Visit romantic Rome with this short story from our archives

cherry blossom

Take A Little Time

By Lydia Jones

Her job may have brought her to Rome but romance is for the clients – not her


It doesn’t work, you know.”

I whirl around; make an assessment. Mousy hair; hazel eyes. Probably backpacker.

“Throwing coins into a fountain: it doesn’t bring you back.”

“That’s Trevi.” I’m embarrassed to be caught behaving like a tourist.

“Tell them.” He nods at the bronze spattered bowl of the piazza’s fountain; stretches out a hand I realise I can’t avoid. “Liam Collins.”

“Sheba Duncan – Bathsheba. My parents were Hardy fanatics.”

He nods slowly; I seize my chance.

“Anyway – nice meeting you –”

“What’s your hurry?”

“I’m here for work, not pleasure.”

“Me too.”

I take in T-shirt and jeans.

“’Course you are.”

“I just take time to taste the coffee. It doesn’t mean I’m a tourist. Why not join me? Or are you scared?”

I’m breathless at his presumption.

“Of having coffee with you? As if!”

“Why not, then?”

“Perhaps I don’t want to.”

“Carlo makes the best espresso anywhere along the Amalfi coast.”

I do actually need to start a file for guests: excursions; coffee shops. I came into town specifically to research.

I hesitate. Liam smiles: a slow, knowing expression.

I gasp. “You are possibly one of the most arrogant men I’ve ever met.”

“What would I have to be arrogant about? I’m a poor Irish lad surrounded by Italian blokes ten times more gorgeous than me even on bad days.”

That makes me laugh; I accept latte.

My job is to fulfil others’ dreams

“So that’s me –” He drains his cup like a local. “One of those bankers everybody loves to hate. Got disillusioned – decided to develop my inner artist.”

“So you ditched it to paint in Amalfi?”

I like that he mocks himself.

“Pretty much.”

“How long will you stay?”

“Till I don’t love it.” He winces. “Or money runs out. I work in Carlo’s brother’s bar and I have been known to sell the occasional painting, so I’m hoping that won’t be soon. You?”

“Till the job’s done.” I sip. “I’m the tour operator’s fixer: if something’s not working they send me in. There’s a new apartment in Amalfi – we’ve five more in the area and the regional manager quit last week.”

“So here you are to sort it.”

“So here I am.”

“Flitting from one romantic place to another? Glamorous.”

“Not really.”

“Don’t you ever want to stay, sample the dream?”

“No.” I grab my bag. “My job is to fulfil others’ dreams, not have my own.”

“You don’t have dreams?”

“In my experience, dream bubbles have a horrible habit of bursting.”

I rise quickly, hating myself for saying something so personal.

“Thanks for coffee.”

I’m celebrating with a picnic

It goes well. I get the new apartment’s plumbing fixed; buy white goods; employ a decorator. Paint is fresh. I admire the pristine kitchen. Lately I’ve begun to doubt my itinerant lifestyle but moments of satisfaction like this reassure: solo is still best.

If my parents’ disastrous marriage didn’t disillusion me, the faithless Will certainly did. I move from one idyllic location to another unseduced by their charms. Maybe I should be grateful. Analytical, detached: it makes me good at my job. And keeps me safe.

Kitchen check: just welcome drinks to purchase.

It’s early as I weave through steep pastel-painted alleyways. From open windows breakfasting sounds and scents drift down: freshly brewed coffee; a woman berating her child; a radio. I savour it and smile. I might treat myself to lunch in the piazza while I decide how to answer Alison’s text.

“If it isn’t the dreamless Sheba Duncan!”

I’ve seen Liam a couple of times since coffee; we’ve just waved.

“I’ve sold a painting. I’m celebrating with a picnic on Capri. Will I buy for two?”

“Do you always issue impromptu invitations to strangers?”

“We’re not strangers. Come on – you know it’ll be wonderful.”

Of course it is. We picnic overlooking Vesuvius. Liam makes me laugh; I relax for the first time in months.

As we clash plastic cups of wine I think again about Alison’s text:

Please stay the season – nobody else I can trust.

I like Liam. I won’t fall in love with him. But I might let him teach me how to take time to taste the coffee.


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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me