Despite her protests that her hair was fine, Timo had scheduled Tonio for 4pm on Wednesday. The hairdresser set up in the alcove of the studio they reserved for models, with its makeup chair and mirror, and he set Francesca’s hair in juice can rollers and then dismissed her for the next hour, during which he trimmed, styled, and restyled Timo’s cropped cut. Francesca sat at her computer and laughed. When Timo was reasonably satisfied he popped a bottle of prosecco and the three of them drank while Tonio unrolled Francesca’s long dark tresses. Tonio sprayed and teased, and when Francesca caught a glimpse in the mirror, she looked like an Italian film actress: volume at the crown, thick barrel waves over her shoulders, big sexy hair.
“Perfect!” Timo effused.
Francesca wasn’t convinced. “I’m not going to Cannes,” she said.
“You might as well be. Consider this your big break, missy. You can’t show up looking like an indigent.”
“You sound like my mother. And I’m hardly an indigent, I don’t think.”
Tonio chimed in. “You two are like an old married couple.”
“Chop chop,” Timo hovered. “Time to change.”
“I’m not changing,” Francesca retorted. She was wearing long skinny jeans and a black cashmere sweater. Her leather jacket hung over the back of her desk chair.
“That’s what you think,” Timo said. “Tonio, she obviously needs to change.”
“Obviously,” Tonio replied.
“There’s nothing sexy about that sweater, and those jeans say I don’t care enough to do anything I wouldn’t normally do.”
“It’s a football game. It’s outside. It is a casual sporting event.”
“It is the most important night of your life,” Timo said, walking towards her with a garment bag. “I took the liberty of styling an outfit for you.”
Francesca groaned audibly.
Timo unzipped the garment bag with a grand flourish and set a shopping bag with a shoebox on her desk.
“Oh no,” Francesca protested. “No way. I am not wearing a pleated skirt to a football game. Absolutely not.”
“I wouldn’t have picked it as my first choice either,” Timo explained, “but then I thought of your legs, and I thought about the efficiency of a skirt versus a pair of pants or jeans, and the pleats are so chic, and you’ll look amazing. Just try it on.”
“It’s going to be cold tonight.”
“I do kind of like the blouse.” The skirt was from Prada and the blouse was Moschino and while the whole look was a little cute compared to how Francesca normally dressed, Timo had balanced the sweetness with a brutal pair of Giuseppe Zanotti heels and overall, though she would look a little overdressed for a football game, she wouldn’t look entirely ridiculous.
She emerged from the studio’s dressing room and surveyed herself in the full-length mirror.
“Gorgeous!” Timo cried. “You are so getting laid tonight. Time to go before you change your mind.”
“I’ll drive,” Francesca offered, but Timo had a plan for that, too.
“We both drive. I need to be able to get myself home. Obviously.”
When they arrived at the stadium and presented their tickets at the gate, they were ushered up to a private reception area with food and drinks. Francesca looked around at the businessmen in their suits and their wives in stylish dresses and felt less self-conscious, while Timo scurried around surveying the scene. Ten minutes before kickoff, an usher came to each of the guests to escort them to their seats.
“Signorina Ghiberti?” The usher asked.
“Yes,” Francesca smiled.
“For you,” he said, and handed her an envelope. She slipped it into her bag and corralled TImo, then followed the usher.
“Aren’t you going to open that envelope?” Timo hissed.
“Not now,” she whispered.
As they had thought, their seats were at midfield, three rows up. Francesca glanced quickly at the fans to her left and right and determined there were probably no deranged stalkers, just football fans. On the field, kids wearing uniforms were unfurling a banner and kicking a ball around in some sort of exhibition. She reached in her bag and pulled out the envelope the usher had given her.
A page of notepaper.
Scribbly handwriting that started out trying to be neat and lapsed quickly into near-illegibility.
Meet me in the lounge at the Armani Hotel. I’ll be there by 2230h. Look straight ahead.
She looked up from the note and straight onto the field. Standing on the midfield line, looking directly and exclusively at her, Paolo Romaldo, #4, smiled and waved.
She smiled back and lifted her hand.
“Madonna,” Timo said.
Several rows behind them, a bunch of girls waved and screamed in the general direction of center field and through their squealing, Francesca heard the bits of their conversation that included Romaldo’s name.
“Do you think he was really waving at us?” Timo asked her.
Francesca handed him the note. “Guess so,” he said, scanning it.
The game itself was a blur, partly because Francesca had a limited understanding of the rules of the game, despite having grown up with two brothers playing, partly because Timo didn’t stop talking the entire time, even making friends with the people sitting around them, and partly, no, mostly because she couldn’t stop imagining what was going to happen later that night. From what she could gather, the two teams were well-matched and the game was highly defensive; neither team scored in the first half and it resembled a chess match more than a football game.