Juliette frowned at a slurry of white dust and sweat that marred the back of her hand. She worried about the two weeks to come.
Hot wind caressed her face as she watched the guys scrambling around rocks and ruins on the top of the Acropolis. She stood sentry, all of Athens spread out below her.
Dima ran up suddenly, out of breath, cheeks on fire. “What’s that?” he asked as he pointed down toward the base of the massive hill.
She followed his outstretched finger then glanced at the brochure in her hand. “Looks like the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus. If I’m reading this right.” Crumbling stone benches gave the structure the look of a bizarrely fossilized sports arena. Scenes from The Flintstones flashed through her head.
Dima was obviously on a different wavelength. “Wow,” he murmured. “Euripides and Sophocles! I can’t believe it’s really still here. And I’m looking at it!”
“Why? Is ancient Greek theatre something you learn about in Russian schools?”
“Of course! We Russians, for us literature and theatre is food and wine. That’s a saying, you know.”
She blinked. “Really?”
“Chekhov! He modeled some of his plays on Euripides. Sort of.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Well, some people say so, but he failed ancient Greek in Gymnasium and got held back a year. Still, he knew more ancient Greek than me! I should learn some one day. I really want to.”
Lost in thought, Juliette didn’t answer. She stared through him, a neutral expression on her face. Dima cocked his head, flashed her a puzzled smile, and ran off, calling loudly for Ian as he pointed down the hill.
Juliette pulled a handkerchief out of the pocket of her khaki shorts. She’d finally given into the need to dress down a little, but at least her clothes were pressed and crisp. She dabbed away the grime on her hands and wished she had something to cool her face. The sun burned fiercely into her black skin. The guys didn’t seem to mind as much. Even Mark was running around like a kid.
Two weeks. The thought nagged at her again. She’d wanted to get Dima on his way sooner. Two weeks was a lot of time if somebody was looking for them. How hard could it be to follow their travel records? She wasn’t sure, but the European custom of leaving their passports at the hotel desk concerned her.
Mark’s voice interrupted. “Hey, smile! What’s wrong?” He handed her an icy drink.
“Mmm, fresh lemonade. Thanks!” She had to stop herself from downing it all in one gulp.
“Careful!” He held up a flask of vodka. “It’s spiked. You OK?”
She clinked the ice in the cup. “I guess. Just nervous. I hate not knowing what I can’t know. You know?”
He sank on to the dusty ground, cross legged, and tugged at her hand. She smiled and folded herself comfortably, leaning into him, head on his shoulder.
“Look at Ian,” Mark said. “See how that pillar makes him look like a toy soldier? I never imagined the Parthenon was gigantic like that. I had the scale all wrong in my head.”
She downed the last of the drink and sucked an ice cube into her mouth. “I never really thought about it.”
“Oh, come on. Never? This is where it all started! ‘Cradle of Civilization’ and all, and you never imagined it?”
She dabbed with her handkerchief at a trail of sweat running down his cheek, trying not to sound annoyed or condescending. “No, never. I read a little Greek philosophy in college, but I read way more than that. Those guys aren’t the fathers of my civilization. Or really even of yours if you dig into it much.”
He nodded. “Huh. OK. Back to feeling like an outsider again?”
She snorted. “OK, so it’s my adopted culture. I don’t have anything particular against Socrates or Sophocles, or whoever. But they don’t move me like they do you. Or Dima, apparently. Let’s just talk about something else. I’m tired, and I don’t need to be more tired.”
Then he was taking her face in his hands, brushing his full lips against her cheek. “OK, but when you aren’t tired, will you tell me about it?”
She inhaled the sweet, salt smell of clean sweat, and reached behind the back of his head to pull him in for a kiss that lasted forever. “It’s OK,” she whispered as they pulled apart. “I love watching how all this touches you guys. Really. But I can’t feel it the way you do.”
“Atlantis!” yelled Dima, pointing and running over to a diorama. “It’s King Minos’s palace at Knossos. Crete!”
Juliette strolled over to the mounted poster he was reading and translated some of the English he couldn’t follow. “The center of Minoan civilization. Ancestor of Homer’s Greece and the legends of the Trojan War. Inundated by a tsunami launched by the volcano that ripped Thera apart in about 1550 BCE.”
Why did you say Atlantis?” she asked him as Ian walked up and looked over her shoulder.
“We learned about that theory in school last year,” Dima said. “Some archeologists think that when the Thera volcano blew, the tidal wave flooded so much of the Mediterranean basin that the legend of the sinking civilization got started.”
Juliette smiled. “That’s really cool. Wow.” It was the most interesting thing she’d heard all day. She looked around the arched gallery of the National Museum, relieved to be escaping the heat for a while. The place felt like a cathedral to her with statues and glass cases nestled into decorative stone nooks.
She grabbed Dima’s hand to get his attention. “We can go there, if you want.”
Ian broke in. “To Crete? Hell, yeah!”
“Sure, if you want. But I meant to Thera. To Santorini. That’s what they call it now. It’s one of the bigger islands. You can even climb what’s left of the old volcano if …”
Dima broke in. “Climb the Atlantis volcano? We have to! Mark it down.”
She nodded as Ian pulled her arm. “Come on. What’s up that way?”
They wandered off, leaving the diorama behind them, wax figures of dark-skinned teenagers frozen in the act of leaping over the horns of a giant red bull. They caught up with Mark a minute later, standing in the middle of a cluster of bronze statues.
“These are from the Classic Period,” Ian announced, reading from a card mounted on a small pedestal.
Juliette’s eyes popped. “Mark, these are amazing! Damn!” She sighed, slipping her arm under his. “They’re so ancient, like what? 2,300 or 2,400 years old? But it’s like they could come to life any second.”
“Pretty incredible,” he agreed. “I was just looking at this one. It’s kinda famous — the Antikythera Ephebe. Look at him up close. Who does he remind you of? Somebody here?”
She walked up and examined the bronze carefully, focusing on the face — nose, cheekbones, and lips. “My God, you’re right! Ian, come here and look at this!”
He slouched over, mumbling, “What?”
“Who does this remind you of?
“I dunno, some naked guy with bad hair and an undersized dick?”
“He looks like you!” she insisted, chuckling. “And don’t forget, I saw your jewels after the ice plunge at Das Blub. You ain’t all that.”
He snorted and read off a card as Dima walked up. “Serenity pervades the great bronzes, which combine god-like beauty with tense, human energy.” He threw an arm over Dima’s shoulder. “God-like beauty, huh? OK, maybe it is me.”
“Oh, Lord,” Juliette chuckled. “Don’t go getting a swollen head. I was just saying there’s a resemblance.”
“There kind of is,” Dima agreed. “The nose. The eyes. I guess I see it.”
“But this one looks like you!” Mark said. “This runner. The Marathon Boy.”
“Wow. Look at his face,” Juliette agreed. “Absolutely.”
“Maybe, said Dima. “But I’m no athlete.”
“Just look at him,” Juliette said, pulling on his arm. “See how impassive he is? How stoic? That is SO you. Seriously, I’ve seen that same expression on your face a million times.”
“Maybe, but I don’t see the resemblance.” His next statement came out flat and insistent. “He does not look like me.”
Juliette heard a strange tone in his voice, but she didn’t give it much thought. “Just look at the pair of them together,” she said, pointing. “Like two Greek warriors about to go to battle together, each one braver because he’s afraid to disappoint his friend. It’s beautiful.”
She felt herself blush.
Mark broke the embarrassed silence that followed. “I thought you weren’t moved by Greek culture?”
A surge of annoyance ran up and down her spine. She was searching for the right bit of snark to use in reply when Dima startled her by storming off.
“No!” he called over his shoulder. “You people keep forgetting Ian and I are on different sides. We aren’t like those bronzes at all!” He disappeared around a corner, sandals slapping tile, angry footsteps echoing around the silence of his announcement.
This has been chapter 3 of the third act of a Cold War geopolitical thriller, gay coming-of-age romance. Settings and characters are pulled directly from my own life, but the story is fictional.