Act of Necessity
Chapter 2 Francesca and Family
I had been meaning to call Francesca but my studies got in the way for most of the remaining week. I took a break on Thursday evening and called the number she had given me. The heavily accented voice of an older woman answered the phone.
"May I speak to Francesca, please?"
The woman didn't respond, but I could hear her call Francesca and say a few words in Italian, I guessed.
"Grazie, Momma," I heard her say as she took the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi Francesca, it's Dal Larson calling. How are you?"
"Oh, hi Dal. I'm fine. Thanks for calling. I was wondering if you would."
"I've been busy with my courses, so I thought I'd wait until I took a break. I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me this weekend."
"Sure. What do you have in mind?"
There's a concert with Adam Timoon in Stanley Park on Sunday afternoon. I can get a couple of tickets and we can listen to the music then go out for an early supper."
"Uhhm ... I'm sorry, Dal. Sunday won't work. We have a family dinner then and everyone is expected to be there."
"Oh ... okay. Well, maybe we can think of something for Saturday then," I said, searching my mind for an idea.
"There's a dance with live music at the SUB on campus on Saturday," she suggested. "Why don't we go to that?"
"Uh, okay. I guess it doesn't matter if I'm not a student, eh?"
"No. You'll be my guest," she laughed.
"So ... when should I pick you up?"
"How about seven-thirty. I'll give you my address." I wrote it down as she gave it to me.
"Okay, I'll see you Saturday at seven-thirty then," I said, feeling relieved that we could get together after all.
"See you then," she said brightly.
I hung up the phone and smiled. I hadn't had a proper date in eons and I don't remember ever having a date with a girl as beautiful as Francesca. I wasn't a virgin, but I wasn't that experienced. The death of my parents really changed my life and dating wasn't a very big priority for a while. It looked like that might change.
Francesca had given me her address and I had written it down without particularly noticing it. When I got in my car and looked at it, I realized it wasn't in the east side of the city as I'd automatically assumed, it was on the west side. Judging by the number, it was quite a way west. I began to drive and soon enough, I knew that I was about to enter uncharted territory. The address was in the west edge of Shaughnessy and in a very exclusive district.
I have a thing about time. I hate being late for anything. As a result, I usually leave early and give myself some leeway in the event I'm delayed for any reason. In this case, it was a wise precaution. By the time I found the address, I knew I was a long way out of my element. The property was surrounded by a huge cedar hedge, impenetrable to the naked eye. The single opening was a wide iron gate in a stone archway. As I pulled into the opening, I could see a house in the distance.
House was the wrong description. It was more like a mansion. The manicured lawns and gardens were impressive, but I was stymied by the gate. I looked and saw an intercom unit and got out and picked up the handset and pushed the only button visible. It was answered within a few seconds by a male voice.
"Yes, who is it?"
"It's Dal Larson and I'm here to see Francesca," I said nervously.
"Okay. The gate will open in a moment," the disembodied voice said before I heard a click.
I hung up the handset and returned to my car. The gate was already beginning to swing open.
I drove slowly up the big, circular driveway and parked just past the front entrance to the home. The more I saw, the more intimidated I was. I got out of the car and saw Francesca at the door, smiling as I approached.
"You didn't tell me you lived in a mansion," I said, almost immediately wishing I hadn't. I followed her into the house.
"Would it have made a difference?" she smiled, clearly not offended by my comment.
"I don't know. I guess not. This is quite a spectacular home," I offered as I gazed around as I entered a huge room with what must have been a twenty-foot ceiling.
I was nearly overwhelmed by the grandeur of the room. The rear wall was almost all window with a view to a pond and the back gardens. I was in the presence of wealth. I finally got my focus on Francesca and was immediately reminded that she was one very attractive young lady. She was dressed in a skirt and blouse. The skirt was knee length and a light gray color, while her blouse was white with what appeared to be a multi-coloured needlework design. Very simple and yet elegant.
"You look very nice," I said, hoping is sounded as sincere as I felt.
"Thank you, Dal. You look quite handsome yourself. Come in and meet my family. They always want to know who I'm going out with."
"Okay," I agreed, wondering what to expect.
We walking into another large room and found several people sitting around in a circle.
"Mama, Papa, this is Mr. Dal Larson," Francesca said in introduction. "We are going to a dance at the university tonight."
I didn't have any trouble spotting Mama. She was sitting in a large wing chair, and smiled as I was introduced, but said nothing. The other men in the room all rose and approached me. All four of them.
The eldest held out his hand to me. "Nice to meet you, Dal. I am Eduardo, and these are my sons, Pietro, Alfredo, and Giovanni." We all shook hands and I started to relax a bit after being very intimidated by my surroundings. All three sons looked older than me, but not by a lot.
"How did you meet Francesca?" Pietro asked.
"Uhhm ... well ... she came into my restaurant and recognized me from our classes last year," I stumbled.
"So, she asked you for a date," Giovanni chuckled.
"Uhhm ... not exactly. She was curious about my education and I kind of stalled telling her about it. She wanted to know," I said, looking at a bemused Francesca, "so I asked her for a date so we could talk and catch up on things."
That was about as vague as I could be.
"Do you manage the restaurant?" Eduardo asked, his eyebrows raised.
"I am the manager of one."
He nodded in understanding, but added, "You are very young to be a manager. Is it a small restaurant?"
"No sir, it seats one hundred. It's not a fancy place, but we serve good quality and give good service. It's part of a chain of four restaurants owned locally. It's called Day and Night."
"Oh, sure. I know that one," Alfredo said with a grin. "I often stop in at the Burnaby one for lunch."
I must have visibly sighed because I saw Francesca smile, then admonish her brothers. "Are you finished with the third degree?" she said. "We'd like to go now."
Eduardo laughed and clapped me lightly on the shoulder. "Have a good time. It was nice meeting you. I hope to see you again."
That caught me by surprise. "Thank you."
Francesca approached her mother and kissed her cheek, getting a smile and a brief comment in Italian in response. She kissed her father's cheek as well and said good night. She hooked her arm through mine and we walked out to the front entrance and over to my car.
"This is a nice car, Dal. Is it yours?"
"Yes, it is. I'll explain when we get a chance to talk."
She smiled in return as I held the door for her and she slipped onto the leather seat. I had kept my father's '81 Toyota Cressida. It was just over two years old with very low mileage. It was one of my few luxuries and I planned to keep it for a long time.
"Go down here," Francesca said as we headed away from her home. "There's plenty of time to go to the dance, but it will be noisy and we won't get a chance to talk. I know the perfect place."
I was a little uncertain what she had in mind, but followed her directions without question. In a couple of minutes, I had a pretty good idea of where we were headed. Spanish Banks looked out over English Bay and the north shore mountains. It was a warm summer evening and, with the sun about to go down behind Vancouver Island, we would enjoy a very nice sunset.
I parked in the public area just above the beach and turned off the motor. I sat, waiting for her to tell me what next. She undid her seatbelt, but didn't move to get out. Instead she turned toward me.
"I had a nice talk with Carl Villano, Dal ... or should I call you Dallas," she began, smiling at the surprise I showed.
"How do you know Carl?"
"I wanted to know more about you, so I called the office and asked for the manager. I wanted to know a little more about you and when I identified myself, he was more than willing to tell me about you."
"Does he know you ... your family?"
"Yes. My father is president of Transimeno Imports. He brings in wines from all over Europe, including wines made in our own winery in Umbria. Your restaurant buys wines from our company. That is how Carl knows of our family."
"Oh ... I didn't know. I guess that accounts for that incredible home you live in. Your father has done very well."
"Not just my father, Dal. My grandparents run the vineyards and the winery. Casa Mariani is our traditional home. My father visits twice a year to make sure everything is as it should be. My grandfather is seventy-nine, but still very active. Our family live long lives," she smiled.
"When the winery and vineyards become too much for them, Giovanni will be prepared to take over. Alfredo, is studying business and finance at UBC, while Giovanni studies chemistry and oenology, the science of winemaking. He will be leaving for Italy in January to finish his studies. Pietro will succeed my father when he decides to retire. Right now, he's the assistant to the president for our businesses."
"Wow, that's quite a family you have," I marveled. "No wonder you've done so well."
"Yes, but this date isn't just about our family, it's about the interesting Dallas Larson," she said with that smile I was just now becoming familiar with.
"So, Carl told you my proper name. What else did he tell you?"