“He’s obviously gay,” said Wren. “So I don’t think you need to worry about the weekend or about being alone with him. You’re helping him out with a sticky family problem, is all. And he is helping you out with a very sticky financial mess. Heck, if he weren’t gay, it would sure make a great chick flick.”
A day after meeting the handsome veterinarian, Lark was having her regular Thursday night Skype chat with her older sister in Calgary. Wren lived with her boyfriend and three pets, a dog and two cats, in a green suburb of the province of Alberta’s financial capital. From early on in their lives, she had been the stereotypical older sister, offering her younger siblings unsolicited advice, frequent, unnecessary, and wholly unwelcome criticism, a shoulder to cry on, and support of many kinds when needed. Lark tried always to remember those last things when Wren got on her nerves, bossed her about, or rained on her various parades.
“Why do you think he’s gay?” Lark tried to mask her disappointment. She didn’t want to admit to her sister that she hoped her judgment on this matter was wrong. Max was so handsome, so sexy, and he did have the most wonderful smile, and though she wasn’t looking for anything serious, she thought it might be fun to have a little, well, fun. After what she and her siblings had been through this past year, a little distraction would be welcome.
“Little sis,” said Wren, “think about it. He’s got a pink Vespa. He’s incredibly handsome. He wears designer clothes. He doesn’t want to date this Lia person, and he needs a faux girlfriend to fool his parents. It all adds up to gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. So I don’t want you to worry about the weekend. Just help the guy out, practice your Italian, meet some people. Don’t worry about having to fend him off or him groping you or anything.”
I was kind of longing for a little groping.
“I guess you’re right. I have to figure out what to wear. He said casual conservative, walking shoes, and a cocktail dress. No shorts or tank tops or T-shirts, which pretty much rules out my wardrobe here, except for black leggings and a couple of boho tunics.”
“You were never one for fashion,” Wren said.
“True enough. And I packed for school and for bird-watching, not much else. I do have mom’s old Pucci dress, though. Not sure it qualifies as conservative.”
“It will be fine. It’s vintage! And it’s Pucci. It belongs in Italy. Remember how much Mom and Dad wanted to go bird-watching in Italy?”
“Yes,” Lark said, feeling very sad at the thought that her parents had never managed to take the holiday of their dreams.
“So you’re doing it for them and you’ll rock that dress in Mom’s memory to boot.”
“What’s the weather like there?”
“Quite warm, even hot today. My Italian friends tell me that’s normal for September. Not like autumn back home. Look, Wren, I’ll stay in touch the whole weekend, okay? I’ll text and e-mail. He’s picking me up Saturday morning and bringing me back Sunday night. Give my love to Raven.”
“Will do. Enjoy—every girl needs a gay best friend. Especially a handsome, Italian gay best friend. Too bad it can’t be a rom-com.”
Lark often got a good laugh out of her sister’s take on things.
* * * *
Max Borsellino pulled up outside the small, stone building on Via Bartolo and honked the horn of his dark blue Austin Mini. “All right, Francesco,” he said, looking back into the tiny backseat at a pair of eager, big, brown eyes. “If this pretty girl is going to be late we may as well get out of the car so you can walk around and sniff everything.”
Francesco looked delighted as he bounded out of the car. He was even more delighted when he heard the large wooden doors of the building open and Lark appeared, small, tan weekend bag in hand. The large dog jumped right up onto her chest, barking excitedly and licking at her face.
“Oh no, don’t stop him! I love dogs," said Lark, barely containing her laughter. “Oh, he’s the best! Oh hi there, little guy!” Lark positively cooed at Francesco. “Hi, sweetie. You certainly are adorable. Have you been stuck in the car? Were you just longing to get outside again?”
“His name is Francesco, not ‘little guy’ or ‘sweetie,’” said Max, curtly. “Ma che pazza, why are you talking to Francesco like that? If there is one thing I can’t stand it is silly people who talk baby talk to animals or have one-sided conversations with them. I see them all the time at my veterinary clinic. Animals deserve to be respected.”
“Well, you’re in a great mood. And of course animals deserve respect. You’re talking to the woman who wrecked your Vespa while trying to not hurt a pigeon, remember?”
“Sorry. I’m tense about the weekend and dealing with my parents. I don’t like pressure.”
“Tell me about it! I have to put on a total phony act.”
“I said I was sorry. Now let’s just get this weekend over with.”
“Apology accepted. And great attitude, by the way.”
“You have to admit that you were talking to him like he is a baby. He is a dog. He is my dog.”
“You’re right. No more baby talk. Next time I’ll ask him his opinion of the European central banking system.”