Italian Heart

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Chapter 16

“Oh my god, my feet,” Katie screamed as she threw her sneakers off and fell back on the couch. It was day two of our Rome adventure, and we’d visited everything she wanted, from the Coliseum, which did not have shirtless gladiators, to the Pantheon, which also did not have shirtless.

“I told you that we should’ve just taken the taxi,” I said as I fell back on the fluffy queen bed. “Seriously. I think we went at least fifteen miles. Like my feet are broken.”

“But we got to experience Roma like the Romans.”

“Right. Because Caesar ate mint gelato and pepperoni pizza all day too.” I pushed my shoes off my feet one by one.

“Your sarcasm is being ignored.” She pulled out her tablet and hooked it up to the WiFi. “Ugh, come on. I need to see if Josh feels like shit.”

“Just give it a second.”

“I know. I know.” She tapped her fingers on the screen. “200 likes and comments.”

I raised my hand to air five her because I was not about to get up. “Read them to me, dah-ling.”

“Ok, most of them are that obnoxious ‘omg love this,’ which we know. I mean seriously. We were wearing designer clothes in Rome. But then there are the others. Everyone is asking who the mystery guy is. Personal favorite, if you ask me, is from the one and only Josh, and it’s a big fat frowny face. Game. Set. Match, my friend,” she said before squealing like a kid going to Disney World. “I’m not trying to say I win but...I totally win.”

“Katie...”

“Don’t Katie me. This is helping.”

I didn’t even have the energy to argue this. My eyelids were heavy, and I told myself that all I really needed was a ten minute power nap and I’d be ready for dinner.

“Ok, so I know you’re tired, but we have some serious planning to do. We leave tomorrow, and we have to be in Santorini on the 15th. That leaves at least ten days unaccounted for AND we have to figure out how to get from here to Greece.”

I groaned. “Please tell me you have a plan.”

“Of course I do. Already coming together perfectly. You’re good with boats right?”

Well the urge to nap was gone. I turned to Katie, trying to see if she had that look in her eye that said we’d be rowing a dingy to Santorini.

“Should I be worried?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Funny, ha ha. I have some good ideas too, you know. I’m here, aren’t I?”

I stuck out my tongue and waited for her to get to it.

“I mean it’s going to cost a fortune but when in Rome.”

“You no longer get to use that card. That card got us lost like three times already.”

“It’s not like it’s one of those use it once and lose it things. Anyway, we’re going on a cruise. There’s this website that lists last minute cruise bookings and for two grand a piece we could go on the Majesty, a deluxe five-star cruise that just happens to end it’s journey at Santorini. Well, they called it Thira, but it’s the same place. I checked.”

“That’s a lot of money, Katie.”

“But think about it. We enjoy a much needed vacation with food and wine and all the things we need before we go back to our boring lives.”

“They weren’t that bad.”

“Didn’t you say you were trying to be spontaneous this year.”

“Spontaneous isn’t dropping two grand on a boat.”

“A cruise,” Katie clarified.

“Whatever.”

“Look. Hear me out. We could go back to Siena and fly to Santorini for the wedding, but there has to be more to this than hiding away with your grandma. She’s lovely. Seriously. I wish she were really my family.” She rolled her eyes. “My point is you need this. I need this. Let’s be reckless now and be reasonable for the rest of our lives.”

I took a steadying breath. I did have money left from Uncle Oscar’s check. Money that could be put to more practical things. But I didn’t want to be practical. I wanted to live. For once, I wanted to do the fun thing. The one that would mean something.

“Fine, but we’re getting a room with a balcony because I will get seasick if I’m in an internal cabin. And no one needs that.”


Calimera,” our tour guide shouted over the sloshing of water lapping against the dock as Katie pushed me off the tender boat and onto solid land. “Welcome to Santorini or as the locals call it, Thira. Our first stop will be for the wine tasting listed on your itinerary. Then we’ll embark on a scenic ride to Fira followed by our final destination, picturesque Oia.”

“’Scuse me.” A woman raised her hand like we were all back in school, which made me groan on instinct. It was sunhat lady. This was the fourth tour we’d seen her on and she always had questions. Her voice was instant Charlie Brown adult noise now.

Katie nudged me and nodded in the woman’s general direction before tossing aside her tour headset. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m so sick of the fun facts and the questions. Doesn’t anyone appreciate silence these days?”

Something was definitely up. She usually loved the tour guides. “What’s wrong?”

She frowned. “Nothing.”

“Katie...”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Katie, come on. I know something is bothering you.”

“Jennifer’s boyfriend said that Josh was out at the club this weekend.” She blew out a dramatic breath. "Country club not club club.” She clarified.

“Was he with someone?”

"No, but they said he looked happy and yeah."

"Well he's at a country club while we're in Greece. We know who the real winners are." This earned a small smile. "And besides, we're going to a wedding. Free outfits. Free wine. Free food. It doesn't get much better than that."

"I just wanted him to be miserable," Katie said, looking out the window as the bus roared to life.

"You know what we need to do? Review the game plan."

"Right. Yes. My plan." Katie pulled out her phone, the itinerary mapped out and ready to go. "Wedding is in three hours so we'll go to the winery, and even if the drive to Oia takes us an hour, we’ll be there with time to spare. So we have a little wine, relax, and then it’s wedding time. Easy peasy."

Most of the ride to the winery consisted of me with my head between my legs as the bus moved up the cliffs with a speed that should have been reserved for smaller, more agile vehicles. Even Katie had lost the urge to speak as we rocked back and forth, the tour guide talking about the island's history of earthquakes as if one fear might cancel out the other.

Thirty minutes and three Tums later, we'd arrived at the winery.

“Ok, so I talked with the bus driver. He said he’s going to unload our bags at Oia as soon as the others are gone, so all we’ll need to do is locate the Church of Panagia and boom! We party with the Greeks.”

“You know most of her family is Italian, right?”

“We're in Greece. It counts. When in Santorini.”

“You seriously have to stop saying that. I thought we agreed after when in Capri that it didn’t apply anywhere but Rome.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look to your right, you will see the winery, which is the main supplier of red wine to the towns of Fira, Karterados, and Oia." Our tour guide hopped off the bus as soon as it slowed, gesturing for all of us to follow. “Before you head to the tasting, please remember we will be reconvening in one hour, so by my time, that will be twelve. Look for Group 6 on the front of the bus when you return. We will leave without you.”

“Twelve?” Katie and I asked in unison. “No, no, there must be some mistake. My phone says it’s only ten."

“You did not change for the time difference. One hour will be twelve,” she said, her thick accent suddenly very annoying.

"Well that's not good."

"Understatement of the year," I said, grabbing my phone. I hadn't changed mine either. You'd think this would have been something to know.

"Ok, ok, let's think this through. It's eleven. Wedding is at one. We should be fine. We factored in some buffer time."

“Or, we leave,” I called after the tour guide, who was hustling away with quick steps. “Excuse me. Hello, sorry to bother you. We need a taxi from here to Oia. We can't stay for the tour.”

“No taxis come here. We are slated to arrive in Oia by 1:00,” she said. “More likely 1:30 with the way things are moving.”

More like with the way people were moving. Our tour group happened to be on the older side and was probably around for that last earthquake she had been going on about on the ride here.

“No, we can’t do that. We’re going to a wedding,” I said as I looked around. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. There was a sign that pointed in the direction of Fira. Fire was on the itinerary as a point of interest on the way to Oia, which meant we might be able to catch a ride from there. “How far is Fira? Can we walk?”

The guide just looked at me like I was crazy and then reiterated when the bus was leaving before walking off.

“I don’t like her,” Katie said, her eyes squinting at the rotund guide. "Terrible customer service."

“It's fine. We have bigger problems. Ok, so new plan. We get to Fira and hire a taxi. The bus will be waiting for everyone to stop and get out for lunch. We can just steal the seats in the front and book it to the nearest public transit sign.”

“But what about our clothes? I just bought that super cute top in Sorento. Remember, the one with the buttons.”

“Your choice, girl, but I’m not waiting around for the tour. We either make the wedding or keep our luggage, and seriously, we only had those small bags full of dirty clothes anyway. We could just shop for more.”

“Fine, but you owe me a shirt with lots of buttons,” she said pouting as we walked over to the group and grabbed our free glasses of wine. We'd opted for a full glass instead of the tasting, but I instantly regretted that. I was too nervous to drink. Katie, on the other hand, didn't seem to have the same issue. She downed her glass and then mine, wiping at the corner of her lips to be sure her lipstick was still where it should be. “Sorry. Being late stresses me out."

“It’s ok. We’ll be fine.”

Well, that’s what I kept telling myself. Inside, I was trying not to cry because making it to the wedding was starting to feel impossible.

At quarter after twelve, we were still missing two tourists who apparently couldn’t tell time, which had Katie and most of the other tourists all riled up.

“Ok, if they’re not back in one minute, I’m going after them myself. Time is ticking, people,” she said as she tapped her purple clad foot while clenching and unclenching her hands.

“Easy there, tiger. We’ll be ok.”

“You know we’re going to literally be chasing time the second we get off at Fira. Oh my god, I’m having a heart attack,” she said as she clutched her chest. “This is all my fault. I signed us up for the moron cruise.”

“Ok, it looks like we are going to have to leave without them,” our tour guide said with a shrug. “I guess they liked the wine a little too much.”

“Yeah!” Katie said, jumping up from her seat. A few people clapped with her, but I tugged her back down.

“Really?”

“I am the voice of the people,” she said with a shrug. “Ok, so this itinerary says that we’re a 35 minute ride from Oia once we get off the bus. That means we’ll be cutting it super close because of these idiots, but since when do weddings start on time?"

I shrugged. I'd never been to one before and with movies it was a 50/50 shot if someone was missing before the vows. She might be onto something.

At 12:25 on the dot, Katie and I barreled down the tour bus steps and toward the nearest taxi, heels and purses in our hands.

“We need to get to Oia,” I said toward a man leaning against a car I assumed was a taxi. He was s busy talking to one of his friends.

“No, no good,” he said, looking us over. "Not going to Oia."

“We have money,” Katie said, gesturing toward the car. I was pretty sure it still was a taxi. It felt like a taxi. “You drive a car for money, yes? We need to get to Oia. For a wedding. True love. Do you understand. It's all for love!”

Well if he didn't think we were crazy Americans before, he does now.

“He won’t take you,” someone else said beside us. Two young guys, no older than eighteen, gestured toward their Vespas as if they were the coolest things since iced coffee.

“We’ll take you for half the cost,” he said nodding to his friend.

“Done!” Katie shouted as I said no.

“Katie, no. Are you crazy?” I whispered as she sat sidesaddle on the seat and wrapped her arms around the shorter of the two.

“Maybe, but this crazy person is getting to the wedding. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get there one way or another. They’ve got to have at least one hot relative, and I’m calling dibs right now. I feel like I've earned it."

“Fine. Ok, we’ll give you thirty euros if you get us there before one. We need to get to a wedding.”

“A wedding?” they both looked to each other and smiled. “We know where you’re headed. Panagia, yes? Our father is the priest.”

“Take us to your father!” Katie shouted as the little motorcycle things revved and raced out of the city and toward the town of Oia.

The trip was nerve wracking and ruined forever any hope of having good wedding hair, but the views of the island as we wove in and out of traffic were spectacular.

“Will we make it?” I asked as I held onto this stranger for dear life. This would definitely be the first and last time I ever rode on a Vespa.

“Yes, yes. Ten minutes.”

“Thank you,” I said, practically throwing the money at the two boys as Katie and I climbed off, the town of Oia spreading out in front of us like a white-washed palace.

The path we were on wasn’t paved so we kept our heels in our hands as we hustled toward the main square. That's where the church would be. Apparently, we couldn't miss it, but I wasn't leaving this to chance.

“Panagia?” I asked the first person I saw. A woman, who worked a souvenir booth just at the opening of the city. She was selling nuts and dried fruits and postcards of the classic church with a domed blue roof and white walls.

“That way,” she said, gesturing for us to keep following the path.

Katie waved her phone in my face. 12:57. Oh no.

We ran until we hit the square filled with tourists snapping photos of the cliff. There were too many people.

My feet throbbed as the sub beat down on my exposed shoulders. I was hot and tired and there were so many feelings, all of which revolved around me being the worst goddaughter alive.

“There!” Katie said, pointing to the wide open doors of the church. "We can feel bad about this later. We have to go."

We slipped on our shoes and hauled ass for the door, cutting a line through the crowd of tourists as the doors began to close. And then, the unthinkable happened. Katie went down first, her heel catching on a divot in the white marble outside the church door. I grabbed her but it was too late. We were going down along with any hope of sneaking in unnoticed as we crashed to the floor.

“Holy shit, I broke a hip,” Katie said from beneath me as I tried to stand.

"Hard same." I was also seeing stars. I may have hit my head on the door. “Did we make it?” I asked as strangers came running over, helping us up as we reoriented ourselves.

“Kiddo, is that you?” Uncle Oscar said, pulling me into a hug and then Katie, who was momentarily preoccupied with the guy who helped her up.

“Sorry, sorry, we were supposed to be here earlier and then there was a time change thing and a winery and a stupid tour guide who wouldn’t help us get a taxi. I’m so sorry. Are we too late?” I asked, looking at the other guests, who were currently fanning Katie and I like we were going to faint.

“Don’t worry. Giovanna hasn’t walked down the isle yet. You’re both right on time.”

“Oh, thank god,” I said as I dropped my purse and leaned against the side of the church to catch my breath. “Katie, next time, I make the plan.”

“So rude. I get you here in one piece and that’s the thanks I get?” She waved her hand in my direction.

“Let’s go find a seat,” I said, walking into the church. It was simply decorated, with high, vaulted ceilings and a focal point of the round center of the church that bathed the aisle in warm, natural light. There were at least fifty people seated in the church, if not more, but a set of seats were reserved for us in the first aisle, or that’s what it sounded like the wedding planner said, as she had someone usher us to the seats.

“This is amazing,” Katie said as she tried to calm the wild curls of her hair. I didn’t even bother with mine as we took our places. “Oh my god, Sophie. Don’t look now, but the hot guy who helped me up is a groomsman. Oh yum.”

“Seriously, we’re at a wedding,” I said as I nudged her shoulder. "And we're in a church. Jesus is watching."

“Priorities."

"Remember. These were the people who got you those amazing shoes. And dress.”

“Fine. I’ll be good and watch the actual wedding part of the wedding.”

The music sounded and the room stood in anticipation. It was a romantic combination of the guitar and a mandolin, which echoed harmoniously around the room as Giovanna stepped up to the aisle, her long white gown breathtaking against the gorgeous wildflowers in her bouquet.

“Oh, she looks so beautiful,” Katie whispered as she clasped my hand and squeezed tight. I knew it would be hard for her to be at a wedding after the breakup, but to give her credit, she seemed to be keeping it together. At least until there was wine involved. Then, I’d need to watch her a little more closely. It was my job to get her to the villa Uncle Oscar rented for the family to use until we left.

“I know,” I said as she took her steps carefully, never once breaking eye contact with a teary-eyed Uncle Oscar. “It makes you wonder if we’ll ever have this moment, too.”

“We will,” Katie said, squeezing my hand even tighter. “Even if I have to marry you, I’m getting a wedding before I die.”

“Deal,” I said as Giovanna accepted Uncle Oscar’s hand before the priest began the vows. The ceremony continued in a teary blur and ended with an adorable kiss and a cheer as the priest recited a traditional blessing over the couple before they walked down the aisle as Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Belvida.

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