I feel his hand slipping from mine as he searches in his jacket trouser. His palm opens and I see the lizard. Blue lapis lazuli with green, serpentine eyes. My gift to him.
I feel in my pocket and conjure up the golden-enamel cross. His face radiates. "You still carry it?"
I want to tell him that I would if I could be sure, but I am silent. There might be a time when it will be there, upon my chest, like it had been for so many months. The months we had been together, when Spring was clear and Summer was on heat. A shadow had fallen over us and we had never been able to clear it up.
I rise. "Come." And he follows my outstretched hand.
Could it be as it was in Spring... when we had met there by the fallen god, me, confused and awkward, only sixteen. Almost five years have passed and we are still so young. Much too young to remain in sorrow.
My feet stop at a tomb with a marble plate. Mutually we look down, silently. My heart starts to flutter when he turns his back. Away from the grave. He is breathing hard.
Then, his hand searches for mine and I follow his movement, directly into his arms. "Let the shadows rest", he whispers.
Shortly before they reached Florence's town walls Alessandro stopped the car and drove to a footpath along the country road. He stepped out, came around the car and opened the door for Luca. "Come on out, we need a walk", he said.
Luca didn't want to, but Alessandro's outstretched hand waited. He squeezed himself out of the car, ignoring the hand. With his head bent he shuffled along, until he finally stopped under an olive tree, grasping for the everlasting, silver-green leaves. He felt himself embraced from behind and struggled, but Alessandro held him tight. "No matter what happens, gioia, always remember the night on the beach. Promise me?"
Luca's head sunk even lower.
Luca sniffed and struggled in his arms until he could look into Alessandro's eyes. "That's great cinema, isn't it. And you, were you sore too?"
Luca pondered and finally shook his head. "No, you haven't."
Alessandro felt sick. "And what makes you think that this baby is mine?" he said quietly and dangerously clear. "Have you any proof of it?"
Alessandro laughed. "That's funny, zio. You put her words over mine. When I say, there wasn't a fuck, then there wasn't any. I'm not going to marry her until the baby's born and it's proven I'm the father. Which won't be the case." He leaned back again and emptied his glass.
Alessandro ignored Arrigo's hand. "There's something else", he said. "You wrote that I'm to come home and stop studying. No way, zio. I will continue to study or you'll have to shoot me."
Alessandro snorted. "Which planet do you live on? Who cares about a pregnant woman?"
"Florence cares! I won't destroy the girl's reputation. I owe her father's reputation. We aren't any old workers such as the Montori's!"
Alessandro stopped in his tracks and came closer. When their noses almost touched Alessandro whispered "You should be ashamed, Arrigo di Gondi-Lucertola. This is the noble spirit of Florence, is it. Stinginess and a cold heart. I thought our family history would mean something to you. That you don't want to let it die out. But all you think of is the money." He breathed in deeply. "It might be that you have made an agreement with Leoni, but you forgot one thing: Leoni's love for me."
Arrigo was mute, then his roaring laughter boomed through the room. "Leoni's love for you is not much more than lust for you. She got what she wanted, but apparently you're so good that she wants more." He suggestively raised an eye brow. "Never underestimate a woman, Alessandro. Don't make her appetite grow and then leave her alone unsatisfied. Her revenge will be terrible."
Leoni sneaked around the corner from where she was waiting and listening. Her eyes met Arrigo's gloomy facial expression. "It doesn't look too good, Leoni", he started. "My nephew is blessed with the Gondi's bullheadedness, and nobody can force him into something. At least not voluntarily."
Arrigo watched her with sharp eyes. "It doesn't matter, Leoni. See if you can persuade him to marry you. Everything that follows will be all right."
Leoni nodded. Not very convinced she left the house. What was she to offer? Actually nothing except the prospect of money, so that Alessandro could continue his expensive and careless life style. And of course she would participate then. Arrigo Gondi might be a sharp thinking business man, but he knew nothing about feelings. Absentminded she stroked her abdomen and prayed to every god she knew that the baby would be a son and healthy.
Tristano dialled Vito's number, but still the answering machine told him that he was on holiday. Startled he lifted the receiver, when his own phone rang and his face lit up. "Luca! Back from your holidays? Yes, I'm well. I just can't reach Vito. Huh?" Tristano listened. "Rosso has Sergio's phone number? He had asked about me? Why didn't he say earlier?"
Sergio... Tristano thought, while he sat slumped and ponderously in the corner of his sofa. It was drizzling outside, and a first whiff of autumn touched the town, even though it was only the first week in September. Sergio had given Rosso his number, but since Tristano didn't know about that and had never visited him in hospital he might be pissed at him and didn't want to bother with him anymore. Well... it was worth a try nonetheless. On the other hand… Tristano rose and crouched in front of the aquarium to watch his fish. He knocked softly on the glass. What did he want with a call-boy? On the very other hand... he hadn't had sex since the night with Sergio and his hormones were in uproar.
His tiny, black catfish snapped for a few grains of food and reminded him that he needed something to cook for when Luca was coming in the afternoon. He had liked Jamie's recipes. He rushed into his kitchen and leafed through the cookery book of the Naked Chef and stopped at a risotto. Good. Hopefully Luca liked risotto. He skimmed the list of ingredients and then rushed to the grocery shop next door.
Once more it smelled enticing when Luca slipped into Tristano's flat. "Don't say you've cooked for me again. I'm too embarrassed. Here." He pressed a package into Tristano's arms. "Wine, this time not from the Gondi's wine cellar."
Tristano unwrapped something else. "Marble?" he shouted out. "Genuine Carrara-marble?"
Luca briefly leaned against Tristano's body. If only Sandro was so easy going like Tristano… Why did everything have to be so complicated? But he didn't want to appear weak or laden with problems in front of his buddy. Although… he had come here for exactly that reason: to spill out his problems and find perhaps a solution. He just needed a bit more time.
Luca tried and made an approving face. "Where's the goat cheese?" he asked.
Tristano set the steaming plates upon the table, together with the slices of ham and the cheese. He decorated the ham over the rice and crumbled the cheese over the top. Luca watched him with cocked head. "Naked Chef?"
Luca coughed, but swallowed the wine. Then he put a note upon the table. "Before I forget, Rosso gave me this. Sorry he didn't remember earlier. But we weren't sure if you wanted to see Sergio again." He anxiously watched Tristano's reaction who took the note and read the phone number. "Well, I'm not sure if a call-boy can be something good for me. Surely I'd have to pay him if I want a date, right?" Over his steaming plate he looked at Luca and wished he could kiss him. Kiss him and do with him what he dreamt of. The whole night.
Luca shrugged and ate his risotto. "By the way, this tastes marvellous. It's about time I'm sent Jamie a thank-you-letter."
They smiled at each other and Luca had to lower his gaze because of Tristano's fiery and longing eyes. "Nothing from the policeman?" he asked, when he had finished the risotto, leaned back and was sipping at his wine.
He refilled his glass and drank it down. Tristano stared astonished. "Do you want me to tell something? Otherwise why are you so nervous?"
In an instant Luca's composure broke. He covered his face with his palms and sobbed. Tristano was stunned, then he jumped up and dragged Luca to the sofa, where he sat with him, and cuddled him in his arms. "What happened, Luca? Did you break up with him?" He couldn't stop the hopeful tone in his voice, but Luca shook his head. "He has to get married", erupted from deep within him. He loosened his body from Tristano's, took a deep breath and told him everything, from the will of Matteo Gondi to Leoni's pregnancy.
Tristano stared at him with disbelieving eyes which grew larger and larger. "Holy cow", he managed to say after a long pause of silence after Luca had finished his tale. "That's... I've never heard such a story. Not in reality at least. And why... I mean, do you believe him?"
Tristano said nothing. He cradled Luca in his arms. "But he could have twenty million. Isn't it worth it to play a little charade?"
Luca struggled from Tristano's arms. "I must go."
Luca shook his head. "Thanks for the risotto and the wine." He smiled. "And for your ear. I'm sorry to appear like a cry baby, but I needed to talk."
Tristano nodded. He hesitated when Luca had gone, but then he dialled Sergio's mobile number. It was dead. Tristano sighed. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. Neither Vito nor Sergio, not to mention Luca. Perhaps he should go to a gay pub… Alone? Out of the question. But perhaps...
But then he just jumped under the shower and jerked off alone, dreaming about the night with Luca, while Sergio's large, anthracite eyes sneaked into his wet dream until he didn't know anymore who was turning him on more.
The next week Luca was reserved. He didn't want to see Alessandro, he could beg him as much as he wanted. He showed up several times at the Montori palazzo but was turned away by Clarissa, her heart bleeding with not understanding what had happened. Luca also never answered the phone calls, but kept himself to himself. Just as Giano returned from Germany he found enough strength to describe his dilemma once again.
He saw the shock in Giano's eyes. Nobody should be confronted with such a decision, he had stammered and Luca had a sort of revelation. He found Alessandro upon his loggia, , reading Masolino's diary, a half-eaten plate with spaghetti on the wicker table. His hair was uncombed and a little matted, his eyes dull and puffed. When Luca entered the loggia he hardly looked up. "What's the matter Arrigo? I told you there's nothing more to discuss", he said tiredly.
Alessandro jumped up. The lapis lazuli rolled from his lap and cracked on the ground. "Luca", he said, not bothering with the stone. But then a shadow fell over his eyes again, and his smile died. "Are you coming to say good bye?"
Alessandro's eyes lit up and started to sparkle. "Because... you...?"
Luca shook his head and literally jumped into Alessandro's arms. "Nothing. I'm happy. Together we can face it, can't we." He devoured Alessandro's lips and felt so tightly embraced that it hurt. "It was just a shock to hear that she claims that you are the father of her baby." He looked into his boyfriend's eyes. "Have you seen her again?"
"In ten days. The new semester starts soon and I need to study a bit on my own first."
Luca laughed out loud. "I dreamt too much of you, amore", he said and fell with him against the pillows.
"Say nighty-night and kiss me; Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me. While I'm alone, blue as can be, Dream a little dream of me..."
They still grinned at each other. "Kiss me", Luca said playfully. "And hold me tight and tell me you missed me."
Luca peeled his breakfast egg, peering over the table. Alessandro ate nothing - as always. He never had breakfast, he was just slurping coffee that was a lot stronger than the chicory-coffee Clarissa used to brew. "Raniero's still in custody", Luca started. "This time they will sentence him, don't you think? I just wonder if he will give away other names. Marcello's for instance."
Alessandro gave him a long glance. "Hopefully not. Though we mustn't show any fear. That's what they want, all right?"
Luca nodded. And anyway, the threat was so unrealistic and far away from the protecting walls of the Lizard-tower. Everybody had to watch out for themselves, no matter if they were gay or straight.
Alessandro rolled his eyes and leaned forward. "What are you saying? Don't make me completely dizzy. One day you're pissed that I've slept with her, then you say why not marry her?! Please, gioia. Don't say anything about the issue and give me time to decide, ok?"
Alessandro nodded. That might not be long, he thought. He was surprised anyway, that someone had put up with him and his exhausting personality for such a long time. That Luca could have very personal reasons such as living with him with all his money - he considered that the least. That wasn't Luca's personality at all. Perhaps he just didn't want to lose him.