“...Flight 40 has begun its final descent into Roma’s Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport. Current time is seven twenty-two a.m. Current temperature is twelve degrees Celsius. Please put up your tray tables and any items you may have removed during the flight at this time. All personal items should be stored below the seat in front of you, or in an overhead compa-....”
The crackling voice of the announcement woke Sansa abruptly. It was as if a bucket of ice water had been dumped on her face. She pulled apart her lashes, but she couldn’t see. And as she pushed up the sleeping mask onto her forehead as she realized just where she was.
She was still on the plane and it seemed she’d slept a good part of the eight-hour flight from New York to Rome. It had been easy to do in the business class seat Sandor had booked for her. It had been a heck of a lot better than coach.
Her mouth felt dry and bitter from the glasses of prosecco and bites of Crème brûlée she’d had hours before. She hadn’t intended to drink, or indulge in as much sugar as she had, but the flight attendant had been overly attentive. He hadn’t left her alone until he’d been forced to.
His name was Franco. He had sparkling brown eyes and perfectly slicked back hair that seemed as glossy as a car hood. He was a few inches shorter than Sansa, but what he lacked in height he made up for in measures of sass.
Franco had become Sansa’s new best friend of sorts on the transatlantic flight. Business Class was relatively empty on the red-eye, with just a handful of businessmen on their laptops, and an older couple who clutched their Rick Steve’s guidebooks as they snored. He had talked her up from the second she boarded the plane.
He’d told her how gorgeous her hair looked, which she knew was a fiction of epic proportions. Her hair was a hot mess and full of tangles from her long layovers at DFW then JFK, but Sansa loved his compliments and lies nevertheless.
Sansa liked Franco the moment she met him.
When he recognized Sandor’s picture on the background of her iPad, when he asked if she knew the Sandor Clegane from Clash of Spears, she thought the guy would fall nose-first into the aisle. She thought he might have a coronary in the cabin as she’d told him she was acquainted with Sandor personally.
But Sansa still wasn’t precisely sure what to call Sandor or how to explain their relationship to strangers. Yes, they were married. Although they hadn’t exchanged rings and it had taken place some eight hundred years before. They didn’t have a piece of paper to show it had happened. And in Sansa’s heart, he was her husband in every way. But to the rest of the world, he was just her boyfriend.
She also took issue with that term too. The word boyfriend sounded incredibly silly. It seemed too juvenile. There was nothing boyish about Sandor in appearance or demeanor. He was six-foot-six and a forty-seven year old man with a gnarled patches of scars across one side of his face.
He looked the part of a boyfriend as much as a tiger looked the part of a kitten, so she’d avoided telling strangers what their relationship was. She’d dodged the word unless she absolutely had to.
To tangle matters further, Sandor had asked on multiple occasions when she wanted to get married in the present. In Cahersiveen, when his leg was still wrapped as tight as a mummy and he could barely walk, he was ready to go before a Registrar and get the thing over with.
When she’d turned him down gently, and said she envisioned something a little more formal, he’d asked if she wanted to go somewhere for a weekend just the two of them. Sandor wanted to find a little church in the Tuscan hills and get the license and the paper to prove it when she was with him in Rome.
But she needed her family at her next ceremony, at least her sister and brother. She didn’t feel like they ought to rush things, which he didn’t entirely agree with. They were already married as far as she was concerned, but Sandor was impatient. He was impetuous too, and he was hell-bent on marrying her as promptly as possible. She knew he’d ask again, he’d probably bring it up at the baggage carousel of the airport.
But against her better judgement, Sansa had told Franco she was dating Sandor. The flight attendant had plied her with wine and given her two servings of dessert as he perched on her armrest. It was a bribe, and she knew it, as he pressed her for all the details she could spill about Sandor and the ensuing season of his show.
In all honesty, Sansa didn’t know that much about what his days had been like. She wasn’t entirely sure what went on during run-throughs and read-throughs and stunt rehearsals. When they spoke on the phone at odd times, compensating for time changes and his twelve-hour days, it seemed their conversations had centered on what she’d been doing back home. What friends she’d gone to dinner with and who she’d seen. They hadn’t spoken a lot about Sandor’s work or his show. His time in Rome alone seemed as mysterious to Sansa as a Papal Conclave.
A few hours into the flight, when the interior lights of the cabin were turned down and Franco was forced to leave Sansa to rest, her thoughts drifted. Her mind settled on who she loved and what his life was. Speaking to strangers about Sandor only seemed to make her concerns and insecurities bubble up like a pot on a stove.
He was a big star. He was a celebrity. And It was still a surprise to Sansa how popular her husband was. The private, recluse of a man she knew was essentially worshipped by people all over the globe.
It was like he was some Greek God, some Heracles. And Sansa still had trouble navigating that world, she still was uncomfortable with total strangers feeling such a draw, such a pull to him, and she’d drifted to sleep with an apprehension that sank in her stomach like a stone.
She was still half asleep for landing, and she was groggy and light-headed as she deplaned.
Franco slipped his card in her hand as she rolled her bag off, “Call me if you ever want to grab a drink, or want some company! I’d love to show you around.”
He was so friendly, she knew she’d take him up on the offer, and she shoved his card in the pocket of her tote as she trudged off the 787. It seemed now Franco and Sandor were the only two people she knew in the city.
Sansa started down the gangway and she could tell there was a chill outside. It was certainly colder than LA, and she wrapped her cardigan tightly around her chest as the wind whipped and blew like a whistle through the cracks of the flimsy jetbridge.
Once she’d spilled out of the narrow walkway, she tried to orient herself, but that proved difficult.
The airport felt as ordered as a gerbil maze. She strained her eyes and followed the departing passengers as they snaked and weaved through the concourse that was cramped and crowded with people.
Garbled voices in all languages boomed over competing intercoms. So this is Italy? Sansa thought with annoyance.
There was no flow of traffic, and people moved and pushed and raced collectively without regard for anyone else. The hustle of it was complicated exponentially by the god-awful signage.
Arrows appeared to point in all directions to customs and immigration in Italian, English, and French. Sansa was eventually forced to stop dead in her tracks to figure out just which sign to follow.
Leonardo Da Vinci had nothing to do with designing this. I don't know how this airport can be named after the man.
It seemed a miraculous thing, but Sansa made it through customs without issue, and out into the arrivals area. And once she was at the baggage claim, she almost fainted from the sight of her husband.
She didn’t recognize him at first, and she wouldn’t have picked him out of the crowd except for the fact that he towered in height above everyone else.
He was clean-shaven. And it was the first time she’d seen him in the flesh without some sort of scruff on his face and neck.
His hair was trimmed short and he wore a navy blazer with a blue button-up shirt. He was starched and ironed and he'd swapped his combat boots for a pair of cognac-colored loafers.
Sansa thought she’d pass out from the sight of it all.
Is he trying to impress me? He must have had that blazer custom made to his measurements. He’s too big to buy something that tailored off the rack, she thought with amusement.
He looked good. And she couldn’t help the smile that crept across her lips as she met his eyes with her own.
In a few strides, he to caught her in his arms and brought her up to him as he spoke, “I missed you somethin’ terrible little bird.”
“You may not want to kiss me just yet! I slept until the plane landed and I haven’t brushed my teeth. I need a toothbrush and a shower.”
“Doesn’t bother me. I prefer you a little dirty,” he said with a smirk as he pressed his lips into hers and sat her back down on the tiles.
“This all you brought?” Sandor asked as he furrowed his brow and eyed her one rolling bag with suspicion.
It had been terribly difficult, but she’d resisted the urge to take every sweater and scarf she owned. She’d packed with a commitment to minimalism a seasoned traveler would have appreciated.
“I didn’t want to bring a lot of luggage with me. I thought you’d be impressed.”
“I am impressed. I’m just wonderin’ who the hell you are and what you’ve done with Sansa. Don’t recognize you unless you’ve got some giant suitcase with ya at all times,” he said as he squeezed her hand and led her out the sliding doors.
“I could ask who you are and what you’ve done with Sandor. You’re wearing a blazer and you’ve chopped off all your hair. You look...Italian!”
“Christ, is it that bad? I thought you’d like the new hair and clothes,” he replied as he ran one of his large hands over the top of his head.
“They cut it off yesterday for filmin and thought it would be a good surprise. Thought I’d wait to see you in person instead of sendin you a picture. And I did some shopping because I always feel so fuckin underdressed when I'm out with ya. I guess I should have given you a warning.”
“No, I really like the hair and the outfit. But I bet every other woman is thinking what I am. I don’t want anyone else to see you like this!”
“Don’t worry Sansa. I’m all yours. I haven’t looked at another girl since I set my sights on you in that parking lot,” and he winked as he said it.
She knew it was true. She never grew tired of the way he stared at her. The way his eyes tracked her body as she moved. And it was incredible to Sansa that after nine months a wink from him could still affect her as it did.
It was astonishing that she still burned for him every minute as she had in the beginning. She wondered if the flame would ever die down and if that tide would ever roll out.
Sandor huffed as he flipped the switches on in the apartment and the place was lit up in vivid white light.
“Sorry it’s a fucking mess. Meant to clean up last night but I got done with a read through late. Didn’t have time to do the dishes and whatnot.”
Sandor’s idea of a mess and Sansa’s were two entirely different things. Other than a few coffee mugs and cereal bowls resting in the stainless sink, the kitchen was immaculate.
Sansa scanned her eyes across the chrome and acrylic furniture. The apartment was modern, and she was surprised he’d picked it out on his own.
It was a hundred and eighty degrees from his navy and wooden room at the Inn. It couldn’t have been farther from the warm teak of his boat.
The space was minimalistic, with white glossy kitchen cabinets that reflected like the paint of a new car. She could see her image in them like a mirror. But somehow, and against all odds, it managed to be cozy, although it hadn’t come across that way in photos.
The pictures had made it look as inviting as an operating room.
The apartment had floor to ceiling windows that looked out on a little square, or piazza below. It had two bedrooms and two and a half baths, and the guest room would come in handy.
It was enough room for her sister Arya to come for a visit the following week, which was all Sansa had mentioned she needed when Sandor had asked. Arya’s gonna have a heart attack when she sees this place... it looks like a W Hotel.
After shooting wrapped for Sandor’s movie in Spain, and they navigated back to Caversheen, the two of them split off in different directions entirely.
He flew to Rome to start rehearsals, and she went to California to move out of her apartment for good. They’d been apart for only two weeks, but no amount of calls had satisfied Sansa.
She’d felt like a middle school girl missing her boyfriend over spring break.
Sansa dropped her giant tote on the gleaming marble tiles of the floor as something caught her eye. There was a dark brown box resting on the glass top of the dining room table.
Almost as though he read her thoughts, Sandor spoke in a stern tone before she could ask about it, “That’s not a gift, Sansa. It’s a necessity here. The city is crawlin with pick-pockets and gypsy types lookin’ to reach a hand into that giant purse of yours. Want you to carry this smaller bag. The thing comes in a fuck ton of colors and it took me an hour to settle on that one. But I’ll get ya as many as you need. Probably want a black one too if I had to wager.”
Sansa’s heart beat out of her chest as she headed towards the package. She tried to hide her enthusiasm, to pass off her excitement. But she recognized the brand. She knew what it was.
The beauty of the purse caught her off guard as she pulled it out of the dust bag. The sensation of the leather against her fingertips made her breath catch as she spoke, “Sandor...this is too much.”
“You need a small bag you can tuck under your coat. Something inconspicuous. You aren’t in hippy-dippy California anymore. This is a big city with people that can steal your wallet in the blink of an eye.”
The Bottega Veneta crossbody felt as soft as a kid glove. It was a buttery nude color, woven in that intricate criss-cross pattern that she’d always loved and never imagined she’d someday have.
“You have excellent taste. I love my gift,” she said as she moved towards him and trailed her hands across his chest.
He was the only man she’d ever met who could be generous and disagreeable all at the same time.
“It’s not a fucking gift,” Sandor said in a low growl as he pressed his lips hard against hers and fought back a grin.
Sansa tried to be silent, as she sat on the edge of the bed to curl into the covers. But somehow he’d heard her creeping back.
Somehow she’d woken him when the bed dipped. And his long arm extended out across the mattress to pull the top sheet up for her to crawl under.”
“Can’t sleep?” he asked in a mumble as he pulled Sansa against his chest and wrapped his broad arms around her waist. She felt a bit of stubble that had developed in the last hours as they’d slept as it dug into the back of her neck.
“Nope, I’m wide awake. I guess I’m jet-lagged, even though I slept most of the flight.”
“What time is it,” he said more to himself than to Sansa as he rolled away from her and looked at his phone.
He wasn’t at all a morning person. Sansa had learned long ago and months before it wasn’t a wise idea to speak to him about anything important until he’d had at least two cups of coffee. It seemed that was the bare minimum of caffeine required to elicit a response other than a grunt from the man before 9:00 a.m.
“Four-thirty. I’ve got to be up in an hour,” he said with a sigh. “Throw some clothes on. There’s someplace I want to show ya.”
Sansa pulled on leggings and layers quickly and didn’t bother with a shower or makeup since the rest of the town was still asleep. But the idea of sightseeing in the early hours of the morning seemed an appealing prospect. They hadn’t left the apartment since they'd gotten home from the airport. She hadn’t seen much of Rome, except the sheets of the bed.
Only a few drunken kids emptied out of bars and rambled through the dimly lit cobblestones as they sang and spoke loudly in Italian.
Several shopkeepers, with greying hair and stoic faces, were already awake and rolling up their metal gates that were scribbled over in layers of graffiti. The bakeries and panetterias were opening up before the rush from commuters and tourists began.
Rome wasn’t the cleanest city Sansa had been to. Seeing it empty and bathed in darkness highlighted that fact all the more. Bits of trash and paper blew and moved across the streets.
But nevertheless, it managed to be beautiful in the lamplight. It still felt ancient, like at any moment the thin gauze of the present could be ripped off to reveal a classical city beneath. Sansa thought she’d never seen a place more perfect, more peaceful.
This is why they call it the eternal city.
“Will you give me a little hint about where you’re taking us?” Sansa pleaded as she clutched his hand that was twined in her own.
“No hints. And we’re almost there. You can hear it if you quit talkin and listen,” he said with a laugh.
The sound of moving water was faint but distinct. It was coming from a street just up ahead. And when they spilled out into the piazza, when she understood just where he’d taken her, she thought she might forget to breath. She felt as the air was ripped from her lungs.
The fountain was enormous. She’d heard the Mona Lisa was small and disappointing to tourists, but the Trevi Fountain didn’t have that same problem.
It seemed unmanageable such a massive marble installation would be tucked into such a tiny and unassuming square.
Water spurted and flew. It danced and flowed against the gleaming baroque clams and Tritons and sea horses that rushed up from the raging waves.
Oceanus watched out over it all, and it seemed to Sansa as though the characters had been frozen in the stone instead of carved in it.
It felt like the laws of physics were suspended. Like the whole world bent and bowed to let this fountain even exist. It was though a whole universe of ancient mythology, of heroes and Gods, had come to life in marble, and Sansa couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away as she descended down the steps.
“It’s amazing,” she said as she leaned her palms against the stone railing.
“È stupefacente,” Sandor mumbled as he fished something from his back pocket.
“I didn’t know you spoke Italian?”
“Non parlo bene...I don’t speak it well. But I know enough to order off a menu and not make a total ass of myself. I know enough to say you’re beautiful. Sei bello.
And his voice sounded softer, sexier to Sansa when he spoke in another language. She felt a warmth from it settle in her stomach as the words draped across her like a shawl.
She looked at what he’d pulled from his jeans.
He held out three coins in his callused and scarred palm as he moved towards her in a stride, “Lots of legends and myths about this place. Lots of lore.
“They say if you toss one coin over your left shoulder, you’ll return to the fountain again at some point in your life.
“They say if you throw another coin, you’re sure to have a love affair in the city.
“And, a third coin...If you throw in a third coin, it means you’ll have a wedding in Rome.
“But I hate to mention that last part. Already asked ya to marry me for real, and I'm tired of the rejection. Gettin sick of you turning me down, so don’t throw that third coin until you’re ready to get married. Don’t get my hopes up."
Sansa looked at him. And she knew she’d never wanted Sandor more than she did that instant, that moment.
So she closed her eyes and turned her back to the water, and heard the first coin hit the surface.
She listened as the second sunk beneath the pool with a plunk.
And she paused, her eyes were shut, and she gripped the third coin in her hand for a long moment.
She thought about why she’d been scared to marry him again. Why a piece of paper would matter. And she understood she was afraid.
She was terrified the rest of the world would know what they had. It felt like their secret, a truth they’d only told each other. And marriage, calling him a husband, didn’t feel like it was adequate.
It didn’t seem like the words had the power to explain just what it meant and what he was to her.
Sansa cast the last coin and she allowed her worries slip away with it.
She felt her fears sink with that euro to the bottom of the cold and spurting waters of the fountain as Sandor’s arms wrapped around her waist.
Sansa dug her face into the fleece of his pullover as she whispered more to herself than to him, “I guess our second wedding will be in Rome.”