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Best of Bosses 2008(8)

By:Kate Hardy

‘We have four outlets in London,’ he said. ‘So I’m at the stage where I need to decide what to do next. Well, I say “I”.’ He waved a dismissive hand. ‘Dad started the business.’

‘But you’re in charge now.’

He nodded. ‘Though I need to consider Dad’s feelings. Franchising’s a possibility, but I need to do some proper research into what it all means and whether it’s the right way for us to go. And at the moment I simply don’t have the time.’

The pizzeria was another of his family’s businesses, and his aunt was clearly still hands on. Gio’s father couldn’t be that much older than Annetta, surely; so why wasn’t he hands-on with the coffee shop? ‘You seem—well, pretty young to be heading a chain of coffee shops,’ she commented.

‘I’m twenty-eight. But I’ve worked in the business for half my life. And I learned how to make decent espresso at my father’s knee.’

‘And because you’re the eldest, you were groomed to take over from your dad?’

For a brief moment, his face was filled with bleakness. And then, before she had the chance to ask him what was wrong, he smiled. ‘Something like that.’

She was pretty sure there was something he wasn’t telling her. ‘Your nonna said that trust has to start somewhere,’ she reminded him softly. ‘So why don’t you fill me in on the story?’

He toyed with his pizza for a while before answering. ‘I planned to go to college, ten years ago. I was going to study music. I helped out in the business while I was at school—we all did, whether it was washing up or baristaing or clearing the tables for Dad and washing them down when the shop closed—but this one night I was meant to be working a late shift when I had a chance to play in a concert. A concert where I knew a scout for a record company was going to be in the audience. Dad said I had to follow my dreams, and he’d do my shift for me, even though he’d been working all day and it meant he’d be doing a double shift. I was eighteen. Head full of stars. So I went. I played. The scout had a word with me and my guitar teacher. And I came home by the coffee shop to tell Dad my news.’ He dragged in a breath. ‘Which was when I found him lying on the floor. He’d had a heart attack while he was shutting up the shop. The ambulance got there in time to save him, but no way was I going to make Dad cope with the stress of the business after that.’

‘So you gave up music to take over from him?’ she guessed.

He grimaced. ‘I probably wasn’t good enough to make it commercially anyway. There isn’t that much scope for a classical guitarist.’ He spread his hands. ‘A bit of session work, a bit of teaching, the occasional gig in some arts club. It’s a bits-and-pieces sort of life, whereas running Giovanni’s means I can do pretty much what I like, when I like. It wasn’t a hard choice.’

The momentary flicker in those blue, blue eyes told her that he was lying. That even now he wondered, what if? But it hadn’t stopped him making the decision. He’d given up his dreams for his family.

Fran realised with a pang that Gio was the kind of man who believed in commitment. Who believed in his family.

A belief she so wanted to have. Except she didn’t share his certainty in belonging, the way that he did. Even though her parents had told her years before that she was special, that they’d chosen her to be part of their family, she wasn’t sure she belonged. Because they’d chosen her when they didn’t think they could have their own children, and she’d always thought that they regretted their decision when it turned out to be not the case. It was an unspoken fear, but one that still surfaced from time to time. Like now, when she’d stopped fitting in at work and she’d been the one to be made redundant rather than the other office manager.

Gio came from a large family. One that teased and drove him crazy, but clearly loved him to bits. If she accepted his offer of a job, would she fit in to his world any better than she fitted into her family?

‘What was the news?’ she asked. ‘The news you called by to tell him?’

Gio took a sip of wine. ‘Nothing important.’

She didn’t quite believe him. Hadn’t he said that the scout had had a word with him? But she had a feeling that if she pushed, Gio would clam up completely.

‘Besides, I’ve enjoyed managing the coffee shop. Dad believed in me enough to let me run it without interference. The one on Charlotte Street is the original café, but he was fine about me expanding it.’ He looked at her. ‘I said earlier about trusting people. I also need to be honest with you. Right now, it’s not so much the business that’s at a crossroads, it’s me.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know whether it’s because I’m heading towards thirty—a kind of early midlife crisis—but right now I feel in limbo. I don’t know what I want from life. And I need to find out while I’m still young enough to do something about it.’