15 – Il Bel Far Niente, or More on The Beauty of Doing Nothing

Continued from Caesura

“Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination,”
Roy M. Goodman

*******

As Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor could it be seen in one.

And Grissom and Sara certainly weren’t all that keen on trying. Neither had any desire to cram or hurry or bustle about with all the characteristic busyness of the tourists who spend their entire vacation in a frantic rush to check off sites like one would a shopping list, only to return home feeling disappointed if they hadn’t caught each and every thing mentioned in their guidebooks. They’d seen enough of that in Vegas, sightseers stopping barely long enough for a snapshot, just able to say I’ve been there. That was no way to enjoy a place. Or what time they had left with each other.

So instead of rushing to head back out, the two of them were more than content to linger a little longer under the bedclothes. Which ultimately meant it was well after four by the time they eventually rose.

As she was rehanging the last of their rain damp towels in the bathroom, Sara paused to regard the tub there with a bit of longing. It wasn’t that their condo back in Vegas didn’t possess one. It did, a rather nice garden tub actually. But with her hectic as usual schedule, she didn’t get to make much use of it, leisurely soaks seeming far too indulgent a luxury. And she hadn’t exactly run into a lot of tubs you could stretch out during her time in Europe. When it came to the one in their Quartier Latin apartment, small was a bit both of an over and understatement.

Apparently her loitering look hadn’t escaped her husband’s notice. “Why don’t you?” he urged from behind her.

“What?” she asked caught slightly off guard.

“Go on. Take one,” Grissom insisted. “We’ve got plenty of time before dinner.”

Turned out that no self-respecting Roman would go out for cena before eight and even that was considered early.

When Sara continued to hesitate, he added, “It is a Roman custom, you know, bathing –”

Sensing further exposition was likely to be forthcoming if she didn’t interject, she said, “You mean ‘Cum Romano Romanus eris?’”

He shrugged. “Why not?”

“There’s not somewhere else you want to be?” asked Sara in return.

“No.”

Practically speaking, the Coliseum, Forum and most of Rome’s museums were already closed or soon would be. Not that that didn’t leave plenty to see. All of Rome was a museum. But centuries, if not millennia old as much of it was, it would all still be there in an hour.

“So go on,” he said attempting to smooth his bed headed hair back to rights in the bathroom mirror. “I’m going to see if I can find a paper and if that helpful woman at the front desk has any recommendations for dinner.”

Sara goggled at him. “You’re serious?”

“Yeah,” he replied with all his usual calm and collected certainty.

Her resultant “Okay” still slightly reluctant, Sara bent to start the water. At least she had the presence of mind to remember that the C inscribed on the faucet stood for hot not cold in most languages in Europe. Grissom disappeared back into the bedroom to change.

It was however his turn to be caught up short when he returned a few minutes later. Sara had stripped down and sat perched on the edge of the tub testing the temperature of the water with her hand. But it wasn’t just the sight of her, her hair piled haphazardly on her head to reveal that long arc of her neck that  he had always found particularly inviting. She had traded the richly Provençal fragrance of lavender she frequently favored for the musky sweet citrusy scent of orange blossoms.

And for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, he found himself transported back to their honeymoon, to the memory of the sight of his very naked newly wedded wife preparing for a soak. As she had on that occasion added a handful of orange petals from her wedding flowers to the water, forever after the smell reminded him of not only passion and desire but also of joy and the freshness of new life.

When she’d met his gaze that afternoon, her eyes had sparkled with mischief and so had her tone teasing as she had, “Voyeurism has never suited you, Gil.” Not that the ribbing had been without cause or merit. He’d certainly been gaping that day, probably was now, with the look of a man who couldn’t believe his good fortune.

The very present Sara seemed to share her past self’s sentiment, for having caught him watching her ease her way into the steaming tub she grinned, “I’d invite you in, but you’re way overdressed. That and it’s a bit cramped as it is.”

Room or not, the prospect Grissom had to admit was tempting, particularly as bath oil unlike bubbles or flower petals concealed little. And while it wasn’t that he hadn’t seen it all before, he was neither so old nor so accustomed to the sight to be inured or immune to the view. He was however equally capable of taking it all in from his new found perch on the edge of the tub.

Nor did Sara mind the attention or the company, though she did playfully murmur, “I thought you were going out.”

“In a minute,” he rejoined and motioned for her to lean forward so he could get her back.

Closing her eyes at the warm trickle of water down her neck and spine, Sara said, “So, what were you saying about baths being a Roman custom?”

For while she might have cut him off on the subject earlier, as long as he didn’t stop his ministrations, her husband could talk about pretty much any subject he wanted: the mating rituals of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, the rates of corporeal decomposition in aquatic environments, how to make eggplant parmesan, what Melville’s great white whale really symbolized.

“Borrowed. Egyptian originally,” Grissom began. “But greatly improved upon. The earliest of the great baths of Rome was the Thermae Agrippae built right next to and about the same time as the Pantheon.

“Then when Rome went from a republic to an empire, each subsequent emperor tried to outdo the previous one with larger and more ostentatious baths. The epitome being the Baths of Diocletian in 302 A.D.

“You’ve seen most of what’s left of it across the street from the Termini rail station. But for two hundred years it accommodated more than 18,000 people at a time. Had hot and cold baths, swimming pools, saunas, bars, a barber shop, sports and banquet facilities, a library and a brothel.”

“So the baths were about more than just getting clean,” Sara offered.

Grissom nodded. “They were social centers. And with everyone, slave to emperor patronizing them, one of the most democratic places in all of Rome. Everyone’s equal with their clothes off,” he supplied.

Sara smirked. “Well, some are more equal than others.”

With a barely concealed half laugh of his own, he replied, “On that note,” and was about to rise, only to halt at her tilting her head back to peer at him. Her face flush with the heat of the bath and the warmth of her smile, she practically glowed and with all the sun she’d gotten over the last few days having heightened her freckles, his eyes couldn’t help but follow their constellations.

But knowing if he didn’t go now, he never would, Grissom leaned in to brush his lips against her forehead in farewell. Sara having other ideas reached out a still dripping hand to draw him in for a proper kiss. At the soft, longing, possessive press, he almost gave up all thoughts of going entirely.

“Go on,” she urged as he broke away.

*******

At the sound of the door to their camera d’albergo opening and closing once more, Sara decided to abbreviate the last of her toilette. Emerging from the bathroom wrapped only in a bath sheet and her still toweling her hair dry, she greeted him with a welcoming, “You’re back,” then with an amused yet pleased sort of grin added, “Finally.”

By her accounting, he’d been gone rather long for someone who just went out to talk to the front desk clerk and look for a paper. For his part, Grissom only turned another page of the International Herald Tribune he’d purchased.

Not that Sara was all that surprised by his absorption. Frankly, she’d been impressed he’d held out this long.

“They win?” she asked, knowing right well he was checking the baseball scores in the sports section.

“Looks like won three, lost one,” came his half-absent reply.

Sara laughed. “I could have told you that. Yesterday,” she said and retrieving her iPhone from the bedside table punched a couple of buttons before handing it to her husband. “How else do you think I’ve been keeping up?”

Baseball had, like a great many things when it came to Grissom, grown on her. Perhaps it was Grissom’s frankly infectious enthusiasm or that boyish wonder of his. Didn’t matter, she’d been sucked in all the same.

At her insistent “Try it,” he took the phone, although he didn’t really seem all that interested. Sara was about to attribute his reluctance to the whole old school versus new school way of doing things until she caught sight of the presence of a rather large neatly wrapped box atop her pile of clean clothes.

And realized her husband’s practiced indifference was a bit too studied, even for him.

Nevertheless he only replied “Hmm,” to her curious query of “Gil?”

Sara tried for a more direct approach. “What’s this?” she asked, nudging the box.

Grissom glanced up over both his paper and reading glasses only long enough to say, “What does it look like?”

But the look was enough for Sara to catch that hint however fleeting of self-satisfaction playing about his mouth.

“If you’re so curious,” he added, ever nonchalant, “there’s only one way to know. Open it, dear.”

So she did, to uncover a vibrant, delicately floral patterned Kashmir shawl nestled inside. She smiled at the sight, it being a more colorful twin to the one Grissom had draped over her shoulders as a nuptial present the night they were married.

“You really didn’t go out just for a newspaper, did you?” Sara sighed when her powers of speech finally returned.

“I did actually,” he replied. “Saw it in a window while I was out.” But his subsequent admission of “Couldn’t resist,” came out slightly sheepish and his, “If you don’t like…” a little uncertain, at least for the usual ever-confident Grissom.

However dazed as she still was, Sara broke in with an “Of course I do.”

And of course she did. It was beautiful. And she told him as much. Although as she ran her hands along the soft, almost silky material she confessed, “There’s just one problem. I don’t have anything to wear it with.”

Having expected a more rustic holiday, Sara hadn’t exactly planned for nights out on the town when she’d packed. And as loath as she was to admit it, she often felt underdressed in Paris where even housewives would frequently show up to do their market shopping in haute couture, looking as elegant, made up and carefully put together as if they had just stepped off a runway. And Italians, or at least the Romans she’d encountered, were all the more fashion conscious. Here beauty seemed almost instinctive, for both women and men.

Even the polizia wore Armani, a perk Catherine would probably have much appreciated. But Sara had a hard time wrapping her head around crime fighting in four-inch heels. Yet they did, those heels tapping with the staccato of what she had to reluctantly concede was well-deserved vanity.

By comparison, Sara felt less than chic. In her not entirely unrumpled travel clothes, she looked like a tourist and knew it. Most of the time this wouldn’t have bothered her, or at least not been overly troubling. But fingering the fine weave work, she found it did.

Not immune to the way his wife’s face had suddenly fallen, Grissom put down his paper and suggested softly, “Honey, you might want to check the box again.”

How she could have missed the dark midnight nearly black blue hued fabric beneath, Sara could only attribute to her stupefaction at having first discovered the shawl there. But if she’d been surprised by the gift of the wrap, she was flabbergasted by the present of the dress she next withdrew.

It wasn’t that her husband wasn’t free with gifts. On the contrary. But he tended to favor small things like books, simple jewelry, that shawl for their wedding. There’d been a pretty robe or two over the years. And while Eddie might have been fond of buying Catherine teddies for their anniversaries, neither Grissom nor Sara were really into fancy lingerie. He didn’t really see the point and knew that his wife was more into practicality and comfort when it came to undergarments. As for proper clothes, while she’d bought him the periodic shirt and a sweater or two for the winters he’d spent away from Vegas, Grissom had never been so bold to do the same. And certainly never a dress.

So for a few moments she literally felt like a fish caught out of water, silently gaping wide eyed and wide mouthed at him, unable even to stammer out the single syllable of his name.

Grissom grinned, rather pleased at her reaction and said, “It’s nice to know I can still surprise you.”

Sara shook her head. “You never cease to amaze me,” she countered. Then having regained a bit of composure asked, “Is this a hint?”

When he appeared not to understand the question she added, “What’s the occasion? Or did you just want to see me in a dress?”

“An added benefit,” he replied in all sincerity. “And no, no occasion. I didn’t know I needed one. Just dinner, Sara.”

Sara returned his smile, knowing as she did, that no one back in Vegas would have believed it, any of it, if she ever did tell them. She seriously doubted them being anything but bewildered at even the mere prospect of the words Grissom and romance in the same sentence, let alone in practice. Not that she had any intention of enlightening them to the truth that Gil Grissom was, contrary to popular thought and belief, a very loving, affectionate, even passionate man. Much like the rest of him, it might be a quiet, deliberate sort of passion, but it was passion all the same.

“So,” he began, rising to his feet. “Vuoi uscire insieme?’ Means ‘Want to go out together?’ I think.”

“As in a date?”

“Yeah, as in a date.”

Sara paused as if to think about it. Except she didn’t need to think about it and not at the moment really all that interested in keeping her husband in suspense, she nodded and laughed, “You’re lucky I shaved my legs. But you’re going to have to give me a few minutes.”

*******

Paper in hand, Grissom disappeared into the hotel’s arancia lined courtyard. Which was where Sara found him not too much later, comfortably ensconced at a small table and occupied as he was with catching up on more than just baseball.

At the sight of the pair of as yet untouched glasses of rich, deep blood orange crimson in front of him, she piped up from behind, “Waiting for someone?”

While he slowly shut his paper, he didn’t turn to answer, “Just my wife.”

Just?” Sara said, with a trace of affront in her query.

“As in only,” he countered, slipping the spectacles from his nose, closing them with his usual measured purpose and replacing them and the paper on the table before getting to his feet. “The only one worth waiting for.”

Coming from anyone else, it probably would have sounded like a line. But lines weren’t part of Gil Grissom’s rather extensive repertoire of knowledge. That and he probably couldn’t actually pull one off if he tried. Plus, the way his eyes had lit up at the very sight of her, something she’d never seem them do for anything or anyone else, gave it and him away — as they always did.

“That’s better,” she beamed. Then indicating the dress said, “It… It fits,” impressed and astonished and yet not that he’d gotten the size right. Not because she had any doubts when it came to her husband’s observational skills. They were after all legendary. And he had handled her laundry enough. It was more that she never had quite puzzled out how European clothing sizes worked for herself.

“I lucked out,” he admitted. “There was a girl in the shop who looked about your size.”

“You got that good of a look?” smirked Sara.

Choosing to ignore this jab, Grissom rejoined, “See, explanations really do tend to spoil the wonder of a thing.”

To which she shook her head. “No, I’m still impressed.”

Grissom having finally seemed to regain some sort of control over his limbs quickly covered the few steps separating them. When he leaned in she thought he might kiss her in the continental manner.

Instead, he whispered, “Ciao, bella,” into her ear.

Recalling their conversation on the train the night before, Sara knew he intended far more than a conventional greeting and momentarily considered chiding him for flattery, but rather opted to tease him about the progress he was making with his Italian.

However Grissom had no illusions when it came to his italiano. He hadn’t been joking when he’d told Sara he’d been lucky in the shop. His extremely limited language skills didn’t cover much more than telling the wonderfully understanding shopkeeper waiting on him that he wanted un regalo per la moglie, a gift for his wife, and that he’d only been able to manage as the word for gift was the same in Italian as it was in Spanish. The rest had come out as a horrible mélange of français, español and pigeon Italian or when that all failed, rather shamefaced English.

But in his defense, a week ago he hadn’t even known he was going to Italy, so it wasn’t as if he’d had a real chance to prepare. A handful of hours of crammed impromptu language lessons on the train ride over didn’t even come close to cutting it. Although apart from being amused, the shop’s several venditori and attendant customers appeared to appreciate the effort all the same.

“Anyway,” Sara was saying in response, “it’s the dress.”

Except it wasn’t.

Even if he had greatly enjoyed the rather rare times he’d seen her in one. But it wasn’t the dress, as lovely as it was. Its simple, unadorned elegance certainly suited her. The dark sheath swished just above the knee, and while her arms were bare beneath the shawl, the décolletage left more to the imagination than not.

It was the hint, the subtle reveal, the tease even perhaps that was so enticing he supposed. For Grissom never really had understood the appeal of strip clubs. All that flesh on constant display, with so very little mystery to it all. The Japanese understood it better, in the titillation of just a flash of bare wrist or that exposed expanse of skin at the neck.

Sara’s neck was bare that night. Her hair upswept as it had been in the bath, loose and curly, but neater now, even if a few rogue strands had already slipped free to frame the cheeks that bore only the light dusting of powder. Her lips, the slight hint of sheen. In all, very little art, but much beauty.

That never had escaped his attention. Not now, or earlier sopping wet as she’d been. Nor when hot and sweaty from rainforest humidity or Vegas’s drier heat. Or when she was wearing those horrid lab coveralls and covered in grease or worse. Not even the first time they’d met, her with that ponytail of hers.

But his admiration was interrupted by her holding up the chain to a simple gold necklace he’d given her a few years back for no reason at all and saying, “Could you?”

Wordlessly, he nodded.

It wasn’t as if she wasn’t perfectly capable of latching it herself. Sara just rather liked it when he did. So she turned, lifted the few straggling curls from the back of her neck. Deftly, he did up the clasp. The three intertwined rings settled with the chain against her skin. However sappy it might be, she always had appreciated the sentiment behind them.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

“And always,” he’d said the day he’d first draped it around her neck.

Back in the present, among the sweet fragrance of blossoming orange, her fingers closed over the charm for a moment and her eyes shut, but more at the feel of his warm breath and the barest brush of his lips along the inside of her neck.

“Gil,” she sighed.

But all too soon, he’d retreated to a more seemly distance.

“Ready?” he asked offering her his arm.

She wasn’t. Not quite yet.

“I… uh… um… I just remembered…” she stammered still a little befuddled. “I… forgot… Could you… with me… back to the room. Just for a second?”

The door there was barely closed behind them when she turned and her mouth was on his. A sweeter aperitif or more desirable or pleasurable beginning to the evening neither could have imagined.

As they broke away, Grissom asked, “Did you really forget something?”

Sara only smiled.

*******

 

Continued in Roman Holiday

 

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