Outside the stadium the Italian sports press waited for the football players, eager to interrogate them about their monumental collapse against the Turkish champions. Francesca's heels clacked down the hallway toward a red 'EXIT' sign, speeding up as she got closer. Her knees ached from the concrete floor of the custodian's closet, her mind ached from the sheer emotional exhaustion of her fight with Paolo.
When she got outside there wasn't a taxi in sight, but satellite TV trucks and swarms of reporters. At the sight of her, a tall blonde in tall boots and a short skirt, lipstick and eyeliner, she imagined, smudged from crying and kissing, they all turned and began snapping. Everyone wanted a shot.
Her boyfriend had lost the match. Ex-boyfriend, now. He'd thrown a punch at a Turkish player, earned himself a red card and automatic ejection, earned the other team a penalty kick that had won them the game. He'd done it because of her.
Face that launched a thousand ships, all right. And now, she imagined, a thousand cheap supermarket magazine covers.
Someone grabbed her arm. "Francesca!"
She turned and a giant lens was in her face, the photographer's hand clamped on her upper arm.
"Don't touch me!" she shrieked. She yanked herself from his grasp and looked around, a shrill ringing in her ears, a vague crush of bodies and cameras all she could see.
A red Porsche careened through the stadium parking lot towards her. The car swung through the crowd of paparazzi and the driver rolled down the window.
"What are you doing?" she yelled into the car, shielding her face from the photographers.
"Get in," he said, unperturbed. "Preferably quickly, before they damage my car."
She cast one last look at the crowd of video and film cameras behind her and vaulted in at the curb.
"Francesca! Francesca!" the photographers shouted, beating their fists on her window.
Two weeks ago, the newsstand on her block in Milan had stocked a tabloid with a short feature story about the glamorous Juventus women. Her friend Natalya had been profiled as a top runway model, while she'd been highlighted as Paolo's successful, aristocratic fashion photographer girlfriend. In the next issue, Francesca would be painted as the woman had made him a cuckold with the biggest playboy in Istanbul.
She sank into the soft leather seat, checking the locks on the door to make sure they were secure.
"You waited for me?"
"I'd have waited as long as I had to," he replied, shifting gears. His wedding band flashed under the streetlights.
"They were here for Paolo," she said, turning back to look out the rear windshield at the trail of photographers in their exhaust.
"Not just for him."
"What do you mean?"
Tomorrow morning, everyone--including her mother--would see her, smudgy-eyed and panicked, running away from super-star Paolo Romaldo and into the arms of twice-married--still married--Selim Arakoglu. She felt slightly sick, and pressed her forehead against the window, staring out at bleak Istanbul, bare branches like dark fingers in stark relief against an icy midnight sky.