Mischief in Italy

- a romantic comedy -

Beate Boeker

Henry
“Maybe you should be a bit more . . .” I hesitated and chose the word that would hopefully offend my son the least, “. . . selective.” I replaced the cup to its saucer and was glad I sounded so much in control. I’m a grown man. Fifty-eight, successful, settled. There is no reason to be nervous just because I plan to have a heart-to-heart talk with my grown son. I shot a glance at Josh to gauge his reaction.

A pulse started to beat at his neck, and he pushed a hand through his hair, just like he always does when he gets impatient.

For an instant, I missed Kate with something akin to pain. Kate had always gotten along with our son much better than I. She used to say we were too similar. When she died five years ago, it seemed at first as if Josh and I were growing closer – but only for a week or two. Whatever Kate had meant, one thing was sure – Josh and I had totally different approaches to deal with loss. I withdrew and became even more of a recluse while Josh threw himself head first into every available amusement. Divertimenti, as the Italians would say. The American boy is amusing himself . . .

When the pain receded after Kate’s death, I didn’t change my way of life. I can’t tell why. Maybe I was too accustomed to it, too lazy to change something. Josh continued with his manifold ways of amusement, and I had been watching him with growing concern for some time. We should get closer again. Heck, he was my only son, and I loved him. I found it hard to tell him so, however. I hoped he knew it anyway. Right now, it was time for a talk, but I had to admit I dreaded it, that’s why I had put it off for such a long time.

“What do you mean, I should be more selective?” His tone was aggressive.

Damn. I had taken the wrong approach, but it was too late now. I didn’t know how to bring it across, how to put my unease into words.

“Dad?” Josh watched me with his blue eyes that could be so chilling.

“I mean . . .”, I was hunting for the right words with a feeling of despair. I had figured it out in advance. Had planned what to say. Had been convinced I could be calm and sensible and controlled. Instead, I had barely said five words and had lost it already.

“You mean?” His mouth had taken a mutinous shape. He was twenty-seven, too old to be told what to do.

I decided to take the plunge. “I have a feeling that you’re only playing around, and that it’s not good for you.”

“Playing around?” His jaw was one hard line. “What do you mean?”

Heavens, do I have to spell it out loud? “Women,” I said. “You’re bringing different women home all the time; and I’m worried about you.”

“Why should you be worried?” Josh frowned. “I’m living a good life. I’m enjoying myself. What’s wrong with that?”

“That’s just it.” I was grateful that he had given me a good opening. One that got me back on track. “I’m not sure that you’re really enjoying yourself. It only seems to touch the surface.”

“Oh, trust me, it gets deeper than that.”

I hate it when he makes leery remarks, and as usual, I decided to ignore it.
Josh pushed back his chair as if to get up. “You’re telling me to settle down and to present you with grandchildren, is that it?” Again, his drew his hand through his hair. “God, I never thought it would get to that.”

I forced myself to remain calm. “No, that’s not it, Josh,” I said. “I just want to tell you that I’m worried about you. You’re not happy.”

“Well, let me tell you something, too, Dad.” Josh looked me straight in the eye. “In fact, it’s good that you’re bringing this up because I’ve been wanting to discuss it with you.”

Surprise shot through though me. “What do you want to discuss?”

“I feel that you’re not living life as you should,” my son said. “You’re being buried alive. Here you are, in a magnificent villa right at Lake Garda in sunny Italy, spoiled by beauty and riches, and all you do is sit at home all day long. I don’t believe you even use the pool anymore.”

I stared at him, speechless. “You’re worried about me?” I finally managed to squeeze out.

“Yes.” Josh pressed his lips together. “Your life is too sad for words.”

“But I’m fine.” Mixed feelings battled inside me. I was touched that Josh should worry about me – I had never suspected him to waste more than a fleeting thought on his father. On the other hand, he was a fine one to talk. How on earth had he dreamed up the idea that I was unhappy? “Don’t worry about me,” I said. “There is no need to change anything in my life.”

“See?” Josh grinned. “That’s the same answer I gave you. And I believe you even less than you believe me.”

I shook my head. Finances are a much easier topic than human beings. Either the shares go up or they go down. You can prepare for both. But human beings are so unpredictable – they jump to the side and leave you puzzled. “So what do you suggest we do?”

Josh eyed me. “We have two options. Either we continue as we are, or we both try to make some changes.”

I did not like the direction this was taking. Maybe I should have left well enough alone, but I had the impression that Kate would have expected me to take a more active hand in our son’s life, now that she was gone and that he seemed to have settled on a road that could only lead him to unhappiness. “What do you have in mind?”

“Well, to start with,” Josh picked up a piece of prosciutto-ham wrapped around a piece of sweet melon and gave me a wicked grin, “I think you need a woman.”

I choked on my coffee. “What?”

“I can help you find one,” he offered. “In fact, people often ask me to be introduced to you. Women too, but I always tell them you’re not interested.”

“I’ll thank you to keep it that way,” I said with a sharp note in my voice.

“But why not? They’re quite attractive, I assure you.”

“If they’re anything like the women you so successfully manage to bring home, I’m not interested. They only want a free meal ticket.” Darn. I shouldn’t have been so crass. I gave Josh an uncomfortable look.

He kept his gaze on the melon on his plate. A strange smile played around his lips. “We’re now coming to the root of the matter, Dad, aren’t we?” He lifted his head and gave me a look I couldn’t figure out. “You think I’m being exploited.”

I decided to be totally honest. “I’m afraid you’ll get hurt.”

Josh laughed. He didn’t sound amused. “Don’t worry, Dad. I don’t believe in illusions.”

“Good.” My reply was tart. “But I still don’t want to be a sort of guinea pig for your young ladies.” Unlike my son, I was sure I could be cheated. Apparently Josh knew better how to protect his heart. For me, it was too late to learn. But how could I tell him that?

Josh

I can’t believe he’s trying to tell me how to live. I mean, look at him. Ever since Mom’s gone, he’s let himself go – a recluse, that’s what he is. A good thing he can deal with all his finances from home. Even better that he hasn’t any hair left. I bet he wouldn’t have gone to a hairdresser even once in all these years and it would now grow to his shoulders. Though otherwise, he’s not unattractive. Even the slight stubble on his chin suits him. “Dad. If you’re not taking care, you’ll become a fossil. You still have plenty of years ahead of you. Why don’t you fill them with some fun?”

He made a sour face. “Just what is your idea of fun?”

I grinned, but knowing that he wouldn’t enjoy the answer that leaped to my mind, I merely said. “You know what. But that’s not important at the moment. What’s important is your idea of fun. I mean, you were happy with Mom, weren’t you?”

A shadow crossed his face. “I was.”

“So what did you enjoy doing with her?”

He gave me a sharp look as if I had asked something indecent, though for once, nothing remotely like that had crossed my mind. However, neither of us voiced our thoughts.

In the distance, I could hear the lawnmower of our neighbor kick into action, which reminded me that I still had to get a gardener to give the property down by Sirmione the once over before I could show it to some prospects tomorrow afternoon. My father startled me out of my thoughts.
“I liked to be silent with her.”

My mouth dropped open. I mean, what can you do with a guy like that? Here he is, rich, healthy, fit, but when you ask him about his idea of fun, what does he say? He wants to be silent. “Why do you need a woman for that? Heck, any silence will last longer if no woman is anywhere close.”

He shook his head. Tired. Never one for words, he looked at me with a shrug. “A companionable silence. Do you know what that is?”

I didn’t. Honestly. And I didn’t want to get to know it. It sounded too dull for words. “Well, you can’t advertise for a woman with this description. You’ll never get a single reply.”

He nodded. “You’ve made my point. It has to happen. You can’t search for it.”

“Look here, Dad.” I pushed a hand through my hair. “It will not happen either if you hide behind the walls of the estate. You need to get out.”

He shook his head, his jaw set.

I knew that line of his jaw well – too well. He had made up his mind. Not willing to waste my time, I gave in. “Okay, if you’re not willing to roam the lake or let me introduce you to some people, then you have to put up an announcement on the Internet – or in the newspaper. Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want another woman in my life.” For once, he sounded out of temper.

I bent across the table. “You’re feeling blue. Lonely. Admit it.”

He sat back and crossed his arms. Then he fixed me with a stare. “So do you. Admit it.”

An uncomfortable squiggle went through my heart, but I ignored it. I had to get Dad into action, if only to get him out of my hair. The idea of a shared pool and garden with several houses on the property had seemed a good idea at the time. It turned out to be less practical with a father who wanted to know the name of every female in sight.

Years ago, he was different. He was bored now, that was it. A major financial crash on the stock-market might keep him busy for a few weeks, but it would also endanger my business. Selling properties became hard when the economy went down. No, I had to find another way. I pulled out my cell phone and tapped a few words into it. “Look here. What do you think of this?”

My Dad took the phone from my hands, settled his black reading glasses on his nose, and read the announcement I had composed. “Active man in his best years is looking for a woman to share a house with pool by Lake Garda. Jeans-type. Only serious answers, please.” His jaw dropped, and his hand sank onto the table. “Active? What on earth do you mean by that? Weren’t you telling me a few minutes ago that I’m in danger of becoming a fossil?”

I shrugged. “It means you’re not fat.”

“God.” Dad shook his head. “And where does the jeans-type come in? I abhor jeans. They’re so uncomfortable.”

I looked at his classic chinos in off-white. “It means you have a youngish set of mind.”

He stared at me as if I had developed an extra pair of ears. “What is this?” he asked. “Some sort of special lingo like selling houses? As in ‘romantic setting’ which really means ‘in the middle of nowhere’?”

I grinned. “Something like that.”

“How come you speak it?”

I sighed. My poor Dad had no idea how to work the market. “To avoid embarrassing you, let’s just say I know what women find attractive.”

“Pah.” My father threw the phone onto the table. “They find the house with pool attractive. The rest doesn’t matter.”

I started to be a bit put out. “Listen, Dad, I doubt it’s as black and white as you believe. Marcia for one,” I made a move with my head toward my house, “. . . wouldn’t—”

“Who’s Marcia?”

I suppressed a sigh. “You met her by the pool yesterday.”

“Oh.” My father had the grace to look uncomfortable. “I’m sorry; I was out of line. But she was so thin.”

I clenched my teeth. “Quite. But it’s not exactly tactful to tell her that she should gain weight before you even know her name.”

“You weren’t there to introduce us,” he pointed out.

Sometimes, I wanted to throttle him. “I was working, Dad, and right before, during our breakfast, I told you her name and informed you that she might still be sleeping.”

He shrugged. “I’m still saying that you would also have her here right now even if you were twenty years older than I am and even if you had a foul temper all day long.”

My patience was at an end. “Not quite, Dad.” I narrowed my eyes and bent forward. “And don’t tell me you’re trying to cut me out just to prove your point.”

He looked shocked at the thought but rallied quickly. “I won’t.” For the first time today, he smiled. “She’s too thin for me.”

“Talk about being superficial,” I couldn’t prevent myself from saying.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Josh.” My Dad refilled our cups. “So where are we?”

I tossed down the coffee and got up. “We have learned that we are worried about each other,” I summed up. “Which is probably only stupid because we can’t imagine how to be happy in another way. So let’s drop it, shall we?”

My Dad looked me full in the eye and held my gaze. “Is it stupid?”

For some reason, I had to avert my eyes. To gloss it over, I slipped my phone into my pocket.

“Let’s make a pact,” Dad said.

I checked my watch, turning it so the sunlight wouldn’t be reflected by the titanium. If I didn’t hit the road within the next five minutes, I would be late for my first appointment today. “Well?” I put both hands on the back of my chair and looked at him.

“You’ll find out if this . . . this Marcia is made of sterner stuff. And I’ll put an announcement into the newspaper.”

I frowned. “Just what do you mean?”

“Tonight, you’ll tell Marcia that an unexpected problem is draining our finances.”

“Problem? What problem?”

He waved a nonchalant hand. “I gambled. A law-suit. Unlucky investments – whatever.”

“It’ll risk ruining our professional reputation.” I stared at my father. He’s going nuts.

Dad shrugged. “So what? We’ll find out who our real friends are.”

“That’s what you want?” I couldn’t believe my ears. He seemed to have developed an odd sense of humor lately.

Dad grinned. “Yep.”

I couldn’t remember the last time he had grinned like that. Something inside me cracked. “All right, Dad. Until the end of summer, we’ll play this game, and we’ll discover our real friends.” That gave us six weeks. Eight at the most. I held up my hand. “But I have one condition, too.”

“What is it?”

“When you’ll put up that announcement in the newspaper, you also mention the house and the pool by the lake.”

He winced. “But that’s counter-productive. We wanted to find real friends, soul mates, not gold-diggers.”

“Wrong, Dad, wrong.” I pocketed my keys and went to the door. “I’m supposed to find soul mates.” I stressed the first word. “You, however, are supposed to have more fun.”