Disclaimer: I am not LMA, she would update more regularly.
Under the Italian Sun
Venice was Jo's favourite city in the entire world. Then again she had said the same thing about Paris when they had sojourned there, and again about London. She was decided this time however, Venice was sheer perfection.
The sun shone every day, glittering across the canals as they rippled around the tiny black gondolas cutting through the water. The language was exquisite, rolling and dancing from the tongues of the Venetians and everyone looked as though they had stepped straight from the pages of one of her old stories. Exotic, beautiful, mysterious. Every letter home was filled with the raptures of her trip, the curiosities she had discovered and the grand museums and houses she had visited. Every morning she and Aunt March would go visiting, mixing with the other Americans and British women who had congregated within their own little community. Some days they would take a tour of an intriguing building, but this was an activity usually left to Jo in the afternoons when Aunt March retired to bed. It was too hot, she insisted with an imperious tone, to expect any properly educated person to stay awake all day.
Jo's young mind had never been more stimulated than when she spent long afternoons exploring the city's grand museums with other young women of their acquaintance. Taking a boat across to one of the myriad islands dotted around the lagoon and slipping away from her chaperons to wander idly down narrow lanes or simply drink in the blissful views afforded by the tiny bridges which arched across the canals. Her cheeks, which had been wan and hollow before she left Concord a year before were once again full and flushed. Marmee would scarcely recognise her.
"Josephine March, what are you daydreaming about now? Come over here at once." Aunt March's brittle voice echoed around the bright, arched room seeming to draw just a little bit of sunlight from what was an otherwise glorious day. "Honestly, I have never known a girl to spend so much of her time mooning about over impractical things. What were you writing just now?"
"A letter." Jo briskly swept the pages behind her back so as better to conceal the scribbled lines and hasty crossings out of what was most definitely not correspondence and what was almost definitely a story, the romance of Venice had finally crept into her pen and she had begun to write again.
"Indeed," came Aunt March's crisp response as she observed her great-niece through disbelieving eyes. "Well, put it away, we shall be late for our engagement with the Pooles. Mrs Poole and her daughter were most kind to extend us this invitation, would you have her think ill of us?"
"Not at all, Aunt March." She vanished the pages into a drawer and went to collect her hat and gloves from the smart, little table by the door.
The Pooles were one of the families who lived in Venice permanently and weren't simply passing through on some rather drawn out voyage around Europe. Mr Poole was a diplomat attached to the consulate in the city and lived with his wife and two children in a magnificent palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. Jo had befriended Eleanor Poole, the daughter, during one of her afternoon visits around the city and the girls had immediately bonded over their mutual love of Caravaggio and, after some time and rather tentatively, their grief for lost siblings. It transpired that Eleanor had a younger, imp of a brother named Sebastian, but there had also been another brother, Sebastian's twin, who had succumbed to scarlet fever when he was five years old.
Rather surprisingly Jo found that talking about Amy helped. Perhaps it was because Eleanor had never known her and so there was no chance she would be upset by Jo raising the topic. Expressing her feelings and her guilt seemed like the lifting of a burden, not all at once mind you, but rather the gradual chipping away at a great block which had been sitting on her chest since the moment Amy had slipped through the ice.
On that afternoon Jo and her great-aunt had been invited to what Eleanor described as a "small soiree" at the palazzo with just a few, particular, friends. Aunt March had been inclined to claim a headache until Jo had pointed out to her the social benefits which might be gained from attending. Jo didn't care why her aunt went, so long as she did. It had been a long time before she had felt connected to anything that couldn't be described in architectural terms or printed on a postcard and she wanted to spend as much time with her new friend as she could.
Though they had known each other only a short time Eleanor understood her in a way that Jo rarely felt anyone did. In return for pouring her soul out about Amy, Jo listened as Eleanor spoke about the day she had been nursing Sebastian and he had breathed his last. Eleanor understood the pain Jo had buried deep inside, and the fact that though it might lessen with time, the wound never truly healed. Eleanor was such a naturally sunny, cheerful and kind soul that Jo often found herself forgetting her troubles for a time, and almost became the carefree, fun loving spirit she had been before the accident. Little by little she felt that Eleanor and Venice were helping to heal her.
The other reason Jo wanted to go to the Poole's that afternoon was that Eleanor had said there were some people she wanted her to meet, people who would be a surprise, and Jo was curious to see who they would be.
"I really don't understand these Italians, and their fascination with boats," Aunt March complained as they stepped from the gondola onto the steps outside the Poole's palazzo. "They don't seem very sea worthy at all. I feel all queer and seasick every time I look at one."
A smile crept around Jo's lips, it was slightly creaky and slow with disuse, but she was beginning to remember how to make her face fold into the expression once more.
"Miss March," Eleanor exclaimed once they had been shown into the hallway. Sweeping down the stairs, her beautiful blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight that shone through the high windows, she looked every inch the society belle. "How wonderful to see you." Jo was enveloped in a graceful embrace. "Mrs March," she curtsied prettily to Aunt March. "You must come through and meet our guests," her blue eyes shone as she took Jo's hand and led her through the hall, "they are a group of art and music students from America and have just arrived in Venice. I find them fascinating and I'm sure you will too!" Delight danced in her eyes at the excitement of the party and the treat it would be for her friend to meet the students.
Jo smiled again at her enthusiasm.
"There's one boy who hails from Massachussetts; that's where you're from, is it not?"
The March girl nodded, curious and pleased now to see someone from her home state, and watched as Eleanor bustled off to find the guests in question.
"Don't nod, Josephine," came her aunt's clipped voice from behind her. "It's not ladylike, a simple yes or no will do."
"Yes, Aunt March," she replied dutifully.
Jo and Aunt March were engaged in conversation with Mrs Poole and one of her friend's when Eleanor returned.
"Here they are! Jo, this is Mr John Keeler -"
Jo turned to greet the new arrivals.
"And this is the gentleman from Massachussets I was telling you about, Mr Theodore Laurence."
Jo's gaze, which up until that point had been conveying a cordial smile towards John Keeler, jumped quickly to the face of the boy behind Eleanor. Except he wasn't really a boy at all now.
Dark hair fell into those same dark eyes which were regarding her with hastily concealed surprise, but the brows above them were thicker than she recalled, the jaw line more pronounced, the expression more serious. Her boy had turned into a man and she hadn't been there to notice.
"Teddy!" Surprise and delight filled her until the thought of how abominably she had treated him when they last saw each other filled her mind. She had barely even written to him from Europe, despite the screeds he sent her on a regular basis. First she had been hurting too much, and then she had felt too awkward, hadn't known where to begin, been too ashamed of how she had left things. His letters had dried up some time ago.
"Hello, Jo. You're looking well."
"I am, thank you," she was too stunned to say much else.
"Oh, do you two know each other?" Eleanor looked from one to the other. "How delightful! It's almost providential."
"Providential," Laurie agreed with a sombre tone.
"It's young Master Laurence, isn't it?" Aunt March asked, distracting Laurie for just long enough that Jo could wrench her eyes away to answer Eleanor's question and explain their connection. She hadn't mentioned Teddy to her new friend before, and it was only now that this struck her as odd. She had told her about Amy and about her other sisters, Father, Marmee, Concord, everything, but had never mentioned her best friend once. Not that she could probably count him as her best friend any longer, her behaviour had seen to that.
"Well, isn't this a happy circumstance?" Mrs Poole smiled thinly at the group, "Eleanor, why don't you take our guests for some refreshment?" She had never been much enamoured by the company of young people.
As her friend led them out onto a sunny terrace, Jo racked her brains trying to think of something to say to Teddy. It had never been something she had struggled with before, but since Amy... she pushed the thought from her mind. Things had changed now and she was amongst company. Had they been alone she might have had it out with him. Apologised. Needled him to see where things stood between the two of them, but she couldn't.
"How long have you been in Venice for?" She settled for simple, banal question.
"Only a week or so, John, I and a few chums have actually been in Florence studying and we came here for a bit of a trip."
"I see." The conversation floundered as she attempted to think of something more inspired to say. All she could think about was having practically thrown Teddy from Orchard House over on that day, over a year ago now, when she had last seen him. In fact it was getting on for nearly two years she realised with a jolt. Two years since she had seen her Teddy? It didn't seem possible. "Your grandfather let you study music then?"
"Yes," there was a flash of that mischievous smile she remembered. "I reasoned with him until he agreed I could study music so long as I tried to learn the business when I return to Concord." They looked at each other for a moment, a pleased smile playing around Jo's mouth as she heard about the realisation of his ambitions. "John is an artist and a sculptor, though. He's much more accomplished than I will ever be." There was the hint of a chuckle in his voice at what was clearly an in-joke and the two young men began ribbing each other about their varying accomplishments.
Jo didn't have much opportunity to speak to Laurie after that and she spent the rest of the party cursing her initial hesitation. It was therefore with a slight skip that she saw him approaching her just as she and Aunt March were readying themselves to leave.
"Jo, Aunt March, would you mind if I took the liberty of calling upon you at some time in the next few days? It would be nice to spend some time with people from home."
Jo opened her mouth to answer before suddenly remembering that she herself was here at Aunt March's invitation. She shut her jaw with a snap and turned to look hopefully at her great-aunt.
"Of course you may, Master Laurence. We are often at our leisure in the afternoons, so you may call on us then."
He smiled, was courteous and polite for a few moments more then made to rejoin the party. As he turned away Jo was gripped by the urge to say something.
He looked back.
"How have you been?" It was a silly question, but somehow she felt that the answer was important.
His lips curved upwards into a smile and there was a warmth in his eyes that she only now noticed had been missing during the earlier part of the afternoon. "I'm well, Jo, very well."
And with that slightly cryptic answer he walked away, leaving Jo to spend the entire ride back to their hotel wondering what on earth she was going to say to him next time he called.
A/N: I know it has been an absolute age since I've written any of this and I had almost forgotten about it, but I was rummaging around in my literary cupboards so to speak and this jumped out at me so I'm going to try and continue it. If it is a little rusty I apologise, I'm just starting to find some direction with it again.