The Sweet Life
by Sharon Struth
GENRE: Women's Fiction
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Mamie Weber doesn’t know why she survived that terrible car accident five years ago. Physically, she has only a slight reminder—but emotionally, the pain is still fresh. Deep down she knows her husband would have wanted her to embrace life again. Now she has an opportunity to do just that, spending two weeks in Tuscany reviewing a tour company for her employer’s popular travel guide series. The warmth of the sun, the centuries-old art, a villa on the Umbrian border—it could be just the adventure she needs. But with adventure comes the unexpected . . . like discovering that her entire tour group is made up of aging ex-hippies reminiscing about their Woodstock days. Or finding herself drawn to the guide, Julian, who is secretly haunted by a tragedy of his own, and seems to disapprove any time she tries something remotely risky—like an impromptu scooter ride with a local man. As they explore the hilltop towns of Tuscany, Mamie knows that when this blissful excursion is over, she’ll have to return to reality. But when you let yourself wander, life can take some interesting detours . . .
In the driver’s seat sat a square-faced man with a full Romanesque nose and short, dark hair. He greeted her with a wide smile. “Ciao, bella.”
She climbed the steps and smiled back. “Hello. I mean, Ciao. Sorry I’m late.”
Before the nice man in the driver’s seat could respond, a man standing about halfway down the aisle said, “I’m sorry, miss. You’ve got the wrong bus.”
Whoever he was, his cargo shorts and faded Led Zeppelin T-shirt didn’t carry any authority. But he held a clipboard, and his tone suggested he meant business. His Gaelic-looking face carried a slight boyish quality, hardened into a manly appearance due to his trimly cut mustache and beard. Wavy hair the color of cognac peeked out from beneath a gold cap with orange and blue lettering reading Wanderlust Excursions.
“I’m sure the hotel front desk can help you find the right tour.” He gave her a now-hurry-along smile and turned back to the man he’d been talking to.
“Did I just talk to you on the phone?”
He lifted his chin and raised a brow. “We’re waiting for Felix.” His gaze traveled her from top to bottom then he looked her in the eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re not Felix?”
“No, but...” Mamie became aware of the silence and scanned the passengers.
Everyone in the full bus stared back. Quiet. Curious. She squirmed and her gaze drifted back to the man who seemed to be in charge.
“No. I’m not Felix, but if this is Wanderlust Excursions, it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
He squinted. “Wait. Are you the woman who answered Felix’s phone?”
“Yes. I’m taking his place on the tour.”
He snorted. A short, patronizing laugh. “I don’t think so.”
“Because you’re clearly not Felix.”
“But he transferred his vouchers to me.”
“Nobody told me. Our company rules state that purchased seats are not transferrable without prior home office approval.” He frowned and studied her again. “Besides, this is a specialized tour and you’re not a member of this group. Felix is.”
“How do you know I’m not?”
His lip curled into a little smirk. “Did you attend Woodstock?”
“Is there another one?”
“Well, no, but...” Mamie scanned the other passengers more carefully. Other than the guide—everyone else was probably over fifty-five. Maybe even over sixty. “What group are they part of?”
“They are”—the guide, whose company sponsored tag read Julian, glanced at his clipboard—“the Woodstock Wanderers.”
“Felix may not have been part of it either.” Mamie never heard him mention them before.
“Are you kidding? Felix was one of our founder members.” A man with thinning white hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and a full white beard sitting in the front seat winked at Mamie. “Bernie” in capital letters sat square in the center of a nametag with a tie-dyed background. Beneath his name it said, “Favorite Woodstock Song: ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned,’ Joe Cocker.”
Mamie would’ve never put Bernie together with that song, but... The bus’s silence and everyone watching her jarred her back to the problem at hand. “Felix never mentioned your group to me.”
Guess she knew Felix but didn’t know him. The truth about how she and Felix knew each other, though, wasn’t something she could share.
So she did the only thing she could do. Staring Julian square in the eye, she said, “Uncle Felix wanted me to take this trip. I’m his niece. He insisted I go in his place.”
“His niece, huh?” The tour director rubbed the back of his neck and considered her again. He shook his head. “I’m sorry he’s decided not to come, but on the transfer, I can’t budge. Rules are rules.”
A thin gentleman sitting a couple rows behind Bernie, with salt-and-pepper patches of hair above his ears, piped in. “Julian. Dude. Can’t you just go with the flow? She looks harmless. Let her come.”
Mamie squinted. His tag read Bob, but before she could read more, the others joined in with choruses of “yeahs,” and she looked away.
“You know what they say, Julian.” A woman with curly brown hair, peace sign earnings, and a pretty smile said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Mamie noted her nametag read Martha and her favorite Woodstock song was “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Still, and Nash.
Julian pursed his lips. “All due respect Martha, me losing my job isn’t exactly small stuff.”
Martha grinned slyly and winked. “We promise to keep it a secret from the boss.” She glanced around. “Right everybody?”
Another chorus of loud “yeahs” filled the bus.
One slim man with thinning hair who sat in the last row fist bumped the air. “We aren’t afraid of the man.”
The passengers murmured and nodded, complete agreement on that one. Mamie loved this solidarity. Though she’d never considered herself a hippie—more like a loner—she had an incredible urge to be part of this group.
Julian watched them, frowning. He refocused his attention on Mamie. “Sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to step out so we can start. We’re already running late.”
Normally, Mamie respected timeliness, schedules, and rules. But she had a job to do. A mission to accomplish.
“Please. My uncle, he really wanted me to go and—”
Julian took several swift steps to the front of the bus and stopped close to her. He dropped his voice. “Listen, this isn’t personal. The last thing I need is to lose this job. Do me a solid and go see if you can get any of your money back.”
She quietly replied, “You don’t understand. I need to go on this tour.”
He narrowed his hard green eyes, but before he could say a thing, a chant filled the air.
“Let her stay. Let her stay. Let her stay.”
A blond-haired woman with a cherub face who sat at Bernie’s side spoke up over the chant. “Doesn’t she remind you of Tracy, Bern?” Her nametag read Sandra and her favorite Woodstock song was “Amazing Grace” by Arlo Guthrie. She patted Julian’s arm in a very maternal way. “Tracy’s our daughter. We’d love having some young energy around. Tracy’s just too busy working to spend any time with us.”
Julian’s lower lip dropped. He drew in a deep breath, looked at Mamie, and motioned to the door. “Let’s talk outside.”
She turned and headed off the bus. Little did he know, she wasn’t about to back down. Nothing would stop her from getting on this bus or making the most of this adventure. Two very good reasons existed for fighting the good fight.
The memory of her husband and daughter.
Sharon Struth believes you’re never too old to pursue a dream. The Hourglass, her debut novel, is a finalist in the National Readers' Choice Awards for Best first Book, and her Blue Moon Lake Novels include the bestseller, Share the Moon.
When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut. For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit www.sharonstruth.com or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at