Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: family

“you know what happens next.”

[before this: a knock on the door.]

“Well, then,” Cristina said.  “Let’s go to the shoes.”  They took the elevator to the fifth floor with a gaggle of Asian tourists.  Once they had arrived, Giulietta and the tourists made a bee line for the Louboutins.  Francesca started to say something and Cristina grabbed her arm to stop her.

“You have to try to be nice and try not to be drunk,” she whispered.

Francesca rolled her eyes.  “Arriviste,” she muttered under her breath.

Giulietta fingered a pair of 105mm lace and nude peep-toe pumps.  “These remind me a little of those Valentino shoes you have,” she said to Francesca.

Maybe Cristina was right; maybe Giulietta just needed a friend, a confidante, a shopping buddy, a drinking buddy.  “Absolutely,” she replied.  “I think they’re actually a bit higher, don’t you think?”

“Do you think Ricci would like them?”

“Oh, God, I don’t know.  I’ve never thought about anything like that.  Is he into shoes?”  Francesca was a little disturbed.

“Is Romaldo into shoes?” Giulietta asked her.

“He seems to enjoy them,” she grinned, turning her back on the Louboutins and heading towards Giuseppe Zanotti.  “I think he’d be pretty into these,” she said, picking up a pair of tall, strappy gladiators.

“Really?  Into them like how?  Like, you wear them and he says, ‘oh, those shoes are so hot’?”  Giulietta looked at her expectantly.

Francesca was mildly aware that she was treading on unstable ground, uncharted territory, something like that.  But she was also mildly inebriated, and more loquacious than she would have been otherwise.  “You know what I like to do?” she began, leaning in closer to Giulietta.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Cristina looking at flat velvet slippers.  “I like to get a really ridiculous pair of shoes–really high, really sexy–and some nice black stockings, the ones with a back seam, and a pretty set of lingerie, a garter belt and all that, definitely lace.  And on a weekend when I’m seeing Paolo, I’ll wear that for him, under a trench coat or something, when I get to his place.”

Her sister-in-law’s mouth hung open.  “And then?”

“God, Giulietta, don’t be dense,” Francesca snapped.  Giulietta’s eyes narrowed and Francesca softened.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.  But you know what happens next.”

vacation, part four : night.

[before this: vacation, part one]

“Look at the stars,” Francesca said, stopping to look up at the sky.

“Let’s really look at them,” Paolo said, lying down on the sand.  “Come here.”  She laid down next to him, the sand was warm and his body was warm but the breeze off the ocean was cool and she fit perfect beside him.  The milky way stretched out above them, and organza ribbon of white against the black velvet sky.  Paolo turned and kissed the top of her head.  “I love you,” he said.  “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” she replied.  “I’ve been waiting so long to say that, I don’t know why.”

“It’s easy to say things here,” he said.  “It feels right, you know?”

“I’ve known for a long time,” she whispered.

“Oh yeah?  Since when?” he asked.

“I’m not going to say since I first saw you, because that wouldn’t be true.  I was skeptical then.  But I knew I wanted you.  I was attracted to you immediately–you were so bold, almost careless.  It didn’t take me long to love you.  The morning when my arm was broken, when you told me about your mama and I told you about my father and you held me, I felt safe with you.  That was when I knew.”

He turned onto his side and propped himself up, his elbow in the sand.  “You had cooked dinner for me,” he said.  “I was confused about everything and angry that I couldn’t have protected you from that scooter accident, and I’d just shown up on your doorstep and expected you to be there.  And you were.”  He leaned down to kiss her.  “This vacation is good for us,” he said.

She sat up on her elbows.  “I’m sorry I’m distant sometimes,” she said.  “I’m sorry I was mean to you this morning, and grumpy on the plane.  You don’t deserve that.”

“You’re not, baby.”

“Let’s go to bed,” she said, standing and brushing the sand from her jeans.  “I’ll race you.”

They ran towards the hut, tripping and stumbling, and he caught her by the waist and lifted her up, and she laughed and kicked and he laughed and carried her into the hut.  The screen door slammed behind them and the breeze rustled the gauzy curtains and the mosquito net canopy and he laid her down on the big four-poster bed and undressed her, removing her t-shirt and her jeans, her beige lace bra and panties, and he looked at her naked on the bed, his eyes fixed on her as he undressed himself, and when he was naked too he laid there with her, chest to chest, thigh to thigh, feet and arms entwined.

[after this: vacation, part two : a day at the beach and vacation, part three : peeping]

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.

another morning after.

She woke the next morning to an empty bed and the scent of coffee.  She struggled into her kimono robe, finally managing to tie the sash with one hand, and walked barefoot from the bedroom to the kitchen.  There was Paolo, in boxer briefs and nothing else, manning her espresso machine.

“Why, hello,” he smiled broadly.  “I was going to bring you breakfast in bed.”

“You are not,” she said.  “Really?  What are you going to make for breakfast?”

“You’ll just have to be surprised,” he answered.  Francesca’s mind raced to remember what else Federica had left for her in the refrigerator.  She knew all of Francesca’s favorite foods.  “Go back to bed,” Paolo insisted, pushing her playfully back towards the bedroom.

She sat obediently in bed, propped up against the headboard, flipping casually through a magazine she’d left on the side table.  When Paolo returned, carrying a tray piled with food, she moved over to make room for him.

He brought her steaming hot cappuccino, toast, prosciutto, soft ricotta, some fruit.  The perfect breakfast.

“Look at all this,” she said, picking up an orange segment with her fingers.

“At least we know one of us can cook,” he teased.

“I think it’s more preparing than actual cooking,” she countered.

“It’s more actual cooking than you’ve ever done.”

“Fair enough,” she said, feeding him a strip of prosciutto.  He nibbled at her fingers.

“What are you doing for the rest of the day?” he asked.

“Hm, I have to take it easy with this broken arm, the doctor told me.”  She climbed onto his lap, nestling herself into his crossed legs.  “I’m not supposed to go out.  I’ll probably just watch American movies on TV.”  She turned and kissed his bare chest.  “What about you?”

“I have to go back to Torino at some point,” he murmured into her hair.  She shook her head.  “I do,” he said.  “We have a team dinner on Sunday nights, and early practice on Mondays.”

“Where do you play this week?”

“Napoli,” he said, “so I’ll get to see my dad and my sister.  They’re coming to the game.”

“What about your mama?” Francesca asked, tracing the heart around Lucia’s name on his biceps.

He was quiet for a moment before answering.

“She’s dead,” he said, stroking her hair.  “She died eight years ago.”

“My father’s dead,” Francesca said.  They sat in silence for a minute; Francesca was reluctant to say anything else, she could sense Paolo was, too.  She shifted to face him and brushed his hair away from his face.  “It’s ok,” she said.  “It’s ok.”  She kissed him gently, first his forehead, then the tip of his nose, then his chin, each of his cheeks, finally his lips, just brushing against them at first, then wrapping her arms around him and pulling him deeply into her.

He pushed her robe off her shoulders to reveal the tops of her breasts and he reached for them, holding and caressing them.  He laid her back on the bed, untying her robe and opening it to reveal her naked body, then he silently slipped off his shorts.  He kissed her and entered her slowly, gently, and she kept him inside her and felt him growing and hardening there.  She touched her lips to his shoulder and he began to move just a little at first, tenderly but deliberately.  They didn’t speak, but he held her eyes with his and continued to make love to her.  It didn’t make up for her father, or, she imagined, for his mother; it didn’t mean that they could in some way fulfill the gaping hole of need each of them felt, it just meant, for this moment, they weren’t alone.  They had this modicum of intimacy that existed beyond the rest of the world, in her bed, in her room, in her apartment.

He came with a sudden thrust against her, and he stayed inside her and reached down to touch her until she came, too.  She curled up in his arms and pulled the sheets over them.

“You ok, baby?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she said, burrowing further under the covers.  “I’m ok.”

“This thing with Inter,” he said, encircling her with his legs.  “It’s important that it stays quiet.”

“I know that,” she said.  “You still don’t trust me.”

“I trust you.  I just need to say it.”

pillow talk.

photo via Sferra

“I like your bedroom,” he said afterwards, looking around approvingly.

“You haven’t explained why you couldn’t go out to a restaurant,” she said.

He smiled.  “Because we couldn’t do what we just did in a restaurant.  Certainly not now, with your broken arm.”

She smacked him with a pillow.  “Seriously.”

“Seriously?”  He turned and kissed her breast.  “I was meeting with Inter.”

“Inter?”

“It’s a football team here.”

“I know that,” she said.  “But I thought you were under contract to Juventus.”

“I am,” he answered.  “And the contract is shitty and I signed it when I was twenty so I really didn’t know any better, but Inter seem to think I can fight my way out of it if I’m willing to move.”

“You mean they’ll help you break the contract as long as you sign on with them.”

“You understand completely.”  He kissed her skin again.

“Do you want to play for Inter?” she asked.

“They’re making me an offer that’s hard to refuse.  And I wouldn’t mind living in Milano rather than Torino.”  Her heart soared.  “I could get used to your cooking.”

“How long has this been going on?” she asked him.

“Honestly?  Juve knows I’m underpaid–” she looked at him incredulously “–comparatively.  So they’ve been throwing me a bonus every year to keep me happy.  They got me cheap.  And they’ve got the upper hand because I signed the contract.  I know I could do better somewhere else–financially, at least.  And Inter’s a winning team.  The only time they ever lose is to us.”

She stroked his head.  “I need to be able to play Serie A and Champions League and national team games, so I need to sign to a team that will allow me all those things.  And I need to make my money now–I’m not going to be able to play like this forever.”

“So what are your options?”

“In Italy?  Really only a handful of teams–Juve, Inter, Milan, sometimes Fiorentina, sometimes Lazio–play at that level and have the kind of payroll to bring me on.  Outside of Italy, there are more options but it’s harder to begin the conversation.”  He sighed.

“Poor baby,” Francesca laughed.  “So many millions of Euros, so many decisions.”

“You don’t know what it’s like,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows.  “We had no money.  We lived in an apartment above the barbershop and I shared a bedroom with my sister.  I started playing football because I had no other choice–I would have been paving roads or mopping floors.”

“But you’re not,” she said.

“Not now, no.  You’ve got your safety net–you’ve got Mario and your brothers.  I am that safety net for my family.  My kid sister, she’s going to university now because of me.”

Francesca bent down to kiss him, long and full.  “You’re a good man, Paolo Romaldo.  Don’t let anyone say you aren’t.”