Katya stepped carefully between the tables, once or twice touching a surface for balance. The clouds threatened rain above the Florence skies but despite the care she had taken with her clothes and makeup, she wanted the fresh air on her face. Having reached the indeterminate age that hovered between young and old, she knew she would no longer be eyed by every man she passed, but she would not instantly be dismissed either. Katya wanted to see and perhaps be seen as well.
Easing herself into one of the metal chairs with as much grace as possible, she then scraped it forward. Delightedly, she saw her situation was perfect – to one side the old tile roofs and church domes, to the other a world of people.
As she gave her espresso order to the waiter, two boys, perhaps eight and ten, dark-haired and dark-skinned walked by her a little too quickly, giggling and mischievous until called to order by their parents. The mother’s clothes swirled with fluid color foreign to Katya’s western eyes. But she delighted in the brilliant play of light across the vibrant fabric. Like the swish of silks and the satin of skin created in the Renaissance brushstrokes she had spent the last couple of hours drinking in – ethereal beauty floating her away, letting her ignore personal reality.
“Scusi.” A man’s voice brought her attention back to the moment. A middle-aged man with the dreamy eyes and classically sensuous mouth of so many Italian men, indicated the empty chair beside her. “You would permit me to join you? The tables…” He gestured around. While she had dreamed, the café had filled.
“Of course.” Katya smiled. It had been a long time since she had flirted with anyone. And this was her bucket list holiday…and a handsome Italian man made it even more perfect, if that was possible.
The man slipped into the chair beside her and beckoned commandingly to the waiter. Katya was impressed. In a moment, their two espressos sat side by side on the table. With her hands only shaking a little, she lifted the caffé doppio to her lips and savored the rich bitterness. So good. So deliciously wonderful.
“I saw you in the museum,” Marco said after the pleasantries and introductions had been meandered through. “You lingered a long time at Venus of Urbino. Is it her beauty or a personal connection that draws you?”
Katya felt heat rise across her chest and her face. No! She would not allow her thoughts to go there. She would stay nestled in this perfect afternoon. “Oh, I don’t know,” she managed. “What about you? Do you have a favorite painting or artist?”
The danger of the moment slid by. They went from espresso to wine and pastries. From painting to sculpture. A text pinged on Katya’s phone but she ignored it. A spatter of rain chased away most of the other patrons, but Katya and Marco simply laughed and waited for the clouds to clear again. It was a fantasy of romance and laughter.
Marco took her hand. “We have found each other,” he said, then added with a laugh, “and we should find dinner and then who knows?”
Katya squeezed his hand and smiled. “This has been so perfect, Marco. Thank you.”
“Thank you?” He frowned a little, puzzled, and then smiled again. “I will make certain that a beautiful woman like you will have so much to thank me for. I know this city and I know a delightful restaurant for you.”
“I must go to the restroom,” Katya murmured.
She wove back among the chairs and tables, and in the ladies room leaned against the cool tiles with her eyes squeezed tightly shut. She imagined what Marco’s expression would be if he saw the scars criss-crossing her body – the white lines of old surgeries, the puckered reds of the newer ones.
With stiffened spine she looked at the waiting text. As expected it was from the doctor’s office. The last surgery was scheduled. Chemo and radiation if deemed helpful would be added after that. And then….
Not looking back toward the café, Katya left the museum, hailed a taxi to return her to the hotel to pack. But as she sat in the cab’s darkness watching the lights of the city winking by, she was determined that to her, every coffee she drank from that moment on would taste like the perfect espresso in the Uffizi Café.