Ellie watched him watching her all day as she explored the Forum and the Paletine, all the while the South American band on the sidewalk beyond the entrance, its members all dressed like Santa Clause, played an endless brassy version of Jingle Bells -- several weeks premature, in Ellie’s opinion. But even their brassy, slightly out of tune, homage to the season became background noise in the quiet of the Forum and the Paletine. She could have been on a different planet, in a different time, as she plugged this mystery man into a half a dozen fantasy scenarios unfolding in her fertile imagination, all involving filthy sex in the ancient site.
He was younger than she. God, wasn’t everyone these days, and she was always more aware of the march of time at the end of the year with her next birthday looming in the wings. Still, Ellie wasn’t so old that she didn’t recognize lust when she saw it. She gave a quick glance over her shoulder expecting to see the object of that lusty look in his eyes standing just behind her; someone young and beautiful, someone for whom the birthday looming in the wings meant only lovely, expensive gifts from secret admirers, someone more used to receiving that look, but the little nod and the Mona-Lisa-on-porn smile he gave her assured her that yes, she was the one. The look belonged to Ellie.
She didn’t know why she wasn’t afraid. Maybe she should have been. But there was something extraordinary about him, and she couldn’t help feeling that he was as much a stranger to Rome as she was, or perhaps it was more that Rome, at least the way it is now, was a stranger to him. But then that was probably just her imagination running away with itself, wasn’t it?
But still there was something about him that made him stand out in the crowd, as though he were somehow more luminous, as though there was, perhaps, another dimension to him. But that’s often how Ellie’s fantasies ran when she was in the zone, when she was writing a new story. Nothing had to be ordinary in fiction, after all. Having said that, no one seemed to notice as he moved among the scuttle and press of tourist jostling no one, drawing no attention, not even the surreptitious glances of the young women hoping for a whirlwind Roman romance on their holiday to titillate their friends with upon their return home. He carried nothing. He wore no jacket, only a dark green sweater and jeans, warm enough for the late November sunshine.
Wherever Ellie went, he was always there, a few steps behind her or a few steps in front, always lingering when she did, hurrying on when she did, taking in the views when she did. In the Hall of the Vestal Virgins, she couldn’t keep from admiring his height and his dark good looks mimicked against the blue of the sky in the reflecting pool. In the shadows of the senate building, she could just catch the crook of his smile in a sliver of light filtering in through the open door. On the wall overlooking the Circus Maximus, he left her a perfect red rose, his shoulder just brushing hers as he slid past her in the push of a group of Chinese tourists. Ellie might have given a startled little gasp at the warmth of him, the electric brush of flesh against flesh separated only by a few millimeters of cloth. His breath against her ear was the dry sky and earth scent of cedar and rosemary, and she instinctually opened her mouth to take it in with her own breath. And then he passed and was gone, and she looked down with a start at the prick her finger on one of the thorns. Strange that the physicality of sucking the bright droplet of blood from her own finger was somehow arousing.
All day it was like that, and Ellie had lingered far longer than she intended, enjoying the little game of cat and mouse, of hide and seek, of furtive glances, of half shy smiles. Before she realized it, the shadows were long; the docents would be herding everyone out of the Forum and Paletine for the night soon. It was in the now deserted underground passage near the House of Livia that he approached her at last. Consent was unspoken, but it was there as surely as if she had worn a big red YES across her forehead. That big red YES had had all day to evolve from consent to a desperate plea as he took her face in his hands and kissed her. For a second the world tilted around her and then shimmered like a mirage. The kiss deepened, his tongue caressing hers, his lips bruising; Ellie’s lips bruising back, his teeth nipping, and her opening to the bite of him, clinging to him, fists curled in dark, soft hair, breasts pressed against hard muscles that rose and fell reflecting her own struggle for breath.
“If I take you here like this, in this place, you’ll belong to me,” he said, pulling away to slide his hand up under her blouse and cup her breasts in turn. “And when I call you, you’ll come back to me, no matter where in the world you are. You know this?”
“I know.” Ellie replied already shamelessly fumbling with his fly. And she did know. It occurred to her that she had known from the moment she saw him and, heaven help her, she was completely okay with that.
He shoved her hand away and she heard the scrape of his zipper as he maneuvered himself free, as he shoved up her skirt and slid her panties aside with slight of hand that exposed her, open and begging like a nestling waiting to be fed. Perhaps Ellie whimpered at his touch, or perhaps it was the sound of the last sparrows settling into the cypress trees to roost as the day drew to a close. It didn’t matter which it was, all that mattered was that he was going to relieve a need she only just now realized had been aching inside her for a very long time. She felt the heat of him hard and smooth and searching against the inside of her thigh, and she struggled to get him where she needed him, but he held her there, calming her, speaking softly to her.
“It won’t take long,” he said, opening her with two fingers, finding her more than ready. He held Ellie’s gaze with urgency, with focus, with secrets about to be revealed, fingering her until she squirmed and shivered and ached. “It won’t take long,” he repeated, “but I promise you, it will last an eternity.” Before she could question his meaning, he lifted her, hands cupping her bottom, until her back was pressed hard against the ancient brick wall and, with a quick thrust of his hips, buried himself deep, holding still for a moment, holding her still for a moment, sighing against Ellie’s neck, catching his breath as though he were inhaling her. And when she began to thrash, desperate for relief, he held her tighter and whispered against her ear. “Make it last. Soon enough you’ll wish we could have lingered.” And then he began to thrust and undulate and move deeper inside her
At some point he bared her breasts, managing the bra with the same slight of hand he had her panties. He suckled from her as though from her breasts he could drink from the fountain of life itself. Her nipples, wet with his saliva, chilled in the dry Mediterranean evening, peaked beyond painful, existed only for his mouth. Her body was slick with the need of him, gripping and grasping and urging him deeper into her over and over until she dissolved around him, falling to pieces, crumbling to dust, disappearing on the breath of a breeze as had all those who had lived in this place before. And at the very point at which there was nothing left but an essence almost as old as the very bedrock of the Paletine, he spilled himself into her. Again and again he filled her until surely he had replaced the very blood in her veins with his lust, with his passion, with himself. And when he was finished, when they were both finished and the world settled back into place and time began to move again, Ellie came back to herself in little spasms and gasps, receding shudders and softening heartbeats leaning against the wall, trembling breathing in the scent of cedar and rosemary and sex.
“Are you all right, Signora?” Ellie started at the voice of the docent standing at the end of the passage. “I am sorry but the Forum is closed now. You must leave.”
Ellie nodded, still not trusting herself to speak, and followed the docent on unsteady legs out of the passage, down the steps past the House of Livia and to the exit gate where the South American Santas were still playing Jingle Bell,sand the traffic of the Eternal City still buzzed and honked its way down the busy thoroughfares as the sky darkened to midnight blue with evening’s approach. But there was no further sign of the man. She hadn’t expected there to be. It was only after she got back to the St. Regis Hotel and settled in to reflect on the events of the day over a nice glass of Primitivo that she found the remains of a crushed red rose in her jacket pocket and the prick on the tip of her finger stung with muscle memory.
Ellie never slept on planes, especially not on a flight as short as one from Rome to Heathrow. But this time she did, or she thought she did. But maybe she wasn’t really asleep, and she certainly wasn’t on BA flight 547 heading back to London either. She was in the House of the Vestal Virgins lying on the grass looking up at the night sky. There were people moving around her, but not close enough that their presence mattered. She could hear the chatter of women’s voices, and strange music wafted on the night air. Everything felt different, smelled different. Nothing was ruined. Everything was made new and yet still old enough that history was lost in myth.
This time he came to her in a toga. It was white and so was he, bathed in moonlight as he was. He knelt in front of her and lifted his robe, his eyes locked on hers as though he could convey to her what he wanted, what he needed, what he was offering. In response Ellie rucked up her own strange robes and lifted her hips, showing him her own wants and needs that went so much deeper than the physical need for penetration. With a slight nod and a lowering of dark lashes, Ellie knew that he understood what she wanted, what she always wanted, what she always knew penetration really meant. He entered her with a grunt and an oath in a language she didn’t understand, and then he lowered himself until his weight rested on his elbows and he still held her gaze. “Don’t you know there’s no place you can’t now go, no time you can’t visit, no thing you can’t now hold in the grasp of your mind?” Then he began to thrust, slowly, deliciously, as though they had all eternity.
“You’re mine now,” he whispered when he came, “and time and circumstances no longer matter. You’re mine and,” he bent his dark head to lay a kiss on the place between Ellie’s breasts where her heart hammered the rhythm of her own release, “and I have always, always been yours.”
Ellie woke up with a little jerk in the World Traveler Plus section of flight 547 bound for Heathrow. Only a few moments had passed, but she had not been present for those few moments. She had been back in Rome, back with him. For a moment she sat disoriented, astounded at how clearly she had heard his call and how quickly and easily she had gone to him. It had taken no time, no space, no effort. She had been penetrated deeper than flesh, and it was for Ellie like it is with all writers. When it happened, Muse or overly active imagination, the story that comes has to be written.