Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Month: October, 2012

Capri, a party, a kiss.

[before this: running into Bruno; remembering Capri]

Timo flirted with the DJ, the waiters flirted with the models, everyone drank more limoncello ices, and Francesca started to feel like a chaperone at a school dance.  She had work to do tomorrow–not much, but enough to keep her occupied until her afternoon flight back to Milan.  She still felt ambivalent being in Capri.  She was looking for something that just wasn’t here, it seemed.  And then Bruno was beside her.  As a party guest, he seemed entirely at ease mingling and laughing; she had watched him entertaining a gaggle of girls, discussing Clyfford Still with the art director, and even John Waters films with Timo.  She was fairly certain he was having a better time than she was.  He handed her a beverage with lime.

“Sparkling water,” he said.

“Thank you–I don’t think I could drink anything else.”

“Neither could I.  You looked like maybe you were getting dehydrated,” he smiled.  “Thanks for bringing me here.  It’s been great.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.  Sometimes these things can be a bit much.”

“But this is Capri,” Bruno said.  “Everything’s always just right here.”  He paused.  “Are you ready to go?”

Francesca nodded.  “I’ll just tell Timo,” she said.  But when she found Timo, on the aft deck, he was having an animated phone conversation.  It was probably with Dario, she guessed, and rather than interrupt him she just waved at him, and he waved back, and she decided that was as good as telling him she was leaving.

It was a starry, moonless night in Capri.  The stillness of the off-season island echoed in the darkness, the cool breeze the only indicator of the coming winter.  Francesca stumbled off the yacht’s gangway onto the dock, and Bruno caught her arm.

“Easy, sailor,” he said.  Her crystalline laugh cut the quiet night as she steadied herself.

“Easy yourself,” she answered.  They walked a few steps, Bruno still holding her arm, lightly, but present.

“Does anyone still call you Francie?” Bruno asked.

“How can you possibly remember that?” Francesca was surprised.

“I remember a lot about you, Francie.  I had never met a girl like you.  You were so serious, and smart–one time you spent the afternoon in my parents’ garden reading a book and when I asked you what you were reading you told me it a biography of Leni Riefenstahl.  And you were twelve, probably.”

“Weren’t you a little old to be so curious about a girl my age?”

“I was.  But I was only curious then,” he answered.  He was right.  Whatever Bruno had thought of her, Francesca had never known.  “I may be more than just curious now.”

Even in her wedges, Francesca was still shorter than Bruno, and in the dock’s half-light she could only make out the angles and the contours of his face, just the shadows of his expression.  She couldn’t tell if he was still joking, like he had been all night, or if he had become serious.  He held her shoulders gently, stroking her cool skin with his warm thumbs.

“Are you still so serious and smart?” he asked quietly, and leaned in to kiss her.

[after this: waking up in hospital]

Manchester City.

On the way back to the Velvet, she debated what to do next.  She could wait for Paolo up in the room, or she could have a drink in the bar.  Though she would love to wrap herself in a bathrobe and sit in front of the fire, she felt like it would be a waste to come all the way to England, dressed as nicely as she was, and not at least give Paolo the chance to see her.  She settled on the bar.

Babe, I’m waiting for you in the bar.  She sent him a text.

Be there soon.  The entirety of his reply.  It was hard to tell over text, but he didn’t seem to be in the best of moods.  She ordered a Fernet and Coke, and the bartender looked at her like she was an alien.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Milano,” she replied.  “You do have Fernet-Branca, don’t you?”

He turned to the wall of bottles behind him.  “Sure you don’t want a cosmo?” he asked hopefully, squinting at the shelves.

“She’s looking for Fernet, mate,” a voice said from behind her.  A man in a tweed blazer, printed button-down shirt and jeans.  “Second shelf, third bottle from the left,” he directed the bartender.

Francesca turned to the man.  “Thank you,” she said.

“Probably his first night,” the man replied, slightly under his breath.  “Poor bloke.”

The bartender set Francesca’s drink on the marble bar in front of her.

“Add it to mine,” the tweed blazer man said.

“No, it’s fine,” Francesca protested.  “I’m meeting someone.”

The tweed blazer man looked around.  “Not yet you aren’t,” he replied.  He extended his hand.  “Gavin,” he said.  “Call me Gav.”


“Waiting for your boyfriend?”  She nodded.  “Rude of him to keep you waiting,” Gavin said.

“He’s on his way,” she answered.

Gavin leaned in.  He wasn’t unattractive, she thought, he was sort of handsome in that English way, kind of a mix of Jude Law and Jamie Oliver.  “You sure of that?” he asked her.

She considered telling him, if she actually thought it would turn him off enough to leave.  But he was the type to see a fancy football-playing boyfriend, absent as he was, as a challenge.  He wouldn’t leave her alone.  It would just cause more trouble.

She swirled her drink, clinking the ice cubes against the sides of the tall glass.  “I’m certain,” she replied.

“the opera doesn’t last all night.”

The bell at her door rang shrilly; though she was expecting him Francesca was startled, and she dropped the lipstick she was applying.  Paolo rang the bell again.

“I’m coming!” she called out.

She opened the door.

“Come on!” he said, grabbing her shoulders to kiss her.  “I don’t want to be late.”

“Just a minute,” she said, turning back into the apartment.  She took her small satin Bottega Veneta minaudiere and a champagne-colored mink stole that had been her grandmother’s.  He closed the door behind her.

“You look incredible,” he said as they waited for the elevator.  “Is there a technical term for what you’re wearing?”

“It’s a jumpsuit,” she said, laughing.

“Ah, a jumpsuit,” he replied.  “It looks like it’s complicated to get into and out of.”

“Not horribly complicated,” Francesca said.

“Hopefully not too complicated for me to figure out,” he grinned.

“You do know we’re going to the opera,” she said as she climbed into the passenger seat of his Maserati.

He reached over the gearshift to stroke her leg.  “The opera doesn’t last all night.”  He turned the key in the ignition and they roared out of her drive.

[after this: trying to drive.]

remembering Capri.

They used to go to Capri on holiday, when she was very young, at first, her mother and father and Ricci and Michele.  And after her father died, she and Ricci and Michele would go occasionally with Marco and Letizia and their children, always staying in a big rented villa overlooking the sea.  She remembered swimming all day long, snorkeling in the grottoes and only leaving the water to go back to the house for lunch.  On Saturday nights they would go into town and have dinner at a restaurant–the cook got the night off–where everyone knew Marco and stopped at their table to say hello.  She had a necklace from Capri, a gumball-sized polished coral bead on a gold chain.  Her father had given it to her as a souvenir on their last trip, when she was seven, because he had just taken her snorkeling for the first time and she had seen where the coral grew.  When her father died, Anna put the necklace away in her jewelry box, worried that Francesca would lose it.  She had to beg her mother to get the red bead back; Anna made her wait until she turned ten–an arbitrary number, considering Francesca had lost not even a sock as a child, much less anything more significant.  She wore the bead on a longer chain now, with a couple other talismans she’d acquired over the years: a gold cross from her grandmother and a Dodo zebra from Cristina when they’d both graduated from school.

She had loved Capri, loved learning how to swim there, loved the carefree afternoons riding with her brothers on scooters, picking oranges from neighbors’ trees, even loved going to the shops with Letizia.  Ordinarily, she would have been thrilled at the prospect of three days there.  But Paolo–she couldn’t wrap her head around him.  Maybe there wasn’t anything to try to understand.  Capri just seemed so far away–from Florence, from Turin, from Milan–from everywhere.  Out of sight and out of mind.

[after this: running into Bruno on Capriparty on Capri]

Anatomy of a Scene : Second Shower Scene.

photo via Flawed Louise.

 At the beginning of the book, when Paolo and Francesca first meet, there’s a hot scene in Paolo’s shower.  They are strangers, knowing barely anything about each other except for their names, and it’s exciting and new for them both.  I knew I wanted to write another shower scene with the two of them–I do all my best thinking in the shower, and the act of showering / bathing, for Francesca, reoccurs throughout the book at critical points.  For this post, I wanted to detail a bit of the thought process that went into writing the scene.

[before this: fight.]

“I’m sorry,” she said.  He opened the door and she crowded into the tiny shower stall with him, they knocked the nozzle out of place and it sprayed all over them and they laughed, a little at first, pressed against each other and feeling the laughter in their muscles, then harder, shaking their bodies until they couldn’t stop. [it is important that Paolo’s family’s apartment has one shower and it’s a small one; it is a subtle signifier of their socio-economic status, which was the whole point of the argument Paolo and Francesca just had.]

“I’m sorry for being such a pretentious, spoiled, obnoxious snob,” she managed to say, and he squeezed shampoo in her hair and wrapped his arms around her neck to lather it.

“And I’m glad you recognize it,” he said, kissing her cheek.

She sprayed him in the face with the shower head.  “That’s enough,” she said.  “You didn’t have to agree.” [I like the idea of playfulness here, both to indicate their affectionateness but also to deflect Francesca’s awkwardness.]

“But it was true,” he protested.  “You said it yourself.”

She moved her body against his, warm and slippery.  “Let’s not fight, babe,” she whispered.  “Not ever again.  Not about something like this.”

He massaged her scalp, rinsing the lather from her hair, kissing her forehead, her ear, her jawbone, the hollow of her neck.  She reached for him and he was ready, erect, hard in her hand, and he backed her against the tile. [they use sex as a way to bridge the distance between them.]

“Quiet, quiet,” he said.  She gasped as he entered her; the pressure of the angle was unfamiliar and he pulled back, instinctively, and moved slower and shallower.

“It’s ok,” she whispered.  She didn’t know what she was saying, suddenly the words just came out of her mouth, like someone else was speaking through her.  “Go harder,” she said.  “I deserve it.  You should punish me.  I deserve it.” [I have no idea where this part came from–it suddenly occurred to me that Francesca would do anything to deflect attention from how she really feels and defer to Paolo’s feelings, trying to ‘make it up to him’ somehow.]

He quickened, and soon he was slamming her against the tile, his hand pressed over her mouth; she felt her tailbone hitting the hard wall and it hurt but he didn’t stop; she was standing on her toes and flexing her thighs and bracing herself but it didn’t help, he just kept driving into her.  She screamed against his hand, bucked against his body, and he pressed against her more.

He put his hands on her shoulders.  “Get down,” he said, pushing her to the floor.

“What?” she whispered.  “I can’t–”

“Get on the floor,” he repeated.  She arranged herself so she was kneeling on the tile, straddling the drain, in between his legs.  [it’s hard to describe the physicality of sex scenes!  I try to make it possible for the reader to visualize without sounding like a how-to manual.]  He took his cock in his hands and jerked himself off, a rapid motion that had her worried he would punch her in the nose, but no, he just came on her face in three quick spurts, and she pushed back against his thighs trying to make space to wash her face.

“Don’t say you didn’t ask for it,” he said, stepping over her and out of the shower.  He took a towel from the rack and walked out, leaving the water running and the glass shower door open, an imprint of her ass visible in the fog.  [it’s obvious now that even though they’ve laughed and apologized, there’s something carnal in Paolo that is still angry.  I particularly like having him step over her like he’s stepping over trash on the sidewalk.]  She sat on the floor of the shower for a while, watching his semen wash down the drain.  It was New Year’s Day.  [call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s possible to imagine a scene with a girl sitting on the floor of a shower without recalling Eva Green in Casino Royale.  I wanted to evoke that same feeling of loneliness.]

“who’s going to steal just one Louboutin?”

[before this: dinner party in Istanbul, later, with the Turk]

They finally fell asleep as the sun was rising over the Bosporus, Francesca reluctantly setting her alarm for the shoot several hours later.  She awoke to full sun and Selim still asleep beside her.  Quietly, she showered and dressed, leaving him to sleep in the giant bed.  She met Timo downstairs in the lobby, and he handed her a small, strong Turkish coffee.  She drank it quickly.

“Rough night last night?” Timo asked, smirking.

“I hardly slept at all,” Francesca answered.  “I must have had too much to drink.”

“Usually when that happens I sleep like a baby,” Timo replied.  “I looked for you when the dinner was over and you had disappeared.  What happened?”

“Oh, yeah, I shared a car with the woman who sat across from me.  She was going this direction and offered to take me.”

“What about that man sitting next to you?”  Timo asked mischievously.

“What man?”

“Uh, the really good-looking one?  The one with the long hair and the perfectly-tailored suit?  Need I describe further?”

“Married,” Francesca answered dismissively.  “In fact, some woman walked up to him in the middle of dinner and practically assaulted him because his wife was at home with their kid.”  She was willing her face not to flush, not to give her away.

“Too bad,” Timo replied.

“Yeah, well, not really,” she said.  “I still don’t understand how things work here.  It all seems like a lot of drama.”

“Ugh, you’re telling me.  We went out to some ridiculous club in Taksim and there was practically a Range Rover full of paparazzi following us and we couldn’t get away, then one of the girls lost a shoe but she was saying some other girl stole it from her, which was insane because who’s going to steal just one Louboutin, right?  And then some old guy invited us all to the VIP room and it was like a full-on harem, like Topkapi 2012.  In-sane.”

“What time did you go to bed?”

Timo looked at his Bulgari watch.  “About two hours ago.”

Francesca sighed.

“I hope we’re done and sitting by the pool by the time I crash,” Timo added.

[after this: evening cruise on the Bosporus, lady in red]

visiting Napoli.

“How long has your family lived here?” she asked as they walked down the hall.

He furrowed his brow.  “Five years?  I think it’s been five years.  Maybe a little longer.  My father didn’t want to move for a long time.  Now he has to drive to work, which annoys him, I think.  But it’s much easier for Chiara to get to school, and it’s a nicer neighborhood.”  They passed a small dining room, a bath, and then came to three doors at the end of the hall.  “Chiara’s room, Papa’s room, our room,” he said, pointing at each in a counter-clockwise arc.  He opened the door to the room that was theirs.  Inside, she saw a double bed, a chest of drawers, and a bookcase of trophies.  Medals hung from ribbons nailed to the wall.  Silver bowls, framed photos, his entire career of accolades crammed into this dark little bedroom.

She began studying them, exhibits in the museum of Paolo.

“These are recent,” she remarked.

“Some,” he said.  “There’s some old ones, too.”  He pulled some pieces off a shelf and took out a small plaque, the size of a paperback book.  It was wood laminate and brass-faced, engraved with his name, a club name, and the year 1994.  “This was my first golden boot award.”  He grinned and handed it to her.

She traced the letters on the brass with her fingertips.  “You were eight?”

“Eight or nine, something like that.”

“Did you know, then?”

“I think this was the moment I realized it was possible.  This was the last time I played just for fun.”  He took the plaque from her and placed it back on the shelf.  “The bathroom is just right here,” he said, changing his wistful tone and walking out of the room, pointing at a narrow door in the hallway.

She turned back and looked around the room.  Of course she had never noticed a single award in his flat, no sign of the fifteen years he had dedicated to the sport.  She wondered, briefly, if the picture she’d given him for Christmas would end up here as well.  On the edge of the dresser was a framed snapshot of a young Paolo in jeans and a replica Napoli jersey, Lucia holding a chubby, toddler Chiara, and Amedeo looking dapper and proud, his hand on Paolo’s head, smiling into the sun; Francesca picked it up.  They looked to be on holiday, Lucia and Chiara were wearing pretty dresses, Amedeo reminded her of an actor in his sunglasses, and Paolo’s jersey looked new, it looked like he refused to take it off.  He seemed, if she had to guess, to be the same age as she was when her father died.  She replaced the photo on the dresser.


Her cousin Tiffany, driving a light-blue BMW 328 convertible, met her at the airport.

“Get ready for the best summer of your life,” she said through a fog of cinnamon chewing gum.

Britney Spears was on the radio, Tiffany was seventeen and wore dark eyeliner and low jeans, much to the chagrin of her father who made it home on the 6:53 from the city and suspected he was developing an ulcer.  Francesca wasn’t sure if it was the best summer of her life, but it was definitively better than her first experience with America.  She and Tiffany laid out by the pool at the country club, slathered in baby oil, reading Cosmopolitan magazine.  They went to parties and drank out of red plastic cups and made out with boys who played lacrosse.  And then some.  Francesca remembered a party once, where Tiffany had disappeared and left her talking with some blond-haired, blue-eyed American boy named Todd.  They were on a couch in someone’s basement, and Todd kissed her, hesitantly at first, tasting like Bud Light and Doublemint, and he took her hand and placed it on his jeans, over his fly, he held it there and she felt him, hard, the first time she had felt an erect penis.

“Let’s go,” he said, pulling her up from the couch and leading her to a bathroom on the first floor.  A half-bath, they called it in America, a bathroom with just a toilet and sink.  She didn’t know why she remembered that.  He closed the door and pressed the little brass button on the knob to lock it.  She stood on a little blue rug in front of the toilet, glancing from the vase of silk flowers on the vanity to the brass candle sconces flanking the mirror.  Todd kissed her again, harder this time, and he reached through her shirt to touch her breasts, moaning a little as he did.  He directed her hand back to his crotch.

“I don’t know what you want me to do,” she said.

Afterwards, she sat outside in the passenger seat of the blue BMW, chewing cinnamon gum and waiting for Tiffany to come out, .  It was her first sexual experience, the first time she’d ever gone down on a guy.  When she went back to Milan three weeks later, she kept it like a secret, a smug inner knowledge of something she knew that no one else did.