The Strip is pulsing with energy, we sidestep tourists, people dressed as superheroes, and sleazy-looking guys pressing strip club flyers into our hands. Paolo has an exuberant style and hot, sophisticated looks, and people shoot him admiring glances as he gives a hotel history lesson.
“Everything here is big and overblown.” He laughs. “Do you know, the larger casino’s vaults hold anywhere from thirty to sixty million dollars, daily? MGM Grand, one of the biggest hotels in the world, washes 15,000 sets of sheets a day.”
I shake my head, grinning. It’s unreal.
“Would you like to go to Venice? Ride in a gondola with me?”
“Sure.” I laugh.
He smiles, his hand on my back, guiding me. All these mini cities of famous places in the world. We stand on the bridge at The Venetian as the black and gold gondolas glide past us under the Rialto Bridge.
“Come, let us go inside. I think it’s a better ride.”
Walking through the huge rooms with their painted ceilings remind me of the Sistine Chapel—minus the sounds of the slot machines chinging and dinging.
Paolo cuddles into me in our red-seated gondola. People dine at waterside restaurants, small lion heads spout water, and there’s even a replica of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Square. The red-and-white striped poles for the gondola moorings are everywhere. Random.
The only things missing are the crazy Italians and deep scary waters I remember from Venice as a kid. They told us stories about the lower levels of houses being flooded, it completely creeped me out. Chandeliers hanging over water, stairs disappearing into the murky depths. It gives me chicken skin just thinking about it.
“What song would you like?” asks our gondolier, dressed in traditional black pants, striped sweater, and a straw boater.
“I don’t know.” I shrug and laugh.
“Do you know ‘O Solo Mio’?” Paolo asks.
She nods and breaks into song. The high soaring soprano opens up my chest, and I inhale deeply. My mom loves opera.
We finish our ride, and Paolo takes my hand. I look around, but what the fuck. It’s Vegas. Who cares?
Then we go shopping.
Man, the clothes they have here.
It’s fun trying on different things. He buys me way too many clothes and won’t take no for an answer. I can’t get through to him that I mostly just wear slippers—flip-flops to Mainlanders. Closed-in shoes suffocate my toes.
“Just for going out, nice dinners, shows, parties,” he says, and I give in. It is
more sophisticated here than Hawai’i.
We leave there and walk to another country. France.
Wow, it’s another place that just knocks me out. The legs of the Eiffel Tower are inside the casino. We stroll down Paris streets with French fountains and the old-fashioned street lights you see in Paris sometimes under a sky-painted ceiling.
“Let’s go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower,” he says.
We ride up there just as the sun is setting on the Strip—the neon colors springing to life. Paolo stands behind me and wraps his arms around my waist, whispering in my ear, pointing out things. “This Eiffel Tower is only half the height of the Paris one. They had to shorten it for the airport.”
I turn my head and quickly kiss him on the lips. I’m dying to tell everyone at home about everything. It’s exciting—Paolo, the city—all of it.
“Come, querida. Let us eat.”
“I just want to see the fountains.”
“We will. I promise. Trust me.”
His dark eyes are lit up, and I give in, letting him lead me away.
We go in and out of elevators, then we step out into the entrance of the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the top of the Paris resort.
“Theez…” He exaggerates his accent. “…is a wonderful restaurant and perfect panoramic views.”
They lead us to a table for two with a long, white linen tablecloth, overlooking the Strip and right opposite the Bellagio’s fountains.
“Oh, man. It’s fantastic.”
“I thought you would like this.” He smiles.
I feel like I’m on sensory overload, but it’s also hella fun.
The photographer comes around, and we get a shot of us in front of the Paris hot air balloon, the blue neon stripes and yellow bands all lit up. Paolo hands me my copy. “Our first keepsake, yes.” He strokes my face, and I hold his hand there.
“Thank you. It’s pretty amazing.”
“It is my pleasure, Daniel.” His eyes never leave mine, and I swallow hard, it almost feels like he’s devouring me.
“Oh.” He shakes his head, like he’s trying to clear it. “I’m sorry, I forget.”
He comes back from the space he was in and points outside. “Look, the fountains are going off.”
They dance and twirl, doing a really intense display. People are lined up watching them. We get to see the dance several times during dinner, and I never get sick of it. A Kiwi girl sings soulful songs, and the food rocks. Everyone at home is a foodie. The twins are always going through cookbooks and making something new—they’d love this. Everyone would. I suddenly miss them intensely and wish I’d rung them today. I’ll ring when we get back.
We both have the tasting menu. I’m in heaven. We start off with the warm lobster, spring onion soubise, and the basil-infused English peas, and end with the strawberry soufflé for me and the pistachio one for Paolo. I’ve never had a real one before. They’ve risen about two inches above the lip of the huge-ass ramekins, with a cool Eiffel Tower print on the side. Hot, rich sauce is poured through the hole in the middle, and we take turns feeding each other from our dishes.
“I’m so stuffed,” I say, leaning back in my chair, rubbing my stomach.
“Let’s go somewhere for a quiet drink with some friends of mine I’d like you to meet.”
He grins and softly kisses my lips, his dark eyes taking me in again.
“Beautiful,” he whispers.
“I think you’re pretty hot.”
We smile at each other.
On the way out, I stop to say aloha to the singer and tell her my dad’s a Kiwi and I’m from Hawai’i. Her husband’s a Samoan, and I feel a little less out of place in some strange way. It’s a link with home.
While Paolo pays for dinner, my eye catches a display—a red suede-covered cookbook with an Eiffel Tower logo—and I open it.
“Would you like that?” asks Paolo.
“Oh no. I was just looking at it for my brothers. The twins. They love to cook fine dining food.”
“Let’s buy it for them.”
“No. I’ll just get them a cheap souvenir. They’ll be happy with that.”
“And we’ll take the book, thank you.” He slides his card back over.
“Are you sure?” He’s already spent a lot on me today, but this is for my brothers.
“Of course, sweetie. It’s fun to buy you things you can take home. And look, it’s signed by Chef Joho.”
“Thanks. They’ll love that. I appreciate it.”
“I know you do. Come. Let us go and relax after that fantisimo
meal. I have so much to show you here.”
We roll home as the sun comes up. I like some of his friends, and they were cool with me. Fuck, I’m tired, though. Paolo still seems to have energy. How can that be?
“I’m going to do a little business. You going to crash, querida?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. How come you’re still going, and I’m dying here?”
“I had a little pick-me-up.” He flicks the end of his nose lightly.
I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it does but I’m too exhausted to care right now. I stagger into the bedroom and lie down for a minute. Hours later, I wake up, undressed and beneath the sheets with Paolo sprawled beside me.
* * * *
The days start to blend into one another. We eat, visit friends, see amazing sights, have mind-blowing sex—everywhere—but I need to go back.
“I don’t want you to go, my Danny.”
Fuck, I’ll miss him. I have a client coming in, though. Also, a part of me needs to get grounded again. I lost a whole day somewhere. Friday just disappeared into the void.
“I don’t want to go either.” I hold his face between my hands. Tears are in his eyes, and I gently kiss him.
“Come with me,” I beg him.
“Querida, I can’t, baby. I have so much business to do.”
“Ohh, fuck.” I run my hands through my hair with frustration.
“Come back soon.”
“I will, baby. This week has been awesome. I have to bounce, though.”
We make love slowly and tenderly before I leave, tears fall down my face, soaking into his chest. I look up at him, and he’s crying too. Burying my face in his neck, I inhale his fragrance, burning it into my memory.