photo via kickette.com
Francesca moved to her desk, where she started up her Mac and began to look at a day of email she’d skimmed over on her phone. Contractual stuff she’d forward to Timo, requests for permission to reprint, gossipy missives from her friends. She stared at the screen for a moment before clicking on Google and typing in “Paolo Romaldo.” Instinctively, habitually, she looked at the image results first: action shots of him on the field in his black and white uniform, a couple of what she’d categorize as “lifestyle” shots, pictures of him in regular clothes, posing, a few photos from the 2006 World Cup, wearing a medal. Several photos in front of different step-and-repeat screens at events, a different woman on his arm at each one. The girls were invariably tall, blonde, and beautiful. If she had to guess, Francesca would say they were models. Maybe former models.
She clicked over to the “everything” results. First up, his official biography on the Juventus roster. She read it line by line. Born in the south of Italy, in the football system since grade school and officially recruited out of secondary school to under-17 and then under-19 teams. Played his first professional ball at Napoli and then traded to Juventus in a multi-million Euro deal that, if she was understanding it properly, secured his place on the team for seven years. The curious part of his biography was the section titled “Hobbies”: opera, languages, and motorsports. Opera? His taste in music was awful. She wondered, briefly, if there were just a bunch of nouns thrown in a hat and each player had to choose three. No mention of his family, no mention of his status, no mention of any extracurricular activities beyond opera, languages, and motorsports. But that was just the official biography.
Unofficially, she found a lot more details. From the websites of magazines she regularly tried to avoid, she found conclusive evidence that he had been linked to a top runway model, a girl she knew from the shows. She also found that he recently negotiated a contract extension that would, when finalized, net him over $30 million Euro for the next five years. She found a lot of youtube videos of a goal from Euro 2010 that had seemed impossible and sent Italy into the semi-finals. She found even more videos of Champions League footage, mostly dramatic goals but occasionally just brilliant passing plays. She watched them with the sound muted. He moved sinuously, confidently, the same way he’d moved the night before. Like he knew exactly what he was doing. Paparazzi reports of sightings in Anacapri, San Remo, and Cinque Terre, each time with some different, brand-name girl. Francesca grew bored and googled herself. The results looked like her portfolio: a listing of all her shoots, campaigns, and spreads, biggest names first: Vogue Paris SS 2011 runway recap, Marni FW 2011 campaign, Fendi Jewelry, and on and on. She skimmed the first five pages and found nothing remotely personal. Good. The last thing she wanted on the internet was a running commentary on her social life.
She paged back to the image results for Romaldo. A few dozen photos in, she found the D&G underwear shot. She downloaded it to her computer and popped it into Photoshop, then zoomed in on the handsome man at the back of the photo. Even though it was five years old, he still looked exactly the same. Chiseled pects and abs, tan, muscled legs and arms, and that unmistakable bulge. Feeling her pulse quicken, Francesca looked around guiltily for Timo, who was at his desk, wearing his headset and having an intense conversation on Skype. Safe. She turned her attention back to her massive monitor and the image of Romaldo. If she closed her eyes, she could feel her fingers on his skin, tracing its contours and hardness, and she remembered the weight of his body on hers, the warmth and the pressing and the sweat and then fullness. It seemed like it hadn’t been real.