Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Timo

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]

“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]

lady in red.

Francesca sat at breakfast wearing sunglasses, drinking water and coffee in an attempt to will away her throbbing headache.  Timo tossed the newspaper on the breakfast table.  He had it open to a tabloid photo Francesca recognized from the night before, showing the Turk with his hand outstretched to block his face from the camera and her head turned, her hair obscuring most of her face.

“In case you’re wondering, it says ‘SELIM AND THE LADY IN RED’,”  Timo said, pointing at the headline in boldface Turkish.  “Now,” he continued, “it’s hard for me to tell because these people seem to be taking pains to hide from the camera, but it looks like that’s the man with the perfectly-tailored suit from the other night, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that woman looked a lot like you.”  He glanced under the table at her shoes.  “She even has the same Giuseppes,” he added.

“That,” Francesca whispered, “is an amazing coincidence.”

“Isn’t it,” Timo said smugly.  “Luckily, the bellhop was able to translate it for me.  Apparently these two had a beautiful and romantic evening–there was a boat ride on the Bosporus, then a dinner at a tiny little restaurant in the old city, and then they were out at some hot club in Nisantasi dancing until dawn.  Sound familiar?”

She sighed and waved over a waiter.  “I’d like to order something to eat, please.  I’d like some eggs and a pastry and some cheese and fruit.  And more coffee, please.”

“You’re not answering me,” Timo prodded.

“I have a splitting headache,” she said.  “What do you want me to say?  Yes, I went on a boat last night and then I had dinner and then I went to a club, and I did it all with that man.  Is that enough?”

“Not really,” he said.  “How do you like being called ‘The Lady in Red’?”

She rubbed her temples.  “I think it’s asinine,” she said.  “That dress is barely red.  It’s more like a Spanish red.  Oxblood.”

Timo laughed.  “I thought you said he was married.”

“He is married.  I expect that article had something to say about that.”

“Only how upset his wife must be, home with their sick daughter while he’s out painting the town…wait for it–red.”

Her breakfast arrived.  Timo filched a couple grapes from her plate while she dove into her eggs.

“He says he’s getting divorced,” she said.

Timo smiled.  “How many times have you heard that before?”

“Fair enough,” Francesca replied.

“It also refers to him,” Timo continued, folding the paper to read it more easily, “as the scion of a dual fortune, jewelry and textiles.  That must be why it’s news when he goes out with a woman who’s not his wife.”

“Honestly, I don’t know anything about that,” she said.  “It never came up in conversation.”

“I don’t imagine there was much conversation to be had,” Timo smiled cattily.  “Waste of time, really.”

She drained her coffee silently.  “It really is impressive that you picked up Turkish so quickly,” she finally said.

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.

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.

an opportunity.

She would have preferred to drive the two hours to Milan alone with her thoughts, but she owed a call to Timo and the work day had begun.

“You sound funny, Francie,” Timo told her, and his words echoed through the car’s bluetooth.

“I’m tired, Timo.  Yesterday was a long day.”

“Ugh, that’s Torino for you.  Industrial wasteland.  Square-headed people.  Except for those soccer players.”  She could practically hear him smirking over the phone.

“So the Turks,” Francesca resumed.

“The Turks,” Timo said, “It’s one of those nouveau riche fashion magazines, all Tiffany this and Cartier that, entirely branded and western.”

“Okay…and it’s called?”

New Direction or BeautyVision or something ridiculous like that.  All the chic names must have been used up already.  Anyway, so they want to fly you out to Istanbul–”

“And you–”

“And me, of course, because I’ve already explained to them that it’s a package deal, I have to travel with you, but that wasn’t an issue for them.  It’s a shoot on a boat, or a yacht, rather, one of those mega-catamarans or something on the Bosporus, you know, the kind that all these new oligarchs have, and it’s primarily shoes and accessories, so easy, and they’ve already secured some mid-range models, I think we’ve worked with about three of them already–”

“Okay…”

“And they’re offering to pay a ridiculous sum of money and comp the hotels and all that, so it’s basically the easiest trip ever, two days, three nights, in and out, they’ll book us on a direct flight out of MXP.”

“But?”

“But what?”

“But it sounds like there’s something you’re not telling me.  It sounds like you’re trying to sell this one too hard.”

“It’s a good opportunity, Francie.  It’s an easy shoot for a lot of money and they’ll work around your schedule.”

“But–”

“But it’s one of those conservative magazines.  With an Islamic bent, you know, they make their models wear headscarves and be fully clothed.  No swimsuits.  No hint of leg.  No cleavage.”

“I thought Turkey was secular.”

“Backlash.”

“Do you think we should do it?”

“It’s a challenge.  If you can pull this one off and make it look amazing even with headscarves, you’ll be more than just a fashion photographer.  You’ll be an auteur.”

“Shut up, Timo.  If I don’t pull it off, I’ll be shooting grocery circulars until I’m 65.”

“And if you do pull it off, just think of all the doors it will open!  Riyadh!  Dubai!  Half the world wears headscarves now.  And they all buy luxury goods.  We’ll be in a tree hut resort in Bali for Christmas!”

Francesca had to laugh.  Timo was right, she conceded, it was a good opportunity.  But she had traveled in Islamic countries before–Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco–and had always felt a deep discomfort seeing the men running around, smoking in cafes and ogling foreign women and whistling at anyone who passed, while the women bustled around working or buying groceries or tending children, covered from head to toe in the hijab or burka.  These girls, you could see them on their way to class at universities, you could see their bright eyes and imagine them studying medicine or law or, less probably, photography, only to be able to practice if they kept their heads covered.  Without the scarves, they were as good as common prostitutes, these girls who studied so hard and dreamed of the west, who read fashion magazines without ever being able to wear the clothes, who know Chloe and Celine and Yves Saint Laurent but could never wear them outside of the house.  She didn’t believe it was freedom.  And she felt a deep-seated ambivalence about doing anything to encourage it, however benign it may seem.

“Timo, I forgot something at home.  I have to stop back there, and I’ll be in by noon.”

“Can I order you lunch?”

“God, yes.  The biggest panino you can find.  With prosciutto.”

“You got it, boss.  See you soon.”

“Ciao, Timo.”

waking up in the Armani Hotel; back at the office with Timo.

Francesca collapsed back onto the pillows and sighed.  All she wanted to do was stay in this perfect hotel room all day, but she knew any minute Timo would be calling to find out what had happened the night before and to give her the rundown on the work they needed to do today.  She picked up the phone on the nightstand and the front desk answered immediately.

“Buongiorno signorina Jolie,” a polite woman said.

He had signed her on the register as Angelina Jolie.  She had to laugh and could barely order her room service.  Cappuccino, fruit, cheese, and bread.  She was famished.  Her next call was to Timo, preemptively, to tell him she was going to be a little late.  By some incredible stroke of luck his phone rang four times and went to voice mail.  Fantastic.  She left a quick message and by that time, her breakfast had arrived.  Francesca surveyed the cheese (pecorino romano, drizzled with honey), the bread (a crusty roll), and the fruit (figs and blood orange segments, with more honey) while she drained her cappuccino.  She dove into the food with her hands, breaking the cheese into pieces and smearing the honey on the bread.  The figs were exquisite, ripe and bursting their crimson insides through the dusky mauve of their skins, oozing sweetness.  She was making a mess of the bed and licking the honey from her fingers but she didn’t care.

Thirty minutes later Francesca had showered and dressed, and she checked out of the hotel wearing her same clothes and with the staff still calling her “signorina Jolie”, though they could clearly tell she wasn’t.  She drove the quick fifteen minutes to her studio, anxious to avoid Timo’s wrath at any further tardiness.  But to her surprise, when she arrived at the studio, TImo wasn’t there yet.  She found her jeans in the closet and pulled them on, along with her boots from the day before, carefully hanging the pleated Prada skirt and putting the Giuseppes back in their box.  And then she set about to making another cup of coffee; Timo’s absence disoriented her and upset her morning routine, so she wandered aimlessly around the studio, trying to decide what to do first.

When Timo finally burst through the door Francesca was at her computer with her third cappuccino, clicking through sports news reports of the game the night before.  Timo was wearing the same black and white striped sweater and white jeans he’d worn to the football game, and Francesca raised an eyebrow at him.

“I called you this morning,” she said.

“I must have been in the shower,” he answered.

“Doubtful,” she said.  “You’re wearing your same clothes.”

“So are you,” he said, “but you smell like jasmine soap.”

“Ok, so you were in the shower,” Francesca conceded.  “Whose shower?”

“You probably won’t remember, because you were so absorbed with secret messages and meeting places and stolen glances across the field–”

“–I was not!” she protested.

He waved her off.  “You definitely were.  Whatever.  But if you had actually been paying attention, like I was, then you would have noticed the absolutely adorable boy sitting two rows up from us–”

“Not the one who was there with his parents?”

“Uh, no.  He was six.  Not my scene.  The one beside them, who was there with his friends from university.  I told you you didn’t notice.  You were too busy being all ‘oh, look at me playing it cool and pretending like I’m not thinking about Paolo Romaldo’s big thick dick.'”

“Fine.  Maybe I was trying to follow the game.”

“Anyway.  Dario’s studying physics at the university.  He’s from here.  It was hilarious, he snuck me into his parents’ house and we fucked all night long and got the maid to bring us risotto in the middle of the night and in the morning I had to escape out the back door.  So that’s why I’m late.”

“Dario,” Francesca mused.  “Dario the physicist.”

“Dario the dreamfuck,” Timo rejoined.  “But where are my manners–I haven’t asked what happened to you last night.”

Francesca sighed.  “So we met at the Armani Hotel, but he wasn’t staying there, he just wanted to meet there for drinks because if we went to his hotel there would probably be photographers there–”

“And he didn’t already realize you are a photographer?”

“And he wanted to go someplace more private, so he picked the Armani Hotel, which was a good choice because it was very private.  But I was worried, at that point, that this was a friendly drink, a since-I’m-in-town-I-popped-by-for-a-drink kind of drink, not a drink that was a precursor to going upstairs, because he didn’t have a room upstairs.”

“Nice girl that you are, you don’t want to give the wrong impression during a friendly drink.”

She rolled her eyes at him.  “I introduced him to Fernet and Coke–”

“Your two best friends–”

“And we started making out right there in the lounge and I felt it.”

“His penis?”

“God, Timo, you are on fire for having not gotten any sleep last night.”

“I’m sorry, please.  Go on.”

“There’s not much else to say.  He had to leave and take the bus back to Torino.”

“The bus? Ugh.  Really?”

“Apparently it’s a thing.  They ride the bus together.  As a team.”

“It sounds kind of gay to me,” Timo fluttered his eyelids and got up to make himself another espresso.  His phone buzzed and he ran to grab it, reading the text as he walked back to the couch.

“Dario?” Francesca asked.

Timo didn’t look up from typing on the screen.  “Yes, finally.  Sounds like he just woke up.  He’s so cute.  So where did we leave off?  The bus.  He’s taking the big gay bus of football players back to Torino.”

“Right.”

“Do you think he sits at the back of the bus?  Between the drinks and the bus what happened?  Other than feeling it?”

“Have you ever been to the Armani Hotel?  The beds are amazing.”

“Wait, you said he didn’t have a room.”

“He got a room.  And it was gorgeous.”

“You’re being very vague about this whole situation,” Timo said.

“I don’t know what else there is to say.  You were right about the skirt, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Francesca answered.  “Paolo liked the skirt.”

“Obviously you should listen to me more often.”  Timo got up and walked towards his desk.  “So what’s next?  Do you have to wait for another treasure map to see him again?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.  “I gave him my number–”

“Shit,” Timo interjected.  “I completely forgot we have to book that trip to Capri for the Bazaar thing.  Shit shit shit.  That will teach me to sleep through my reminders.”  And he started typing furiously at his computer.  “We need the proofs from last week, too.  Are they on the shared drive yet?  We should have about a hundred.”  He clipped his headset to his ear and she could hear him start talking to their travel agent.

Game Time.

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.

“What?”

“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.”

“Try it.”

“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.

Timo.

Tuesday morning she came into the studio and Timo was aflutter the minute she walked through the door.

“You got a mystery letter,” he said, waving a FedEx envelope in her face.  “I figured it was business so I opened it.  Two tickets to the Inter game tomorrow night!  You are a sly fox.”

“Wait, let me see,” she told him.

“Third row center field!”

“Let me see it.  I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  Reluctantly, TImo handed her the envelope.  She reached in and sure enough, there were two tickets, third row center field, to the Inter-Juventus game the next evening.  Nothing else.  The FedEx label said it had been sent from a shipping shop in Turin.

“Well?” Timo asked.

“Well what?  You’ve seen it–no note, no return address, no name.  Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Let’s see, I’m just curious.  We were in Turin last week ago shooting at the stadium where Juventus plays.  You yelled at a bunch of football players to get off the field during your shoot.  You showed up in Milan at noon the next day.  And now you get tickets to go see the best game of the season in the best seats in the arena.”

“How would you know they’re the best seats in the arena?”  TImo was notoriously ignorant of all sport except when the players undressed.

Ugh, I bought tickets for my brother for Christmas last year, they were like 500 Euros.  Each.”  He raised one eyebrow at her and paused for effect.  “But you’re stalling.  Trying to change the subject.”  He walked over to her computer.  “Let’s think of who could have wanted to send Francie tickets to the game,” he said, opening up her web browser.  “Oh look,” he said.  “The Juventus roster is in your history.  That makes it easy.”

“Timo!  Stop!”

“And you only looked at one player…Paolo Romaldo.  Nice choice.”

“Timo.”  She was furious.

“I’m hurt, you didn’t tell me anything.  I thought we were close,” he pouted.

“There’s nothing to tell,” she began.

“There’s always something to tell,” he wheedled.  “Anyway, I knew you liked him.”

“You did not,” she said indignantly.

“Did too,” he answered.  “You took a picture of him and it was on the card with the rest of the shoot.”  He flipped through some files and pulled it up on the screen.  “See?”

There it was, the shot she’d snapped while he was walking away across the field, shiny hair and tan legs and a hint of that magnificent ass under his shorts.

“Can you blame me?” she smiled.

Timo sat down on the couch and crossed his legs.  “So?  Dish.”

“I think I’d like a coffee first.”

“So go get one!” he said, gesticulating towards the espresso machine.  “I’ll have one, too.  No foam.  Although, maybe this is a story that needs foam…”

“Enough.”

“Fine, no foam.  You don’t like foam anyway.”

She stood at the Jura waiting for their coffees.  “You could give me the preamble,” Timo said.

“It was like you said.  I yelled at them for being on the field and interrupting us, the one guy started talking to me–”

“–Paolo,” Timo interjected, purring the name.

“Yes, Paolo,” Francesca continued.  “He asked me to meet him for a drink after they were done and we went to a little cafe and had a drink–”

“What did you get?”

“A spritz.  We both had spritzes.”

“That’s so cute.  A spritz.  That’s what I used to get when I would go out on dates in high school.”

“Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“I can only imagine what’s going to happen next.  Maybe you’ll watch Titanic and share popcorn.”

“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we did.”

“I hope you two wait until you get married,” Timo squealed.

“You’ll notice I refrained from asking you about your dates in high school.”

“All older men.  They thought I was worldly beyond my years for Urbe.  Anyway.”

“Anyway.”

“So you had your spritz, and he had his spritz, and then you had his spritz, and then he had your spritz…”

“God, you are insufferable.”

“Oh, I”m sorry, did he spritz on you?  Could he not make you spritz?  Is that what happened?  Please, carry on.”

Francesca was laughing so hard she was shaking.  “I can’t decide if spritz is a good thing or a bad thing,” she said.

“I think it’s kind of a personal preference.”

“I’m trying to remember if we even finished our spritz,” she said vaguely.  “I think we may have sped off to his apartment and left the spritz on the table.”

“What kind of a place did he take you where they let you leave spritz on the table!”  They were both howling.

“The waiter knew him.  I think he’d spritzed there before,” Francesca said, deadpan.

“And then he took you to his apartment.”

“Right.”

“Did he drive?” Timo asked.

“Yes.”

“What kind of car?”

“Maserati.”

“Oooh, what color?”

“Dark blue.”

“I bet he has a big penis,” Timo said.  “Two door or four?”

“Relevance?”

“None, just curious.”

“Two,” Francesca answered.

“Fine.  Good.  Where does he live?”

“Somewhere in Turin?” Francesca answered.  “I don’t know.  I don’t really know the city.”

“Apartment or house?”

“Apartment.  Loft.”

“Loft!  I love a loft.  So much light in a loft.  Did you tell him you work in a loft?”

“No.  It’s not really a loft.”

“I tell people we work in a loft,” Timo said.  “Look around.  It’s a loft.  Light, airy, exposed columns.  Loft.”

“His apartment was a real loft.”

“What was it like?”

“Light, airy, exposed columns,” Francesca answered.  “No, really.  White.  Contemporary art.  Extremely tidy.”

“Could you imagine yourself living there?”

“Stop it,” she said.  “You’re getting way ahead of yourself.”

“I’m just trying to piece together the series of events that culminated in these ridiculous tickets being delivered to our office today.”

There was a quiet moment.  “It was amazing,” Francesca said wistfully.  “He knew just what I wanted.  Or he wanted what I wanted.  We both wanted the same thing.  We just fit together, like–”

“Like a plug and an electric socket,” Timo finished.

Francesca groaned audibly.

“I’m happy for you,” Timo said.

“I didn’t think I’d hear from him again,” Francesca said.

“Well, you didn’t, not exactly.  The tickets could be from his secret deranged stalker wife.  She could be sitting one seat over waiting to stab you.”

“True.  I suppose there’s several possibilities.”

“And we haven’t even touched on the most important question,” Timo added.

“Which is?”

“Who’s going to go with you to the game.”

“I suppose I should ask Cristiana,” Francesca said.  “She loves football.  And Giovanni hates it so they never go.”

“Sure, she loves football.  But then you’d have to explain the whole story of how you came into possession of two amazing seats at a football game and it would be awkward for you to have to tell her a week later that you never heard from him again.”

“Hey!”  Francesca glared at him.

“However, I already know the whole story so you wouldn’t have to explain anything.  I would just sit next to you and wave a little flag and go home when the game was over.”

“I should probably ask my brother,” Francesca mused.  “I bet he would love to go to an Inter match.”

“Your brother?  He’ll never get out of the house.  You know what his wife is like, if he goes anywhere she has to go with him and if she can’t go with him she has to get a babysitter so she can go out, too, so he’s not having more fun without her, and it’s too late to get a babysitter for tomorrow night.  It’s too late for anything for tomorrow night,”  TImo sighed.  “And you’re forgetting that he might tell your mother.”

“Good point.  You’re probably busy tomorrow anyway, though.”

“Nothing I couldn’t cancel,” Timo replied.  “Come on, we can get Tonio to come here and do our hair together.  I promise I won’t say a word.”

At least she could be sure of that.  When they were together in the studio, Timo was out of control, but with anyone else, outside the studio, he was a vault.

“Be happy, Francie!  This is exciting!  It’s not every day the best fuck of your life turns out to be a millionaire celebrity.  This is like better than Jude Law!”

Francesca raised an eyebrow.  Jude Law was Timo’s ideal.  “Better than Jude Law?”

“Better for you,” Timo edited.