Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Bruno

let’s talk about sex.

“You never talk about what you want. You never talk about what turns you on, your fantasies.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“But maybe I want to hear you say it.”
“And you think this is the right time?”
“There shouldn’t be a wrong time. I’m not saying you have to act it out. I just want to hear you talk about it.”
She wanted to know what he would say. And, after today, if violence was a part of it. She imagined it must be. A person couldn’t just dole out that kind of beating if he didn’t somehow like the feeling of flesh under his fists.
“For a long time, everything sexual was in a way idealized for me. I imagine you know that. I didn’t have any experience.” He paused to swallow and she studied his face, its striking clarity. He was unashamed. She couldn’t imagine telling him the same story about what had happened to her, in New Jersey, in a bathroom with an American boy named Todd.
“I’d read too many books, maybe. I thought sex was always going to be on a four-posted bed with a woman in a white nightdress who protested then succumbed. I didn’t want to believe it was as simple and carnal as it is.”
“Simple and carnal,” she repeated.
“Wouldn’t you agree? That’s what it is when you’re in a shared dorm room and you’re rushing to finish before your roommate comes back and everything you obsessed about for such a long time is, in the end, so instinctual. There’s never really any question where you put what. A degree of finesse, perhaps, but it’s not at all as confusing as you imagined.”
“That’s not a fantasy,” she said quietly. “It’s just history.”

thoughts on a hangover.

She weighed her options for the day: she could get out of bed, she could shower, she could go across the street to the grocery and buy some food, she could go to the nail salon and get a pedicure, she could call Selim and hope he was in a good mood.  Or she could stay in bed, find some movies to watch on TV, splurge and order Chinese takeout or sushi.  It was almost like a holiday, this not-working.  The only issue was the not-money.

What still troubled her, she thought, as she pulled she sheets over her head to block out the sunlight, was that last niggling thought she’d had before falling asleep.  How she’d have been happy if Bruno had kissed her.  Again, she reminded herself.  She still remembered the moonless Capri night when they’d stood on the dock and he’d leaned into her, a kiss so genuine in its tenderness that it had shocked her, she’d never felt anything like it before.  She found herself squirming against the sheets at the memory.

And it would remain a memory, now.  She’d chosen her lot, and it was with Selim.  Now that Bruno knew what she really was, that she was no longer the quiet girl who read books about Leni Riefenstahl but the mendacious hypocrite who judged her friends to make herself feel better, she’d never taste that kiss again.

[to flashback to that kiss, click here.]

wine bar.

She stopped in a cafe on Avenue B, near Tompkins Square Park, and though it was still early in the afternoon, had a glass of wine.  There were a few other patrons in the bar, on iPads or laptops, while the bartender cleaned glasses for the evening and fussed with the music.  Bruno, she thought.  Now it was the wine reddening her face.  That had to be it.  The wine.  She had seen Bruno just that one time on Capri, and once in Milan after that, at dinner, with her brother and his wife.  She wasn’t attracted to him.  That wasn’t to say he wasn’t attractive, she thought, remembering his well-cut Zegna suit and the tortoiseshell glasses that made him look a little like Clark Kent.  An Italian Clark Kent.  At the time she had just gotten together with Paolo, and even an Italian Clark Kent couldn’t hold a candle to a football superstar.  She finished her glass of wine.  The bartender came over and poured her another.

“I didn’t ask–” she began.

“It’s on me,” he said.  “Enjoy.”  She held his gaze for a moment, unblinkingly staring into his icy blue eyes.

“Thanks,” she said, replying the way Americans spoke, so casually.  She looked down to the bar, letting her hair fall halfway over her face.

“What do you do?” The bartender asked.

She picked up her Leica point-and-shoot from the seat next to her and waved it at him.  “Photographer,” she answered.

“Here in the city?”

“No, I’m from Italy.”

“You don’t sound like you’re from Italy.”  The bartender looked puzzled.

“I lived here for a year after school.”

“Would I have seen your work anywhere?” he asked.

“Maybe?  I shoot fashion, mostly in Europe, occasionally here.”

“Oh, cool.  Is that why you’re in New York?”

“Just vacation this time.  My boyfriend came over for work.”

“And left you alone?”  The bartender leaned in.  He had cropped black hair, a beard and mustache, shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows to reveal muscly forearms covered with tattoos–she noticed angels and skulls, script lettering spelling poetry or song lyrics, one that reminded her of the shape of an indeterminate midwestern state.

“So it seems,” she murmured.  He stayed leaning on the bar, she swirled her wine in the glass but didn’t drink.

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]

what are Cheerios?

Giulietta appeared at the top of the stairs in a bathrobe.  “What are you doing here?” she asked Francesca.

“Bruno called me,” Francesca replied.  “He’s looking for Ricci.”

“But why are you here,” Giulietta reiterated.

“Giulietta, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do.  It sounded serious.  I thought maybe I could help–”

“You?  Help?”  Giulietta stayed at the top of the stairs; her pose reminded Francesca of an old Hollywood film, right before something awful happened.

Francesca scooped up Leo, who had been clinging to her leg.  “Maybe Leo and I can go out to the aquarium, give you a little time to yourself.”

“How’s Romaldo?” Giulietta asked.

Francesca looked confused.  “Fine,” she said.  “He’s fine.  So,” she continued, ignoring Giulietta’s non sequitur, “Leo and I are going to go to the aquarium, and we’ll come home in a couple of hours.  Do you think Ricci will be back then?”

“I don’t know when he’s coming back,” Giulietta said flatly.

“Ok,” Francesca said.  “Ok.  We’re going to go now, we’ll see you in a little bit.  Leo, say bye to mama,” she directed her nephew.

Giulietta turned and walked away from the stairs into the hallway, and Francesca heard her bedroom door close.  She turned to the maid.

“Can you help me get his clothes and car seat?  And anything else we might need?”

The maid nodded and walked upstairs.  Francesca set Leo down and wandered towards the kitchen.  “What do you think, should we have some breakfast?  I’m pretty hungry,” she told her nephew.

“Are we really going to the aquarium?”

“Of course we are.  Right after we have breakfast and you change into your clothes.”  She looked around the kitchen.  “What do you normally have for breakfast?” she asked him.

“Cheerios,” Leo said, climbing into his chair.

“What are Cheerios?” Francesca asked.

“Cheerios,” Leo replied.  “Cheerios are Cheerios.”

“You’re not helping at all,” she said under her breath.  The maid returned with some neatly-folded clothes.

“The car seat is in the foyer,” she said.  “I’ll put it in your car when you’re ready to leave.”

“Thank you,” Francesca said.  “Antonella, what are Cheerios?”

The maid opened a cabinet and pulled out a big yellow cereal box.  “From America.  Breakfast cereal.  You can tell you don’t have kids.”  For the first time since Francesca had arrived, Antonella cracked a smile.  She served a small bowl for Leo and poured some milk.  “Would you like some?” she asked Francesca.

Francesca looked at Leo spooning the little o’s into his mouth deliberately.  “Ok,” she answered.  Antonella served her a slightly larger bowl of Cheerios and she and Leo sat together and ate breakfast.

waking up in hospital.

After Bruno had left Timo came back, bringing Francesca her bag.

“About last night,” he began.

“What about it?” she asked, digging through her bag with her right hand to find her phone.

“You and Bruno–”

“I have a horrible headache, Timo.”  She pulled her phone out from her bag only to find it was dead.

Timo took the phone and plugged it into the wall.  He really did think of everything.  “I saw you last night.”

“I imagine you did,” she replied.  “I don’t see what–”

“You said he had a girlfriend,” Timo interrupted.

“Really?  You, of all people, you’re going to give a lecture on the finer points of morality?”

Her phone buzzed to life.

“On the contrary.  I think it’s good,” he answered.  “I think you were getting a little obsessed with Paolo.  You need some sort of distraction.”

“I think you’re more obsessed with Paolo than I am,” she countered.  “And Bruno wasn’t a distraction.  It was a mistake.  We’d been drinking, it was late–”

“So it made perfect sense to get on a scooter,” Timo interjected.

“How did you get home?” Francesca asked him.

“I rode with the models.  We hired a G-wagon.  Everyone got home fine.”  He raised one eyebrow imperiously.

Francesca could tell she wasn’t getting anywhere with this conversation.  “Will you find out when I can leave, please?  And pass me my phone?”

Timo tossed the phone onto the bed and walked out of the room.  Francesca gingerly typed in her passcode and checked her messages–missed calls from her mother and Elena, a string of emails, and a couple texts.  One from a number she didn’t recognize.

Cesca, hi from Firenze.  Hope you’re enjoying Capri.  I’ll be in Milano on Friday.  Can I see you this weekend? X PR.

Firenze.  PR.  Paolo.  She looked at the details and saw that he had sent it this morning.  She saved his number in her phone as Paolo, just Paolo.  She’d remember who he was.

She leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes.  He was coming to Milano for the weekend.  He didn’t say why.  He was obviously coming for some other reason than to see her, but he wanted to see her.  She wondered if her head injury was making her more confused than she ordinarily would have been.  As she drifted back to sleep she began composing her reply.

Ciao Paolo.  Capri was beautiful.  I’m free for dinner on Saturday if you want to meet then. xx Francesca.

Cesca, great.  Saturday is great.  I have a request–can we eat at your place?  I’m not trying to presume, but I’d like to be somewhere private. X PR.

That is presumptuous, Paolo.  And you assume I can cook.  Why all the secrecy?  xx.

a surprise guest at dinner.

She went to dinner with her brother and his tiresome wife anyway.  It wasn’t that she disliked her sister-in-law, Giulietta, she just preferred not to listen to her talk.  And she had been close to Ricci, as a child, especially after her father died.  Ricci had stepped in and taken care of her, more like a father figure than a brother.  She was closer in temperament to her brother Michele; closer in age, too, but Ricci had always been protective and kind, if not entirely understanding.

They had planned to meet at a Japanese restaurant near her, in Brera.  Giulietta was notoriously late so Francesca gave Ricci’s name to the maitre-d and expected to have to wait with drink at the bar.

“It should be three, under Ricardo Ghiberti,” she said to the host.

“Four,” the host answered, “and one guest has already arrived.  Would you like to be seated with him?”

Francesca scanned the dining room, confused.  Michele was out of town, and didn’t get along with Giulietta anyway.  They only all had dinner together once a year, at Christmas.  She nodded, and the maitre-d led her to a table in a far corner.

Fully engrossed in his blackberry, Bruno sat facing out to the dining room.  Francesca saw him and froze for a moment.  Damn Ricci and damn Bruno.  As if this dinner wasn’t going to be awkward enough.  By that point, Bruno had seen her walking with the host and was smiling; he was standing up from his chair to allow her to be seated.  Francesca did have that to recommend him: his manners  were impeccable.

“Ciao, Francesca,” Bruno said, embracing her familiarly.

“Ciao, Bruno.  What a surprise,” Francesca replied.

“I was surprised myself,” he said.  “I had just mentioned to your brother that I’d seen you last week, and he told me you had plans for dinner and invited me along.”  He paused.  “You did say that we could have dinner sometime.”

Francesca nodded. Bruno looked good–no longer a businessman on holiday, he wore a finely-tailored suit and tortoiseshell reading glasses.  He looked like he belonged.  “I received your flowers,” she said.  “Thank you.  You didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s nothing,” Bruno said.  “I feel so badly.  How much longer do you have to wear that?” he asked, gesturing to her air-cast.

“The doctor says four more weeks,” she answered.  “I’m getting used to it.”  She looked around for her brother and his wife.  “Have you heard from Ricci?” she asked Bruno.

He pulled out his blackberry.  “He told me he was running late,” he said, scrolling through his messages.  “That was about twenty minutes ago.”

“He’s always late,” Francesca grumbled.  Bruno ordered a bottle of wine and they were well into their first glass when Ricci and Giulietta finally arrived.  Her sister-in-law was wearing thigh-high Jimmy Choo stiletto boots and trailing Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino scent.  Her brother seemed more distracted than usual, and Francesca felt like it almost wasn’t fair to ask him why he thought it was a good idea to invite Bruno to dinner.

“So after fifteen years,” Bruno began, “suddenly Francesca and I have seen each other twice in a week.”

“Oh, yes,” Francesca answered unconvincingly.  “I’m sure you heard about our accident in Capri.”  A pained look crossed Bruno’s face and immediately she felt horrible for having mentioned it like that.  “I hope you enjoyed the rest of your vacation,” she added quickly, trying to ameliorate her temper.

“It was fine,” Bruno said.  Ricci and Giulietta said nothing and kept looking back and forth from Bruno to Francesca, like they were watching a tennis match.  “We had lovely weather,” he added.

Francesca drank the remaining wine in her glass and Bruno signalled for the waiter to refill it.  Ricci told the waiter they’d do the omakase then began talking with Bruno about some sort of derivatives; Giulietta asked her opinion on whether bell-bottom jeans would actually be making a comeback in the spring like all the magazines said they would.  Francesca took another long swig from her glass of wine.

She should have stayed home.  She should have just stayed home and watched MTV.  But when Bruno and Ricci started talking about football, her ears perked up.  Bruno was a Lazio fan and Ricci’s team was Inter, both strong this year but neither as strong as Juventus.  Bruno said his bank had box seats for Lazio and Ricci should come for a game some time when he was in Rome.  Giulietta saw she had lost Francesca’s attention and tuned into the men’s conversation to see what she had been missing.

“Don’t tell me you follow football,” she pressed Francesca.

“I don’t, really,” Francesca said, shaking her head.  “I shot a spread at a stadium last month.”  That was safe–it was going to be obvious when the magazine came out.

“I don’t know a thing about the game,” Giulietta continued, “but I could watch those players all day long.”

Francesca laughed, almost so loudly that she worried she’d give herself away.  “I’ll have to take a good look,” she replied.

“They’re all over the magazines,” her sister-in-law said, “with their girlfriends in Ibiza or Mykonos or Miami.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Francesca smiled.

“Francesca hangs out with models all the time,” Bruno joked.  “Footballers’ girlfriends won’t impress her.”

Giulietta looked puzzled.  Ricci just looked tired.

“We went to a party the magazine threw in Capri,” Francesca explained.  “Bruno got to meet some of the models.”

“You never take me to parties with models,” Giulietta pouted.

“I think she felt sorry for me,” Bruno quipped.  “I made it sound like I never had any fun.”

“I suppose global economic collapse just isn’t what it used to be.”  Ricci hadn’t spoken much all evening and when he did, it was like a tray of dishes dropping in the distance: they all stopped and stared at him.  Of course that’s why he had been so distant and distracted.

“He didn’t mean it like that,” Francesca said quietly, cutting the silence.

“I’m sure it’s easy for you to say, with your Prada this and Gucci that, all anorexic smiling girls and photos of shoes on yachts in Capri–”

“What I do promotes the Italian economy,” Francesca said, keeping her voice calm and measured.  She had never seen her brother so upset.  “You know that.  These brands are made in Italy.  It is an actual industry.”

“What are you going to do when your precious brands can’t get anyone to secure their loans?  When lenders call in their revolving lines of credit?”

“Ricci, relax,” Bruno said cautiously.  “I’m taking it as seriously as you are.  I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“What I don’t know is what’s going to happen when this–” Ricci gestured around them at the restaurant, its chic patrons, its dark teak and sushi chefs, “–all this, is gone.”

Giulietta began sniffling and crying quietly.

“Oh, shut up,” Ricci said to her.

what’s eating Timo?

 

image via The Sartorialist.

 

On Monday, Timo came into work at 10am and left by 6pm.  He worked straight through the whole day, eating a chocolate bar for lunch and not leaving his desk except to get another coffee from the machine.  Francesca tried engaging him in conversation and failed; if Timo wasn’t making arrangements on his headset or furiously typing emails, he was messaging on his phone (she could only assume to Dario).  She spent the day editing her photos from Capri and speaking with stylists.  Tuesday morning she had a doctor’s appointment, at which she learned her arm was healing well but she would still have to wear the air-cast for another four weeks.  It was putting a cramp in her style, for sure.  When she arrived back at the studio Timo was still hard at work, but she caught a moment when he had gotten off the phone and sprung.

“Paolo was here this weekend,” she blurted out.  Timo stopped typing and turned to look at her.

“Paolo Romaldo?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “Obviously.”

“Ok,” he said.  “Why was Paolo here this weekend?”

“He came to see me.  He came over to my place for dinner on Saturday night.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Timo said.  “You don’t cook.  You live in a city full of good restaurants.  Why on earth would you have dinner at your place?”

“He didn’t want to go out,” Francesca answered.

“Please, elaborate.  Because right now this sounds like Harry Potter it’s so ridiculous.  What kind of food do you even keep at your house?  Because the last time I was there all you had was prosecco and potato chips.”

“Federica came to cook for me after I broke my arm,” she explained sheepishly, “so I had a proper dinner to serve.”

“I’m sure your mother loved that, lending out her housekeeper to feed you and your football fuckbuddy.”

“She didn’t know.  And no one knows Paolo was here so don’t tell anyone.”

Timo looked at her wearily.  “Francie, you know I love you.  I think you’re brilliant.  But you are out of your fucking mind if you think I’m sitting around talking about your and your boyfriend.”

“I just thought you might mention something to Davio–”

“Dario.  His name is Dario.  And he doesn’t care about you and Paolo Romaldo.  He’s studying string theory.”

“Ok, I just thought–”

“I’m happy for you, Francie, ok?  I really am.  But not everyone cares about how great your sex life is or how many times you did it in the shower or what kind of watch he wears.  Maybe you can call Cristina and she’ll want to hear about it.”

It stung her.  Timo always wanted to hear everything.  She was confused, after the weekend–Paolo came to see her, but he still didn’t trust her.  He opened up to her, but he was still distant.  He made the effort to be with her, but that wasn’t his primary reason for coming to Milan.  They sent text messages, but he wasn’t her boyfriend.  And the one thing she could always count on, Timo’s presence as a sounding-board, seemed to be gone.  What happened to him?

The door buzzed and Timo spoke into the intercom, then buzzed open the lock.  Several minutes later a delivery man knocked on the glass doors to the studio and walked in carrying a giant bouquet of flowers.  Francesca jumped up from her desk and ran over to take them from him, searching amidst the lilies for a card.  She opened it and read it, puzzled.

“Another surprise from Romaldo?” Timo asked.

“No,” Francesca replied, walking over to Timo’s desk.  She held out the card for him to read.  “They’re from Bruno.”

“Bruno,” Timo repeated.  “Interesting.”

“I don’t understand.”

Timo stood and held her by the shoulders.  “Francie,” he began slowly.  “I’m going to let you in on a secret.  Sometimes there is nothing to understand.  It just is.”  With that, he sat down at his desk and resumed working.

She spent a good part of her day staring at her phone trying to decide whether to text Romaldo.  She looked at the team’s schedule and saw his game this week was at home, in Turin.  He would be around.  She hadn’t heard from him.  There was, however, the issue of Bruno’s flowers.  She should thank him for them.  It was a nice thing to do–he was wishing her a quick recovery, and apologizing again for the accident.  But she didn’t want to start something that could be perceived as something else.  She didn’t want to lead him on.  Paolo would distract her from having to do something about Bruno, but without anything from Paolo, she didn’t trust herself not to get bored.

She waited until Wednesday morning and sent him a message then.

Good luck tonight! xxFrancesca

She didn’t expect to hear back from him soon.  She was getting accustomed to his reticence.  It was just the way he was.  But she didn’t know what to do about anything–about Timo and his strange new attitude, about Bruno and his disconcerting attentiveness, about Paolo.  Always about Paolo.  Her phone buzzed.

Thanks.  Will talk after.  X PR.

He was great when he was with her.  He was in the moment, entirely.  But when she wasn’t with him, she might as well be any other woman in the world.  He was cold, almost.  Not cold, that wasn’t entirely correct.  But definitely not her boyfriend.

It was barely noon.  The game wasn’t until much later.  She couldn’t expect to hear from him until late that night, if at all.  However. she had made dinner plans for that evening with her brother Ricci and his wife.  She wasn’t sure why she had agreed to go, except it had been a long time since she’d seen her brother and given what had happened with Bruno, her curiosity was piqued.  But it was all starting to seem like a bad idea; her wrist was throbbing a little and she wanted nothing more than to stay home and watch a movie.  And lie in the bed where Paolo had laid with her.

party on Capri.

image via The Sartorialist

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 Davio, 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.

It happened so fast, it seemed–he was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, long and sweet.  He surprised her with his tenderness; she was so accustomed to a kiss being just a prelude to something else, something more, but with Bruno the kiss was the whole point.  They were on an island, this man who was so different now, but the same, kind Bruno.  She wanted to see him at work, to see how he traded his kindness for shares and equity.  He stroked her ear gently and kissed her deeply, completely.  And then she pulled away, shocked.

“I’m sorry–” she stammered, disoriented.  For a moment he was gawky, geeky Bruno again, compass hanging from his belt, socks too high.

“I’m sorry, Francie.  I didn’t mean–”

“No,” she said, “no, it’s okay.  I’m just confused.  We haven’t seen each other in so many years.  I think I’ve had too much to drink.”  She looked past him, back to the yacht, and saw Timo on deck, leaning over the rail watching them.  “I think I’ll just go home now,” she said, walking back towards the harbor.

“Please, Francie, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.  Please, I’ll drive you home.  I don’t know what came over me.  I’m just going to drive you home.”

She stopped walking away from him.  It was late, she could call a car or try to hail a taxi but it would take time, and she was exhausted.  She just wanted to go to sleep.

“Francie, please,” Bruno pleaded.

She nodded and walked silently towards his Vespa.

It was cooler away from the shore and Francesca sat close to Bruno, trying to keep from shivering but trying not to hold him too tightly.  They flew around the dark curves at acute angles, and for a minute she was scared and she buried her head in the warm, strong space between his shoulders.  Their headlight cut a narrow beam through the blackness, glancing off lemon trees and stone columns as they ascended the curvy road.  She heard it first, the sound of the skidding and the gravel and the tires, she heard it because it was too dark to see anything and then she felt a sharp crack and then nothing.

running into Bruno in Capri.

via Assouline.

Francesca walked down the main street, looking desperately for a pharmacy where she could buy a bottle of aspirin–something to alleviate the splitting headache she’d developed during the shoot.  She was still wearing her work clothes–long, skinny white jeans, a slouchy Alexander Wang navy t-shirt, and K Jacques sandals, but she’d left her big Bottega bag in her hotel room and carried only her zippered Valextra wallet.  She’d spotted the green sign of a pharmacy about a block down the street when she heard someone calling her name.

“Ciao, Francesca!”

She looked across the street to a sidewalk cafe.  A man waved at her and she walked across to meet him, realizing as she walked that it was Bruno, the boy who had lived in the villa next to the one Marco and Letizia rented when they were children.  Bruno was Ricci’s age, several years older than Francesca, and she hadn’t seen him since the summer before he’d left for university, when she was only thirteen.

“Bruno!” she smiled.  “How did you possibly recognize me?”

He smiled sheepishly, gesturing to the chair next to his.  “I guessed,” he answered.  “I figured, here’s a beautiful woman, walking down the street like the ghost of a girl I knew in Capri, the worst thing that could happen would be that you kept walking.”

She ordered a limonata from the waiter.  “I still can’t believe it.  It’s been ages.  What are you doing now?”

“I’m working for a bank,” he answered, vaguely, and Francesca knew from his dismissive tone that he did something similar to her brother, and it was the kind of work one didn’t care to talk about.  “But you, you’re a big photographer now,” he said.

“Hardly,” she replied modestly.  “How did you know that?  I don’t imagine you read fashion magazines.”

“I’ve kept in touch with your brother.  He’s told me about your career.  You were such a funny little kid,” Bruno said.

“You keep in touch with Ricci?  Or Michele?”

“Ricci.  We ran into each other at a meeting several years ago.  I live in Roma now, but I call him when I visit Milano.  I’m surprised I’ve never run into you there.”

“I travel a lot,” Francesca explained.  Also, she did not explain, she lived five minutes from Ricci and hardly ever saw him.  She wasn’t surprised at all.

Bruno had been a gawky teenager–she remembered that distinctly.  He was a nerd, so her brother had reluctantly recruited him as a sidekick, primarily because he had a boat.  It was just a dinghy, but it meant that Ricci wouldn’t have to ask Marco to borrow his tender, an advantage that more than compensated for the size of the boat.  If Bruno had had a dinghy as a child, Francesca was pretty sure he now had a yacht.  All traces of his former awkwardness had been polished out by education and corporate life, and he seemed entirely comfortable and confident sitting across from her, all Rolex Milgauss and Lacoste polo, a successful businessman on holiday.  “What are you doing in Capri?” she asked him.

“I was in Napoli closing a deal,” Bruno explained, “and I promised my girlfriend we could come here for a few days when I was done.”

Francesca looked around and began to stand up.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt–”

“Oh no,” he said.  “She gets in tomorrow morning.  I finished up early today so I came over this afternoon.”  He paused.  “What are you doing here?”

“Work,” she answered.  “Just work, unfortunately.  But I thought about wandering over to the old neighborhood and seeing what it looks like now.”

Bruno’s face lit up.  “I’ll go with you,” he offered.  “My parents sold their place about ten years ago–some Germans made them an offer that they couldn’t refuse–so I haven’t been back there since.”

“Oh, good,” Francesca said.  “I’m not entirely sure I could remember how to get there any more.  It’s been such a long time.”

“We can take my scooter–for old times,” Bruno said, gesturing to a black Vespa parked nearby.

They drove across the island quickly, with Bruno taking the back roads and shortcuts–Francesca remembered he had been obsessed with maps and orienteering, another reason Ricci found him useful.  With the wind in her hair she forgot all about her headache.  Bruno pulled onto the street where they used to spend their summers and parked the scooter halfway between the two villas.  They seemed both more and less imposing than they had when she was a child, she thought–more, simply because of all the work the new owners had done to the homes, lots of additions and landscaping, a swimming pool at Bruno’s old house and a tennis court at Marco’s.  But the house that had seemed so endless to her as a child, where she could hide for hours on rainy days and never be found because it had so many rooms, that same house looked small now in light of all the other massive homes she’d seen in the years since.  She and Bruno stood silently in front of the houses.

“I thought it would help me remember him if I came here,” Francesca said flatly.

Bruno looked at her quizzically.

“My father,” she explained.  “You wouldn’t remember.  We came here with him, before Marco.  He died when I was eight.”

“You’re right,” he said.  “I’m sorry I don’t remember.  I knew your father was dead, but I didn’t know him.  I always thought you lived with Marco and his family.”

“Only on holiday,” she answered, a little too quickly.  “Hey,” she said.  “Let’s go.  There’s a party tonight that the magazine is throwing.  You should come with me.  It’s going to be fun–they’ve hired a yacht.”

Bruno laughed.  “You know I’ll do anything if it involves a boat.”

“I remember that about you.  Come on.”