This is a part of a series by Ellie starting with her Blogathon story "Crossroads" where Lou and Kid are diagnosed with syphillis presumably as a result of Lou's encounter with Wicks. They decide to travel the world together in the time they have left. Ellie is co-writing each story in the series about a different country, with a co-author from that country. Here is the installment about Kid and Lou in Italy.

Chapter One

Lou looked up at the ceiling of the circular church in awe, then her eyes traveled on the walls covered in marble of different colors, on the niches containing statues and paintings, on the pavement covered in marble and semi-precious stones; it was a majestic place but the most amazing thing was the oculo, a circular opening on top of the enormous vault, like an enormous eye looking up at the sky; the light entering from there illuminated the center of the church, while the walls remained in the shadows.

The guide, a young Roman called Marcello Angelieri explained that the Pantheon originally was a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods and goddesses of the Roman myths, and that later it became a Christian church. That wasn't the first time they visited a place of ancient origin that was transformed into something else during the centuries.

Rome was a unique city; it was as if you could breathe the history and the art just by walking along its streets. In a few steps you could pass from the Ancient Roman period to the Middle Ages and then to the Renaissance, until the most recent buildings, built just one or two centuries ago. They ate under the arches of an ancient theatre converted into a tavern, or as the Romans called it, a hostaria; they drank from magnificent fountains made by famous artists of the past; they had even seen shepherds bringing their animals to graze near ancient ruins as if it were the most natural thing in the world. After living for several years in small Midwestern towns in the United States, where most of the buildings were made of wood or simple brick and usually were no more than a few decades old, the sense of art and ancient history in European and especially Roman architecture, of a tangible connection to people who had lived a thousand years before, was especially thrilling for Lou and Kid, coming as they did from the New World to the Old.

The Eternal City, or Caput Mundi, the capital of the world, that was how Rome was called and the people, even the simplest shepherd, were justly proud of their city. Proud but not snobbish. The Roman people were in general very outgoing and lively, loud and with a colorful way of talking. So much that one of the first days of their stay Lou had worriedly asked Marcello why two people on the other side of the street were quarreling, only to have him explode in a laugh and then explain that they weren't quarreling, they were just greeting a bit too loudly because they hadn't seen each other in a while. Louise eyed the men suspiciously, and only when she saw the ample smiles on their faces she realized that Marcello was right.

Rome was a beautiful city full of art, but it was also lively and warm and while she stood under the oculo with her head raised upward to look at the bright cloudless sky and the sunrays warming her skin she felt the happiness bubbling inside of her and she couldn't help spinning in the middle of the church, while a giggle escaped from her mouth.

Kid grabbed her gently, though, stopping her and putting a finger on his lips and Marcello threw a worried glance at her.

"I'm happy you are happy, Mrs. Louise," he said with his makeshift English, "but we must not make noise here."

She nodded, apologizing; the Romans were very religious and -even if for her the Pantheon was just a beautiful monument - for them it was a sacred place and her behavior was unintentionally disrespectful.

"Come on outside, I want to bring you somewhere else," Marcello grinned, and brought the group of tourists outside.

Marcello, a tour guide and a cab driver, had learned English not by study in school, but by study of all the tourists passing through Rome. He knew his city like the back of his hand, and truly loved Roman history and art so it was a pleasure to be guided by him. Like many Italians, he was not especially tall, but he was well built with strong masculine features, a crooked smile and mischievous dark eyes that he knew how to use. He liked to joke and flirt a little with the women of the group, but he never overdid it, so nobody had ever complained. His clients found his behavior amusing, proving that the term 'Latin lovers' so often applied to Italian men was not undeserved.

Only one older lady, from Massachusetts, who was taking the Grand Tour with her niece, sometimes bristled at the young guide's comments, especially when they made her niece Amy's cheeks became a bit too red. The girl didn't mind the hard glances her aunt threw at her in those moments too much, though, and instead enjoyed the young man's sincere if overly florid praise as harmless fun, as indeed it was intended.

------

After a short walk thought the narrow streets of the city center the group reached Piazza Navona, one of the biggest squares of Rome, in those days a temporary market took place in there and they moved among the vendors' stalls in the crowded, lively piazza, admiring especially the great fountains each in turn, ending with the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Marcello pointed to the figure representing Rio de la Plata, and smiled his dazzling smile at the American women, one brunette and one blonde, with a special lingering glance at the unmarried one. "This river, he is from the New World, where you come from, is it not so?" he said, with a knowing grin and a flourishing wave at the statute of a figure with a dolphin. Pretty and graceful young Amy March smiled at the young man's attempt to make them feel at home, knowing fully as well as Marcello did that Rio de la Plata in South America was in fact a thousand miles farther away from her Concord home than Rome was, but playing along with the little flirtatious joke. 

"Yes, signore," she murmured demurely, keeping her eyes on her small sketchbook and drawing the statue industriously, as she was well aware of her aunt's watchful eyes. When Aunt snorted slightly and turned her attention to a nearby vendor's collection of fans and bouquet holders and other small trinkets, Marcello moved stealthily between Louise and Amy.

"You ladies will not want to miss the Carnevale celebrations since you are fortunate enough to be here during Martedì Grasso. It is my sad duty to tell you, though, that you will need the Carnevale masks. It is a great pity to have to hide such beautiful faces, but it is our custom," he said with exaggerated sadness. 

Louise and Amy giggled madly, drawing the attentions of Louise's husband and Amy's aunt, and Marcello turned more businesslike. "The masks, they are sold all along the Piazza this time of year, but the best, over there from my friend Giuseppe," he informed them. He nodded at his good friend, who was always kind enough to share the profits he made from the masks he sold to Marcello's groups. Giuseppe, also a handsome young man with a gleaming smile and melting dark eyes, lit up in genuine delight as Marcello guided the two attractive young ladies toward his wares, an array of stunningly beautiful papier-mâché full and half masks, each a small work of art and painted in shining gold or silver, with elaborately painted designs. Amy and Louise exclaimed in delight over them, turning them over and holding them up to admire themselves in a mirror Giuseppe helpfully positioned for them.

Kid and Amy's Aunt had followed behind, and joined Amy and Louise at the table. Kid watched Louise giggling like a young schoolgirl, and smiled, drawing next to her. "You seem extra happy today," he said, and teased, "Is it our guide who has you in such high spirits? Should I be jealous?"

Lou smiled back at him, her eyes alight with the same special glow that had been in them for a few days now, as if a special secret and its warmth were lighting her from within. "Never," she whispered, looking up at him with adoration and joy, before suddenly hiding behind a woman's silvery mask adorned with shimmering glass beads and fluttering feathers, covering the top part of her face. Kid bent to kiss her mouth softly, and she smiled and handed the mask to Giuseppe, and picked out another for Kid. "I can't wait until tomorrow and the Carnival," she whispered, slipping her arm though Kid's as he paid the young man for the masks. Amy smiled wistfully, reminded of dear "Laurie" Laurence, so far away in so many ways, as the young couple looked into each other's eyes and suddenly slipped away from the group to embrace passionately behind one stall's wooden screen.

Later that day, Kid and Lou tiredly trudged down the hallway of their hotel. Rome was full of things to see but unfortunately it was built on the hills that surrounded the river Tevere so they had to walk up and down for the entire day and now they were exhausted.

"Whew," Lou complained, leaning on the wall near their door, "How I miss my old shoes from the Express . . . these boots are very elegant, but they are a torture!"

"Well, there's a solution for that," Kid said, smiling mischievously. He had picked up the bright mood Lou was in and was feeling quite romantic. In one swift move he bent and picked her up in his arms, crossing the threshold of their room in a very just-married fashion.

"Is that better?" he asked, putting her down on the bed and crouching in front of her to unlace her shoes.

"Very much," Lou sighed in relief when he slipped the shoes from her sore feet, "but there's something that would make me feel even better."

Kid raised his head to look at his wife, propped on her elbows, looking down at him and recognized the glint in her eyes. He raised himself and leaned over her, hovering at mere inches from her lips.

"How can I refuse to help my lovely wife . . ." he whispered, closing the distance and kissing her.

Chapter Two

The next morning, Lou sat moodily staring at the blank paper on the writing desk in the small hotel room, her pen in her hand but unmoving. Kid stirred in the bed beside the desk sleepily.

"What're you doing up?" he murmured. "It's still dark out, c'mon back to bed. "

"I don't need to be told when to go to bed," Lou said coldly. "I'm a grown woman."

Kid yawned. "Yes, you are," he said, letting out a long breath and stretching. "And I have an even better reason to come on over here and get back in bed with me."

Smiling, he reached an arm over to tug on the belt of her robe, but she got up and re-tied it, shooting him an irritable look.

"Not this morning," she said shortly. "I'm sick."

She crossed the room and rifled through a small bag on the vanity table in the large, expensive hotel suite. He was beside her suddenly, his face worried, his hands turning her to face him.

"Sick? What is it, Lou? Are you feverish?" He placed a hand over her face, and peered into her eyes, worried as he always was at any hint of illness in her.

She pulled away. "Not that kind of sick. The monthly kind."

"Oh," he said, relieved. "You scared me a little."

He rubbed her arms, kissing her on the side of the neck. Lou felt unreasonably repulsed by his touch, like he was rubbing sandpaper over her and sending weird tickles up her spine. Pulling away again, she continued her rummaging through her things, yanking on her skirt and buttoning her blouse hurriedly.

"You going somewhere?"

She drew up her stockings and sat to put on her shoes. "I want to take a walk, is that all right with you?"

Kid drew a breath in deeply, recognizing that Lou was in a foul mood this morning, perhaps because of her monthly trouble, though his wife usually wasn't affected particularly by it as he'd heard some women were. Lou's temper had been fearsome back in their early courtship days regardless of the time of the month, but they rarely quarreled nowadays. Facing the twin specters of disease and death together, had made small differences seem to be less worth fighting over.

"It's fine, but don't you think you should at least wait until sunrise?" he tried patiently.

"I can't sit here for another half hour waiting for that," Lou snapped. "I can't sleep; I've already been up for an hour with a sick headache."

"I'm sorry. Wait a few minutes and I'll join you."

"I want to be alone for a while, Kid, can't you take a hint?"

He stood with his shirt in his hand looking at her wonderingly. "Is there something I did to make you mad?" he asked cautiously.

She hurriedly brushed her long brown hair into a low chignon, her fingers trembling. "No. It's nothing you've done. It's not your fault, nothing about anything is your fault, is it?" she stormed. "It's me, okay? You'd be better off if you'd never met me."

"Maybe you're just feeling out of sorts because you've gotten your monthly?" he suggested furtively, reaching to stroke her arm.

She looked at him with pure anguish and pain in her eyes, her roiling emotions so evident, so raw, that he stepped back slightly, almost frightened.

"You think that's it?" She broke off, turning and leaning her hands against the desk and dropping her head down against the mirror. "I was late. I thought maybe - - maybe --"

Kid sighed, thinking he understood. "You needn't have worried so, honey. We're so careful always, to keep that from happening. I'm sorry you were so worried, but at least it's over now, you don't have to be upset anymore. Nothing's happened, thank God," he said softly, trying to put his arms around her from behind.

She stiffened, and glared at him in the mirror. "You talk like giving me your child would be a nightmare. I am your wife, is it so unnatural that I'd want to have your baby?"

Shaking his head in disbelief, he reminded her, "Honey, you know as well as I do . . . what it would mean for us to have a child. What's happened to us wasn't either of our fault. But if we had a child, and inflicted our disease on him, it would be wrong of us, dead wrong. We'd be condemning the child to a life of hell, you know that."

"I don't know it," she protested, crying now. "We've been healthy for years now. Maybe the baby would be spared."

He gently turned her around, lifting her chin and speaking somberly to her, wiping her tears away with his thumbs.

"Lou, that's just a dream, not the reality. We can't have children; I thought you understood that and agreed."

"Are you suggesting that I tried to trick you into having a baby somehow?" she seethed, swatting away his hands. "I didn't. I wouldn't do that, but . . . I just thought maybe a miracle might have happened even after how careful we always were," she said, her voice faltering suddenly. "We're in Rome, the city of miracles, aren't we?" she finished piteously.

Kid looked at her sadly. "It wouldn't be a miracle, Lou, you know that. It would be a tragedy. We should be grateful it was a false alarm."

"How can you say that to me? Don't you know how much it hurts me not to be able to make a baby with you? How can you be so heartless?" she wailed, hysteria setting in.

When he tried to touch her again, she shrugged away and whirled, grabbing her reticule and jamming it haphazardly into the carpetbag she had left on a small chair by the door, packed only with some clothes and the maschere di carnevale they'd bought together yesterday.

"Maybe I should go away, forever, so there's no chance of us having any tragedy together," she sobbed, yanking open the hotel room door and running at full tilt down the hallway and to the stairs, leaving him calling after her to come back.

----

The weather seemed to reflect Lou's mood; while the day before was a beautiful -although cold - sunny day, today the sky was cloudy and the light was gray and dark. Louise walked aimlessly through the almost deserted streets. In sheer contrast with the noisy confusion of midday, at that hour only few people were around. They were mostly people from the countryside bringing fresh vegetables and milk or groups of nuns approaching the nearest church for the morning mass.

The air was filled by the smell of fresh bread, since the bakers were preparing the bread and the other sweets the Italian people ate for breakfast. Lou stopped by one bakery to buy something to eat, but not even the delicious crescent-like pastry was able to raise her spirit.

Rationally she was aware that her exaggerated reaction was partly due to her monthly condition, but the pain for the loss of something that had never been was more than real. She was fortunate enough to have a man who never blamed her for the terrible illness she had unknowingly inflicted on him; and their disease had never affected them too much, so they were able to visit the most beautiful places in the world and to live experiences that normally they would never be able to do. But their inability to have a baby, to form a real family with each other, was a void that no adventure or amazing place could ever fill.

When she thought she was expecting, Lou began to dream about their future: they would come back home to live near Rachel and Teaspoon, they would start a little ranch with the money that still remained to them, or they would find another job in town. Maybe their life would become simpler and not so exciting anymore, but it would fulfill her deepest dream.

Instead nothing of this would happen, her dream was shattered; and right now even the beautiful city she was in seemed dull and uninteresting. She walked around the streets and the squares without even raising her head, until her arms began to ache because of the carpetbag she was carrying and the humid, cold air seeped through her woolen cloak.

She leaned over the parapet of the bridge she was crossing then, and for a while Lou just stared at the small boats traveling upstream the green waters of the Tevere. Suddenly, a thunder exploded in the air and it started to rain.

In few minutes she was soaked and Lou ran to the other side of the bridge, looking for shelter. She saw there was a small section of roofing jutting from the side of a building and took refuge under it, peering out at the rain streaming down inches from her face. She adjusted her long cloak against the sudden downpour, but it wasn't much use; she shivered miserably, fighting the tears at first but then, since no one could see, letting them flow down, leaning her head backwards against the stone wall.

She let the storm in her heart rage, finally, along with the storm surrounding her, in a way she hadn't since she first learned of her illness. She'd pushed her anger and sadness down, rather than dwell on them, trying her best to be philosophical about the situation, not to think ahead to the grim and lonely fate that awaited her and the one she loved best, and whom she had doomed with that very love along with herself. Their lives were destined to be short, and childless, and ending in pain and dementia . . . and for one of them, in solitude as one would have to go on without the other. She stood now and wondered about that, whether she prayed to die first so she wouldn't have to live and die without him, or whether she were brave enough to pray that she could be there for Kid in his last moments and hold him as he slipped away to whatever lay beyond.

The small hope she'd conceived for a child in spite of everything had opened one of the main wounds she had buried, and she let the pain and loss of the baby that never was consume her for this time. Glancing over her shoulder, she was startled in the half-light by a pair of lovely, sad eyes looking down at her. A beautiful painting of the Madonna, her hair covered with a veil of white, was sheltered under this crude shingling out of doors, to Lou's amazement. She realized it must be what the Italians called an aedicola, as Marcello had explained to them. Lou's eyes were drawn irresistibly to the powerful image by an unknown artist. Mary's hands were clasped as if in prayer or supplication, and the artist had captured the Virgin's great sorrow, perhaps at her Son's death, or perhaps at the sin and suffering of the world itself. Lou knew from her short time in the orphanage that Catholics believed Mary understood and suffered with them still, even in Heaven, as she was fully human and had lived the suffering they had. As a child, she had never thought much about the nuns' teachings, but now Lou stared up at the kind, sad face, and understood their belief and the comfort it offered, dimly reflecting that even His Mother had suffered here on earth, and that everyone who was given the gift of life must pay for it in sorrow and loss some day. No one, not even the Queen of Heaven, was immune from that great and still terrible truth.

Somehow, the reminder that she was not alone, blunted the sharper edges of her torment for the time, though the pain and ache remained, and she stood wiping her tears away while the storm continued, the clean-smelling rain seeming to wash away the world and leave it refreshed and new.

Chapter Three

"Datte' na mossa, Giusè, se no ce fracichiamo!"

"'ndamo sotto la Madonnella a aspettà che spiove!1 " Giuseppe said to his friend.

The two young men ran across the streets to reach the aedicola and take refuge under the small roof protecting the painting of the Virgin, to which all the people living in the nearby streets were devoted.

"Oh…c'è già qualcuno!"

"E vabbè c'è stringiamo…" Giuseppe's friend responded to him, "Scusi signorì, nun je dispiace se ce riparamo pure noi, vero?2"

Lou turned to look at the man who had spoken to her, even if she didn't understand anything of what he was saying. She had heard someone running toward the spot were she was and she dried her eyes just before those two men appeared before her. They held their jackets over their heads, so she didn't recognize them; but as soon as she looked more closely she recognized them as her tour group's young guide and the vendor who sold them the carnival masks.

"Marcello?" she asked, relieved to see a familiar face. "And you're . . . Giuseppe, right?"

"Miss Louise?" Marcello responded, surprised, "What are you doing here?" he blurted out.

"I- I was taking a walk and I got caught in the downpour," she responded, not elaborating.

"Well, miss, is not very safe for a young pretty miss like you to go around all alone at this time of the day, you never know what bad people you can met. Your husband where is?"

Lou blushed, "Kid is back at the hotel," she said.

And he will be worried sick by now, she thought. His protective streak had never abandoned him even after so many years they were together. Marcello noticed her strange behavior but he didn't say anything, so for a while they stood silently under the small roof, trying not to get too wet.

"Nun so voi ma io me sto a gelà,3 oh well, I wanted to say I'm very cold."Giuseppe said after the third wheeze in a row, "Why don't we try to get home? We risk to wait here forever. . ."

"It's a good idea," Marcello responded, "Louise, would you like to go home with us? Our mother will prepare us something to eat while we wait for the rain to stop,"

"Mother?" Lou asked, perplexed; but then she noticed that the two boys really looked alike. "Are you brothers?"

"Yep!" Marcello responded with a wink, "Let's go now!"

They ran along the small street until they reached a wooden door left ajar. They entered inside and they found themselves in a small hallway plastered white, dimly illuminated by a lamp; at the end of the hallway a small courtyard could be seen but the two brothers led her up to a stone spiral staircase. Every once in a while a door opened on the staircase, but they kept climbing the stairs until they reached the fourth story. Then they stopped in front of a door where a big tabby cat stood, looking at them with that air of contempt and superiority that only cats could have.

"Romè! T'hanno lasciato fori pure a te, eh?4 " Giuseppe said scratching the cat affectionately behind his ears.

The cat arched his back delighted but, when some drops fell from the boy's clothes to his fur, he stepped away irritated.

"Ah! E' cosi!" he said with mock anger and then he swept the cat in his arms, wetting him even more. Romeo reacted with an irritated meow and jumped out of his arms just when the door opened. He ran inside the house while a woman stood in the doorway.

"M'era sembrato de sentì qualcosa! Alla buon'ora!5" she exclaimed with her hands on her strong hips, "Ve sembra questa l'ora de tornà! Ma che me volete fa prende n'colpo?? Sta fori così tutta la notte…"

She had a fiery and angry expression and the two brothers looked at her sheepishly. The two young men were both taller than their mother, but they stood in front of her like two little children being scolded and, behind the storm of unintelligible angry words, Lou could recognize the mother's worry and her relief to have them back home.

"Su forza, entrate," she said at last, "e levateve st'abiti fracici de dosso, che v'ho messo della roba a scardà davanti ar camino."

"Grazie, ma," and "Sei sempre la mejo6," they told her and bent to give her a kiss on her cheek, that the woman accepted with a smile and . . . one last whack on each of their heads.

When they boys stepped inside, rubbing their heads, Mrs. Angelieri became aware of Lou's presence and became silent, blushing to the roots of her hair. Louise wasn't wearing anything fancy, but her clothes clearly showed she belonged to a higher class and the woman suddenly felt embarrassed to have given such a show in front of an unknown lady.

"Mi scusi signorina,"she stammered, "ma sa come so I ragazzi, ogni tanto 'na sgridata ce vole. Prego nun stia sulla porta, entri," she said, stepping aside and gesturing for Lou to enter.

"C'avete combinato?" she hissed to her sons while she closed the door behind Lou.

"Niente Ma, Louise è una delle mie turiste, è Americana. S'è persa e l'avemo invitata a casa, mica la potevamo lascià sotto la pioggia…"

"Avete fatto bene, mo' annateve a cambià. E dite a vostra sorella de' trovà qualcosa da metteje, se starà a gelà, pora fija7."

The two boys scurried away in the other room, leaving a puzzled Lou with their mother.

The woman was a bit taller than her, with black hair sprinkled with a bit of gray on the temples; she wore her tresses rounded in a bun behind her head, held by a silver hat-pin, so big to seem like a little sword, as she had already seen in many women from the popular classes wear. She had an ample bosom and strong arms, made to work and to scold, but also to soothe and to hug and in a way she reminded her of dear motherly Emma, their first station-mistress, even if the two women looked very different.

"Good morning, signorina," Mrs Angelieri greeted her with a wide smile like her sons, and an accent so thick Lou almost didn't understand what she was saying, "I am Nanda. My big pleasure to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," Lou smiled back, "my name is Louise. I'm sorry to arrive at your home at such an early hour," she spoke slowly, "I don't want to be a bother,"

"No problem!" Nanda responded dismissively, waving her hand, "we are going to eat breakfast, now, you'll be my guest!"

The woman led her to the near room, which was the kitchen, the parlor and the dining room; it had a fireplace on one wall, a small kitchen in another corner and a big wooden table in the middle. Everything was very simple, homely and cozy.

Lou sat obediently at the table where Mrs Angelieri indicated her, and watched a few moments as Nanda raced around the kitchen, her hands moving so quickly they were like a blur. There was a large pot on the stove already simmering full of sauce, and Nanda stirred it, nodding in satisfaction. But the main attention was to breakfast. Lou was used to the fact that in parts of Europe such as Italy, she should not expect eggs for the morning meal, though they did appear at other times of the day and evening, unlike her homeland where eggs were strictly for breakfast. No, the Italians' breakfast was sweet, she knew, and Nanda was pulling fresh biscotti from the oven with a beaming smile. "Perfetto," she said gaily, plucking two from the tray with a napkin despite the heat, and handing them to Lou. "Mangia!" she ordered, and dumped the rest of the cookies into a basket she set on the table. Lou was sniffing the anise-scented cookies appreciatively when she jumped with a start, as Nanda shouted beside her at the top of her voice, "Francesco! Giuseppe! Marcello!"

Lou cautiously nibbled the cookie, thinking Nanda was done; but the lady was only pausing for breath.

"Leonardo! Antonio! Giada! Sofia!" Nanda bellowed.

Suddenly there was a thundering of footsteps and the door flew open to a veritable crowd of young people, swept in with an older man who kissed Nanda on the cheek and sat down to be waited upon with the boys. Lou found herself draped in one of the girls' warm cloaks, and Marcello gestured toward Lou and then pointed around the room at each person in turn, giving their names, and the friendly family smiled and welcomed her in words Lou didn't understand but whose tone was clear enough, and then the chatter in the room gradually grew louder and louder, the boys seeming to argue about some point Lou of course couldn't follow, and the girls flying about helping Nanda serve the men, shouting to each other and at the boys, alternating between cuffing them and hugging them, until Lou was completely confused. Every time she looked at her cup or plate, or at anything on the table, Nanda or the girls would suddenly be at her side heaping more of whatever she looked at on her plate, despite the fact that she was already stuffed to the gills. She would have refused but there was no opportunity to do it gracefully before the food was already on her plate, so she sat meekly nibbling on a cookie with a pile of pastry steadily growing in front of her. At one point, Nanda shouted, pouring coffee for one of her boys, "Enough! The guest," she said firmly. "She no understand. We talk to her in English, capito?"

Lou quailed as sixteen eyes turned as one on her, with friendly but intense interest.

"You like Rome, of course," the boy next to her said, more of a statement than a question.

"It's beautiful," Lou agreed, smiling at the young fellow, who reminded her a little of Jesse the last time she'd seen him, with his sparkling eyes and impish grin.

The lovely Giada leaned over and cuddled her younger brother affectionately around the shoulders before dumping two large sweet rolls on his plate and admonishing him to eat them. "You are from where, Mrs. Louise?" she asked, picking up the milk pot and topping off Lou's half-finished cup for her before Lou could protest that she didn't need any more.

"I'm from Missouri, originally. In the United States."

The look the Angelieris gave her made Lou understand they didn't know that name, so she added, "It's in the West of the United States."

"West? Where live the Indians and the cowboys??" one of the younger brothers asked.

"Yes," Lou nodded, "Actually one of my best friends is an Indian."

This was interesting in the extreme, apparently, as a babble of questions erupted around her, bewildering her until Nanda shouted again. "One at a time, bambini!"

Lou forgot her troubles for the time in the midst of this friendly and loving, if noisy crowd of a family, who reminded her pleasantly of the bunkhouse table and the rowdy fun the boys used to get into back in those days; and before she knew it, the Angelieris were jumping up from the table, clearing away plates, and kissing Nanda on the cheek, waving goodbye to her on their way out the door. Nanda sighed a little in the silence after her young ones left, and turned to the young lady still sitting with her breakfast at the long deserted table.

Nanda came and sat down with a cup of coffee and a small pastry on her plate, and Lou realized the good mother had never eaten a thing while she was tending to her large brood.

"So you tell Nanda now. Why you out with you little bag of clothes on the rainy day, and not with your husband?"

Setting down the biscuit in her hand, Lou looked at her plate, trying to blink back the tears. Nanda put a kind hand on her shoulder. "You can tell Nanda. You mamma, she is not here, but I am a mamma too, and I will understand."

"I had a fight with him," Lou choked out. "I was upset and disappointed about something and I . . ."

"Ah, what could be this bad?" Nanda scoffed, patting her on the arm.

Lou looked at her with tears dropping down now. "I can't have babies, Nanda."

Nanda hadn't expected something like that; she couldn't imagine such a terrible thing, she of the many children who were the light of her life. Biting her lip, she put her arms out for Lou to bury her head on her shoulder and cry it out. After a time, Nanda said soothingly, "But you have a good man, who loves you?" She smoothed Lou's tumbled light brown hair.

"Yes, he's wonderful and he loves me, and I love him too; but I'm not good enough for him. I'll never be a true wife if I can't give him children," Lou mumbled weepily. "I ran away, it hurt so much to be disappointed again, and know we can never have a family."

"Sciocchezze!" Nanda said firmly. "You are his family; and you are a true wife if you love him and take the care of him. And if you run away from the true love, you are spitting on God's greatest gift."

Lou sat back, rubbing her eyes dully and picking at a half-eaten cookie listlessly. She couldn't tell Nanda how God's great gift of love had a price tag attached to it, a high one in her case. "I'm sure he's fed up with me and my problems, anyway," she moped, unreasonably. "He's probably glad to be rid of me."

Nanda studied her and then patted her on the arm again, saying nothing more for the present. But Nanda was a take-charge person, who never sat idly for long when someone was in trouble; and she was already plotting in her mind how to fix this problem for the poor sad Americana.

"Now, do as I say. Go up and sleep. You are tired," the woman said looking at the dark circles under her eyes.

Lou was about to protest, she didn't want to bother nice Nanda further, but actually she was right; despite the coffee she had just drunk she was feeling quite sleepy. The early wakeup, the fight with Kid and then the rain she had been caught in had tired her and the thought of a warm bed to rest in a little bit was very enticing.

"Grazie, Nanda, you're very nice," Lou responded, smiling.

Mrs. Angelieri nodded approvingly and led her in a nearby room, the boys' bedroom Lou supposed seeing four beds in there, and then up a small wooden stair to a little attic.

"Ecco,(Here) you sleep here," Nanda said, gesturing two beds, one of which was already occupied by the tabby cat Lou saw before.

"Le ragazzine(the little girls) come for lunch, don't worry. " She patted the bed without the cat encouragingly and then she went downstairs, "if you need something, call me!" she said before disappearing down the stairs and leaving her alone.

Lou sat on the bed, the room was pleasantly warm due to the funnel passing behind one of the walls, so she stripped down to her underwear, draping her clothes on a nearby chair, and slipped under the covers. The cat came and rolled up near her, but Lou didn't chase him away and after a while she fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the rain against the roof and the soft purr of Romeo.

Meanwhile, Nanda went down to the courtyard, where she knew her oldest sons were tending the horse and the donkey they owned.

"Marcello!" she called, "vie' qui, devi farmi un piacere8" and began to tell him what she had in mind. Amiable young Marcello grinned and nodded in agreement.

Chapter Four

"Fa piano, Sofì…se no svegli l'Americana9…"

But the soft sounds of someone moving in the room had already woken up Lou, who sat up on the bed a bit groggily, and saw the two sisters looking at her.

"Sorry," Sofia said shrugging her shoulders apologetically.

"We not want wake you," her older sister added.

"Oh please, no. I'm sorry! I've occupied your room; I didn't know it was so late!"

"We go down, now. Mamma said you wear this," Giada said, holding out a bundle of dry clothes, "we wait you to lunch!"

The two girls scurried downstairs before Lou could say anything, so she got up and picked the clothes thoughtful Mrs. Angelieri had prepared for her.

The lunch was a little quieter an affair than breakfast, since the older brothers and the father were away at work. Nanda put before her a plate full of spaghetti with the rich tomato sauce she was preparing in the morning and while eating the Angelieri women started to talk about the 'Corsa dei Berberi', the Race of the Berber Horses and the 'Battaglia delle luci', or Battle of the lights that would take place that evening.

Fortunately it had stopped to rain and the sky was cloudless and bright again so the girls were excited and couldn't stop to talk about the feast, Lou understood about half of the things they said, because they talked fast and they often forgot to speak in English, but their happy mood was catching and she found herself as eager as they to go and enjoy the Roman Carnival.

Thinking of Kid, though, left alone all these hours at the hotel, gave her pause. She decided to surprise him there, make up for the morning, and smiled to herself at the thought.

"You will go with us, Louise?" Giada asked, anxiously.

"Well, I would like to … I have a mask I bought from your brother. Do I need a costume too?" Louise asked, gathering from their talk that they intended to dress up for the evening, and they nodded vigorously. "That is the fun! At carnival, nobody knows who is who," Giada explained. "In fact, we have an idea, don't we, Sofia?"

Sofia nodded, smiling, and took a box out from behind a curtain across the room. "You can wear this." She held up a glittering white gown, encrusted with silver lace and embroidery, and a silver half-mask.

Louise gasped. "It's so beautiful! Why aren't one of you wearing it?"

"It is too small in the, how you say? In the top," Giada said modestly. "We do the sewing for a living, and the lady who ordered this, she change her mind at the last minute. She did no pay for it, either," she said, irritated. "You can borrow. She is the gown of the Cerenterola . . . the Cinderella, from the great opera, you know . . . when she marry her prince, yes?"

"I'll buy it, of course," Lou said. "Just tell me what you were charging your client."

The girls tried to protest, but Lou would not hear of it. She pressed the money into their hands and, since the dress had cost a great deal to make, they finally relented the third time Lou insisted.

"It really is so lovely," Lou breathed, holding it up to herself and looking in the mirror over the dresser. "Did she order a Prince Charming costume too?" she asked, but the girls were flying around the room, pinning and fitting the dress and appeared not to hear or understand her question.

Chapter Five

Once everyone was dressed up in their colorful carnevale garb, the older Angelieri children headed out to the streets, except for Marcello, who had run off on his own ahead of them carrying a bundle for a delivery of some kind, and yelling back to meet him at the Battaglia delle luci. Hurrying down the Via del Corso, Giada, Sofia and Giuseppe pulled Louise to the side of the street, waiting for la Mossa, the signal for the horses to be let loose to thunder down to the Piazza Venezia, riderless. There were colorful draperies of bright fabric fluttering from every window and balcony, and confetti rained down from all directions, glittering in the air, amid shouting and singing and laughing from the costumed crowd. Flowers and food and wine were everywhere around at this great celebration; and then suddenly, the signal was given, and everyone raced to the sides of the street as the horses were released. As they swept past, Louise shrieked with the thrill and danger of the spectacle, laughing with the others pressed up against the building as the horses careened past on the narrow street, as the rich noblefolk watched safely from the balconies above. Lou gasped, laughing breathlessly with the others once the last of the horses had passed by, and her new friends were happy to see her sparkling face.

"Can we stop at the hotel?" Lou asked when the Race finished and the people began to scatter away. "I'd like to get my husband." Giuseppe and the girls nodded, but urged her to hurry; and they scrambled through the crowded, riotous streets filled with revelers and music and torches toward where she was staying. Taking her key from her pocket, Lou opened the door to her room, and her heart dropped at the sight of the empty room. Kid wasn't there; he must have gone out for the evening . . . Giada and Sofia stroked her arm comfortingly. "He will be back, signora," they reassured her, but Lou bit her lip worriedly. She had hoped not to let the sun go down on their argument, and to spend this carnevale with him by her side; but with a sigh she shut the door and followed the others out to the streets again, with a heavy heart.

"Coraggio signora,(Cheer up, Mrs!) we find him alla Battaglia, everyone is there," Giuseppe told her while they walked again toward Via del Corso, the center of the celebrations.

He adjusted his short woolen cape and his black mask and smirked, already anticipating the fun of the evening.

"Ecco ragazze, prendete queste10!"

Giuseppe put out from his satchel tree candles and with their candle-holders and handed them to the girls.

"Miss Louise, you keep the candle but careful, because if someone blow it out you have to take off your mask. Not go too far away from me," he told to Lou, "there will be a lot of people and it can be dangerous, e questo vale pure per voi due," he added addressing his sisters.

His protective streak made Lou smile and remember Kid. The Italian males seemed to be even more protective than her own husband. Giada and Sofia raised their eyes and puffed indignantly, but assured their older brother they would not get in trouble.

As they approached the Corso the people holding candles grew more and more, until the evening was illuminated by a river of small lights. Everyone wore masks and the ones who could afford it wore complete costumes like the one the Angelieri sisters had made of Cerenterola. There were a lot of funny costumes and people making mischief all around. Acrobats performed stunts, small bands played festive tunes, and stands sold fritters covered with powder sugar and other sweets. All the people were enjoying the evening a great deal, as everyone tried to blow out the someone else's candle; and despite their brother's advice, even Giada and Sofia ran towards some handsome boys as soon as they spotted them.

"Tullio and Vittorio," Giuseppe snorted under his breath.

He didn't seem too happy to see his little sisters flirting with their two friends; he and Marcello were ready to joke and flirt with all the women they came across, but they didn't like that other men did the same to their sisters. Some things were the same everywhere, Lou thought, giggling lightly at the young men's antics.

She looked around her, a bit overwhelmed by the crowd and the confusion but at the same time amazed by the show of all those lights, swarming all around her like fireflies. At a certain point she spotted a man wearing a costume somewhat similar to her own. He wore a short white velvet cape, under which he had a short jacket, tight pants and boots and even a little sword hanging on his waist. He looked like the Prince Charming of the fairytales.

His body structure, the way he moved, everything was familiar to her and Lou's heart skipped a bit. She tried to look better at his face; it was covered with a mask but she would recognize those unruly thick curls and that strong jaw anywhere.

He was making his way across the crowd, holding his candle as high as possible to prevent anyone from blowing it out, and Lou moved toward him as well, covering her flame with her hand to protect it. When they were few feet apart the man drew out his hand to take hers; he drew Lou toward him, and she didn't resist, letting him crush her against his chest.

Looking up at his eyes she met the familiar blueness she knew and loved and she felt the tears rising; without saying anything they each blew out the other's candle at the same time.

******

Marcello approached his brother with a satisfied grin on his masked face.

"Dove stanno Giada e Sofia?" he asked as first thing when he didn't see his sisters.

"Laggiù," Giuseppe sighed, "co' Vittorio e Tullio11."

Nobody of the brothers seemed happy to see their little sisters flirting with their friends, but they weren't doing anything inappropriate, so they decided to let them be, for the moment.

"Louise invece se n'è andata con un tipo vestito di bianco, ma questo lo sapevi già, vero?"

Marcello's grin widened.

"Già, quando sono arrivato in albergo quel poveretto stava per anda' dalle Guardie a di' che la moglie era scomparsa. Fortuna che mamma avuto quell'idea…"

"Non c'è niente da fa, mamma è sempre la mejo12" Giuseppe concluded.

The two brothers laughed heartily; happy to have helped their American friend and her husband, and then they reached their sister and their friends, ready to enjoy the Carnevale.

******

"I'm sorry Kid," Lou said staring at her husband's deep blue eyes.

They had removed their masks, as the tradition of the Battle said, and now stood embracing each other in a corner, unaware of the chaos and the crowd around them.

"I'm sorry I screamed at you, and said you don't care, and ran away like I did…"

Kid gently put a finger on her lips to stop her rant.

"Don't," he said while his hand slipped to cup her cheek, "don't say you're sorry. I feel the same way you did. I want to give you children, and it's hard not be able to fulfill our dream. But don't ever say I'd be better off without you again. That's not true because without you I'd have never known what true love is."

"Oh Kid . . . " Lou started again, on the verge of the tears.

"No more crying, sweetheart," he admonished her, kissing her tears away. "We're together in one of the most romantic places of the world. Let's dance and enjoy the evening."

He started to lead her in a waltz to the music of a nearby band, and the couple swirled around under the clear night sky lit by the brightest, most beautiful stars they had ever seen, until the sadness was put away for the moment. "Nanda was right", Lou thought, "God gave me one of His greatest gifts, and whatever future lies ahead for us, I'd be forever grateful for that."

"I love you Kid," she said snuggling against his chest.

"I love you too," he responded, hugging her closer, while they danced away their special Carnival night.

THE END.

up1"Hurry up, Joe! Otherwise we'll get soaked!" "Let's go under the small Madonna to wait until it stops to rain!"
up2"Oh…there's already someone." "Oh well, we'll squeeze up. Excuse me, miss, you don't mind if we too take shelter (under it)"
up3"I don't know about you, but I'm freezing."
up4"Rome'! They left you outside too, didn't they?"
up5"It seemed to me I've heard something! Better later than never! Is this the time to return!? Did you want to scare me to death??Being away all the night like that..."
up6"C'mon! Go inside, and take off this wet clothes, I put something to warm up in front of the fireplace" "Thank you, mom. You're always the best one!"
up7"I'm sorry miss, but you know how the boys are. Every once in a while a scolding is necessary. Please, don't stay in the doorway, come inside." "What have you done?" "Nothing mom, she is Louise, one of my tourist. She's American.She got lost and we invited her at home. We couldn't leave her under the rain, couldn't we?" "You did good. Go to change yourselves now, and told your sister to find something for her to wear. She must be freezing, poor thing."
up8"Marcello, come here. You have to make me a favour."
up9"Be quiet Sofì, otherwise you'll wake up the American."
up10"Here girls, take these."
up11"Where are Giada and Sofia?" "Over there, with Vittorio and Tullio."
up12"Louise instead went away with a guy dressed in white, but you already knew this, didn't you?" "Yep! When O arrived at the hotel that poor man was going to go to the Guards and tell his wife was vanished."
We got luck that our mom got that idea." "There's nothing to do, our mom is always the best one!"

Author's Note: From Ellie: Paola, thank you so much for agreeing to work on this story about Kid and Lou in beautiful Rome!

Author's Note: From Paola: I want to thank Ellie for giving me the possibility to work with her, bringing Kid and Lou in my town. It was a pleasure to work with you.

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