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.