‘Juliet’s solution was a bit drastic ladies, nobody try that!’ laughed Alison, as they all found their seats on the coach….
The tour organizer had scheduled a trip to Verona on the same day as the visit to Venice. Some people complained that they’d wanted to do both; but it suited Alison perfectly, she was going to Verona so that she didn’t even have to think about Venice. She didn’t need to remember that the last time she went there she was with Martin.
Sitting next to her friend Rachel on the coach, she also noticed that the two blonde sisters – Sarah-Jane and Carrie were on the trip too. In fact the group was predominantly women – as if the city that inspired Shakespeare’s greatest love story would appeal to a group of British men!
‘Everyone back here at three o’clock please!’ said the driver. ‘I’ll be parked here with the air con going! If you get lost just ask anyone to direct you to the arena – but remember not to call it the Colosseum – there’s only one of those!’ he called with a smile.
‘Alright if I join you ladies?’ Asked a gentle voice. They turned round to see Sabrina, the pretty little welsh girl married to the fair-skinned chap who always wore the bright blue hat.
‘Not your husband’s cup of tea?’ asked Sarah-Jane.
‘He’s never been to Venice and he loves taking photos; so I look forward to seeing pictures of the Bridge of Sighs from every conceivable angle! No, we quite often go our separate ways on trips like this. ’
‘Tell me about it!’ laughed SJ, ‘I never see my sister for more than five minutes before she’s off!’ To prove this, with a parting wave of her hand, Carrie turned off the road they were on and headed towards the market. They walked slowly through the medieval streets and Rachel pointed out the house that, legend has it belonged to the Montagues.
‘I can’t help it!’ laughed Rachel as they teased her about the guidebook. ‘The teacher in me always likes to know everything.’
‘It’s fatal isn’t it,’ agreed SJ ‘I feel like I’m missing out if I haven’t read up first. Or maybe I’m just scared there’ll be a test when we get back!’
‘I did Romeo and Juliet when I was at school.’ Said Sabrina gazing around.
“Compare Romeo’s love for Rosaline with his love for Juliet.” something like that? laughed Rachel.
‘That’s the one!’ said Sabrina, smiling as she took of a photo of the house. ‘It’s amazing to finally see the sights.’
‘Wow! Would you look at that!’ exclaimed SJ as they entered the narrow passageway leading toward the courtyard containing Juliet’s statue and the famous balcony. Every inch on the wall was covered with pen messages. Every colour, every language, even the phones were covered in writing. Generations of women spilling out their hopes and dreams of love. And that was before they even got to the famous wall where Alison admitted that she’d pushed a message.
‘Do you miss being married?’ asked Rachel. ‘I’ve been on my own nearly six years now and I’m used to my own space. I don’t think I want some bloke lounging around, messing the place up. I certainly don’t miss being told what to do.’
‘I miss being part of a couple as much as I miss him if I’m honest. Said Alison. ‘I don’t like being a single person. Society still judges you if you’re not a wife.’ The other two nodded agreement. ‘I think that’s why I decided not to go to Venice – it’s where we had our honeymoon. Last time I was there it was all new, the excitement of signing our names in the hotel register, the novelty of telling the waiter at the table that I was waiting for my husband, strolling hand-in-hand along the canals in the evenings.’
They all stopped at a little bar that Alison remembered where they could get a wonderful big, frothy cappuccino. They all started trading romantic tales – that got steadily more tragic: including the time Alison had gone speed-dating and the woman who looked like Les Dawson got more ticks on her card than Ali did.
She then went on to tell them about the evening walk she’d taken to the Bridge of Sighs with her new husband. When the young couple walking along in front of them had stopped abruptly, they had thought that the man had stumbled; but they realised he’d gone down on one knee to propose! He must have been sure of her answer because he got a little bottle of champagne and two glasses out of his backpack and toasted his fiancée, as the crowd around them applauded and the last of the sun’s evening rays warmed everyone with a golden glow. Alison had just thought how young they looked.
‘I’d have hated that!’ said Rachel ‘PDA’s – big romantic gestures – yuck!’ My husband just said ‘What are you doing in June next year? Well, stick the 21st in your diary, I’ll book the church!’ Trouble was what started off as being a novelty that he was so assertive and decisive ended up being a huge pain. I’m really easy-going but I don’t like being told what to do. He just treated me like my opinions didn’t count, then in the end I realised I just didn’t like him anymore.
‘If I’m honest, I worry sometimes.’ Said Sarah-Jane. ‘My fiancée and I are so different. It’s what attracted me – he’s big and loud and out-going. I don’t think he’s ever read a book unless it’s got maps in it. I mean look at this holiday.’ She’d explained earlier that he was away with some mates staying under canvas and climbing every day in the Lake District; so she’d persuaded her sister to come out to Italy with her on one last girl’s adventure before the wedding. ‘What if the things that are so different end up driving us apart?’
Sabrina had been sitting quietly, listening to the others, but the last comments prompted her to a romantic memory of her own. She was whisked back five years ago; to the night Damien proposed. They’d been having a meal at their favourite restaurant and were half way through the desert – a light, delicate lemon torte with bitter chocolate curl. She loved sitting talking over a meal, planning their future; never doubting that they would always be together. Then she felt a twinge of annoyance as one of those dreadful cheesy violin players came in. He wasn’t even any good. She carried on eating, hoping whichever poor girl was being subjected to such a lack of imagination was the easily satisfied type who would enjoy this pantomime.
Oh heck, why was he stopping at their table?
Why was a waiter bringing over a tray with two glasses on it?
Why was Damian down on one knee?
He took one glass and gave it to her, blinking his pale lashes with shy delight at how clever he had been to ask the waiter to place the engagement ring in the glass of champagne.
‘Sabrina Dawkins will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?’
‘No, no, no, this was not how I imagined it….’ She screamed inside, while replying: ‘…Yes of course I’ll marry you.’ Smiling round at the other diners calling out good wishes; inside she felt a huge weight pushing the air out of her lungs: ‘If he knows so little about me that he thinks I’d like this – what else don’t we know about each other?’
It was Rachel who noticed that Sabrina had gone very quiet. ‘Everything alright?’
‘I was just thinking about when my husband and I got engaged.’ Quickly she told them what had happened and by the end she was smiling again. ‘…I tell you I wanted to knock him into next week I was so angry! But on the way home while I was trying to decide whether to punch him or just put hamster poo in his muesli, he started going on about how he’d always dreamt of proposing like that, ever since he first started dating. He’d seen it in a film and promised himself he’d do it like that when he met the right girl; and well, I suppose it meant I was the one.’
‘Congratulations my dear – you are our winner of “the most inspiring tale of love in Verona today” contest – with Alison’s speed dating tale as runner up,’ laughed Rachel as they stood up to leave.
Walking back past the large amphitheatre, they stopped to watch a crane lifting a huge Egyptian statue in for that night’s performance of Aida, then hurried to get to the coach. As they climbed on board they were joined by Carrie. ‘Look at this – I got it for dad!’ she giggled, showing everyone the little statue of Juliet that she had bought on the market. What have you all been up to?’
‘Well I think we all came to the conclusion that relationships can be a complete nightmare!’ laughed Rachel. ‘No wonder Juliet stabbed herself when she saw the mess she’d got herself into!’