Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Vespa

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.”