It was a long week of settling in. My roommates—Alissa, Greg, and Matt—were busy a lot. I spent my time alone, but I didn’t mind exploring the place that was to be my home for the next five months. Though I was mostly homesick and wished people back home missed me, I did appreciate the beauty around me. Like when I walked at night across the bridge and the city lights danced across the Arno. Like when I found a new place with awesome paninis or cheap wine. Birds were chirping already and it was only January. To avoid winter was a blessing.“What’re you gonna do today?” Greg, AKA Dad Bod Guy asked, storming into my room as if he was on a mission to save the world. Greg had a goofy smile and talked to me the most of anyone in the program.
It was a Saturday and I had nothing going on. “Probably just explore.”
“Cool. Matt and I are going to dinner if you wanna join.”
Though social invitations made me anxious, I agreed to go. I figured, if nothing else, I could look at Matt’s shoulders as he led us to the restaurant. I downed some wine and followed them out the door. We crossed the street and a yellow sign caught my gaze; an adorable bakery sat below it. Somehow, I’d missed it this entire week. I wandered by slowly, looking through the window at all their treats. When I looked up to check prices, I instead found a tall, dark-haired Italian studying me from behind the counter. He waved. The school warned us about the advances of Italian men, but he worked there and was just being friendly. I blushed and scrambled on, running into Greg.
Matt laughed, a rich sound I’d heard only a few times. Matt scared me with his intense blue eyes and buzzed hair. I was not confident we would ever be friends.
We turned to see Alissa emerge from the apartment building. It’s one of the few times she hadn’t been talking on the phone, but I was thankful to have her with nonetheless. Our first dinner as roommates.
As usual, I ordered pizza. The Italian pizzas always had globs of cheese and thin-crust Dominos was impossible to find, but I swallowed my American ignorance/preferences as I swallowed another piece of pizza. We ordered two bottles of wine to split, thankfully. Wine made me more talkative.
“Did you guys know each other before you came here?” I asked Greg.
“Yeah, we’re both in SAE,” Matt responded, meeting my eyes. He looked so serious and I wondered if he managed to bring such intensity to every activity in life.
“Neat,” I replied, trying to not sound too uninterested.
“I don’t know anyone,” Alissa said. She was a hard one to read, but nice overall.
We drank more and wandered around Florence. At the Piazza Della Rebbuplica, I saw one of the first things I fell in love with: the carousal.
“Can we go?” It surprised me to hear the question come from Greg’s lips and not my own.
Two euros later, our heads weren’t the only things spinning. Seated next to Alissa, I felt a surge of confidence as the air tossed me hair. “So, why’d you come here?”
“I was hungry,” Alissa said.
“Oh. I don’t know.” A pause. “Why did you?”
I thought about it. “Actually, I don’t know.”
She grunted in a way that resembled a laugh. “You know, I had to pay to use the bathroom the other day.”
“That’s a thing! I don’t get it. I had to hold my pee for four hours on Monday because I didn’t have any money. It was rock bottom for me, I think. I miss mac and cheese.”
“I miss water fountains.”
“I miss cheddar cheese.”
“Dude, Italy has so many fancy cheeses, how do you miss that?”
“Just because you dress fancy and like fancy cheese doesn’t mean that’s how we all feel,” I reminded her playfully. “Sometimes I walk past bookstores and cry because I can’t read any of the books.”
“Wait, why can’t you read them?”
“They’re in Italian!”
“Oh yeah. Nerd.”
I spot Greg and Matt across the carousal. I waved. Greg waved back.