When a book is published, what the reader sees can have many changes from what the author originally wrote. Editors and critique partners help shape and refine the original rough draft. That's part of the writing process. For ROME REFRAMED, the original version did not have any time travel elements at all! There was magic in the story but it was about shifting how Lucas saw the world as he took photos...much more subtle. For revision, my editor Carlisa Cramer and I tried to think of ways to bring this book closer in style to Paris on Repeat, which has a very obvious and dramatic magical feature--the time loop. It was when I was pondering the Trevi Fountain and the coin that it all fell into place for me. The tradition teaches that wishing with a coin in the Trevi Fountain means you'll go BACK to Rome...so I thought, wait, if he wishes on the fountain, he'll go BACK to Rome... BACK IN TIME. And that realization shifted how I revised everything.
I had a scene set at what is sometimes called the Wedding Cake, which is a large museum with a huge metal sculpture of a famous Italian on a horse. My family and I went up to the roof of that building and saw some amazing views of Rome. I wanted to include that experience in my story. When it came time to add in time traveling, I struggled to find a historically important moment to travel back to, but I did find something interesting... I wrote it and loved it, but ultimately, it did not fit with the rest of the novel anymore. I needed every travel sequence to play a particular role in the growth of Lucas and Vivi and this one just wasn't doing it. So I cut it. But I still love it and in honor of Rome Reframed's first birthday, I am sharing it with you today, along with a few photos of the day that inspired this part of the story-that-was-not-to-be.
This scene originally came after his trip back to see Michelangelo. Sometimes I still can’t believe the Wedding Cake is only seen from afar in the published version! Note, since this is mid-book, there are some spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk!
Want to get gray hairs before you turn fifteen? Take your two little brothers out to see a super tall building in Rome without your parents and then go up to the very top and see your six-year-old brother dashing toward the edge of the building. I didn’t plan it that way, of course.
I thought I’d done pretty good at keeping both brothers from running into traffic in the big round-about in front of the building. The building does make you stop and stare. Even from the ground, you could see the graduated layers, frothy with curves and curlicues and a brilliant white in the morning sun. Wedding cake—yeah, it worked.
Thinking of the palm reader’s direction to see things from new perspectives, I took a few shots of the outside, but nothing really looked special. Plain ol’ tourist pictures wouldn’t be enough.
“Dumb pictures,” I muttered under my breath.
We climbed the first long row of steps, craning our necks at the big statue of the dude on horseback. They loved those here. I looked out across the lawn and road. Not bad, but still… it was no Sistine Chapel.
Will I end up back in time here, too? The thought was as whisper in my brain and I couldn’t tell if it was hopeful or scared. Probably both.
If I did, maybe I’d be able to think clear enough to try my camera phone. Talk about extra credit!
Vivi clapped. “Ready go to go the tip-top?”
“The tip-top?” Robby asked, eyes wide.
She giggled. Her laughter practically sparkled in the air. Robby’s eyes got wider.
We all did. She led us inside, skimming past through the museum part. I slowed us down long enough to write down a page full of facts, scribbling as fast as I could about the history of this place. I’d need to work some of that in to my next entry for my history teacher. Then she led us out the back.
“This is the best part,” Vivi said. “Sometimes tourists don’t even know this is back here.”
I could see why. It felt like we were in an alleyway, with not much in the way of signs pointing this out, but there was a glass elevator—a tiny one—taking people to the very top of the building.
Robby looked a little paler than usual. I kinda felt the same. “You okay, bro?” I asked him.
“Fine.” His eyes roamed all around him, taking in everything like he always did, but his lips were pressed so tight, they were almost white.
Maybe I should take pity on the kid. I said to Vivi, “I don’t think people belong on the top of famous buildings.”
“That’s all you know, then!” Vivi retorted and bought tickets for us.
I leaned down and whispered to Robby. “You really okay? I can wait with you here.”
He jutted his chin and was the first to march into the elevator. Okay then, I guess we were doing this.
The rest of us crammed into the small space. The world fell away from our feet and my heart fell down near my waist. Robby stood far from the glass, but read to us from a brochure he snagged somewhere.
If I shifted in time right now, would I fall to the ground? When were elevators invented, anyway? And what was triggering my little trips? If I could predict them, I’d be less afraid.
Trevor smashed his nose and hands against the glass wall and I winced at the steamy smear of his breath. I focused on my breathing—deep breaths in and out. I smelled something sweet…almost like…ice cream? No, not quite that. Flowers.
It was Vivi. She smelled really good.
I stumbled out of the doors as soon as they opened, blinking against the sun, and my brothers darted out like race hounds after the fox. Naturally, Trevor headed straight for the edge.
My heart kicked into high speed. My shoes squeaked as I took off. “Wait! Trevor!”
The little booger slid between adults and was nearly there when I caught up.
Thankfully my knees had begun working once we stepped onto the solid ground—and that giant building was extremely solid.
I shook his hand in mine and said, “Little man, you can’t do that again, okay?”
He pouted. A tear trembled. Ah man. He was going to cry. Up here, in front of everyone. I couldn’t even make a fast escape.
I glanced around for a likely distraction.
Right above us, hugely large, was a giant statue of a woman on a chariot behind horses. She was probably supposed to be Victory, based on her wings. Rome really had a lot of these. Why a winged woman would need a chariot, I don’t know, but there it was.
The horses pranced sat proudly, but from where we stood, we were looking right up one horse’s tail. Not quite so glamorous a view, but perfect for a six-year-old boy. Or, apparently, a fourteen-year-old one.
“Hey!” I whispered, kneeling next to him. “Look up there! That horse’s butt is bigger than your whole body. Better hope it doesn’t poop on you.”
Trevor laughed and laughed and laughed.
Vivi came over, thankfully holding Robby’s hand (something he’d never allow me to do.) “I’m so sorry he slipped by me, Lucas. What’s so funny?”
I squeezed Trevor’s hand. “He just likes it up here.”
Please, please please don’t say anything. And he didn’t, but only because he was wheezing too much from laughter.
The beauty of Rome was all around us, and I was pointing out a horse’s butt to my little brother. “Um. And look, Trevor, there’s the… the…” I gestured at some building with a big dome. “The thing!”
“That’s the Pantheon,” she told us. “A really famous temple-turned-church. 2,000 years old. Why don’t you take a shot of that, Lucas?”
I dutifully pulled out my phone one more time and took a picture. I frowned. Too dull. I needed something eye-catching. Something exciting. And my history teacher would not appreciate a horse butt in my journal. I had plenty of goofy shots, anyway. I needed something real.
But what if it was stupid anyway? Maybe any shot I took would be dumb. Like me. I hunched my shoulders.
Vivi took a deep breath and sighed with a smile. “It’s really something isn’t it? And look you can see the Roman forum from here, all spread out in its glory. It seems so much closer than the view from the Colosseum. I’d forgotten how impressive it is. Especially from this angle.”
Well, when she put it like that… I guess it was pretty amazing. On one side of Rome, modern buildings gleamed. On other side, the crumbling walls, columns, and arches of the ancient Roman forum were on full display.
The contrast of the modern and the old. Nice. I wanted something to document this day. Needed it. I carefully focused on the Forum, with the tops of modern buildings in the foreground, but my arm was yanked before I could press the button.
“Let me go closer!” Trevor begged. “I promise I’ll stay back from the very edge!”
His cheeks were getting pink, a sure sign of an oncoming tantrum. The sun was a white disk, beaming bright and hot on our heads. He tugged on me again and I staggered, nearly dropping my phone.
As I leaned over to catch my balance, my attention was snagged by unexpected colors along the street below. On the side street along the curve of a narrow road, there was a line of cars in a perfect rainbow. Bright red, orange, green, blue and purple.
“Look at that! What are the odds?” I held my brother’s hand tighter and tugged him toward the view.
I shifted back to the cars. My rainbow line of cars came into sharp focus. I clicked and caught a crisp image of color.
My brother looked toward the cars and pure delight lit his face. “And see how big that horse is? It could crush any one of those cars?” I pointed to the big statue with the dude on it, in the center of the whole shebang.
He laughed. I turned without thinking, moving to capture his expression, that glow of pure fun. Click. I glanced at the screen—focused and perfectly framed, with the top of a big horse statue visible below him and the rest of Rome spreading out like a cloak. A great shot. Excitement bubbled up, followed quickly by a gasp.
The coin. The coin was heating up.
My hand still held Trevor’s. “Hey, let go, buddy.”
He was too busy laughing, gripping me like a life-line. The coin was getting really hot now.
“Robby!” I shouted. “Come here! Get Trevor!”
Vivi and Robby both tried to pry my youngest brother away, but now he thought it was a game and he wrapped himself like a boa constrictor around my leg.
The coin was going to burst into flames. The light was growing brighter. My heart raced and I struggled not to drop my phone. I couldn’t lose all my pictures. “Please, buddy! I need you let go.”
And then came the roar. My brothers both screamed. Vivi, too. And then everything went totally white.
Metal chilled the palms of my hands. Hard, cold metal. My fingers clutched for anything I could grab onto, and slid along the smooth surface behind my back. I felt a hard board under me—I was sitting on something. The light faded…and faded…and then we were in near total darkness. As I blinked, I could tell that light glowed at one end of the container we were in, from the floor for some reason. My eyes adjusted quickly. Two small wooden benches ran along the walls that curved up over our heads and under us, but not too far. We were sitting near the end of the space. A table ran down the length of it… like we were sitting in the back of a very small dining room or kitchen. That was missing lights. Or lamps. Or candles.
“Where are we?” my voice echoed with a tinny sound.
“What. Is. Happening?” Vivi squeaked. She reached to pull Trevor tightly against her. “How did we move?”
There was no good way to answer that.
“I’ll peek out that hole.” I pried my hands from Trevor, who scooted over next to Vivi. The floor clanged slightly as I stepped. My fingers felt cool against the wall, like it was medal. It smelled metallic, too.
Before I could move an inch, a head popped up from the hole in the floor.
We all screamed. Four screams—actually, make that five, because the man did, too—inside a relatively small room in the dark? Terrifying.
Trevor clutched to one arm, Robby to the other, without even a drop of attempted coolness. Vivi scooted closer.
The man—as I assumed the head belonged to a full person—boomed out, “How did you kids get up in here? We have dignitaries coming later this morning to celebrate the inauguration of the Vittoriano! You can’t be in here—don’t touch the table! You’ll get your grimy hands on it, you hooligans!”
He wore a cap on his head that brought to mind the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins.
“Where are we?” Vivi asked him, straightening her spine. I don’t think she liked being called a hooligan. Did people even use that word anymore?
My stomach sank. Oh, right! The question wasn’t just where were we. It was when were we. We’d definitely just jumped through time—all four of us.
Was that safe?
The man’s voice got louder. “As if you didn’t know, climbing up into the horse’s belly like you did! I’m surprised you were eagle-eyed enough to see the hole—it’ll be sealed up later after the inauguration of the torta di nozze, so don’t’ get any wise ideas unless you want to be stuck inside the belly of a giant bronze horse forever.”
“We’re in the horse that’s in front of the Wedding Cake?” Vivi interrupted. “The one with Victor Emmanuel II on it?”
“Seems obvious, doesn’t it?” the man snapped.
I kept my NO to myself, as he was still lecturing.
“And you’re lucky you didn’t break your necks. I suppose little mites like you wouldn’t stress the ladder, though. Some of our dignitary guests weigh as much as the four of you put together.”
He seemed to finally notice of Trevor’s terrified face, for his own softened. “Come on down, then. No need to cry, young ones. Just scoot on out before we’re caught and mums the word. I know it’s an exciting day, with the inauguration and fiftieth anniversary.”
“Of what?” I asked and received a look like I was stupid. Luckily, I was used to those looks from certain teachers in my past. I lifted my chin. “We’re not from around here.”
The man sighed and said, “Tourists. Of course. Yes, this is the bronze equestrian statue in front of the building. The horse’s belly is big enough for 20 men to sit in here—and they’ll be proving it later when the guests come for pastries and drinks. Then they’ll take down the last of the scaffolding and ladder. But we can’t let anyone see you here. People will be gathering in the square soon. And I’ve got to get this space ready for the real guests. Come on out now.”
I tried, but Trevor wouldn’t move. He was absolutely frozen, not that I blamed him.
Wait. I looked around the shape… we were in the belly, yes, but that curve part right behind us… I think that was… oh my gosh, how perfect.
“We’re in a horse’s butt, Trevor,” I whispered to him. Robby snickered, then giggled, then laughed.
Trevor finally relaxed enough to giggle, too. “Horse’s butt!” he repeated. “Butt!”
Soon we were all laughing, and Trevor unpeeled his legs from under the wooden stool.
We lowered ourselves carefully out the open hatch that was sort of under the horse’s chest, between his legs and up part of his neck. A scaffold was around us, but the ground was clear, way below us. Forty feet below, if I remembered right. There were already people in the square… it must be a big deal today. He’d mentioned the inauguration… I’d read something about that. This building was completed and inaugurated before World War I.
The man said, “I’ll go down first, and hold the ladder steady as you come down off the scaffolding, okay?”
I nodded, but my brain was whirring. As he lowered himself, I leaned over to Vivi. “I think you all came back in time with me,” I spoke low hoping my brothers wouldn’t understand. “And maybe it misfired because of it, stuffing us inside the horse instead of on the ceiling.”
Vivi shrieked. “WE REALLY JUST TIME-TRAVELED? Is that what happened?”
“Shh!” I said, but it was too late.
Robby whipped around, but he was in no danger of falling off. The scaffolding was sturdy. “Is that why the Piazza looks different?”
He pointed. “The cars look old-fashioned and there’s way fewer of them. And see that? That’s an old-looking trolly line. And somehow a whole building was somehow scooted over where the road should be. That that wasn’t there before.”
Of course he’d notice all that. That was all fascinating and everything, but--
“What are we going to do with my brothers here?” What if they get hurt back here?
My pulse sped up even more, which was saying a lot.
“How did you get back to our time before?” Vivi asked, glancing down at the floorboard of the platform. I didn’t like the look in her eyes, as if she might try jumping down any moment.
“I don’t know. Um, I guess it happened after I spoke with someone.” The random guy and then, well, Michelangelo.
“And now you’ve spoken to this gentlemen…but here we still are. Maybe he has more to share. I’ll go down first with Trevor, okay?”
Her eyes were huge, but she was taking it all in stride. In fact, that sparkle was already returning. She might not ever want to go home when she could adventure through time!
She and Trevor moved slowly and carefully down until I could just see the tops of their heads. What if they fell?
My palms went cold. We were 40 feet in the air, where no one was meant to be. They weren’t even alive yet in this time…could they die?
Was the magic coin trying to kill us now?
Robby’s eyes were bugging out of his head. “You’re not playing a joke on us? The building was mostly all put together by 1911 and--” he craned his neck—“I’d say this is before then. The tomb of the unknown soldier didn’t arrive until 1921 and it’s not below us where it should be. Are you saying we’re over a hundred years back in time?”
I brushed my hand against his shoulder “Don’t freak out, okay? We’ve got to keep our heads on straight.”
His jaw was down to his chest and his chest was pumping too fast. He’d paled just riding the glass elevator up. This was much worse.
Then he grinned—still pale, but a genuine smile. “Are you kidding? This is AMAZING! I bet we could learn so much. It’s an anthropologist and archeologist’s dream.” He gulped. “Though I’d rather be on the ground.”
There was my little academic dude. I was proud of him.
We managed to climb down with me half-holding onto him, talking all the while: “Rob, man, you’ve got open your eyes. Just look at the next rung. Not the ground, not the sky. All you have to do is hold that next rung. You’ve got this.”
When we reached the base and solid(ish) ground, I let out a long, slow breath. Sweat lined my arms and back. This was scarier than going back and seeing gladiators. A lot scarier. This was about my family, and keeping them safe. My brothers might be royal pains in my rear half the time, but I loved them like nothing else.
“All right, then no harm, no foul,” the big man said. “Get on with you.”
I looked back up at the horse, wishing I could take a picture but unsure if it would cause some giant time travel paradox to whip out a mobile phone in 1911.
“I didn’t realize the horse was so big,” I said, squinting up at the horse’s curving barrel sides. It looked so much smaller from the ground. Kind of like Michelangelo’s mammoth figures on the 60-foot-high ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I guess they figured, go big or go home.
The man scratched his head under his hat. “Yes, it’s a feat, for sure. It’s the largest statue in Rome. I guess they decided to be bold.” He glared at the bright white building behind him. “Normally I approve of that attitude, though I think they maybe too that a little too far with the building. But for art—yes, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, I say. Lay it all out for the world to see. Art requires courage.”
Vivi smiled at me. “Sounds like a lesson for the ages.”
The sky grew lighter, too fast to be natural.
My pocket felt warm. The coin!
We waved our thanks and ran down the steps. As soon as we headed around the corner of the stairs, the roaring began. The coin felt like fire in my pocket.
Panic spurted through my veins. “Quick!” I yelled. “Just in case, we’ve all got to be touching!” I grabbed Trevor and pulled him close. I had to reach higher to touch Robby’s hand over Trevor’s head--he was growing up, getting bigger. Bigger than it looked at first glance, kinda like this horse. You couldn’t judge accurately from a distance. You had to get up close and personal. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with him lately, not focused time. Not with either of them. Just like my parents. Guilt weighed me down.
“Hang on, everyone!” I called. I grabbed onto my brothers and Vivi clasped her arms around me.
And then the flash happened.
Vivi’s scream followed me into the blinding light, and I realized as the ground solidified beneath my feet that she didn’t’ sound scared. Her scream was pure excitement.
The sun blazed down on us on the roof the Wedding Cake. Tourists milled around. And my brothers and friend were all safely with me. The cold ice of fear in my belly melted. We were okay.
A few tourists looked started and glared over at us, but my brothers started shouting immediately. “Man! That was nuts!” and “We’re back! We’re back!”
We were back on the rooftop, staring down at the giant bronze horse and his rider, stunned.
“We were inside there,” Robby said, voice rising.
“In the horses BUTT!” Trevor added. He really did test as a genius, but hey, he’s only six.
Robby put a hand to his head, shaking it in wonder. “We were in 1911, during inauguration day!”
“What’s that?” Trevor asked.
Finally a question I could answer. “Inauguration is when a building is brand new and gets a big kick-off, like when they opened the new library and we had that ribbon cutting ceremony at the college, remember?”
Trevor shook his head, but I remembered it like it was yesterday. My parents’ coworkers asked things like, “What classes are you taking? Bet you’re taking all the honors ones, huh?” with a wink and nod and I’d nodded and felt heat creeping along my face. I’d totally lied. I wasn’t in any honors classes. I was struggling in my regular classes. I didn’t want my parents to have to explain the mystery of the weird cuckoo in the nest of academics that was our family.
But I’d bet none of those super smart people knew there’d once been 20 men eating dinner inside that horse sculpture.
I smiled, and took another picture of it. This time, I zeroed in on the horse butt. I’d sat there. Maybe one day I’d be able to tell Andrew. Or not. It sounded way too crazy to be believed.
I met Vivi’s eyes, wrapped an arm around each brother. At least these three believed me. I wasn’t alone in this adventure anymore.
Vivi gave a breathless laugh, brushing hair from her face. “That.Was. Amazing. Oh, I know just where I want to go next. I want to try this again! But how does it work?”
Shrugging, I said, “I don’t know. Why now? Why here? Why then?”
“Well, it seems clear that it’s to teach you lessons for your project. And maybe for life, who knows. You’ve sure got all sorts of juicy details for your report. What were you doing just before we… left?”
Thinking back was hard. It felt like years ago already. Let’s see, we were…up here, I saw the cars… and Trevor was upset…
“I was taking a picture of Trevor!” I held out my camera, with the last picture of my brother laughing with Rome behind him. “But I had taken other pictures there, too! I don’t know what the trigger is for the coin to kick in.”
She looked over my shoulder and that same quick glow lit her face. “How delightful!” she said. She flipped back one picture and her smile got even bigger.
Geez, it was a row of cars.
But it was cool.
It was a freaking row of cars.
But I liked them. The colors all lined up. The rounded shape of the hoods one after another. They’d sparked something tingly inside me, a sort of …fun…feeling. And then when my brother saw it, he had the same reaction. It was fun sharing it with him.
It was almost like a piece of art. Or something.
“Well, those are way cool,” she decided. “You should post these somewhere else besides a report. These belong out in the world.
I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, but I couldn’t tell her no, not in the moment with her hair all blowing in the wind and her smile a little sly like that. “Maybe.”
Art requires courage. The old man’s words floated through my mind, sinking in like ink on wet paper. Well, I wasn’t an artist, but the least I could do was try to make my pictures better, if I was going to have to take them anyway. Go big or go home, right?
Thinking back to a picture I didn’t take at Constantine’s Arch, I said, “Come here—I have an idea.” We took the elevator back down, and then ran down all the steps—it was a lot of steps. Next to the tall equestrian statue of Emmuael II, I laid down right there on the cement, angling my camera looking straight up. People might stare or step on me—let them.
I had a photo to take.
This crowd of men were inside that metal horse belly! That's how big it is. It's hard to tell unless you get really close.
To young readers, I hope I can offer a smidgen of help & encouragement as you traverse the waters of school, friendships, and life.