"Roman Hands"

My mother, by my sixteenth year, had begun praying fervently to Juno.

"If you aren't married this year, your father will sell you," she's kept saying, since the day I turned thirteen.

My father is softer at heart, though he hides it well in public. I am his favorite daughter, and the youngest, so he is happy to keep me (and my dowry) for now.

They don't know about Deric. I've been meeting him at the Coliseum for three years now, since we met when I was thirteen and he fifteen. It was my first time to see the gladiators, and, in spite of myself, I cried for those that lost their lives. My father and I had been separated by the huge crowd, but there was a kind, handsome boy sitting beside me.

"What's the matter, girl," he asked with wide brown eyes.

I tried to fool him. "Nothing. A bit of dirt in my eye, that's all."

He didn't believe me for an instant. "Come," he said, standing.

I followed him past all the people, both of us fighting the urge to link hands so we wouldn't lose each other. As holding hands in public was considered consent of engagement, however, we just made sure to keep each other in sight.

We walked until we reached the deserted baths. There, he comforted me, and there we have been meeting while thousands of people watch the killing that constantly goes on.

Today, I am to meet him early; he has something important to discuss with me.

"Rena," Deric says, greeting me with a kiss. "Hold my hand."

At first I can only blink at him. My mouth opens, but no words come out.

"Rena. Will you?"

To my frustration and Deric's amusement, my eyes fill with tears – but I take his hand.

He wipes a tear from my cheek. "Your mother will be happy?"

I smile. "She's had my tunic and belt ready for four years."

He laughs and kisses my forehead. "Happy seventeenth birthday, Rena."

Note: The early Roman girls wore tunics with belts; they had special tunic/belt outfits for their weddings.