries old, the floor is in pristine condition.

When we get to the center of the structure, there’s an octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling.

Aula Ottagona--Octogonal Hall“This was strictly a party and entertaining hall,” the guide says. “When people entered, they would be sprayed with perfume and rose petals from the opening. It afforded sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the starry sky at night. The walls here would have been decorated in marble and there was a waterfall in the wall over there that would drain through the floor.

“You can see over there that purple paint was used in this room. This color, along with red, was very expensive and hard to get.

“The Domus Aurea was rediscovered when an artist lowered himself into the ground and found the beautiful frescos on the ceiling of the structure. He was then followed by several more artists, including famous artists like Rafael and Michelangelo, who walked around the rubble and examined the art. This was the birth of the Grotesque art form because the artists thought they were in a grotto.”

Once we’ve traipsed through the rooms that were once frequented by Nero and his guests, we get an added attraction to the tour—a projected movie on the wall of what the outside and some of the rooms would have looked like when Nero lived here as well as a 3D virtual reality experience through VR glasses to see what the rooms and the grounds looked like.

It’s spectacular!

Re-creation of one of the rooms in the Domus AureaThis is amazing to me as I watch various 3D reconstructions and recreation of this indescribable palace and estate. It’s exquisite. It’s beyond measure and value, and Nero built this whole thing in four years. It’s incredible that they wanted to erase this man from history so badly that they literally just threw dirt over all his shit. Smackety—you’re gone! Strip the gold, strip the marble, strip the bronze, strip the ivory, whatever you can’t strip—bury it! They didn’t even repurpose the space. They were just like, “Smackety—bury him!” Where do you even find that much dirt?Re-creation of one of the rooms in the Domus Aurea

Maybe they repurposed it when Trajan demolished that 125-foot hill.

He had a lake built on his property—a fucking lake! They built a sophisticated irrigation system and drained the lake and built the Colosseum over it. Then they kept the irrigation system in place so the Colosseum wouldn’t flood.

They moved his colossus to the Colosseum and built the Temple of Venus and Rome where the structure that held his huge atrium was.

What they didn’t tear down, they threw dirt over it. Palatine Hill was taller because they just threw dirt over Nero’s shit. Domitian built arches to serve as a foundation to extend Palatine Hill so that he could continue to build over Nero’s shit.

Rulers just said, “Just throw some dirt over that. I ain’t using that,” and for fifty years, they just went about the business of burying his palace and planting shit on top of it. After the fire of 104, Trajan was like, “Yeah, I don’t need that,” threw rubble over his crap and built a whole ass elaborate that complex over it.

Do you get the idea that they wanted to separate themselves from Nero??

When we leave the Domus Aurea, it’s just about time for la Passeggiata, but we need to go home and change. My hair is all frizzy from the humidity and my skin feels pretty damn clammy, and Christian just admitted that his shoes are wet inside. If he catches a cold and ruins our vacation, I’m going to kill him.

We get back to the hotel and after I shower, I realize that the only thing I’m going to be able to do with this mass of hair that’s not going to take an hour and a half is either vamp ponytail or messy chignon. Vamp ponytail will require gel and flat ironing. Messy chignon will only require hair comb, mousse, and maybe a couple of bobby pins… a curl here and there if I feel so inclined.

Messy chignon it is.

Once I’ve finished blow-drying my hair, I notice how quiet the suite is… except for one sound.

I hear moaning.

WTF, Christian, we’re in Rome! I’ll put my legs in the air for you anytime you want. Are you serious?

I don my robe and go in search of my husband. I won’t stop his shenanigans, but he’s going to get a good scolding when I catch him in the act. I hear the shower in the other bathroom and I head in that direction. When I get there, my husband has just finished his shower and he’s humming. I just bet you are! All loose as a noodle, now, aren’t you? I fold my arms and stand there in the door. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees me.

“Fuck! Anastasia, what the fuck! You scared the shit out of me, what the hell?” he says, perturbed.

“You tell me,” I reply affronted. “I was two rooms over also in the shower. If you needed a fuck, all you had to do was join me!”

“Well, I could always use a fuck, but what are you talking about?” he says, suggestively. Oh, no, Mr. Grey, no sloppy seconds for me today.

“You don’t think I heard you?” I confront.

“Heard me what?” he asks bemused.

And then I hear the moaning again. This time, my husband hears it, too. He raises his brow in a quizzical way and quickly grabs a towel.

“Seriously,” he says as he wraps the towel around his body. Seriously, what? What the hell is that?

He walks out of the bathroom and out of the main suite and he goes searching. I know he’s looking for the source of the moaning, and I immediately remember that Chuck is in our suite. When he locates the sound and heads in that direction, I grip his arm.

“Chuck,” I say.

“I know who the fuck it is,” he says, his voice low, and he heads towards the sound. Why is he angry? I scamper behind him to the door of the room and catch his hand just as he’s reaching for the handle.

“Don’t just barge in on the man!” I whisper.

“Why the fuck not?” he whispers, harshly. “My security staff is all in an uproar and he had to take the day off and move up here because he and Lawrence are at odds over Keri, and now he’s gettin’ some ass?”

Shit! That’s right! What the fuck, Chuck?

Sure enough, we can hear his female companion cry out in ecstasy. We look at each other and a few moments later, Chuck joins her, not-so-quietly announcing his arrival at the promised land. I shake my head in disgust and roll my eyes. I was rooting for you, you unfaithful fuck!

We’re both standing, stunned and appalled as we listen to this asshole breathing through the aftermath and telling this tramp how good it was. Christian angrily reaches for the handle again when we both hear something that makes him stop mid-grab.

“I miss you so much…”

Now, we’re confused. You’re fucking her, how can you miss her.

“I miss you, too, Choonks.”

Choonks… that’s Keri! How the fuck did she get here? And so fast? Christian and I are looking at each other with the same questions on our faces as we shamelessly listen to Choonks and his intimate exchange with his Island Girl. The more we listen, the more we realize… she’s not in that room.

Facetime.

We come to the same conclusion at the same moment and simultaneously cover our mouths to stifle our laughter. Christian gently pushes my shoulder to guide me out of the hallway, and we quietly scamper back the way we came.

When we get back to our bedroom, we burst out into fits of silent giggles and laughter. We almost burst in on Chuck sexting with his girlfriend on Facetime. Hopefully, he’ll sleep well tonight.

Ana's dress for dinner in S5, E48After we’ve had our laugh, I head to the closet with instructions to dress classy as we’re having dinner at the Waldorf tonight. Tonight would be a good night for my simple green wrap-around dress—stylish, but sexy, and my green serpentine pointed toe stiletto heels. Soft make-up—just tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss—and a pair of, no doubt, outrageously expensive emerald earrings that Christian bought for me one day… just because.

Christian in his black suit at the La Pergola, S5 E48My husband is a simple man when it comes to clothes—classic, expensive, but everything is generally black, blue, or gray. It doesn’t matter, though, because he makes everything he wears look good. Case and point, the black suit with white shirt and textured tie that he’s wearing right now that simply looks like he’s going to the office… and makes me want to jump him fucking bones right now.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Mrs. Grey,” he says.

“Look who’s talking,” I retort, trying not to drool.

“Jesus, he’s suffering so bad,” Christian says, recalling Chuck’s predicament, no doubt. “I almost want to fly her out here… but it wouldn’t be conducive and I know that.”

“He’ll be okay,” I say, finishing my chignon. “He’s a grown man… and he has Facetime.” I giggle and Christian laughs.

We employ only Jason for the night, which is fine by me since Ben still had a bug up his butt all day even without Chuck being present. I’m glad we’re taking the car, because wearing one of the few pairs of stilettos that I brought on this trip, I would really prefer not to be walking. I would if I have to, but I prefer not to.

The sun is low in the sky, but still in the sky. The temperature outside is a balmy 79 degrees, and the smell of the rain from earlier still hangs in the air. I almost wish we could walk, but… stilettos. I take a deep breath of the clean, rain-drenched air before we get into the car to go to the Waldorf.

Once inside, I’m again wishing we had walked. Although the car is very comfortable, I’d like the fresh air, and if I open the window, my hair will look like I’ve been attacked by wolves.

“Jason, it’s a beautiful evening,” Christian says. “Open the roof.”

The roof? Open the roof?

Jason pushes a button and a panel slides back revealing a fully panoramic moonroof. Now, how did I not know that was there? Jason then turns a knob and the front panel of the glass slowly slides back while the back panel tilts up to open just slightly. A perfect breeze of rain-cleaned Rome air blows evenly through the car and out the back window, giving me that fresh air that I wanted without destroying my hair.

“Okay?” Christian asks.

“Perfect,” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “How did you know?”

“Because you did that before you got in the car,” he says. I smile and snuggle into the arm of my perfect husband. He always knows how to make me happy.

We arrive at the circular drive of the Waldorf and I immediately know… it’s nothing like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas wasn’t shabby, but Rome is like… wow!

Jason opens the door for Christian, who walks around and opens the door for me. I step out and enter the beautiful hotel, decorated in jewel tones and opulence.

Once again, not Vegas.

We make our way to the rooftop to La Pergola, a restaurant just as opulent as the hotel. Although many of the women are dressed somewhere between conservative and elegant, I still feel underdressed.

“Why are you covering yourself?” Christian asks, and I’m just noticing that I’ve clasped my hands in front of me.

“I didn’t know that I was,” I say, honestly. It must be my reaction to my plain green dress. Christian puts his hand in the small of my back and kisses me softly just behind my earlobe.

“You look stunning,” he says, before moving his lips away.

“You have to say that,” I say, unable to hide my blush. He leans in again and places a discreet open-mouthed kiss in the same spot… and I’ve got chills.

“You. Look. Stunning.”

Fuck, is it hot in here?

“You have a reservation?” the hostess says with a big smile.

“Yes,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “Grey, party of two.”

The hostess smiles again, retrieves two menus, and leads us to a table next to the floor to ceiling terrace doors with a gorgeous view.

“Oh, Christian!” I breathe. “This is beautiful.”

He smiles and pulls my chair out for me as the hostess sets the menus on our table.

“I’m going to tell you, I’m very hungry,” I say. “We missed aperitivo, and I’ve become accustomed to it now.”

“Okay, do you see anything on the menu that you like?” he asks. I open the menu. I should’ve know that he was setting me up… The menu is 11 pages. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!

“Yikes!” I exclaim quietly. Luckily, it’s in English. “Christian, what do I order?”

“Look around a bit,” he teases. I shake my head and try to decipher what I want from the menu. Where’s Sophie when you need her?

“Signore, signora, I am your server, Simón. We will start you with light antipasti while you peruse the menu,” the server says when he comes to the table. Christian nods and thanks him.

“So, this is the only three-star Michelin in Rome,” Christian tells me. “The executive chef is Heinz Beck. He’s been here for 20 years, executive chef for 10. The chef sommelier is Marco Rietano. I don’t know how long he’s been here, but he’s a three-star Michelin sommelier as well.” I nod.

“I feel like I should know what that means, but I don’t,” I confess. “I’ve heard of five-star restaurants and hotels, but you say three-star Michelin like it’s better.”

“It is,” he says. “In laymen’s terms, the 5-star rating system is for civilians. A hotel or restaurant can be rated 5-star because somebody liked it and gave it a review on Google based on quality, comfort, ambience, luxury, etc. The 3-star Michelin rating system is food and wine only. It’s a world-wide guide distributed by the French company Michelin for over 100 years. One-star means the dining is okay, worthy of mention. Two-star means the dining is good, worthy of a detour if you’re in the neighborhood. Three-star means excellent, worth a journey to eat there.”

“Are we talking about Michelin the tire company?” I ask. He nods.

“I don’t know if the tires came first or the food came first, but yes. Chefs, sommeliers, and restaurants strive for a 3-star Michelin rating. As this is the only restaurant in Rome to have that rating, as you can see it’s not something that’s very easily achievable.”

“Hmm,” I say. “In that case, I’m clearly out of my league, here. I need you to do this.”

“I was hoping you would say that,” he says. “I suggest the 10-course meal.”

Ten courses! Yikes, I said I was hungry. That’ll do it.

“And if you’re still hungry when it’s done, we’ll go somewhere for pizza.” He winks at me and I laugh demurely. He’s cute.

“You expect we’ll still be hungry after ten courses?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, they’re chef’s portions,” he informs me. “They’re usually pretty satisfying, but if not, we’ve got a backup plan.” He winks at me.

Simón comes over to the table and Christian informs him that we’ll be having the 10-course meal with whatever wine pairing the sommelier recommends.

“My wife is famished, so we’ll have a full range of antipasti while we await the other courses. And please send the sommelier over when he’s available,” he requests. “Each time I come I’m looking for a particular vintage. I’ll be eternally grateful if he has it this year.”

“Yes, signore,” Simón says, and leaves the table.

“Why did you have me toiling over that menu when you already had an idea what we would be eating?” I accuse.

“I wanted you to see if there was something on there that you wanted,” he replies. I shake my head.

“At this point, I don’t need to know where the pig was raised, how it was killed, who its family was, or how it’s prepared. If it dead and tasty, I’ll eat it,” I reply, causing my husband to laugh and shake his head.

“You read all that in the menu?” he asks.

“For one dish!” I point out. “No wonder the thing is 11 pages long!”

“Signore,” I hear from behind me, and a friendly-looking gentleman joins our table. “I am Marco Rietano. You wish to see me?”

“Yes, Marco, thank you for coming over. I’m Christian and this is my wife, Anastasia.” Marco smiles at me and does a bow and a nod, and I return his smile.

“Each time I come, I ask about a vintage that I know you were trying to get and I’m just wondering if you acquired it yet. Do you yet have the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985?” Christian asks.

“Sì, signore,” Marco replies, “we were able to acquire some bottles last year.” Christian’s eyes light up.

“You do?” he confirms. “Excellent! We will definitely be having that.”

“Very well. Will you have it now and the recommendations with the main courses?” Marco asks.

“I can guarantee you that if you keep the 1985 flowing, we won’t need anything else,” Christian assures him. He nods once and smiles.

“Sì, signore,” he says, and leaves the table. The moment he leaves, the first round of antipasti arrives—small finger foods, one for each of us.

“Now I know why you asked for a full round of antipasti,” I say. “I’ll starve waiting for the main course.”

“No, you won’t. I promise,” he assures me.

Aperitivo at La Pergola--Fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; Pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; Puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oilOur first round of antipasti is fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; and puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oil. Except for the carrots, they’re single bites of food, but they’re really good.

“Mmm,” I say after eating the pickled onion followed by a bite of the baby carrot, “that’s a real taste sensation.”

“I told you, give it a chance,” my husband replies.

Not a moment after we’ve finished the first round of antipasti, Simón is coming to the table with a plate stacked with… something, and Marco is right behind him with a bottle of wine. Simón sets the plate on the table and clears the empty dishes.

“Beet, turmeric, sumac, and poppy seed chips,” he says with a bow and steps away from the table. Marco takes his place, presenting the bottle to Christian. My husband nods and Marco proceeds to uncork the bottle, then pour a tasting of the luscious red into one of the incredibly large wine glasses on the table. My husband takes a sip, then nods, and Marco pours not much more than a tasting into his glass, then into mine. What, are they rationing the shit? Sassicaia 1985 Tenuta San Guido

“Taste it, but only sip it… trust me,” he says. There’s nothing more than a sip or two in this glass. I don’t argue. I take the glass by the stem and take a small sip, allowing the wine to coat my tongue.

It’s like a long, warm hug from an old, familiar friend.

“Liquid silk?” I ask, turning a disbelieving eye to my husband. He chuckles.

“No, but close,” he says. “This is a Super Tuscan grape, and 1985 was an exceptional year. This vintage is very hard to find.”

“Christian, how could you do this to me?” I say. “I’ll never be able to enjoy my Cabernet again after this.” I take another sip of the elixir, trying not to chug it, not that I could. It’s a smooth, but robust and hearty flavor. You must sip it, but after each sip, there goes that hug again.

“It is good, yes?” Marco says.

“It is very good,” I reply, replacing the glass so that I don’t drink it all at once. Marco nods and another server appears with a wine bucket on a tall stand. Marco puts the wine in the bucket with a small towel, nods, and walks away. He’s a sommelier, so I know I don’t need to ask if there’s ice in the bucket. Chilling would totally ruin the flavor of this wine.

“So from the content of your conversation, there’s no likelihood that you’re going to be able to get some bottles of this illegally delicious nectar to go home with us, is there?” I take one of the chips from the plate and crunch into it as quietly as I can.

“Not very likely,” he admits. “It took at least four years for a three-star Michelin sommelier to get his hands on some. It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to get a hold of any.”

I frown, on my face and in my soul. I guess this is one of those experiences I’ll just have to enjoy for the time that I have it. I won’t be a brat although the Bitch is stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin.

And these chips aren’t bad at all.

Before we finish the chips, another beautifully plated antipasti comes out, this one a bit more substantial than the other.

“This is watermelon carpaccio marinated in an infusion of birch, cardamom, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine with seafood,” Simón says as his colleague clears the table again. “Enjoy.” He nods and leave.

I never would have thought to prepare watermelon this way. It’s thinly sliced, a mix of the sweet and savory with the hint of the citrus and floral spices. It almost tastes like meat, and I’m very happy that Christian got a plate of his own. I gobble the entire plate along with a couple more sips of “hug.”

Now, I’m not feeling so ravenous, and I can enjoy what they bring to us.

“Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam,” Simón announces as he presents the next course. “More wine?”

Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam“Please,” I say with a nod. Simón pours another small amount of wine in the glass which—as I have discovered—turns out to be enough while I admire the creation before me. It’s arranged in this unusual bowl with a wide, flat brim. There’s some kind of pastry or flaky bread decorated with sprigs of flowers and vegetables on top of the prawns arranged in a way so that they almost appear to be in their natural habitat inside the bowl. The entire thing looks like a tropical island sitting on top of a coral reef. It’s actually… fun.

And it’s delicious.

The flavors complement each other so well. There’s nothing overwhelming, and it’s not under-seasoned either. There’s just enough of everything to make you appreciate the dish. I now truly understand why chef’s dishes are so small. They’re not meant to be gobbled. They’re meant to be appreciated.

… Along with a few sips of a warm hug.

And the courses keep coming… Scallops, artichokes, and summer truffles…

… And a warm hug.

Mediterranean roasted eggplant with pomegranates and tahini…

… And a couple more warm hugs.

“More wine?”
“Yes, please!”
Warm hug, warm hug, warm hug…

After all the taste sensations and warm hugs, we finally get our pasta dish—Fagottelli “La Pergola.” It’s apparently the house specialty. It’s like ravioli, and there’s only six of them on the plate. Hmm… okay, chef’s servings.

I soon discover why there are only six ravioli on the plate.

“Where’s my fork?” I ask. “Why did I get a spoon with my pasta?”

“Okay, this is what you’re going to do,” Christian explains. “Don’t try to cut it. Take an entire piece of pasta on the spoon and put the entire thing in your mouth.” I do as I’m told.

It explodes when you bite into it—deliciousness all over your oral cavity. I have to take a moment to savor.

“Oh, my God, this is delicious. What’s in this?” I ask once I’ve finally consumed the creation.

“It’s the chef’s special liquefied carbonara pepper sauce inside a pillow of hand-made ravioli. The outside sauce is green onions in pecorino cheese.” I raise my gaze to him.

“How many times have you been here?” I ask.

“A few,” he confirms with a wink, taking a spoon of his pillow of ravioli.

“With a woman?” I ask. Why the fuck did I ask that question? He raises a surprised gaze to me as he chews his food. Oh, well, it’s out of my mouth now. I can’t take it back. What the hell is in this wine?

“Do you really want to know the answer to that?” he challenges. That response already gave me my answer. He’s a billionaire, extremely handsome, and he’s only been yours for the last three years. Why wouldn’t he have traveled with a woman?

“No,” I say, looking down into my bowl and spooning another ravioli, “no, I don’t.” Christian catches my hand before I’m able to lift my spoon from the bowl, causing me to look up at him.

“No, Anastasia,” he says, his voice sober, “I’ve never taken another woman out of the country. I’ve done a lot of things alone that are normally reserved for couples simply because I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of these things simply because there wasn’t a woman on my arm. I’m going to have several firsts with you on this trip… and this is one of them.”

I gaze at him for a moment and I feel a smile slowly creep across my face. I try to keep it coy, but I can’t. What he just said pleases me so much that I feel my cheeks about to burst!

Yeah, I bet it’s the wine.

“Now, enjoy your Fagottelli,” Christian says, chuckling softly. And that’s exactly what I do, and it is delightful—the best pasta I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Our meat course is lamb cerebellum with fava bean puree, peas, fried artichokes, and chicory marinated in culatello sauce with chili and mint. That course is paired with a varied selection of cheese from the trolley, and several sips of the warm hug. I’m forlorn to see Simón pour the last of the bottle into Christian’s glass, and elated to see Marco close behind him uncorking a second bottle to pour for me.

La Pergola at the Waldorf“Magnifico!” I exclaim, I almost leap from the table and dance with glee. Marco chuckles and places the bottle in the bucket before leaving.

Dolci is baked apricots with yogurt ice cream and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The red fruit turns out to be pomegranate, and there’s chocolate involved. It’s pretty, and it turns out to be one of the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.

I’m thoroughly satisfied as I sit back and enjoy the after-dinner espresso and more of the warm hug. The meal was exquisite and well worth the wait and I’m so satisfied, I could just purr.

To my surprise, Heinz Beck comes from the kitchen as begins to makes rounds of the dining room, greeting each guest. Talk about your special touches! He smiles as he makes his way to our table.

“We have met before,” he says, when he greets my husband.

“We have,” Christian says, proffering his hand. “Christian Grey.”

“Heinz Beck,” he says, accepting my husband’s shake. “I am not so good with names, but I do not forget a face.”

Animated Emoji Chefs Kiss GIF by swerkChristian introduces me and tells Heinz that this was my first visit. He asks how I enjoyed the meal and I can’t tell him enough how divine everything tasted, the flavors all bursting in your mouth, at one point doing the chef’s kiss on my fingers, which pleases Heinz tremendously. He asks about our vacation and how many of the sites we’ve seen. He holds an actual conversation with us for about a minute and a half before he thanks us for dining and tells us to enjoy the rest of our vacation. Then, he moves on to greet the diners at the next table.

So, this is what dining in a 3-star Michelin restaurant is like.

As we’re leaving, probably some 20 or 30 minutes later, Marco greets us at the door. He’s standing there like he had no other purpose but to stand at that door and he’s holding a beautiful wooden case.

 “Grazie,” he says. “You come again?”

“We definitely come again,” Christian says, enthusiastically. Marco smiles and hands him the case.

“Grazie, Signore, for you and the signora.” He takes my hand and kisses it chastely. “Grazie, signora,” he says with bow.

“Thank you, Marco,” I say with a warm smile. “It was delightful.”

We walk out of the restaurant silently, like we just did a bank heist and we’re trying to quietly make a getaway. Christian carries the case like it’s handcuffed to his wrist. With his hand in the small of my back, he’s kind of rushing me along a bit.

We both know what’s in that case.

When Jason brings the car around, Christian opens the door for me and I hurriedly climb inside. Once he’s inside and we’re on our way, we’re behaving like we just got a Christmas present… because we did!

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I say, unable to contain my glee. Christian unhooks the brass clasp on the case and opens it…

… showing me one of two bottles of warm hugs.

*-*

My husband instructs Jason to take us to the Trevi Fountain so that we can have a little stroll before we go back to the hotel. There are still a lot of people out here, but we’re able to stroll a bit without too much trouble and find a seat on a bench on the lower level right across from the fountain. It’s a little chillier over here by the fountain, and I foolishly didn’t bring a wrap, so Christian drapes his jacket over my shoulders… again. I kind of think my mind convinces me to leave home without an overcoat on purpose, but I probably shouldn’t have done it tonight since I was worried earlier about him catching cold from his wet shoes.

“Are you okay?” I ask when he gives me his jacket.

“I’m fine,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect for me and my arms aren’t bare.” I lean on his shoulder and we hold hands as we watch the Trevi Fountain at night. It’s an entirely different view from what we saw during the day. Even with all the people mulling around, it’s beautiful. And it’s water… I could sit here all night.

“It’s hard to believe you came here alone at all,” I say. “Rome is… magical. Historical and mysterious and romantic… it almost seems like a waste not to enjoy it with someone else.” He’s silent for a few moments.

“I never, ever wanted to be here with anybody else,” he says. “This place is too special to me to share it with some meaningless submissive. It meant too much… means too much to just… cheapen the experience that way.”

“Be honest,” I say, “did you ever want to bring Elena here? I know what she meant to you at one point.” He sighs.

“She came once,” he admits, “but she came with the family. We never had any time alone, which is probably… no, definitely as good thing. This is my special place. Had I made any lasting memories here with her, she would have taken this away from me, too, especially after I finally accepted what she really was.” I sigh.

“She hasn’t taken anything away from you, Christian,” I say, tracing his palm gently. “She’s a part of your past, and you can’t avoid it. She didn’t steal your innocence because, as much as I hate to say it, your innocence was tainted before she got to you. But for you to connect so spiritually to a place this remarkable, that says a lot about you.” I look up at him.

“There may have been emotions that you were unable to express or identify, but someone who’s heartless—like you want to believe you were—never would have been able the have the experiences that you’ve had here in Rome. The epiphanies and the appreciation, the introspection… that takes a deeper soul, a depth that was always there. You just didn’t know it, because the people that love you couldn’t get through to you, and the person that you loved was worthless.

“But in those moments when you were free, when you were on your own in the streets of Trastevere or wandering the Jewish Ghetto, that’s when the real Christian came out—the young boy who was always reaching for love, peace, and enlightenment. And you found that here, even when it was scary or painful. I’ve always known you were a good man with a kind heart. I’ve never doubted it, but now, I’m completely sure of it.”

I gently stroke his hair just over his ear and gaze into his beautiful gray eyes, sparkling from the water reflection off his irises.

“Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” I say, just above a whisper before I press my lips to his.


A/N: There are some very remarkable reconstructions of the Domus Aurea on my Pinterest page in the Domus Aurea album. If you want an idea of what the Golden House may have looked like before it was buried, I suggest you go take a peek! 

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include the Edoardo II RestaurantTrajan’s ForumLa Pergola in the Waldorfand the Domus Aurea. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued—Detailed: Episode 47—Boys Will Be Boys

Warning—History ahead!

This is the DETAILED version of the chapter.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.

Episode 47—Boys Will Be Boys

ANASTASIA

When we get to the lobby, our security staff is already there. I’m assuming Jason thought it would be easier to wrangle the boys if they were in a public place. The tension and difference are immediately noticeable.

Chuck and Ben are on different ends of the lobby with Jason and Al standing or sitting midway between them. Chuck, Jason, and Al are dressed like they have been all week—khakis or Dickeys, polos or T-shirts, comfortable shoes. Ben, on the other hand, is wearing what I can only classify as a leisure suit—pants and shirt are made of the same loose-fitting, lightweight, summer material paired with black soft-sole but dressy loafers. He’s facing the lobby where he can see everybody, and he’s in the stance. He looks very good—busines-casual, not too dressy, but completely unapproachable. His body-language and demeanor are screaming that he has no intentions of being sociable any time soon.

“Well, this is going to be a great day,” I sigh.

Jason drives to a pick-up point to take us to Capitoline Hill, but we start the day with a walk to our first destination. As we’re walking down the street, Christian takes my hand and veers towards another church.

“Come here, I want to show you something,” he says as we head to the church.

We enter and I look around, expecting to see the magnificent art and finery that I saw at Santa Maria di Vittoria. Nope, nothing particularly grand at all about this temple.

“This is the Church of Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins. There’s usually a tour associated with this, but we’re here so early, I can just give you the short version. It’s a series of a lot of tiny chapels, some above ground, and some below ground. The Capuchin monks left the friary of St. Bonaventure and had to relocate here in 1631 when they were thrown out of their old monastery. Of course, every church has somebody’s tomb in it, but this one is different.

“Without taking away from the history of the church, I’ll tell you that there are many beautiful works of art in each of the chapels there. That small chapel holds the remains of the first Capuchin monk to be canonized.”

Why is he rushing?

“As we head this way, you can see the many portraits of the monks who lived and served here, but the most important and historic part of this location is down here.”

As we descend into the underground portion of the church, the walls come into view and I am speechless.

And I do mean speechless.

The further we get down into… whatever this is, I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing. Instinctively, I begin to pull away, but Christian tightens his grip on my hand probably in anticipation that I’m about to bolt… which I am!

“I want you to see how remarkable this is,” he says, his voice calm and soothing, but not soothing enough for this shit.

“Christian…” I say trepidatiously.

“This is sacred ground,” he says. “You’ll never see anything like this again in your life.”

Nor do I fucking want to! Is this man out of his fucking mind? This is far, far more creepy than Saint Cecilia… by leagues!

“Christian Trevelyan Grey, you are intent on creeping me out!” I declare.

“Just listen, baby,” he coaxes. “This is so much more profound than just somebody’s tomb. You can’t take any pictures down here, though.”

“Why. Would I want. To take any pictures. Of this?” I protest. “Christian, these are real skulls!”

“They certainly are, and those are real skeletons of real friars in those Franciscan habits,” he says proudly. “When the Capuchin monks were ordered to leave the monastery and relocate here, Capuchin Cardinal Antonio Barberini suggested that the remains of their brothers be brought to the church as well. So, he ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars to be exhumed and transferred here—300 cartloads, to be exact.”

Like I said, creepier than Saint Cecilia. At least, that was only one body. This is thousands—thousands of skulls and bones, human remains used to create mosaics on the walls of this… tomb! This is the resting place of thousands of monks and somebody thought it was a good idea to turn them into Legos??

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rome, Italy. Or as it is known in our family - The Bone Church

“I told you that I didn’t want to walk through the catacombs and you thought this was a good idea?” I balk.

“Yep,” Christian declares unyielding. “I’m not trying to creep you out, baby. You’re walking around the city of artifacts and ruins of ancient Rome. This means that the things we are seeing, the roads we are walking, the ruins that we are exploring, were all part of a civilization that was alive thousands of years ago and is now dead. There’s no way that you’re going to take part in this adventure, this exploration, this journey, and not come face to face with the concept of death.

“I thought this would be easier than the catacombs because it’s smaller and it’s more open. The catacombs are a maze—this is a church. You come down the stairs, you’re in the crypt. You go back up the stairs, you’re out. This is a testament to the respect of the monks. There were several exhumed from a resting place where they were no longer welcome and brought here to a sacred ground of a church commissioned just for them. And the monks that transitioned after that are here, too.

“This is not somebody’s idea of something cool to do with bones even though the arrangements are artistic. This is their sacred dead. This was a labor of love. It’s an exhibition of their respect for their brothers, their understanding of the fragility of life, and their acceptance of mortality. These arrangements are meticulous and deliberate and these designs are full of Capuchin symbolism.

“And by the way, many of the religious leaders prayed and meditated while holding skulls to remind themselves of their mortality and they’re connection with death even in life. And even in all its sacredness, look around. Somebody arranged all of this. Tell me that you don’t find this fascinatingly macabre.”

He stands there waiting for me to deny the obvious. This place gives me the fucking willies, but it’s so remarkably creepy that I can’t turn away! However, even though I find the designs remarkable and the symbolism intriguing, I’m in a goddamn tomb… a tomb with thousands of human remains, and I want out.

“Christian, get me out of here… please… right now.” My voice is calm but I’m going to lose it if I don’t get out of this room right this second. Thank God, he doesn’t hesitate. Still holding my hand, he quickly leads me back to the upper level and out the doors of the church.

I manage to keep my legs steady until we get outside. Once we clear the door, I damn near collapse on the stairs. I cover my face to try to rid my mind of the horrible sight I just saw, but it’s no use because when I close my eyes, the sight is behind my eyelids. I feel myself shaking and I can’t stop it. I’m on vacation, dammit! I’m not here to study death or the concept of mortality. I know these people died. If they were still here, I’d be concerned about the witchcraft that’s keeping them alive. I don’t need their damn bones thrown in my face!

I don’t know how long I sit there on the stairs, but Chuck is now shoving a bottle of water in my face and Christian is horrifyingly and repeated calling my name. I take the bottle and drink a healthy amount of it, then pour a small amount in my hand and splash it over my face. Okay, that’s better. The shaking is stopping and I’m not surrounded by skeletons anymore. I raise what must be glaring and fearsome eyes to my husband because when I do, he actually flinches a bit.

“Don’t do that to me again, Christian,” I warn soberly. “Don’t ever do that to me again!” He licks his lips briefly in contemplation and then hands me his handkerchief.

“I won’t,” he promises. “I’m sorry. I was fascinated. I thought you would be, too.”

“I’m not!” I say, firmly. “I told you that I wouldn’t be.”

“I thought that if you heard the story and you saw…”

“You ignored me!” I say, louder than I intended, causing other to people to look over at us, but I don’t care. He needs to know. “I told you, no catacombs! I told you, and you ignored it!”

“You’re right, you’re right, I’m sorry.” He’s trying to calm me because he knows I’m inconsolable right now. “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again.”

I’m still angry, but there’s no use in berating him anymore because he understands what he did. I dry my face and stand.

“I want to know what our itineraries are from now on, even if I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t want any more damn surprises like this and I mean it! I don’t need a reservation for my villa. I can go there now!”

I don’t think he expected me to get this upset. I didn’t expect me to get this upset. Then again, I didn’t expect to spend my morning with 4000 skeletons, either.

“Anastasia, I am sorry,” he says, contritely. “I was wrong. I won’t do that again, I swear.”

I try to shake off the heebie-jeebies and look around me. Chuck is looking at me concerned, Al is looking at me confused, and Ben… well, Ben’s not even looking at me. He’s standing there all professional, checking the perimeter, I guess, and making sure that no one comes near us.

Now, why does that make me mad? Probably because I’m already mad.

I shake my head, stand up, and start walking. I don’t know where I’m going and no one bothers me. I just walk. I need to feel like I’m in some kind of control, because this shit was not good! I walk for a few blocks or so and no one says anything to me; no one tries to tell me where we’re going. Strangely enough, I look up and I’m at this creepy building where the door frame looks like a big mouth.

I just stand there staring at it for a moment—what looks like a gargoyle mouth for windows and the door. I have no idea what this building is, but strangely, it’s comforting. I take a few pictures of it and scroll back through it, working feverishly to rid myself of the thought and mental pictures of skulls on the walls. I shall name this the House with the Monster Mouth. I walk a little further and, to my left, I see the Spanish Steps.

Yeah, that’s good.

I don’t know where we’re headed and I don’t care and if we have to go back up the Spanish Steps, then we just have to go back up the Spanish Steps.

Bouncing down these stairs is just what I need to get the blood pumping and the breath moving in and out of my lungs. I’m zigging and zagging around people at a mean pace, never losing my stride. After a while, they just start moving out of my way and I don’t realize until I’m nearly at the bottom that they’re moving because they think I’m being chased. I laugh out loud the final steps down to the fountain, and then take several cleansing breaths when I get there. Everything’s not honky-dory, but I can go on with my day now.

I turn around military style to face my husband.

“Where to?” I say, my voice offering a hint of caution.

“That way,” Christian says, pointing to the right, “and then west.”

“Where. To?” I repeat.

“We’re going to walk by the Mausoleum of Augustus…” He stresses the word “by” very heavily. “It’s not open to the public, but it’s ruins and you can get some pretty good pictures from outside of the gate. Then we’ll go see the Altar of Peace… safe, and everybody’s alive.”

He’s so nervous now that I feel a little guilty for chewing him out… but only a little guilty. I bet he fucking won’t do that to me again.

“Come on,” I say, coaxing while holding my hand out to him. “Show me.” I’m a little pouty to try to soothe the blow, but he better fucking not do that to me again. He smiles and takes my hand, leading me through the Piazza di Spagna.

“Thank you for forgiving me,” he says quietly. “Security is making we want to call la polizia!”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Lawrence is mute,” he says. “You can be guaranteed that the only thing he’s going to say is ‘get down’ or ‘fire.’ Chuck is also mute, but his body language is screaming aggression. When you were having your meltdown, he jumped into bodyguard/big brother mode. And trust me when I tell you, those big cat balls are pissing all over the place. Paci, he doesn’t know where he’s supposed to be right now. The laid back, relaxed vacation everyone had is gone. One guy is waiting for the next guy to sneeze in the wrong direction so that he can attack.”

I don’t respond. I tried to tell him that this would happen. Even though Chuck knew, he still didn’t take it well and it caused friction in the camp. Now, we’re stuck on vacation for another five weeks with two powder kegs ready to blow, or at least one. Ben has regressed into name, rank, and serial number.

A few hundred meters west and we’re outside the gate of the Mausoleum of Augustus. I’ve got a good view to take pictures while Christian tells me the sad tale that is the fate of the mausoleum. The mausoleum was an imperial tomb, built by Augustus to house the remains of his family and himself which it did quite majestically for several years. It also contained the remains of his general, Agrippa, and all of the emperors up to and including Nerva, whose ashes were the last to be interred in 98 AD.

Once a glorious structure housing the royal remains, the tomb had a crown of dirt and cypress trees. However, it was mightily abused by the barbarians when Rome fell. They sacked the tomb and stole the beautiful urns, dumping the ashes of the emperor and his family onto the floor. Since then, the mausoleum has been a military fortress, an amphitheater for cock fights, and a concert hall, but it was closed in the 1930’s by Mussolini, who restored it back to its status as an archeological site.

“So, technically, there may still be remains in there,” I say. “Sadly, they’ve been desecrated and ground into the dirt.” He twists his lips.

“Sadly, I’d say you’re correct,” he replies. He looks over at Ben, who’s standing nearby like a sentinel, then at Chuck, who’s still oozing aggression. He shakes his head and takes my hand, leading me across the street.

“Those two are really getting on my nerves,” he says as we approach the Museum housing the Altar of Peace. They’re starting to irritate me, too, to be honest. I realize the light-hearted inclusion that we had was a one-time thing for yesterday and apparently a big mistake. As we’re headed to the Altar of Peace, all I can think is that those two had better stay outside if it’s to remain that way.

The museum is mostly glass on a large brick base. There are seven long paragraphs inscribed on the brick base of the building.

“My Latin isn’t thorough enough to read this,” Christian says as we approach the building, but I know that it’s called the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, translated The Deeds of the Divine Augustus. This is a first-person account of Augustus’ rule, how he saw himself and how he presented himself to the people of Rome. There are many copies of it in churches and museums, but the original copy was left with his will and is long since gone. Most of it was written by Augustus himself and part of it was added after his death.

“He never mentions his enemies, even the people responsible for Julius Caesar’s death. I can’t swear to it, but I’m told that they’re only referred to as ‘those who killed my father.’ Historically, it’s brilliant. Who better to tell my story than me? It was a stroke of propaganda genius.”

I take pictures of the wall because I agree that the best way to make sure that your story is accurate is to tell it yourself—and there’s a whole lotta story on this wall. When we head towards the wide steps to the entrance, I see a fountain to my far left, but it’s not like the elaborate fountains I’ve seen like the Trevi or the big boat at the foot of the Spanish Steps. This one is merely a square pool built into the ground with faucets shooting up. It makes you want to take your shoes off and play in the water. It’s inviting in its simplicity and I take several pictures of it, picturing myself and my babies splashing in the water. It lightens my mood a bit, but only for a moment until I turn to see Ben all sour-faced staring in front of him.

Geez, man, he’s raining on my damn parade… and speaking of rain…

I bring to Christian’s attention that I feel a drop or two once I examine the ominous-looking sky and establish that the water is not coming from the fountains. Almost on que, the fountains cease their spraying and the water in the little pool begins to drain out just as the sky quietly begins to rumble. My husband takes my hand and guides me a bit hurriedly up the stairs of the museum and inside the glass doors. Jason is already inside when we get there.

“You made it just in time,” Jason says. “That sky is about to blow.” I look at our security standing outside.

“Are they just going to stand out there?” I ask.

“They’ll come in when it starts to rain,” he replies.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Christian remarks. Jason just shrugs. He’s clearly had enough time to cool since he spoke to Christian this morning, and probably since he’s been separated for a couple of hours from Ben “Hatfield” and Chuck “McCoy.”

He leads me over to the building inside of the building, intent on forgetting his sulking security guards.

“This was an open-air altar for blood sacrifices,” he says as he leads me up the stairs to the podium that holds the large altar. “Its original location was further north on Campus Martius. It was located on the flood plane of the Tiber River. So, like most of ancient Rome, it was buried, but this structure was buried under layer after layer of sand.

“Mussolini had it excavated in 1938 as part of his campaign to connect the concept of his empire with the ancient Roman empire. Pieces of the building—a lot of the missing friezes—were unearthed before the bulk of the altar, and they’re now on display at different locations around the world. The reconstruction of some of the missing art is constructed from casts. These are the parts of the frieze that they couldn’t get back. It’s like that hermaphrodite in the National Museum. There are copies all over the world since only one museum can have the original.”

“These two panels on the front are mythological representations. There have been too many theories of who they are, but just know that the bearded man is offering a sacrifice there, and the one over there that’s badly fragmented is said to be of Romulus and Remus in the Lupercal grotto with the shewolf who suckled them until they were found.”

We move to the right side, which Christian says is the south side of the altar—although I think it’s facing west, but I don’t know. There’s quite a bit of action on this side.

“Are these parades?” I ask. “They look a lot like the friezes we saw on the arches at the Roman Forum—at least in concept, they do.” He raises a brow at me.

“Good eye,” he praises. “For lack of a better word, this was Augustus’ arch. It was commissioned by the Roman government after his return to Rome from Hispania and Gaul. Augustus was proud to boast that he was bringing peace to Rome, contrary to the usual triumphant arches that you see that boast victories of war. This,” he points to the frieze on the side, “is actually a religious procession of royal families and historically prominent citizens of Rome. This side is Augustus and his immediate family. The other side is priests and other members of the Imperial household. As you can see, they’re all moving forward toward the opening of the altar for the ceremony.”

I examine the frieze carefully, trying to see the features of Augustus on the damaged portion that is supposed to be him. I can’t see the similarity, mostly because part of his face is destroyed, but I can imagine him majestically leading his family and the priests and other important figures to the sacrifice. I’m impressed with the fact that the panels contain friezes of children. While I can’t help but wonder who they are, I can see that the entire imperial family must be represented.

“These two panels,” he says as we make our way to the back of the altar, “are more mythological representations. This woman is supposed to be Mother Earth or a goddess, and the scene with the children and the swans and such are supposed to represent the abundance of the land—said to represent the fruitfulness of Italy. That fragmented panel is supposed to be Roma, their personification of Rome.”

If I’m honest, I’m not impressed with Roma, like I wasn’t impressed with the drawing of Romulus and Remus. I know they’re trying to reconstruct the friezes, but it looks like they just made something up because there’s nothing there. I wonder if these two friezes are sitting somewhere in a museum and that’s where they got the idea of what the drawings look like. That would make it more believable.

“It’s still strange to me that Mussolini would liken himself to Augustus,” Christian says as we view the final side of the altar with the priests and Imperials proceeding to the altar. “From what I understand of fascism—and correct me if I’m wrong on this one—the only similarity I saw between the Fascist Regime and the ancient Roman empire was the absolute power of the state and the single ruler often trying to win the favor of the people. Yeah, he tried to win the people over… maybe that’s why he likened himself to Augustus. He was really a man of the people, but everything I’ve heard about Fascism was extreme. I don’t know, maybe I’m all wrong about it.”

I can’t confirm or deny anything he’s saying because this was not my area of study. I’ve heard of Mussolini, and what I know about Augustus and Caesar and anything else about ancient Rome, I learned through my research for this trip.

While Christian is pondering the connection between Mussolini and Augustus—or at least the one that the famous Fascist imagined existed between him and the long-gone emperor of Rome, there’s a small rumble of thunder in the distance and suddenly, the sky opens and instantly releases buckets of rain—no prelim, no warning, just whoosh! I look at the door and our security is rushing inside, quickly paying admission to get out of the rain.

Jason was right. They’ll come in when it starts to rain.

Christian takes my hand and leads me over to the glass wall of the building that’s facing the trees. He stands behind me and wraps me in his arms as we watch the raindrops cascading down the glimmering glass. It’s almost as if we’re under water, watching the magical world of Atlantis come alive. We stand there in silence for several minutes, closing out the world and enjoying each other’s essence while the rain cleanses the Roman air and the city streets.

“Why don’t we ever do this at home?” I ask after a long silence.

“Do what?”

“Sit and watch the rain fall. I used to do it when I lived in my condo, but I don’t think I’ve done it since then,” I reply.

“There’s always something else that has to be done,” he says. “We barely have time to have dinner in a nice restaurant, enjoy a night at the opera… everything has to be planned. You can’t plan rain.”

“Well, maybe we should,” I say, looking over my shoulder at him. He’s silent and gazing at me expecting. “We’re missing all the little things. Before we know it, the twins will be in school and we’ll have even less time on our hands than we did before. It’s a sad state of affairs when we have all this money and this freedom and we don’t remember ever stopping to listen to the rain.”

“Duly noted. I’ll make it a point to pay attention to the weather reports,” he jests. I roll my eyes at him. “No, I get it,” he adds. “I’m richer than Carnegie and besides the big house, the fleet of cars, and the occasional exotic location, we don’t really take time to enjoy the freedom that we have. There needs to be some quality to our quality time. Duly noted… seriously.”

“Occasional exotic location?” I chuckle. “Anguilla in 2012, Paris and Greece in 2013, Australia in 2014, and now Italy? Not to mention the romantic side trips in between?” He chuckles, too.

“Okay, occasional may have been the wrong word, but I know my girl. You spend hours standing at that aquarium watching that fish who knows who you are, by the way. We need an occasion to have a family barbeque and it rains in Seattle more than the sun shines. So, there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a plethora of memories like this one, where I’m cocooning you in my arms, you’re holding a cup of cappuccino or your special coffee or cocoa with marshmallows…” He nuzzles my neck, causing me to giggle, “… and we’re enjoying the rainfall.”

“Yeah,” I say with a bit of nostalgia and melancholy. “That would be nice.”

I don’t know if we’ll ever find time to do that at home, but it’s nice that we’re doing it here, even though we’re being forced to wait out the rain. It’s calming and soothing. The sound of the water is something that I’ve always been drawn to. It makes everything right with the world it seems…

… Until several minutes later when the rain stops.

Having been cocooned in our contentment for an immeasurable amount of time, I totally forgot about the dueling sentinels waiting for us at the doorway, until we move towards the door and I see them standing in three separate parts of the lobby. Chuck is on one side with his back to everybody. Ben is on the other side in the stance, and I don’t know how long he’s been standing that way. Jason and Paci are in the middle, chatting about… whatever they’re chatting about. I sigh heavily and roll my eyes, and the gesture doesn’t get past Christian.

“Okay, that’s it,” Christian says, drawing all eyes to him as we enter the lobby. “Would either of you like to go back to the hotel?” Christian looks from Chuck to Ben who both look at him, but neither of them looks at each other.

“Christian…” I say.

“No,” he says. “I get it. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry I brought it up, but I did. I saw it and I said something about it. I don’t regret mentioning it, but I do regret the after affects because you already handled it and I should have left it as water under the bridge. What I’m not going to do is allow your sour moods to spoil our vacation. You want to brew over this, brew over it for a day, but do it at the hotel. Tomorrow, I expect the professionals that I brought to Italy with me. Now, which one of you wants to go back?”

“I’ll go,” Chuck says before Christian can get the rest of his words out of his mouth. “It’ll give me time to get packed and moved into the penthouse.” Christian nods and looks at Jason.

“Is it a big detour?” he asks. Jason shakes his head.

“With all the one-way streets, it’s on the way,” he replies.

The five-minute ride back to the hotel is full of silence so deafening that I just want to yell, “Make the lambs stop screaming.” But Christian’s right about one thing. We shouldn’t have to avoid or ignore them because they’re pissy with each other. Whatever they are or whatever we are, they’re our bodyguards, and this behavior can affect their jobs and is affecting my fucking mood.

Chuck nearly leaps out of the car when it stops at the hotel and Christian questions how he’s going to move into the penthouse without access. Jason assures him that for emergency purposes, the security staff has the code to the penthouse. Christian rolls his eyes.

“This shit is going to stop, because I’ve had enough of it… not now, but right now,” he declares. Jason sighs and pulls away from the hotel.

The silence this time is a little more comforting as I’m looking at the scenery of Rome. I settle into the warmth of Christian’s body as I watch the scenery go by.

“Where are we headed now?” I ask.

“We’re going to Altare Della Patria, also known as the Altar of The Fatherland. It’s actually the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, but it contains the Altar of The Fatherland, so the whole thing is referred to that way. It’s a beautiful site, very photo worthy. We’ll get a quick look around the inside from the front entrances for some pretty nice photo ops. There’s a museum on the side, but we’re going to skip that.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because there’s really nothing to see inside,” he says. “There are projections on the walls—movies and military propaganda and such, things about the history of Italy, but it’s all in Italian. You won’t understand a word of it. Besides, the Capitoline Museum is pretty much right next door and much more interesting.”

I nod and decide to let him lead me, as long as we don’t go to any more skeleton-filled crypts.

Once we park the car, we quickly make our way to the front of the monument. There’s a decorative fencing at the front stairs and the historical significance begins before you even ascend the stairs. The actual museum is outside here on full display. The stairs and terraces are full of what is obviously allegorical sculptures meant to relay a larger meaning, and of course, I start snapping away at all the imagery and magnificent works of art.

“So, tell me about the monument,” I say, still taking pictures of the gorgeous architecture and such. “Who’s Victor Emmanuel II and what did he do?”

“Victor Emmanuel was the first king of unified Italy,” he tells me. “He’s the guy on the horse in the bronze statue right there. The other two bronze statues on the propylaea up there on either side are the Quadriga of Unity and the Quadriga of Freedom, celebrating the unification of Italy and the freedom of the people. I know these sculptures all have historic or symbolic significance, but unfortunately, I’m not familiar with any of them except for the goddess Roma in the middle of the altar up there.”

“That’s okay,” I say, “If you knew too much of this stuff, I’d be wondering how you kept it all up there,” I add, pointing to his head. He chuckles.

“I do know that the monument is called by many names,” he says. “I don’t know all of them either, but I know that it’s been referred to as “Wedding Cake” or “The Giant Typewriter” because of the shape of the building.” I tilt my head to the side and squint a bit.

“I can see that,” I say. “It’s a little silly, though. It seems like it trivializes the meaning of the building.” He shrugs.

“People are funny,” he says. “Today it’s a monument. Tomorrow, it’s a strip mall.” I turn a disbelieving glare at him. God, I hope not.

“Cynical much?” I ask.

“Realistic,” he says. “The government is trying to repurpose this building as we speak. They feel like it’s old and it doesn’t represent Rome anymore. It’s a little more detailed than that, but that’s basically what it is.”

“That’s discouraging,” I say. Almost on cue, the rainstorm from earlier threatens again with a gentle rumble of thunder and a small mist of rain. I kick myself for not bringing an umbrella until I see Jason produce one from God only knows where and hands it to Christian. He gestures that he doesn’t need it and points to me. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll take pictures and hold an umbrella, but Jason solves that problem for me by holding it over me so that I can continue my photography. Ben produces an umbrella as well so that his lightweight leisure suit doesn’t become a wet T-shirt contest. Al, like my husband, opts for no umbrella.

The Altar of the Fatherland, symbolic centre of the Vittoriano, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Above the statue of goddess Roma is the equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, the first king of a unified ItalyThe sculptures and statues are beautiful, and the layout is completely asymmetrical, although a bit of a mishmash at times. If there are two statues on the right, there are two statues on the left. If there’s one statue on the right, there’s one statue on the left. They’re different concepts, but the number is still the same. The only time there isn’t symmetry is dead center, where Victor and his horse stand alone on his pedestal and Roma is alone on her altar, guarding the crypt of the unknown soldier. A laurel wreath leans against the wall and the entire display is guarded by two members of the militia in the shadow of two perpetually burning braziers.

To the right and left of the terrace before the altar are two fountains—both men lying in a position to face the stairs. I briefly wonder what their significance is but note one thing about them.

“Rome loves its fountains almost as much as it loves its churches, wouldn’t you say?” I say to Christian while taking a picture of the fountain on the right.

“You might be right about that,” he says. “They do seem to be everywhere, but the water is recycled, so we don’t have to worry about massive waste.”

“I imagine it must be,” I say. “I read something somewhere that said all or most of the fountains get their water from the same water source and it just keeps cycling.”

“Yeah, I think it’s something like that,” he replies.

I remain in awe of the amazingly beautiful statues, all symbolic representations of Rome. The floor of the terrace glistens with the rain and Jason dutifully holds the umbrella over my head as I continue to take pictures. There’s only a bit of a drizzle falling now, and Christian stands exposed in it. A sheen of water graces his face while his hair absorbs the moisture in the air and his curls become more defined by the second. I snap a picture of him from the side looking up at the structure and hope to God that he doesn’t catch his death standing out in the rain.

“I’ll be fine,” he says, as if reading my mind and still looking at the monument. “This is a warm day and it’s just a midst. I’ve done it a million times.”

“Mmm-hmm, then why am I under the umbrella?” I question.

“Because you’re taking pictures,” he replies, “but at any moment, feel free to indulge in the midst. You’ll be fine, too.” He turns to me, leans down, and gives me a tender kiss. Then, he looks back at the monument.

“You like this place,” I say, examining him.

“I do,” he replies. “It was the site of my first kiss.” I glare at him. What the fuck?

“I’m kidding,” he says. “The site of my first kiss was much less desirable, but you already know that.” He raises a brow at me and I nervously swipe my phone, making sure that all of my recent pictures are backed up to the cloud.

“This was the place that I decided I wouldn’t go back to college,” he says. “We came on vacation here that summer, and standing right about… there…” He points to the side of one of the braziers at the altar, “looking up at those columns is where I came to the decision that I didn’t need school to be successful. I waited until I was home from vacation to tell my parents, but they still weren’t happy about it.”

“What prompted the decision?” I ask. “I mean, at that particular moment.”

 “I don’t really know,” he says. “Look at the majesty of this place. There are a lot of majestic places in Rome, and they’re majestic for different reasons, but the sculptures here reach out and grab you. Look at the griffons here standing sentinel over the square, and the kissing statues up there. I never knew why she was kissing the guy, but he looks like he’s dead, lying on the back of this guy in chains. What could that possibly represent? Whatever it is, you know it’s profound.

“And look at this guy,” he says, pointing to another statue. “I’m not 100% sure what’s happening here but look at the agony in his face—he’s either in extreme pain, terrified, or both. The cracks and wear in the marble tell as much of a story as that horrified expression, and we don’t even know what’s really going on. Why is he holding on to a deliberately severed hand and what are these guys standing over him about to do? And how funny is it, and profound at the same time, that it’s raining and that guy’s cock…” He points to the naked man standing over the horrified man, “… has a drop of water right at the tip?”

I quickly turn to see what he’s talking about and, sure enough, some naked god or athlete or warrior or whatever he is, is posing with a single drop of water hanging from his dick.

“This presentation is so realistic; it makes you come face to face with yourself. The whole concept of ancient Rome and what these people did… and even this, which is not so ancient—it makes you feel small in this big world, but it makes you rethink your contribution and the path of your life. Why am I really here? What’s my purpose? What should I really be doing? Maybe it was Trastevere; maybe it was the Vatican; maybe it was the Pantheon; maybe it was this place, but nearly every great epiphany I’ve ever had, I had in Rome. It’s a place to find yourself because, like it or not, you’re slammed with history. If you come to Rome, and you don’t leave full and rich with knowledge, you’ve wasted your trip.”

I completely get what he’s saying. This place is swimming in history and if you don’t consume it, you’ll drown. This monument is a total and complete celebration of Italy’s unification, and I wonder if each of these mismatched-but-asymmetric statues are really some kind of representation of the coming together of the different regions, the various concepts that are all now part of a whole instead of pieces all their own…

And I’m wondering when I’ll have my great Roman epiphany. Will it happen this trip? A later trip? Will it even happen in Rome? Will it happen at all?

We climb the stairs and I take more shots of the Altar of the Fatherland and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and more pictures from the terrace of the equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II. I even capture a picture of one of the beautiful disks in the ceiling of the portico behind that gorgeous row of columns.

We head inside one of the doors of the two propylaea. I wander through the area and take a picture or two of the flags and such, but I quickly deduce that everything’s prettier on the outside.

“We’ve got one more thing for you to see,” he says as he leads me across the terrace to a small ticket booth and gives the cashier 20 euros for two tickets. Once security also have their tickets, we proceed to a large glass structure on the side of the building. I soon discover that it’s an elevator. We give the attendant our tickets, then board the elevator.

We travel up with an interesting view of a wall through the glass. Then we begin to see the lovely structure of the roof of the church next door. At least I think that’s what we’re looking at, but as the elevator rises, the city begins to come into view. It’s still a bit unclear because we’re in the elevator and it’s cloudy, but when we get to the top and the doors open…

“Oh my God,” I breathe in awe.

“Welcome to the Quadrighe Terrace,” Christian says, his voice low and somewhat reverent. “This is said to be the best view in Rome.”

There’s a complete 360-degree view of Rome from this spot. As this location is the center of Rome, you can see everything from up here—St. Peter’s Basilica, which honestly, you can see from just about anywhere in Rome; the Colosseum; a full and unfettered view of the Roman Forum; the Pantheon; the Palace of Justice. As corny as it sounds, it’s almost as if you can hear angels singing as a post-rain fog coats the city of Rome. Everybody up here must be having the same experience, because nobody’s talking. There are pictures being taken and blank stares of awe, but no talking.

I stand there silently for several minutes and enjoy the view from every direction. After a while, I finally locate my bearings in all the splendor and begin snapping several pictures of what may be a once in a lifetime moment, but I certainly hope not. There are even maps and descriptions near the railings that tell you what you’re looking at.

Afternoon is coming on pretty quickly as we begin to make our way over to Capitoline Hill. I thank Christian for bringing me to Victor Emmanuel II’s monument and for sharing his experience with me about his life-changing moment. I always wondered if he just thought, “I don’t want to be here anymore” when it came to college. I know part of the reason was that he wanted to be closer to that woman, but I knew that the pursuit of an ass whooping and a fuck wasn’t going to make him just throw away a Harvard degree.

“Please tell me we’re not about to climb those stairs,” I say, pointing to a flight of steps that would put any stair-climber to shame.

“No,” Christian chuckles, “I mean, not as steep, but probably as far. We’re going up there.”

He points to an incline of large steps leading up to a different building.

“Oh, those don’t look nearly as intimidating as these.” I say, pointing to the millions of stairs on the left between the monument we just left and our intended destination.

“What’s up there?” I ask out of curiosity.

“That unassuming building, my love, is the Santa Maria in Aracoeli. There are about 130 stairs there, I think, and inside is a beautiful church with mismatched columns, chandeliers, and floor covering, and an exquisite wood carving of a ceiling. There’s also a bejeweled Baby Jesus in there. It’s very curious inside, but I personally wouldn’t say it’s worth the 130 stairs. We can check it out if you want, but that’s the only way in and the only way out.” I shake my head.

“Um, no,” I say as I proceed to the stairs on the right… you know, the far less-intimidating ones.

“Tell me about this bejeweled Baby Jesus,” I ask. “What in the world is that? Jason, you don’t have to carry that thing anymore if you don’t want to.”

“Are you going to carry it?” he asks.

“No,” I say.

“Then, I’ll carry it,” he says.

“Jason, really. I’ll be fine,” I say. He’s as bad as Christian. In this case, worse. “Put the umbrella away.” He raises his brow and collapses the umbrella.

“Well, let me know if you need it,” he says.

“I will.” I turn back to Christian. “Bejeweled Baby Jesus?”

“It’s called The Santo Bambino,” he says and he pulls out his phone. “It’s only a copy. The original was stolen a while ago. The original was said to have been carved from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane and was supposed to have miraculous powers to heal the sick and to answer the prayers of children. It was often taken to hospitals to the bedside of terminally ill patients with the hopes of a recovery.”

“Did it work?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I don’t know. I never looked that far into it.” He hands me his phone and there I see a picture of the Santo Bambino. It’s definitely a baby, but it’s swaddled but standing straight up, decked out in a crown, a cross, and—like he said—lots of jewels. Knowing that Jesus was the son of a carpenter, born in a manger, and walked among the common man teaching and performing His miracles, I have a hard time reconciling this pimped-out kid with my long-time images of the Baby Jesus.

“I guess everyone has their own interpretation,” I say, handing him back his phone.

“Okay, so, Capitoline Hill,” he says as we continue our ascent. “The Capitoline Hill has been through many important transitions from ancient times to now, but too many to discuss on vacation. However, we’ll try to get to the really good stuff.” He winks at me and we proceed up the stairs.

“So that you have your bearings, remember that the Roman Forum is right behind this,” he says, mimicking pointing over this large building coming into view at the top of the hill. “The Tabularium is at the bottom of the hill back there.”

I make a mental note of where the Tabularium was when we visited the Forum and I now have a pretty good idea of where we are now in comparison. I nod for him to continue.

“Okay, crash course in 15 seconds…”

My brain immediately goes through a tunnel of sorts and comes up with the first crash course in 15 seconds that he ever gave me. It was when Elena showed up at his apartment and I introduced her forehead to a tangerine while wearing nothing but Christian’s shirt. It was funny, but any memory of the woman is unpleasant.

“Wait,” I say, before he continues, and I stop walking. “Are you about to share some intimate or unsettling details about this place and some ex or Elena or something like that?” He glares at me.

“Why in the hell would you think I would do something like that?” he asks. “I told you I was just kidding about the kiss at the Victor Emmanuel monument.”

“That’s not it at all,” I defend firmly. “Do you remember when you first introduced me to the crash course in 15 seconds?” His expression becomes quizzical and I can already see that he doesn’t.

“I didn’t know I ever had,” he replies. I raise my brows, tighten my lips, and nod.”

“Yep,” I say. “You said you didn’t want me to be ambushed by anything about to happen, hopefully nothing particularly vital or shocking, and that you would apologize now and explain later if necessary.” He does the contemplative Spock eyebrow.

“Yeah, that sounds like something I would say,” he replies.

“It’s not something that you would easily forget,” I counter, “especially since my first crash course was meeting Elena Lincoln wearing just your shirt, and my second crash course was when I met your parents and The Mothers and the Daughters.”

“Yikes!” he says, making that face where you tense your jaw and stretch your bottom lip. “What was the third?”

“Those were the only two… that I can remember,” I confess.

“Well, let’s hope we don’t have any more like that,” he comments. “Let me rephrase my introduction. I’m going to cover 2000 years of history in about 15 seconds… maybe 20…”

“Much better,” I say, and start walking again.

“This place went from a virgin execution to a refuge to a holy place and center of Roman government and back to the site of executions. The Temple of Jupiter use to stand on this hill and was the most important temple in ancient Rome. Part of the foundation for it is still in one of the museums. That brings us to Michelangelo and the 16th Century and what you’re going to see today.”

“More penises,” I declare as we get closer to the top of the cordonata.

“Excuse me?” Christian exclaims, and I point to the two naked men standing next to their horses and holding their reins flanking the stairs. Seriously, how did they do anything with their balls swinging all the damn time?

“Doesn’t it make you jealous that I’m seeing so much cock?” I jest.

“Baby, if that’s what ancient Roman men’s cocks look like, jealous is that last thing I feel. More like sympathy… for the Roman women!” I cackle loudly at his statement.

“I guess they couldn’t very well put men with erections in churches, museums, and public places,” I say. He shakes his head.

“I guess not,” he says, pointing to the statue closest to him, “but I don’t even look like that when I’m flaccid! How the hell did they piss?”

And I’m cackling again.

“Well, Christian,” I begin when I’ve composed myself and lower my voice, “I don’t think you’re the average man. I mean, granted, I haven’t seen many penises, but I can almost bet they’re not all hung like you.” He raises a brow at me.

“Well, yeah,” he says, flippantly, “but still… That damn thing looks like a belly button.”

And again, I’m cackling.

I catch my breath and my composure just as we make it to the top of the stairs and we’re standing in what I’m sure is a piazza with patterns in the ground, leading out from a statue of a man on a horse in the center of the piazza, and in this wildly oval-triangle-geometrical way, ending back in that same center.

“I detect a method to this madness,” I say aloud.

“You detect correctly,” Christian says. “This is Piazza del Campidoglio. Michelangelo had to basically design and rebuild this whole thing. It was facing the opposite direction, towards the Forum. So, he reoriented the square and the main building—the Palazzo del Senatore up there—so that it was facing the Christian center of Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica. The guy on the horse is Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his statue was named the greatest equestrian statue of antiquity.” He changes his voice to the phony announcer-guy voice when he says the last part, and it elicits another giggle from me.

“But that ain’t it,” he continues. “That’s a copy. The original is in the museum.

“With all his work on the design and orientation, it wasn’t finished when he died. The ascending road we just climbed wasn’t finished until sometime in the 17th century and the symbolic geometric paving in the 20th Century, completed by none other than Mussolini.”

“Damn, what took so long?” I ask.

“They had a lot of problems,” he replies. “The space wasn’t perfectly square. The sides were kind of at an angle, so the two buildings facing each other didn’t really face each other. And then you have to keep in mind that this whole plan was on a hill with deteriorating buildings already here. It wasn’t just a flat plot of land and he just had to plop down what he needed. No, this place needed work.

“That building on the right is the Palazzo dei Conservatori. It just needed renovation and a facelift. This one, the Palazzo Nuovo, wasn’t here at all. It had to be built from the ground up. Nonetheless, here they are, and these are the Capitoline Museums.”

“Great, let’s go inside!” I say, gleefully.

I asked for it… I got it. The Capitoline Museums are history overload. It gives you a thorough picture of life before the fall of Rome. Each building is divided in halls of with pieces related either by topic, era, material, or where they were found. This is one of those times where I am paying attention to some of the history, I’m just admiring the beauty of the pieces because it’s too much to absorb.

There are extravagantly coffered ceilings in nearly every room either containing hundreds of framed pictures or gold-painted 3D flowers. The Romans has a knack for capturing beauty. Since they copied the Greek’s high culture, they also imitated a lot of the Greek art. Their copies are nearly flawless.

We go out to the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori to see the pieces of the Colossal statue of Constantine and the nearly life-sized reliefs of the women that represented the provinces of the Roman Empire. Each relief has a different dress or uniform to represent each province.

Marcus Aurelius Exedra in the Palazzo dei Conservatori is where the original bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius is kept, along with some other gigantic bronze pieces of the Constantine Colossus. So… what were the big marble pieces in the courtyard if the bronze pieces are here?

There’s also a pretty violent sculpture of a lion biting a horse in this hall. I know it has some kind of symbolic meaning like the strength of Rome, but I think it’s a bit gruesome.

There are several large rocks in a subfloor portion of the room, and I discover that this is the remaining part of the foundation of the Temple of Jupiter. There’s a clear model of the original temple—I think it’s plexiglass—and it shows the remaining foundation in relation to where the temple was before.

I find the use of marble fascinating, especially colored marble. This is something that would probably cost my firstborn to get ahold of now, but in ancient Rome, it seemed to be everywhere. At the moment, I’m admiring a piece called Statue of a Drunken Faun. It’s made of red marble and the entire thing is as wine-colored as the grapes he’s holding—proof that the Roman love for good wine goes all the way back to the time before Christ.

We cover a lot of ground in both the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo, roaming through hall after hall of unbelievable fascinating works, discoveries, and architecture. For instance, most, if not all, of the pieces in The Great Salon of Palazzo Nuovo were found at Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, such as the Drunken Faun.

I’m again drawn to the male genitals—not that I ever left them—when I look at the statue of Venus and Mars. Mars, of course, is completely naked except for some headgear and Venus is fully dressed in a flowing gown so long that it partially needs to be draped across her arm.

I find the statue of the Capitoline Antinous very curious. He’s said to have been Emperor Hadrian’s lover, but his marble representation is a bit different than the others.

“This is supposed to be Hadrian’s lover?” I ask, pointing to the statue.

“So I’m told,” Christian confirms.

“And what’s the significance that his dick is completely gone?” I point out.

“I have no idea and you’re awfully fascinated with the concept of genitalia,” Christian teases.

“I have no choice it’s in my face!” I say all in one breath. And I hear Ben snicker behind me. At least I got him to laugh.

Continuing through the Capitoline Museum, we get to the Hall of Philosophers. It’s filled with stone portraits and busts of Greek and Roman philosophers and thinkers. The busts and portraits come from different people’s private collection, so there may be more than one representation of each person. For instance, there are three separate busts or stone portraits of Homer and, of course, my main guy Socrates.

Like the Hall of Philosophers, the Hall of Emperors is full of colored and white marble and alabaster portraits and busts of many of the emperors of Rome and a few other important people. The statue in the middle of the Hall of emperors is Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.

The Hall of the She Wolf contains the bronze statue of the Capitoline Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus and has amazingly dramatic ceilings and intricate mosaic floors.

There are thousands of other sculptures and paintings and mosaics to see, too many to name, but there are a few that are noteworthy, like the painting of St. John the Baptist, which looks more like a pubescent boy to me—naked, of course. Oh, and there’s Bernini’s Medusa. I didn’t expect to see him here. I didn’t not expect to see him; I just wasn’t looking for him—but here he is with his version of the snake-haired lady. She looks unhappy, but even so, her face looks a little ecstatic! What’s with this guy?

While Apollo Citharoedus is free willy as usually, Capitoline Venus is posing in that typical Venus Pudica way: Don’t look at my hoohah and get your eyes off my tits!

But, lo and behold, enter the Esquiline Venus!

“Oh my God, she’s naked and she’s not covering her boobs or her cooch!” I note.

“Well, her arms are gone, dear,” he points out.

“Yeah, but there’s no interruption in the marble like she ever was covering her boobs and her cooch. See? It’s smooth.” He stretches his lips and nods.

“Yep, there is that.” He chuckles. “Seeing this stuff through your eyes is like seeing it all fresh and brand new again.”

The Dying Gaul has a hall all his own, where he is the centerpiece, depicting a wounded Galatian and commemorating their defeat by yet another Roman emperor. We also briefly peruse the Capitoline Picture Gallery, another hall that holds a remarkable collection of paintings, including Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller.

In the Hall of the Doves, we find two micromosaics that look almost like painted pictures. One is called Doves, lending its name to the room, and the other is of two scenic faces. The woman is gape-mouthed and looks unpleasantly surprised while the man, also gape-mouthed, is smiling somewhat hideously. You can’t miss the resemblance of this mosaic to the original Greek drama masks.

In the middle of the room is a statue of a girl with a dove in her hands, trying to protect it from something behind her at her feet. Along the walls and in various display cases are several portraits and busts of apparently prominent figures as well as a fragment of a tablet and several bronze engraved tables.

Dear God, I’m mentally exhausted. There are so many halls designated for so many things that we’re not going to get through them all. You could spend an entire day in this place… and now I’m hungry, too.

“Okay, it is well past my lunch. It’s time for food,” I declare. Christian looks at his watch.

“I would say that you’re right, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “Enough of the museums?” I nod and sigh.

“Yes, dear, enough for now,” I say. “Feed me, I require sustenance.”


A/N: NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include Capuchin Crypt, Ara Pacis and Mausoleum of AugustusVictor Emmanuel II Monument, and Capitoline Hill. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued—Detailed: Episode 46—Ready? Fight! 

Warning—History ahead!

This is the DETAILED version of the chapter.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.

Episode 46—Ready? Fight!

CHRISTIAN

After Jason and Paci have their usual pre-destination confab, we’re on our way again, this time in pursuit of lunch. We decide on Sbanco since it’s great pizza and on our way to our next destination. It also allows us to sit down and take a load off for a while, the way Italians intend for us to enjoy lunch.

Once again, I have to place the order and pay before we’re seated. There are six of us and we’re not going to be seated at separate tables—that’s just the way it is at some of the restaurants in Rome. So, once everyone has perused the menu and decided what will be had, I add my touches to the meal and hand over my credit card.

“Dear God, these one-way streets can be murder,” Butterfly points out when we’re seated. “How do you keep them sorted?” she asks Paci.

“I have lived here my entire life,” he replies. “I just… know where to go now.” She looks at Jason.

“It’s my job,” he says. “I just follow the maps… meticulously! If I don’t, we’ll be trying to go to Trastevere and end up in Villa Borghese.”

Lawrence and Paci laugh knowingly while Chuck just shrugs and shakes his head. Butterfly does the hand gesture of the whole thing going right over her head.

I’ve ordered a variety of appetizers. Supplì with Ragù della Domenica—fried rice balls with beef ragout, sautéed tomato and basil; crocchetta di patate—potato croquettes with parsley, nutmeg and parmesan; crocchetta di patate e Nduja—more potato croquettes with Calabrian nduja, parmesan, mozzarella, and oregano; spicy Carriage Mozzarella—fried mozzarella sticks and nduja; and battered fillet of cod.

Butterfly makes a point to chat up security during lunch, most likely because it’s just her way to do that, but also because she’s probably still emotionally weighted from the experience as Scala Santa. She knows just about everything there is to know about Jason and Chuck, so she sets in on getting to know Lawrence and Paci.

“So, Ben, I’ve known you for years and I know nothing about you. You guard my house and sometimes me, for goodness sake. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Have you always done security? Do you have family?”

Lawrence clears his throat and swallows his potato croquette before speaking.

“Well,” he begins. “I grew up in Wichita, KS—part of the Bible Belt. People will argue that it may or may not have been part of the belt, but have you ever seen the movie Footloose?”

Butterfly nods while munching on mozzarella sticks.

“Where we lived was exactly like that. My parents are there; my grandparents are there… I think my great-grandparents are buried there. It was okay when I was a kid, but once I got to be a teenager, I couldn’t breathe. I knew there was more out there to see and do, and I knew my parents were never going to let me do it. I couldn’t wait until I turned 18 and joined the army. My parents thought it would be bootcamp and then the reserves. I let them think that until I left for bootcamp. Otherwise, they might have tied me up in the basement!”

Chuck covers his mouth and laughs, but Butterfly is not amused.

“You’re kidding, right?” she asks, a bit horrified. Lawrence nods.

“Yeah, I’m kidding, but it was about that crucial that I get out of there,” he says. “I did basic training in Kansas City, active at Leavenworth for a few years. Then, there was a short spell at Fort Detrick in Maryland—very short, because the chance came up to go to Vincenza to Caserma Ederle and then Darby. Italy? And they pay me? Where do I sign up?” Butterfly laughs.

“So, how did you end up in Seattle?” Butterfly asks.

“I did eight years here, a tour in Iraq, and then I missed the States. Plus, I had a relationship go terribly sour in Pisa and I wanted to put some distance between me and the country. Geographical cure if you will. I put my feelers out for jobs—police force, private security—and the best assignments seemed to be in Washington. I did a couple of private gigs for a couple of years and then Jason called. We had been stationed together oversees for about a year before he went to Iraq. By the time I went to Iraq, I didn’t know where he was. He found out that I was in Seattle—probably through Alex—and here I am.”

“You knew Alex, too?” Butterfly asks. Lawrence raises a brow at her.

“Do you need to know Alex for Alex to find you?” We all laugh at that except Paci, who has no idea what we’re talking about.

“Oops, my bad,” Butterfly says. “So, what about a significant other?” Lawrence shakes his head.

“I had a girlfriend for about a year,” he says, “Keisha… it didn’t work out.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Butterfly says. He shrugs.

“It happens,” he says, noncommittal. Now, Butterfly turns her attention to Paci.

“What about you, Al?” she asks. “Do you mind sharing your story?”

Paci looks at me and I’m just looking back at him. He looks at Jason, who’s giving him the same expectant look. He finishes chewing his food.

“Nothing so glamorous as Mr. Lawrence,” he says. “Born and raised in Italy—L’Aquila to be exact. This is home, nothing out of the ordinary for me. When I was a child, I had always wanted to be part of the Swiss Guard, but… they’re Swiss, so…” he trails off with a shrug. 

“I joined the Italian army and was stationed here in Rome. I have seen no active service wartime action, but I am trained in many special services for the army, including heavy artillery, combat vehicles, and sniper.”

Okay, I’m impressed.

“I did not want to be a part of the Italian polizia after the army, so I am part of private security. It pays better and puts better use to my skills,” he says.

“What about a significant other?” Butterfly presses.

“I never had the time,” Paci admits. “There have been a few who… well, I just never had the time.” He takes a large bite of battered cod.

“Is being a bodyguard generally a lonely life?” she asks no one in particular, taking a bite of another rice ball. They all look at each other.

“It depends,” Lawrence says. “It’s demanding. There’s no ‘9 to 5’ about it. Anyone who chooses to be with you would have to understand that, and not a lot of women do. Nobody wants to feel ignored or neglected, so when duty calls, it can be a problem. You don’t get to call in sick unless you’re damn near dead. Finding someone to take your spot in an emergency can be impossible—you make a choice. You decide that this is what you want to do, and then you adapt.

“J and Chuck are in an unusually enviable position. They both have a spouse or significant other that works for the same employer. They see each other all the time except for moments like this when they’re separated by an ocean. Guys like me, we don’t necessarily get to have regular relationships. Unless we’re dead, we usually have relations, but nothing long-term.

“Think about how many celebrities have dated their bodyguards,” he continues. “It’s because they spend so much time together, that’s the only relationship they can afford themselves. Imagine being out on a romantic date—with a civilian—and you get called in due to an emergency. That happens one time too many—and it will—and you’re single again. Arrangements are easier as long as they understand. No grandkids on the horizon, but…” He trails off and just shrugs. She looks over at Paci who twists his lips and nods.

“That’s why Shalane would tell you we split up, but I tend to believe that it’s because she’s just a selfish, raging bitch,” Jason says matter-of-factly. I tend to agree with him.

“It might have been a combination of both,” he continues, “but all evidence points to the latter.”

“Indeed,” Butterfly says. “I know that she must have been at some time for you to love her, marry her, and produce a child with her, but I have a hard time seeing the human in her.”

“In her defense—I can’t believe I’m saying that—she wasn’t always like this. I think me coming home from active duty just flipped her bitch-switch. I have some other theories, but that time is gone now.” I get the feeling that Jason is desperate to get the spotlight off him.

“How about you, Chuck?” I interject. “Any deep, dark secrets you haven’t shared with us yet?” He raises his eyes to an expectant group

“Not really,” he says, with a mouth full of potato croquette. He takes a drink of his soda to wash it down before he starts to speak again. “You’ve heard my story—recovering alcoholic; lunatic brother who kept me away from my family for over a decade. There’s never even really been a significant other until now. Like Ben said, there’ve been arrangements, but nothing exclusive or etched in stone. I was screwed up enough without having to be responsible for someone else’s heart.”

“And along comes Keri,” Butterfly says. Chuck sighs.

“Yes… along comes Keri,” he says, longing dripping from his voice. “I never thought I’d end up with a black woman. I don’t have anything against black women, I never did. I just didn’t consider the possibility of ending up with one. Hell, if I’m honest, I never considered the possibility of ending up with anybody.

“Your woman,” Paci says, “she is black?” Chuck nods and takes out his phone. He swipes it once and shows it to Paci. I assume Keri is his screensaver like Butterfly is mine.

“She is beautiful,” Paci says looking at the phone.

“Yeah,” Chuck says. “That’s my Island Girl. She had me at ‘hello,’ from the first moment I laid my eyes on her.”

I look over at Lawrence and he’s very attentive to his food, pushing food around with his fingers without taking anything from his plate. He seriously looks like he would rather be anywhere else but here at this moment. What the hell?

“Our story is unusual and unexpected. I met her in Anguilla at a party. She asked me to dance and we just hit it off—like I knew her all my life. We spent time together while I was there and neither of us had any expectations. I just felt lucky to be spending my time with a beautiful girl. I knew then that it was more than that, I just didn’t want to admit it. I went back to the States, she went back to her life, and that was that. We talked a lot on the phone, on social media, got to know each other very well… And then I almost died.”

“Che cosa?” Paci says. Chuck raises his brow. “From loving a woman?”

“Um… no,” Chuck says, almost amused. “I was in a car accident—a very bad one.”

“He saved my life,” Butterfly points out. Paci looks from her to Chuck.

“Mamma mia!” he exclaims.

“Yeah,” Chuck says, “my sentiments exactly. But Keri was there. She was there for the entire rehabilitation. She dropped her whole life in Anguilla and came to the States to nurse me back to health. I don’t think I would have made it if it wasn’t for her.”

“Wow,” Paci says, and Lawrence whispers something to Jason and leaves the table. “I can see why you are so fond of her.” He gives the phone back to Chuck.

“How could I not love her?” Chuck says, swiping his screen again, and I can only imagine that Lawrence has gone to barf his food, because he looks like he was turning green at the tale. I don’t know if he was green with illness… or envy.

Whichever it was, he quickly regains his appetite when the pizza arrives. We have each ordered a different pizza as each pizza is meant to be eaten by one person. We got that kind of side-eyed “are you crazy” look when we asked for the pizzas to be sliced as that’s not how they’re usually served in the “homeland,” but we’re tourists, so they accommodated us.

The six of us share six decadent pizzas:

Diavola—tomato, fior di latte, and ventricina.

Margherita con Bufala—tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Patate e Pancetta—fior di latte, potatoes, and bacon.

Funghi e Salsiccia—fior di latte, champignon mushrooms, and sausage.

Cacio con le Pere—fior di latte, gorgonzola, pecorino, and pears

Fumo—smoked provolone and speck.

For dessert, we all share servings of ravioli fritti di ricotta e cioccolato and cheesecake ai frutti di bosco, which are fried ravioli with ricotta and chocolate with mascarpone cream and cocoa and cheesecake with biscotto, butter, and fruit compote. Espresso flows freely and Butterfly and I also enjoy a glass of wine.

At least two hours pass while we have lunch and drink and talk aimlessly about life and Rome. Lawrence attempts to be unaffected, but anytime any conversation rolls around to Keri, or at this point, even relationships in general, he becomes noticeably uncomfortable and reserved and, at times, seemingly irritated. He’s hot for Keri, and he can’t even hide it. What’s more is that no one else at the table even seems to notice it. For fuck’s sake!

After our lunch has digested well and everyone has taken a much-needed restroom break—Lawrence, about four by now—we’re back on our Vespas and headed to our final destination, with one pit stop on the way. We park our bikes along the side of the road and I gesture to the large structure across the street.

Aurelian Wall “You couldn’t really see it on the north end because we were inside at the Piazza di Popolo and you could only see the northern gate, but this is a better perspective of the Aurelian Walls,” I say. “At first, the Servian Wall encompassed the Seven Hills and what was originally Rome in the 4th Century B.C. Of course, Rome expanded and along came the Aurelian Wall. The Servian Wall is mostly destroyed now, but they are fragments still around.”

“So… there’s really a wall around Rome,” she says.

“There’s really a wall around Rome,” I reply.

“Is the entire Aurelian Wall still intact?” Butterfly asks as she snaps pictures of the south tower on Viale di Porta Ardeatina.

“Yes,” I nod. “Rome itself has expanded outside the walls, of course, but when they were built in the 3rd Century, this was effectively the borders of Rome. Even then, the wall cut through some populated areas, but it was mostly built to protect the most vulnerable parts of the city from the ‘hit-and-run’ attacks of the barbarians.”

“Was it affective?” she asks.

“For the hit-and-run attacks, yeah. For prolonged attacks, not so much. Constant riots, uprisings, and attacks depleted Rome’s militia. A wall is a great defense… if you have someone there to defend it.”

We leave the Vespas with security and run across the street to get a closer look and better pictures of the wall, gate, and tower.

“That would be a trip to see,” she says, “to walk around the entire Aurelian Wall.”

“It would be quite the feat, too,” I tell her. “It’s 12 miles long. There are 18 main gates and 5 hidden gates, hundreds of latrines, and thousands of defensive battlements. There are also some buildings incorporated into the wall.”

“Latrines? Bathrooms?” she asks, pausing her pictures of the wall.

“Yes, soldiers had to pee, too,” I reply.

“Asshole,” she says taking more pictures. “So, this is kind of like the Great Wall of China,” she asks.

“Of sorts, yes, but no. China’s wall served a lot of purposes—defense, control of import/export and immigration, and even as a transportation corridor. Its military significance and effectiveness far outweighed the Aurelian Walls and its construction—or at least the beginning of it—dates back three centuries before the Aurelian Wall even got started.”

“How do you even know all that?” she asks. “It’s not like this is cocktail conversation at one of your red-carpet affairs… which we haven’t been to many since we’ve been married,” she observes.

“That’s because they’re usually something very boring and I would much rather spend my time with you, but if you’re hankering for red-carpet events, I can find us a few.”

“Not necessarily,” she says, taking more pictures of different angles of the towers and gates. “I was just making a useless observation.” I raise my brow but continue with my explanation.

“To answer your question, when I first learned about the existence of the Aurelian Walls, I was curious just like you, and that’s why I did research and comparison with the Great Wall of China. It’s not that hard to find information on both and I didn’t have to spend hours researching to get a general idea of the differences and similarities. I’m already fascinated with Italy—particularly Rome—as you can see, so it was only a matter of filling in the blanks with the information that I needed about the Great Wall.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me about your fascination with Rome?” she asks, pausing her photography to look at me.

“It never came up,” I reply, “but I knew it would eventually. I knew it would bring you here one day. It’s one of the reasons I bought you the villa. You can’t come to Italy and just spend a week here. I feel sorry for the poor suckers who are limited to that amount of time. We’re spending a week in Rome and we still won’t see nearly everything we could, but more than a week in Rome would be history overload. Nonetheless, I can live out of a hotel and see everything I need to see from Sicily to the borders of Switzerland, but that’s no way to enjoy it with a wife… and a family.

“We used to stay in these little Agri turismos in Tuscany and I really loved them. You’ll see what I’m talking about. We’re staying in one when we get further north, but you can’t stay in those indefinitely. They’re quaint and they’re beautiful, and the landscape is amazing, but Italian bedrooms overall are pretty small. You sleep in them and you get out!”

“Yeah, I learned that while decorating the villa,” she says, taking more pictures of the wall. “I wish I had a real camera,” she laments, “but I think it would have been too cumbersome, and I wouldn’t be able to store my pictures on the cloud as easily.”

I briefly play with the idea of buying her a camera and a neck strap while we’re here, but she’s right. She takes so many pictures that she would fill a hundred memory cards a day, even the high capacity ones.

“I’ve gotten distracted again,” I say. “Long story short, the Aurelian Walls were pretty useful until Rome’s fall. Once again, constant attacks and less militia to defend the territory. The wall remained a part of Rome’s defense after that until the capture of Rome and Italian unification in the 19th century, but its only 12 miles long and nowhere near as sophisticated and effective as the Great Wall of China, which is actually a series of walls more than 13,000 miles long collectively.”

“But the concept is the same…” she argues.

“Not even, baby,” I tell her. “If you’re saying that the concept was the same in the fact that they were both walls, yes, but that’s about where the similarities end.”

“Well, I think it’s fascinating,” she says taking more pictures of the battlements and the gate. “A wall built around what was then the entire city of Rome. We always hear about the Great Wall of China, but never the Great Wall of Rome. I never knew!”

I’ll let her bask in her fascination but comparing the Great Wall to the Aurelian Wall is like comparing White House to a dollhouse. Maybe not as drastic, but… yeah.

“I just don’t know how I didn’t know all this,” she says, still snapping pictures. “I know I shouldn’t know everything about every country, but Italy… home of the Renaissance movement, birthplace of Western civilization, how do I not know this? The rise and fall took a whole thousand years. I thought it was a couple of decades. How could I be so off?”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I tell her. “I’ve been here five or six times, maybe seven, I’ve lost count. I’ve learned a lot over those trips. You will, too. We’ve got a villa here, now. We can come whenever we want.” She smiles.

“That sounds nice,” she says. I return her smile.

“I’m glad you approve.”

A few more miles down the road that leads from the Aurelian Wall and we arrive at our afternoon destination. Butterfly looks skeptically at the non-distinct buildings in a grafitti-clad area of the city.

“Where are we?” she asks as we turn th Vespas off.

“Gladiator School,” I tell her. Her face lights up.

“Seriously?” she says.

“Seriously. Come on, you’ll get to see me conquer some poor suckers in here.” I take her hand and lead her to the “school.” There are several children gathered to take the class. Well, I have no intention of beating up on some kid.

“Why didn’t you sign me up for the class, too?” she asks as we come closer to the gate. I raise my brow at her.

“For Gladiator School?” I ask incredulously.

“Yes, for Gladiator School,” she says, mocking my tone. “I’ll have you know that there were female gladiators in ancient Rome, Mr. Grey,” she declares.

Female Gladiator

“There were not!” I retort emphatically.

“There most certainly were,” she counters. “How can you know so much about Rome and not know that?”

Because I never visited the Colosseum before you…

“There weren’t many of them, but there were females. They battled each other, they were considered exotic entertainment, and they fought topless with the same weapons and equipment as the men,” she informs me. I twist my lips.

“Is that so?” I inquire, unconvinced.

“Yes, that’s so,” she says. “There was no gladiator school for females, so they were trained privately. They referred to them as gladiatrix.”

“Ah, I see. And where, pray tell, did you hear that?” I ask, somewhat amused.

“I told you, I did some research before we got here. I know what I’m talking about.” I purse my lips and nod.

“Yeah, okay.” I turn to the host. “Christian Grey,” I say. He looks at his list.

“Avē, Mr. Grey. I am Drusus. I will be your trainer and guide. Will your wife be a spectator?” he asks.

“No,” Butterfly says, and when I turn to look at her, she glares at me and walks away.

“Butterfly…” I call after her, but she keeps walking. I gesture to Chuck to follow her in case she decides to run off and wander the streets of Rome. I’m not going to feed into her petulant behavior just because I don’t believe there were female gladiators. This sport is grueling and deadly, and I don’t see ancient Rome getting any kicks out of watching the ladies play with knives. Mud fights, maybe, yeah, but gladiators? No. I’ll Google it later.

“Lead the way,” I say to Drusus.

Our instruction begins with the Gladiator Museum. Drusus shows us the gladiator armor—the shields, the wild swords, the breastplates, and the various assortment of helmets. The gladiator’s helmet was much different than the knight’s helmet or even the spartan helmet, although some Romans may have worn the spartan helmets during the chariot races. While the knight’s helmet only kept in the museum for comparison purposes often had a visor that came down to shield the face, the gladiator’s helmet—when they were allowed or required to wear one—was usually made of bronze or heavy steel and covered the whole face.

Traditional Gladiator Helmet--one variationI try one on. It obstructs my vision terribly and it’s extremely heavy. Yeah, I can totally see a girl wearing this… not!

The swords are even cooler. Some of them are long and slender, like you would expect a sword to be, but the most traditional ones are bulky, heavy, and fat with wide blades. Some of them have long, slender handles and others have wide handles with finger grips. All of them have balls on the ends of the handles, and Drusus tells me that the balls help keep the swords from slipping from the gladiator’s grip. I test the weight of one in my hands and some of the children are awestruck as I demonstrate a parry or two.

My little demonstration is pretty stylish, like Zorro. I’m informed that the gladiators definitely wouldn’t have been fighting this way. The sword is an extension of the fist and the attacks are hard and brutal. There’s even a curved sword that allows for the skilled attacker to get a hit even over the opponent’s shield. 

It’s kind of cute to see the kids trying on armor that’s five sizes too big. They’re taking pictures and the armor is holding them up as opposed to them holding up the armor. One of the large shields is actually bigger than the kid holding it. Butterfly’s going to hate that she missed that. It’s really adorable.

Before we go into any training, we have to go through an obstacle course. It’s nothing particularly strenuous, just some agility and maneuvering exercises, for the most part—avoiding some swinging sacks and rolling around in the sand a bit. The kids are having a great time and I have to admit that I’m enjoying watching them. There are a few men in the class with us—college kids and one guy who looks like he could be my age, but it’s mostly little boys from about seven to 14.

After the education in the museum, the tour of the grounds and the introduction to authentic gladiator equipment, and a few rounds on the obstacle course—all of which took about an hour—we’re finally able to start training and we’re each given a wooden sword. Drusus shows us all how to execute various strikes and defenses with and without a shield, and 15 minutes later, we’re sparring with our partners.

It starts out slow at first, but Drusus watches us closely and then pairs us up according to skill to spar some more. The kids are having the most fun, but I appear to have a young college kid who just wants to play a lot. It’s funny to watch him dance around the “ring” trying to get a hit in, but I just wore him out by letting him swing… and swing… and swing… and blocking his attacks. He had a great time, and I had fun watching him.

We’re now in the makeshift arena and the small crowd of spectators are watching our sparring. Butterfly must have really decided to do something else because I don’t see her in the spectators. I really wanted us to share this. I thought it would be fun for us both even if she was just watching. I almost feel guilty admitting that I’m still having fun without her, but it is what it is.

Drusus pairs us again for an actual match. We watch the boys fight first. Some of them show some great form while others are just wildly swinging their weapons. One kid accidentally whacked his opponent in the family jewels and, needless to say, the match was over.

I pair up and spar with my “Bill and Ted” partner again. After blocking all his previous hits for 10 straight minutes, I know all his moves… and he seems to think he knows mine. Let’s just say that had this been a real fight, he would have been sliced, diced, and dragged out through the Gate of Death.

When each of us have sparred and the victors have been determined, Drusus makes an announcement.

“As was the custom in ancient Rome, lanistas would often make wagers on their strongest gladiators. Lanista Titus has challenged me to such a wager. Who should I choose to represent my familia gladiatorium?”

The crowd chants various names, but my alias is the most prevalent.

“Shall it be Caeso?” Drusus asks, and the crowd cheers enthusiastically.

“Caeso, step forth.” He dresses me in this cloth arm guard and gives me a “shield” and a “sword,” which are nothing more than a round piece of wood and a wooden stick shaped like a sword with a ball on the top. When Lanista Titus enters the arena with his strongest gladiator, I just laugh to myself. Who is this pipsqueak he has me going up against? This little guy is wearing a breastplate and a helmet—a real breastplate and a helmet! The armor is clearly bigger than he is. That huge ass breastplate comes all the way down to his mid-thigh. Are they trying to make an example of some kid or something?

“This is his strongest gladiator?” I ask Titus. He looks at me and chuckles.

“Sometimes strength isn’t in size, but we’ll see,” he says, his voice laced with mirth. The closer this guy gets, the guiltier I feel. I’m going to slaughter this kid…

Except…

The closer this guy gets, the more familiar he looks. I’d know those goddamn legs anywhere even if I didn’t recognize the shoes.

“You can’t be serious,” I say to myself. Sure enough, Titus and his gladiator come closer as Drusus draws a circle in the sand.

“This is the circle of death,” Drusus says. “Lanista Titus, present your gladiator.”

He doesn’t have to present her. Before she removes that ridiculous helmet, I already know it’s my wife under that thing. The crowd gasps and some of them laugh as Titus introduces his gladiator, Annius Donicus. Drusus stifles a scoffing chuckle when he recognizes my wife, but he gives me one last chance to back down.

“Caeso, do you accept?” he says, his voice still laced with mirth. I raise an eyebrow at my wife, a smile playing at the corners of my lips.

“I accept,” I say coolly. She returns my gaze with a raised brow and a smirk of her own.

“Annius Donicus, do you accept?” Titus asks.

“I accept,” she says confidently, handing her helmet to Titus then removing the ridiculous breastplate and doing the same thing. Underneath, she’s wearing the same tunic I am over her yoga pants and probably just her bra. She’s covered up enough. She walks over to the circle of death and takes her stance. I stroll over to the circle, still not believing that she’s actually doing this.

“Get ready!” Drusus says.

“I’m not going to go easy on you,” I warn my wife.

“Gladiators! Fight!” Drusus commands.

“Good!” she says. She brings her weapon up and goes straight for my head. I block her attack with the defensive moves that Drusus taught me. She’s right behind it with a neck strike, but I defend again. A stomach and leg strike follow and again I defend. By the time she’s back up to the head, she’s making these fierce battle cries with each strike like Serena Williams. At first, I try not to laugh, until I realize that I’m working up a fucking sweat here!

I decide to alter one of my defensive moves to be offensive and she sees me coming a mile away, but now, she’s on the defense. I attack lightly at first until I realize that this is no ordinary girl I’m fighting. With each one of my advances, she defends so strongly that it could be an attack.

Alright, Butterfly. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get!

I advance full on with attack after attack. She’s defending wildly, avoiding getting hit by my sword. Just when I think I’m getting the upper hand, the battle cries begin again and she attacks aggressively, tagging me once in the side. I wince a bit, because the sticks aren’t really heavy enough to hurt, but everybody knows I got hit—and the crowd goes wild.

“She got him! Did you see that?”
“She tagged him! I can’t believe she tagged him!”
“Quella ragazza ha avuto un colpo su quel grande uomo!”

Cheers and cries of disbelief fill the tiny field, but Butterfly doesn’t let it affect her concentration. She’s circling me like a vulture, looking to get her next hit. Circling me! I’m the Dominant here. How is she circling me?

The moment I turn to face her, she lunges at my abdomen. I leap back and defend, knocking her “sword” out of her hand, but not before she has tagged me again.

Dammit, but now I’ve disarmed her. Yes!

I attempt to take advantage of the situation by attacking while she’s unarmed and what does she do? She blocks my attack with her shield, does a full-frontal roll over to her weapon and ends up back on her feet, facing off with me.

And she’s armed again.

The crowd is untamed, cheering, jeering, and even catcalling at my little wife, her tunic and hair covered in dust as she challenges me like a wild animal. Fuck, I better step up my game here; this is getting to be embarrassing!

I now use controlled hits and blocks like Drusus taught me, lunges and swings, anything to get a hit in on this woman. We have long since breached the circle in the sand, but our “fight” has the crowd riled to a fevered frenzy, so we just keep going.

At one point, we end up with our swords and shields locked, and I’m only too sure that my strength will help me, but no.

She wiggles out of my grasp and out of my way, causing me to clumsily shuffle by her. She smacks me hard on the ass with the side of her “sword” as I pass her. Ow, that’s smarts!

“Caeso!” someone from the crowd calls. “Get it together, man! She would have killed you three times by now!”

And my humiliation is complete.

I stand up straight, and I’m determined to get one hit in on her—just one, so I won’t be a total failure. As I go in for a lunge, she does one of the most elementary moves, sweeping my feet and pushing my chest backwards—hard. Frustrated that I couldn’t even get a hit in on her, I haven’t centered my weight. I’m just trying to get a strike. She has taken advantage of it and has knocked me flat on my back—and my ass—with a loud, dust-raising thud. Before I can recover, she’s standing over me with her wooden sword aimed at my neck.

Female Gladiator

“One of the first reliefs depicting female gladiators was found in a small ancient Greek city—now located in Turkey. Females were banned from fighting sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century, but they did fight… and they did win!”

Son of a bitch—I got beat by a girl!

“I think we can call it, Drusus, don’t you?” Titus taunts victoriously. Drusus looks at me and I lay my head and arms on the ground, defeated.

“The winner—Annius Donicus!”

Titus lifts his champion’s arm and the crowd cheers madly. She raises her sword in victory and basks in her glory. Drusus walks over to me shaking his head.

“You fought well, but not well enough,” he says. “Did you two stage this?” I roll my eyes.

“I wish I had,” I reply, a bit forlorn. “I’ll never live this down.” Drusus chuckles.

“Being a gladiator is about strength and courage,” he says. “You have to be fearless.” He looks at my wife soaking up the cheers of her victory.

“She has all of those… and speed. She’s David to your Goliath. You didn’t stand a chance.” He chuckles again and pats me on my shoulder before leaving me to sulk in my defeat. She made an example of me in front of a crowd because I didn’t believe her about female gladiators!

As she’s making her final victory lap to the adoring crowd, I snatch her up just as she passes me. With one hand planted firmly at the nape of her neck and the other shamelessly supporting her weight by her ass, I thrust my tongue in her mouth in a passionate and graphic public display of affection. I know there are children here, but I’ve seen it on the street—in the piazzas, on the sidewalks, every time I’ve come to Rome. Get used to it, kids!

The crowd whoops and cheers as she wraps her legs around me and thrusts her hands into my hair, returning my fervor. Hell, I’m just congratulating the winner.

“I let you win,” I lie when our lips part.

“Sure, you did,” she replies, completely unconvinced.

“I’m going to fuck the shit out of you when we get back to the hotel.”

“Promises, promises,” she taunts.

*-*

Back at the hotel, we’re justifiably worn out from the day’s events, so we order room service and have our aperitivo and meal on the terrace overlooking the stunning view of Rome. Once the meal is over, my mind can’t help but wander back to lunch and Lawrence’s near visceral reactions to conversations that centered around Keri. There’s obviously something going on there, but is it one-sided? Is this just on Lawrence’s side or is Keri reciprocating these feelings at all? He just seems to be a bit too invested for this to be just a one-sided crush.

“I have a question for you,” I ask my wife as we sip our after-dinner drinks.

“What is it?”

“Do you think Keri is faithful to Chuck?” I ask. She furrows her brow at me.

“Keri adores Chuck. Why would you ask that?” she asks, a bit horrified. I shake my head.

“It’s just… Lawrence,” I admit. Her brows rise.

“What happened?” she says. I examine her for a moment.

“You already know!” I say, surprised.

“Christian, what happened?” she repeats.

“Oh, nothing,” I say, a bit perturbed. “It’s just while Chuck was sitting there singing the praises of the love of his life, Lawrence was about as comfortable with the conversation as someone getting a root canal!” I’m furious! This man is over here agonizing over the time and space between him and this woman and she’s messing around with Lawrence?

“First of all, Sherlock,” she says, “watch your tone. I didn’t do anything wrong, and yes, I’m aware that Ben once looked at Keri with lustful eyes, but to my knowledge, she hasn’t reciprocated. And I checked Ben when I saw it—I thought he was over it by now.”

“Elaborate,” I say, so angry that I can feel the hairs standing up on my neck. She folds her arms.

“Keri was doing yoga on the patio. Ben was watching her and it was obvious that he wanted her. I caught him gawking at her and checked him on it, hard.”

Apparently, not hard enough.

“When did this happen?” I ask. She sighs.

“Back when they moved in… right after the accident.” The fuck…?

“What?” I exclaim. “That’s more than a year!”

“Yeah, well, Keri’s not cheating on Chuck!” she defends. That we know of, I think to myself. Is this why she won’t marry him?

“Somebody needs to tell Chuck about this,” I declare.

“Why?” she whines. “They’re friends and colleagues. This is only going to drive a wedge between them! Like you said, it was a year ago!”

“Lawrence still has feelings for her!” I point out. “It was written all over him!”

“You want to bring this up now?” she asks. “We’re thousands of miles away from home; he can’t get to Keri; and they’re sleeping in the same hotel room!”

I put my hands on my hips. I don’t know what to say here because I think he needs to know.

“Fine,” she says, in that pouting, brooding, pissed-off way. “If you think he should know, then you tell him. You tell him what you saw. I’m going to take a bath.”

She stands from the table and marches out of the room and back towards the bathroom. I’m at a crossroads here. I rarely get involved in other people’s relationships unless they invite my opinion. I even less get involved in the relationships of my staff… but Chuck is more than staff. He’s family, and if this were me and someone had this kind of information, I would want to know. Hell, I’m getting fired up sitting here thinking about Westwick being all hot under the collar for my wife and how everything that happened could have been prevented if I had only known.

I hear the water running in the bathtub and I make my decision.

“Sir?” Jason says when he opens the door to the suite right below ours. “Is everything alright?”

“Um, yeah… Where’s Chuck?” I ask.

“Hey, Chuck?” Jason calls out. Chuck comes out of one of the bedrooms in the back of the suite.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he sees me.

“Yeah… can I talk to you? Somewhere private?” I say.

“Am I fired?” he asks, and I cock my head incredulously and twist my lips at him.

“You never come to our suite, sir,” he says.

“Knock off the sir. I need to talk to you,” I reply. He gestures me towards the terrace. Jason is looking curiously at us, but rightfully doesn’t follow us.

“What’s up?” He asks when we’re out on the terrace.

“You know you’re family to me, and you know I really like Keri. Do you have any reason to feel that she’s being unfaithful to you?” His gaze goes from concerned to serious.

“None,” he says, firmly, “and what’s this about?”

“When you were talking today,” I continue, “about your relationship and your feelings for her, Lawrence wanted to be anywhere else but at that table. I feel like that kid in the schoolyard trying to instigate a fight between two other kids, but if it were me, I would want somebody to tell me.”

“Oh, that,” Chuck says, visibly breathing a sigh of relief. I’m more than a bit taken aback.

“You know?” I ask.

“Of course, I know,” he replies.

“How long have you known?”

“Since I brought her back from Anguilla,” he says. “Ben was a bit too happy to see her. About a week after she got here, I confronted him. We have an agreement.”

“Do you mind if I ask what type of agreement?” I ask.

“We took it to the gym,” he says, and I raise a brow at him.

“To the gym,” I repeat.

“Yeah,” he says. “we put on some gloves and took it to the ring. I beat his ass down to the mat and told him that if he ever approached my girl, the gloves were coming off. We have an agreement.”

Whoa! Um, okay.

“He still has feelings for her,” I point out, “or at least he still desires her.”

“Of course, he desires her. Look at her. She’s gorgeous! She’s fit and shapely… he’d be crazy not to. I just happened to fall in love with her. Ben has a thing for black women. Keisha? Come on, you had to know.”

“Yeah,” I admit, “I took note of the name, but I didn’t say anything. But… you’re okay with this?”

“Of course, I’m not okay with this, but what am I supposed to tell the guy—stop wanting my woman? As long as he doesn’t approach her, gawk at her, or do anything disrespectful, we’re fine.”

“How do you know he’s not gawking at her?” I ask, remembering what Butterfly told me about Keri doing yoga on the patio.

“How do you think I found out about it?” he retorts. “Ben and I are pretty evenly matched; I already know that. But when it comes down to my woman, I will kill him, and he knows that.”

I nod. I know exactly how he feels.

“I wasn’t try to cause any problems,” I tell him. “I just… when I noticed it, I just thought I should say something. If it were me…” I trail off.

“I get it,” Chuck says, “and I appreciate it, but I can guarantee you that my Island Girl is only my. Island Girl. He may want her, but that heart belongs to me, and I’m certain of it.”

“Well, that makes me feel better. I’m sorry I questioned her loyalty.”

“Again, man, I appreciate it. You were looking out for me. That means a lot.” He proffers his hand to me and I shake it. “You don’t have to worry. Really, you don’t.” I nod and we head back into the suite.

It’s only now that I realize that there’s no bar in our hotel. So, I take the elevator to the ground floor and ask at the desk for the nearest bar. It turns out that there’s one at the Grand Hotel Palace just across the street. I thank the guy and head on over to the bar.

I just want a beer; I’m not trying to get drunk.

I sip my beer and try to sort my thoughts. I’ve let Westwick in and that uncertainty that I felt when I ran off to Madrid. At the moment, even after the fact, I have no idea how I could have ever thought my wife could be unfaithful to me. But the way that he looked at her, with that hunger and longing… I could’ve ripped that guy’s fucking throat out. Butterfly saw it and she tried to stop it, but I could only see red. I could only see this fucker closing in on my wife.

I take another sip of my beer. I was right about Lawrence and how he felt about Keri, but that’s not what made me tell Chuck. Westwick is. Westwick is what made me tell Chuck about Keri. And I wasn’t asking him about Keri’s loyalty. I was asking him about Butterfly’s, when I already knew the answer. She didn’t want him. I know she didn’t want him, but the thought of him being so close to her, about to kiss her… it drives me out of my fucking mind.

I’ve let those thoughts in again. What if I hadn’t shown up? Would she had stopped him before or after their lips touched?

Before. She would have stopped him before. She did stop him before. She told him that she was married before she realized that I was there. And she had told him before. I just didn’t realize it until it was too late. If I ever get my hands on that Westwick motherfucker…

“Fancy meeting you here.”

I look over and Jason is walking up to the bar.

“Why didn’t you just call?” I ask.

“Your phone is still in the suite,” he replies.

“Then how did you know I was here?” He taps his wrist three times. That’s right… the Hublot.

“I just came to have a drink. What’s the problem?”

“No problem, except that your wife called the security suite wondering if you were down there and when I told her that you had left an hour ago…”

“An hour?” I look at my Hublot as if it will give me answers. I have no idea what time it was when I left the hotel… and my beer glass is now nearly empty.

“What’s going on, Boss?” Jason asks.

“Nothing,” I say, bottoming out my beer. “Just trying to chase away old ghosts. I better get back to my wife.” I take a bill from my money belt and put it on the counter next to my glass.

“If you need to talk…” he says and trails off. I grasp his shoulder.

“Thank you,” I say. “Let’s get on back.”

The bell rings and the doors open to what sounds like a very hollow suite, but it’s not empty. She’s here. I know this not because there’s nowhere that she can go, and not because I left her taking a bath. I know because I can feel her presence, and she’s not happy. She has questions, and I don’t think I have the answers.

I enter the suite and go in search of her. I know she’s not in the bedroom. I don’t know how I know; I just do. She’s in the sitting room off the dining area. She’s looking straight ahead of her, her expression… intense. She’s wearing that same sexy robe she wore yesterday on the Jacuzzi terrace, but she’s definitely not trying to be sexy. Her arms are folded and her legs are crossed, the top one bouncing, expecting.

She turns her gaze to me, displeased and questioning eyes examining me. I can’t even look at her. I drop my gaze and walk over to the sofa, but I don’t sit next to her. I sit on the floor instead, by her legs. Downtime… kind of…

“I can’t imagine you being with another man,” I admit, my voice soft. “I can’t even stomach the thought of another man wanting you. The idea that men look at you with the lust and desire that I feel for you… it makes me crazy. It makes me physically ill.”

I take a breath and regather my thoughts.

“That man is a lost puppy over that woman,” I continue. “I don’t know if I’m the same. I feel stronger, in control, not so rudderless as he seems… without direction, but… it’s only because I have you. I have you. I have something he doesn’t. I have the vow and you’re carrying my name and we have children. It’s not something that either of us takes lightly. But he doesn’t have that, and he wants it so badly.”

I pause again but keep talking when she doesn’t respond.

“When I walked in on you and Westwick, a million things went burning through my head—losing everything that we had, everything that we had built… but most of all, sheer rage that this fucker thought for a moment that he could touch my wife, that he could experience what belonged to me, that he would even dare to attempt to breathe the same air you breathed…”

I rub my eyes in an attempt to get the picture out of my head of this young, handsome, blue-eyed fuck leaning into my wife. My chest is burning at the mere thought of it.

“I thought about how I would feel had I just known that he was a threat, had I been prepared for what I saw that night, but I know now that it wouldn’t have made a difference. The thought of that man with my wife… near. My. Wife…”

She slides off the sofa and straddles my legs, facing me. She puts her hands on my cheeks and halts my eye rubbing.

“When are you going to get it through your head that you’re it for me?” she scolds firmly. “You’re my life, Christian, there’s no going back!”

“It’s not you!” I nearly yell, helpless. “It’s them! It’s all of them. I know Keri’s not doing anything to encourage Lawrence because I know Keri, but he’s hot for her. He’s gagging for it! I know that look and he’s gagging for it! Chuck works with the man. He’s at our house nearly every day. So, I thought he deserved to know and you know what? He already knew!” Her eyes widen in obvious surprise.

“What?” she says in disbelief.

“He already knew,” I repeat slowly. “He caught Lawrence ogling her when he brought her back from Anguilla. I told him, but he already knew and guess what happened? They had it out—just like me and Cholometes.”

“You’re kidding me,” she replies.

“I am not,” I tell her. “Chuck said he took him to the mat, so I can only assume it was the GEH gym. I’m also assuming it was a fair fight because I got no reports that anyone came back with broken bones, deformed faces, or internal injuries. But Chuck made it clear that he was the victor. He let Lawrence know in no uncertain terms that if he ever came at Keri, he would get more than that. His exact words, in fact, was that he beat Lawrence down to the mat and let him know that there would be no gloves next time.”

Butterfly sits back on my legs and her hands fall to her thighs.

“Jesus,” she breathes. “What do we have to do to convince you men that you have nothing to worry about? That we love you? That no matter how much someone else may be gagging for it, you’re not going to lose us and you have no reason to be jealous or uncertain?”

“Don’t you see, baby?” I say, my voice beseeching. “It’s not the jealousy or the uncertainty. It’s the empathy. I know how it feels to know that another man wants my woman and I wanted to wring his neck and I want to do it now! Both of them! At least Cholometes only danced with you and only with your permission. That Liam fucker tried to kiss you!”

I thrust my hands in my hair and squeeze, trying to rid my mind of the thought of that asshole closing the space between him and my wife, of the thought of choking him with my bare hands and feeling his trachea crush under my hands! He tried to kiss my wife, my life, my Butterfly…

“Christian! Stop! Please!”

My wife’s shrieking cries snaps me out of my murderous haze and I find her hands gripping my wrists which are still clutching my hair. She’s sobbing when I release my hair and find strands of brown and copper tendrils between my fingers.

“Only… you… Christian…” she sobs. “Only… ever… you…” Her head is down and her body shakes as she weeps. I wrap my arms around her and pull her close to me. She lays her head on my shoulder and sobs.

“I know, baby,” I whisper, kissing and stroking her hair. “I know.”

*-*

We were exhausted. The gladiator training, the emotional conversation about Chuck and Keri and Lawrence, the crying and the nearly pulling my hair out at the roots… we were asleep even before our heads hit the pillow.

It’s a good thing, too, because our day is starting early since I’m trying to squeeze as much as we can into the next couple of days. We’ll be spending our last night in Rome at the hotel at the Vatican so as to get an early start on St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums and Gardens before leaving Rome, which means whatever else we don’t get to in the next two days won’t be seen. From the looks of the itinerary, this means that the Borghese Gardens, the Baths of Caracalla, and a few other key sites are going to have to wait until the next trip.

“Sir!”

I hear Jason’s voice bellowing through our suite. Where the hell is he and when did he get here?

“Where are you?” I call out.

“I’m in the elevator are you decent?” he says all in one breath. Okay, he’s not happy about something and I need to find out what it is.

“Yes, we’re decent. Come in. I’m on the terrace,” I say. Jason comes marching through the suite and onto the terrace, intent and irritated.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“The next time you’re going to say or do something that’s going to cause friction between the security staff, would you please let me know in advance?” I furrow my brow.

“I’m sorry, but I thought it was something personal…”

“Christian, the only person who didn’t know that Ben was sweet on Keri was you,” he retorts. “Who do you think refereed the fight?” I’m shocked now.

“You refereed the fight?” I ask. He glares at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asks, almost confrontational. “Who else is going to keep you Neanderthals from killing each other when you can’t keep your testosterone in check? It’s a national fucking pastime for me!”

Oh, yeah, I forgot he refereed that fight I had with Cholometes.

“I just thought he should know,” I reply.

“And it couldn’t wait until we got back to Seattle?” Jason accuses. “Keri’s not here. Ben can’t make a move on her. So he got a little uncomfortable at lunchtime over a girl he wants and can’t have. It happens all the damn time. Now, they’re on opposite ends of the ring again and I had just gotten these two to where they weren’t throwing side-eyes at each other!”

“They were fighting again?” I ask, surprised.

“What the hell did you expect to happen?” Jason nearly roars. “When you told Chuck, you didn’t know he already knew. What did you think he was going to do? I left those two idiots in the room last night to go get you. When I got back, they were snarling at each other like caged bears! I didn’t know what the hell was going on!”

“They can hear you two at the Colosseum! What’s happening?” The raised voices has brought Butterfly out of the bedroom, nearly dressed, but still barefoot

“Ask your husband,” he says, brushing past us both. “Oh, and I suggest you get a single suite for one of them. I don’t think they care which one takes it, but I’m not sleeping with one eye open.” He storms away, leaving me to Butterfly’s inquiring eyes.

“I have officially put my foot in my mouth,” I say, walking past her and going into the suite.

“Again?” she says, coming into the sitting room behind me. I pick up the phone and dial the front desk. I can’t even be angry with her for that crack.

“Yes, again,” I reply.

“Front desk.”

“Yes, this is Christian Grey in the penthouse. I have another member of my security joining us and I was hoping there’s a single suite available for the next two nights?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but we’re all booked. I don’t even have to look; I can tell you that already.” I sigh.

“Thank you,” I say and replace the receiver.

“Why do we have more security coming in?” Butterfly asks.

“We don’t,” I tell her, running my hand through my hair, “but we’re going to have to separate Lawrence and Chuck.” She pauses.

“Oh,” she says. “’Kay,” and she walks away headed towards the bedroom.

“I know, you told me so,” I call after her.

“I didn’t say that,” she calls back. Chuck will have to bunk in one of the spare bedrooms with us tonight and then he can have the suite for the last night while we stay at the Vatican. It’s the only solution since there are no more rooms available.


A/N:

“Che cosa?”
“What?”

“Quella ragazza ha avuto un colpo su quel grande uomo! “
“That girl got a hit on that big man!”

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include Aurelian Walls and Gladiator School. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued—Condensed: Episode 46—Ready? Fight! 

Warning—History ahead!

This is the CONDENSED version of the chapter.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.

Episode 46—Ready? Fight! 

Season 5 Episode 46

CHRISTIAN

After Jason and Paci have their usual pre-destination confab, we’re on our way again, this time in pursuit of lunch. We decide on Sbanco since it’s great pizza and on our way to our next destination. It also allows us to sit down and take a load off for a while, the way Italians intend for us to enjoy lunch.

Once again, I have to place the order and pay before we’re seated. There are six of us and we’re not going to be seated at separate tables—that’s just the way it is at some of the restaurants in Rome. So, once everyone has perused the menu and decided what will be had, I add my touches to the meal and hand over my credit card.

“Dear God, these one-way streets can be murder,” Butterfly points out when we’re seated. “How do you keep them sorted?” she asks Paci.

“I have lived here my entire life,” he replies. “I just… know where to go now.” She looks at Jason.

“It’s my job,” he says. “I just follow the maps… meticulously! If I don’t, we’ll be trying to go to Trastevere and end up in Villa Borghese.”

Lawrence and Paci laugh knowingly while Chuck just shrugs and shakes his head. Butterfly does the hand gesture of the whole thing going right over her head.

I’ve ordered a variety of appetizers. Supplì with Ragù della Domenica—fried rice balls with beef ragout, sautéed tomato and basil; crocchetta di patate—potato croquettes with parsley, nutmeg and parmesan; crocchetta di patate e Nduja—more potato croquettes with Calabrian nduja, parmesan, mozzarella, and oregano; spicy Carriage Mozzarella—fried mozzarella sticks and nduja; and battered fillet of cod.

Butterfly makes a point to chat up security during lunch, most likely because it’s just her way to do that, but also because she’s probably still emotionally weighted from the experience as Scala Santa. She knows just about everything there is to know about Jason and Chuck, so she sets in on getting to know Lawrence and Paci.

“So, Ben, I’ve known you for years and I know nothing about you. You guard my house and sometimes me, for goodness sake. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Have you always done security? Do you have family?”

Lawrence clears his throat and swallows his potato croquette before speaking.

“Well,” he begins. “I grew up in Wichita, KS—part of the Bible Belt. People will argue that it may or may not have been part of the belt, but have you ever seen the movie Footloose?”

Butterfly nods while munching on mozzarella sticks.

“Where we lived was exactly like that. My parents are there; my grandparents are there… I think my great-grandparents are buried there. It was okay when I was a kid, but once I got to be a teenager, I couldn’t breathe. I knew there was more out there to see and do, and I knew my parents were never going to let me do it. I couldn’t wait until I turned 18 and joined the army. My parents thought it would be bootcamp and then the reserves. I let them think that until I left for bootcamp. Otherwise, they might have tied me up in the basement!”

Chuck covers his mouth and laughs, but Butterfly is not amused.

“You’re kidding, right?” she asks, a bit horrified. Lawrence nods.

“Yeah, I’m kidding, but it was about that crucial that I get out of there,” he says. “I did basic training in Kansas City, active at Leavenworth for a few years. Then, there was a short spell at Fort Detrick in Maryland—very short, because the chance came up to go to Vincenza to Caserma Ederle and then Darby. Italy? And they pay me? Where do I sign up?” Butterfly laughs.

“So, how did you end up in Seattle?” Butterfly asks.

“I did eight years here, a tour in Iraq, and then I missed the States. Plus, I had a relationship go terribly sour in Pisa and I wanted to put some distance between me and the country. Geographical cure if you will. I put my feelers out for jobs—police force, private security—and the best assignments seemed to be in Washington. I did a couple of private gigs for a couple of years and then Jason called. We had been stationed together oversees for about a year before he went to Iraq. By the time I went to Iraq, I didn’t know where he was. He found out that I was in Seattle—probably through Alex—and here I am.”

“You knew Alex, too?” Butterfly asks. Lawrence raises a brow at her.

“Do you need to know Alex for Alex to find you?” We all laugh at that except Paci, who has no idea what we’re talking about.

“Oops, my bad,” Butterfly says. “So, what about a significant other?” Lawrence shakes his head.

“I had a girlfriend for about a year,” he says, “Keisha… it didn’t work out.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Butterfly says. He shrugs.

“It happens,” he says, noncommittal. Now, Butterfly turns her attention to Paci.

“What about you, Al?” she asks. “Do you mind sharing your story?”

Paci looks at me and I’m just looking back at him. He looks at Jason, who’s giving him the same expectant look. He finishes chewing his food.

“Nothing so glamorous as Mr. Lawrence,” he says. “Born and raised in Italy—L’Aquila to be exact. This is home, nothing out of the ordinary for me. When I was a child, I had always wanted to be part of the Swiss Guard, but… they’re Swiss, so…” he trails off with a shrug.

“I joined the Italian army and was stationed here in Rome. I have seen no active service wartime action, but I am trained in many special services for the army, including heavy artillery, combat vehicles, and sniper.”

Okay, I’m impressed.

“I did not want to be a part of the Italian polizia after the army, so I am part of private security. It pays better and puts better use to my skills,” he says.

“What about a significant other?” Butterfly presses.

“I never had the time,” Paci admits. “There have been a few who… well, I just never had the time.” He takes a large bite of battered cod.

“Is being a bodyguard generally a lonely life?” she asks no one in particular, taking a bite of another rice ball. They all look at each other.

“It depends,” Lawrence says. “It’s demanding. There’s no ‘9 to 5’ about it. Anyone who chooses to be with you would have to understand that, and not a lot of women do. Nobody wants to feel ignored or neglected, so when duty calls, it can be a problem. You don’t get to call in sick unless you’re damn near dead. Finding someone to take your spot in an emergency can be impossible—you make a choice. You decide that this is what you want to do, and then you adapt.

“Jason and Chuck are in an unusually enviable position. They both have a spouse or significant other that works for the same employer. They see each other all the time except for moments like this when they’re separated by an ocean. Guys like me, we don’t necessarily get to have regular relationships. Unless we’re dead, we usually have relations, but nothing long-term.

“Think about how many celebrities have dated their bodyguards,” he continues. “It’s because they spend so much time together, that’s the only relationship they can afford themselves. Imagine being out on a romantic date—with a civilian—and you get called in due to an emergency. That happens one time too many—and it will—and you’re single again. Arrangements are easier as long as they understand. No grandkids on the horizon, but…” He trails off and just shrugs. She looks over at Paci who twists his lips and nods.

“That’s why Shalane would tell you we split up, but I tend to believe that it’s because she’s just a selfish, raging bitch,” Jason says matter-of-factly. I tend to agree with him.

“It might have been a combination of both,” he continues, “but all evidence points to the latter.”

“Indeed,” Butterfly says. “I know that she must have been at some time for you to love her, marry her, and produce a child with her, but I have a hard time seeing the human in her.”

“In her defense—I can’t believe I’m saying that—she wasn’t always like this. I think me coming home from active duty just flipped her bitch-switch. I have some other theories, but that time is gone now.” I get the feeling that Jason is desperate to get the spotlight off him.

“How about you, Chuck?” I interject. “Any deep, dark secrets you haven’t shared with us yet?” He raises his eyes to an expectant group

“Not really,” he says, with a mouth full of potato croquette. He takes a drink of his soda to wash it down before he starts to speak again. “You’ve heard my story—recovering alcoholic; lunatic brother who kept me away from my family for over a decade. There’s never even really been a significant other until now. Like Ben said, there’ve been arrangements, but nothing exclusive or etched in stone. I was screwed up enough without having to be responsible for someone else’s heart.”

“And along comes Keri,” Butterfly says. Chuck sighs.

“Yes… along comes Keri,” he says, longing dripping from his voice. “I never thought I’d end up with a black woman. I don’t have anything against black women, I never did. I just didn’t consider the possibility of ending up with one. Hell, if I’m honest, I never considered the possibility of ending up with anybody.

“Your woman,” Paci says, “she is black?” Chuck nods and takes out his phone. He swipes it once and shows it to Paci. I assume Keri is his screensaver like Butterfly is mine.

“She is beautiful,” Paci says looking at the phone.

“Yeah,” Chuck says. “That’s my Island Girl. She had me at ‘hello,’ from the first moment I laid my eyes on her.”

I look over at Lawrence and he’s very attentive to his food, pushing food around with his fingers without taking anything from his plate. He seriously looks like he would rather be anywhere else but here at this moment. What the hell?

“Our story is unusual and unexpected. I met her in Anguilla at a party. She asked me to dance and we just hit it off—like I knew her all my life. We spent time together while I was there and neither of us had any expectations. I just felt lucky to be spending my time with a beautiful girl. I knew then that it was more than that, I just didn’t want to admit it. I went back to the States, she went back to her life, and that was that. We talked a lot on the phone, on social media, got to know each other very well… And then I almost died.”

“Che cosa?” Paci says. Chuck raises his brow. “From loving a woman?”

“Um… no,” Chuck says, almost amused. “I was in a car accident—a very bad one.”

“He saved my life,” Butterfly points out. Paci looks from her to Chuck.

“Mamma mia!” he exclaims.

“Yeah,” Chuck says, “my sentiments exactly. But Keri was there. She was there for the entire rehabilitation. She dropped her whole life in Anguilla and came to the States to nurse me back to health. I don’t think I would have made it if it wasn’t for her.”

“Wow,” Paci says, and Lawrence whispers something to Jason and leaves the table. “I can see why you are so fond of her.” He gives the phone back to Chuck.

“How could I not love her?” Chuck says, swiping his screen again, and I can only imagine that Lawrence has gone to barf his food, because he looks like he was turning green at the tale. I don’t know if he was green with illness… or envy.

Whichever it was, he quickly regains his appetite when the pizza arrives. We have each ordered a different pizza as each pizza is meant to be eaten by one person. We got that kind of side-eyed “are you crazy” look when we asked for the pizzas to be sliced as that’s not how they’re usually served in the “homeland,” but we’re tourists, so they accommodated us.

The six of us share six decadent pizzas:

Diavola—tomato, fior di latte, and ventricina.

Margherita con Bufala—tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Patate e Pancetta—fior di latte, potatoes, and bacon.

Funghi e Salsiccia—fior di latte, champignon mushrooms, and sausage.

Cacio con le Pere—fior di latte, gorgonzola, pecorino, and pears

Fumo—smoked provolone and speck.

For dessert, we all share servings of ravioli fritti di ricotta e cioccolato and cheesecake ai frutti di bosco, which are fried ravioli with ricotta and chocolate with mascarpone cream and cocoa and cheesecake with biscotto, butter, and fruit compote. Espresso flows freely and Butterfly and I also enjoy a glass of wine.

At least two hours pass while we have lunch and drink and talk aimlessly about life and Rome. Lawrence attempts to be unaffected, but anytime any conversation rolls around to Keri, or at this point, even relationships in general, he becomes noticeably uncomfortable and reserved and, at times, seemingly irritated. He’s hot for Keri, and he can’t even hide it. What’s more is that no one else at the table even seems to notice it. For fuck’s sake!

After our lunch has digested well and everyone has taken a much-needed restroom break—Lawrence, about four by now—we’re back on our Vespas and headed to our final destination, with one pit stop on the way. We park our bikes along the side of the road and I gesture to the large structure across the street.

Aurelian Wall “You couldn’t really see it on the north end because we were inside at the Piazza di Popolo and you could only see the northern gate, but this is a better perspective of the Aurelian Walls,” I say. “Yes, there really is a wall around Rome.”

“Is the entire Aurelian Wall still intact?” Butterfly asks as she snaps pictures of the south tower on Viale di Porta Ardeatina.

“Yes,” I nod. “Rome itself has expanded outside the walls, of course, but when they were built in the 3rd Century, this was effectively the borders of Rome. Even then, the wall cut through some populated areas, but it was mostly built to protect the most vulnerable parts of the city from the ‘hit-and-run’ attacks of the barbarians.”

We leave the Vespas with security and run across the street to get a closer look and better pictures of the wall, gate, and tower.

“That would be a trip to see,” she says, “to walk around the entire Aurelian Wall.”

“It would be quite the feat, too,” I tell her. “It’s 12 miles long. There are 18 main gates and 5 hidden gates, hundreds of latrines, and thousands of defensive battlements. There are also some buildings incorporated into the wall.”

“Latrines? Bathrooms?” she asks, pausing her pictures of the wall.

“Yes, soldiers had to pee, too,” I reply.

“Asshole,” she says taking more pictures. “So, this is kind of like the Great Wall of China,” she asks.

“Of sorts, yes, but no. China’s wall served a lot of purposes and its construction—or at least the beginning of it—dates back three centuries before the Aurelian Wall even got started.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me about your fascination with Rome?” she asks, pausing her photography to look at me.

“It never came up,” I reply, “but I knew it would eventually. I knew it would bring you here one day. It’s one of the reasons I bought you the villa. You can’t come to Italy and just spend a week here. I feel sorry for the poor suckers who are limited to that amount of time. We’re spending a week in Rome and we still won’t see nearly everything we could, but more than a week in Rome would be history overload. Nonetheless, I can live out of a hotel and see everything I need to see from Sicily to the borders of Switzerland, but that’s no way to enjoy it with a wife… and a family.

“We used to stay in these little Agri turismos in Tuscany and I really loved them. You’ll see what I’m talking about. We’re staying in one when we get further north, but you can’t stay in those indefinitely. They’re quaint and they’re beautiful, and the landscape is amazing, but Italian bedrooms overall are pretty small. You sleep in them and you get out!”

“Yeah, I learned that while decorating the villa,” she says, taking more pictures of the wall. “I wish I had a real camera,” she laments, “but I think it would have been too cumbersome, and I wouldn’t be able to store my pictures on the cloud as easily.”

I briefly play with the idea of buying her a camera and a neck strap while we’re here, but she’s right. She takes so many pictures that she would fill a hundred memory cards a day, even the high capacity ones.

“I think it’s fascinating,” she says taking more pictures of the battlements and the gate. “A wall built around what was then the entire city of Rome. We always hear about the Great Wall of China, but never the Great Wall of Rome. I never knew!”

I’ll let her bask in her fascination but comparing the Great Wall to the Aurelian Wall is like comparing White House to a dollhouse. Maybe not as drastic, but… yeah.

“I just don’t know how I didn’t know all this,” she says, still snapping pictures. “I know I shouldn’t know everything about every country, but Italy… home of the Renaissance movement, birthplace of Western civilization, how do I not know this? The rise and fall took a whole thousand years. I thought it was a couple of decades. How could I be so off?”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I tell her. “I’ve been here five or six times, maybe seven, I’ve lost count. I’ve learned a lot over those trips. You will, too. We’ve got a villa here, now. We can come whenever we want.” She smiles.

“That sounds nice,” she says. I return her smile.

“I’m glad you approve.”

A few more miles down the road that leads from the Aurelian Wall and we arrive at our afternoon destination. Butterfly looks skeptically at the non-distinct buildings in a grafitti-clad area of the city.

“Where are we?” she asks as we turn th Vespas off.

“Gladiator School,” I tell her. Her face lights up.

“Seriously?” she says.

“Seriously. Come on, you’ll get to see me conquer some poor suckers in here.” I take her hand and lead her to the “school.” There are several children gathered to take the class. Well, I have no intention of beating up on some kid.

“Why didn’t you sign me up for the class, too?” she asks as we come closer to the gate. I raise my brow at her.

“For Gladiator School?” I ask incredulously.

“Yes, for Gladiator School,” she says, mocking my tone. “I’ll have you know that there were female gladiators in ancient Rome, Mr. Grey,” she declares.

Female Gladiator

“There were not!” I retort emphatically.

“There most certainly were,” she counters. “How can you know so much about Rome and not know that?”

Because I never visited the Colosseum before you…

“There weren’t many of them, but there were females. They battled each other, they were considered exotic entertainment, and they fought topless with the same weapons and equipment as the men,” she informs me. I twist my lips.

“Is that so?” I inquire, unconvinced.

“Yes, that’s so,” she says. “There was no gladiator school for females, so they were trained privately. They referred to them as gladiatrix.”

“Ah, I see. And where, pray tell, did you hear that?” I ask, somewhat amused.

“I told you, I did some research before we got here. I know what I’m talking about.” I purse my lips and nod.

“Yeah, okay.” I turn to the host. “Christian Grey,” I say. He looks at his list.

“Avē, Mr. Grey. I am Drusus. I will be your trainer and guide. Will your wife be a spectator?” he asks.

“No,” Butterfly says, and when I turn to look at her, she glares at me and walks away.

“Butterfly…” I call after her, but she keeps walking. I gesture to Chuck to follow her in case she decides to run off and wander the streets of Rome. I’m not going to feed into her petulant behavior just because I don’t believe there were female gladiators. This sport is grueling and deadly, and I don’t see ancient Rome getting any kicks out of watching the ladies play with knives. Mud fights, maybe, yeah, but gladiators? No. I’ll Google it later.

“Lead the way,” I say to Drusus.

Our instruction begins with the Gladiator Museum. Drusus shows us the gladiator armor—the shields, the wild swords, the breastplates, and the various assortment of helmets.

Traditional Gladiator Helmet--one variation

I try one on. It obstructs my vision terribly and it’s extremely heavy. Yeah, I can totally see a girl wearing this… not!

The swords are pretty cool. Some of them are long and slender, like you would expect a sword to be, but the most traditional ones are bulky, heavy, and fat with wide blades. Some of them have long, slender handles and others have wide handles with finger grips. All of them have balls on the ends of the handles, and Drusus tells me that the balls help keep the swords from slipping from the gladiator’s grip. I test the weight of one in my hands and some of the children are awestruck as I demonstrate a parry or two.

My little demonstration is pretty stylish, like Zorro. I’m informed that the gladiators definitely wouldn’t have been fighting this way. The sword is an extension of the fist and the attacks are hard and brutal. There’s even a curved sword that allows for the skilled attacker to get a hit even over the opponent’s shield.

It’s kind of cute to see the kids trying on armor that’s five sizes too big. They’re taking pictures and the armor is holding them up as opposed to them holding up the armor. One of the large shields is actually bigger than the kid holding it. Butterfly’s going to hate that she missed that. It’s really adorable.

Before we go into any training, we have to go through an obstacle course. It’s nothing particularly strenuous, just some agility and maneuvering exercises, for the most part—avoiding some swinging sacks and rolling around in the sand a bit. The kids are having a great time and I have to admit that I’m enjoying watching them. There are a few men in the class with us—college kids and one guy who looks like he could be my age, but it’s mostly little boys from about seven to 14.

After the education in the museum, the tour of the grounds and the introduction to authentic gladiator equipment, and a few rounds on the obstacle course—all of which took about an hour—we’re finally able to start training and we’re each given a wooden sword. Drusus shows us all how to execute various strikes and defenses with and without a shield, and 15 minutes later, we’re sparring with our partners.

It starts out slow at first, but Drusus watches us closely and then pairs us up according to skill to spar some more. The kids are having the most fun, but I appear to have a young college kid who just wants to play a lot. It’s funny to watch him dance around the “ring” trying to get a hit in, but I just wore him out by letting him swing… and swing… and swing… and blocking his attacks. He had a great time, and I had fun watching him.

We’re now in the makeshift arena and the small crowd of spectators are watching our sparring. Butterfly must have really decided to do something else because I don’t see her in the spectators. I really wanted us to share this. I thought it would be fun for us both even if she was just watching. I almost feel guilty admitting that I’m still having fun without her, but it is what it is.

Drusus pairs us again for an actual match. We watch the boys fight first. Some of them show some great form while others are just wildly swinging their weapons. One kid accidentally whacked his opponent in the family jewels and, needless to say, the match was over.

I pair up and spar with my “Bill and Ted” partner again. After blocking all his previous hits for 10 straight minutes, I know all his moves… and he seems to think he knows mine. Let’s just say that had this been a real fight, he would have been sliced, diced, and dragged out through the Gate of Death.

When each of us have sparred and the victors have been determined, Drusus makes an announcement.

“As was the custom in ancient Rome, lanistas would often make wagers on their strongest gladiators. Lanista Titus has challenged me to such a wager. Who should I choose to represent my familia gladiatorium?”

The crowd chants various names, but my alias is the most prevalent.

“Shall it be Caeso?” Drusus asks, and the crowd cheers enthusiastically.

“Caeso, step forth.” He dresses me in this cloth arm guard and gives me a “shield” and a “sword,” which are nothing more than a round piece of wood and a wooden stick shaped like a sword with a ball on the top. When Lanista Titus enters the arena with his strongest gladiator, I just laugh to myself. Who is this pipsqueak he has me going up against? This little guy is wearing a breastplate and a helmet—a real breastplate and a helmet! The armor is clearly bigger than he is. That huge ass breastplate comes all the way down to his mid-thigh. Are they trying to make an example of some kid or something?

“This is his strongest gladiator?” I ask Titus. He looks at me and chuckles.

“Sometimes strength isn’t in size, but we’ll see,” he says, his voice laced with mirth. The closer this guy gets, the guiltier I feel. I’m going to slaughter this kid…

Except…

The closer this guy gets, the more familiar he looks. I’d know those goddamn legs anywhere even if I didn’t recognize the shoes.

“You can’t be serious,” I say to myself. Sure enough, Titus and his gladiator come closer as Drusus draws a circle in the sand.

“This is the circle of death,” Drusus says. “Lanista Titus, present your gladiator.”

He doesn’t have to present her. Before she removes that ridiculous helmet, I already know it’s my wife under that thing. The crowd gasps and some of them laugh as Titus introduces his gladiator, Annius Donicus. Drusus stifles a scoffing chuckle when he recognizes my wife, but he gives me one last chance to back down.

“Caeso, do you accept?” he says, his voice still laced with mirth. I raise an eyebrow at my wife, a smile playing at the corners of my lips.

“I accept,” I say coolly. She returns my gaze with a raised brow and a smirk of her own.

“Annius Donicus, do you accept?” Titus asks.

“I accept,” she says confidently, handing her helmet to Titus then removing the ridiculous breastplate and doing the same thing. Underneath, she’s wearing the same tunic I am over her yoga pants and probably just her bra. She’s covered up enough. She walks over to the circle of death and takes her stance. I stroll over to the circle, still not believing that she’s actually doing this.

“Get ready!” Drusus says.

“I’m not going to go easy on you,” I warn my wife.

“Gladiators! Fight!” Drusus commands.

“Good!” she says. She brings her weapon up and goes straight for my head. I block her attack with the defensive moves that Drusus taught me. She’s right behind it with a neck strike, but I defend again. A stomach and leg strike follow and again I defend. By the time she’s back up to the head, she’s making these fierce battle cries with each strike like Serena Williams. At first, I try not to laugh, until I realize that I’m working up a fucking sweat here!

I decide to alter one of my defensive moves to be offensive and she sees me coming a mile away, but now, she’s on the defense. I attack lightly at first until I realize that this is no ordinary girl I’m fighting. With each one of my advances, she defends so strongly that it could be an attack.

Alright, Butterfly. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get!

I advance full on with attack after attack. She’s defending wildly, avoiding getting hit by my sword. Just when I think I’m getting the upper hand, the battle cries begin again and she attacks aggressively, tagging me once in the side. I wince a bit, because the sticks aren’t really heavy enough to hurt, but everybody knows I got hit—and the crowd goes wild.

“She got him! Did you see that?”
“She tagged him! I can’t believe she tagged him!”
“Quella ragazza ha avuto un colpo su quel grande uomo! ”

Cheers and cries of disbelief fill the tiny field, but Butterfly doesn’t let it affect her concentration. She’s circling me like a vulture, looking to get her next hit. Circling me! I’m the Dominant here. How is she circling me?

The moment I turn to face her, she lunges at my abdomen. I leap back and defend, knocking her “sword” out of her hand, but not before she has tagged me again.

Dammit, but now I’ve disarmed her. Yes!

I attempt to take advantage of the situation by attacking while she’s unarmed and what does she do? She blocks my attack with her shield, does a full-frontal roll over to her weapon and ends up back on her feet, facing off with me.

And she’s armed again.

The crowd is untamed, cheering, jeering, and even catcalling at my little wife, her tunic and hair covered in dust as she challenges me like a wild animal. Fuck, I better step up my game here; this is getting to be embarrassing!

I now use controlled hits and blocks like Drusus taught me, lunges and swings, anything to get a hit in on this woman. We have long since breached the circle in the sand, but our “fight” has the crowd riled to a fevered frenzy, so we just keep going.

At one point, we end up with our swords and shields locked, and I’m only too sure that my strength will help me, but no.

She wiggles out of my grasp and out of my way, causing me to clumsily shuffle by her. She smacks me hard on the ass with the side of her “sword” as I pass her. Ow, that’s smarts!

“Caeso!” someone from the crowd calls. “Get it together, man! She would have killed you three times by now!”

And my humiliation is complete.

I stand up straight, and I’m determined to get one hit in on her—just one, so I won’t be a total failure. As I go in for a lunge, she does one of the most elementary moves, sweeping my feet and pushing my chest backwards—hard. Frustrated that I couldn’t even get a hit in on her, I haven’t centered my weight. I’m just trying to get a strike. She has taken advantage of it and has knocked me flat on my back—and my ass—with a loud, dust-raising thud. Before I can recover, she’s standing over me with her wooden sword aimed at my neck.

Female Gladiator

“One of the first reliefs depicting female gladiators was found in a small ancient Greek city—now located in Turkey. Females were banned from fighting sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century, but they did fight… and they did win!”

Son of a bitch—I got beat by a girl!

“I think we can call it, Drusus, don’t you?” Titus taunts victoriously. Drusus looks at me and I lay my head and arms on the ground, defeated.

“The winner—Annius Donicus!”

Titus lifts his champion’s arm and the crowd cheers madly. She raises her sword in victory and basks in her glory. Drusus walks over to me shaking his head.

“You fought well, but not well enough,” he says. “Did you two stage this?” I roll my eyes.

“I wish I had,” I reply, a bit forlorn. “I’ll never live this down.” Drusus chuckles.

“Being a gladiator is about strength and courage,” he says. “You have to be fearless.” He looks at my wife soaking up the cheers of her victory.

“She has all of those… and speed. She’s David to your Goliath. You didn’t stand a chance.” He chuckles again and pats me on my shoulder before leaving me to sulk in my defeat. She made an example of me in front of a crowd because I didn’t believe her about female gladiators!

As she’s making her final victory lap to the adoring crowd, I snatch her up just as she passes me. With one hand planted firmly at the nape of her neck and the other shamelessly supporting her weight by her ass, I thrust my tongue in her mouth in a passionate and graphic public display of affection. I know there are children here, but I’ve seen it on the street—in the piazzas, on the sidewalks, every time I’ve come to Rome. Get used to it, kids!

The crowd whoops and cheers as she wraps her legs around me and thrusts her hands into my hair, returning my fervor. Hell, I’m just congratulating the winner.

“I let you win,” I lie when our lips part.

“Sure, you did,” she replies, completely unconvinced.

“I’m going to fuck the shit out of you when we get back to the hotel.”

“Promises, promises,” she taunts.

*-*

Back at the hotel, we’re justifiably worn out from the day’s events, so we order room service and have our aperitivo and meal on the terrace overlooking the stunning view of Rome. Once the meal is over, my mind can’t help but wander back to lunch and Lawrence’s near visceral reactions to conversations that centered around Keri. There’s obviously something going on there, but is it one-sided? Is this just on Lawrence’s side or is Keri reciprocating these feelings at all? He just seems to be a bit too invested for this to be just a one-sided crush.

“I have a question for you,” I ask my wife as we sip our after-dinner drinks.

“What is it?”

“Do you think Keri is faithful to Chuck?” I ask. She furrows her brow at me.

“Keri adores Chuck. Why would you ask that?” she asks, a bit horrified. I shake my head.

“It’s just… Lawrence,” I admit. Her brows rise.

“What happened?” she says. I examine her for a moment.

“You already know!” I say, surprised.

“Christian, what happened?” she repeats.

“Oh, nothing,” I say, a bit perturbed. “It’s just while Chuck was sitting there singing the praises of the love of his life, Lawrence was about as comfortable with the conversation as someone getting a root canal!”

I’m furious! This man is over here agonizing over the time and space between him and this woman and she’s messing around with Lawrence?

“First of all, Sherlock,” she says, “watch your tone. I didn’t do anything wrong, and yes, I’m aware that Ben once looked at Keri with lustful eyes, but to my knowledge, she hasn’t reciprocated. And I checked Ben when I saw it—I thought he was over it by now.”

“Elaborate,” I say, so angry that I can feel the hairs standing up on my neck. She folds her arms.

“Keri was doing yoga on the patio. Ben was watching her and it was obvious that he wanted her. I caught him gawking at her and checked him on it, hard.”

Apparently, not hard enough.

“When did this happen?” I ask. She sighs.

“Back when they moved in… right after the accident.” The fuck…?

“What?” I exclaim. “That’s more than a year!”

“Yeah, well, Keri’s not cheating on Chuck!” she defends. That we know of, I think to myself. Is this why she won’t marry him?

“Somebody needs to tell Chuck about this,” I declare.

“Why?” she whines. “They’re friends and colleagues. This is only going to drive a wedge between them! Like you said, it was a year ago!”

“Lawrence still has feelings for her!” I point out. “It was written all over him!”

“You want to bring this up now?” she asks. “We’re thousands of miles away from home; he can’t get to Keri; and they’re sleeping in the same hotel room!”

I put my hands on my hips. I don’t know what to say here because I think he needs to know.

“Fine,” she says, in that pouting, brooding, pissed-off way. “If you think he should know, then you tell him. You tell him what you saw. I’m going to take a bath.”

She stands from the table and marches out of the room and back towards the bathroom. I’m at a crossroads here. I rarely get involved in other people’s relationships unless they invite my opinion. I even less get involved in the relationships of my staff… but Chuck is more than staff. He’s family, and if this were me and someone had this kind of information, I would want to know. Hell, I’m getting fired up sitting here thinking about Westwick being all hot under the collar for my wife and how everything that happened could have been prevented if I had only known.

I hear the water running in the bathtub and I make my decision.

“Sir?” Jason says when he opens the door to the suite right below ours. “Is everything alright?”

“Um, yeah… Where’s Chuck?” I ask.

“Hey, Chuck?” Jason calls out. Chuck comes out of one of the bedrooms in the back of the suite.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he sees me.

“Yeah… can I talk to you? Somewhere private?” I say.

“Am I fired?” he asks, and I cock my head incredulously and twist my lips at him.

“You never come to our suite, sir,” he says.

“Knock off the sir. I need to talk to you,” I reply. He gestures me towards the terrace. Jason is looking curiously at us, but rightfully doesn’t follow us.

“What’s up?” He asks when we’re out on the terrace.

“You know you’re family to me, and you know I really like Keri. Do you have any reason to feel that she’s being unfaithful to you?” His gaze goes from concerned to serious.

“None,” he says, firmly, “and what’s this about?”

“When you were talking today,” I continue, “about your relationship and your feelings for her, Lawrence wanted to be anywhere else but at that table. I feel like that kid in the schoolyard trying to instigate a fight between two other kids, but if it were me, I would want somebody to tell me.”

“Oh, that,” Chuck says, visibly breathing a sigh of relief. I’m more than a bit taken aback.

“You know?” I ask.

“Of course, I know,” he replies.

“How long have you known?”

“Since I brought her back from Anguilla,” he says. “Ben was a bit too happy to see her. About a week after she got here, I confronted him. We have an agreement.”

“Do you mind if I ask what type of agreement?” I ask.

“We took it to the gym,” he says, and I raise a brow at him.

“To the gym,” I repeat.

“Yeah,” he says. “we put on some gloves and took it to the ring. I beat his ass down to the mat and told him that if he ever approached my girl, the gloves were coming off. We have an agreement.”

Whoa! Um, okay.

“He still has feelings for her,” I point out, “or at least he still desires her.”

“Of course, he desires her. Look at her. She’s gorgeous! She’s fit and shapely… he’d be crazy not to. I just happened to fall in love with her. Ben has a thing for black women. Keisha? Come on, you had to know.”

“Yeah,” I admit, “I took note of the name, but I didn’t say anything. But… you’re okay with this?”

“Of course, I’m not okay with this, but what am I supposed to tell the guy—stop wanting my woman? As long as he doesn’t approach her, gawk at her, or do anything disrespectful, we’re fine.”

“How do you know he’s not gawking at her?” I ask, remembering what Butterfly told me about Keri doing yoga on the patio.

“How do you think I found out about it?” he retorts. “Ben and I are pretty evenly matched; I already know that. But when it comes down to my woman, I will kill him, and he knows that.”

I nod. I know exactly how he feels.

“I wasn’t try to cause any problems,” I tell him. “I just… when I noticed it, I just thought I should say something. If it were me…” I trail off.

“I get it,” Chuck says, “and I appreciate it, but I can guarantee you that my Island Girl is only my. Island Girl. He may want her, but that heart belongs to me, and I’m certain of it.”

“Well, that makes me feel better. I’m sorry I questioned her loyalty.”

“Again, man, I appreciate it. You were looking out for me. That means a lot.” He proffers his hand to me and I shake it. “You don’t have to worry. Really, you don’t.” I nod and we head back into the suite.

It’s only now that I realize that there’s no bar in our hotel. So, I take the elevator to the ground floor and ask at the desk for the nearest bar. It turns out that there’s one at the Grand Hotel Palace just across the street. I thank the guy and head on over to the bar.

I just want a beer; I’m not trying to get drunk.

I sip my beer and try to sort my thoughts. I’ve let Westwick in and that uncertainty that I felt when I ran off to Madrid. At the moment, even after the fact, I have no idea how I could have ever thought my wife could be unfaithful to me. But the way that he looked at her, with that hunger and longing… I could’ve ripped that guy’s fucking throat out. Butterfly saw it and she tried to stop it, but I could only see red. I could only see this fucker closing in on my wife.

I take another sip of my beer. I was right about Lawrence and how he felt about Keri, but that’s not what made me tell Chuck. Westwick is. Westwick is what made me tell Chuck about Keri. And I wasn’t asking him about Keri’s loyalty. I was asking him about Butterfly’s, when I already knew the answer. She didn’t want him. I know she didn’t want him, but the thought of him being so close to her, about to kiss her… it drives me out of my fucking mind.

I’ve let those thoughts in again. What if I hadn’t shown up? Would she had stopped him before or after their lips touched?

Before. She would have stopped him before. She did stop him before. She told him that she was married before she realized that I was there. And she had told him before. I just didn’t realize it until it was too late. If I ever get my hands on that Westwick motherfucker…

“Fancy meeting you here.”

I look over and Jason is walking up to the bar.

“Why didn’t you just call?” I ask.

“Your phone is still in the suite,” he replies.

“Then how did you know I was here?” He taps his wrist three times. That’s right… the Hublot.

“I just came to have a drink. What’s the problem?”

“No problem, except that your wife called the security suite wondering if you were down there and when I told her that you had left an hour ago…”

“An hour?” I look at my Hublot as if it will give me answers. I have no idea what time it was when I left the hotel… and my beer glass is now nearly empty.

“What’s going on, Boss?” Jason asks.

“Nothing,” I say, bottoming out my beer. “Just trying to chase away old ghosts. I better get back to my wife.” I take a bill from my money belt and put it on the counter next to my glass.

“If you need to talk…” he says and trails off. I grasp his shoulder.

“Thank you,” I say. “Let’s get on back.”

The bell rings and the doors open to what sounds like a very hollow suite, but it’s not empty. She’s here. I know this not because there’s nowhere that she can go, and not because I left her taking a bath. I know because I can feel her presence, and she’s not happy. She has questions, and I don’t think I have the answers.

I enter the suite and go in search of her. I know she’s not in the bedroom. I don’t know how I know; I just do. She’s in the sitting room off the dining area. She’s looking straight ahead of her, her expression… intense. She’s wearing that same sexy robe she wore yesterday on the Jacuzzi terrace, but she’s definitely not trying to be sexy. Her arms are folded and her legs are crossed, the top one bouncing, expecting.

She turns her gaze to me, displeased and questioning eyes examining me. I can’t even look at her. I drop my gaze and walk over to the sofa, but I don’t sit next to her. I sit on the floor instead, by her legs. Downtime… kind of…

“I can’t imagine you being with another man,” I admit, my voice soft. “I can’t even stomach the thought of another man wanting you. The idea that men look at you with the lust and desire that I feel for you… it makes me crazy. It makes me physically ill.”

I take a breath and regather my thoughts.

“That man is a lost puppy over that woman,” I continue. “I don’t know if I’m the same. I feel stronger, in control, not so rudderless as he seems… without direction, but… it’s only because I have you. I have you. I have something he doesn’t. I have the vow and you’re carrying my name and we have children. It’s not something that either of us takes lightly. But he doesn’t have that, and he wants it so badly.”

I pause again but keep talking when she doesn’t respond.

“When I walked in on you and Westwick, a million things went burning through my head—losing everything that we had, everything that we had built… but most of all, sheer rage that this fucker thought for a moment that he could touch my wife, that he could experience what belonged to me, that he would even dare to attempt to breathe the same air you breathed…”

I rub my eyes in an attempt to get the picture out of my head of this young, handsome, blue-eyed fuck leaning into my wife. My chest is burning at the mere thought of it.

“I thought about how I would feel had I just known that he was a threat, had I been prepared for what I saw that night, but I know now that it wouldn’t have made a difference. The thought of that man with my wife… near. My. Wife…”

She slides off the sofa and straddles my legs, facing me. She puts her hands on my cheeks and halts my eye rubbing.

“When are you going to get it through your head that you’re it for me?” she scolds firmly. “You’re my life, Christian, there’s no going back!”

“It’s not you!” I nearly yell, helpless. “It’s them! It’s all of them. I know Keri’s not doing anything to encourage Lawrence because I know Keri, but he’s hot for her. He’s gagging for it! I know that look and he’s gagging for it! Chuck works with the man. He’s at our house nearly every day. So, I thought he deserved to know and you know what? He already knew!” Her eyes widen in obvious surprise.

“What?” she says in disbelief.

“He already knew,” I repeat slowly. “He caught Lawrence ogling her when he brought her back from Anguilla. I told him, but he already knew and guess what happened? They had it out—just like me and Cholometes.”

“You’re kidding me,” she replies.

“I am not,” I tell her. “Chuck said he took him to the mat, so I can only assume it was the GEH gym. I’m also assuming it was a fair fight because I got no reports that anyone came back with broken bones, deformed faces, or internal injuries. But Chuck made it clear that he was the victor. He let Lawrence know in no uncertain terms that if he ever came at Keri, he would get more than that. His exact words, in fact, was that he beat Lawrence down to the mat and let him know that there would be no gloves next time.”

Butterfly sits back on my legs and her hands fall to her thighs.

“Jesus,” she breathes. “What do we have to do to convince you men that you have nothing to worry about? That we love you? That no matter how much someone else may be gagging for it, you’re not going to lose us and you have no reason to be jealous or uncertain?”

“Don’t you see, baby?” I say, my voice beseeching. “It’s not the jealousy or the uncertainty. It’s the empathy. I know how it feels to know that another man wants my woman and I wanted to wring his neck and I want to do it now! Both of them! At least Cholometes only danced with you and only with your permission. That Liam fucker tried to kiss you!”

I thrust my hands in my hair and squeeze, trying to rid my mind of the thought of that asshole closing the space between him and my wife, of the thought of choking him with my bare hands and feeling his trachea crush under my hands! He tried to kiss my wife, my life, my Butterfly…

“Christian! Stop! Please!”

My wife’s shrieking cries snaps me out of my murderous haze and I find her hands gripping my wrists which are still clutching my hair. She’s sobbing when I release my hair and find strands of brown and copper tendrils between my fingers.

“Only… you… Christian…” she sobs. “Only… ever… you…” Her head is down and her body shakes as she weeps. I wrap my arms around her and pull her close to me. She lays her head on my shoulder and sobs.

“I know, baby,” I whisper, kissing and stroking her hair. “I know.”

*-*

We were exhausted. The gladiator training, the emotional conversation about Chuck and Keri and Lawrence, the crying and the nearly pulling my hair out at the roots… we were asleep even before our heads hit the pillow.

It’s a good thing, too, because our day is starting early since I’m trying to squeeze as much as we can into the next couple of days. We’ll be spending our last night in Rome at the hotel at the Vatican so as to get an early start on St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums and Gardens before leaving Rome, which means whatever else we don’t get to in the next two days won’t be seen. From the looks of the itinerary, this means that the Borghese Gardens, the Baths of Caracalla, and a few other key sites are going to have to wait until the next trip.

“Sir!”

I hear Jason’s voice bellowing through our suite. Where the hell is he and when did he get here?

“Where are you?” I call out.

“I’m in the elevator are you decent?” he says all in one breath. Okay, he’s not happy about something and I need to find out what it is.

“Yes, we’re decent. Come in. I’m on the terrace,” I say. Jason comes marching through the suite and onto the terrace, intent and irritated.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“The next time you’re going to say or do something that’s going to cause friction between the security staff, would you please let me know in advance?” I furrow my brow.

“I’m sorry, but I thought it was something personal…”

“Christian, the only person who didn’t know that Ben was sweet on Keri was you,” he retorts. “Who do you think refereed the fight?” I’m shocked now.

“You refereed the fight?” I ask. He glares at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asks, almost confrontational. “Who else is going to keep you Neanderthals from killing each other when you can’t keep your testosterone in check? It’s a national fucking pastime for me!”

Oh, yeah, I forgot he refereed that fight I had with Cholometes.

“I just thought he should know,” I reply.

“And it couldn’t wait until we got back to Seattle?” Jason accuses. “Keri’s not here. Ben can’t make a move on her. So he got a little uncomfortable at lunchtime over a girl he wants and can’t have. It happens all the damn time. Now, they’re on opposite ends of the ring again and I had just gotten these two to where they weren’t throwing side-eyes at each other!”

“They were fighting again?” I ask, surprised.

“What the hell did you expect to happen?” Jason nearly roars. “When you told Chuck, you didn’t know he already knew. What did you think he was going to do? I left those two idiots in the room last night to go get you. When I got back, they were snarling at each other like caged bears! I didn’t know what the hell was going on!”

“They can hear you two at the Colosseum! What’s happening?” The raised voices has brought Butterfly out of the bedroom, nearly dressed, but still barefoot

“Ask your husband,” he says, brushing past us both. “Oh, and I suggest you get a single suite for one of them. I don’t think they care which one takes it, but I’m not sleeping with one eye open.” He storms away, leaving me to Butterfly’s inquiring eyes.

“I have officially put my foot in my mouth,” I say, walking past her and going into the suite.

“Again?” she says, coming into the sitting room behind me. I pick up the phone and dial the front desk. I can’t even be angry with her for that crack.

“Yes, again,” I reply.

“Front desk.”

“Yes, this is Christian Grey in the penthouse. I have another member of my security joining us and I was hoping there’s a single suite available for the next two nights?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but we’re all booked. I don’t even have to look; I can tell you that already.” I sigh.

“Thank you,” I say and replace the receiver.

“Why do we have more security coming in?” Butterfly asks.

“We don’t,” I tell her, running my hand through my hair, “but we’re going to have to separate Lawrence and Chuck.” She pauses.

“Oh,” she says. “’Kay,” and she walks away headed towards the bedroom.

“I know, you told me so,” I call after her.

“I didn’t say that,” she calls back. Chuck will have to bunk in one of the spare bedrooms with us tonight and then he can have the suite for the last night while we stay at the Vatican. It’s the only solution since there are no more rooms available.


A/N:

“Che cosa?”
“What?”

“Quella ragazza ha avuto un colpo su quel grande uomo! “
“That girl got a hit on that big man!”

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include Aurelian Walls and Gladiator School. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs