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     “That is the other thing my friends tell me. One, I’m too wild. Two, I’m always giving my money away. But I like to help people. So, you will make me happy if you take this money. As I said, it’s not much, but I think you need it more than me.”
     Robert gave Lisa a grateful hug and inhaled the mint scent of freshly bathed skin. Yes, he thought, it would help him. It would let him escape this seductive city, which had ensnared and isolated him. “Thank you, Lisa. I’m very lucky to have met you.”
     The light cloud cover that greeted them as they left the building turned the early morning sky the color of dull pewter. Small pools of water had gathered on the uneven pavement, evidence of recent showers. There was stillness in the air, broken here and there by an occasional figure scurrying across a square or down one of the many lanes on their way to work. The stillness reminded Robert of the opening scene of a play, a scene in which Venice held it breath and waited for its guests to rise and make their appearance on the city’s august stage.
     Lisa slung a rucksack over her shoulder, took Robert’s hand, and quietly walked with him towards the Grand Canal. Once there, she would catch an early vaporetto to the train station and disappear from his life. He toyed with the idea of accompanying her to Rome but thought better of it. It would do no good to prolong their momentary friendship, and he wanted to look for Rachel a while longer. It was better to say goodbye at the Accademia Bridge.
     When they reached the bridge, Lisa kissed him so fiercely his lips burned from her passion. “Goodbye, my handsome stranger,” she breathed into his ear. “Remember me.” She looked into his eyes, kissed him once more, and walked away. Robert’s gaze followed her until she disappeared over the curve of the bridge. A heavy weight of loneliness quickly descended upon him. Lisa had provided a momentary sanctuary from his nightmare, but now she was gone, and he was abandoned to his uncertain fate.
     At that hour, there was little evidence that the Venice he’d come to see with Rachel had slipped through his grasp. The buildings, back streets and canals were so timeless, they looked no different than when they arrived. This thought gave him pause. Could his world have returned to normal while he slept? Could Rachel be waiting for him at the hotel? He knew that made no sense, because it couldn’t explain Lisa’s presence this morning. As if to confirm his doubts, he pulled the lira Lisa had given him from his pocket and examined the bills. They looked very different from the euros he’d exchanged when he first arrived, and they told him nothing had changed. He sighed and counted the money. Was it enough to get him to the embassy in Rome? He hoped so. In the meantime, he had to face his demons. Thanks to Lisa, his stomach was full, and he was refreshed from his shower and shave, but he wasn’t any closer to finding the Venice he’d lost when he entered the Belini Hotel.