The Roman historian Livy and others write of a statue of a she-wolf which stood on the Capitoline hill, a symbol of Rome itself. It was gilt bronze, and showed an infant being suckled by the wolf. The famous bronze in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline today has resided there since 1471, and was long believed to be the wolf described in the ancient sources, an Etruscan work from Rome’s earliest days.
More recently, radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating have suggested that the wolf was cast in the 11th or 12th century. Whatever its date, the statue has been in Rome for a very long time. To behold the She-Wolf is to step back in time, into Livy’s immortal tales of Romulus and Remus, and the founding of Rome.
35. Semper Tuus Amator
Amber opened the door to Nick’s hospital room and cautiously peered in. “Hello?”
He was lying in the bed, the upper third of which was raised, and he lifted a hand in greeting. An IV tube was strung from his arm to a pole beside the bed, and he looked tired. There was some discoloration around his eyes, as though he’d been in a fistfight.
“Hi Nick. How’d it go?”
“So far, so good, they tell me. Come here, angel of mercy. I haven’t seen anything as beautiful as you in a week.”
“That long?” she said, laughing. He pointed wryly to the IV. “Blame it on that stuff. But come here.” She went to the bedside. She’d worn a special outfit just for Nick, a pushup bra under a white tank top printed with rosebuds, and a red miniskirt with platform espadrilles. Several men in the hallways of Einstein Medical had stopped what they were doing to watch her walk by.
“I brought you something to pass the time.” She handed him the fat little book, an old edition of Livy’s History of Rome that she had cherished since finding it in a used bookstore in Columbus, when she was twelve. “It’s good reading. Especially Book 1, with the legends of Rome’s founding.”
“Thanks, Amber. I’m a fan of Livy. I first read this when I was in New York, right after I left home. He got me through a lot of tough times.” She noticed that Nick’s nostrils were packed with cotton bandages. He had to breathe through his mouth, and he sounded like he had a cold.
“When do you get those out?” she asked, motioning toward his face.
“Soon. Sit here.” He patted the bed next to him. She perched a little gingerly on the mattress, wondering if it was against the hospital rules. Nick opened the book and saw where she had childishly scrawled Amber Bartlett 2004 inside the front cover. He looked up, meeting her gaze. “You’ve had this book a long time.”
“I want you to have it now.” She wondered whether he had any idea what was in her mind at this moment.
Nick rubbed his nose for a moment. “It itches,” he explained. Then he said, “Amber, do you remember the story about Lars Porsenna’s attack on Rome? How he demanded hostages for Rome’s safety, and they gave him a group of beautiful girls?”
“One of the girls was smart and brave,” replied Amber. “She convinced the others to follow her, and they escaped by swimming across the Tiber River.”
“Lars Porsenna demanded to have her back, but once she was handed over, he let her go free, in admiration of her brilliant spirit. And for the first time ever, the Romans erected a statue honoring a woman,” finished Nick. “Honoring Cloelia.”
Amber nodded, as he took hold of her hand. “Are you Cloelia?” he asked, and she felt his fingers pressing hard on hers as he said it.
“Are you Amator Meus?” she replied.
“Always,” said Nick. “I knew it. It had to be you.” He grinned, and then winced.
“Take it easy,” said Amber. “I don’t want you to start bleeding.”
“I’m so glad it’s you,” he said. “Amber, now that you know, I might as well tell you. Amator’s Art of Seduction has been successful enough to attract attention from venture capitalists. This week I’ve also had an offer from Match.com to buy it for two million dollars.”
“Wow.” Amber was impressed. “What are you going to do?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I could sell it, and maybe keep a hand in, or take the capital and try to expand the business on my own. I want to create a parallel site for women.” He gave her a considering look. “You’d be perfect as Amatrix. Want to work for me?”
“Thanks but no, Nick. I’ve got my own plans.”
“I know. It was worth a shot,” he said philosophically, and then, “I had this kickass fantasy of you as the guru, sitting on a mountaintop in nothing but your amber-colored hair and a loincloth.”
“Tell you what,” she said. “When you get better, I’ll take you out to Tuscarora State Park, where I used to go birding. We can climb to the top of Locust Mountain. If nobody else is around, I’ll take it all off.”
Nick’s eyes widened. “You’ve got yourself a deal.” Looking satisfied, he lay back against the pillows and began to undress her with his eyes.
“Thinking back to the research I did, I’m not all that surprised at the offers you’ve had. Your advice is qualitatively far superior to anything else I found online.” She smiled wryly. “Except for some of what Gaius wrote. Who is he, anyway?”
“Guy Gislane.” Amber gasped and started to giggle. Nick squeezed her hand again and said, “Guy just happened to mention that he hooked up with you. For some reason, I found myself wanting to smash his head in.”
“What? You mean Inclusus Amator was jealous? I can’t believe that.” She was still trying to get her head around the idea that Nick, her Nick, was the sophisticated player who slept with two different girls a week. On the other hand, there was something about Nick. He might not be a knockout like Del, but he had sex appeal, and knew how to deploy it. She thought of the Slowhand Rule, and felt a surge of desire for him.
“Yes, Amber. I’m jealous,” said Nick. “I’ll admit it. I don’t like the idea of mea carissima Cloelia taking up with anyone else.” He’d been thumbing through Livy’s History, but now he set the book aside. “Lie down next to me,” he said, pulling her toward him. “You look incredibly hot.”
“What if someone comes in?” she argued, but allowed him to put an arm around her. His fingers grazed her left breast and she shivered.
“Mea lux,” he whispered. “Give me a kiss. I want a thousand of your kisses.” She gently pressed her lips to his for a moment, aware that he couldn’t breathe through his nose. He took her hand and drew it under the blanket, down to his crotch. Amber felt what was there and her eyes widened. “It worked that fast?” she said.
“Oh yes,” he panted. “Touch me, Amber. I’m all yours. Tuus Amator.”
She closed her eyes and explored the contours of him with her hand, beginning to breathe harder as she did so.
“Hey there. Cool your jets, Lover Boy.” The voice sounded amused, and Amber abruptly withdrew her hand and opened her eyes. The speaker was an attractive woman in her late thirties, with close-cropped dark hair and a white lab coat.
“Amber, this is my surgeon, Dr. Kinsella,” said Nick, as Amber hastily jumped off the bed. He didn’t seem embarrassed in the least. “Doctor, this is my girlfriend Amber. We were just conducting some empirical observations in order to test your claims about the efficacy of the treatment.”
Dr. Kinsella cast an interested eye over the bulge in the blanket above Nick’s crotch. “Looks to me like my claims are vindicated. And then some.” She listened to Nick’s heart and lungs, then examined his pupils and the bandages in his nose. “Everything looks great. But absolutely no sex until you get home. Now, be good.” She smiled at Amber and, after making a couple of notes on an iPad, swept from the room, her high heels clicking on the floor tiles.
Once the door was closed, Amber sat on the bed again. “I might have known you’d have a sexy surgeon. And that she would flirt with you.” Then she fixed Nick with a stern look. “You said I was your girlfriend.”
His voice was serious. “If I had my druthers. Yes.”
“What about Freebird? Since when does Inclusus Amator allow himself to be chained?”
Nick shrugged. “I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
Working her regular shift at the Blue Squirrel, Amber was surprised to see Dwayne Hammond walk in. After glancing dubiously at the complicated menu board, he asked for a “regular coffee,” and it was obvious that he didn’t often visit cafés like this. “They told me Gabrielle works here. She around today?”
“She’s in the hospital, Dwayne.”
“What?!” Dwayne’s already fair skin blanched. “Is she all raht?”
“Yeah, she’s going to be fine.” Amber smiled. “You know what? She keeps mentioning you. Even when she was half-delirious, she complained that you didn’t come eat lunch with her. I think she misses ragging on you.”
“Which hospital?” As soon as Dwayne left, she realized that he had forgotten to take his coffee.
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: The Romans have more stories of strong, heroic women than the Greeks do, and Roman society seems to have been more inclined to embrace them. Even if they could neither vote nor hold office, mothers, daughters and wives had opinions and expressed them. And men listened. Certain men, at any rate. Cloelia is one of the early heroines described in Livy’s history. Her story belongs to the late 6th century BCE.