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← 1. Primavera (Spring)
3. Autumno (Autumn) →

2. Estate (Summer)

Stefan%s's Photo   Stefan, 15 Jan 2011

Part 2  - Estate -

 

Spring had gone like the light-heartedness of these days. We sat upon a stony bench, overlooking our mutual hometown which hadn't changed in all the years.

 

Funny, it seemed ages ago since we met, me standing awkwardly beside the procession that lead the corpse of his father to his tomb, he winking at me, beckoning me to the narrow path to give me the first kiss of my life. And yet the years went on. My heart was waiting, leaving the boy I used to be behind. But still I remained the boy deep down in my soul. Things never change, despite your physical image counting the years that pass.

                                                                                       

I search his face. He isn't the same. There is a faint hardness behind the smooth skin; shades I am unfamiliar with yet albeit his smile is the same and his movements, but the expression in his eyes is different.

 

   "You were not only the prince of the lilies... you were the Principe del mio cuore."

 

He's looking at me; his blue eyes shaded with the years of things I will never grasp. I could ask him so many things but my mouth is sealed by pain.

 

   "Prince of my heart..." he repeats slowly. Slowly and with a quiet voice. Then, unexpectedly, he starts to laugh. It is the same, unabated laugh I used to know.

 

So much ease sounds within and evokes the days when life had been easy and yet filled with difficulties.

 

His laughter ends abruptly and he is serious again. "I am sorry for everything", he tells me quietly, not looking at me. His hand steals furtively aside, searching for mine. And suddenly I have the impression of us being an old couple that had the chance to live together for good, but could not. And it was solely our fault. I press his fingers and with that touch my hurt falls off me.

 

Yet the memories remains.

 

 

_____________________

 

1

______________________

 

 

The sky was a violet, translucent cover that sat upon the town of Firenze. The morning promised to become a hot day later when Luca stood at the kitchen window of the palazzo Gondi, waiting impatiently for Alessandro's and Giano's return from Pisa. Two weeks had gone by and this was the evening of the Festo di San Giovanni, St. John's Day, patron of Florence. On the Piazza in front of Santa Croce they were working hard to prepare for the Gioco. They had set up a stand of seats for the audience and filled a marked area in the middle of it with thick layers of sand. The town was filling with even more tourists and a joyful anticipation lay over the whole town.

 

Tristano next to him played with the lapis lazuli Luca had brought here for safety. He wasn't sure that Dante wouldn't steal it to destroy it - just for the pure fact that it was a gift from Alessandro. He tossed the stone from one palm into his other and felt the weight.

 

Luca wasn't sure why he had come with him, but he seemed to be interested in the old palazzo. "I should go now. You'd surely like to be alone." Tristano put back the stone, but not before wrapping it carefully in the soft cloth.

 

   "This early? I thought you wanted to stay?"

 

Tristano shook his head. "Not really." He gave him one of his odd looks, that Luca caught so often these days, then a brief smile and he was out of the kitchen door before Luca could stop him. He watched his back crossing the yard and then he was swallowed by the darkness of the wooden entrance gate. He had hardly left when Sandro's red Ferrari shot through the gate, swirling a lot of dust. Luca headed out but stood petrified a second after. He saw an unfamiliar person that could only be Giano's boyfriend. Celestino. Luca grinned. What a name.

 

But then he felt himself embraced and an open pair of lips kissing his own. Heat and longing shot up his body. "I see you dressed up for my welcome?" Sandro said laughing, looking Luca, who had put on Pucci's leather suit, up and down. "You look ravishing. Let's make sure that we get rid of those two", he said winking and turned. "That's Celestino, but you can call him Tino."

 

Giano rolled his eyes, took Tino's hand and went around the car to greet his brother. The man next to him appeared a bit older, dressed casually in comfortable jeans and a white T-shirt. Luca thought him a few pounds too heavy, but his face was attractive and Luca was instantly bewitched by a pair of glistening amber-coloured eyes and softly outlined lips, revealing a string of pearls as teeth. He shook Luca's hand. "Hm, if I had thought that your brother was that luscious..." he said good-humouredly in a voice which gave Luca instant weak knees.

 

Giano pushed him, but grinned. "I'll get you for that comment", he said, pulling Luca to his chest. Sandro threatened Tino with his finger. "Another comment like that and I'll get angry. Come on with that baggage, I'll show you your room." He turned and said with a cheeky grin, "I don't have to prepare another room, do I?"

 

Giano said nothing and Tino waved him off, not without another huge grin.

 

Luca watched his brother during the dinner they had in the large kitchen. Fran had come and prepared the rooms for Sandro's friends, had done the shopping and overseen the delivery of food. Finally Franco arrived with his friend Claudio in tow, who was all anxious to see the grand Gioco the next day. It was a funny and exuberant evening but still Luca couldn't tell if Giano had succumbed to the longing that was clearly plastered all over Tino's face. He fed Giano with little morsels and made him drink the wine that had been delivered from Sandro's uncle Arrigo's villa in the Tuscany landscape, as always.

 

   "What do you think of Tino?" Alessandro asked as Luca was peeling himself out of his leather trousers. He sat already half naked with just his briefs upon his bed, leafing through Masolino's diary.

 

   "He's nice."

 

   "Just nice? I think he's completely besotted with your brother. And what do you think they're doing in their room now, eh?" he added. Luca looked over his shoulder. He didn't know what to think. Actually he understood very well what was going on in Giano's head; how he felt about a first night with a man. Just like he himself had done some months ago. In the Spring. Now it was Summer. He only hoped that Giano didn't mess it up. He stretched out his hand. "Shower?"

 

 

Hot water sprayed from the shower over their heads onto them while they were soaping each other. "I missed you", Alessandro said, and Luca read his lips.

 

   "Missed you too. A week can be so long." His soap-slippery palms stroked over Alessandro's buttocks and in between the cleft, back and forth to his abdomen, gliding down, and soaping his half-hard erection. Within a second it stood upright and Alessandro pressed his body to Luca's, embracing him. Water streamed over their faces.

 

   "Was that Tristano hurrying out of the palazzo when we arrived?" Alessandro mumbled sleepily. He had buried his head into the nape of Luca's neck, laying half above him. He felt Luca nodding.

 

   "What was the reason for his leaving. Us?"

 

   "Yes. He said, he didn't want to disturb us."

 

   "So, he's come to terms with you and me?"

 

   "Apparently. We never talk about it."

 

Alessandro lifted his head. "Never? So, how do you know then?"

 

Luca closed his eyes. He didn't know for sure, but he certainly had the feeling. At least Luca never left a mistake about his sexuality but Tristano never commented it. He wondered why.

 

   "I've told you that he's in love with you. Why do you never listen to me?" Alessandro outlined Luca's lips and then played with his ear lobe. "Anyway, I guess we'll see him again tomorrow? I need to get up early to pick up my clothes."

 

   "Are you nervous?"

 

   "As hell. What about your brothers? Are they prepared?"

 

   "I guess so. They talk about nothing else these days."

 

 

*

 

Giano lay awake. He knew that at his side Tino didn't sleep either. Actually he had imagined that his first night with him would be different. That Tino would  try to do something. That there would be more than the blow job he allowed Tino when he had visited his place. 

He looked over and saw him laying on his back with his eyes open. It was a double bed, so the space that separated them, was easy to cross. Giano stretched out his hand and touched Tino's chest. His fingers crawled slowly across the skin, feeling the short, black hairs, invisible in the night. It felt good, and because Tino didn't move, his fingers wandered lower over the stomach and belly, flat due to his prone position. And suddenly he heard a low giggle. "Don't do that. I'm ticklish." Tino raised his body and peered over at Giano. "No, don't stop."

 

Giano pulled his hand back and lay motionless. They stared at each other. "What are you afraid of? Don't you like me?" Tino asked. "You know, I'm Celestino, the heavenly", he growled with a deep voice, making Giano grin. Tino bent over and brought his lips near. "Come on", he whispered. Giano closed his eyes and pulled Tino's head close to him. His leg embraced Tino's buttocks, which enabled him to feel his brief-clad erection, feel the lips on his own, the tongue that was caressing his own, and then something kicked in.

 

It was so much different to lay next to him in a bed, than to sit or stand and receiving a blow job. A long groan escaped his throat and Tino slid over him. Giano tugged at his briefs, pulled them down over Tino's butt cheeks, freed his straining penis and started to stroke it. It was easy he thought and familiar. Like his own.

 

   "I've been crazy for you since the first time we met", Tino mumbled into his ear. He vanished under the blanket and pulled down Giano's underpants, appearing again a moment later, triumphantly holding up the pants with a grin Giano couldn't resist. Long laughter sounded, similar to Luca's pearly laugh and passed into groans when Tino started sucking him until he begged him to stop or rather to continue until his brain blew out of his skull. They rolled on the bed and Giano didn't notice at first that Tino's fingers were caressing the entrance of his backside, until he felt something caressing him from within. He froze for a minute, looked into the amber eyes, burning from desire, and thought that he wanted more of that.

 

   "More?" Tino read his eyes, making Giano flip over onto his stomach and then he crawled up behind him. A wet tongue entered him, played with the rim, outlined it, washed over it, and after five minutes of feeling it Giano called himself a complete idiot that he hadn't let this happen before. Tino turned out to be a perfect teacher without making Giano feel like he was being taught. All he could remember an hour later was that he had rolled a wet condom over Tino's cock, lay back and let it happen. The first sting was painful, the second too. The third less and then.... and then...

 

Giano opened his eyes and saw Tino's face that so close to his own. Tino's calm breathing told him that he was asleep, with his arm resting around Giano's waist and their legs entwined. The stinging feeling was still there and Giano didn't know how he would handle it in the morning. But perhaps it would have gone by then. Deep down he knew that he had lost his heart, and it hadn't been difficult to do so. He placed a kiss upon Tino's nose and saw him smile.

 

 

* * *

 

Luca's eyes were alternating between Tino's then Giano's. They were sitting at the opposite side of the kitchen table with a shit-eating grin on both faces. Holy cow, he thought. They had made it. He grinned back cheekily and winked at his brother. Honey dropped from Giano's toast but he didn't seem to notice until Tino started licking it from his fingers. Alessandro burst into laughter. "So, these are our new love birds, yes?" Franco and Claudio looked confused.

 

   "I told you, gioia", Alessandro continued, "that it wouldn't hurt." Giano rolled his eyes at Alessandro. "Shut up, smart ass", he grinned.

 

Giano felt fantastic. In the early morning they had done it again, switching positions and Giano couldn't get enough of it. Tino had told him that he had probably woken sleeping dogs, but his face was beaming. Life was wonderful. He even had the possibility of moving out of Sandro's room and moving in with Tino. Why not? They got along well and the prospect of sleeping with his boyfriend each night made his body tingle all over.

 

   "Um, did we miss something?" Franco asked innocently. He bent to his friend and whispered "I guess we're in the middle of a gay brothel or something."

 

Claudio shoved him. He wasn't quite sure how to handle this situation. Sure he knew that Alessandro was gay but the other two? "What the hell", he said aloud, blinking his black eyes at the guys. "I'm here to watch the Gioco. Aren't you going out to pick up your clothes?" he asked Alessandro.

 

   "Yeah, I'll be going in a minute."

 

   "Mother's expecting us this morning", Luca said. Giano was thumped back down to earth again.

 

   "Oh. Um, how will you explain your nights away from home?"

 

   "I'll tell the truth, simply that I'm staying with Sandro. They don't have to know what I'm doing here."

 

Everybody was grinning. Alessandro planted a kiss upon Luca's lips and emptied his coffee cup. "We'll meet back here again at noon, OK?"

 

   "When does it start?" Claudio asked.

 

   "Three p.m. sharp. At two the parade of trumpeters, horses and drummer starts, I guess you won't want to miss that, right?" He was out.

 

*

 

The Montori's palazzo was a jumble. Dante and Marcello were sorting out their clothes. Half length, blue baggy trousers and heavy boots enabled them to have a stable hold in the sand. Dante was already dressed with his full blue shirt when Luca, Giano and Celestino arrived.

 

   "Where's your pervert friend? Have you called for the priest to give him absolution? This will be a day he won't forget."

 

Luca simply ignored him and went on into the kitchen where his mother was preparing tramezzini and salad. Luca saw heaps of apples and cucumbers, fresh carrots and oranges. "Are you intending to feed an army of soldiers?" he asked her good humouredly. Clarissa turned. "Ah, Luca, gioia. Where's Giano? Didn't he arrive yesterday?"

 

   "Sure." Giano stepped into the kitchen, Tino behind him. "This is Celestino, a friend." He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek.

 

Niccolò emptied his pipe and rose from the table. He shook Tino's hand. "Welcome to the Montori's", he said formally, but not without a smile. "Are you a student friend?"

 

   "Fellow student, yes. But I'm two semesters ahead."

 

   "Mamma, can you fix this please?" Marcello had stormed into the kitchen, his upper body naked, his shirt in his hand.

 

   "Let's see." Clarissa took the shirt and examined the rip. "The seam is torn. Doesn't it fit properly?"

 

Luca eyed his brother's muscle covered body. He worked out in the gym too much and God alone knew what he was eating to develop such muscles. Remembering Alessandro's smooth and lithe body, he feared for him.

 

   "Hi, Giano", Marcello said shortly over his shoulder. Then his eyes fell on Celestino and he looked questioningly.

 

Giano didn't know what happened but before he could stop it, Tino had said "Celestino. I'm your brother's boyfriend." He reached out his hand.

 

Clarissa emitted a little cry and dropped the shirt. Everyone was staring at Celestino. "You certainly mean friend", Niccolò growled from behind.

 

   "No," Tino said friendly but determined. "I said boyfriend."

 

A roaring laughter was heard. Dante, standing in the doorway, had thrown back his head and was laughing. "That's too funny everybody!" He jumped behind Luca and held his neck. "Certainly one of these faggots is enough, but two of them is simply ... over the top!"

 

The Montoris stared at Dante and Luca but nobody could bring themselves to say anything. Clarissa picked up the shirt and went out to search for her sewing box.

 

Niccolò cleared his throat. "I take it this is a joke?" he said with uncertainty in his voice and nobody answered him. Giano had stepped to Tino's side, shaking inwardly. He hadn't prepared Tino for the fact that his family was not exactly what one would call gay-friendly. Nor gay-accepting. Shit.

 

Luca had freed himself from Dante's grip and glared at him. "Hold your mouth, Dante. Go and see if you can find a priest for yourself."

 

Dante's face reddened and he glared back. Luca knew that only the presence of Niccolò stopped him from hitting Luca.

 

Giano's hand searched for Tino's. He took it and grasped it. "It's not a joke, pappa. Dante's right." He held his father's gaze until Niccolò broke it and simply went slowly out of the kitchen. Clarissa hadn't returned.

 

   "I'm sorry, Giano", Tino said. "I didn't know... my parents are cool with it. You should have told me."

 

   "I didn't want to worry you." Giano's head hung and Luca took his upper arm. "It happened now, and I'm glad it has. About time."

 

   "About time?" Dante said, looking at Marcello who had not said a single word, but was clenching his fists. "About time?" He glared at Tino. "And you with that stupid name. What have you done to my brother? Made him a filthy faggot like yourself, eh?" He turned to Giano. "I hadn't thought it of you, becoming a shit stabber, ugh. It's nasty enough to make me throw up."

Giano raised his hand and slapped his face.

 

That was the second time, Luca thought. The first blow he had received from Sandro and Luca knew his brother well enough to see that he was seething. Dante made a step forward and pushed his brother hard, but Tino jumped between them. "Stop that! What's gotten into you? How can you call me such names, you stronzo. Look at you, strong like a bull, but with a brain of a pea." He spat in front of Dante's feet onto the kitchen floor. Then he took both, Luca and Giano, dragged them out of the kitchen and exited the Montori palazzo.

 

Luca tried hard not to cry even though the tears were burning behind his eyes. Within the space of ten minutes he had lost his home he thought. What were his parents going to say? Would they throw him out of the house? Was it possible that his mother, who considered him to be her sunshine, would be so hard-hearted? And his father?

 

   "I'm really sorry", Tino repeated incessantly. "I carry my heart upon my sleeve, I should have thought first before I spoke. I didn't know your brothers."

 

   "We should have told you", Giano reassured him, but his voice was tight. He feared for Luca who had to live at home while Giano himself could vanish.

 

They arrived the Gondi-Palazzo and sat on the kitchen stools. "What do we do now?" Tino asked, completely unhappy about the events. He looked at Luca.

 

   "Your brother knew about you?"

 

Luca nodded. "By accident. But he has held his mouth with our parents."

 

   "Hi ragazzi, I'm back. Look at this." Alessandro was coming through the kitchen door and instantly felt the gloomy mood. "What's happened?"

 

Luca filled him in. "Jesus Christ." Alessandro slumped down upon a stool. "I need a drink." He uncorked a bottle of wine and poured four glasses. "Where's the rest?"

 

   "Franco and Claudio are doing some sightseeing", Luca said quietly. He took his glass and gulped down half of it. Alessandro forced his arm down. "You'll get drunk. It's hot outside!" Alessandro sighed then and sipped at his glass. "Let's see. You haven't heard from your parents, gioia. I'll bet that they are sensible enough to see it as it is; something that can't be changed. They can't be as stupid to think the way Dante does, that you can make somebody gay by pure seduction, can they? So," he continued convinced, "when we meet up later they will tell you both that they love you."

 

   "Huh", Giano and Luca said unison. "Who will believe that."

 

   "Me", Tino said. "My parents hadn't a problem with it. Well, at least no big problems. After the shock wore off it was allright. I was still the same one I was before."

 

   "You make it sound too easy."

 

   "I'm not making it sound easy", Tino insisted. "Everyone with common sense must see that I'm right."

 

   "Who's talking about common sense?" Giano said. "Our brothers have never heard of that."

 

   "Funny, how brothers can be so different." 

 

 

 

_____________________

 

2

______________________

 

 

The parade carried on from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella in the West of the city, via Piazza Signoria along Borgo dei Greci culminating in Piazza of Santa Croce. It was a glorious march past, with nobles on horsebacks, dressed in fifteenth-century costumes. In front of them walked trumpeters and tamburini with a white banner and a fire red lily hanging from their instruments, behind them, archibursers, knights and representatives of the town council, like the proconsul of the art and trade guilds, then again banner bearers and judges.

 

The crowd cheered at the colourfully dressed actors. Lansquenets with their typical "torn" trousers, striped in red and white or yellow and blue, with iron helmets, decorated with bushy feathers. They stomped through the streets, whirling up great clouds of dust, for it hadn't rained for a long time. The noise was deafening when the trumpets gave their high-pitched sound and the low beats of the drums matched a steady heart beat.

 

Luca, Giano and Tino heard them from far away. Since they had family members in the team of the Quartiero of Santa Croce, they had been able to get seats in the stands which framed all four sides of the square in front of the gleaming white church of the Holy Cross. Banners were blowing in the wind: a golden cross on blue background for their own Quartiero, and a temple upon a green background for the other.

 

Green was also the colour Sandro would wear. Luca sat next to his mother who still hadn't said a single word to him since they had met up again, fighting their way through crowds of curious tourists, armed with cameras, and camcorder, with little flags and hats against the sun. Luca knew that at the end of the match all of them would be covered in the swirling sand, although it had been watered.

 

The procession arrived, and the horse riders parted to make room for the military band. The banner wearers entered the field with the flags of companies; Luca saw golden and black lions, green dragons and red carriages. His heart beat loud and painfully. What would happen? Would Alessandro be able to escape Dante's unmistakable scorn? Broken limbs were normal for this match, but for Luca would this be a lucky day if Alessandro only had a broken leg. What a stupid idea of his boyfriend taking part.. He heard Franco chatter behind him. "That's not football, it's rugby or something", he explained to Claudio. "It was invented in the military encampments where the soldiers resting between battles would have lost strength without exercise. It was a game which developed arm and leg muscles in a real hand to hand struggle for what was the size and shape of a cannon ball. It was first played here in Florence, not so much as a sport as for training young men in the art of combat."

 

   "Where do you know all of this from?" Claudio was sliding on the uncomfortable wooden bench.

 

   "From Alessandro. There was a famous match in 1530 when the Florentines had been besieged by Pope Clement VII. They kept playing their game more to show the city's scorn for the besieging troops, who considered Florence exhausted and already defeated. That's the real nature of a Florentine", he added.

 

   "Contrary to an aesthetic and frail Venetian, eh?" Claudio teased him.

 

Franco nudged him. "Didn't work out. They had to admit defeat in the end."

 

A loud shushing was heard and the audience fell silent. The mayor of the town, Alessandro's uncle Emilio, gave a short speech, dressed in doublet, a long cloak, and a Mazzoccho - a cloth, wrapped around his head, with a long point falling upon his shoulder.

 

And then the fiftyfour members of the Quartieri entered the battle field. There was a roar of cheering and banners and flags were waved. Luca slid around to find Sandro. He looked good in his green clothes, with his trousers and boots. He briefly remembered Sandro's laugh when he had showed him his sack-lifter, a pouch, protecting his private parts. Luca hoped he would take care of that sensitive part. It had been squashed before.

 

Giano pointed to the field and Luca detected Dante with Marcello next to him, dressed all in blue. They looked like bulls, pawing with their hoofs. In the middle of the lined up teams, was led a pretty, light brown calf. It had a green garland around its neck.

 

   "What's that?" Claudio asked and Franco shrugged his shoulders.

 

   "The prize for the victorious team", Giano said.

 

   "A calf?" Franco and Claudio were shaken by laughter and Giano joined in with a grin and waggled his eyebrows.

 

Again the trumpet players blew their instruments and the drummers whirled their sticks. A multi voiced "Viva Firenze!" echoed over the arena and then it started. 

 

Luca looked at his watch. An hour of battling. The ball - well, more of an rugby ball egg shape - was thrown high in the air and everybody was jumping at it. He saw that Dante had thrown away his shirt over the fence that protected the audience and was now running like a sweat-glistening bull. The people moaned, cried and shrieked with excitement, standing up when their favourite team had the ball, hissing, when it was the wrong team.

 

   "Would you like a tramezzino?" Luca heard his mother asking beside him. She held the bread out to him and he took it. Furtively their eyes met. He seemed to see a small smile in her eyes. He reciprocated and the smile reached her mouth. "We'll have to talk later, Luca."

 

He nodded and a stone, as big as his lapis lazuli, seem to fall off his heart. He nudged Giano and whispered "Mamma seems to be all right."

 

Giano beamed and bent forward to see his mother. She winked at him.

 

    "Watch out", Tino shouted, when Alessandro was tackled by a blue dressed guy, who was a half head bigger than him. But Alessandro had taken the ball and was crossing the field, pushing and shoving the opposition players out of the way. He had almost reached the line he needed to place the ball behind, when he was grabbed by his ankles so that he fell hard upon the sand. A groan went through the audience. But Alessandro stretched out his arms and pushed the ball behind the line. The green Quartiero jumped up in unison and shouted "Caccia, caccia!

 

   "1 : 0 to San Giovanni!" the match commentator shouted, but nobody heard him.

 

Luca and Giano had jumped up too, but were down quickly again since it was the wrong Quartiero they were cheering for. Both earned suspicious stares, but that didn't bother them.

 

They followed the struggles, attacks and scuffles until everything was a blur. Most of the players had taken off their shirts, only to be distinguished now by their trousers. Their bodies glistened in the sun with sweat and oil, and soon they were covered in a layer of sand.

 

Luca followed Dante's ways. He constantly tried to cross Sandro's path, fighting desperately for each ball and to make the draw for Santa Croce. Sandro couldn't stop him, for as he tried, another lad from his own Quartiero crossed his path and tackled him, so that he was falling all over the place. "Ouch", Luca said. "that was Raniero. Shit."

 

Raniero belonged to Sandro's team, so Luca couldn't grasp why he should tackle Sandro. Possibly Raniero was even more stupid than he'd thought.

 

After the first half of the match the score read 10 : 9 for San Giovanni and Alessandro had made four goals. The crowd was cheering "Gon - di! Gon - di! - at least the fans of his Quartiero were and Luca suddenly felt terribly proud. As if in honour of his surname Lucertola Sandro slid through the massive bodies of players who bumped and clashed with each other instead of wresting the ball Alessandro was carrying.

 

Luca couldn't recognise any of them anymore. He saw Sandro's mop of brown hair, covered in sand and sweat, and Dante's broad back stomping after him. Ten minutes before the end Sandro was blocked with the ball crammed under his arm. His naked upper body looked like it was made of sand and water. He received a shoulder charge, toppled over, but came to his feet again. From the other side it was Marcello cornering him at the fence, but Sandro broke free.

 

The rest of his team was a tangled heap of bodies in the sand, trying to block the others. Alessandro saw a dumb looking guy with narrow eyes running up to him, from the other side he saw Dante. He ducked away, but his boots buried themselves into the sand which stopped him and he fell over onto the ball and gave a cry. "Get him!" Dante shouted, and Raniero was over him. A screaming whistling and booing answered; people had noticed that Raniero was attacking his own team member. But that was part of the fun.

 

Dante jumped upon Raniero and Alessandro felt all breath escaping his lungs. He heard something breaking and hoped it wasn't his back. And then his consciousness started to flicker.

 

Luca had jumped from his bench and was clenching his fists. He couldn't see Sandro anymore, he had vanished under a heap of bodies: team members coming to help, fighting uninhibitedly now with the opposition until the sand was bloody like the once olden days in the Roman Colosseum.

 

A sharp tone from the referee's whistle sounded and helpers tried to untangle the enraged men. At last they revealed a trio of bodies laying motionless in the sand: Alessandro, Dante and Marcello. The crowd groaned. Clarissa took in a sharp breath and clutched Niccolò's arm. He spoke soothingly to her. Luca clutched Giano's hand and his face was pale like a nightly ghost.

 

The first aiders cared for them, sprinkled them with cold water and patted their cheeks. Luca saw blood upon their bodies. While Marcello woke up quickly, his brother and lover were heaved up on stretchers and carried away.

 

   "Viva San Giovanni!" It sounded through the arena. "10 : 9 for the Quartiero di San Giovanni!"

 

   "Viva!"

 

Luca sat down. He couldn't see anything for the audience was still standing. He knew the calf was now taken by the team captain and carried proudly away.

 

   "Come", Giano said and struggled through the seats, following the first aiders. The Montori's followed. Alessandro had been placed in the shadow of the houses, still laying on the stretcher, but he was awake. He tried a grin already.

 

   "Hi gioia. Did we win?" he spoke nasally for his nose seemed to be broken.

 

Luca gulped. Alessandro's face was covered in blood, seeping from cuts in his eyebrow and from his nose. The ambulance man had pulled off his boots and Luca saw blue toes.

 

   "Where are my sons?" Clarissa asked nervously but she could see them already. Dante hadn't woken up, but Marcello was standing beside him with the beginning of a black eye. "Shit, we lost the match," he mumbled.

 

Clarissa gave him a punch. "That's all you can say when your brother's dying?"

 

   "Nobody's going to die, Signora", the first-aid man calmed her. "He will wake up any minute."

 

In all the jumble of limping and bleeding players coming for first aid Luca found Tristano by his side, tapping his shoulder. "Everything alright? How crap you didn't win. What's up with him?"

 

Luca shrugged and turned to Alessandro again. "You did win. But Dante got you in the end."

 

   "Has he said his last prayer?"

 

   "Stop talking, lad", the first-aid man said and dabbed his nose which was still bleeding. "We'll take you for an examination. Someone going with him?" he asked around.

 

   "Me." Luca hurried after them.

 

 

 

   "I hope we haven't lost our stone cutters", a deep voice said next to Niccolò who had followed his wife. He looked up and saw Coppo standing there. "Those guys, always ready for a fight, eh?"

 

Niccolò nodded absentmindedly. He didn't know what to say anyway. This day had blown him away completely. He still chewed hard on the declaration of his youngest sons. Homosexual for Christ sake. He hoped this was just a temporary glitch and everything would return back normal. Now the injuries to his older sons. Marcello looked somewhat all right, but Dante didn't seem to be waking up. God knew what the Gondi-boy had done to him. Niccolò's stomach clenched.

 

   "What's up with you, old chap?" Coppo asked. "Your boys will certainly soon be in good nick." Together they watched Dante being carried into one of the first aid cars. He nodded to Clarissa who climbed after them. Marcello sat upon a stool and got his eye examined.

 

Coppo dragged his friend away from the jumble. They were standing in the way anyway. Niccolò shot a wary glance at Giano who was besieged by Luca's school friends, visitors to the spectacle doubtlessly. Giano's "boyfriend" was standing to one side. A bitter taste filled Niccolò's mouth.

 

Coppo leaned against a pillar of the portico and enjoyed the coolness streaming from the stone. The crowd was still dancing around, embracing each other, waving banners, hooting and shouting. The costumes of the musicians were colourful drops in the distance as they marched away, accompanied by tourists who incessantly shot pictures of them.

 

Niccolò stared over to the blood soiled sand. "A bit animal like, don't you think", he mumbled, and Coppo nodded. An amused grin spread over his face. But then it fell when he thought about Raniero, his pupil that he couldn't get rid off. He hadn't the slightest idea why Raniero had played against his team mate Gondi. He cleared his throat. "Nico, one question, please."

 

Niccolò turned to his old friend.

 

   "Has Luca ever mentioned Raniero Riefoli? He's his class mate." Coppo's eyes went searchingly over the players still lined up or sitting on chairs, being examined. "There he is, the one with the missing front tooth". Coppo said somewhat gleefully.

 

   "Sure. He was sentenced for the fire at the recent football match. I thought that you'd dumped him from the apprenticeship."

 

Coppo's face twisted. "Unfortunately that wasn't enough of a reason to dump him. He needs a chance was all I heard. The whole palette of excuses: Art is improving his character. He needs to be socialized before he goes more and more downhill. Get rid of the bad company he keeps, et cetera, et cetera. Well, what he did today wasn't exactly bright. He fought against Gondi and this was his own team mate. Any idea why?"

 

Niccolò stared absentmindedly. In the distance he recognized his son Marcello who had received a tape around both wrists and been given a paper sheet.

 

Marcello nodded depressed. And suddenly he had the faint of an idea about the cause. Dante obviously had known about Luca's state. His homosexuality - Niccolò forced himself to think. No, his temporary confusion. Hadn't they done naughty and careless things together - he and Coppo - too, when they were young? Anyway. Dante had known but never said a word. But hearing that there was Giano too who shared this atrocity had been too much for Dante.

 

Apparently everybody knew... possibly even Raniero. "My youngest claims to be homosexual", Niccolò mumbled, his head bent down. Then he pulled out his pipe from his trouser pocket and a packet of tobacco and started to fill the bowl of the pipe. Coppo stared at him. "Scusa? Can you say that again?"

 

   "And my second youngest too!" Niccolò said louder than he intended, his fingers dropping a bit of the tobacco. "Probably everybody knew except us, Clarissa and me. Even Dante. And I think Raniero too. So," he took a deep breath and fumbled for his box of matches, "it's clear as daylight what Luca and the Gondi-boy do when Luca claims to stay overnight with a friend." Niccolò's dark eyes gleamed with scorn. Coppo must have pulled a pretty funny face when the pieces fell into a perfect picture. "And what is your problem exactly?"

 

   "Huh?" Niccolò had lit a match and sucked nervously on his pipe. The place was emptying. From somewhere he heard the bleating of the calf as it was being carried away.

 

   "What is your problem exactly, Nico?" Coppo repeated. "We'd never talked about it, but you must know that there's a reason I never married. You've never seemed interested in my private life, my friend. As long as someone doesn't present it in front of your nose it doesn't bother you. Am I right?"

 

   "But they are so young!" Niccolò exclaimed. Smoke clouded his head and Coppo wafted it away. "They don't know what they are doing. I mean, you and me in those old days… that doesn't count. Perhaps at least Luca will find the way back to a normal life. I do hope so."

 

Coppo's mouth grimaced in pain. He was deeply hurt. "I didn't think that you thought that way. You think my lifestyle unworthy, right?"

 

   "At least you don't brag about all your conquests."

 

   "But rather I live a withdrawn life with my partner. Good and very convenient for all of you, right?" Coppo's voice sounded angry for the first time. "You don't have to see me and being reminded of the "filthy action" one can have in bed. As long as you don't see it, it doesn't exist and you can sit at home with your decent family, enjoying decent people. Scusa, Nico, but I don't understand you."

 

More smoke clouded Niccolò's head as he was puffing away. Deep down he knew that Coppo was right.

 

   "And how on earth do you think Luca must feel, eh?" Coppo continued. “Have you told him, you love him?" Coppo tapped his shoulder. "Nico?"

 

   "No. I... Don't get me wrong, Coppo." Niccolò raised his shoulders in a helpless gesture. "I was never interested in what you were doing. I didn't want to know about it. If I didn't know it I wouldn't have to admit that my friend is..."

 

   "Gay. Say it. Say it one time for me and for your sons. It isn't just a phase you would rather forget about. You won't."

 

Niccolò's pipe was out. "Ok. Gay. My sons are gay. Satisfied?"

 

   "What does Clarissa say?"

 

Niccolò shrugged. "Nothing. Like me. Speechless."

 

Coppo grinned and shook his head. "Dear Gods, you really act as if one of yours has become sick and is doomed to die tomorrow. I can't understand you hetero's, really. What are you afraid of?"

 

   "Afraid of? Isn't it obvious? Every homosexual, sooner or later, is dying of AIDS."

 

Coppo hooted with laughter. "That's not seriously meant, is it?" He closed his eyes and ran his hand over his almost bald head. He had to tell this to Bruno when he got home. Bruno hated this bloody rumble on the sand. Too much of the testosterone, he said. And then he would provide Nico with an education, with a pile of books like "My son is gay - what now?" Certainly the Montori's were in need of that.

 

He took Niccolò's elbow and with him crossed the short distance to the still blue-blinking first aid cars. Marcello was chattering with his buddies. "I hope his hands are alright", Coppo said, looking at Marcello's bandaged wrists. "Luca, by the way, is pretty good at inventing motifs. I'd like to see if he's that skilful at cutting his own stones."

 

Niccolò said nothing, but inwardly he smiled.

 

A minute later he crouched in front of his son. "What's up with your hands, lad?"

 

   "I need to have an X-ray", Marcello said depressed. "I'm waiting for the next ambulance." He darted wary looks to the crowd around, more or less injured.

 

   "That was a heavy match. What's up with Gondi? Did he receive what he deserved?"

 

   "What do you mean?" Coppo asked, in a not exactly friendly voice.

 

Marcello peered up to his master, but said nothing. Coppo and Niccolò shared a look. "Your mother's gone with Dante. I'm coming with you."

 

   "Don't bother with that."

 

   "Listen", Coppo throw in, "I'll get my car and pick you up, d'accordo?"

 

Again Marcello gave Coppo a look, but he nodded finally. "Thanks", he mumbled.

 

 

* * *

 

Luca waited outside the examination room and sat on one of the black chairs in the small visitors room. Alessandro didn't give the impression that he was seriously hurt, except the many cuts from which he was bleeding. Though you never knew. The whole crowd had piled upon him and his brothers. What happened to Dante he didn't exactly care.

 

He heard quick footsteps in the hallway and got up from his chair and bumped into an absolutely desperate girl that he recognized as Leoni, the fellow student and old friend of Sandro. She still had the green and golden blocks upon her cheeks, the sign of the team she was supporting, smeared with tears now. "Where is he? What's happened to him?" she shrieked at Luca.

 

Luca blinked and struggled free from the hands she had tightly grasped around his shoulders. "He's all right I guess", he stuttered. Over her shoulder he recognised Sandro's uncle. He frowned when he saw Luca and tried to pull Leoni away.

 

   "Calm down, girl", Arrigo said. "Sit down and stop shrieking, for God's sake."

 

Leoni did as she was told, rummaging in her bag for a package of cigarettes. Arrigo eyed Luca whom he recognized as Alessandro's friend. "Any information, boy?" he asked.

 

Luca shook his head. "His toes didn't look too good", he mumbled, then he sat down, far away from Leoni who was puffing nervously away. He didn't know what to think of this. Why was she here and what made her so upset? Was there anything going on that Sandro hadn't told him?

 

A male nurse peered into the room. "Luca Montori?" he asked. Luca jumped up.

 

   "Your friend's all right. Broken nose, bruised all over his body, but we've taken care of the cuts. Both little toes are broken and the rest of the feet are bruised, but they'll heal. No internal injuries. We'll keep him overnight though." He smiled briefly and hurried away.

 

On days like today there would be a lot for him to do, Luca thought oddly as a wave of relief washed over him.

 

Ash fell from Leoni's cigarette when she jumped up "Wait", she called after the nurse. "Can we see him?" She hurried around the corner and vanished.

 

Luca looked at Arrigo who followed her. They would find out surely enough; he decided to wait.

 

 

*

 

   "Leoni? Can we talk a minute?" Arrigo caught Leoni's shoulders. The nurse had vanished and she stood desperately in the hallway, watching injured players being carried into rooms while their families made a spectacle cheering their injured relatives.

She turned. "Why?"

 

   "About Alessandro. Coffee?"

 

   "But..."

 

   "We can visit him later, come now."

 

He took her for a coffee into the cafeteria and watched her stirring the milk foam until she sipped at the cup. He had known Leoni since she had been a child.

 

The da Firenzuola's and the Gondi's had been friends and Sandro and she attended the same school, in the same class. He knew that Leoni had always been helplessly in love with his nephew. And there even had been a time when the family thought they could make a bond of marriage with the two families. But Sandro had turned to different ways.

 

   "Better?" he asked.

 

Leoni was puffing grey smoke and sobbing occasionally. "Why does he have to do such stupid things?" she asked.

 

Arrigo twisted his mouth. Hysterical women had always been a horror for him. But perhaps he could help her to make her and his own wishes come true.

 

   "He'll survive", he said shortly. "Getting along well with your study? I hear you've got a room next to Sandro's at the Campus?"

 

She nodded and sipped at her coffee cup. Her make up was smeared and she looked pretty deranged. What would she say to his offer?

 

   "Listen, Leoni", he spoke as smooth as he could. "I know you've had a crush on Sandro for a long time. Why haven't you been able to hold on to him? No", he bent over to her, "no need to be embarrassed. I know what's going on. I mean, when a man turns to other men he must be disappointed, don't you think?"

 

Leoni looked at him without comprehension. How was that for an odd statement? Leoni wasn't stupid enough to believe that it was a woman's fault that a man was gay.

 

   "You mean, I wasn't good enough, so he ran from me?" She looked doubtful. "He's got this boyfriend, Luca."

 

   "Yes, I know. But what can we do to change that? Have you heard about the last will of my brother?"

 

Leoni shook her head. "Well, Sandro's rich now, that's all I know."

 

Arrigo smiled thinly. "He could be rich. But there was a clause to the last will. As far as it looks now we'll lose some millions if Sandro continues to ignore it."

 

Leoni hiccupped and stared at him. "What do you mean?"

 

   "It's up to you to save the millions. Could you imagine being Sandro's wife?"

 

Leoni almost dropped her cup and stared at Arrigo with huge eyes.

 

   "All we need is a marriage certificate and a son."

 

   "I still don't understand." She lit another cigarette. Her fingers trembled.

 

  "Before Sandro reaches his 21st birthday he needs to be married and have a son, otherwise the money goes to the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Novella",

 

Arrigo said bluntly and cold. "It's your chance."

 

   "But..." she laughed and stopped abruptly. "That's a joke. Sandro doesn't want me. He's f.." she coughed, "he does it only with boys."

 

"Quite right." Arrigo's lips twisted into a nasty grin. "But you and me know how boys are. Horny, no matter who's lying in their bed. Am I right?"

 

Leoni hadn't enough of life-experience to agree. On the other hand... there were enough handsome guys at the university she could imagine sharing the bed of. After all she wasn't a virgin anymore. Sandro had made sure of that in the past.

 

   "So, can't you help things along a bit?" Arrigo's eyes were emploring.

 

   "You mean, make him drunk and sleep with him? And who knows that I'll get pregnant? And who tells you that I want a child, for God's sake? I'm eighteen!"

 

   "It wouldn't need to be your misfortune of course."

 

Now Leoni understood. Arrigo wanted to buy her. And she could do with a bit of extra money since her parents kept her short with that, those skinflints. Typical Florentines, she thought. Save money for later, so you'll have it when you're old. But Leoni was young and wanted it now, not later.

 

Heat welled up within her, reaching her cheeks. The idea of being Alessandro's wife made her glow. All the girls would envy her. She knew how they spoke about the most attractive guy of the university and there was no one who wouldn't like to have him in her bed. She stared into her empty coffee cup.

 

   "What do I have to do?"

 

Arrigo's grin spread slowly over his dark face. "It's up to you. Either you succeed with seducing him... or if that doesn't work, you can tell him, Arrigo has found the suitable woman for him. He will know what you mean."

 

   "You've talked about it already?"

 

   "A little, but with no real conclusion. He was unsure. He wants to keep the money for the family. Blood is thicker than water, as you surely know."

 

   "How much for me?"

 

   "Enough."

 

   "And I need a son?"

 

Arrigo nodded. Leoni calculated roughly how many attempts she would need if the first child should be a girl. But it was worth a try.

 

   "Why did his father set up such a nonsense of a clause?"

 

   "To keep the family alive. Alessandro is the last Gondi who can produce children."

 

   "And unfortunately he's gay", Leoni chuckled.

 

   "Exactly", Arrigo said in a stern tone. "So, do you agree?" He held out his hand. Leoni took it almost immediately.

 

   "And as for the son, Leoni, I think we can pass a girl too. The main thing is to have a child."

 

*

 

Alessandro was wheeled into the visitor's room and the nurse left him. Luca beamed.

 

   "I knew you would be here", Alessandro said. He had a bandage around his head and a mask protecting his nose. He looked like Zorro. Luca detected several liquid plasters on his arms and neck.

 

   "Just cuts, don't worry. The sand had scraped the skin, but that's no problem. It just hurts." He still spoke a little nasally.

 

   "Your toes are broken?"

 

   "Well, yes. They say there's nothing that won't heal alone. Though I need to stay here overnight; they want to watch me because of my head. Have you seen Dante? He was carried in with me."

 

Luca shook his head.

 

   "Kiss me", Alessandro whispered and bent forward. He engaged Luca in a wet, tongue-consuming kiss that Luca put all of his relief into. Too bad he couldn't take him home. Opening his eyes again, he stared into Arrigo's face. Luca jerked his head back, but Alessandro still held him. "Your uncle", Luca mumbled.

 

Alessandro turned in his wheel chair and grinned.

 

   "I see you're still alive", Arrigo said coldly, but then he smiled. "Good match, boy. The people are still dancing in the streets, around the golden calf", he grinned. "Too bad you'll miss the big celebration this evening."

 

Luca remembered that there would be a gigantic fireworks display over Firenze that night and he sighed inwardly. He would have to put up with Sandro's friends. Perhaps that would distract him.

 

Leoni appeared behind Arrigo's back.

 

   "Leoni?" Alessandro exclaimed. “What're you doing here? I didn't know you were coming."

 

She smiled sugar-sweet at him. "Surely I wouldn't miss the opportunity to see my hero playing."

 

Alessandro gave her a quizzical look that Arrigo found highly amusing. The game was on.

 

* * *

 

Chrysanthemums of fire exploded over night time Florence, shooting up from the highest point of Piazzale Michelangelo. Inhabitants and tourists watched it from the river banks and Ponte Vecchio that was overcrowded.  Flashlights hit the warm air. Chairs and benches were full with people, eating, drinking and celebrating. It was the end of an eventful day, but Luca didn't listen to the chatter of his friends. He had brought them all together: his friends and Sandro's and they hit it off very quickly. Luca asked himself why he couldn't be happy tonight. It certainly wasn't because of Dante's broken arm and his concussion, nor because of Marcello's black eye and sprained wrists. Not because of Raniero's missing tooth and injured back. Not because the discussion he would have with his parents that he still avoided by simply not going home. It was Leoni's malicious grin when she said 'my hero'. What did she want from Sandro?

 

   "Come on, Luca, don't be a spoilsport", Rosso said, pressing a plastic cup of wine into his hand. They were standing on a landing on the Arno and the dozens of sparkles from the fireworks mirrored into the dark water. The illumination of Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi behind them created an enchanted scenery. The hooting of the people, watching the spectacle, made it somewhat surreal. The lights made Rosso's fire-red hair blue. "Are you still sad about our Quartiero's loss? So what! It was a great Gioco. Gondi was spectacular today. I hadn't thought that he would play that well. Or is it about your brothers?"

 

   "No." Luca tried a happier face. "It's not that serious. Nothing that won't heal."

 

   "So, what's it then?"

 

Giano eyed his brother. He was reserved himself, despite his outward joyfulness. The quarrel with his parents and brothers he could feel was still stuck in his bones. He wasn't mad with Tino who was the cause for all this; somehow he felt that it was time to let out all this. For his coming out. He was almost nineteen.

 

   "Really, nothing", he heard Luca brother say as answer to Rosso's question, "it was just all too much for one day."

 

   "Oh", Rosso was patting Luca's shoulder. "Well, that's OK of course", he relented then. "You've made friends with Gondi, right? Nothing can be hidden in Firenze", he added, when he saw Luca's stare. "I don't blame you, but what's the reason for this friendship. Gondi has never played in our league before. I just wondered." He filled Luca's paper cup with more wine. "Drink, and you'll feel better."

 

Giuliano and his new girlfriend were snogging behind Rosso's back. Or as he'd say better; his one-night-stand to be. Giuliano, the Italian gigolo with dimples and black, gelled hair, had made another conquest and Rosso playfully rolled his eyes at them. He winked at Luca and sighed. Then he was looking expectantly for an answer.

 

   "Well... we met and ... he isn't so."

 

   "What... so?

 

   "Arrogant."

 

Giano was listening while in the distance the fireworks exploded into a last final, colourful clash. He felt Tino taking his hand and entwining his fingers with his own. Instantly a warm feeling washed over him.

 

   "Hm", said Rosso.

 

   "I noticed Raniero was attacking Sandro", Tristano said from behind. "He must have certainly lost his marbles."

Rosso turned. "Certainly. Perhaps he's colour-blind!"

 

Everyone was laughing. Tino pulled Giano aside into the darkness of the house front alongside the river. He pulled him very close and started to nibble at his earlobe. "Can't we vanish?" he whispered. "I want to sleep with you."

 

Giano's stomach was on fire instantly. Like his groin. Boldly he kissed Tino back; the other people were too occupied with celebrating anyway. But he was mistaken. "What the hell is that?" Rosso suddenly exclaimed, then he bit his lip instantly. He nudged Luca and pointed to the houses where Giano and Tino stood in an unmistakable embrace. Luca took in a sharp breath and heat flooded over him. He met Tristano's eyes and looked over to Carolina, Tris' girlfriend who had been silent for the whole evening. Something was going on between them; he had heard them quarrelling earlier. Her eyes grew large.

 

Luca looked away and said nothing. This was one of those days that would have been better if I'd remained in bed, he thought. He emptied his paper cup of wine and then something kicked in. Maybe it was the wine or the stress of the day, he said "So what, it's my brother with his boyfriend. You have a problem with that?" He stared piercingly into Rosso's eyes.

 

Giuliano stopped his snogging and fumbling and turned to Luca. "What are you arguing about?"

 

Rosso pointed his head towards Giano and Tino, who had stopped kissing and were now holding hands. Giuliano tried a grin, but it dropped fairly quickly from his face. He frowned then. "What's that? I never knew your brother was a queer."

 

Luca squashed the cup in his hand and threw it on the ground. Then he turned and walked towards his brother.

 

   "Luca, no", Rosso chased after him. "Wait. Giuliano's sorry, he didn't mean to say that."

 

   "But he did, so leave me alone, Rosso, and go back to your straight friends."

 

He darted another long glance to Tristano who reciprocated Luca's look. "And if you want to know, MY boyfriend's Alessandro Gondi." He turned again, taking Giano's arm and started to walk away with him.

 

   "Luca!" Rosso was again at his side. He was shocked but he didn't want to lose his friend. "For Christ sake, stay put. We have to talk."

 

   "Madonna, I don't want to talk", Luca freed himself from Rosso's grasp. "I have to face an argument with my parents now."

 

   "Now? They know?"

 

   "Yeah, they know."

 

   "Thanks to me", Tino chimed in. "Sorry, buddy", he said to Luca. "I guess this is not a good day for me", but Luca shook his head. It felt about time for his coming out.

 

Tristano was staring at him while Caro was still talking to him. He shrugged her off. On Giuliano's face was painted disgust.

 

 

   "Listen, Rosso", Giano said now. "It's been a long day. We'll talk tomorrow, ok?" He turned to his brother. "I'm not going home. Are you?"

 

   "I must", Luca said tiredly. "If you won't then I'll have to face it alone. I couldn't sleep otherwise."

 

Giano looked sadly at Tino and pressed his hand. "See you later. Wait for me, yes?"

 

   "I'm coming with you."

 

   "No. See you later." He took Luca's arm and went with him along the river bank, turning into the quarter of Santa Croce, their home. Luca felt Tristano's stares on his back.

 

 

*

 

Clarissa and Niccolò sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. It was around eleven but none of the Montori's thought about sleep. They had Dante and Marcello kept in hospital and the house was empty. The smoke from Niccolò's pipe wavered through the open window and the kitchen clock was ticking away. "Nico", started Clarissa. "What are we going to do now?"

 

   "They will be all right soon. Though Dante won't be able to work for some time."

 

   "I don't mean that, Niccolò, and you know it very well. I've thought about the other thing."

 

   "And?"

 

   "They are still the same."

 

Niccolò stared surprised into his wife's blue eyes. She looked tired, but she tried to smile. "Don't you want them happy? Haven't you felt Giano's distance? He wasn't happy with us. Whenever he tried to speak about himself you blocked it."

 

   "So, it's my fault? You've known for the whole time?"

 

   "I guessed it was so. He was never interested in girls. You must have noticed."

 

Niccolò gave a snort but didn't know what to answer. That Clarissa took it so easily he couldn't comprehend. Words floated through his mind: ass-fucker ... shit-stabber ... camp queen ... should his sons be called that? But then, were the people that homophobic? Really? Or was it his own prejudices?

 

   "It's an unhealthy love", he muttered then. "Have you never heard about AIDS? And anyway, you know how they are, speaking of love while they jump from bed to bed. They can't be faithful and have a serious relationship."

 

   "Can't we?" Giano had opened the door, dragging Luca behind him. Both looked tired, sunburnt and sweaty.

 

Clarissa got up and pulled another two cups from the cupboard. "Sit down and have a coffee. It's weak."

 

Luca looked awkwardly at his father who had stuffed himself another pipe. His face was unreadable.

 

   "Can't we?" Giano repeated. "I'm sorry you had to learn it this way, but better short and hurtful than to be a long time hiding. I hid it too long."

 

Luca looked at his brother. He was chatty all of a sudden.

 

Clarissa poured them the weak coffee and added milk and sugar for them both. She sat down then and sighed. "Your father just fears that you won't be able to be happy in your life."

 

   "Because of the neighbours or because I can't find the right man for me?" Giano asked.

 

   "Because you chose the hard way. Being gay is special and not normal", Niccolò said.

 

   "We are not common, pappa, that's different to being not normal. We are normal. Geez, how many gays do you know?"

 

Niccolò thought instantly of Coppo.

 

   "And you", Giano looked at his mother. "What about your idol Rock Hudson, eh? Did he look gay? Was he a limp-wristed queer? Was he a sissy, a cry baby?"

 

On Clarissa's face appeared a small smile. "Of course not. That man..." she sighed with some longing.

 

   "Then can you tell me one good reason not to be gay?"

 

   "To be keen on women?" Luca chimed in, very softly, but Clarissa had heard it. She grinned now, stretched out her arm and ruffled Luca's hair. "You're much too young to know whom you love."

 

   "I'm not!" Luca protested. "I'm seventeen, that's quite old enough."

 

   "And it isn't infectious in case you think I've infected my little brother", Giano said. "He didn't know that I..."

 

Niccolò still said nothing. He absorbed his son's words though and tried to figure out the truth in them. Coppo said his fear of AIDS was laughable when you were careful. Niccolò thought he had brought up his sons well enough to have enough of a brain to care for themselves. Still... there was danger. Wasn't the world full of perverts? And what do you count as a pervert? Men loving men? Women loving women? Just because the pope thought so and his old fashioned thinking entourage?

 

   "Is it Alessandro Gondi?" Clarissa asked quietly, looking at Luca. "We have heard rumours, but thought that this was just the bad talking of jealous people. It's true, yes?" She saw Luca nodding and thought about the attractive noble young man with his excellent manners and the appearance of a Raphael-angel. But yet he had another side; a wild, untamed behaviour that carried the conviction that he and his ancient family was allowed to treat people as their servants.

 

   "How is he?" she asked. 

 

   "Broken nose and toes. He looks like Zorro."

 

   "Zorro?"

 

   "He is wearing a mask for his nose. I guess he'll never look the same." Luca's voice sounded more animated, now that the feared argument seemed to have cleared up into a serious talk.

 

   "What a pity", Clarissa said heartfelt.

 

   "No, it won't be bad. I'm keen on broken noses."

 

Giano suddenly burst out in laughter. "You never told me!"

 

   "You never told me that you're keen on bellies!"

 

Laughter filled the Montori's kitchen. Even Niccolò joined in with a grin. He shook his head. He had never seen his sons so cheerful. He couldn't be mad with them. Clarissa was right. They were still the same as before. No, she wasn't right. Giano and Luca had been silent and without trust. Now they were open and perhaps for the first time he could see their very being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3

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Luca had slept with Alessandro's family cross tightly clutched in his palm. He had gone with Giano to the Gondi-palazzo to spend the night there in Sandro's bed, while Giano had been eager to return to his lover. Luca wiped the sleep from his eyes as the sun seeped through the closed curtains, hiding the open loggia. He shivered a bit from the cool breeze. Instantly his thoughts went to the events of last night. His coming out to his friends. His reconciliation with his parents. Sandro's injuries. Giano's first lover. He jumped up when his mobile started ringing. He hurried to his jeans and rummaged in the pocket. It wasn't Sandro but Rosso's phone number that appeared in the display. Naked he stood and decided quickly whether to answer it or not. "Rosso?" he said finally.

 

   "Yeah. What's up?"

 

   "If you mean my parents, they are cool."

 

   "Really? Oh gosh, if I'd had come out to my family they would have beaten me", he said seriously. "How come?"

 

Luca shrugged. He was cold and crept back into bed. He found the Gondi-cross between the sheets and closed his fingers around the cold metal. "I'm not sure. I have the feeling mother knew somehow."

 

 

   "Cool. But now, tell me, how all this happened? I mean, how did you meet? And all..."

 

   "What all? I won't give you a report of my sex life." Luca grinned into the phone.

 

   "No? While I want to know everything! Does it hurt?"

 

   "What hurts?" Luca moaned. Rosso could be a plague. "Put a sausage into your butt and you'll know", he said giggling.

 

   "Ouch. How can you enjoy that??"

 

   "You're a bambino, Rosso", Luca said pretty precociously and knew that he had something in his life for the first time that couldn't be grasped by his friends. And it felt good.

 

   "Ok." Rosso avoided exploring the theme. "Giuliano is pissed. He told Micky the news hot off the press and they were both pissed at how you turned into a fag. They said all fags are hairdressers or ballet dancers and dressed as drag queens. Do you wear stockings in your spare time?"

 

Luca hooted with laughter. "Tell them to fuck off. And besides, who was wearing stockings yesterday, eh? You think all the musicians are gay?"

 

   "And how long have you known? Have you never had a crush on me?"

 

Luca's face was a question mark. "Well..." He paused to think. "If you're asking me... why not? I dream of your red hair."

 

   "Stronzo. Don't you dare do that. Shall I come over?"

 

   "I'm picking up Sandro later."

 

   "Oh. Well, then you'll be busy. With the sausage."

 

Luca chuckled, but doubted that Sandro would be interested in sausages. That suited him well. He needed cuddling urgently.

 

   "Rosso? Thank you."

 

   "Pleasure. I'll call you later then. And tell Giano that his boyfriend is really ok."

 

Luca was still beaming as the streams of hot water poured over his head. He stood there for a long time, feeling the water prickling his skin, arousing him when the foam slid down his body, meeting his sensitive parts. For the first time Luca felt thoroughly happy. No matter what his brothers would do to him in the future; he felt that he now had protection from his parents. Even his stern father hadn't any further objections. It was probably just a matter of ignorance and prejudices. He would come around in the end.

 

*

Giano was pressed into the mattress of the bed and felt Tino shoot into his condom. He had come some seconds before and soiled the sheet. Tino lay down against Giano's back, purred satisfied like a big cat and bit softly at Giano's hairline on his neck. "Will you move in with me?" he mumbled sleepily. Giano's eyelashes fluttered and before he could give an answer he had drifted off. An hour later he heard Tino's steady breathing, still lying upon him, his head heavy upon his shoulder blade, his penis still stuck within him. He tried to lift himself up and Tino stirred. "Sorry, buddy. What's the time?" He pulled out carefully, holding the rim of the condom and gave Giano's ass cheeks two resounding kisses. "What a mess we made."

 

Giano turned and felt the sting again, but he didn't mind. He pulled Tino's head down to him and started to kiss him so that Tino panted for breath after a while.

 

   "Wow. I don't think I can stand it if you don't wake up with me each morning."

 

   "Morning, eh? It's almost noon." Giano suddenly realized where they were. "Geez, what's with Luca? He wanted to pick up Sandro. You'll have to drive. I can't." He rolled out of bed, Tino on his heels, then under the shower.

 

Franco and Claudio had left a note on the kitchen table to say that they were out sightseeing. They hadn't any clue about yesterday's events.

 

   "How are your straight friends taking it?"

 

   "They're more Sandro's friends and don't seem to bother." Giano lifted the top off the coffee jar. "Empty. Here's some toast. Want some?"

 

Giano found Luca sleeping in a wicker chair in the loggia. An ancient looking book had slid into his groin and he looked peaceful. A golden enamel cross on a golden chain was placed upon his naked chest. Giano had never seen it before. "Luca", he whispered and shook his brother's arm. "Wake up. We have to pick up Sandro."

 

Luca stirred and opened his eyes. Then he stopped the book from sliding down to the ground. "Oh. Did I fall asleep?" He rose and put the book back carefully into a drawer. "Have you eaten?"

 

   "A little. The cross it's new? Where did you get it from?"

 

Luca clutched it. "Yeah. The Gondi cross."

 

   "Looks valuable. Another present like the leather suit?" Giano didn't know what to think about Alessandro giving his brother those gifts. It completely changed his opinion of the Gondi-boy.

Luca nodded and pulled on a shirt. "Coming now."

 

Tino drove Alessandro's red Ferrari and waited until he had got in. He still wore his mask but the swelling seemed to have diminished. He was limping. "Doc said he wants to see me every day. So, I can't return with you tomorrow to Pisa", he said nasally to Tino and Giano. "Here's my sick note, can you deliver it? I'm going to miss a hell of lot of work, shit."

 

Luca felt a sting of joy despite it all. That meant that Sandro would stay with him for at least another week.

 

   "No problem, buddy. I'm sure Franco will help you since he's already gotten through all this."

 

   "Can you ask Leoni to copy her notes of the lectures?"

 

   "Leoni?" Giano asked. "Well, yes. I saw her running after you completely desperate when you was delivered to the first aid. But you were gone already."

 

Luca eyed his lover. He hadn't had time to ask what this odd behaviour of Leoni was all about. But there would be plenty of time to ask later.

 

 

*

 

   "I hear your arse stabber's been released from hospital?" Marcello had appeared out of nowhere, standing in Luca's doorway. Luca had come home to pick up some clothes. His parents had gone to church.

 

   "What are you doing here? I thought you were in hospital as well."

 

   "You didn't answer my question." Marcello's black eye had grown even larger, if possible. His wrists were bandaged and his knuckles were swollen. He was limping slightly.

 

   "Why does it bother you. You look like shit yourself. Didn't work out did it? Sandro outclassed you four times."

 

Marcello made a step forward.

 

   "Luca?" It sounded from downstairs. "Are you there?" It was Clarissa and Luca was relieved. "Yes, I'm here. Marcello's here too."

 

Niccolò stomped up the stairs. "Marcello? I thought you were in bed. You were too sick to come to church, so hurry up and lay down again."

 

   "I want to know about the arse stabber."

 

   "Arse stabber?" Niccolò looked blank. Then he realized what his son meant. "I don't want to hear those words in my house, capisce?"

 

Marcello's face was priceless. He had thought his father would be on his side surely. "No, pappa, you can't agree to this. Gondi has corrupted Luca with his nasty lusting! You can't allow Luca to be treated like a whore. Have you not heard what they're doing?" Marcello's face had reddened, and so had his father's.

 

   "So, what we are doing, tell me", Luca said, clutching a heap of fresh T-shirts.

 

   "Fucking like stray dogs and licking the shit from your cocks afterwards", Marcello hissed directly into Luca's face. "You can't be that perverted to enjoy that. We're decent men. I could kill Gondi for what he's done to you."

 

Niccolò stood petrified at first. Marcello had spoken out what he himself secretly thought. But then his reason won the upper hand. He took Marcello's arm firmly and pulled him aside. "Basta così. You're lucky that your mother didn't hear that. Down, Marcello and you," he looked at Luca, "what're you doing?"

 

Luca was too shocked to say anything. Marcello stomped downstairs. "licking the shit from your cocks ... Fucking like stray dogs..."

 

 

   "I... Sandro's out of hospital. Can I stay with him? Someone has to look after him."

 

   "Haven't they got a nurse?" Niccolò snapped and Luca flinched. His father didn't seem to have calmed down. Perhaps he thought the same as Marcello did. How could he explain what sex with a man really meant? It wasn't dirty. It wasn't filthy. It was jut a bit ... messy. Hot. Sexy. Fulfilling.

 

   "Talk with your mother, son", Niccolò said then, resigned. 

 

Luca hurried down, Marcello was nowhere to be seen. Luca felt relief when he saw his mother standing at the stove, cooking the rabbit, the usual Sunday's meal. He smelled the black olives and the red wine, the roasting onions in a pan and suddenly embraced her from behind. He needed that now. He pressed his cheek into her blond, wavy hair and sobbed quietly. Clarissa turned surprised. "Luca? What's happened?" But Luca's eyes were dry. He would never bawl like a kid.

 

   "Bad news from the hospital?"

 

   "No. He's out. He's waiting for me." Luca released his mother and looked aside, embarrassed. "Marcello's here." Luca swallowed the rest. No way he would tell his mother what he had said.

Niccolò entered the kitchen, sat silently at the table and stuffed his pipe.

 

   "Can I go and care for him? He has to stay for a week at least. He's not going back to Pisa for a while."

 

   "Oh. Better this way. There's nobody else who can care for him?"

 

Luca thought briefly about calling Anastasia. It probably would be a good idea since Luca had to go to work. "Well, the housekeeper. I just have to call her. She's at Fiesole. The Gondi's have a villa there."

 

   "I know." She stroked Luca's hair off his sunburnt forehead. "Dante has to stay in hospital too. We'll visit him later. Come with us?"

 

Luca shook his head vehemently. "I don't think Dante wants to see me." Clarissa must have missed the quarrel they had lately he thought.

 

Niccolò cleared his throat. "I don't share Marcello's opinion", he said out of the blue to Luca. "I talk to him later."

 

Clarissa looked uncomprehending and then stirred the pot. "You're eating with us?" she asked.

 

Luca shook his head.

 

   "But yes. Or I'll give you something from that. There's enough. I cooked too much."

 

 

 

Alessandro didn't want to eat. He laid in bed and was dozing. He had difficulty breathing and was lying with an open mouth. So Luca left the rabbit for Giano and Tino who stayed in their room. Luca didn't blame them. He couldn't eat either. To distract himself he pulled out Masolino's diary from the drawer and turned the pages. Masolino's tight handwriting was difficult to decipher, but he had got used to it. He had read it over and over until the end, but was never tired of reading it again. It gave such a clear, visible view of a long gone period of time where the Florentine painter had started to work a miracle in the world. And the best of it was that the result of all this was still there for him to see. He remembered their visit at the Brancacci-chapel, the clear, freshly renovated freschi, telling the story of San Pietro and his miracle deeds and remembered too what really happened in this chapel. Masolino, laying on the marble floor, being penetrated by Masaccio who in turn was being fucked by his own brother... an atrocity even to the free spirited Florentines. And hadn't Masolino mentioned that it was dangerous, that they could get caught because the catholic priests had eyes everywhere? Alessandro had told him that it was decades after that Florence had become besotted with young men in their tight stockings, short skirts and pouches, showing off what they had, or stuffing out what they didn't have. It was the time of Brunelleschi, Donatello, Verrocchio... and Michelangelo, Leonardo, born much later, the time of Sodomo, Rosso Fiorentino.... all gay as you can get.

 

 

"Budapest, Aprile 1429

 

I was devastated. I prayed it would go away. I prayed it would never go away. What had started as secret play which we enjoyed, had developed into an atrocity that was too much for me. I was not so young anymore to accept it as children's careless play.

 

   "If you don't want to then there's Giovanni waiting for me", Tommaso explained to me, and fluttered his long, black eye lashes at me, so I had to give in each night. I did it with lust and for the short hours between dusk and dawn I was the happiest man that lived in Firenze, because I had found true fulfilment. I begged for more whenever he lifted his body from my bed. I begged for more when he was undressing me to examine me and make a drawing of me in all possible positions.

 

   "Where do you think Giotto, the grande maestro, gets his flawless perfection from?" Tommaso asked me, while I was crouched on the ground and he made a charcoal drawing of my rear profile.

 

   "Those muscles and tendons have to be explored." He dropped his short painter's coat and stood naked like a stature. "Look at the connections of leg and abdomen. You see the bones and sinews?"

 

Tommaso tensed his leg's muscles. "And here", he slid over his upper thigh with a handful of olive oil. It glistened instantly in the lamp's light, making the muscles clearly defined.

 

With another quick motion he oiled his backside and I knew what was waiting for me. Oh, the lust! When he was mounting me as he climbed his horse. When he shook my soul and consumed me. I could not live without that. Even when it was Giovanni joining us, when I opened my tired eyes again, looking at the younger brother's backside cheeks clenching and releasing their muscles, straddling me, and Tommaso was giving him pleasure in caressing his private parts with his mouth?

 

I am ashamed. If anyone finds this book of memories I will be dead. Sodomy. Incest. My head is screaming. Like my body."

 

 

Luca sensed a tightness in his jeans. His own penis was straining against the fabric, screaming for release. The chap, Masolino, must have gone through hell, considering the catholic upbringing and presence tearing his heart apart. And the end was going to be worse, at least Luca feared that, for the last pages of the diary were missing. Probably Masolino had destroyed them so nobody would find out what happened in the end.

 

From his bed Sandro was looking at him. "Have you finished it? What do you think?"

 

   "Finished, yes, long time ago. I just need it for stimulation", he said grinning.

 

   "Ah, you've got to the point with the three-some's then, yes?"

 

   "Yes." Luca closed the book and sat down on Alessandro's bed. Sandro had noticed Luca's bulge and was stroking it through his jeans. "Good job of Masolino", he chuckled, but then breathed hard through his nose. "God, this thing is killing me." He looked regretfully at Luca. "I can't give you what you want, gioia, I'd suffocate."

 

Luca smiled understanding. He started to undress himself and slipped under the covers. He helped Sandro undressing, careful of his many wounds and stroked Sandro's firm testicles. "Do you think one of them killed Masaccio? Or did he really die of the plague?"

 

   "Not sure," Sandro panted. Luca's fingers now embraced his erect penis. Luca vanished under the covers and swirled his tongue around the tip, licking the drops, sucking on the under side at the rim and heard Sandro breathing like a steam train. He doubled his efforts now to protect Sandro from any more pain, although he loved to take his time. Hot fluid shot into his mouth and he swallowed. He appeared again above the covers and saw Sandro's chest heaving, a blissful expression on his face. He wiped his mouth and said "Marcello said we lick the shit from our cocks."

 

Alessandro blinked. "This he calls shit?" Gently he wiped white drops from Luca's lips. "I think it has a different colour. Dark like his soul." He kissed Luca's lips, opened them and battled with his tongue. "What should I say about that?" he said then, dropping his head back to the pillow. "Does anyone know about the diary?" His fingers had now found Luca's straining erection and was stroking it gently. Luca moaned and bucked against Sandro's hip. "I doubt it. I take good care to hide it."

 

   "You know, I think about going to Rome and visiting the chapel where it happened."

 

   "Going to Rome? When?" Luca rolled onto his back and enjoyed Sandro's stroking fingers until he couldn't control himself anymore. Alessandro fished for a tempo and grinning cleaned his fingers and Luca's belly. "Have you told him it's a mess?" he asked.

 

   "Huh?"

 

   "Marcello."

 

Luca sighed and turned to his side, watching Sandro's face.

 

   "No, my father hurried him out. Later he told me he doesn't think like my brother."

 

   "That's a good start. Perhaps they'll get used to us."

 

   "Perhaps."

 

Alessandro sniffed and then opened the velcro fastening of his mask at the back of his head. He pulled it down and gingerly touched the skin over his nose. He had yellow-brown bruises under his eyes and the top of his nose was reddish. There was a little bump. "How does it look?" he asked silently. "I look like a monster, eh?"

 

   "Certainly not." Luca examined him. "The bruises will go away and this little something here", he carefully touched Alessandro's nose, "is just lovely. It adds to your attractiveness."

 

   "Attractiveness? With a broken nose? And what about the cut here?" He pointed to his left eyebrow that had a cleft and the stitches were still visible. "Do you think that I'm still the most pretty boy in the university?" He tried to raise his brows but twisted his lips in pain. Luca bent over and gave him a kiss. "You'll always be."

 

Alessandro gave a sad, disapproving snort and sighed.

 

   "Hey", Luca said, embracing Alessandro's body, stroking his hips. "Do you really think people only like you because of your looks?"

 

   "People doesn't like me at all", Alessandro quipped. "They just see my family behind me. The powerful, rich Gondi's, ah! Make room for the Gondi's! They provide the mayor! They've houses and villas!"

 

   "I like you for what you are", Luca said.

 

   "And what am I to you? I wasn't only nice to you. Now I'm always sick and you're becoming my nurse when we should actually be lying in the sun, going swimming, going to cinema or having a ball at one of the open air discothèques."

 

Luca had to laugh. "Ah, carino, that's your problem, yes? Did you always take your girlfriends to those activities and now you think I'm bored with you because you can't offer me any of that? Do you really think I'm that shallow?"

 

Alessandro gave him a long glance. "No", he said then slowly. "I don't think you're shallow at all. That's what makes the difference. I've seldom met a guy like you."

 

   "Was that a compliment?"

 

Alessandro nodded.

 

Luca grinned. "Now, tell me, what do you want at that church in Rome?"

 

  "To look at what's beneath the chapel." Alessandro turned on his side and propped himself up on his elbow. "You know where Masolino's diary ended: in the chapel of Santa Caterina di Alessandria. Masolino had the commission to paint there while Masaccio followed him there shortly after. He couldn't live without him I suppose." He grinned and playfully nudged Luca's nose. "Like me."

 

Luca let out a burst of his pearly laughter. "Without the diary or without me?"

 

Alessandro locked eyes with Luca and bit his lip. "You're a great nurse, so I'll go for the latter", he said with a bit of an effort.

 

   "I should roll you out of bed for that comment", Luca said and hid a grin. But he knew that Sandro avoided saying what he really felt.

 

   "I'll call Anastasia and ask her to do the shopping", he said then. "I have to work all day, so there's nobody to care for you."

 

   "Gosh, I can go myself!"

 

   "With those feet? Certainly not."

 

Alessandro fell back onto the pillows and sighed He had never been So helpless in his life before, and he didn't want depend on Luca. It was just embarrassing.

 

But Luca had rolled out of bed and was dressing again. Regretfully Alessandro looked at his naked back. He watched Luca taking his mobile and dialling the number of the Gondi villa at Fiesole. He listened to the short conversation and learned that Anastasia would come tomorrow. And what was he supposed to do here all the time?

 

   "I'll make us something to eat, I'm hungry", Luca said and rushed downstairs without waiting for an answer.

 

Down in the kitchen he found Franco and his friend Claudio at the table, bent over the newspaper. "Ah, Luca, look at this", Franco said.

 

   "Have you both been in bed all this time?" Claudio asked giggling and received a thump from Franco. "Sandro's ill, the newspaper says. How is he? You've picked him up?"

 

   "Yes. He's all right more or less. So, what does the newspaper say?" Luca turned the pages to the front page and saw a big photo of Alessandro and a small one beside it with him carrying the ball and running up the sandy pitch. "Viva Gondi! Viva San Giovanni!" it read. A large article about the Calcio in Costume followed, with a listing of injured players as if they should be proud to get as hurt as possible. Luca shook his head. "From the most-hated to a hero", he mumbled, and continued reading the article.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

   "How's Alessandro?"

 

Luca looked at his teacher, who had taken him aside and was looking at him expectantly.

 

 

   "His housekeeper is caring for him", Luca answered reserved. He didn't know why Coppo should be interested in Sandro's welfare nor even that he knew that they were friends. Or more than just friends.

 

   "And your brothers?" Coppo continued.

 

   "Um, Dante's still in hospital. The concussion's pretty bad."

 

   "Sorry to hear that. He wont be back at work for a while anyway due to his broken arm. We'll miss his good work." Coppo paused. "Marcello too. He can't work with his wrists. We'll miss them both. Sorry about all this. We're a rough kind of people, for sure, aren't we."

 

Luca didn't know what to answer. He shuffled his feet, eager to go away and talk to Tristano who was sitting alone at their table, sorting through his instruments.

 

Coppo sensed that Luca wasn't willing to give him more information. After his talk with Niccolò, Luca's father, he had put two and two together and came to the conclusion that Alessandro Gondi was Luca's boyfriend. Why the young noble man had hung his heart at the even younger, Coppo wasn't quite sure. Luca was a sweetheart, that was obvious, but he certainly couldn't hold a candle to Gondi's colourful personality. Perhaps it was exactly that which Alessandro wanted from Luca: the taming of the shrew so to speak. He remembered well the time when the teenager Alessandro and his so-called friends had been sort of an anti-establishment figures, frightening old women at the cemetery by stealing flowers, interrupting the church services with obscene questions, giving confessions to Padre Castruccio that made the padre start in embarrassment and driving with ear deafening noise through the town on Sunday mornings.

 

Perhaps that had been his way of protesting against the loveless education and upbringing he had suffered. The Gondi's never had been noted for charity and good treatment of others.

 

He looked at Luca's face, from the unruly blond hair, over the dark eyes to the mouth, and detected a determined line around his chin. He had faced his father with the secret he was carrying and Coppo wasn't sure how it had turned out. But there was no way Coppo could ask Luca.

 

   "Go now, the class starts", he said. "Today we'll try different motifs. Have you been out in nature to gather flowers?"

 

   "No", Luca said low. "I haven't had time."

 

Coppo patted his shoulder. "Then use your imagination."

 

Tristano gave him a glance when Luca returned to his seat. He sorted the slate and the bowls with different kinds of stones that were cut into thin plates, the knives, cutter and pencils. "How's he?" he asked quietly.

 

   "Who? Sandro? At home. He won't be going back to Pisa for a while. Can't walk anyway, his toes are broken."

 

   "I'm sorry." But a look into Luca's radiating eyes told him that he hasn't to be sorry. Probably Luca was happy to have him here. Tristano was still shocked about his blunt declaration on the night of the Gioco. Not only that he had being witness to Giano's sexual inclination but then Luca had admitted loudly to everyone that he felt the same. A traitorous blush crept from his neck up to his cheeks when he met Luca's stare.

 

   "You were quarrelling with your girlfriend", Luca said. "What about?"

 

Tristano looked down. She was complaining that he didn't spend much time with her anymore. Whenever she suggested going swimming or having a coffee in an ice café or doing whatever - he had refused. And he knew distinctly what she wanted: to have his sister Isolde's flat for themselves. Isolde was going in a couple of days to America as an exchange student and her flat was free for that time. His heartbeat fluttered. There was no way he was doing that. The two times he had to sleep with her were certainly enough. Somehow he didn't like it.

 

   "Isolde's moving out of her flat", he said instead. "She's going to Boston for a year to continue her study there."

 

   "Wow. And will you move into her flat then?"

 

Luca apparently had the sixth sense. Tristano nodded and Luca caught a brief, excited flash from his blue eyes.

 

   "When will you move then? Shall I help you?"

 

   "No, it's just small stuff. But thanks for the offer."

 

Luca cocked his head. "I hope I'll be invited for a coffee then." He grinned and Tristano's heart made a leap. "Surely", he mumbled. And then Coppo's voice shushed the chattering.

 

*

 

Alessandro dozed in his loggia, his legs upon a chair, his naked upper body in the sun. He had put on his sun glasses and was listening to a CD. The player lay in his lap and he had his eyes closed. He didn't feel the presence of the figure standing to one side, just as its shadow fell over his body he stirred and opened his eyes. Leoni stared at him, her eyes sliding over his body.

 

   "You're hurt", she said. Alessandro struggled to an upright position, pulled the headphones from his ears and taking off his sun glasses.

 

   "Who let you in?"

 

   "Anastasia. She said you were in your room."

 

From behind her back she produced a bunch of flowers. "For you", she said and grinned stupidly. Alessandro felt pissed. Flowers. From her. "What're you doing here actually? I thought you were in Pisa like the rest of them." He took the flowers. "Thanks for these."

 

Leoni beamed. She wore her shortest, pink skirt and a sleeveless top. Alessandro couldn't be untouched by that. After all there had been a time when he had been keen on her. "I thought I'd look after you. There's nobody else who can, but I was surprised to find Anastasia here. Did you call her?"

 

   "Luca did. And he'll care for me when he's back."

 

   "Oh." Leoni pulled up the second wicker chair and sat down. "Well, the little boy certainly won't be a great help."

 

   "Little boy?" Alessandro chuckled at the thought. Luca was a head taller than Leoni. "Luca's much more of a help than you'll ever be", he said nastily.

 

   "Help you in what? In your bed?" Leoni snapped.

 

Alessandro stared wickedly. "Exactly. I can't remember that you ever were."

 

Leoni's face flamed with red. Only Sandro's injuries stopped her from slapping his face. He had deflowered her - and it was all too clear that the fact didn't make a skilful temple whore of her. Why did men have to be so insensitive. But she held back her anger. Arguing with him wouldn't bring her closer to her aim. She carefully touched Alessandro's naked chest and avoided the red, sore spots where the sand had scraped the skin. "I've learnt a lot more since then", she said with honeyed voice. "I'm not the inexperienced, shy virgin anymore. And besides, you returned to my bed, so you must have enjoyed it. Didn't you?" Her lashes fluttered.

 

He looked her over, from her naked, brown legs over her naked arms to the pink eye shadow. In the old days that weren't that long ago, he continued the sentence in his mind. That was the time of searching and finding for himself. Why not try out hundred percent of humankind and not only the fifty society allowed him? And with a jolt he realized a possibility.

 

   "Not inexperienced anymore?" he repeated her words. He lifted his upper body and looked directly into her face. "How many have you had in the meantime? Lots?"

 

   "Surely. Dozens."

 

Alessandro laughed out loud. "I don't believe you. Who do you want to lay next? Me? To prove that you can more than to lay stock still like a block of wood and let me do the job?"

 

She blushed at his blunt complaint but decided not to give in. "I can certainly give you a better blow job than the boy", she quipped, not quite convinced. She looked uncertainly at him.

 

Alessandro still laughed and shook his head. "That's not enough."

 

   "Shall I prove it? Right now?" She looked over to his dishevelled bed. Alessandro followed her look. "I'm not fit enough to fuck you", he said. "Why would I want to anyway?" Right, he thought, get her on the hook. Perhaps she was the right girl to save his money. Instantly he scolded himself. You can't use people like marionettes. You will break the hearts of everyone - including your own. And what will you do with all the money if you lose Luca? Would he understand? No, he wouldn't. He had tried too often to talk Sandro out of it.

 

   "You wouldn't regret it", Leoni promised and now touched his upper thigh. Her fingers crept up, dangerously close to his groin. His cock twitched. Damn that.

 

He rose and limped from the loggia. "When do you return to Pisa? I told Franco to ask you to send your notes from the seminars.  I don't want to miss too much."

 

Leoni looked disappointed as she followed him. He looked too good dressed only in his jeans, despite his bruises and broken nose. The locks of his brown hair fell into the nape of his neck and Leoni would had given a lot to burrow her fingers into it. Damn Luca Montori who had this all.

 

   "If there's nothing for me to do here... tomorrow", she said finally, searching his eyes for a sign of encouragement to stay longer. She didn't find any. "Well, I'll send my notes and books if you want", she whispered. The bunch of flowers lay forgotten upon the earth in the loggia. Try harder next time, she encouraged herself.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Luca looked down at Alessandro while he was straddling him, feeling Sandro's palms stroking up and down Luca's cock as he was riding him. Fresh skin had grown over the cuts on Sandro's skin and the bruises under his eyes had become more and more faint until only a shade reminded him of the accident. His broken nose still made it difficult to breath, but Luca loved to hear his panting although his snoring at night was a little annoying. Luca grinned and tried to concentrate on the thickness that stretched him inside, a slippery sensation like silk rubbing his skin. He slid a bit to the right and an explosion of stars behind his eyes followed. His penis jerked in Sandro's palm and Luca stopped his movements. He didn't want to end it all too soon, despite that Sandro had hit the delicious spot. He bent forward, rested his arms on both sides of Sandro's head and kissed him fervently, careful not to touch his nose. Alessandro was holding him tightly. It had been three days since Leoni's appearance and Sandro still hadn't told him about. The flowers he had given to Anastasia, but his books had arrived along with Leoni's notes of the lectures which were carefully done and very helpful. She apparently had taken a lot of effort with them.

 

Luca twitched his anus and Alessandro moaned into Luca's mouth. "Don't do that or I'll come instantly", he mumbled. Luca giggled.

 

   "Your little friend Tris has moved?" Sandro said, distracting himself.

 

Luca rose again and looked into his face. "Not yet. Tomorrow. I'll go and help him a bit if that's alright with you?"

 

   "Sure it is. Leave an sick and ill man like me alone and have fun with others", Alessandro joked. He grasped Luca's cock and played with the oozing slit. "Stop teasing me", Luca moaned. "He's dumped his girlfriend."

 

   "In favour of you?" Alessandro now stroked the rim of Luca's glans. If he slept with Leoni he would have nothing to play with... With his palm he encircled the whole thickness. Luca's cock seemed to have grown over the past months, he thought. Probably at seventeen he still wasn't full grown. What fun to come,  Alessandro thought, grinning to himself.

 

   "Stupid", Luca said. "He doesn't flutter his lashes at me, if that's what you mean."

 

   "No?" Alessandro humped and Luca saw stars again. "I'm sure he's besotted with you."

 

Luca moaned and for the next five minutes he said nothing at all until the climax shook him. Like Alessandro he lost his senses for a brief moment. Luca fell forward into Alessandro's arms and lay his head next to Sandro's. "How many months have we been together?" he muttered when his breath had calmed. "Three months?"

 

 

   "Why d'you ask?" Alessandro was stroking Luca's damp hair at his neck.

 

   "I liked the sex without, in the bath tub, you remember?"

 

  "In conclusion you don't like the sex with?"

 

   "No, it's just..." Luca held the rim of the condom and lifted his body up. He peeled it from Alessandro's penis, twirled the rim, then carried it into the bathroom. "That's because", he said when he reappeared. Alessandro grinned and shook his head.

 

   "You think it a sign of unfaithfulness when I won't give up using condoms?" he asked then.

 

   "Not exactly." Luca crept into the bed again and pulled the blankets over them. Alessandro shoved his leg over Luca's and cuddled close to him. "I could never do that to you", he said softly and was ashamed.

 

A knock on the door disturbed them. "Sandro?" Anastasia's voice sounded through the wooden door. "It's the ambulance come to pick you up. You have to go."

 

   "Shit." Alessandro sat up and jumped out of bed. "Ouch", he cried. Bloody toes. "I'm coming!" he shouted. Luca dressed hurriedly and then helped Alessandro to get into his clothes. Anastasia waited in the hallway in front of the lift that Fran had repaired and for what Alessandro was very thankful.

 

Luca decided to go out and do a bit of shopping; Sandro didn't like it when he was lounging around outside like a nervous clucking mother hen. He couldn't help him at the moment anyway.

 

The heat outside smashed like a hot wash cloth into his face. Inside the Gondi palazzo it was so refreshing cool... After a visit to an alimentari where he bought fresh pasta, a clothes shop where he bought underpants and a new shirt - all from his first pay check - he decided to look at the usual hang out for his school friends. He hadn't seen Rosso since the Saturday of the Gioco.

 

He recognized the red shock of Rosso's hair quickly, as usual bent over his coppa of ice cream. Luca felt a slight sense of unease when he saw Giuliano next to him with a girl on his arm. It wasn't the same one as at the Gioco. Luca sighed but went in, tapped on Rosso's shoulder and said "ciao".

 

Rosso beamed. "Hey, what's up, buddy. Haven't seen you for a while." He patted the seat next to him and Luca dropped onto it. He caught Giuliano's stare and looked away.

 

   "Another coppa", Rosso shouted to the waiter and Luca had to grin at Rosso's familiar behaviour. "How's Sandro?" he asked. "We read in the newspaper that he's suffering. Have there been any journalists to interview him?"

 

   "Huh?"

 

   "Because there was an interview in the press. You must know."

 

   "I know nothing." Either Sandro had hid the incident or the interview was a fake. Weird.

 

   "Anyway", Rosso chattered on, "it was great. Everyone's still speaking of it."

 

   "It's a long time since the Gioco has been that bloody", Luca admitted, receiving his coppa of ice. Strawberry, vanilla and chocolate - as he liked it. Rosso knew him too well.

 

   "How's your fag brother Giano? He's still studying or fucking in Pisa?" Giuliano's deep voice sounded up. He had raised an eyebrow and his black eyes examined Luca.

 

  "I suppose he's doing the same as you", Luca said sternly. "Fucking." He darted a look to the girl next to Giuliano. She blushed.

 

Rosso tried to laugh. "Stop this, man", he said to Giuliano. "Luca's right. What's the difference?"

 

Giuliano growled. "There certainly is a difference. I don't fuck the shit..."

 

   "I said stop it!" Rosso said sharply. "How old are you? I thought this was the nasty talk of an old bugger who doesn't know any better."

 

Giuliano rolled his eyes but said nothing.

 

   "I hope he'll soon be all right", Rosso said to Luca whose heartbeat pounded painfully. How many times would he have to face this again? But he bravely started to eat his ice. "Hope so too, but then he'll be gone, back to Pisa." Giuliano and his girlfriend smirked. "Michele said you're a pervert."

 

Rosso made a quick movement and emptied the half full Cinzano glass over Giuliano's lap. Giuliano jumped up, cursing.

 

   "Looks as if here's a baby that has peed his trousers", Rosso said indifferently, watching Giuliano rubbing his serviette over the centre of his crotch. His girlfriend took him by the arm and they both vanished.

 

Rosso grinned.

 

   "Thanks", Luca said. "But I guess I can defend myself now." Nonetheless he looked thankfully at his friend. Why did he do it? Was he himself....

 

   "I can't stand it when someone is harassing people just because they're different", Rosso said, leaning back and eying Luca. "It's not because I'm ... like you. In case you wondered", he added.

 

Luca smiled and winked. "Too bad, actually."

 

 

 

____________________

 

4

_____________________

 

 

Another Monday Luca thought when he woke up in his own bed at Palazzo Montori. It had become so unfamiliar to him that he'd had difficulties falling asleep. He had lain awake, thinking about Sandro. He had gone yesterday, back to Pisa. Giano and Celestino had come to pick him up in his red Ferrari. The docs had given their OK although he had to visit the hospital in Pisa. Luca felt lonely. Hopefully he would be able to go and visit him next weekend. He didn't know how he would survive the next days. All of a sudden the bond had become deeper.

 

Rain was clashing on the window sills. The heat had broken, and Florence would probably settle into a row of rainy, cold days, and this in the middle of July. But then... it was only a fortnight until August and the workshop would close for a month. Everybody was going on holiday; leaving the town to the tourists. Those stupid enough to chose the hot season for a visit when many shops, museums and restaurants were closed.

 

He remembered Rosso's invitation to go to Forte dei Marmi in August. But that offer seemed years ago - in a time when he hadn't come out to his friends, before he had lost Giuliano and Michele with just Rosso remaining friends. And he hadn't talked with Sandro about his plans for the summer yet.

 

Moaning Luca peeled off his bed cover and dressed in his pyjamas. He was used to sleeping naked, and Sandro wouldn't tolerate them anyway. Luca grinned to himself, tapped over the hall into the bathroom. Marcello was showering behind the curtain so Luca opened the toilet seat, sat down and peed. Clarissa wouldn't tolerate a standing man at the toilet.

 

   "Your arse stabber's gone I hear", Marcello said, stepping out of the tub, fishing for a towel. Luca eyed his low hung, hair covered balls and his penis that swung with every movement. Marcello noticed the glance and wriggled his arse. His penis and balls jumped from side to side and Luca looked away. "Like what you see?" Marcello said.

 

Luca flushed the toilet. "I've seen better."

 

Marcello laughed out loud. It wasn't a friendly laugh. "I bet you haven't. What if I was to stab your little Gondi-friend with it, to make him feel a real cock?"

 

Luca went pale.

 

   "Bet, you haven't thought of that, have you?" Marcello sneered and left the bath room.

 

Luca went to the wash basin and looked into the mirror. Horror was in his eyes. Was this one of Marcello's lame jokes? Or a threat?

 

Skipping breakfast he decided to go to the workshop. It had stopped raining but the streets were wet and glistened. He was much too early and the door was still closed so he searched for a dry spot, sat upon the stairs and stared into nothing.

 

Niccolò found him there later. "What's up, Luca? Running away without having breakfast? Your mother wasn't amused."

 

   "Sorry, Pappa. I couldn't eat." Niccolò pulled him up and went with him through the door. The workshop was filling with workers and students. "Trouble?" Niccolò asked.

 

Luca shook his head.

 

   "Alessandro's gone. Is that the reason?"

Luca said nothing. Niccolò lifted the chin of his youngest son. "Have I ever told you that I'm proud of you?" he said seriously and very quietly so nobody else could hear. "Coppo says you're good. You can be one of the best if you work hard. Please don't give up."

 

Luca's heart leapt. His father had never told him before that he was proud of him. Proud of a pervert son? Proud of a shit stabber? Proud of someone who could be hurt so easily? Physically and mental? Niccolò released his chin and winked. Then he was gone upstairs.

 

 

 

   "I'd like to invite you", Tristano told him over the table. "I'm almost finished with the flat. I mean, Isolde's stuff is still there, but I've brought some of mine. Will you come?"

 

   "Tonight?" Luca asked excited. At least this was something to look forward to. "Sure I will. When? And what shall I bring?"

 

   "Just yourself", Tristano mumbled, giving him an unreadable glance. Then his eyes focused over Luca's shoulder. "Shht", he said and pointed his chin to the door. Luca turned. Raniero shuffled over the threshold, the legs in his half long, baggy trousers, the large feet in black, heavy, ankle-high Nike's and dressed in an over sized shirt. Along with the gap in his teeth, where one front tooth was missing, he looked like a village idiot. He shot Luca a cold look and flopped upon his chair two tables across.

 

Luca and Tristano looked at each other. They both had a queasy feeling.

 

   "Raniero didn't say a single word to you", Tristano said, as they sauntered along the streets which were filled with the after work hour's traffic. An orange coloured bus rumbled over the cobblestones and almost scraped a car. Instead of going home, Tristano had suggested they took a detour to San Marco where they could sit under the old plane trees like a pair of the old men, always sitting there, comfortable in their own presence. At least Luca felt so when he dove

into the green-sprinkled darkness. The rain had stopped and had washed away dust and dirt from the streets, benches and pavements.

 

   "Sure I noticed", Luca said, stretching out his legs. "I know the reason why he played against Sandro at the Gioco. He's infected with Dante's unbelievable stupidity." Suddenly he turned his head and looked directly into Tristano's face. "Have you the feeling that the world is split into two parts; into homophile and homophobic people?"

 

Tristano looked like a scared rabbit. "What's that?"

 

Luca smiled gently. His vocabulary had grown enormously since he had met Sandro. "gay-friendly people and gay haters," he said. Tristano looked as if he wanted to ran away, but then he took a deep breath and that seemed to calm him. "At least in the workshop." He darted a glance to Luca. "But don't you think you exaggerate? I mean, most people don't bother about others sexuality. Do you think about it every second?"

 

I do. Luca could have said, but he didn't. It wasn't even true, although... he definitely thought about sex when he thought about Sandro. Perhaps.. If he stopped thinking of sex would it either be a sign that he loved Sandro for himself, or that his love had ceased. Luca picked up a plane's leaf and plucked it. "Perhaps", he said quietly. Luca could have said much more to that, but he didn't want to scare his friend away. Tristano, next to him, unwrapped a package and offered Luca a piece of a tramezzino. "I have to go shopping now", he said. "You'll be there around eight?"

 

Luca bit into the sandwich and tasted the raw ham. He smiled at Tristano and nodded.

 

* * * * *

 

 

"Budapest, Maggio 1429

 

I had to pass the Badia whose steep clock tower pierced the balmy air. I had always found its warm, honey-ochre tone soothing to my eyes. It was even a bit softer in tone than the hubris of the new cathedral my friend Filippo Brunelleschi was busy covering with a cupola. Such a huge cupola that it was considered as the eighth wonder of the world as the old tales told us about. In the year of 1428 we had all lost our biggest patron: Giovanni di Bicci de'Medici, the head of the family who owned the first bank in town and who because of his good connections to Pope Martin was a good fortune for our town. We had not just lost our patron but also our Gonfaloniere, and only God knew what would happen now that the Albizzi had gained the upper hand in a long quarrelsome fight.

 

I was on my way to discuss the events with my friends Donato and Filippo, which meant I had to pass the Badia where - I knew all too well - Tommaso's younger brother had his new workshop for his paintings and the furniture he created. Also two small rooms where he lived. In whose patronage he had ended up, we did not know - or what he had given for it. Giovanni boasted, the rent for the workshop was little and raised his eyebrows the way Tommaso did when he was proud of himself, waiting for approval. I hurried my feet past the place, for he was certainly at home, waiting for an occasion such as this to let me know that Tommaso had visited him. Again with those raised eyebrows. I hide my eyes so I don't see and I stuff my ears with wool so I don't have to know the sinful action I am part of. But how can I help but know it?

 

Not looking to the side I passed his windows but as if being turned by a divine power my head turned to the right and I caught a glimpse of what I had feared to see. Giovanni standing, his back towards me, a man massaging his utmost private parts, and I was relieved that it was not Tommaso, I was sure of that.

 

From afar I heard the mighty tinkling beats of a hammer hitting stone. Donatello was at work. I lifted the curtain that separated his home from his workshop and saw him covered all over with dust; the white headscarf and the black curls, peering from under it, the face white except for the lines of sweat that had painted little brooks upon it, white the overalls and boots. He was standing upon a trestle and worked the marble from above. I sort of recognized a egg-like marble that had to be the head of something - or rather somebody. He paused and looked down at me. Then he spotted the bread basket I was carrying and clambered down the ladder. "Glad you came, he greeted me. "Andoni's out doing a deal for me and I'm starving".

 

I remembered the small apprentice boy he had undressed to model for his bronze figure of David, the king of the Jews. He pulled back the linen cloth and revealed the freshly baked grey bred, blue grapes, dried figs and a chunk of goat cheese. He beamed and broke a piece from the bread and offered it to me.

 

   "What is it?" I asked and pointed to the block of marble that had the diffuse outline of a body, larger than life-size.

 

  "Giovanni di Bicci's last commission for the Campanile", Donato said sadly. "God knows what we will have to face now."

 

I sighed with him. "Who shall it become? Another David?"

 

   "No, I have had enough of the Davids. This one is for the eastern niche. Habakkuk, the prophet."

 

   "With a bald head?"

 

Donato laughed. "Yes, my working title is "Zuccone", smooth and bald like a pumpkin." He bit into the cheese, then stood up and fetched a bottle of cheap wine. He filled two simple glasses, mixed them with fresh spring water and toasted with me. "To the Zuccone. And may Cosimo be the same blessing as his father was for our town."

 

   "The orient trade still is very lucrative", I said. "And the bank of Medici will grow even more."

 

   "Even more?" Donato asked doubtfully. "The bank of Medici is already the biggest and richest in town. Remember when the Spini's went bankrupt? I lost some of my commissioned works."

 

I nodded and chewed. "Where's Filippo?" I asked then. He was probably at the workshop for the cupola.

 

   "In the Sacristy of San Lorenzo", Donato answered tired. "He works too much. He will ruin himself!" I heard fear for his friend in his words. "And I?" he added bitterly. "I agreed to help him there with the interior. He is such a magnificent architect, Maso, believe me. The cupola will be finished and he will be the greatest architetto in the lands of Italia. At least he has help from Ghiberti for the cupola."

 

   "Oh, I thought he would be too busy with his golden doors for the Battistero."

 

   "Bronze, Maso", Donatello threw in. "He planned to gild it but nobody knows if there will be enough money. Ten large scenes of the Old Testament, imagine that!" He looked at me with inflamed eyes. "And you? What about your own work?"

 

A boy pushed through the drawn curtain and gave Donato a sealed letter. He smiled shyly at me as I beckoned him to sit down with us. He stood next to my friend and Donato had wrapped his arm around the boy's waist while he was reading the letter. He might be sixteen and Donato had dressed him up with new cow-snout shoes and new green stockings. My eyes touched his suspensory that was nicely filled. Donato absentmindedly felt the boy's buttocks, Andoni seemed to enjoy it, then he accepted my invitation to have a little bread with cheese, but he was too shy to sit down with us and vanished through the curtain.

 

Donato had put aside his letter and continued to eat. "Now, what's with your work, Maso? Is it going well? I've heard miraculous things about it."

 

I was surprised. "Indeed? What and from whom?"

 

  "The town is buzzing with rumours, Maso. You and Masaccio, you both are fruitful", he added with a grin.

 

   "Masaccio?" I asked not comprehending.

 

   "That's the secret nickname people have given him." Donato smirked. "The big Tommaso and the little Tommaso."

 

   "Hm." I took a gulp from the herb wine. Who is big and who is little then?" I saw Donate watching me over the rim of his glass. "Lo Scheggia has become popular too", he said slowly.

 

   "I've heard the name, but... who is it?" I asked eagerly, wanting to hear more about the rumours spreading through town.

 

   "What? You doesn't know the name for Masaccio's brother? It's Lo Scheggia, with the wild character. But he's nice, actually". A grin lit Donato's eyes like a flash and he winked at me. "Come on, Maso, I know what is going on. You and Masaccio are a good pair. Or couple."

 

I blushed furiously. How could he say that right to my face. Donato though bent forward. "They call him "the splinter" because it's an euphemism for his ... um, you know what. He sells himself for any good commission." Donato's voice went even lower. "His pole is long and slender and when he stabs you with it, it's like a hot knife going through butter." He twisted his face in appreciation.

 

   "He's young enough to be your son", escaped me. My heart pounded painfully. I certainly knew all about Giovanni's "splinter", and I had to admit that Donato was right.

 

   "Like Masaccio could be yours", Donato grinned. He beckoned me to bend forward. Head to head he whispered, "He wanted to give me money for Andoni, but I refused of course. He sleeps in my bed and only in my bed." His small, brown eyes were close to me and I saw the inflammation caused by the marble dust.

 

What was I suppose to say to this. But Donato had stretched out in his chair again. "I've received a letter from Cosimo de'Medici", he said then and I remembered the sealed letter Andoni had brought. "He wants to continue the collaboration that stopped with his father's death. So I think I can forget my money worries!" He looked so satisfied that I smiled along with him in seriously meant friendship."

 

 

 

Luca had almost forgotten the time while he was laying upon his bed and dreaming of Sandro. Oddly enough in his dreams Sandro has turned into a lad of the 15th century, clad in green stockings. A short, red skirt was bulging over his protruding, tight bum and his upper body was covered with a tight fitting doublet and a white shirt with puffed sleeves. His hair was a mass of reddish-brown curls that reflected the sunshine and his blue, warm eyes were radiating. Luca gave a snort of laughter and he scrambled from his bed to the wardrobe to change his clothes. But seriously, he thought then, Alessandro was made to play a Renaissance puppet -- as if the time had stood still, he still carried some of the noble classic and aristocratic features in his face. His broken nose would only emphasised them, might Sandro could deny it as much as he wanted.

 

Luca rummaged among his T-shirts and tried to find one he hadn't worn already. Finally he examined himself in the mirror with his light blue cotton shirt and a white jeans and laughed at himself. He acted as if he was meeting Sandro, not just a friend. But then.. Luca leaned his face towards his mirror image until his breath was visible. His brown eyes had become lighter in summer, an odd fact caused by the tan of his skin and the bleaching of his hair. Tristano was a friend in need. Possibly tonight was the night of his coming out. That Tris was gay Luca was sure. It was just a matter of realization. Some people had a hard time with that, but Luca had always known. Girls simply hadn't existed for him.

 

   "Ciao, Mamma, Pappa", he shouted into the living room where the TV gave a bluish, flickering lights.

 

   "Don't come back too late, and take the bus instead of walking", Clarissa answered.

 

Since it had started to drizzle again he decided to take the bus and waited impatiently. He was providing a bottle of wine from Alessandro's wine cellar - Sandro certainly wouldn't mind. He hopped onto the dirty orange bus and rumbled through the narrow streets, avoiding the centre of the town, but by passing the big cathedral. Luca saw the bronze doors of the Battistero and remembered the diary. While Masolino was writing it, Lorenzo Ghiberti was working on the ten plates of the Old Testament which he wanted to gild but wasn't sure if there would be enough money to do so. Well, apparently there had been enough money. Despite the drizzle tourist groups stood, watched and listened to their guides. Luca doubted that they would understand a fraction of the meaning. The more he learnt, the more his respect grew. Florence had been the centre of Europe in these old times. And in some ways, it still was. Oddly enough Donatello's Habakkuk, the statue Masolino was witness to its creation, was right there in his workshop for restoration, his father had told him recently. He made a mental note to go and have a look at it.

 

The bus drove to the quarter of houses which had been built in the seventies, not that far away from the old centre of the town. The streets were nicely planted with trees from where rain dropped upon Luca's head. He looked for Tristano's surname and rang the bell.

 

A temptingly delicious scent streamed through the door when Tristano opened it, offering Luca a broad smile. Luca noticed that Tris had also dressed up as if they were having their first date.

 

   "Ciao", he said, stepped into the tiny hall, removed his raincoat and sniffed. "Smells good. You've cooked?"

 

   "Home-made pizza. You like it?"

 

  "Of course." Luca gave him the plastic bag with the bottle and Tristano emitted a little cry. "Madonna, where did you get this from?"

 

   "Huh?" Luca followed Tristano into the small kitchen, that was a bit of a mess with all the plates, bowls, glasses and spoons laying around. "That's an "Est! Est!! Est!!!" from 1945, wow!"

 

   "From 1945 ? Do you think we can still drink it?"

 

   "Surely. But where did you get it from?"

 

   "Sandro's wine cellar."

 

   "Oh." Tristano held the bottle an arm's length away. "Well. we'd better leave it and try one of mine. Probably the Gondi's keep it as an investment."

 

Luca was embarrassed, but Tristano grinned at him and pulled an already open bottle from the fridge. They clinked glasses together "To the pizza", Tristano said and Luca had the impression that Tris was already a bit tipsy. Perhaps he had been giving himself Dutch courage.

 

   "Do you know the funny story about where the wine got its strange name from? Tristano asked then. Luca shook his head.

 

   "Come," Tristano led the way into the living room. "In the 12th century there was a German bishop and the prelate of this bishop was travelling to Rome and had orders to look out for a good wine, so that the following bishop would have a nice drop to drink. So, the prelate stopped off at each inn and each pub and drank and if the wine was good he painted an "Est!" -- "here it is" -- upon the door." Tristano leaned against a cabinet and lifted his glass to Luca. "Well, then he reached Lazio and the small town of Montefiascone and drinking the local wine he was in such raptures that he painted "Est! Est!! Est!!!" - with three exclamation marks - upon the door and the legend goes that he breathed his last later in a puddle of the wine."

 

They both laughed together and clinked they glasses. "Salute!"

 

   "We should have tried that wine" Luca said regretfully, eyeing the room. It was full of light pine wood furniture. "Nice", he said. "From your father's workshop?"

 

   "Yes." Tristano pressed the button on the stereo and the intro of humming voices started. Luca recognized it as Jimmy Somerville's "Don't leave me this way".

 

He wondered why Tris had chosen to play that song, but it could be a coincidence. In the corner beside the window he noticed an aquarium and squatted down to watch the fish while Tristano swayed his hips slightly and tapped his foot to the music. "Hungry?" he asked, pulling Luca to his feet and didn't leave go of his hand as he rushed with him into the kitchen again. He refilled his glass and checked the pizza in the oven. At the same time he removed some longish, black things, that looked like dried car tyres and Luca recognized them as eggplants. Interested he watched Tristano open them and spoon out the soft centre into a bowl. It smelled fruity and oily at the same time. "You like melanzane I hope", Tristano said, while he smoothed the paste and poured olive oil into it.

 

   "I do", Luca said. "I just didn't know you could cook."

 

Tristano gave him a smile and reached over for a little jar. "Cumin" he explained. "You can cut the limone if you want and pour the juice into it." Luca did so while Tristano crushed cumin and garlic in a mortar and afterwards cut a bundle of coriander leaves. He put everything into the eggplant and stirred it. Luca watched Tristano skilfully cut a slice of a sandwich loaf into two halves, open them and toast both halves on the open flame of the oven. Then he spread it with the paste and offered some to Luca.

 

   "Great", he said chewing, "can I have the recipe for my mother?" Tristano eyed him curiously then he refilled both their glasses and said dryly, "it's from the Naked Chef."

 

   "Huh?"

 

Tristano offered Luca another toasted sandwich which he devoured with great enthusiasm. "Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef. He's a cult. Have you never seen him on TV?"

 

   "Does he cook naked then?"

 

Tristano's head flung back as he laughed. "No, I'll give you his cookery book. He's extraordinary." He pressed a bowl with a tomato- and cucumber salad into Luca's hands. "Go along, I'm following with the pizza."

 

   "And more of the melanzane, please", Luca called over his shoulder. He had never thought that the shy Tristano would be so easy going, he said to himself, while he placed the bowl upon the small table under the window. The flat was small but comfortable. Luca wondered where Tristano slept. On the couch?

 

Tris entered the room with two large plates with even larger pieces of fresh, steaming Pizza.

 

   "After the death of my mother I became the chef", Tristano said, taking a knife and fork. "Isolde wasn't interested."

 

   "Oh. I'm sorry." Luca stopped chewing but Tristano smiled. "Cancer", he said. "We were still kids. Well, my stepmother is pretty OK. She works at the Uffizi souvenir shop."

 

   "Sounds stressful." Luca wrapped a thread of cheese around his fork. "Rucola? Prosciutto? Yellow corn, pepperoni and champignons?" he tried to name the ingredients of Tristano's pizza. A game he had always played with Giano.

 

   "And the family pesto", Tristano grinned. The wine bottle was empty and he stood up to fetch another.

 

   "The pizza's great", Luca said. "You should always cook for me." It was escaped before he though about what he was saying. But then, Luca didn't want to watch each of his words in case it could be taken the wrong way. He leaned back, grinned cheekily at Tris and saw him blush. "I bet Caro will miss this", he continued and felt the blue eyes piercing him for a moment. "I don't think so. She never cared about my cooking."

 

Jimmy Somerville whined "Small town boy", spreading a momentary depression in the room. "Why did you put on this music?" Luca asked quietly. "It's about a boy without hope because he doesn't know where to go."

 

   "I know. Sometimes I'm depressed."

 

Luca feared that the initial carefree mood, both had slipped into, would turn and he didn't want that. "You don't have to be!" he exclaimed, taking a big spoon and serving some of the salad into two smaller bowls. "Here, eat, tomatoes make you happy."

 

Tristano had to laugh. Then he sighed and rested his head between his palms. "I 'm not like you. I don't know what I want. The only thing I know is that I don't want to be with Caro anymore. She was getting on my nerves. I..." he released his head and leant forward. "I don't share anything with her, you know. She's so far away." He lifted his glass and drank. "While you're so close."

 

A hot wire inflamed Luca's stomach. "I've always known my feelings", he started. "But I know what you're going through. Giano wasn't able to tell me either; he confessed it to me in one of his letters from Pisa."

 

Tristano looked up "Weren't you surprised? What were your feelings?"

 

   "Relief of course. I didn't have to face it all alone anymore." He hesitated and played with the pieces of tomatoes with his fork. "And you don't have to neither, since you have me." They locked eyes, all of a sudden serious. Tristano's dark blue eyes were unreadable - like they so often were these days. "You and me together, fighting for our rights... you and me together..." the high-pitched voice of Jimmy Somerville filled the room. Tristano blinked and nodded his head.

 

   "It wasn't a bad idea to put on Jimmy, eh?" he said, beaming. He reached over the table and took Luca's hand. "Have you had enough, or are you still keen on a piece of melanzane?"

 

   "Well, if you ask me, there's always room for a toast with melanzane."

 

They had made themselves cosy upon the couch, another a piece from his father's workshop, with dark red cushions and fluffy pillows. "You sleep here?" Luca asked. He had slipped off his shoes and had put his feet over Tristano's legs. "Don't you dare massage them", he said out off the blue, "I'm so ticklish I'd kick you in the face."

 

Tristano laughed out loud. "It's worth a try." But he didn't. "There's a small room attached, next to the cupboard, can you see?"

 

Luca saw the hidden door. "It's just a bed but it has a window and room for stuff. It's French."

 

   "What? The bed? Let me see." Luca jumped up and opened the door. Blood red curtains hid the small window and the brass from the bed's head and foot gleamed in the pale light coming from the living room. "Isolde wanted to have a French bed, so. I sleep as of in heaven in there", he added.

 

   "I'll bet", was all Luca could say. They stood in front of the bed like a fresh married couple not knowing what to do on their wedding night. Luca sensed Tristano's longing to do something he had never done before. Explore new territory. Normally Luca wouldn't have said no. Normally. If Alessandro's blue eyes didn't look at him out of his memory.

 

   "Remember what you said to me?" Tristano said softly. "My eyes are like Lapis lazuli. I was pissed at you. Men don't tell men that they are beautiful. Do they?"

 

   "Not even if it's the truth? Why shouldn't they?"

 

   "I think you're beautiful", Tristano said relieved and eagerly, as if he had been waiting for confirmation. He turned Luca to look at him, then he brought his face and his lips closer and touched Luca's. There was a tentatively touching from Tristano's side, as if he would needed to taste and feel if it was the same as when he kissed his girlfriend. Then, unexpectedly, he wrapped his arms around Luca's waist and pulled him close, kissing him feverishly, as he dug all ten fingers into Luca's blond mop of hair, then pushed him until they both lay on their sides upon the scarlet bed cover. Luca struggled to free himself, but was overpowered by Tristano's eagerness. And as he felt Tris' searching hands, pulling his shirt out of his waistband, opening the button of his jeans and pulling down the zipper, he stopped struggling. Tristano was much too excited to stop his action. Alessandro was just a final, regretful glimpse on the horizon before Luca straddled Tristano, took his wrists firmly and held them outstretched upon the bed. "Stop it, man", he hissed playfully. "Is it your first time, or what? If yes, you should take time and enjoy it. Why the hurry?"

 

Tristano blinked as Luca opened his jeans and wetted his white briefs with his tongue by soaking the fabric over his hard penis, his saliva outlining the contours. "Oh Jesus," Tristano mumbled, wriggling. Luca obviously knew what he was doing. His cock had never been so hard before. A sudden surge of coolness told him that his briefs had been pulled down and that Luca had stopped blowing him through the fabric of his briefs. Was it important what it looked like? shot through Tristano's mind. Seconds later his shirt was pulled up under his chin and Luca was sucking and nibbling at his nipples which gave him sort of an ache in his head. What was that about? Did all gays do that? What for? He got the answer right away. Luca's body was like a snake, he felt it everywhere, at his neck, his armpits, belly button and back to his leaking cock that was about to explode even without anyone touching it. He had heard what gays did when they were alone, but none of those article'ss wisdom had told him how good it was.

 

Luca was merciless. He wanted Tristano's first time to be memorable, so that he would never think it over and turn to girls again - he grinned with a full mouth. He could hear Tristano's whimpers and muttering, and before he could think twice Tristano was blasting into his mouth, Luca busy swallowing and sucking at the same time. He carried on until Tristano's arched back was falling back and he had milked the last drops from him, then he crawled higher and straddled him again.

 

    "Was that the last try to prove you're not gay? You failed. You enjoyed it too much."

 

Tristano's moist skin was gleaming and the blond locks over his forehead were damp with sweat. He blinked several times before he focused his eyes on Luca and seemed to be embarrassed. "Stop teasing me", he said weakly. Then he propped up on his elbows and rose to a half sitting position. "Can we do it again?"

 

Luca felt his own painfully hard penis but wasn't sure if he should allow to go any further. Guilty feelings had already started to flood his body. What was he actually doing here? Playing the good Samaritan for a boy unsure whether to come out or not? But one look into Tristano's radiant eyes pushed his bad conscience aside. One blow job didn't count. It was too enjoyable playing the experienced guy. A little ashamed of his cockiness he slid from Tristano's body, laid next to him and looked directly into his flushed face. "I must be crazy". he mumbled. But then he saw a curtain fall over Tris' face, his lips didn't smile anymore and his eyes became glassy. "I'm sorry", he said, touching Luca's cheek with an outstretched finger as if to test the smoothness and to compare it with the skin he was familiar with. "You've cheated on Sandro now. Will you tell him?"

 

   "Definitely not", Luca said immediately. Tristano's face lit up instantly. "It was too good. Much better than I ever imagined."

 

And that was just a fraction of the fun, Luca thought, as he pulled Tris' body close to him.

 

Tristano couldn't remember falling asleep. The only thing he knew was that there was another body breathing next to him and he was absolutely sure that it wasn't Carolina. The scent was different, the weight of the body was different. The skin was different. The kisses. The taste. The action. Who ever had said that loving a man or a woman was be all the same was terribly mistaken. Purely from the physical aspect and not from the moral it made a huge difference. Luca's skin was soft as a moist peach but his bones were strong and firm, as was his flesh. Had he ever believed that he would enjoy that? He knew Luca's brothers, both solid and menacing. Luca was more of the slender type and yet he wasn't thin or a lanky adolescent. He was compact, with firm, long muscles that Tristano longed to touch.

 

He pushed away the bed covers revealing Luca's chest. A chain draw his attention; a golden cross with enamel inlays. It looked very expensive. His hands crept cautiously down and his forefinger outlined the contour of Luca's hips, then ran slowly through the silky, rustling hairs down over the surface of Luca's penis and his soft ball sack. Luca was circumcised, his foreskin probably missing since his childhood. Curiously he compared it with his own.

 

The penis stirred and Luca moaned softly in his sleep. Tristano embraced the whole thickness and held it lightly in his hand as if to estimate its weight, feeling it expanding and grow. He followed this miraculous movement with his eyes and admired the unblemished appearance. Youthful, without veins, a firm ball sack that had pulled itself up; the head longish, of a delicate pink colour and full of blood. He sensed Luca movements, his head rolling onto his shoulder and he felt his breath. He had the feeling that he had wanted this since he had reached puberty. This - and nothing else.

 

Stroking Luca tenderly he realized that he felt this way not because he had fallen in love with Luca, it was explicitly for his gender. His instincts urged him to want more so he bent forward until his lips met Luca's hot skin. He kissed the penis, then opened his mouth and started to lick. Luca awoke with a jolt, to find Tristano bent over his abdomen, licking the crystal drops that had built up on the crown of his penis. Hesitating he lifted a hand and stroked Tristano's curls which fell onto his forehead; then he closed his eyes again and pushed his guilty conscience aside. Wild images staggered through his mind; pictures of coupling men, but all of them without a face. He felt Tristano was a little clumsy and his teeth were in the way, more than once he painfully scraped Luca's skin, but Luca didn't complain.

 

Cautiously he guided Tristano to the right spots, loosened the fingers that had clutched his cock painfully hard and by and by Tristano got accustomed to the actions and when he confined himself to sucking the head hard, holding the shaft lightly, Luca felt the heat in his balls and the pressure rising. He tried to shift away from Tristano's mouth. "Wait", he panted, "I'm about..." but it was too late. He squirted, hit Tristano's left cheek and hair, the rest splashed upon Luca's belly. Tristano's head had jerked sto one side and then he started to giggle and wiped his face. He crept up higher, looked into Luca's flushed, embarrassed face. "Will you stay the night?" he asked.

 

Luca sensed Tristano's erect cock poking his upper thigh. "We can go in together tomorrow morning."

 

   "I'll need my stuff", Luca said.

 

   "Oh well..." Tristano said disappointed. "We could go and pick it up then. Do your parents notice when you're out overnight?"

 

   "No." The semen on Luca's belly started to get cold. Sandro would have licked it off he remembered with a sudden flush of pain. "Can I have a handkerchief, please?" he asked. Tristano looked confused then a smile spread over his face. He bent down and without hesitation he lapped up the white puddles, tickling Luca until he laughed.

 

  "Can I fuck you?" Tristano mumbled indistinctly.

 

   "No." It was almost a shout. There was no way Luca would allow that. Tristano's sudden boldness had startled him anyway.

 

  "Then fuck me. Tell me, what to do." Tristano lay his full weight upon Luca's body and rubbed his hot, hard cock against Luca's thigh.

 

Luca sighed and wiggled from under Tristano's body. He sat up and wiped his face. Sobered up, he said. "I'd better go."

 

Tristano said nothing. He fell back against the pillows and lay motionless. His excitement had shrivelled. "You didn't like it", he said tiredly. "I wasn't good enough."

 

Luca looked down at him. "I like you, Tris. And you were good. But I can't stay any longer."

 

He swung his legs out of the bed and gathered his clothes. Silently he dressed, while Tristano remained in bed, watching him. Fully dressed Luca crouched beside the bed. "We'll talk tomorrow, OK?" He planted a soft kiss upon Tristano's lips and left the flat.

 

 

 

Luca couldn't understand his brutal mood swing. Was Sandro the cause? He hadn't cared about it in the first place if he had cheated on him or not. He just didn't want to be fucked by another guy. He wouldn't allow it. The blow jobs he could live with, but being entered by another, giving the most private part of himself... that was out of the question.

 

A cool wind shook the trees as he walked to the bus stop. He cursed when he saw that he had to wait over twenty minutes until the night bus came and he decided to walk. His hands buried in his pockets he felt dirty and unwashed. Tristano's scent clung to his hair and skin - pleasant, yet annoying. What would he say to him tomorrow? What if Tristano had fallen in love with him? What if he asked him to leave Sandro to be with him?

 

He was halfway home when he stopped in his tracks. In the distance he saw the softly illuminated red cupola of the cathedral jutting out from the mass of red roofed houses. The stream of tourists at that late hour had increased. He was surrounded by music streaming from bars, chattering couples and laughing groups of youths. Tristano had revealed his true feelings to him and he had left him alone? He was an arsehole for sure.

 

Luca turned and ran all the way back. In the silence of the block of flats he pushed the bell fervently until the door opener hummed and he rushed up the stairs.

 

Tristano opened the door for him, dressed in his jeans, his hair sweaty and dishevelled, his eyes puffed. Without thinking Luca pulled him into his arms and held him tightly. "I'm sorry", he muttered into Tristano's hair. "I panicked." Patiently he waited until Tristano's grip started to loosen and he could look into his face. "I didn't want to hurt you", he spluttered, "I'm an arsehole. You made so much effort to..." Tristano had closed his lips with his own, his hungry tongue battled with Luca's, their bodies melting together as one; so Tristano pulled him into the room and forward to the bed, where he fell with him between the covers and pillows. "I'm so much in love with you", Tristano whispered huskily, the dark blue eyes black with desire and still reddish from tears. Hurriedly he undressed Luca again and started to devour his body. He was as merciless as Luca had been with him hours ago, and Luca admitted defeat. Part of it was

shame, part of it was pure lust. Tristano was a beautiful guy - how could he not enjoy his feverish attention. He clutched his Gondi-cross and opened the fastener. The chain slid into his palm before he placed it upon the nightstand.

 

Then he pushed Tristano onto his back and succumbed his leaking cock, until Tristano was squirming and craving for release. He rolled him then onto his abdomen and spread his buttocks, ready to give his friend an experience that he had never felt before. Tristano gasped when he felt Luca's tongue outlining the ring of muscles, again when Luca blew on him with a warm breath before his tongue tried to enter him. Tristano seemed to be out of his mind with passion when he turned to face Luca, to pull him close, "What are you doing to me?" It was a rhetorical question. Their bodies were so close they seemed to squash each other. "Please stay with me", Tristano whispered, licking Luca's ear, "and do what you want with me." He spread his legs, so that Luca fell in between and then searched for Luca's member. No way he would accept a no again. He pulled Luca's face down and kissed him like there was no tomorrow.

 

Luca was intoxicated by his heat. The part of his mind that was reserved for reasonable thinking was displaced by the best thing to do for Tristano's welfare. Luca stroked his own cock smearing the sticky fluid over his fingers and began to massage Tristano's anus which caused an instant reaction. Tristano gasped loudly as a finger entered him, stretching the ring of muscle. It felt unpleasant when another finger followed, but that was immediately replaced by a feeling that nearly sent him over the top. Luca nibbled at his shaft, gently scraped the skin, inhaled his balls, then a slight body shift and Tristano felt emptiness. His body protested.

 

 

  "Condom?" Luca hissed into his ear and Tristano looked blankly for a moment. "Bathroom", he squeezed out. Luca sighed and jumped out of bed. No, he wouldn't think about anything. Later. Much later. He grabbed a tube of Vaseline, rolled the condom on and greased himself. Then Vaseline over Tristano's anus. Quickly. He didn't want to give him time to feel fear.

 

He knelt between Tristano's raised legs, and teased his anus with the tip of his cock, stretching it cautiously, smiling into his face. "Push out", he said softly and he felt his member gliding forward. He soothed Tristano's pain with kisses, by fondling his genitals, stopping and then pushing forward. Tristano moaned and his body tensed up for a moment as he tried to get used to the intruder. Luca, to give him a break, pulled Tristano's leg down and stretched out at his side, kissing his neck and shoulder. He loved this position because he hadn't have to come out of him, but could freely roam his hands over his body, to soothe and arouse him - a trick he had learnt from Alessandro. "Are you all right?" he whispered into his ear.

 

Tristano nodded.

 

   "Too much pain?"

 

Tristano shook his head. The minutes dropped away, spent with caresses and kisses, until Luca started a serious attack, and Tristano melted like butter under his hands.

 

Tristano couldn't see what was happening to him, which spots Luca was touching or which buttons he was pressing; all he knew was that it was beyond everything he had expected. Especially after Luca had left him to return later. He was out of control. Completely.

 

Sometimes he hung limp in Luca's arms, his mouth open in delighted agony, responding to the soft pushes. He learnt, that if he clenched the muscles in his anus, Luca would jump and push harder. Then he stared wide-eyed into the brown eyes above him, that radiated so much desire and lust, and wriggled, desperately in the need to find a mutual rhythm. And when Luca shifted his body a little to the left it was as if Tristano had steeped into a field of electricity.

 

His hairs stood on end and he didn't understand the cause. Luca though was grinning, he leant over, lifted Tris' leg back as wide as he could and continued to hit that place deep within Tristano that drove him slowly but steadily crazy. Luca's fingers playfully stroked his cock, increased the speed, the force of his thrusts and then... His mind went blank.

 

 

 

 

  "Il piccolo morte", Luca said grinning, when Tristano came back to his senses. A thin, glistening film of sweat covered his outstretched body, heart pounding wildly, limbs weak and anus hurting. "Huh?" he said.

 

   "You were out of your mind."

 

   "Really? Was I screaming?"

 

   "Most of the time." Luca grinned even more.

 

   "How embarrassing. What will the neighbours say?"

 

   "Fuck the neighbours."

 

  "No." Tristano rolled over Luca's body. "I'd rather have you, now I know how great it is."

 

   "And I told you no", Luca snapped playfully, pinching Tristano's arse cheeks. "What about fucking you again instead?"

 

   "Ouch."

 

   "There you are. A coward."

 

   "Who's the coward here?" Tristano snarled.

 

   "Oh no, not that again", Luca moaned. "I don't want to because..." He freed his body and came to a sitting position. Tristano held him firmly. "You aren't going to run away again?" he asked seriously and somehow reserved. His hand ran through Luca's hair. "I said, I'm in love. I just want to give you the same pleasure. But you don't want me."

 

   "It's not about me not wanting you!" Luca said furiously. "I... try to understand me. My heart belongs to another."

 

   "Then why did you come back? To show me all about sex just to leave me in the lurch afterwards, alone with all my feelings? Were you just horny?"

 

Luca looked with a bewildered expression into Tristano's angry face.

 

   "Don't you feel anything for me?"

 

Luca swallowed the knot that constricted his throat. What should he say? He licked his lips. "I just felt it was a major step for you", he said quietly, hanging his head. "Your first night with a man. I couldn't leave you alone."

 

   "So, you were the good Samaritan, right?"

 

   "No! Stop arguing, Tris. I do like you. You mean a lot to me, believe me. Yes, I was horny, because of you." He shifted upon the bed and turned fully to Tristano. "But I'm taken. Can't you tell that I'm angry at myself? I don't want to cheat on Sandro. All you can think of is yourself. What about my feelings?"

 

Tristano looked at him with an unreadable look. "Come on then, shower with me", he said abruptly.

 

Under the stream of warm water Luca's body relaxed. And so did his mind. He gently washed off the remnants of their night together, all the white stains, the lubricant, the sweat, the musky smell. He soaped Tristano's crevice and inserted a finger into his hole to clean him completely, noticing that Tris' penis hardened again. Luca watched him silently under the curtain of water. He was such a temptation that Luca had to fight hard with himself not to give in. Alessandro, on the other hand, would never learn about his sacrifice.

 

Tristano's long, black lashes hung with water drops. His eyes were pleading and his mouth was so delicious, his hands caressing Luca's body... but still...

 

They both found release with a slippery hand job and Tristano seemed to be satisfied. They slipped under the covers and snuggled their bodies like two puppies in a basket. They woke up, still in a tight embrace when the sun shone directly into their faces.

 

 

 

   "Shit!" Tristano exclaimed, looking at the alarm clock. "We've overslept. We're going to be late."

 

Luca wiped his eyes and realized what had happened. Fuck that. He reached out, pulled Tristano's body back into bed and started to nuzzle his neck. "Not before I get a kiss", he mumbled. Tristano grinned broadly and covered Luca's lips with his own. His throat gave a growl and he humped his morning erection into Luca's. "Whoa", Luca groaned, "you're on fire". He dragged Tris with him out of bed into the bathroom, eyeing Tris' still hard cock as they hastily brushed their teeth, and splashed some water onto their faces. He couldn't help it. His own excitement didn't seem to want to vanish. Did Alessandro have the same effect on him? Surely yes. And Sandro wouldn't have been so shy, but wound have bent down to milk the last drop.

 

But Tris had hurried squeezing his equipment into his briefs, then into black jeans and a white shirt. Luca watched him with amazement. His desire hadn't subsided and he'd rather sleep with Tris through the day than go to work. Redness crept from his neck to his cheeks and he turned away, gathering his clothes.

 

There was so much to say he thought. How was Tris feeling? Not physically - for certainly he was obviously feeling a little pain. Luca wanted to ask him about his girlfriend, about his parents.

 

   "I'll be walking as if I'd sat too long upon a horse", Tristano said when they were on the streets. He carried his bundle with his working utensils. Luca grinned to himself. "My pleasure", he said aloud, "now hurry up." They stopped briefly at a pub to buy a cornetto and gobbled it up before they entered the workshop.

 

Coppo's voice sounded through the closed door. Without knocking they tried to slip into the room, but everyone's eyes were on them, because all was quiet, Coppo having set up the slide projector and was showing photos of the correct way to lay a stone mosaic.

 

   "Look at the two fags", a voice said from the depths of the room. Raniero had his best smirk upon his dark face. The gap of his teeth appeared as he grinned nastily. Tristano instinctively grabbed hold of Luca's hand, when they walked bravely to their table, accompanied by giggles.

 

   "What did you say, Raniero?" Coppo had turned and gazed at his pupil. "I didn't hear you clearly."

 

Raniero blushed crimson. "Nothing, maestro."

 

   "Well, then we can return our attention to the abrasive." Coppo's eyes touched briefly Luca and he seemed to see a tiny wink.

 

Tristano's face twisted in pain when he dropped down his chair. Luca wished he hadn't shown his pain so clearly, because Raniero was still staring at them. But then he was probably too stupid to make a connection anyway. He stuck out his tongue to Raniero but ignored him otherwise. Tristano smiled at Luca.

 

 

 

   "Oh, Luca", Coppo beckoned Luca. "Where's your equipment? Where you both out celebrating?"

 

Luca shuffled his feet. Tristano was standing in the row of students waiting to pick up their meal. Coppo took his arm and lined up behind Tristano. "I hope you weren't too hurt by Raniero's stupid remark." Coppo's eyes behind the small glasses were stern but sincere. "Listen", he continued, "it's none of my business, I just feel a bit responsible for the son of my friend. You don't have to tell me. I was just curious."

 

Tristano turned. "He visited me in my new flat. My sister's flat; she's gone to America."

 

   "Ah!" Coppo grinned. "I think an appropriate present would have been a new alarm clock then, eh?"

 

Tristano snorted with laughter and Luca joined in. Coppo turned again to Luca. "I have a surprise for you, piccolino." Luca flinched a bit at the familiar address, but Coppo continued unperturbed "If you and Tristano would like to we can watch the stone cutters. Your father said it's alright with him. You'll see how they cut the stones into thin plates of all forms. You'd like that?" He looked alternatively at Luca and Tristano. "And, besides, your father would have been

grateful if you'd called." He winked.

 

 

 

 

Luca kicked a little stone aside. He was leaning against a thin, stony pillar in the yard of the workshop. Tristano was beside him, likewise mute. Why couldn't he take Tris by the shoulders and snog with him like the pair he was furtively staring at? OK, the pair was of mixed gender, so it was allowed for them. And him? It made him furious sometimes. What stops you doing so? he thought. Imagine if Alessandro was be here in the same position. He would snog with you in front of all eyes, until the world would sink around us, wouldn't he?

 

And why do you long to snog with Tris anyway? He darted a brief look to the side to find Tristano was looking at him. "I read your mind", he said. Luca raised an eyebrow. Tristano leaned in and whispered "My ass still hurts, but not enough to stop me taking a dump. I feared that."

 

Luca jerked back and looked with astonishment at him. He had completely forgotten what it was like to be a freshman in sexual things. "Why don't we kiss and tell the world what's going on?" Luca answered instead.

 

   "I know why we don't. You'd appear as complete slut, piccolino", Tristano said, trying to hold in a grin. "As soon as the cat's out of the house the mice dance upon the table."

 

   "And the cat's Alessandro, eh?" Luca sighed depressed and kicked another pebble. "Do you think Coppo knows? Or guessed?"

 

   "Why should he?"

 

   "My father could have told him about me and Sandro."

 

Tristano shrugged. From afar he saw the broad back of Raniero stomping in his Nike's along the way, a sneer upon his face and an angry flash in his black eyes. "I'm not sure if I can stand this", Tristano whispered, pointing to the dark figure, coming up to them. "Just think you're hundred times more worth than he is", Luca whispered back, clenching his fists.

 

   "What does shit taste like?" Raniero asked when he had stopped in front of them. His voice was quiet, but he made no mistake that this question was meant seriously.

 

   "What do you think it taste like?" Luca asked back. "I'm sure with your unwashed shit hole.." he shook his head, "I would certainly have to throw up."

 

Bang. Luca's head jerked aside and he saw stars. He heard an outcry and saw a mass of bodies. Tristano and Raniero on the lawn trying to strangle each other.

 

In a blink on an eye a group of students had created a circle around them, while some of them tried to part the fighting boys.

 

   "What the hell is going on?" Coppo's deep voice yelled. "Up, both of you." He grabbed the scruff their necks and hauled them up, Tristano was bleeding from his nose, Raniero had a deep scratch on his cheek. Their clothes were dirty and grass stained. "What on earth happened?" Coppo was furious. "You're behaving like children!" Tristano and Raniero looked daggers at each other. Coppo noticed Luca's red and swollen cheek. Silently he took all three and pushed them in front of him into the palazzo and up to his room.

 

   "Madonna, kids, how old are you?" he moaned, flopping into his chair and making all three sit in front of him. "What was the reason for that?" his eyes pierced Raniero's, but he looked down. Coppo sighed. "You're too cowardly to tell me what's it's about? Aren't you ashamed of hitting a boy twenty pounds lighter than you?" Raniero's head flicked up and he spat "That's fags for you, everyone knows that they're sissies and won't fight back."

 

   "Ah!" Coppo raised his eyebrows as high as possible. "So then you can definitely hit them because they won't hit you back, right? I knew, Raniero, that your brain didn't exactly work well but there seems to be nothing more than straw in it." He shrugged his shoulders regretfully. Then he tamed his anger. He mustn't offend Raniero. Luca would have to take the consequences if he did. Raniero was just the bad result of a bad upbringing and a bad social environment. And probably bad influence too. "I'm not sure why you suppose your fellow students to be 'fags'." He stressed the last word. "Or why it should bother you. You know, Raniero", Coppo leaned back relaxed and started with a more approachable tone, "There's more to a friendship than you can imagine. Aren't you friends with Luca's brothers? I'm sure you like them, don't you?"

 

Raniero stared dumbfounded and didn't move.

 

   "You don't?" Coppo asked in mock surprise. "Well, that's not your fault then." He suddenly leaned forward and his voice was cuttingly cold. "I can assure you, boy, watch your mouth in the future. I will tolerate no harassment in my class, nor in this school by any means. Find some senses, get some education, for Christ sake. Why are you parroting stupid things that you've heard from stupid men?" He leant back again, Raniero was showing a distinct expression of respect on his face. "And besides, you always criticise most the things you secretly wish for", Coppo allowed himself a brief grin. "Do you know the fable of the fox and the grapes?"

 

Raniero still didn't say a word. The cut in his cheek was bleeding.

 

   "Go now and try to think about it."

 

Raniero almost knocked over his chair as he stomped out. Coppo's eyes followed him, then fastened on Luca and Tristano who had wiped the blood from his nose with a tissue. Coppo closed his eyes for a second. "Now tell me, what this was all about." He counted to ten and took a deep breath. "I know what's going on, Luca. There's no need for shame or embarrassment. Let's talk openly, OK? Homosexuality belongs in daily life, it's not a reason to be ashamed nor do you need to hide in the closet. People like Raniero.." He rolled his eyes for a moment, "we'll get a grip on them. Someday."

 

   "'Someday' doesn't help when you're lying on the streets after being beaten up", Luca blurted out.

 

Coppo leaned in and stroked Luca's hair behind his ear. "I know. Alessandro and you... and the Gioco."

 

   "It'll never going to be better", Luca said. He wasn't surprised anymore that Coppo knew all about himself. But this time it was about more.

 

Coppo looked at Tristano. "And you? What's your place in this?"

 

Tristano blushed and Coppo knew instinctively that there was going to be a ménage a trios. Although hadn't Tristano had a girlfriend? He had seen them both together and he had been picked up occasionally after work by the pretty girl with long brown hair. Tristano couldn't look him in the eyes. Well, they were young enough to find themselves, Coppo thought. At seventeen he hadn't known himself. He tried an encouraging smile. "You're out now, Tristano. You can either admit it, or hide and deny it. But believe me, to attack is better than hiding and being silent. And now I'll have my official coming out; I'm gay too." He looked somewhat triumphantly into the boys' eyes which widened with excitement. Or shock. Or both.

 

Coppo chuckled. All of his teaching colleagues knew well about his inclination and there had never been a problem. Why should there be anyway. Now and then there was some snotty little brat giving you a hard time while everything could be so easy and wonderful. "Your father knows, Luca. He just closed his eyes and didn't want to see. Perhaps he was afraid I would make an indecent offer?" Coppo screwed up one eye and Luca - breathless - couldn't help it. A deep growling laughter appeared from the depths of his bowels and escaped as pearly laughter. He threw his head back and laughed until the room was booming with laughter from the three guys. It was simply too good to let it all out.

 

   "Go now and clean up", Coppo said when the laughter had ceased. "I'll see you both at the cutters."

 

 

 

 

____________________

 

5

_____________________

 

 

Tristano played with some small stone pieces - waste from the stone cutting they had both visited an hour ago. He let them drop from one palm into the other. White alabaster and blue Lapis Lazuli.

 

A wire burnt in his stomach. He looked up, directly into Luca's dark eyes, framed by his even darker lashes. He had one of his thin eye brows arched and looked puzzled. Or sad. Or he was thinking about another. They sat at a tiny café, indoors, because it had started to rain again. Tristano had chosen the darkest corner. The espresso machine was gargling and puffing, while a footsore family of tourists flopped upon the dark wooden chairs. Tristano looked away and instead eyed the man, standing at the counter, ordering in ungainly Italian two cappuccini. He had surely been surprised by the bad weather in his baggy shorts, his black socks and sandals. Tristano closed his eyes for a moment. Some guys were really an unappealing sight.

 

Luca's hand reached out and snapped the stone from Tristano's palm. It was a Lapis. Luca held it close in front of his eyes. "It really is the colour of your eyes", he said.

 

The wire burnt stronger. Like heartburn. What was he to say? What did he want? Tristano's whole life had turned upside down in one short night. If he thought about the hours with Luca, he was likely to scream with joy. Scream with passion, with longing; he could hardly restrain himself from ripping off their clothes and, prostate to the ground, to be taken by his friend. Every single fibre of his body, of his nerves, were tingling.

 

The guy at the counter made frantic signs and movements towards the menu that was written with white chalk, offering cappuccino for 1 Euro and he apparently didn't agree with the price he had to pay. Tristano grinned and winked at Luca. The wife of the guy came and joined in the argument; in a mixture of German, Italian and English.

 

Luca rolled his eyes. How could the tourists know about the odd Italian custom that a drink cost double if you have a seat at the table than when you were drinking it, standing at the bar? He shrugged. Not his problem.

 

Luca's father had almost had a fit when he saw his son with his slightly blue, bruised chin, where Raniero had hit his face, and the crusted blood on Tristano's nose. Coppo had to stop him from going and beating up Raniero. Wow. Inwardly Luca had enjoyed the loving attention his father all of a sudden had shown. What had happened to him?

 

Tristano cleared his throat. "I think your father is on your side, isn't he?"

 

The guy turned away a little miffed with the cups in his hands, carrying them to the table. The kids were nagging him about something. The barman, a short, black curly haired boy, grinned.

 

   "It seems so", Luca said. "Amazing. What about your father then?"

 

Tristano glanced at him, then his eyes returned to the plates of stone he had dropped onto the blue-white checked tablecloth. "My father? I don't think I'll tell him what happened."

 

Luca felt a pain in his chest. What did he mean "what happened"? "Do you mean the one-night stand with a guy? Me?" he asked. His voice betrayed hurt. "Your aberration? Your dirty little secret?"

 

   "Huh?" Tristano looked up. He shook his head and a thin smile appeared. "No, you've got it wrong. I mean… I'm too shy to tell him, I don't know how to. And why should I anyway. "

 

   "Why should you anyway?" Luca asked surprised. "I mean, if from now on you like to date boys you should tell him and your stepmother. I was afraid too, but it turned out to be all right, apparently."

 

Tristano dropped his head. "I haven't even told them I broke up with Carolina", he mumbled. Luca reached over, took Tris' hand and stroked it between his palms. "What have you told her?" he asked.

 

   "Told her?" Tristano had told her that he needed a break, nothing more. That he wasn't quite sure about his feelings. Which wasn't a lie. But now he *was* sure about them. Looking into Luca's deep eyes, his stomach churned with emotions. Thinking about Luca's body, his cock stirred and hardened, remembering the feeling of being entered and lifted to a mind-blowing height, he trembled. He wanted to feel that again and again. "I told her I needed a break. She didn't understand, but what could she do?"

 

   "Yeah", Luca sighed. What do you do when your partner tells you out of the blue that he doesn't want you anymore and can't give any good reasons for it? It's a painful, helpless situation. "Didn't she want to fight for you?"

 

   "Fight? With whom? You?" Tristano gripped Luca's hand firmly. He caught a stare from the tourist, and let go of Luca's hand. He wasn't ready to show affection in public. Not yet, if ever.

 

The guy was still staring. Luca leaned over and demonstratively planted a resounding kiss upon Tristano's lips. Then he returned the stare until the guy looked away. Feeling much better, Luca said good humouredly "Well, if it has to be, she can fight with me, but I know who'll be the winner in the end." He winked.

 

   "And tonight?" Tristano asked. "Will you stay with me?"

 

That was the question Luca had feared. Oh god, what should he do? Tristano saw his hesitation and didn't blame him. If he had a boyfriend like the smart, beautiful Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola, what was he - Tristano d'Astangli - compared to him? Nothing. "Sorry for asking, Luca. I know about you and... you must miss him like hell?"

 

Last night I didn't, Luca thought. Holy shit, why did life have to be so complicated? "Do you want to see me?" he asked. Tristano nodded and locked his eyes with Luca's.

 

Subconsciously Luca's hand groped for his cross that always lay upon his chest. It wasn't there. With a jolt he remembered having taken it off. It must be laying on Tris' nightstand. "I forgot my cross", he said.

 

Tristano's eyes lit up. "I'd say that's a good reason for you to come with me." He gave a lopsided grin. Luca watched him silently for a long time. This wasn't a laughing matter he felt. "It's about you or him, right?" he asked. "Do I have to decide?"

 

The kids on the next table argued about the plastic umbrellas attached to their ice cream. Their parents still threw curious looks.

 

   "I have nothing to offer but myself", Tristano said softly.

 

   "I'm not with Sandro because he can offer me something." Luca replied likewise quietly. But he couldn't stop the images flowing through his memory. The visit at the opera, the expensive food, the suit made by Emilio Pucci, the mobile phone and last but not least the family cross, he wasn't sure if that was just lent or a gift. There was a nonchalance in the way Sandro handled money, and yet he had been unsure whether to fight for the family money and be willing to give a huge sacrifice. That was the proverbial Florentine stinginess, while on the other hand he was carelessly generous. It was the sort of a sweetener that made friendship with him so easy and comfortable. But Luca could live without all that… He had never been spoilt. What constantly attracted him to the noble young man was his breathtaking unpredictability and his bold personality. What he missed though was a real closeness that was beyond good sex.

 

Alessandro had never told Luca that he was in love with him, though all of his actions and letters showed some signs of it. But was that enough?

 

His mobile played its electronic melody, and Luca snapped out of his reverie. The display showed Sandro's number.  "Hi gioia", he heard his voice, "where are you?"

 

   "On my way home." Luca leaned back and gazed at Tristano without actually seeing him. "How are you and how's your nose?"

 

   "Much better. Have you got my letter?"

 

   "Not yet. I'll look forward to reading it."

 

Tristano's heart bled. If Luca wasn't with Alessandro because of his wealth, he must be in love with him, he thought. And the night they had shared would remain a one-night stand.

 

The tourist family left the cafe, not without given them a last curious look. Would it be the same in the future? Would Tristano have to stand all those looks, all those comments and humiliation like that he had already endured from the likes of Raniero and Luca's brothers? His life could be easy. He could live his life at Carolina's side - or any other woman's. He could make his family happy and not throw them into uncertainty and fear. Tristano's knowledge about the homosexual scene was very minor. If Luca was really lost to him then he had to look for others.

 

He gave the barman a sign, then he paid for both of their cokes and waited for Luca to finish his phone call, pretending not to listen.

 

   "Really?" Luca said excited. "That was quick. Does it mean the other bed is free for me?"

 

Luca's face was glowing when he hung up. "Imagine that, Giano has moved in with his boyfriend. This coming weekend I'll visit him."

 

Tristano tried a brave face, but his heart was heavy. How could he make himself fall out of love? The best thing would be not to see Luca anymore, but that was impossible. And to be honest: a person unhappy in love craved to be unhappy, with every sign of masochism. He suffered when he saw Luca, but he was happy.

 

Luca's smile faded and suddenly he felt like a traitor. The night with Tris shouldn't have happened. He felt a great attraction, but not enough to give up Alessandro. It had been hard enough to maintain a cheerful voice when he was talking with Sandro on the phone.

 

   "It's decided, isn't it?" Tristano said. "I'll give you your chain tomorrow." He rose. "See you then."

 

 

 

Luca felt awful when he made his way home. Clarissa examined the blue bruise on his chin and muttered unhappily under her breath. Niccolò sat brooding and cleaned his pipe. "Your father said, your class mate Tristano was in a fight", Clarissa asked. "He was protecting you?"

 

   "We had an argument with another classmate", Luca said reserved.

 

Clarissa exchanged a worried look with her husband.

 

   "Did you have a nice evening? You should have called to say that you wouldn't be home."

 

   "Yes, sorry", Luca mumbled and freed himself from his mother's hands.

 

Marcello stomped into the kitchen, his black hair still wet from a shower.

 

   "I called your brother. He'll be released on Friday", Clarissa said.

 

   "Good", Marcello sounded pleased and sat down.

 

   "Show me your hands." Clarissa sat beside him and unwrapped the bandages. "Luca, gioia, can you bring me the ointment from the bathroom?"

 

   "When will we finally eat?" Marcello nagged, visibly uncomfortable with his mother's attention.

 

   "When you are decently dressed ", Niccolò growled, clearing away his pipe and the polisher. He eyed Marcello's tank top and the shorts. "Have you forgotten all table manners?"

 

Marcello gave him a nasty look. "I was at the gym", he said.

 

   "No reason to forget your manners."

 

Luca placed the box upon the table and saw the bruised wrists. "Do they still hurt?"

 

   "If you don't watch yourself, you'll become a slut, piccolino", Marcello said instead of giving an answer. "One guy isn't enough for you?"

 

Luca was perplexed at first but then he hissed "And since when do you ally with jerks like Riefoli? Do you know what he said to me?" Luca nodded to himself.

 

   "Yes, you do. They were your words."

 

   "What were my words?" Marcello asked. "About the shit?"

 

  "Hold still", Clarissa snarled and tied the bandages. "And stop arguing with your brother."

 

   "Who's arguing?" Marcello said heatedly. "I should stand by and watch while my brother is corrupted more and more? First Gondi and now this blond guy. They came to work hand in hand this morning. Too late!" he hissed.

 

Niccolò shifted uncomfortably on his chair. Yes Coppo had told him, and in the same breath he reminded him to remember his own youth. Luca was seventeen, and had every right to sow his wild oats.

 

   "What problem do you have with me exactly?" Luca asked. "We've always been together and suddenly you hate me?"

 

   "I don't hate you!", Marcello shouted, snatching his hands from his mother's grip, "I hate what you've turned into, a pervert. That's not you, you've been influenced by these shit stabbers, and became yourself one."

 

Niccolòs face was flushed and he banged the table. "Basta, Marcello." His voice was dangerously low. "I've told you before, I do not tolerate this kind of speech. When will you come to your senses? Get a grip on yourself. And try to use your brain", he added. "Luca's your brother and we all love him."

 

   "And support him", Clarissa throw in. She looked unhappy. "Marcello, gioia. Try to understand. Don't you want your brother happy?"

 

   "Happy?" Marcello fought Clarissa's reasonable tone. "The only thing he has to do is to stay normal, like we all are."

 

  "Your fear is irrational", Luca said. "It shouldn't bother you if I lay in the arms of a man or a woman. You still haven't told me a single sensible reason why I shouldn't. Coppo said to Raniero that he shouldn't parrot the words of others. So, stop parroting Dante!"

 

He jumped up and rushed out of the kitchen. In his room he fumbled Alessandro's letter from his trouser pocket where he had stuffed it. The lines blurred in front of his eyes. Angrily he wiped the tears away.

 

 

"Ciao, carino,

 

I'm back at my daily labours. Well, actually I love it, even if it means being separated from you. I haven't told you, but I was very grateful for your help. You are better than Anastasia, and it meant a lot. How are your brothers doing? Is Dante still in hospital? I hate to say it, but somehow I feel a gleeful satisfaction. He definitely hadn't thought that an uptight faggot like me would beat him, right? Anyway... I hope your apprenticeship is going well. Have you lured Tristano into your bed yet? ;-)

 

Giano has decided to move off the Campus and live with his boyfriend. A bit rash, if you ask me. I have never thought that this important a decision should be made so early in a relationship, but apparently your brother has it bad. This means of course, that there's always a bed free in my room for your visit. IF you really want to use it, that is...

 

Have you made plans for the summer? In two weeks your workshop closes and my holidays starts the same day. Think about something to do, and I'll pay. Oops, that was in the typical Gondi-manner. Secretly I dream about making out with you at the seaside. What do you think?

 

Leoni is becoming a real plague. Thankfully she has provided me with her notes but now she wants a reward. I was trying to dissuade her with a dinner invitation, which she has accepted. Do you think that was all right?

 

OK, I have to return to my books now. Tomorrow we'll have our first test and I'm not prepared. Franco and Claudio send their greetings. They still bubble on about the Gioco and the calf. By the way, we have an invitation to visit Venice...

 

See you soon. You'll come next weekend?

 

I miss you,

 

XXXXX

 

Alessandro"

 

 

Luca felt like shit. "Have you lured Tristano into your bed yet?" If he only knew! Very decidedly unhappy he took a block of paper and a pen and started to write:

 

 

"Dearest Alessandro,

 

You making out with me at the beach sounds brilliant. I can hardly wait. To be honest, I too have an invitation to Forte dei Marmi by Rosso and Michele. Well, Micky and I fell out for he can't accept me to be a shit eating monster, as he says, all of a sudden. So, it's just you and Rosso. About Tristano. I'm not sure about his plans. I'm unsure about everything. I had a fight with Marcello. He thinks I'm a slut.

 

Will you pick me up Friday evening at Pisa? I need you so much,

 

Luca"

 

 

Luca knew that his letter was a heap of incomprehensive sentences, but he needed to write. His voice would have betrayed him. He couldn't mention Tristano's name in front of Alessandro. It hurt too much.

 

He was jerked out of his thoughts by the knock on his door. Clarissa peered into the room. "Everything all right with you? Like to come down for dinner?"

 

Luca shook his head. Clarissa sighed inaudible and sat beside Luca upon the bed. "I'm sorry, gioia. Your father has tried to speak with Marcello, but he's so stubborn that he wouldn't listen. I wonder what it is,", she stroked Luca's hair who lay outstretched, his head upon his folded arms, "where all the hate comes from." She lifted Luca's face. "I was proud of you today. You stood up for yourself." Her glance fell upon Luca's letter to Alessandro. "Do you write to tell him all this? Is he a support for you, or does he suffer the same?"

 

Luca nodded his head, which could mean anything.

 

   "And what about your class mate? Was Marcello right?"

 

Luca sighed, rose and came to his feet. "I don't want to talk about it. I'm hungry."

 

 

* * * * *

 

   "I heard you came on to Claudio?" Alessandro asked calmly and leaned back relaxed, watching Leoni's reaction. As he had told Luca, he had invited Leoni to dinner as reward for her efforts when he had been ill. His nose was still decorated by a dark red spot on the top, and it had changed its shape. Already thin and somewhat bent it had now the perfect shape of a Florentine nose. A hooked nose, Alessandro thought unhappily. He could walk again with just a bit of an effort, and the bruises and cuts had healed. He was ready for Luca but first he had to finish off this unpleasant task.

 

Leoni was clad in fashionable pink, but it clashed with her hair and the leafy-green eye shadow she had used to make her eyes bright and colourful. Alessandro shuddered inwardly. As always she had no idea about clothing.

 

   "Fish?" he asked, peering over the menu. He knew Leoni was vegetarian. "Sicilian style with roasted lemons, that's all right?"

 

   "And a large antipasti plate please", she chirped. "You can have the salami." Nervously she puffed her cigarette and watched Alessandro giving the order self confidently as if he had done nothing else in his life. He looked so good with his impressive nose and the cut in his eyebrow gave him a fashionable look. Others shaved them, but his was natural. He wore a white suit with a casual blue, T-shirt, that must had cost a fortune and that emphasized the colour of his eyes so well. If only he knew how breathtaking he looked? Compared to Claudio Alessandro was a rose in a daisy's meadow.

 

   "You haven't answered me", he said now.

 

   "Did he tell you? He wasn't supposed to do that. Boys!" she rolled up her eyes. "I made him swear he wouldn't tell."

 

   "Boys!" Alessandro said dryly. "Aren't you afraid of your reputation? I mean, Claudio takes life as he finds it."

 

   "And if you fuck around with your boyfriend, that's OK, right?" she snapped.

 

Alessandro shot forward and took her hands that she had clenched into fists. "You need to tame your temper", he said soothingly. "How often did that cause you trouble, eh? As long as we've known each other, and that's." he counted, "roughly fifteen years."

 

Leoni enjoyed the feeling of his hands, embracing her own. She opened her fists and started to stroke Alessandro's palms. She still remembered all of his sensitive places. "So, Claudio bragged?" she said.

 

He nodded. "Well, just in front of his friends, in case you wondered. Was it good?" He cocked his head and fluttered a bit with his black lashes. Leoni melted.

 

   "Not as good as with you", she whispered.

 

The wine arrived. Alessandro pointed to Leoni for her to taste it and she blushed. Damn, Alessandro. He always came up with some crazy and unconventional ideas. She bravely tasted the wine without actually tasting it, and nodded hastily as soon as she had finished sipping. The waiter poured her more of the wine and went then to do the same for Alessandro. Leoni nibbled nervously at the unsalted panino, laying in a bread basket. His eyes were unreadable. The look he gave her was confident and not in the least amorous. But she wasn't going to give up. His boyfriend wasn't here and he must be horny. Right? If he closed his eyes, he wouldn't notice who was jerking him off. Blowing him. And he wouldn't notice whom he entered.

 

   "I hope you didn't tell him that", he said now with a faint of a smile. "That I'm better than Claudio", he added when he saw Leoni's confused face. "I certainly wouldn't. And now? Will you become his girlfriend? He's hoping for that."

 

   "Is he. Did he tell you that?"

 

Alessandro nodded. It was a lie, but a good humoured one. Claudio had said, that Leoni had literally jumped into his bed, and he wouldn't had been a gentlemen if he had thrown her out. Alessandro hid a grin. Bastard. "Well,", he said aloud, "actually I thought you were after me, and then I have learned that you dragged him into your bed for the past two weeks? What's that supposed to say about me?" He rolled his eyes in mocking indignation and Leoni laughed.

 

   "You're still the cocky little bastard I used to know."

 

The large antipasti plate arrived. The waiter placed it on a side table and bit by bit filled their plates with salami, dried tomatoes, fried green asparagus, pickled beans and mushrooms, ham and melon, black olives, anchovies and sliced parmesan. Leoni stubbed out her cigarette and started to pick on the vegetables. All of a sudden she wasn't hungry anymore, but tried not to show it. Thank god Alessandro didn't know everything. Claudio was just an episode for her. But there had been Timo before Claudio. She had dumped him, because he had become too clinging. Claudio was cute, but he hadn't enough money to hold her. She watched Alessandro eating. "Is there really no chance for me?" she asked him with her head tilted to one side. She washed away her question with the rest of the wine. "I mean, you started with girls, so why shouldn't you return to them from time to time?"

 

Alessandro moaned into his napkin. "Not that again, Leoni. You've asked me before and I answered clearly and without a chance of being misinterpreted. No. There will be no return. Why should I ?"

 

   "Because you love tits?" she whispered over the table. Alessandro laughed. "I've had my fill of tits, thank you."

 

Leoni swallowed an olive. "And what if Luca's a little slut? What makes you sure that he's waiting for you?"

 

Leoni's words rang a bell in Alessandro mind. Hadn't Luca written that his brother thought Luca a slut? Why? Tristano, was whispered within him. The blond guy with the attractive face and body. Blue eyes like a Lapis Lazuli. Weren't those Luca's words? Still finding himself but obviously gay. Alessandro's grin faltered. "You're imagining things. And if so, so what? We never promised faithfulness."

 

Leoni's eyes lit up. "Ah, that's great. So, if you have an open relationship, there IS a chance for me."

 

Alessandro leaned back, chewing. "Jesus, Leoni. Who's the slut here? What do you want from me? Go to Claudio and blow him, if you're in need. Or spread your legs and let him fuck you."

 

Leoni grimaced at the obscene words. She fought with herself whether to tell Alessandro about her deal with his uncle. It was her choice now. What if she told him and both sides were satisfied? They could marry and the child would be Alessandro's? She inwardly shook her head. There was still the option that he would say no. Alessandro was unpredictable. She finished her plate and then rummaged in her tiny handbag. The second course was served, steaming bowls of baked fish with crunchy slices of Sicilian lemons. Alessandro inhaled the scent of rosemary, olive oil, garlic and anchovies, and his mouth watered. He tried to distract himself from his thoughts with the meal, but a sort of a barb had hooked into his head, that hurt and made him think constantly about Luca. Why had he said that he was becoming a slut? And why had Leoni repeated his words?

 

Silently he watched Leoni. The deal with his uncle came to his mind. The deal he was still unsure about. He needed to find a wife. Perhaps. If he want to keep the money. If he wanted to continue his careless lifestyle. He imagined himself having to work to pay for his study as Giano did and shook his head. He had no time for working. There was so many other things he preferred to do. Like lying in bed with Luca - for instance. He could maintain the affair with him even if he was married. Nobody would care. At the same time he laughed about how stupid he was. Luca wouldn't accept. It was either him or Leoni, both was out of the question.

 

There was just one point to clarify; did he like Luca enough to make this sacrifice? He never saw them both as a couple that would stay together for good. Surely not. They were much too young for that, and life was full of guys waiting to be conquered. Tristano for instance.

 

Alessandro ignored the pain starting somewhere near his guts. Losing Luca would not be an easy thing to take - for whatever reason it happened. Yeah. For whatever reason. He stared at the steaming fish, buried under a layer of roasted, brownish yellow lemon slices. Very slowly Luca had crept into his heart, or that place where feelings were produced. But he would never ever admit it. Showing too much of your feelings was a sign of weakness. Matteo, his father, had taught him that since he was a toddler. And it was very, very hard to realize that this was wrong, and in consequence to make the next step; show your feelings.

 

   "Something wrong with your fish?" Leoni asked. She let the lemon slices crunch between her teeth and purred softly. She poured him the rest of wine and beckoned the waiter to bring another bottle.

 

One hour later Leoni started to hiccup and even Alessandro wasn't quite clear why he was there and not at home in his bed. They giggled like they had once when they were digging in the sand as children before they finally decided it was time to leave. The night was sticky and empty of stars; from afar the white marble of the Leaning Tower shimmered like pale bones. Its colonnades appeared like black, longish eyes, watching. "I like to go up there", Leoni said, louder than necessary. She swayed and clutched Alessandro's upper arm for support.

 

   "Now? It's closed", Alessandro said, pulling her with him. "Time for bed." But she stood and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her abdomen into his.

 

   "There was a time you'd have got a hard-on instantly", she giggled into his ear. She slid down on her knees and fumbled with the zipper of his white trouser.

 

   "Are you mad?" he stopped her, looking around. They were standing in the middle of the pavement, just around the corner from the university. Then he laughed out loud. So what! Lets see if she has learnt anything. Leoni gnawed at the root of his hard cock and Alessandro flinched. "Watch your teeth, damn it", he hissed, before the tip of his cock vanished into her mouth. She gagged as she tried to take it deeper, then whimpered. Alessandro rolled his eyes and pulled her up to her feet. Her bare knees were dirty and grazed. Drunkenly she grinned and started to devour his mouth; her tongue a slippery little eel, searching his teeth. He pushed her away and dragged her through the archway and the entrance of the university. The campus lay in shadows, just here and there was a lamp in the windows, or the flickering blue light of a small TV.

 

Alessandro felt dizzy and tried to shake it off. Then Leoni stumbled over her feet into the kitchen and rushed to the water pipe, pouring herself a glass of ice cold water she immediately drank down. "Like one?" she asked and filled her glass once more. "That's the fish", she chortled, "it likes to swim."

 

She turned her back on him and fumbled with her handbag. Then she offered him the glass and he drank without looking. A second later, Leoni clung like a leech to him, undressed him impatiently, opened the door to his room and Alessandro was pushed upon his bed. He lay outstretched there, felt that he was naked, and then his mind was blown out like a candle.

 

 

 

 

   "Hmmm", Alessandro muttered when he felt the warm body beside him. He turned on to his side and wrapped his arm around it, nuzzling the neck. But something seemed to be wrong. The hair was too long and the body thin and bony. Different. Furtively he opened an eye and recognized the carrot red hair tickling his nose, a too broad pelvis plunged satisfied into his abdomen. With a jolt he rose and lifted the cover. She was naked. Like he was. Holy shit, what was this? A little man with a hammer worked in his skull, but he jumped out of bed, watching her sleep for a moment, then he took her arm and literally pulled her out of his bed. "What the fuck do you think you're doing here, Leoni?" he yelled. "Get out of my bed, or I'll use the watering can!"

 

Leoni moaned. "What a noise, Alessandro", she muttered. "Oh god, my head!" She crouched on the edge of the bed and held her head. "It splits. I need an aspirin." Then she looked up. Slowly. Not missing an inch of Alessandro's naked body in front of her eyes. The strong, tanned legs, the silky heaviness of his testicles and his penis, soft and delicious and ready to be swallowed, all of it. The flat stomach and the tender skin - she remembered all of it very well. But Alessandro had gone to the bath to dissolve aspirin, one for him and one for her. She followed him with her eyes, the view of his firm, slender butt cheeks made her private parts twitch - like a tiny orgasm. She moaned. Her eyes were clear and her head didn't hurt in the least.

 

Alessandro came back, dressed in fresh jeans and she looked on regretfully. She had given everything last night... although... He placed a glass with a milky fluid on the table at the window and sat down and ruffled his hair. The brown locks, mussed but beautiful she had loved the most in the past when he had been mad about her. She swallowed the drink and wiped her mouth.

 

   "Put something on, for god's sake", he said finally with a rough voice and threw her bra and blouse into her lap. She took it and dressed, but not without making a show; he rolled his eyes away in obvious disgust. "Last night you enjoyed it, carino", she chirped.

 

   "Don't call me carino", he said tiredly, " I'd rather you told me what happened."

 

   "What happened?" she said in mock surprise. "Don't tell me you can't remember! You were running wild." She managed a blush. "I'm sore all over." She looked down at him, "like you have to be. Aren't you?"

 

Funny, but for the first time in his life, Alessandro felt embarrassed. He had been sore before, but the reason for that had never been a woman. "Why should I be sore?" he snapped, "you've certainly got no cock to make me sore."

 

She rose and said with honeyed voice. "No, dear, but *your* cock. See," she bent down and whispered into his ear, "you were fucking me like Jupiter's hammer. And he was very tireless." Her palms traced a line over his shoulders and down his chest, coming to a rest in his lap, stroking the bulge. "I'm sure you've forgotten all about your little fuck buddy in Firenze now. Haven't you?"

 

He shook her off and stared angrily into her face. "Fuck off, Leoni. I don't want to see you for the rest of the day, OK?"

 

She smiled and slipped through the door.

 

 

____________________

 

6

_____________________

 

 

Luca saw him coming around the corner of the street. Early morning sunlight glared upon his fair hair and poured over his slender form and firm features.

 

Tristano walked slowly, with his bag tucked under his arm. Dark jeans and a white shirt with no jacket although it was cool that morning. The sky was washed of dark clouds and the day started promisingly. Vespas rattled along the street and the orange bus momentarily hid Tris' body from sight. Luca saw the usual crowd of old men with canes gathering under the plane trees in front of San Marco; sun burnt faces whose eyes vanished among the heap of wrinkles and were shaded by black berets.

 

His class mates passed him, some calling a morning greeting, while others gave him a curious stare.

 

Tristano was close and Luca felt almost overwhelmed when he smelled his freshly washed hair and skin. It was a typical Tristano-scent that reminded him of flowers, roses perhaps.

 

   "Buon giorno", Tristano said in a cheerful tone as soon as he was close enough to him. He rummaged in his bag and put a carefully wrapped parcel onto Luca's palm. "Your chain."

 

Luca looked up into Tristano's face. It was calm and friendly, no sign of a grudge at all. In fact he was more jovial than ever, only his flickering eyes betrayed what was going on within him. He took Luca's arm and pulled him through the entrance door. "Do you think we will start with our first real inlay work?" he asked. Luca followed him upstairs to under the roof. The windows had been opened to let the cool air in while they were taking their seats.

 

Luca was having a bad day. He was distracted and absentminded. Whenever he met Tris' eyes they were smiling at him, and Luca couldn't make head nor tails of him. It was, as if he had come to a inner decision. Luca stared at his slate while he took the stone plate and traced the drawing he had made on to the scale paper. It was a flower with a twisted stem and leaves. The stone plate had to be cut out with a saw blade and then filled with stones of his liking. It was complicated work that needed all of his attention, but Luca couldn't quite concentrate. He felt he was being watched by his fellow student's, by Raniero and above all by his teacher. At least, he thought so. Tristano on the other hand seemed to be all confident, as if the return of Luca's chain had loosened the bond that had been made in the night two days ago.

 

   "What are your plans for the summer?" Tristano asked him during a break. "I never have enough money to go anywhere." He looked down and bit into his apple.

 

   "You'll certainly be going to Pisa, right? Or will you spend the holidays at home with Sandro?"

Luca didn't know what to answer. "Actually I wanted to go to Forte dei Marmi", he said.

 

   "The seaside? Why not."

 

Luca hesitated before he asked, "What's going on with you?" He wanted to add 'you said you were in love with me, and now you act as if we don't know each other'. But he was silent.

 

   "What 'what's going on with me'?" Tristano asked surprised. "Nothing. You fucked me and that's what I wanted. Now I know I'm on the right path."

 

Luca stared with wide eyes. This wasn't the Tris he used to know, the gentle boy, uncertain of his feelings. whispering words of love, crying out his passion. Now his eyes were haughty and empty, without the lust that made them black. Black as a piece of obsidian, gleaming in the dim light flooding softly from his living room into the bedroom where they had stretched out their bodies, embraced and become satisfied. He bent forward to whisper "Right path for what?"

 

   "I can't have you, so I need to look for others", Tristano replied unmoved. For a brief moment Luca saw pain flickering in his eyes, then it was gone. But it was enough to make him understand. He took the hand that carried the apple to Tris' mouth and said, "You don't have to play the strong boy here, Tris. I know I hurt you, but I can't change my spots. That night shouldn't have happened, but it did. Is this your way of handling it?"

 

Tristano looked on astonished. "I told you, you don't need to play the good Samaritan. You deflowered me and now I can go on. That's all there is to it."

 

Luca shook his head. It was a helpless gesture and he bit his lip.

 

   "The lovebirds are setting up their next fucking session?"

 

Luca jerked away. Raniero towered beside their place and looked down on them. "What is it like to be ridden from behind like a stray dog, d'Astangli? Did he fuck you well?"

 

Tristano looked Raniero coolly up and down. "Piss off, Riefoli", he said and looked away, leaving Raniero standing like a drip. Raniero's face twisted with fury. He grasped Tristano's hair and pulled at his head. "You little piece of shit", he hissed, but then Coppo hurried across and wrenched Raniero's hand from Tristano's hair. "Come", he said, taking Raniero's arm firmly. "Out." Most of the class watched while their teacher pushed and shoved the struggling Raniero out of the classroom.

 

Luca and Tristano exchanged a look while Tristano straightened his hair and carefully touched his hurting scalp. They saw fear in each other's eyes.

 

Ten minutes later Coppo returned alone. He started the lesson again as if nothing had happened, but his voice was a bit tense. He didn't comment when Luca messed up his tracing and Tristano knocked over his bowls of stone plates.

 

Luca was relieved when the hours passed and he could leave the workshop. He threw Coppo a long glance, but he pretended not to notice. Two of his class mates came up to him and patted his shoulder. "Don't worry about that, Luca", one said. "Riefoli is such an arsehole, I hope he will be dismissed for good." She smiled into his face and gave Tristano an encouraging nod. "Yeah, you both, go and get him", another lad chimed in. "We don't need such a piece of shit in the class."

 

Luca smiled thankfully at them, but he couldn't say a word. Again he and Tris exchanged a look and went side by side out of the room. On the street Luca scanned around as if he was expecting somebody to be waiting in ambush but there was only the usual traffic and tourists, dressed in Bermuda-shorts and sandals, with cameras dangling, eating pizza from their hands. Their guide raised a large artificial sunflower to make them stop in front of the palazzo. Luca heard the soft, nasal French language, and all of a sudden he was proud to belong to this exceedingly popular town, and the famous workshop in particular. Probably this was just a short stop on their way up the street to the Accademia and Michelangelo's David, just a few steps away.

 

Luca felt Tris pulling at his hip, turning the way to San Marco and the plane trees where they could sit in the shade, listening to the low and husky chattering of the old men.

 

 They said nothing for a while. Tristano unwrapped a silver paper and offered Luca the half of his tramezzino.

 

  "We're not alone", Tristano said after a long period of silence. Luca dropped tiny crumbs of his bread for the sparrows. "That's a relief", he answered. "They'll get used to it, by next week they won't even mention it."

 

   "And we can kiss openly in the yard like the other couple did?", Tristano asked, bending forward to peer into Luca's face.

 

   "I thought you didn't have any intention of kissing me at all, but instead to romp around with the other guys you want to pick up", Luca retorted instantly.

 

   "What did you expect? You don't want me for your boyfriend."

 

   "And the night before meant nothing to you?"

 

   "I thought you did it just for me", Tristano said quietly.

 

   "Nonsense. If I hadn't wanted it I'd never have done it." Luca chewed on his last bite and swallowed. Then he pulled out a bottle of mineral water and swallowed some down. The rest he gave to Tristano. "What can we do? It was wonderful with you, but you mustn't fall in love with me."

 

Tristano stared at him. "I've done that already and you know it."

 

   "Yeah". Luca tried to hide his reddening cheeks. This kind of love declaration came of the mouth of the wrong guy. Alessandro didn't carry his heart upon his sleeve. And yet… all he wanted that very moment was to be embraced, to feel Sandro's firm body, his hot breath on his ear and the kisses he used to cover his face with. He felt Tris' hand on his arm, then on his chin, turning his face towards him. They locked eyes. Suddenly Tris' face was very close and then his lips covered Luca's, furtively, like a gentle breeze rattling the plane's leaves, until it grew stronger: a hurricane, shaking the branches. They held each other until the storm was over.

 

The old men watched in surprise and stopped chattering. Luca's face was beet red, but he saw them giggling and shaking their heads in a mocking, good-humoured understanding. At least some of them. He took Tristano's arm and pulled him up. Hurriedly they vanished.

 

They didn't exchange a word. As if as in a silent agreement both let themselves be driven through the town, pushed by people who jostled on the small pavements. It was a miracle that so little happened considering the traffic. It was difficult to walk in Florence especially when walking on the streets that weren't a pedestrian zone. The lithe inhabitants were used to it, but the foreigners were in danger when they wanted to stop and look at the buildings, or take a photo. With sorrow Luca saw the guides in their neat dresses and suits, with their shiny shoes and journals, talking confidently in so many languages. Had Alessandro ever thought of learning a foreign language? At least he had never said so. But it would widen his possibilities.

 

At the junction in front of San Lorenzo Tristano stopped. The market stalls were besieged by tourists, who discussed the quality of leather ware of all kinds, preferring belts, shoes and bags. T-shirts with prints of Florentine sights were blowing in the soft wind, accompanied by ties of pure silk; angora pullovers were displayed along with cashmere clothing.

 

 Luca followed Tristano along the long row of stalls, passing the entrance to the Medici chapels. "Coppo has promised us a visit to the Prince's Chapel", Tristano said.

 

   "When? I thought they were closed."

 

   "Not the big one, just the others in the crypt. They want to open all the coffins to find out about the family disease."

 

   "Gout?" Luca suggested, gathering his knowledge of the Medicis.

 

   "Perhaps. But why would you die of gout? It must have been a special sort of it then."

 

Luca of course was quite familiar with the interior of the Prince's chapel. His father had been a child when Luca's grandfather had been one of the workers on the big floor mosaics. Niccolò was still proud when he spoke about the event and he could remember the pomp and ceremony with which the chapel was officially finished; four hundred years after its beginning.

 

The queue was long, because every guide was convinced this was a highlight of the Florentine sights, and Luca felt they were right. "Come on", Tristano said, pushing his way through the crowd, chattering and dickering with the traders. "I've got nothing to eat at home."

 

Luca followed. Anything was good as an excuse to stay a little longer with Tristano. If he only knew why he felt that way.

 

The steel construction of the market halls came to sight, and they always reminded Luca of a gigantic railway station. It was the easiest place to fulfil any of your longings and at a reasonable prices. No ripping off of tourists. The typical Florentine gathered here to exchange the newest gossip and to have a cheap meal. "I need bread, vegetables and fruit", Tristano said and hurried along the market stalls. "You like olives?" he then asked, turning to Luca who threw longing glances at the big hams dangling from the ceilings. Then he heard a familiar voice just around the corner. Rosso stood at a stall and tried to sort out his little brothers. Luca grinned. As always. "Seppe, no", Rosso took the hand of his youngest brother who had wiped his tomato sauce red fingers upon his T-shirt, while Dani, the seven-year old one faked a sword-fight with his French fries.

 

Luca watched them for a while until Rosso saw him. "Ciao, Luca, doing the shopping?"

 

Luca pointed to Tristano, buying plastic bowls full of olives, capperoni and filled, hot chillies. "Sorry, but I'm hungry", Rosso said, pulling out a handkerchief and cleaned his brother's hands.

 

Luca eyed the trippa - tripe -, and his mouth watered. "Tris", he shouted, "do you want a portion of trippa?" Tristano nodded while he counted out his money.

 

Luca bought two servings and wiped the tomato sauce with a piece of bread. They were hot and delicious, just the right way to eat them.

 

   "What happened to your face?" Rosso said suddenly, eyeing the blue mark on Luca's chin.

 

  "An accident", Luca said reluctantly.

 

   "What accident? Have you been in a fight?"

 

   "Actually, yes", Tristano said and licked his lips. "At the workshop. It was our class mate."

 

Rosso pondered for a second. "That guy who kept fouling at the Gioco?" His green eyes examined alternatively Luca and Tristano, but couldn't make sense of anything. "Well, I thought he was after Alessandro then? Why you?" The answer dawned on him at that very minute. "He has it in for you, right? Because you..."

 

   "Because I'm his boyfriend, right", Luca finished.

 

Rosso noticed the hurt look Tristano gave Luca.

 

   "Can I have ice-cream?" Seppe threw in, whining.

 

   "Later", Rosso said, "now finish your fries."

 

Seppe rolled his eyes and fished some potato strips from the plate of his brother to stuff them into his mouth. "I want it now", he nagged and received a cuff from Dani. "I said, later!" Rosso said sharply and Seppe looked for a moment as if he was going to cry. All of Rosso's family had red hair in different shades and Seppe's small face was covered with countless little freckles. Luca smiled at him and stroked his hair. "I'll buy you ice-cream when you've been quiet for a minute, ok?"

 

Seppe seemed to be satisfied and tried to finish his paper cup of cocoa. Of course he poured it over his shirt where it made a nice pattern in the tomato-sauce. Rosso closed his eyes but pulled out his handkerchief wordlessly and wiped Seppe's chin.

 

   "You're good as a nanny", Tristano said without sarcasm in his voice.

 

   "Long time of experience. Now, let me finish this. You got into a fight with that jerk? Did he call you names? I hope you clobbered him well."

 

   "Tris did."

 

  "Ah." Rosso's eyebrow vanished under the mob of red hair. "How are your brothers? Actually it should be their job, shouldn't it."

 

  "Not sure about that", Luca said quietly. "They think Raniero's right. That's what fags deserve."

 

He felt Tristano jerking at his side and that he wanted to say something. But he restrained it.

 

Rosso had finished his trippa. His mouth now matched the colour of his hair which Luca found very enticing. "Before I forget, Luca, have you decided about Forte? We booked the camp site for a fortnight, but I have to care for these two frogs here." He looked regretfully at his little brothers who behaved all of a sudden as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

 

   "No problem", Luca said. Briefly he wondered what Sandro would think about living in a tent, probably he wouldn't like it. "I'm still not sure, Rosso", he said.

 

   "I'll have to phone and tell you tomorrow, ok?"

 

Rosso nodded knowingly. "Alright. But if Sandro's too noble to live in a tent you'll have to look for a hotel room", he said grinning from ear to ear.

 

   "You have tomato on your mouth", Dani said, reaching up and giving Rosso a paper serviette. "Very gracious", Rosso said. "Ah, what are your plans for the weekend anyway? There's the open air disco at the Cascine, fancy coming along with your girlfriend?" He looked at Tristano who stared back. "I'm not sure", he stuttered, then, more sincerely, "I broke up with Caro."

 

   "Oh, what a pity. She's a pretty girl."

 

   "That's sometimes not enough."

 

   "Right. It's never enough", Rosso said and dropped the subject. "Well, then you and me are free to go hunting the place", his green eyes winked. "I suppose you'll be with Alessandro?" he asked Luca.

 

Luca nodded.

 

   "Alright, boys, let's go for your ice cream now." He took Seppe's hand and guided his steps to the next ice cream seller.

 

   "I still need the bread and such", Tristano said and looked at Luca. There was open longing in his blue eyes and an unspoken question.

 

Luca looked down. The shock of the kiss had subsided but it still lingered somewhere in his body. He had felt the heat again, and he didn't want to make Tristano unhappy. But was it worth making himself unhappy? He wiped his hair off his forehead. Unhappy.... the only guy unhappy here would be Sandro. IF he knew.

 

   "I'll call you later, ok?" he said and hurried after Rosso.

 

Tristano's shoulders fell but bravely he turned to finish his shopping.

 

 

 

   "Why did they break up?" Rosso asked while all four of them were licking their ice-cream. Seppe's T-shirt now had a pretty pattern of red, brown and green from the pistachio ice-cream.

Luca shrugged. "He said, he wasn't sure anymore."

 

   "Sure of what? I thought she was nice."

 

   "As you said, that's not enough."

 

  "I said, pretty is not enough. Being nice is very important." Rosso's eyes pierced him. "You think he will come?"

 

   "I'll ask him." The summer open air dances at the Cascine-Park were always an attraction. Luca had been there one time with Dante, and he realized very quickly what went on there. Guys selling ecstasy, boys picking up girls for a one-night-stand and boys meeting boys later in the darkness of the trees. But altogether it was great fun and the music was pulsating in the heat of the night. He regretted that Alessandro wasn't with him to go there.

 

   "What's going on in Tris' head?" Rosso asked, nibbling at the crispy cone. "He looked at you like a love sick calf."

 

Luca swallowed wrongly and coughed. "What?" With a beet red face he tried to keep his countenance but Rosso grinned at him. "I'm right?"

 

   "Right about what?" Luca snapped. Dani offered him his paper serviette which he took and wiped his mouth.

 

   "There was another reason for breaking off with Caro. You."

 

   "And you think all of a sudden that everyone is becoming gay?"

 

  "What's gay?" Seppe asked.

 

Luca and Rosso stared down at him. "Giuseppe", Rosso said softly. "I'll explain when you're older."

 

Seppe pouted.

 

   "I'm not an expert, Luca, but I believe you can't become gay. You either are or you are not. It's just a matter of finding out."

 

   "Right." Luca declared in defeat. "You think being seventeen is the right time for finding out?"

 

Rosso nodded. Suddenly Luca felt a relief. He was thankful for his friend's wisdom. Rosso had always been a mixture of a cheerful, unrestrained lad with the wisdom of the old.

 

   "That's a coincidence for sure", Rosso whispered. "And what now?"

 

Luca shook his head and his friend looked sadly at him. "You sit between all seats, right? If I were gay then I'd be keen on both."

 

Luca had to laugh. "It's marvellous to have such an understanding friend like you", he teased him, but it was seriously meant.

 

Rosso's eyes sparkled.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Alessandro sat in the computer room and leafed through the virtual picture database. He had skipped his seminar because he had felt like a piece of shit. The little man still worked in his skull despite the fact that he had swallowed two pain pills. He simply couldn't believe it about last night. That he had such a major headache meant that he had drank to unconsciousness. He knew that wasn't the case. His memory was working well until it was suddenly knocked out. Absolutely blank. He could neither remember how he had fallen into bed, nor about the supposed action Leoni had been on about. Apropos Leoni; what had happened to that girl anyway? He couldn't say that she'd ever been a sexbomb in bed. And what was that odd comment that his cock would be sore? From what? It looked alright and he felt no pain. Probably Leoni was too drunk herself to remember and invented such a horror story to prove ... whatever. To brag about in front of her friends. He got hot. Jesus, if she told everybody what happened? She'd already told everybody that she and he would be a couple. That they would marry as soon as their finished university.

 

Alessandro stared at picture details of the Battistero. Proto-Renaissance. The kind of art that influenced the sculptors and architects with its green-red-white marble and the cool, geometric forms. This had been built even before Masolino had been born, before Donatello had created his 'Habakkuk', before Ghiberti had worked on his golden doors. Florence was the home of all of this and a living museum that followed the steps mankind made to free itself from all restraints, to become a free Republic that found its expression in the art of living, the art of politics, the art of sexuality.

 

But then the Church intervened and everything regressed, back to the stone age so to speak. Well, at least to some extent. If he became a guide he would certainly not leave out this important aspect of the cultural life. Alessandro was good at French and English; his family had attached great importance to the learning of languages, but he would need certainly to polish them up and to complete his knowledge.

 

He sighed and logged out of the database. He had no patience for this right now. In a fortnight school would be over and he had the whole summer. He remembered that Luca had said he had an invitation to go to Forte dei Marmi with some of his friends. Good, he thought. Some weeks at the seaside couldn't do any harm. Images of hot sand, blue waves licking at the shore and sex on the yielding beach flooded his mind. He wouldn't allow Leoni to destroy that, she could say what she wanted.

 

He left the Computer room and the library and sauntered to the student's cafe‚ where Franco waved frantically at him. Alessandro bought himself a milky coffee and a piece of cake and sat at the table next to Claudio. "What's up?" he asked, sweetening the coffee with sugar. Franco eyed him curiously. "I thought you'd tell us."

 

   "Tell you about what?" Alessandro asked suspiciously.

 

  "About what, he dares to ask!" Claudio said, gesticulating. "About your hot night with Leoni!"

 

For a moment the sweat broke out from all of Alessandro's pores before he found his self-confidence back. "My hot night with Leoni? What's that supposed to mean?"

 

   "Come on, don't lie to us", Franco said. "When I went to wake you up you two were lying close in your bed, sleeping peacefully."

 

Alessandro couldn't stop a traitorous redness. He took a deep breath. "Ok. You found me out. And what now?"

 

 

   "I thought you were gay", Claudio said. "Or rather bi?"

 

   "Nonsense. Nothing happened."

 

   "Hah! Who would believe that?" Claudio's voice hid something Alessandro couldn't quite grasp. If he wasn't mistaken it was jealousy.

 

  "And where did you hear it from?" Alessandro snapped.

 

  "She's telling everybody! A student dorm is the best rumour factory."

 

Alessandro snorted with disapproval and hid his face in the largeness of the coffee bowl. Holy shit, he thought. But when he lifted his face it was haughty and his voice was cool. He let out the long trained Gondi-arrogance. "If I said there was nothing, there was nothing, capisce? I was out with her yesterday that's true, but it was just a reward for her taking notes for me while I was absent. We got a little drunk and she didn't make it to her bed. Apparently." His blue eyes flashed cold flames. "She's always been that way; over effusive and absolutely unbelievable."

 

   "That's your version, but who's going to believe it?" Franco objected. "Claudio and I might believe you, but the rest?"

 

Alessandro rolled his eyes. "For heaven's sake! Is it a crime? I thought students would always fuck the brains of each other in a student dorm, why are you being such a drama queen?"

 

   "I'm not out to make a drama", Franco defended himself and patted Alessandro's arm. "I don't give a damn who you fuck. I just wondered. Everybody wonders because of your sexuality. You never hid it."

 

At that moment Leoni entered the cafe, some of her fellow students in tow. She looked around and waved her hand sweetly at Alessandro. He closed his eyes in disgust and shook his head. He would have to sort this out. In private.

 

 

 

"Ciao, gioia,

How are you? Are the bruises still on your chin? If I come home I'll get Raniero for this, be sure of that. Has he finally been dismissed from school? I dearly hope so. And Dante? I certainly think they became allies against you and me. Or to protect your virginity. Which reminds me: I'm so horny for you. I can't wait until Friday. I'll pick you up from the train. Let me know what time you arrive.

 

I suppose Giano has phoned you?; he's doing well. I don't see much of him, but we meet occasionally at the mensa. He has this unbelievable shit-eating grin on his face that makes me believe Tino is treating him well, if you know what I mean.

 

Has Tristano said why he broke up with his girlfriend? I bet it's because of you.

 

Have you decided about the trip to the sea? If yes, I'll organize a nice hotel for us. Are your friends coming along? And you can ask your parents about a trip to Rome. You know that I want to visit the chapel.

 

I miss you. XXXXXXXXX

 

Alessandro"

 

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

  "I've never been here before." Tristano's hands slid into the back pockets of his jeans. He breathed deeply. His eyes wandered over the soft downward rolling hills, sprinkled with silvery olive trees, accompanied by a few black cypresses. The sound of cicadas was the only sound to be heard. "Unbelievable", he muttered. "It's as if the town below has vanished."

 

Luca silently agreed. How often had he stood here with Alessandro after their fumbles and stolen kisses in the empty tomb. A red roofed villa stood lonely with its gentle Mediterranean painted wall glinting against the sun. It was getting warm again. The sky was violet and cloudless - a translucent covering of the hills of Fiesole opposite. He took a white sketch pad and a pencil and started to sketch the landscape. Coppo had suggested they try to understand the colours of nature on a bright day. It was sort of homework to do.

 

In the glaring late afternoon sun the colours were sharp and pure. He saw Tristano doing the same thing next to him, but he spread his paint box, set up the bottle with water they had filled at the cemetery of San Miniato and wet his paintbrush. With black he outlined the contours: a line for the horizon and below for cypresses and olive trees.

 

   "Did you know that the Roman conspirator Catilina fled here to Etruria and to the old hill town Fiesole where he was given a friendly welcome by the discontented people?" Tristano asked quietly, absorbed in his work. "He called himself a consul. Rome sent troops against him, led by the noble Roman worrier named Fiorino", he continued.

 

Luca looked up. "Fiorino?" he asked. "The blooming one? He must have been pretty then."

 

Tristano smiled. "Perhaps. Well, Fiesole was too heavy fortified against the assaults and Fiorino therefore set up a camp at a ford over the Arno, there where our town is situated now. But when the besieged ones tried a nightly sally, Fiorino was killed. Emperor Caesar advanced with reinforcements and started to erect a town at their camp. Fiesole was conquered and destroyed. Catilina and his comrades fled into the hills of Pistoriae, but were followed there by Caesar's legions and defeated in a big battle."

 

Tristano painted the sky, translucent, with just a faint touch of blue-violet, almost white at the horizon line and stronger against the edge of the paper. "Fiorino is just an invented mythical figure like Romulus, but there was an Etruscan ford and a marketplace on the Arno near Ponte Vecchio, on the smallest part of the river", Tristano added.

 

The cicada's chirping was mingled with the clinking of Tristano's paint brush when he rinsed off the colour in the water bottle. Luca felt enchanted. Tristano oozed peace. More peace than Alessandro would ever give him. It was as if he had two boys, each for a different time: a boy for uninhibited fun and adventure, and a boy for romance and mutual understanding. If he could only merge them together into one ...

 

   "That's a nice story", he said. "Perhaps it's true."

 

   "There's always a core of truth in every legend", Tristano retorted. He now filled in the hills with different shades of green.

 

   "Coppo says if you're good enough at painting, you can specialise in painting upon stone", Luca said. He had given up filling his sketch with colours. He would never be as good as Tristano was, at least not with water colour painting. Tristano looked at him. "Did he?" A shadow fell over his face. "Raniero's been expelled from the workshop. This time for good I hope. Nevertheless he was good at working with stone. Can you explain why such a jerk can have an artistic talent? I thought bad guys don't have music, as the saying goes."

 

  "Look at my brothers", Luca replied. "Do you think they are bad? Dante assured me that he didn't hate me, just the things I'm doing, what I have turned into."

 

Tristano looked at him for a long while. "I don't think they are disgusted by the idea of you loving a man, but they're disgusted by the expression of it. Of what we're doing. The arse is only for shit."

 

They said nothing for a while. Tristano finished his painting and let it dry, while Luca stowed away his utensils into his rucksack. The sun was still glaring and he sweated. He pulled out his water bottle and drank, offering it to Tristano who took it, then he rummaged in his own rucksack. "I've got something for you."

 

He opened the lid of a cool box, unwrapped silver paper and broke a Chelsea bun in two. "Here, home made. You liked my cooking, don't you." He held out the half of it and Luca took it. He bit into it and tasted the chocolate cream. "Great", he mumbled. "There's something more than chocolate?"

 

   "Bananas." Tristano had chocolate around his mouth. "A recipe from the Naked Chef", he grinned. "Yeast dough with Nutella and bananas, dredged with hazelnuts."

 

  "Oh God, you should open a restaurant!" Luca laughed, licking his lips. "Do you cook all of his recipes? And you still haven't told me why he's called the Naked Chef."

 

  "Because that's his concept of cooking; pure and genuine. Naked. It's simple and easy to do."

 

  "It's not for me. I can't cook. But mother was pretty interested in the melanzane last time."

 

   "Tell her she should watch him on TV, every Sunday or so."

 

They both ate in silence for a while. "Marvellous", Luca said finally, wiping his hands. Looking at the grinning Tristano he leaned in and kissed him, licking away every bit of chocolate he could find, before he felt Tristano's grip around his waist which pulled him close and engaged him in a real kiss. Luca purred instantly, but then he struggled. Tristano set him free. "Sorry", he said softly, "but you've started it." He grinned and Luca reciprocated.

 

   "Come", Tristano said then. "Let's go back."

 

Luca led him to the fallen god he had visited so often. The moss in the cleft of his naked buttocks had dried to brown crumbs. Luca wiped them away and stroked over the line of his back to the water corroded hair of the head. "How old do you think this is?" he asked.

 

  

   "Not very old", Tristano said, crouching down, examining the statue. "Victorian or Art Nouveau. What do you think it portrays? A man with a flaming torch, In despair and mourning, fallen over the grave."

 

   "Sandro said, it's the idea of the followers of Mithras, the Persian God of the Sun. It's life and death. The flame of life expires, represented by the torch."

 

   "Sounds reasonable. But why would they know that about a God ... Mithras was the name?"

 

Luca shrugged. Perhaps it was just general knowledge that the light of life extinguishes. The lizard, that made its home there stuck his flat head out from under the God's belly and rushed out to the other side to sun itself. "Is it true that a lizard can lose its tail and it will grow another?" he asked.

 

   "Some can I guess."

 

   "Sandro said it's a metaphor for himself. The Lucertola's always slip through your hands when you try to hold them."

 

Tristano rose and pulled Luca up with him. They stood and stared at each other. "Are you aware that every second word of yours is Sandro?" Tristano said somewhat tiredly but without accusation. "Why are you so besotted by him. Is it just the sex? His good looks? His money? He never appeared to me as if he would really care for you."

 

   "You don't know him the way I do", Luca said simply. "He's gone through hard times."

 

   "What hard times? He's always had fun."

 

Luca shook his head. "His brother died of AIDS, did you know that? No, nobody knows that in this town. It's a well hidden family secret. Sandro was the only one who visited and cared for him when he was dying. Along with the housekeeper. It's not fun to see your brother withering away."

 

Tristano looked down, under his suntan he had become pale. "I didn't know that", he whispered.

 

Luca touched his arm. "It's easy enough to set up a mask of inviolability. But it is worth a look behind."

 

Luca considered telling Tristano about the will of Sandro's father and that it was up to him to save the family's money with a sacrifice that would destroy his whole concept of a free life. But he decided against it. That was just between him and Alessandro.

 

Tristano looked down the long alley of graves and tombs, of monuments, marble steles and pictures set into stone plates, separated by weathered iron fences.

 

The sun was burning and he felt his skin prickle. He felt the uncontrollable urge to lay down in the heat and make love. Luca was still looking at him. Then, surprisingly, he made a step forward and embraced Tristano. He felt lips searching for his own and welcomed the tongue's caress. A heat wave rolled over his

 

body and he felt his arousal growing until it pulsated in his jeans. "Will you be meeting Rosso at the Cascine Friday evening?" Luca asked close to his ear when they had broken the kiss, but they still remained in an embrace. "I'm going to Pisa."

 

Tristano pushed him gently away, but still held his hands. "I guess I should. Perhaps I'll find another Luca." To ease the all too mushy feelings, he broke out into laughter. "At least someone similar."

 

 

 

_______________________

 

7

________________________

 

 

"Carino,

Exciting news! Yesterday Tristano and I passed San Lorenzo and I remembered that they started the excavations at the Medici-tombs some days ago. They will examine the graves at the church of San Lorenzo as well as in the Principe's chapel. In the crypt they made an exciting discovery: Under the grave of the last Medici ruler Gian Gastone they found a subterranean secret chamber with the bones of eight corpses, most of them babies and children. I've attached a newspaper clipping so you can read for yourself. Isn't it great? But they won't examine the bones of Lorenzo Magnifico because then they would have to remove the statues made by Michelangelo standing above the tomb and they don't want to risk it. Tristano said they were dying of a heavy kind of gout, but the experts aren't sure if this was the reason for their deaths.

 

Gioia, I'd be really pleased if you could book a hotel room for us. Rosso will be staying in a tent with his little brothers and to be honest, I don't fancy that. I haven't ask my parents about the trip to Rome. It was difficult enough to convince them to allow me to go with you to the sea side. Father is somewhat on my side, but I guess just because he feels he has to protect his youngest son against the verbal insults from Dante and Marcello. Dante's out of hospital by the way. He's doing better but still can't go to work. Marcello's wrists are healing but there's only two weeks before the summer holidays anyway, so he won't return to work either.

 

Raniero's been expelled from the workshop for good. Coppo resisted the influence of his family and despite the fact that he was a promising talent he said he didn't want a jerk in his class. Mind you, Coppo has confessed that he's gay too! My father knew but he had repressed it. And some of our class mates support us. Me and Tristano that is.

 

Yes, I've heard from Giano. He's working with Tino in the music shop to earn a bit of money. He seems to enjoy that.

 

My train arrives Friday afternoon in Pisa at 5:15 pm. I miss you too."

 

Baci,

 

Luca"

 

 

Alessandro unfolded the newspaper article and became absorbed.

 

 

 

 

"... about 6 square metres long, two and a half meters high crypt. For almost 300 years it remained undetected! Corpses were lying everywhere...

 

... What a spectacular prelude to the unequalled "Operation Medici". Italian experts want to open all 49 Medici-graves. This should clarify the circumstances

 

of life, diseases, rumours about mysterious murders by poisoning and the causes of the deaths of the relatives of the legendary banking dynasty that ruled

 

Florence for three centuries...

 

... 'The identity of the eight corpses is unknown", says Fornaciari, a palaeontologist from Pisa. So far one thing is clear: we are dealing with the corpses of

 

three new born babies, two children between one and two years old and two older children , along with a 20 year's old. Fornaciari continued 'One of the young

 

boys was carrying the remains of a crown in the form of a garland of flowers.' ...

 

... So far the experts have managed to bring four corpses up to daylight: the bones of grand duke Cosimo I, his wife and their children Giovanni and Garzia.

 

This brought to light the first surprise: The previous hypothesis of the historians, that most of the Medici suffered from gout, begins to seem uncertain...

 

... no metabolic disease like gout, but a synotivis... all skeletons and pieces of clothes shall be DNA-examined..."

 

Alessandro whistled through his teeth. He knew the Florentine rumours about grand duke Cosimo I who was reputed to have had an unhealthy longing for his little daughter. Don Garzia and Cardinal Giovanni, Cosimo's sons, both died at the age of twenty. The official history said they died of Malaria, but rumours said, Don Garzia stabbed his brother during a hunting trip, and was killed afterwards by his father Cosimo. Perhaps the Pisan professore would now be able to bring the truth to light.

 

This was the stuff Florence was made of. Rumours, conspiracy, poison, knives, murder, vendetta. What he would be able to tell an interested audience while he led them through his hometown! This was so much more than the clean and boring facts he had to learn about Proto-Renaissance and the dates of battles. Though of course it would be easy to merge the two and spice up the plain stuff.

 

Alessandro put the article into his exercise book, stretched out upon his bed and thought about Luca. He missed him more than he would like to admit. And then there was all that shit with Leoni. She was like a leech on his trousers' leg, clinging to him wherever he went. Whenever he tried to talk with her about the night they had spent together, she repeated the same story over and over again almost until he started to believe it himself. What if it was the truth? What if he had fucked her like 'Jupiter's hammer', as she stupidly described it? He couldn't imagine becoming horny like that when a naked girl was lying in his bed. He wouldn't be horny at all, for heaven's sake and he hadn't even been drunk enough. Something was off about the story. Uncle Arrigo had written to him too, about the political events in Florence, about the everyday strike of the bus driver, about the welfare of his mother who was still living in the clinic for rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol, but was doing extremely well. As long as she was left in peace, Arrigo said, and not reminded of his family. Alessandro snorted. Of course not. As if she had ever cared about her sons. His brother Nando she had let die alone; a wretched death in a hospital and he - Alessandro? He was the pretty boy of the family. The youngest. The hope and the last offspring of the Gondi-Lucertola's. The carrier of the genes. Frail and unstable like the ones of the old Medici's whose last offsprings had all been homosexual, soft and weak idiots, with no children, so that the long line of the proud and strong banker's dynasty simply died out one day. They were contemporaries of the Gondi's and now his own family would go the way the Medici's went before them. Neither Arrigo nor his brother Emilio, the mayor of Florence, had been able to produce children. Their fertility was like - nil.

 

Sometimes he felt compassion for his uncles. If at all possible the Gondi's mustn't die out. Why not go to Leoni and fuck the brains out of her to father a son that would carry the long blood line?

 

Alessandro stood up and poured himself a glass of wine, Arrigo had sent to Pisa from his own Tuscany vineyard. It tasted fruity and a little of herbs, just the way he liked it. He poured another. Together with a glass of Grappa it would be enough to make him drunk.

 

Despite the wide open window it was sticky in his room, there was no breeze coming in from the river. He wondered if Florence was melting away in the caldron of a summer's heat and he felt pity for Luca. He wished he could stay in his palazzo, the Lizard-Tower, with its cool, thick walls that let no heat in.

 

What would Luca say if Alessandro became a father? He could do it, father the child and then leave Leoni, get a divorce and continue with his life as it had been.

 

And then? Alessandro sipped at his glass. Wouldn't he feel responsible for his child? Should it be allowed to grow up without love as he himself had grown up?

 

If he only could wait! He was only nineteen and felt he wasn't mature enough to be a father. He was still a kid himself with all the longing to catch up with what he had missed when he was younger. The displays of bad temper, the bad behaviour he had shown when he was an adolescent and frightened the town, was just a protest.

 

On the other hand... Alessandro had finished his third glass. Now or later, what did it matter? He swayed slightly as he rushed to the door that led to a small corridor and opened the door to the kitchen. As always it was thick with smoke because Leoni stood at the stove and stirred a pot. Brutally he took her shoulder and turned her to face him. Then he pressed his lips upon hers and ground his abdomen into hers. She gave a startled, but stifled cry, then she succumbed. She wrapped a leg around his and he lifted her up onto the kitchen table, while fumbling under her short skirt and tugging at her slip. "This is what you want, right? Me fucking you like a hammer", he hissed. But she struggled. "What are you doing, you're drunk!"

 

   "Yeah", he giggled. "When I'm drunk I don't miss an extra thing to play with."

 

Suddenly she gave up the struggle and lay down upon her back on the table.

 

He looked at her and his arms fell to his side. Nausea filled his stomach. What was he doing here? Brutality was a foreign word to him. "I'm sorry", he said, and ran into the toilet of his room where he vomited into the sink. Then he sank down against the tiled wall and wiped over his face. Bloody hell.

 

After a minute he felt well enough to stand up, drank some water and returned to the kitchen. Leoni was sitting at the table, smoking. She was pale. "I'm sorry, Leoni", he said softly. "You're right, I'm drunk. Forgive me?"

 

Leoni watched him silently. Her eyes were red. "I should report this, you know", she said coolly.

 

   "What?" Alessandro laughed. "Nobody would believe you. It's what you wanted, right? You tell everybody we're a couple. So, who wouldn't expect a little fucking session upon the kitchen table, eh?"

 

They glared at each other.

 

   "One - zero to you", Leoni said after a while. "When you've sobered up I'll be waiting for you in my room." She stood up and continued to stir the pot.

 

 

* * * * *

 

   "Last group", said the moustached warder and counted the people. "Thirty people, no more. In thirty minutes you have to be back down here, per favore", he told the grumbling tourists.

 

Luca and Alessandro were part of the last thirty people who were allowed to clamber up the spiral staircase of the Leaning Tower. Luca was excited. He had never been up here before. For years the tower had been closed, but now since the specialists had stabilized the leaning of the tower, it was open again and he followed Alessandro's butt cheeks, moving up the stairs in front of him. He suppressed the longing he had to bite softly into them, and grinned instead to himself.

 

Going into the Campanile was a very strange experience: the angle of the 'lean' was really pronounced when they were inside. The staircase was a rather tight corkscrew, and Luca really felt as though the whole building could tip over as he climbed. Going up the staircase meant that he was tilted first to one side and then to the other as the corkscrew snaked up around the centre of the tower.


It was seven thirty in the evening, thirty minutes before closing time. Behind him he heard people puffing and stomping up the marble steps. Two hundred and ninety four steps wasn't exactly a short way. Alessandro stopped briefly to marvel over the exquisite work of the colonnades stony lace work. Contemporary architects would just work in glass and concrete, but there was something about the decorative elements of the Pisan Tower that remained unique. Luca stopped beside him and touched the cool material tentatively. Alessandro smiled at him and brushed a strand of blond hair out of his eyes. "I'm glad you're here", Alessandro whispered.

 

A surge of wind blew their shirts when they stood in the open air upon the platform they shared with the other twenty eight people. The view glided over warm coloured houses, red roofs and ochre toned walls, over an oval stadium, the old university buildings, the green lawn of the Piazza dei Miracoli to the green hills of the Apuanian mountains in the distance.

 

   "There's the sea", Alessandro stretched out his arm. "Behind the mountains. I've booked us a holiday apartment, we'll be undisturbed." He pulled Luca's face to his and kissed him. "You think it was worth the 15 Euro entrance fee?" he asked. Luca had complained about the expensive fee and that Alessandro had insisted he would pay for them both. He had bought the tickets this morning but the waiting time was unbelievablely long until they could walk up the tower. Luca nodded. "It's beautiful." He turned to touch the marble stone of the building that hid the small tower bells.

 

   "It's of Moorish influence. Look at the grey-white alternating stones. It's like a Zebra-pattern", Alessandro said. "Like the Muezzin calling the believers from the Minaret, the bells shall call the Christian believers. But perhaps it was vice versa, after all, Christianity is older than Islam. Which reminds me: Ever been to the Camposanto?"


   "Only on a school trip.", Luca answered. "There's holy earth from Jerusalem scattered over the ground that the first crusaders brought with them, the teacher told us."


Alessandro nodded. "That's true. Next time you come we'll visit the museum where they hung up the remains of the large freschi, the cemetery-walls were once covered with. It must have been a marvellous sight once in the middle ages." Alessandro's eyes were veiled as they always were when he was absorbed in his favourite metier.

 

Luca stood close to him and felt the heat that his body was oozing. He would become a good guide, conveying his love for the old and historic Art. But wasn't Art timeless? Even when those large freschi had been destroyed in the second world war by an allied bomber, hitting the tin-roof so that the walls were shaken and the hot tin flooded over the paint? The remains that lay crumbled on the ground were carefully picked up and sorted by scientists and now they can be seen in the museum. It had been a tragedy. One of the many.


 They stood and looked. "What I wanted to ask you ...", Alessandro started after a while, "I wondered about your remark in your last letter. You told me that some of your classmates support you and Tristano. Why Tristano? Do they know he's gay like you?"

 

   "Well, they found out", Luca said cautiously, not looking at Alessandro.

 

   "How? Did they catch you both inflagranti?"

 

Luca said nothing.

 

   "Did they?" Again Alessandro took Luca's chin and turned his head towards him. He looked him straight in the eyes. "They did, right? Where? In the class room?" His blue eyes hid a glint of laughter, but Luca couldn't find it funny.

 

   "We were late one morning, and ... we came in together to the workshop. Raniero made a stupid comment..."

 

   "You were late one morning? After what? A hot night?" Alessandro, was furious for a second but then got himself instantly under control.

 

Luca didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. He just looked down, embarrassed. He had been unsure whether to tell Alessandro what had happened, and had actually decided against it. But now... he couldn't lie to Sandro's face.

 

Alessandro let go of his face and leaned beside him upon the iron fence. "When?" he asked.

 

   "Monday night. He invited me to the flat he has moved into. I told you."

 

   "And he cooked for you and opened a bottle of wine and told you to have sex with him for he wanted to learn all about gay sex, right?"

 

   "Right", Luca said stubbornly.

 

Alessandro couldn't hide a small grin. "Is that so?" He examined Luca closely for a moment. "You like him, don't you."

 

   "Sure I do. But it was just one time."

 

Alessandro nodded. His heart felt heavy but he couldn't turn back time. What happened had happened, no use to make reproaches. He leaned in and whispered into Luca's ear "Did he take you or did you take him?"

 

   "I took him. I... I couldn't allow him to do the same ... as you..." He leaned his chin upon his forearms and would have liked to have vanished from the earth.

 

   "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." Then he lifted his head and looked into Alessandro's face. "I'm really sorry. Are you mad at me?"

Alessandro looked him up, sizing and ruminative. "Of course not, gioia. I hope you were good." A brief twinkle appeared in his eyes. "Better than I was on our first night."

 

His voice sounded serious and Luca felt exceedingly relieved. He pressed his lips upon Alessandro's and afterwards embraced him.

 

Some people stared at the couple; both felt it, but it wasn't important to either of them. 

 

 

*

 

Luca felt completely filled. Outstretched upon Alessandro's soft mattress - a newly bought one - and lying on his stomach, he felt Alessandro's heaviness behind him. Upon him. Relaxed he enjoyed the soft thrusts, the steady rhythm of the beginning of their coupling, a tentative searching for the right position, letting the other do all the work. For the moment Luca was too overwhelmed, overwhelmed by the long missed sensations and the understanding Alessandro had shown when he had confessed his tryst with Tristano. Well... understanding perhaps wasn't the correct word. Sandro had told him later, that he was disappointed, but that he was human enough to understand. What a noble feeling. But Luca couldn't stop feeling certain that there was something more behind Sandro's all too willing acceptance. As if he had a bad conscience. But why would that be? Alessandro's hands glided along Luca's outstretched arms and back, over his shoulder blades, around his waist. Luca lifted his belly a little and Alessandro slid down to embrace Luca's straining and wet erection. "Who's washing the bed clothes?" Luca mumbled.

 

   "Bed clothes?" Alessandro mumbled back. "You have odd ideas in the middle of hot sex." He came to his knees, took Luca's legs in between his own and made the channel very tight. He slid his cock in and then out almost completely, varying the speed and the thrusts, until Luca purred with lust and came up to his knees too. Alessandro reached around and grabbed hold of Luca's cock, stroking him up and down in the same rhythm. "I'm very glad you didn't allow Tris to fuck you", Alessandro whispered. "That's my place." Luca grinned but was instantly washed away by too many sensations that his moaning became louder.

 

   "You haven't told me if he liked it", Alessandro murmured into his ear. "Were you gentle with him? Sure you were, like with me." He now stroked only the tip of Luca's penis, going round in circles and smearing the fluid around it. Luca responded with more groans. "Did he say he wanted more?" Alessandro continued, increasing his speed. "And do you?"

 

Luca couldn't answer and his ears weren't listening anyway. Alessandro constantly hit the sensitive skin over his prostate and it made him wild. A while later he found himself upon his stomach again with Alessandro laying heavily upon him, outstretched like he was himself. Both were panting hard.

 

   "Your place is booked", Luca said softly and heard Alessandro's chuckle.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Colourful lanterns swayed in a small, cool breeze. They had been hung up between the trees and oozed a mysterious, warm light. The meadows of the Cascine Park - Florence's fairground - were covered with stands and grills and tents. Tristano heard the pulsating music in the distance.  Illumination lit up the discjockey, glimmering points in yellow, red and green. In front of him - on the grass - people moved to the rhythm of the music.

 

Listening from a distance, Tristano couldn't make out the songs - it was only the pulsating beats, the basses and drums that drew him closer. He breathed in the scent of baked potatoes, barbecued meat and vegetables, of cotton candy and fruity ice-cream.

 

By the pizza-stand he saw Rosso and some of his friends, dressed up like Tristano himself. Teenagers roamed between the stands, smearing themselves with candy floss and glazed apples. He felt some heads turning as he passed by; a flash of white teeth when a girl smiled at him, but then he froze. In the middle of the lawn a group parted and a young man started to dance alone. He made quite a show - naturally - swaying his slender hips, kicking his feet, bending his upper body, shaking his butt.

 

Tristano grinned involuntarily when their eyes met briefly. The dancer's upper body was clad in a tight-fitting, white muscle shirt with the printed words 'Take me' and a phone number. His legs were covered with expensive looking designer-jeans; tight, and giving his butt the kind of look that made everyone stare at it, especially the giggling girls. Black, shiny curls fell boldly on to his forehead.

 

Luca might be handsome, Rosso interesting, Alessandro an austere beauty - but this guy here was the embodiment of the classic Italian male beauty. Michelangelo would had chiselled him in marble, and Leonardo would have taken him into his bed for sure. His profile was perfect, but just as Tristano got close enough to look at him, he realised the secret of his beauty; his face was regular, but it had the incompleteness of a work of art. The cheekbones were high, and the mouth was a noble line with swelling lips, the bottom lip a tad too thick. The secret lay in the imperfection. Tristano fell for him instantly.

 

He wasn't alone with his adoration; Luciano, the homosexual well known in town, sneaked around him like a snake after a rabbit. A tap on Tristano's shoulder shook him out of his fascination. Rosso arched his left eye brow. "I can see your bulge from ten metres away", he said sternly. Then he broke out into a merry laughter. "I thought you were keen on Luca", he added quietly, still grinning. Tristano literally jumped back. "How do you know that? Have both of you talked about me?" His voice betrayed his anger.

 

   "Hey, it was plastered all over your face the last time we met." Rosso turned to the little dance floor and folded his arms, looking at the dancer in the middle of it. He couldn't deny that he was the most sexy man he had ever seen. Giuliano appeared at his side, another girlfriend in his arms. "How's that for a fag?" he asked. The girl giggled but nonetheless her eyes were fastened on the moving body.

 

   "You still don't have enough?" Rosso said sharply. "Watch your mouth, Giuliano. You're just envious." He looked meaningfully at the girl. Giuliano was speechless for a moment. "Are you in support of Luca?" he asked then. "Our pal who has turned into a shit stabber? Has he turned your head?"

 

Rosso's hand jerked but then he only shook his head and dragged Tristano away with him. He bought two Rum & Cokes and stared silently into his paper cup. The basses boomed through the night. Tristano looked alternating to the dancing beauty and the silent Rosso who muttered "I'd never thought that I'd have to decide between them one day, that some of my old school friends would turn out to be complete jerks."

 

Tristano looked unhappy. "You don't have to speak to me", he said.

 

 

   "What?" Rosso's green eyes sparkled angrily. "Why do you say that? Do you feel that inferior? Luca told me what happened to you; well, I noticed anyway. And believe me, I prefer your company to any of those." He nipped his paper cup on Tristano's and emptied it. "Come on, let's find a sexy man for you."

 

Tristano glanced at the dance floor and saw the black curly haired guy surrounded by some guys that he was obviously flirting with. Rosso followed his stare.

 

   "What's it called?" he shouted over the music. "Gay Radar?"

 

Tristano grinned "I guess you mean Gaydar." He shrugged. "I'm new to the scene. But I think my radar works already." He threw a last glance at the dancing guy and suddenly their eyes met. The lights flickered - at least Tristano thought so for a brief moment, but then Rosso pulled him away, laughing. He was glad that he had found another friend, since his old ones appeared to have changed into idiots.

 

Rosso had just turned towards the next grill stand when Tristano said "Wait", and stopped in his tracks. It was too late. Carolina, his ex-girlfriend, had already seen him. She was in the middle of a group of girls and the smile on her face died.

 

Tristano's stomach clenched painfully. He saw the lights upon her long, brown hair - blue and yellow, her tanned skin stood out against her yellow, short dress and Tristano felt a pang of regret. It was about time he made his peace with her.

 

  "Ciao, Tris", Carolina said coolly, eyeing Rosso, who stared back. Then he gave Tristano a slight push and vanished between the trees. Tristano eyes followed him thankfully. "Ciao, Caro", he said quietly. Joyful laughter touched his ear drums as well as chattering, shouting and music. A warm breeze whispered through the branches and the air was balmy. Carolina's friends gave him unfriendly stares and Tristano felt embarrassed.

 

He took her hand determinedly and she followed. She leaned against a tree and looked at him. "Do you regret it?" she asked. "Have you thought about our relationship and found that you're ready to continue?" she said hopefully. But he had to shake his head. "I'm sorry, Caro. Yes, I've found out something." He took a deep breath. "Something that hasn't anything to do with you."

 

Carolina's big, brown eyes looked expectantly.

 

   "Well, I'm almost eighteen. And... people can change. I knew what I wanted, but I was wrong and I've fallen in love again."

 

   "Obviously not with me." Carolina said in a bitter voice. "Do I know her?"

 

Tristano grimaced. He bit his lower lip. "You know him... Luca. I like boys, and as I've said, it has nothing to do with you."

 

Carolina was mute. Shocked perhaps. Then she laughed. "That's a joke", she stated.

 

   "I'm not joking. I said, people can change. I've found out what I really want."

 

On Carolina's face were mirrored many different feelings in rapid succession. "And what did you feel when you was in bed with me? You didn't like it, right? I gave you everything and you ... you laughed about it." Her eyes glistened with tears. He tried to take her into his arms but she pushed him away. "Don't touch me." She breathed deeply in and out and calmed herself. "Alright, Tris. You like boys, ok. You think you're gay, all right. But what if you change your mind in a few months? How many people are you going to hurt until then?"

 

   "Caro, that's nonsense, and you know it. What am I supposed to do? Live like a monk to prevent others from being hurt? Somebody'll always get hurt."

 

   "But you don't want me because I'm a girl! Do you know how much that hurts?"

 

Tristano shook his head. "No. I don't know about that. It would probably be worse if I'd fallen in love with another girl. But a boy? You can't compete with that. It's not your fault. I still like you."

 

Carolina wiped her eyes. Perhaps she was starting to understand. When he tried to pull her into her arms she didn't struggle. "Is he your boyfriend?" she said into his neck. "The red haired boy?"

 

   "No. Rosso's looking for a girlfriend." He took her shoulders, held her away from him and looked into her sad face. He smiled. "He's nice."

 

Carolina gave a sobbing laugh. "Bugger."

 

 

 

At a different place Rosso fought a similar fight. His school friends Micky and Giuliano continued their bickering until Rosso left them standing and hoisted two Ramazotti's pure. The bitter-sweet taste of the herb-flavoured liqueur lingered in his mouth but warmed his stomach. Determined to leave the park he ran into Tristano. Still fuming he snapped at him. "Made up with her?"

 

Tristano looked hurt. "Listen, I told you you don't have to bother with me, so don't shout at me."

 

Rosso took a grip on himself. "Sorry. I was just ... pissed, not at you." He took Tristano's shoulder. "I'm going to get drunk tonight."

 

   "Ciao, bello", a deep voice murmured into Tristano's ear at that moment. Startled he turned to the owner of the sexy voice and froze again. It was the dancer, now looking at him with a half cheeky, half seductive grin on his tanned face. "Do you have a light?" He shoved a cigarette between his lips.

 

Rosso, hearing this, said "that's the most stupid chat up line I've ever heard. Only straights would use that. I thought you had more imagination."

 

Curly raised his eyebrows. "Tell me a better one." He put his arm around Rosso and combed his fingers through his red hair. "I'm a pyromaniac - are you coming to put out my fire? How about that?"

 

Rosso screw up one of his eyes. "That wasn't bad."

 

Curly's eyes devoured Tristano. "Your boyfriend?" he asked. Rosso roared with laughter. "No. I prefer the female curves if you know what I mean." He slipped from Curly's embrace and called back as he walked away "but thanks for the offer!".

 

Curly, still with arched eyebrows turned to Tristano, standing like a statue, with his hands in his pockets, his face unreadable.

 

   "And you?" Curly asked. "Keen on the female curves or male ... stiffness?"

 

Both weighed each other up with stares. The curly haired guy's anthracite eyes radiated. His brows built a wonderful, clear, black arch over his eyes. "Sergio", he said finally.

 

There's something was about him, Tristano thought. Something dark, secret, forbidden and shady. Altogether.

 

   "Tris", Tristano said.

 

Sergio made an unsuspected step forward, pulled Tristano close, by taking hold of the neck of his shirt and rubbed his lips over Tristano's. Electricity crackled. Tristano's hair at the nape of his neck stood on end as well as his cock. In an instant. Sergio's tongue tasted his lips like a flickering snake, before it entered his mouth like a conqueror.

 

Tristano gave a sigh and leaned into Sergio's body; his groin inflamed, his mind heated.

 

   "You certainly prefer male stiffness", Sergio ground out between his lips, feeling the bulge between Tristano's legs. "To your place or mine?"

 

Tristano hesitated for the length of a heartbeat. "To my place.", it was about time he substituted the memory of Luca with another.

 

 

 

 

   "He's going with him", Carolina's friend said incredulously. "I don't believe it".

 

  "There you are, all the handsome guys are gay", another sighed. "And you hadn't the slightest idea?"

 

Carolina shook her head.

 

   "Perhaps he'll hate it". Her friend put her arm around Carolina's shoulders. "I've heard it hurts like hell. You know ... being ... erm ...from behind ... and all."

 

Carolina looked at her incredulously. "I've heard they are crazy for it."

 

*

 

As soon as the door closed behind Sergio he pushed Tristano forward into the room and kissed him like a starving wolf. Then he let go of him and inspected the flat. The only light came from the aquarium and the yellow streetlamps outside. "Nice fish", he said. "You live alone here?"

 

Tristano stood, over heated and nodded. "Drink?" he asked.

 

Sergio pulled his shirt over his head. The light reflected on his skin and Tristano wanted nothing more than to touch him. His nipples were two dark coins, like the peaks of two mountains with a valley leading down to a six pack. Instantly Tristano felt inferior. He couldn't compete with this beauty. If he undressed now, he would die of embarrassment.

 

Sergio's eyes flamed. He hooked his thumbs beneath his belt and grinned. "Didn't you offer me a drink?

 

Tristano rushed into the kitchen and found only the Est! Est!! Est!!! Luca had brought. His heart ached. What was he doing here? Suddenly he felt a warm breath on his neck, a forefinger draw a line from his neck down his back along the spine. Tristano shuddered and his heartbeat quickened. With trembling hands he tried to open the bottle. Sergio embraced him from behind and blew into his hair. "I love blond hair" he whispered. "Come here."

 

Sergio took the bottle, uncorked it and clicked his tongue. "Wow, where did you get this year from? It's been a long time since I've had such a marvellous wine." He filled the glasses. "Cin-cin", and let the fluid roll over his tongue. "Superb."

 

Tristano was confused. Suddenly Sergio seemed similar to a high society snob. "Drink", Sergio said. Tristano emptied his glass with his nervousness and waited for what would happen next.

 

   "Now, what shall we do with the rest the evening?" Sergio asked, grinning slyly.

 

The wine went instantly to Tristano's head. A fruity-herb taste on his lips he leaned in and raked his fingers through Sergio's curls, shining in the pale light. He felt sweaty and sticky from the warm night. He ran his palms over Sergio's upper arms and felt himself pulled to a hard chest. "I need a shower", Tristano tried an evasive answer.

 

   "Good idea."

 

Tristano went ahead into the bathroom and wondered if Sergio would follow him. He didn't have to wait too long until the curtain was pulled aside and Sergio stepped behind him into the shower. Tristano didn't dare open his eyes but his skin and body responded to the man behind him; to the soapy hands, sliding easily and firmly over his body. When he felt Sergio's cock nestling in between the cleft of his cheeks, he felt adrenalin streaming through his veins and his lust rising. He turned off the water and fished for the towel, still avoiding looking at Sergio. Almost desperately he towelled his hair and tried to smooth it; then he felt Sergio's hands stopping him. He lifted his chin and looked examiningly into his eyes.

 

When Sergio smiled, dimples appeared in his cheeks and his white teeth sparkled; his almond shaped, anthracite eyes still radiating.

 

   "Oh god", Tristano whispered and then he devoured the red lips, the chin, the neck, collarbone and bit into the dark coins of Sergio's nipples. He went down on him, kneeling on the hard tiles, kneading Sergio's butt cheeks and watched his cock hardening and rising. But before Tristano could do what he wanted to do,

 

Sergio pulled him up; his palm briefly touching Tristano's hard penis, grinning cheekily before he engaged him in a wet and passionate kiss.

 

   "I want you", Tristano mumbled boldly, fingering Sergio's arse, searching for the cleft. He had no idea how to do it, but his cock had taken over control. Sergio chuckled. "Then go ahead."

 

Sergio's kisses sent Tristano into the orbit. He managed to block Luca and all comparison from his mind. He knew this was pure sex. Somewhere in the back of his brain he realized that Sergio was experienced, older and able to press all the buttons necessary to set Tristano's body on fire. The bed sheets were a tangle, the cover lay on the carpet and he tried to remember what Luca had done to him as he sat upon Sergio's back, stroking the lean muscles, the shoulders and the moist, black hair. The jar of vaseline was still standing on his night stand.

 

Sergio struggled and Tristano slid from his back. "What's the matter with you? What are you waiting for? Have you never done this before?"

 

Tristano shook his head timidly.

 

   "All right." Sergio crawled out of the bed, vanished and returned with the bottle of wine. "Drink."

 

  "I don't need to be drunk to have sex."

 

Sergio held out a glass. "Apparently you do." He drank some more himself, brought his mouth close and let the fluid drip from his mouth into Tristano's.

 

Tristano coughed but swallowed, then he took the glass and emptied it himself. He felt himself pushed upon his back. Sergio's warm mouth engulfed his now shrivelled cock and then suddenly Tristano lost all inhibitions. He squirted into Sergio's mouth, but the relief was just momentarily before he felt his lust rising again.

 

Sergio's cock, heavy and longer than his own, poked his thigh, his hip, rubbing against his skin. As he opened an eye he saw Sergio greasing himself and then rolling a condom over Tristano's penis. He straddled Tristano, wriggled for the right position and let himself sink down on him.

 

Tristano's eyes opened wide in shock. How tight. How warm. How slippery. Sergio's face was relaxed. His muscles rippled, his hairless thighs rising and sinking, and Tristano gave his first loud moan. Sergio bent forward to kiss him and then released himself.

 

   "Get the idea?" he asked. Yes, Tristano thought. Hell, yes. He took over control, kissed Sergio as if there was no tomorrow, and instinctively did all the right things to surprise the experienced Sergio. He was behind him, pushing his fingers into Sergio's greased hole, then he lined up and shoved his cock in with one long, slow motion, making Sergio jump and a long groan escape his mouth. "Keep going", he said through gritted teeth.

 

On his knees he responded to the long thrusts until they found a mutual rhythm which wasn't easy, Tristano thought. The sensations were overwhelming, and the only thing he could wish for would be another cock thrusting up his own arse and he would die a happy man. He didn't want to hurt Sergio with the beautiful body he possessed, but he couldn't hold on. Sergio moaned and was on fire but all too soon Tristano had to give up the fight with himself and ejaculated.

 

Sergio was still on his knees, jerking himself until he came too. Then there was silence.

 

They both lay side by side, eyes closed. Tristano's brain kicked in after a long time and he turned his head. Sergio's face was unmoved and he wondered to himself if he had liked it. If perhaps he was sore. If he wanted to do it again. Why didn't he say something?

 

Tristano propped up on his elbow and leaned over. Sergio's tanned body stood out against the crumpled sheets. Perfect, hairless, in proportion; small hips, long, muscular legs, his cock a beautiful neat snake, carefully shaved balls and trimmed pubic hair. Tristano had always looked after his body too, but Sergio had something unearthly. How could such a man be interested in him?

 

Sergio felt the look and opened his eyes. Radiating eyes with black, thick lashes. "You liked it?" he asked. "I'm ready for another round."

 

There it was again: his cheeky grin and Tristano's heart ached. Sergio's mouth left a wet trail after he had gnawed on Tristano's nipples, washing his belly with his tongue, at the same time rubbing Tristano's half-sleeping member. He had a technique that made Tristano crazy and that was far in advance of his own ability. He spread his legs wide when Sergio's fingers searched for his hole, sighed when it was encircled, the pressure growing then diminishing, Sergio's mouth engulfing and sucking the head, and only the head of his cock. He sucked hard, almost painfully, alternating with lapping the tip, gnawing at his foreskin and at the same time a finger penetrated him, bent, found and purposefully stroked the little knot. Tristano saw stars. "Fuck me", he panted.

 

Sergio was over him in a second.

 

 

*

 

Tristano's lids were heavy like lead. A stale taste was in his mouth. Every limb hurt, including a sting in his arse. He jerked upright and looked at his side. The place was empty. "Sergio?"

 

Silence. Tristano noticed the mess. The empty wine bottle. The open jar of vaseline. Ripped open plastic packets and filled condoms on the floor, the rumpled, moist sheet.

 

Tristano jumped out of his bed, rushed around searching his flat; Sergio had gone without leaving a note.

 

 

___________________

 

8

____________________

 

 

Luca woke up when he sensed Alessandro's arm pulling him tightly to his body. He lay on his side and felt Alessandro's chest, abdomen and soft genitals on his back and butt. He entwined his legs with his boyfriend's and gave a sigh almost inaudible. A soft breeze wavered through the metal blinds like Sandro's breath through his hair. Opening his eyes he saw the empty bed opposite, laden with open and closed books and with Sandro's laptop. "Do you like studying?" he asked sleepily.

 

Alessandro stroked his chest. "I do. The teachers are brilliant. They know even more than I do."

 

Luca heard the smile in his voice, struggled, turned to face Alessandro and ran his fingers playfully over his face. The scars had healed, but on his right eyebrow was a cleft and no hair grew there. His nose now had an interesting hump, giving Alessandro's face an austere sensibility. He was more beautiful than before, at least to Luca.

 

   "Braggart. What have you planned for me?"

 

Alessandro smirked. "Forty eight hours of sex to make you forget Tristano's cock."

 

   "Ouch. I'm not made of steel, you know."

 

   "No?" Alessandro slid over Luca, pushed away the bed cover and kissed his way down.

 

   "Sandro, what about breakfast?" The voice broke off instantly. "Oh..." Leoni stood petrified in the door frame, absorbing the picture of two men having sex.

 

Alessandro unfastened his mouth from Luca's penis and threw the pillow at her. "Fuck off, Leoni. Can't you see I'm busy?"

 

Leoni, bright red, banged the door behind her.

 

   "Holy shit." Alessandro looked down at Luca who tried to hide his grin. "I'd forgotten to lock the door."

 

   "You always forget", Luca chided him. "Does she come in each morning to have breakfast with you?"

 

  "No. That was the first time." He stared puzzled into nowhere. "She knew you're with me."

 

  "She wanted to see two guys fucking?", Luca suggested smoothly. He pulled Alessandro's head down to him and gave him a sound kiss.

 

 

*

 

   "Alessandro?" a sharp voice called to him from the kitchen as he and Luca tried to pass it discreetly.

 

   "What do you want? To apologise for bursting into my private rooms?" He entered the kitchen, dragging Luca behind him.

 

   "Apologise?" Leoni sat at the table with her friend Marisa, empty plates in front of them, puffing away. "I'm quite familiar with your bed, Alessandro Gondi. I've all the right to wake you up", she said haughtily.

 

Luca could literally feel Alessandro's anger; the grip of his hand became painful. "Watch your mouth, Leoni", he growled, while Marisa was devouring Alessandro with her eyes, shooting evil looks at Luca.

 

   "Why?" Leoni said innocently. "Your boy doesn't know about you and me?"

 

Alessandro closed his eyes and stomped out of the kitchen, Luca in tow. He said nothing until they were out of the campus. "I thought we were going to pick up Franco?" Luca said finally. He felt himself turned around and pressed to a wall. "Listen, Luca. Whatever Leoni says, don't believe her. She's a pest. She tries to seduce me, she wants me to fuck her, and she tells everyone that we're already doing it."

 

Luca's gentle brown eyes looked at him and something happened to Alessandro at that very moment which he couldn't quite grasp. He felt a fear of loss and a sort of a realisation of what Luca meant to him.

 

   "No wonder, considering your looks", Luca's voice reached his ears. But there was a slight flicker in Luca's eyes and Alessandro knew Luca wasn't convinced.

 

Alessandro shook him without his usual arrogance. "You must believe ME, no matter what you'll hear." Alessandro had Franco's promise, not to tell Luca that he had caught Sandro and Leoni in bed. He trusted him. There was no reason to make Luca suspicious.

 

   "Hey, you two lovebirds. Have you forgotten about me?" Franco stood behind them, lanky and large as always, with a huge grin on his face. "Let's go, I'm starving."

 

During breakfast in one of the student's cafes Luca was the centre of attention. He had to tell them down to the last detail all about the examinations of the Medici tombs. "They say the last Medici had caries because they always ate chocolate imported from America."

 

Franco laughed. "Bad teeth from too much chocolate?"

 

   "Now, tell me again about the finding of the tomb", Alessandro threw in, eagerly. "The article said when they lifted the grave stone of Gian Gastone there was nothing below?"

 

Luca nodded, licking honey from his fingers. Franco peeled his egg.

 

   "No coffin, just a false door. The entrance was well hidden. They examined the ground stone by stone and eventually found a grey stone, which stood out a bit and behind that stone lay a narrow entrance and a staircase leading down to the last tomb of the Medici's."

 

   "Madness", Franco said. Alessandro's eyes shone. "I wish I could have been there." Franco agreed.

 

   "What's with Don Garzia and Cardinal Giovanni?" Alessandro asked.

 

Luca hadn't heard of them.

 

   "You mean the sons of Cosimo?" Franco asked. Both - Sandro and Franco - stared pleadingly at Luca. "Please, if you find out anything more, tell us."

 

Luca grinned at them. There seemed to be real passion for history and secrets.

 

Franco looked alternatively at Alessandro and Luca as he refilled the cups with hot coffee. "You are both going to be leaving me next weekend, right? I've heard that the prices have gone up since we got the Euro. Our family used to go to Rimini every year when I was little. Now we can't afford it anymore."

 

 

   "Then why don't you visit us", Luca said instantly, but realised that Franco, being the proud Venetian, would never agree.

 

Franco looked at him as if Luca had made an indecent proposal. "You still have my offer to visit me in Venice."

 

Luca knew that Alessandro wanted to go for Rome and that wasn't exactly in the same direction. "It'll be a pleasure", Alessandro said, winking at Luca. "If you've time for us that is. I'm sure you're dying to see your girlfriend again, aren't you."

 

Franco nodded and choked then on his toast. Leoni and Marisa came strutting by. Leoni in her usual bright pink skirt and sleeveless T-shirt. She saw them sitting and stopped in her tracks. She bent over the table next to Luca and hissed into Alessandro's face. "And you don't need to play hide and seek. Everyone's going to know that you sleep with me when your little boy is absent." She eyed Luca. "Ask Franco whether I'm telling the truth."

 

People had stopped chattering and had turned their heads, murmured amongst themselves and then carried on as if nothing had happened. But Franco didn't know where to look. Sandro was speechless and Luca felt put out. "What did you do to her that made her hate you so much?" Luca said, getting back his voice.

 

   "I thought you were friends."

 

Alessandro exchanged a quick look with Franco, answering "She doesn't hate me. Quite the opposite."

 

   "She's keen on him. Wishful thinking, you know." Franco said in a brittle voice. He couldn't look Luca in the eyes. Sure he had found Sandro and Leoni in

 

Alessandro's bed, but Sandro had sworn that there had been nothing between him and Leoni. Considering that Leoni tended to over exaggerate and apparently in love with Sandro, he believed him. On the other hand he was for clear relations, and loathed lies. He knew that his friend Claudio was keen on her and that complicated things further and put Franco's loyalty to a hard test.

 

Alessandro watched the pink spot in the distance. Leoni was going too far, nobody embarrassed a Gondi in front of his friends. And worse; in front of his boyfriend.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Giano beamed when Luca entered the music shop where he worked, even if it was a Saturday morning. He rushed through the rows, filled with CD's and video's and embraced his younger brother. Tino waved from behind the counter and then both started off for their lunch together, just the two of them. Giano seemed to have changed, Luca thought. There was nothing left of the taciturn loner, the stubborn, reserved, a bit clumsy appearing young man. "Tino's good for you, eh?" Luca stated as they sauntered side by side along the river. Funny, it was the same river that passed their hometown and yet it looked different. Milky-green at some places or muddy brown with golden highlights. The banks were high to protect the town from flood . In the distance the foothills of the Carrara-mountains vanished in the sfumato of a warm day.

 

Giano stopped and sat on a bench. "He sure treats me well, but tell me about home. Dante's out of hospital, Mamma wrote me."

 

   "Yeah", Luca sighed.

 

   "That makes hard times for you?" Giano asked. The connection between both brothers still worked. Giano could still read his mind, sometimes at least. Since Dante was home again, Luca had hidden all his precious treasures in the Gondi-Palazzo, like Sandro's letters and Masolino's diary. He feared that if Dante found them, he would destroy them. If he wanted to read, he went to Sandro's home. Occasionally he pulled out the leather suit from the wardrobe or tossed the lapis lazuli from one hand into the other.

 

   "I'm not often home", Luca said monosyllabic. Then his face lit up. "What are your plans for the summer's break? We're going to the seaside soon. It would be great if we all could meet up again there. You and Tino and Franco and Rosso."

 

Giano smiled at his enthusiastic brother. "Sure we can. But first I think I need to see mother. It's been a while. Father has changed his mind about us?"

 

   "I guess so."

 

Giano took Luca's chin and turned his head towards him. "You happy with Alessandro?"

 

Luca's brown eyes lit up and he nodded.

 

   "I've heard that the girls are after him, despite that he doesn't hide the fact that he's gay. They simply ignore it because he doesn't have a boyfriend on campus."

 

Giano leaned in close. "Which surprises me to be honest. He could have any guy."

 

   "Including you?"

 

   "Except me." Giano winked. "Not anymore. I can see you both smooching in the hall and in the mensa... eh?"

 

Luca laughed his pearly laughter. "That's good, Giano. I think he'll be fire and flame if I tell him."

 

   "Certainly. You know..." Giano looked down at him. "It's not a joke, Leoni's serious about that. Perhaps she'll stop with her false hopes when she sees that you and Sandro belong together."

 

   "She caught us this morning in bed", Luca said. "You think that's obvious enough? Some girls seem to think they can turn gays straight."

 

   "And - can they?"

 

   "Absolutely, one hundred percent no. Would you voluntarily sleep with one of them?"

Giano shook his head.

 

   "I've heard gays are much happier too", Luca chattered on. He took Giano's hand and played with his slender fingers. "I can't judge, but I think they're right." He made a goofy face and both laughed. "Are you happy?" Giano asked still half-laughing.

 

Luca nodded. "I am."

 

Giano gave him a brief kiss on his lips, then on his cheek and embraced him tightly. "Me too", he whispered. "And I owe it to your boyfriend."

 

   "Look, queers!" a childish voice squeaked. The mother of the boy, passing by, gave him a nudge and smiled apologetically.

 

The brothers looked at each other and started with their laughter again. Its cheerful sound died away over the river.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Tristano silently watched Rosso's little brothers splashing with their hands in the Neptune-fountain of the Boboli-garden. Rosso had brought some colourful paper sheets and folded ships and hats, little fish and birds. Seppe had set a paper boat into the basin and screamed in disappointment when it sank under the water where a stream trickled down from Neptune's trident. Tristano grinned involuntarily. He sat beside Rosso upon a bench and enjoyed his presence. He had needed someone to talk to, or he would had burst. Luca was out of question - after all he was the reason for his nightly escapades. So he had called Rosso in hope of finding a sympathetic ear. The red head was dying of curiosity.

 

   "It was just a one-night-stand", Tristano finished his report. "Perhaps I couldn't expect more."

 

   "Men think with their cocks", Rosso said. "It's easy to get your satisfaction."

 

   "But it's so empty and quiet afterwards", Tristano objected.

 

   "Girls are more clinging, that's right", Rosso agreed, looking expectantly at Tristano. "Now, tell me, how is it? How did you know that you like boys more than girls? Was there a specific event? And what's the difference?"

 

Tristano blinked. Seppe fished for the loose, misshapen paper boat and almost toppled over into the water basin. Rosso jumped up and held Seppe's braces.

 

   "Geez, Dani, watch for your brother, please", he chided. Seppe bawled, but Rosso took him into his arms and gave Dani a plastic fish looking like Nemo, the clown fish. Dani let it swim and Seppe forgot his tears.

 

Rosso smiled lopsidedly when he returned.

 

   "You love them, don't you. Where's your mother?" Tristano asked.

 

  "She keeps the paper shop open. After the holidays I'll work there although I'd rather work an apprenticeship in my uncle's leather factory."

 

Tristano nodded understanding. "Like this paper here?" He took one of the paper sheets with a typical Florentine, floral pattern.

 

   "Yeah, that's waste", Rosso answered. Tristano remembered that Franco, Sandro's friend, had made a shopping spree for it to send it to Venice, his hometown. The Florentines decorated everything with it: pens, books, cards and most of them in work in one of the many family factories.

 

   "Can I have an ice-cream?" Seppe asked now and Tristano knew that Rosso wouldn't be able to resist the large green, pleading eyes. It was a hot day anyway and he was thirsty. Rosso took his brothers' hands and climbed with them up the staircase to the café that was besieged by tourists because it allowed the most splendid view over Florence.

 

  "You haven't answered my question", Rosso reminded him, while Dani and Seppe shared a coppa of ice. He sipped at his ice tea, like Tristano.

 

   "Question?"

 

   "How did you realize you're gay."

 

   "What's gay?" Seppe asked. Rosso rolled his eyes at him. "I explain when you're older, piccolino", he said.

 

   "I know what's gay", Dani said seriously. "That's when you kiss another man on the mouth."

 

Tristano laughed. "Quite right, angelo, and it is the same as when your pappa kisses your mamma."

 

Seppe's spoon sploshed on the ground and Tristano felt instantly that he had said something wrong. "Our father left when Giuseppe was born. Three kids were too much for him", Rosso said calmly. He picked up the spoon and gave Seppe his own. The small boy looked unhappy and Tristano stroked his copper corkscrew locks. Rosso wiped Seppe's chin, before he would soil his T-shirt again. "It's all right. I don't miss him. He pays money, but it's never enough. I work in the mornings, delivering newspapers, milk and rolls."

 

And Tristano had thought that Rosso was just a rich layabout like Rosso's school friend Giuliano was. Even Alessandro Gondi longed to earn his own money and fill his life with sense.

 

   "You still haven't answered my question!" Rosso said. Dani folded the paper napkin to a fish and showed it his little brother.

 

  "It's not easy to say", Tristano answered, his eyes fastened on his empty glass. "Luca just blew me away."

 

   "Physically? Aren't you keen on me too?" Rosso's green eyes sparkled. "Don't say anything wrong now, mate. When the girls don't like me, I can do something with boys instead." He winked and then both roared with laughter. Seppe and Dani joined in just for the merry sound.

 

The waiter brought another cup of ice cream and placed it between the boys. "For the bambini", he said, ruffling their hair. Tristano looked amazed, but Rosso smiled. "Distant cousin of mine", he explained, while Seppe already spooned the pink strawberry ice cream which landed upon his T-shirt.

 

   "Too bad you aren't gay", Tristano mumbled.

 

   "Why aren't you?!" Dani asked and Rosso laughed at the absurdity. His ears were the colour of his hair now. "Well... er... you know", he started, then ignoring his brother's question, "Do you think you'll see him again? Sexy Sergio I mean? We could go again to the Cascine tonight, what do you think? Perhaps Caro will be there again?"

 

   "Don't say you fancy her", Tristano said instantly.

 

   "Why not?"

 

   "I told her you're nice."

 

Rosso turned red as a lobster and grinned from ear to ear. "So, it's a deal? Ten o'clock, same place?"

 

Tristano looked down at his town, spreading in the depression caused by the river, framed by gentle hills, red roofed, ochre buildings, with steep clock towers and the oval cupola of the cathedral reigning in silhouette. In the distance the green patch of the Cascine park blurred with the horizon.

 

   "Deal."

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

Tristano had spent the afternoon with his parents, telling them the news about Isolde, his sister, avoiding any talk about Carolina, and when they had asked if he was going out with her, he lied. He felt bad about it, but wasn't strong enough to tell the truth yet. First he had to sort out his own feelings. He missed Luca and it was better that he didn't imagine what Luca did with Alessandro in Pisa when they were alone. With Sergio it hadn't been the same, although he had learnt a lot about technique and all. It just wasn't the same when your heart wasn't involved. But Luca was out of reach for him, and he would never fight with Alessandro for Luca's heart.

 

A voice within warned him not to expect anything from another guy that was beyond sex. But not every guy would only be keen on one-night-stands, would they? On the other hand; had Luca been more to him? Yes, he answered himself. They were friends sharing secrets, trouble and hopes. What could compare with that?

 

Carefully dressed, he left his flat and took the bus to the final stop Cascine. Rosso was waiting for him already, this time alone. The sun was setting and the lantern lights showed distinctly with each passing minute. Florence's youth gathered here, the unavoidable alcopops circled and here and there the sweet smell of a joint mingled with the spicy pizza scent. They sat in groups, chattering, laughing, bragging, whistling after the girls. Tristano saw some of his old school mates and waved at them, but he was not in the mood to join them. With Rosso, knowing about his secret, he felt safe.

 

   "Have you seen him?" he asked.

 

   "Sure. The centre of attraction. Let's make a plan of action."

 

   "Gosh, no", Tristano objected. He tugged at Rosso's long sleeve. "I don't want to force myself on him. And anyway, he's had me and won't think twice about me. Look at him and look at me."

 

Rosso looked him up and down. Astonished. "I see a handsome guy, nothing less. And he was

pretty keen on you."

 

   "Yeah, to fuck me", Tristano said soberly.

 

  "Ouch. But you enjoyed it. Didn't you?" Rosso locked his green eyes with Tristano's deep blue and once more Tristano wished Rosso played for his team.

 

   "Come", Rosso laid his arm around Tristano's shoulder. In front of the disjockey's music equipment he saw Sergio dancing, white jeans so tight he could see the length of his penis, his shirt short enough to reveal his belly button. He watched him dancing, almost oblivious to the world, lost to the pulsating, sexy beat of the black music. In Tristano's imagination he was naked. He remembered the feel of his skin, similar to Luca's moist peach - the bones of his slender hips, the splendid curve of his waist leading to adorable buttocks; firm like those of a one hundred meter's sprinter. Sergio was the most beautiful guy he had ever seen and he had been in bed with him. But the memory was hurtful. Tristano didn't know if he wanted to do it again. What was the use of a pretty face? Remembering that he hadn't exchanged more than three reasonable sentences with Sergio.

 

Some guys stared enviously at Sergio and his friends, and whispered about the coolness with which Sergio displayed his homosexuality. Luciano was again at his side and Tristano was once more damned to watch.

 

   "That's my favourite", Rosso said suddenly and stormed up near the speakers and swung his arms and hips in surprising synchrony. Tristano laughed and followed him, swept away by the sound. From the corner of his eye he saw Sergio turning his face - obviously surprised. Rosso, playing a game, wrapped his arms around Tristano's waist and kissed his cheek. Tristano struggled, but Rosso hissed, "hold still, he's watching." High-spirited he laughed into Tristano's face and then he kissed him on the mouth. And after a second of hesitation, he opened his lips and started a real kiss. Tristano stiffened, and then he enjoyed it.

 

   "You feel good, man", Rosso smirked, near his ear. "Is he still watching?"

 

Tristano craned his head around and looked directly into Sergio's eyes. "He's coming", Tristano whispered.

 

   "Good. Are you ready?"

 

But before Sergio reached the dancing pair, Tristano was touched by another. "Scusa, ragazzo", he said in an apologetic voice and wrenched Tristano from Rosso's arms. "Dance with me?"

 

Confused, Tristano looked up into a pair of fiery, chocolate eyes, black, short hair, that frizzed to small curls. He was older and a bit taller than Tristano.

 

Tristano was lost for words. "I hope he's not your boyfriend", the guy said, wrapping a pair of strong arms around Tristano's waist to pull him tight.

 

While Sergio was a prancing thoroughbred, this guy was a solid rock. "No", Tristano stuttered, completely losing track. "He... he's..." Tristano had a grip on himself. "We were just joking. I'm Tristano."

 

 

   "Hmm, Tristano." The guy grinned. Tristano melted. But it was not the stupidly, empty Sergio-grin, and Tristano wondered why he had ever fallen for that peacock.

 

   "I'm Vito. You've seen that Sergio-papagallo, what a peacock. His stage name is Santino."

 

  "Stage name?" Tristano and Vito were completely out of the music's rhythm. "Yeah, you can book him. As a go-go-dancer and call-boy. I had him once." Vito grinned openly and a bit apologetic.

 

   "Me too", escaped from Tristano.

 

   "You too? You're in need to call for a boy? You're kidding me."

 

Tristano blushed and was thankful for the light machine throwing different shades of colours on their faces. Rosso waved from the side and gave him a thumbs up. Sergio had shoved his bottom lip forward and seemed to pout.

 

And then everything happened in a rapid tempo. Among the group of chattering people mingled others with leather jackets, then they encircled almost unnoticed the group of gays standing aside. A loud bang and a flash startled Tristano and Vito and the group of young men scattered away, pushed by brutal hands. Nobody knew what happened; most of the visitors thought it was part of the effects of the music and the light machine, but some guys were laying already on the grass and were hurt. Tristano saw Sergio going down on his knees and Rosso, who got a bottle smashed over his head.

 

Tristano shouted frightened, then Vito left him, sprinting to the attackers, throwing himself into the fray. Surprised Tristano saw him going into a fighting position, kicking his feet and legs until two of them lay flat out on the ground. Judo or karate Tristano thought and followed Vito to rescue Rosso who was doubled up with pain, holding his head.

 

Tristano knelt beside him and pushed Rosso's out of the way. Blood covered his red hair. "Are you all right? Rosso?"

 

Rosso tipped over, unconscious. "Shit. Vito?" Tristano shouted, but Vito was holding down one of the leather guys. Among the hectic shouting and screaming. Tristano heard the howling of a police siren. Relieved he held up Rosso's head and wiped the blood out of his closed eyes. Sergio crouched on the ground, his white jeans torn and the shirt bloody. He held his arm.

 

Vito said a few soothing words to Tristano and rushed to the policemen, talking to them. The blue lights of the first aid flashed through the trees and orange dressed medics swarmed out. Tristano waved frantically until Rosso was cared for. A woman lifted his eye lids and finally he was pushed into the ambulance.

 

Tristano had a deja vu of the Calcio in costume when Alessandro had been carried to the hospital. Vito appeared at his side. "You all right?"

 

Tristano nodded. "Rosso's hurt. I need to go with him. Who were those jerks?"

 

Vito beckoned him to follow. Against a tree two of the leather jackets stood with legs apart, roughly being frisked by two carabinieri.

 

 

   "Raniero!" Tristano gasped. He stormed to him and gave him a good clout on his ears. Raniero shook his handcuffs; his face distorted with rage. "Filthy faggot. I'll get you."

 

The carabiniero pushed Tristano away and led Raniero off to his police car. "You know him?" Vito asked surprised. "Follow me." He took Tristano's arm and guided him to the ambulance. There he pulled out an identity card and a golden police badge. "Hop in."

 

Tristano stood petrified. "You're a policeman?"

 

Vito flashed him a brief grin and pushed Tristano into the ambulance. He himself joined the driver and the car rolled silently through the park. Others followed.

 

 

 

 

_______________________

 

9

_______________________

 

 

   "We have to talk". Alessandro placed two long drinks upon the low table. Leoni was sitting at in a deckchair, sunbathing. Surprised she lifted her sunglasses and looked Alessandro up and down with interest.

 

Alessandro - having free time while Luca was with his brother - had noticed Leoni on the terrace on the second floor that overlooked the campus and the green lawn beneath. After a quick think he had mixed two Campari Soda, ready to talk to her. Unasked he helped himself to a cigarette from Leoni's packet. Cigarette and glass in hand, the sunglasses upon his nose, his white shirt unbuttoned, he gave the impression of a young snob, enjoying the sundown on the Cote d'Azur.

 

Leoni was still staring. "Are you coming to get me into the right mood?"

 

Surprised Alessandro turned his head. "Why should I? Didn't you see enough this morning? Wasn't that enough to convince you I want nothing to do with you anymore?"

 

Leoni threw back her head and laughed. Her Campari sloshed. "You're too amusing, Alessandro Gondi. Really." Suddenly serious, she said. "You want to talk? About what? About my indecency to enter your room without asking permission before? Believe me, I've never been that shocked in my life beforehand."

 

Alessandro wasn't sure if she was joking or not. Like himself Leoni was a brilliant actor. "Yeah, I believe that", he said and sipped at his Campari. The glass was cool between his fingers. "Listen, why can't we just stop the game?"

 

Leoni laughed again. "I know what happened between you and me, my dear. And I know for sure you enjoyed it. Why not continue when your boy is absent?" She fluttered her eyelashes innocently. "About four weeks ago you'd asked me if I'd marry you and now I 'm supposed to forget about it? Who's playing the game here? Why did you ask me anyway?"

 

Alessandro bit his lip. Leoni was right of course. He had been close to giving in to his father's will - several times. When Luca had been away for instance. But accepting the clause of the last will would mean to lose him, his boyfriend would never accept a ménage a trois. And with that Alessandro would write the last chapter in the book of the long history of Florence's Gondi-family. The name would then only emerge in history books. Died out. All the possessions falling to the church and country.

 

Leoni nudged him. "Why did you ask?" she repeated her question and inwardly prayed that Alessandro would speak. She would make him forget that lousy boy. She rose, walked around the table and sat on his knees. "Alessandro, we are tarred with the same brush. What do you want with this proletarian Luca? He's poor. He has nothing to offer. You and me - Gondi and da Firenzuola - our dynasties are seven hundred years old and together we could rule the town again, with money and with power. We could have kids. You like kids, don't you? If you'd asked me again to marry you, I wouldn't say no."

 

Alessandro shook his head. Then he nodded.

 

   "Come on, you've done it before", she brought her lips close to his ear. "Fucking me, I mean. You were crazy for me that night and the nights before."

 

Alessandro felt her hands roaming his body. It wasn't that he so disliked the feeling, but he couldn't bear Leoni's intolerable arrogance. Something was building up in his stomach for certain; anger and scorn. "That's a lie", he said, pushing Leoni away. "I was just horny, and you were there. You've always been there to control me", Alessandro said heatedly. "I saw it in your eyes; 'Fuck me', they screamed and I did, but do you know what I thought while I was doing it? Spare me your criticism that you gave your virginity to a faggot who didn't want it."

 

Alessandro caught Leoni's arm which was drawn back ready to hit him, and held it tight. "You're such a bastard", she hissed.

 

   "Fine, then we are a pair", Alessandro sneered. "We are indeed tarred with the same brush, honey; that's one more reason to get rid off this shit and become a decent man."

 

It started slowly, but then Leoni roared with laughter. Luca heard her hysteric screaming when he turned the corner. He stopped in his tracks and hid behind an oleander bush. Leoni slipped from Alessandro's knees, still laughing. "You - a decent man? All I see is the boy I grew up with who seduced me to do forbidden things, who chased me into the darkest corners of your palazzo and who fucked me for the first time later. And now you'll seriously tell me it was a mistake, an error ... 'oh scusi signorina, I didn't mean to because I rather like to fuck the boys!" She leaned forward, leaning her hands upon Alessandro's armrests. "I bet I suck you better than all the boys in the world and there's help if you need something for your arse." She rose. "I'll get you for this, Alessandro Gondi.You are bad. Thoroughly."

 

She stormed away, passing Luca. The whole time Alessandro hadn't bat an eyelid and even now he sat unmoved. Then he fished for Leoni's forgotten cigarettes and lit one. Luca thought he could see his fingers trembling slightly. If he needed another proof of Alessandro's thesis, that Leoni was helplessly in love with him - there it was.

 

As silently as he could he slipped from behind the oleander bush and walked noisily up to Alessandro who looked up startled when he saw him. Then he rose and embraced Luca. "Good to see you, gioia. I've got a surprise for you." His smile appeared a little forced and in his eyes there was shock. But perhaps Luca just imagined seeing that. Nothing could shock his fearless Alessandro. He held him tight and bathed in the knowledge he had something that Leoni da Firenzuola would never have. Not anymore.

 

It was getting dark when Luca hopped into Alessandro's Ferrari. He was driven to a small, hidden restaurant and sat in the nice, quiet courtyard, covered with pelargonium and ivy, with date palms and light chains. Alessandro had propped his chin on his palm and watched the people eating. Luca explored a new side of his boyfriend: Alessandro was taciturn. With the desert Luca asked cautiously "I saw you and Leoni this afternoon. You were arguing."

 

   "Yeah, nothing serious", Alessandro answered automatically. But in his eyes stood the same testiness as Luca had seen before. He touched Sandro's hand. "I don't think that you and Leoni sleep together when I'm not here."

 

   "No?" For a long time Alessandro looked into his eyes. "That's not what it was about. Leoni sees everything from the sexual point of view, not from an emotional one. It's not always about sex and satisfaction. I can't live with someone I'm not friends with, you know? I don't know what's gotten into the girl. She was never prudish or anything, but... don't you think it's sick to claim I sleep with her every night and we will be a couple and marry", he faltered, "when everyone knows that I'm with you? There's much more to life and love than just sex for God's sake."

 

   "Indeed so?" Luca sized him up with raised brows. Then he started to grin. "Don't be depressed because of her. She's spoiling our evening. Now where's my surprise?"

 

Alessandro's mood changed from one second to the next. He thanked his genes for the ability to shake off unpleasant things like a dog the water, threw some Euros upon the table and pulled Luca away behind him.

 

Alessandro drove along the Arno to a separate place, passed a gate and the large, colourful advertisement "Drive-in Movie".

 

   "Wow! I'd never thought a drive-in movie theatre would exist!" Luca called out.

 

   "Reminiscent of the old 60's" Alessandro grinned. "Popcorn and Cola? Come on, let's have a great evening."

 

They had pulled down the Ferrari's roof and snuggled into the black seats when the screen went black and shortly after the blue Mediterranean appeared with Greek galley ships which brought the brothers Paris and Hector to the shores of Sparta. "TROY" appeared with huge letters and Luca gave a squeak. "Orlando Bloom!" he whispered pleasantly thrilled. "My Legolas with blond hair..." Alessandro nudged him and stuffed some popcorn between Luca's lips. "Shut up, carino. And since when are you keen on blonds? That's my metier. Look", he pointed to the screen, where a black-curled hair Paris appeared at Hector's side who was bearded, strong and wonderful. "They have little ribbons and golden clasps in their hair", Luca said quietly, "Who are the fairies then, us or them?"

 

Alessandro spilled the popcorn with his suppressed laughter. Tightly embraced they silently watched and with growing interest the entanglements that led to Helena's entry in Troy, Achilles' impressive, bloody fight and the landing of the Spartan fleet on Troy's shore.

 

   "Blond Patroclos!" escaped then pathetically from Alessandro. "I've waited for you! Young and beautiful. Did you know he's an American model?" Then he snorted disdainfully. "What? Achilles' cousin? Pah, cousin, he was his lover, Achilles' bed comrade. But that's not political correct, eh? The strong warrior, bursting with testosterone - a faggot? A cocksucker? Someone who loves to get fucked in his beautiful arse? If they had told the truth it would be so earthshaking for America's bible belt that they would throw up."

 

   "Achilles was bi, not gay." Luca objected, but agreed otherwise. "It was quite common and normal for a man to have a catamite."

 

Alessandro laughed. "Catamite. That's a thing of worth." He watched Luca from the corner of his eyes. "Will you be my catamite?" Luca boxed him into the side. "Come on, you're hardly older than I."

 

   "I AM older, carino." He roamed his hands over Luca's body, which lay comfortable half in Alessandro's arms. Absentmindedly he encircled his nipples through the T-shirt, then the belly until his fingertips vanished into the waistband of Luca's jeans while they watched mad Achilles raging at the gates of Troy, calling for Hector. Alessandro forgot his intentions, here in his tight Ferrari with other cars around whose windows slowly steamed up. The funeral pyre of Hector was flaming high at a night-time Troy, and Paris plotted revenge when the God Apollo came to his help, but not to Troy's rescue.

 

   "Do you think all that is worth it for a woman?" Luca asked afterwards, while the credits was running. "Ten years of war, siege, death and illness?"

 

   "You forget that it was the will of the Gods. I don't think Helena was a fraction as beautiful as Paris thought her to be. Aphrodite had cast a spell on his eyes. The only person who saw through the whole drama was Paris' sister Cassandra. But she doesn't seem to appear in this film. But no, I don't think it's worth starting such a war over a woman nor for anyone. And I do believe it wasn't just Helena, it was about something else, or different. The lust for fighting. To test power and weapons in a bestial competition who is going to be the stronger. And last but not least about politics and economy and who is to rule the Mediterranean. The whole palette of masculine ideals."

 

   "Well, we are lucky then. Nobody sees us as masculine but as weak fairies", Luca smirked. "Whoopee!" Alessandro had folded back the seats. They both now lay upon their backs and grinned at each other. Alessandro's fingers crawled down Luca's belly and opened his zipper and fly, slowly caressing Luca's warm package. His palm finally rested as he was nibbling at Luca's neck. "I look forward to our holiday, amore", he whispered.

 

Luca got goose bumps.

 

   "I've never been on holiday with a boyfriend", Alessandro continued. Slowly he pushed down Luca's pants and now grazed Luca's penis with his fingernails up and down. Luca gave a happy sigh. Alessandro had only said something like this in his dreams. He felt his cock throbbing. He struggled with Alessandro's jeans and pants, pulled them down over his butt and eased forward, bringing their heads together, as well as the heads of their members. Drops of clear fluid crept out of each head and they now throbbed in the same rhythm.

 

It was pitch dark. Luca didn't know if the other cars had driven away or if there were similar things going on in them. The screen had gone black; there was only some pale lights from the lamps lighting the area, bright enough to see Alessandro's eyes gleaming. He shoved his body over Luca's, trapping their erections between their navels. Their lips met, tenderly at first, then with more insistence. They opened their lips and their tongues met. Their hips started slowly to grind together, until their groins seemed to meld into one.

 

Alessandro's mouth left Luca's, and licked his neck, then he eased down, leaving a trail of saliva as he lowered his mouth to Luca's nipples, biting them softly. He heard Luca's soft noises, and he continued his caressing, massaging his shaft, creating a fire, until he crawled even lower and started to swallow Luca's cock. His tongue swirled around the head.

 

Luca moaned louder and shifted his position, so that he could suck on Alessandro's cock too. His hand caressed his balls. Alessandro took his mouth off Luca's erection and started licking his balls, then the area below them, until he reached his arsehole, where his tongue started to drill more and more deeply into Luca, then he slowly inserted a finger, massaging the hole, then another finger. Luca's cock pulsated wildly, anticipating what was going to happen next. Then Alessandro gave an unsatisfied groan. "Let's drive home."

 

Luca sat up with a jolt. "What?" He looked down at Alessandro.

 

Alessandro smirked. "To continue in comfort, what did you think?"

 

 

* * *

 

 

On Sunday Leoni stayed out of their way. They saw her from afar, but she seemed to ignore them. They couldn't see her glowing stares.

 

Sunday evening Luca stepped onto the train to Florence with the prospect of Alessandro coming next Wednesday to pick him up for their mutual holiday.

 

Clarissa awaited him impatiently. "Luca?" She rushed out of the living room. "It's good that you're here. Your school mate Tristano called this morning. There was an assault at the Cascine. Rosso's in hospital."

 

Luca watched her dismayed face until the information sank in. "What? In hospital? What happened?" Without waiting for an answer he pulled out his mobile and rang Tristano at home. "Why didn't you call me?" Luca started immediately. "Mamma says Rosso's in hospital? What assault?"

 

Silently he listened to Tristano's excuse of having mislaid Luca's mobile number, and all the events at the park. Marcello passed by him with a long scratch on his cheek and a black eye. Luca looked at him astonished, but was too caught up in Tristano's report to think about it.

 

   "Raniero?" Luca shouted. "That swine. He's in custody, right? I bet, this time he won't get away so easily. Shall we meet tomorrow at the hospital?"

 

Clarissa watched him with a worried look as Luca cut the connection.

 

   "The newspaper say it was an attack on the ... groups of homosexuals. I just don't know what Rosso..." She threw him a wary look and pulled him into the kitchen. "Leave your bag here, I look after that later", she said. She made him sit at the table. "Coffee? How's Alessandro doing?"

 

Luca cleared his throat. "About Rosso... he's not gay if that's what you think. Apparently he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. They have arrested one of our ex-apprentices, Raniero. The one who hospitalised Alessandro at the Calcio, do you remember?"

 

Clarissa sat beside her son. She looked unhappy. "You must avoid these places next time. You aren't safe."

 

   "But Mamma! I can't avoid everywhere just because it's dangerous. It isn't dangerous. It never was. But all of a sudden there are some jerks thinking that their conception of life is the right way and they have to beat up others who have a different opinion. I've never heard of it happening before."

 

Clarissa filled two pots of coffee. "I think it has something to do with you", she said softly and unhappy. "Marcello came home with torn clothes and the black eye. He wouldn't say where he had been." Her blue eyes were filled with pain as she looked at her youngest son. "I'm afraid he has something to do with it. He has changed since you... since you..."

 

Luca looked at her with wide eyes. "And Dante? Where was he? At home?"

 

Clarissa shrugged her shoulders and sipped at the hot coffee. " For the first time I feel so helpless."

 

Luca gently touched her arm. Clarissa had never talked to him like that before. She was always strong, clearing up the problems with a smile and a resolute action. She stretched out her hand and stroked Luca's hair. "Are you happy with him?"

 

Luca nodded, his throat constricted. Clarissa pulled him into her arms. "That's all that counts."

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

Rosso lay in a room with five others, likewise hurt in the attack at the Cascine. Gays like Luca and Luca got his second impression of what it meant to be different and being beaten up for that reason.

 

Rosso's mother was there, holding his hand. "Ah, Luca, good to see you." Her eyes were puffed though Rosso was grinning. "It's about time I was out of this queer's room", he joked, throwing a long glance at the other guys with bandages and plasters. One of them was Sergio. "I'm well enough to stand up, but Mamma won't allow it." He gave his mother a grin and she reciprocated. "All right, Renato, I'm off. The shop has to be opened and God knows what your brothers are doing at home. You are missed."

 

   "Yeah, as nanny", Rosso said, smirking.

 

   "Be well soon, gioia."

 

Tristano stood aside and gave her a smile when she was leaving the room.

 

   "Now, what happened to you and your head?" Luca asked.

 

   "While you was having it off with your boyfriend I got a bottle smashed over my head. It happened all of a sudden, nobody saw them coming. Guys in leather clothing. Tris here said it was one of your school mates."

 

   "Ex-school mates", Tristano said.

 

   "Anyway", Rosso continued perkily. "Nothing bad happened. My scull is made of iron, dickhead that I am. Tomorrow I'm out and then we can go for our holiday."

 

   "Are you sure?" Luca asked.

 

   "Sure I am sure. Nothing can stop me." Then he looked at Tristano. "What happened to that good looking guy over there?"

 

Tristano changed colour. "Well..." He darted a look over to Sergio, who had visitors crowded round his bed.

 

   "Ah, come on. Have you been with him?"

 

   "How could I after all that? Didn't you see me waiting for you at the emergency room?"

 

   "I was passed out. But that was sweet of you."

 

Everything was Greek to Luca. "What guy?" he asked Tristano. "Have you met somebody?"

 

   "Two actually", Rosso chimed in, goggling at Sergio.

 

   "Shut up, Rosso. I have his phone number, that's all."

 

 

 

*

 

Outside Luca and Tristano strolled along the streets. The Opificio was closed due to the summer's break and Tristano was in a brooding mood. "I hadn't thought that life would be so uncertain when you're gay", he said. "I'd never thought about it."

 

Luca was silent. He felt the same. But then he remembered what Rosso had said. "Now, tell me all about your conquests." He put his arm around Tristano's shoulder and peered into his face. "You had a hot night?"

 

   "Yeah, with a call-boy", Tristano erupted.

 

   "A call-boy?" Luca screamed surprised. "You were with a call-boy?"

 

Tristano shushed him. "Yeah, but I found that out afterwards. He's in Rosso's room, the one with the black curls. He seems to have a broken arm."

 

Luca looked down with a raised eyebrow. "And, did you?"

 

   "He fucked me, yes."

 

Luca looked up into Tristano's dark-blue eyes. "I guess a call-boy knows what he's doing and didn't hurt you, right?"

 

   "Of course. Well, then I met another who turned out to be policeman. He fought with the attackers. Pretty impressive, you know. He gave me his phone number."

 

   "Have you called him?"

 

Tristano shook his head.

 

   "You had an exciting weekend then." Luca sat on a bench under the plane trees of San Marco, their usual meeting place. "You like him?"

 

   "Who? The policeman? How could I? We danced for a minute then the uproar started." He paused. "Yes, I liked him. But he's older, and I'm not of age yet. Is it all right to go with a policeman then?"

 

Luca laughed. "Why not? He'll know what he's doing. Hm, about the attack, Mamma said, Marcello came home with torn clothes and a black eye. She's afraid he was with the attackers. I really don't know what I should think. I guess Raniero will be interrogated and probably tell them about his accomplices, coward that he is."

 

   "He'll want to save his own head perhaps."

 

   "Perhaps."

 

Tristano watched the sparrows, jumping at their feet, looking up expectantly. "And you and Alessandro? You had fun?"

 

Luca nodded and thought about the night at the Drive-in movie. "You've got plans for your holiday?"

 

   "Not yet. Perhaps I call Vito."

 

   "The policeman."

 

   "Right."

 

Despite Tristano's talk Luca had the distinct feeling that his friend hadn't give up the hope of a happy ending with Luca, but he couldn't help him there. The night they had shared had been great, but that was all. It would never happen again.

 

 

*

 

Wednesday at late noon, the red Ferrari stopped at the kerb in front of the Montori palazzo. Alessandro hopped out and was met by Luca before he could knock on the door. He was greeted with an embrace and kiss, then he was pulled into the hall where Luca's bag was waiting. "Alessandro, do you want to have a coffee with us?" Clarissa asked from the darkness of the hall. She appeared in the doorway with an apron around her slim waist. "Buona sera, Signora Montori", Alessandro said politely. "But I guess we'd a rather get off, thank you."

 

"Then have this, please." Clarissa vanished and returned with a lunch package. "For the journey." She ruffled Luca's hair. "Watch out for yourselves, boys."

 

"Will do. Wait a moment." Luca went to the kitchen to say farewell to his father. Niccolò puffed his pipe and leafed through a book. "Bye, Pappa. I'll phone you soon."

Niccolò looked up and a smile graced his stern face. "Look after yourself, piccolino. Tell Alessandro I'll break every bone of his body if he doesn't look after you. Here, wait." He rummaged in his back pocket and conjured up a bunch of Euro notes. "Enjoy your holiday."

 

 

 

 

* * *

 

Forte dei Marmi was a quiet seaside town, not that over-ran with tourists, nor with Italian citizens, but with a number of dandies and girls, looking for a rich prey to marry. It had kept its relaxing atmosphere, despite having a glittering night life and it was the right place for shopping with all the great Italian designers to be found there. All in all it was exactly the right spot for a couple that wanted to be by themselves. Their holiday apartment sat amid an opulent park, had a wonderful garden attached, and Luca felt like a millionaire. He wondered how Alessandro could afford this apartment since he was a bit short and all the money was stuck with the notary until he married and produced a son. Pah. Luca grinned from ear to ear. That would never happen. He was convinced that 2000 Euros was enough as monthly income to lead a decent life. Wasn't it?

 

With the setting sun they had their first stroll over the raked beach, beside the many blue-painted cabins, who stood in row like a string of blue pearls. A long landing stage led into the water. At the end of it Luca detected some people, staring out to the horizon. "It was built to ship the marble from here to all over the world, four hundred years ago", Alessandro said at his side.

 

Behind them the last sunbeams died upon the everlasting white of the Carrara- mountains and as a contrast date palms swayed in the low wind.

 

   "It looks like snow", Luca said, pointing to the mountains. "But it's the marble, right?"

 

   "Right. The best marble in the whole world. Pure and snow white. Imagine when Michelangelo sat there upon a mountain's peak and dreamed of building a whole monument from these mountains, forming it like a beacon with a flame to greet the incoming ships."

 

   "He would had done it if he could, wouldn't he."

 

Alessandro nodded and pulled him off the bridge, along the beach. "Legend goes that Michelangelo packed mules and horses with stone from Forte dei Marmi and led them through the Apuan Alps back to Florence."

 

He stood with bare feet, his jeans rolled up, the waves licking at his toes. "August is the thief of days", he said quietly. "It's half past eight and the sun is setting."

 

 The horizon was a radiating orange with pink stripes, inflaming the water's surface. "Look", Alessandro pointed to a shore in the distance where the beach made a bow. "La Spezia. Shelley drowned there. The people burnt him on a funeral pyre on the shore."

 

   "The British author?"

 

   "Yes. Keats and Shelley, the names you speak with one breath. Keats died before him at Rome."

 

Luca took Alessandro's hand. The beach was deserted and he felt as if both were the only people on earth. The wind was singing in his ears and a lost seagull screeched. "They were a couple?" he asked.

 

   "No, I don't think so. Just good friends. As Frodo and Sam have been."

 

Luca laughed. "Frodo and Sam from "Lord of the Rings"? Gosh, I wish they had married from the looks they shared."

 

Alessandro broke into a happy laughter. He pulled Luca to his side and started to kiss him.

 

 

   "Can you cook?" Alessandro asked later when they examined their holiday apartment with a kitchen and a separate bedroom.

 

   "Not at all."

 

   "So, it's restaurant every day, yes?"

 

   "Tristano can cook. Mind you, he's a fan of the Naked Chef. He cooked when we were..." He broke off.

 

Alessandro turned. "When you were together? Well, that's all right. If I could, I would cook for you too." He winked and dragged Luca into the bedroom.

 

At midnight Alessandro was perky as a fish in the sea. He coaxed Luca to go out, and not sleep away the whole holidays. He pulled away the fluffy cover from Luca's body and bit into his big toe. "I'll serve you the best Negroni!"

 

Luca groaned. "What's that for? You're a society-boy, seducing me with all kinds of fashionable crap." But he crawled out of the bed and followed Alessandro naked to the bathroom.

 

   "As long as I'm not a call-boy..." Alessandro grinned. "Ever been to Dolce & Gabbana? Cavalli? Versace? Gucci?"

 

   "No, only to Armani", Luca said dryly while he combed his hair. "And I've got a leather suit from Emilio Pucci, you know." In the mirror he looked at Alessandro behind him and raised an eyebrow, before he broke into laughter.

 

   "Then, what are you waiting for? The shops are still open. - just for window shopping", Alessandro added. "OK?"

 

They ended up at "La Capanina", a drinking and dancing establishment, and a great place for people watching. They sat outside under the palms and saw people doing fare bella figura, a very Italian sport, showing off with their body and clothes. Cocktail music jingled through the balmy night and a soft wind was rustling in the oleander bushes. Luca sipped at his Negroni, a bitter- sweet, delicious cocktail made with Campari, gin and vermouth -- the "La Capanina" claimed to have invented it -- and he felt a lazy dizziness in his head. His body was completely satisfied, both by the extended sex and the stroll through the town. On the card he read that Thomas Mann had been inspired to write 'Mario and the Magician' here, and Aldous Huxley finished his novels 'Antic Hay' and 'Crome Yellow' here also. Luca could understand them.

 

 

 

 

The morning started noisily when Rosso and his brothers arrived with a heavy rucksack and some smaller ones for the boys. The camping ground was crowded with people but Rosso didn't seem to mind. "I've been here for ages", he explained and sat up the tent in surprisingly speed. "Actually Micky wanted to share this tent. I'm not sure whether he's coming or not."

 

Rosso still had a piece of gauze over his wound, held on by a plaster. "Can we go to the beach?" Dani, his brother, asked expectantly, holding a bucket and shovel. "Not alone, tesoro", Rosso said. "Wait a minute and I'll be ready."

 

   "Are you sure you should go swimming with that plaster?" Luca asked.

 

   "Well, it seems to be all right. I shouldn't dive, that's all. Otherwise I'm well. Has Tris told you about his conquests? There was this Sergio, the call-boy I shared the room with in hospital. He asked me about Tris and if he was all right. That was sweet of him, don't you think?"

 

Luca shrugged but Alessandro grinned. "I know Sergio. I've had him."

 

Luca and Rosso stared at him. "Long before we met, gioia", Alessandro said.

 

   "And, what's a call-boy like?" Rosso asked, sorting his utensils into one corner of the tent, then pulling out his swimming trunks.

 

   "Experienced", Alessandro answered dryly. "Was he hurt?"

 

   "A broken arm. Nothing serious. But his self-confidence seemed to be a bit dented."

 

   "No wonder."

 

Luca looked consideringly at his boyfriend. How many boys had he had before him? Luca must have appeared very stupid and clumsy to him.

 

   "Experienced, eh?" he whispered when he, Alessandro, Rosso with his brothers in tow walked to the beach. Alessandro clutched playfully his neck. "No jealousy, please. He was great fun, but you", he leaned to Luca's ear, "are so innocently sexy and that counts more than any developed skills."

 

Luca's ear tickled from Alessandro's breath and he grinned. "If you start like that I can't undress. I'll be having another sort of tent."

 

Alessandro laughed out loud and slapped Luca's butt. "Who's going to be the first on the beach?" He started to run.

 

 

____________________

 

10

____________________

 

 

As the days went on Rosso's skin turned lobster-red despite the fact that he had emptied two bottles of sun-lotion. Alessandro meanwhile looked like a negro in whose face eyes gleamed like two blue crystal coins and Luca was like a sun kissed ephebe with golden hair and bronze skin. Luca had never been so happy in his entire life. Though sitting lazily under a sunshade, watching the waves coming and going, hearing the cheerful chatter of Rosso's brothers wasn't exactly his usual cup of tea, he enjoyed every second of it. Occasionally he got hit on his nose with the red water ball the boys were playing with, or a water bomb over his heated body while he was dozing in the sun.

 

Beach boys came along with vendor's trays, offering ice cream and tramezzini, or hot sausages and the first, roasted maroni.

 

With Alessandro he went on a tour to the Carrara-mountains and to La Spezia. Luca had brought Masolino's diary with him, as it was Alessandro's wish. He had missed it too long and both were guarding it like the apple of their eyes. He occasionally talked with Tristano on the phone who told him, that he had called Vito, but he'd only got the answering machine, telling that he was on holiday. Giano had gone with Tino to Germany to visit Tino's family.

 

Then late one morning a shadow fell over Luca's body as he sat in his deckchair, reading a magazine. He looked up and recognized Giuliano with a new girl in his arms. He wore nothing more than tiny, blue trunks and looked marvellous. Luca ogled at him, shoving his sunshade to the tip of his nose. "Giuliano? I thought Forte dei Marmi was too decadent for you? Couldn't you find a better place?"

 

Giuliano sat down on the sand and crossed his legs. Luca avoided staring at the distinct bulge in his trunks. "Where's your boyfriend?" Giuliano asked.

 

The girl at his side giggled. She looked like a penthouse-model with long, dark hair and Armani-sunglasses.

 

   "We've been to Viareggio, and now we're travelling along the coast. Is Rosso here?"

 

   "Yeah, somewhere in the water." Luca looked for Rosso's brothers who played happily near the shore. Seppe wore a sunhat and a little shirt, that was soaked from the water and both played with the watery sand, trying to build a sand-castle. Giuliano looked up when Alessandro appeared with two bowls of pommes frites in his hands. He handed one to Luca and sat in the next deck-chair. "Have we met before?" he asked.

 

   "Giuliano, one of my old school friends", Luca said automatically and dipped a potato chip into the ketchup.

 

   "Ah, sure." They measured each other with looks. "Where are you staying?" Alessandro asked.

 

   "The "Areion". First place in town. You? I suppose Rosso's in his tent, right? Like always."

 

   "Right", Luca said, chewing. "We have a holiday apartment."

 

   "Ah, the toff is too good to sleep in a tent, eh?" Giuliano said, pointing to Alessandro.

 

Alessandro's cold stare made Giuliano involuntarily shiver. "Watch your mouth. Didn't you say you was staying at the first place in town? Who's the toff then?"

 

The girl giggled once more. She looked at Alessandro's body through her sunglasses, Luca noticed it all too well.

 

   "Anyway," Giuliano rose. "See you sometime."

 

   "One-zero to you", Luca said, watching the pair sauntering along the beach.

 

   "Jerk. How can you be friendly with such dumb school friends?"

 

   "I'm not anymore. Rosso's the only one left."

 

Alessandro stopped eating and looked over. "Your life has changed since then, right?" he said compassionately. "It's always the same, carino. You don't know who's your friend until you need them."

 

Luca nodded and continued to eat. Seppe and Dani shovelled muddy sand onto their castle until it was washed away by a wave. Seppe bawled. Luca grinned at Alessandro. "Actually I'm happy I'll never have to bother with such a crowd of shrimps. Or would you like to become a father?"

 

Alessandro's appetite vanished. "Actually I don't."

 

   "What do you mean?"

 

   "Well, nothing."

 

Rosso came out of the water and sat beside his little brothers. He dried Seppe's tears by starting to build a new muddy sand-castle. "Rosso seems to love it", Alessandro said, holding out the rest of his pommes frites to Luca who gobbled them up.

 

They sat silently for while and Alessandro thought Luca had fallen asleep. Then he heard his voice. "Doesn't it hurt you sometimes that you feel that you're despised for what you are?"

 

Alessandro turned his head. "What - for what I am? For being gay? Or for being rich enough to allow myself a little luxury?"

 

   "Both."

 

   "On the subject of the luxury, I've been a Gondi for my whole life and have always had a different lifestyle than most of our town. We don't care what others say. And on the subject of being gay - I am what I am." He reached over the distance and took Luca's hand, laying on the armrest. He kneaded his fingers. "I'm happy with you. Nothing can stop us, not stupid talk nor a bashing. I'm not afraid. You must not be." He paused and looked intensely into Luca's eyes. "We can't have our lives controlled by others. Look at Rosso. He has taken it so easily, you're his friend, and Tristano has made friends with him too. Or look at Franco. That's how it should be. Who cares about sexual orientation."

 

Luca smiled wistfully. A water bomb exploded on his chest and he gasped with shock. "Ah, you! I'll get you for that!" He jumped up and sprinted after Dani into the sea.

 

 

*

 

The beach was deserted. It was after midnight when Luca and Alessandro came from a movie to have a last walk along the shore under the starry sky. A postcard motive. The couple walked hand in hand, bare feet, digging their toes into the muddy, milk white sand, picking up water- formed pebbles. "Look, a hen's god", Alessandro said.

 

   "A hen's god?"

 

Alessandro lifted the black-white stone to his eye. "I can see the moon through it. Look, here's a hole."

 

Luca took it and tried as well. "Why is it called hen's god?"

 

   "Don't know. You can put a string through it and wear it around your neck."

 

   "I already have your cross." Luca hadn't wore it on the beach, it was too precious to lose.

 

   "Let me see." Alessandro opened Luca's shirt buttons and the Gondi-cross shimmered in the moonlight. In slow motion Alessandro swiped the shirt from Luca's shoulders and let it drop into the sand. It was a warm night, warm enough to swim. His palms slid gently over Luca's skin, stroking his arms up and down, then he opened his zipper and undressed him slowly. Luca finished undressing for him, and shouted "Who's the first in the water!"

 

His butt gleamed white in the dimmed light and Alessandro fought with his own clothes. Naked he followed, splashed into the water and dived head-on into the waves. He caught Luca and dived with him underwater. They exchanged salty kisses and the water prickled on their skin. Alessandro held him tight, cupping his buttocks in his hands, so that their members melted together, rising at the same speed.

 

   "Come out", Alessandro said, taking Luca's hand, falling with him on the flat beach, where the wet sand made a natural bed. It was good to feel Luca under him, outstretched and excited. He kept inching his way down Luca's body, licking the water from his belly button, down over his wet pubic hair, over the cool and yet hot surface of Luca's erection. The fluid, oozing out of the slit was as salty as the water, and sweet as candy. He swirled his tongue around and felt Luca spreading his legs. Alessandro dove into the darkness and tasted the musky scent, opening his hole with his tongue while he never let go of Luca's cock. He prepared himself with enough of his own fluid, so that it wouldn't hurt. Luca moaned when Alessandro inched his way in and Alessandro froze. "It's all right", Luca said. "Don't stop."

 

He felt satisfied, completely filled, laying in the sand with the warm wind blowing gently over their bodies. They didn't move for a while, enjoying the sensations, and then Alessandro started to move again, Luca's legs folded around his back. He lowered himself and kissed Luca. "This is the best holiday I've ever had", he whispered, moving slowly, then taking up speed, pushing harder. Luca yelped, wrapping his legs tighter around Alessandro. The grazing of his prostate made his cock ooze like mad. He couldn't hold back, and didn't want to, then he climaxed with a loud gasp, feeling at the same time Alessandro exploding deep within him.

 

Alessandro let his head drop onto Luca's chest and then stretched out upon his body. The last thing he felt was Luca stroking his wet hair.

 

They woke up when the sun climbed up behind the Carrara-mountains, spreading milky light over the beach. From the distance a man with a dog on their early walk came closer. Alessandro woke up, still in Luca's arms, still trapped between Luca's legs. He freed himself, looking down on the white smears of semen upon Luca's belly, and wiped them away. His boyfriend was sleeping deeply, lips slightly apart, his bronze skin flawless and healthy. Alessandro kissed his nose. "Hey, sleeping beauty, wake up. Your prince's here."

 

Luca's lashes fluttered. He opened his eyes. Looking around amazed he realized the surrounding. "Jesus. Look there's someone coming." He jumped up, stumbled, and searched for his clothes. He found them scattered some meters away and hurried to gather them. Alessandro watched him amused. He cheerfully greeted the passer-by and the dog who sniffed at Alessandro's naked feet and up to his groin. Alessandro grinned cheekily at the man who looked away.

 

Luca rolled his eyes and shook his head. He held out the clothes and gave Alessandro a resounding kiss. "That was the best night ever."

 

   "You think so?" Alessandro pulled him into his arms, ignoring his clothes. "Me too." He locked his eyes with Luca. "I've fallen for you. Since a long time ago."

 

 

*

 

The letter came with the morning post. Alessandro turned it over, reading the sender's name. Leoni da Firenzuola, Firenze. What did she want from him? He stretched out upon the bed and ripped open the envelope. Luca was in the kitchen, making coffee.

 

"Dearest Alessandro,

It wasn't easy to find out your address, but I have my connections, as you certainly know. Congratulations, my dear, in becoming a father. I'm pregnant; at the start of the second month. Don't worry, the doc says everything's all right. So, I'd really prefer if you'd come home to have a talk with me about what happens next. I'm happy.

 

Ciao, amore, and mille baci,

 

Your Leoni."

 

Alessandro lay and stared mindlessly at the letter. Then he started to read it again. And again. This could only be one of her tasteless jokes.

 

Then he started to count. What was he doing about two months ago? Having the odd night with Leoni, right. She claimed he had fucked her like 'Jupiter's hammer', OK. The only problem was, he couldn't remember it. Then she had offered to wait for him in her room but he'd never gone. This had to be a mistake, a mix-up. Certainly someone else was the father.

 

   "Coffee's ready", he heard Luca from the kitchen. Dazed he followed Luca onto the terrace, sat in the chair and stared into nowhere. He burnt his tongue on the hot liquid and moaned.

 

   "Last day of our holidays", Luca sighed, stretching out his legs and leaning back. "When do you have to go back to university?"

 

   "Not before late September. Why can't we stay here a bit longer?" Alessandro's voice was flat and Luca looked up. "What's up with you? Are you sick?"

 

   "Headache. I really would like to stay here longer. What do you think?"

 

   "Well, if you think so. But I'm broke."

 

Alessandro laughed an unhappy laugh. "No problem." Well, he thought maybe it WAS a problem. 2000 Euros per month wasn't much considering his lifestyle, and there wasn't much left for him either. Yet you could change this with one go, couldn't you, he thought. The first step had been made: you're going to be a father. Next you could marry Leoni. Thirdly: you'll get the money. Twenty million Euros. Enough to buy Luca everything he wanted.

 

He darted a look over to his boyfriend, who sat there with closed eyes. His cup next to him, the coffee steaming. Everything could be so easy. He rose silently and let the letter drop into Luca's lap. He wouldn't lie to him.

 

Luca opened his eyes and groped for the letter.

 

   "Read." Alessandro watched Luca's reaction, saw his tanned face growing a shade paler. He too was reading it over and over again. When he looked at Alessandro again his eyes had the expression of a hurt animal.

 

   "So, you did do it. You promised me you hadn't." Then, suddenly, he broke into a heartfelt laughter, that sounded like acid to Alessandro's ears. "You'll get what you wanted. What you were bound to get, Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola. Your family money. What was it? Twenty million? Congratulations, indeed. Will you let me be a witness to your marriage?"

 

   "Luca, shut up!" Alessandro jumped up. "Never talk to me like that! I swear, I haven't fucked her. I can't remember. She said, I did when I was drunk. But how can I believe her? She's fucking around, that's the only explanation I have. God knows who's the father."

 

Luca's face was closed and Alessandro knew he didn't believe him. Alessandro crouched in front of Luca's chair and took his hands. "Look, I've always been fair with you. When I tell you, I didn't do it, you must believe me. She's playing a trick on me. You know how much she's keen on me."

 

   "But... that's mad! She can't be so keen on you to do you harm. That's sick."

 

   "Yeah. You and me feel that way. But do you know what's going on in a sick mind?"

 

 

 

The next letter followed with the evening post. Alessandro ripped it open with trembling hands.

 

 

"Alessandro,

congratulations, my son. Leoni has told me about the pleasant event. I knew we could rely on you. As soon as possible we will arrange the marriage, before everyone sees Leoni's condition. It will be a great marriage, I promise you. And when the child is born, we are in the possession of our own money again. You, that is, of course. But I know you will use it wisely.

 

We are very happy. Of course you must return home to prepare everything. There's no need for you to continue your study in Pisa. Your place is here with your bride. I expect you to come home as soon as possible.

 

With love,

 

Your uncle Arrigo"

 

First Alessandro's shoe hit the trash bin. Then his fist hit the table desk. He roared with anger. "That's so stupid!" he shouted.

 

Luca flinched.

 

   "How can they rely on the words of that bitch! She says I'm the father and that's it! Come on, how can anyone be so blind? And you know what the most ridiculous thing is with the whole drama? I can't prove it! Not before the baby is born. Then I can take a test. And then? If it's not mine I have her on my cheek! And the money's gone."

 

He flopped upon the couch, next to Luca. "And above all I should return to Florence to care for my bride, for heaven's sake", Alessandro started anew. "Stop my study! That's a cheek! I've never heard that before. He promised me that I could continue my study whatever happened."

 

   "Promised you?" Luca said astonished. "You've talked about this before with your uncle? What plans did you make?" Luca was highly alarmed.

 

   "Well...", Alessandro gave him a wary look. "We talked about it, yes. At the very start, to explore the possibilities. He suggested that I find a woman who would have a child with me, tell her about the deal, we'd marry and divorce and the kid would be left with my family."

Luca gasped for air. "That's monstrous."

 

   "So?" Alessandro leaned over and stared piercingly into his eyes. "I remember our talk in the meadow, when we'd been to visit my brother's grave, you remember too? You suggested that I should marry and divorce afterwards."

 

   "Yeah, but that was just brainstorming. I never dreamt you would be seriously considering the possibility. It's so unfair to your child."

 

   "Pah", Alessandro snorted. "It wouldn't miss a thing."

 

   "And where did you expect to find that woman, eh? Put an advertisement in the newspaper: Mother wanted for money?"

 

   "That's not a bad idea."

 

Something dawned on Luca. "And what if Leoni was let into the plans of your uncle? What, if she wanted to make you sleep with her, so that she has you in her hands?"

 

Alessandro fell silent. That could be true. He made a decision. "Tomorrow we're off to Florence. Arrigo's ears will drop."

 

But Luca knew it was a poor decision. It wouldn't change the status quo.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                               -- End of Estate -- 


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