I'm still holding his hand. Looking into Sandro's face was like coming home. But I wasn't sure if there would be a new start for the two of us. Too much has happened. A wise man once said "We don't realize the time when we are happy. We only realize the time when we have been happy".

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?"

"Every day. In my pocket."

"But not around your neck?"

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.




Summer was over in Luca's heart. He couldn't speak about Alessandro's betrayal. He didn't know what to think then. He wasn't sure whether to believe his affirmations or not. How could he believe him? The light heartedness of the summer was overshadowed. Rosso had asked a hundred times what had happened when they parted at the railway station, Rosso and the kids stepping onto the train to Pisa. The Ferrari was much too small for other people in addition to themselves, and Luca was glad about that. He didn't want to talk about it. Not even with Rosso. Perhaps Tristano would understand him. He missed Giano terribly. He knew that he could tell his brother everything about it and he would know a resolution for sure.

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.

"I haven't cheated on you, Luca. I'll tell you the full story. We had a diner at a restaurant, because I wanted to thank her for taking care of the lessons while I was ill. We had a lot to drink, that's right, but I was never that plastered that I didn't know what I was doing. We came home, I felt dizzy, plopped into my bed and the next morning I awoke with her in my bed, stark naked. She claimed she had a head ache and was sore all over because I had fucked her like a stallion."

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?"

"Of course not." He wiped the blond strands off Luca's forehead. "Don't look so miserable, carino. That's all I know. I swear. Why don't you believe me? Have I ever done anything to make you wary?"

Luca pondered and finally shook his head. "No, you haven't."

"Good. Now to the other problem, since I wasn't sleeping with her, it can't be my baby."

"You forget the possibility that she could have given you a drug, making you sleep, and then…" Luca broke off as soon as he realized the impossibility of Alessandro ever been able to get a hard on while he was doped. It would work vice versa, but not that way.

"But she takes an oath that you slept with her?" Luca said now more hopefully. "I've heard about pills from America making you lose your sexual inhibitions, called "rape pills".

"You've heard about some odd things", Alessandro smirked. He pulled Luca into his arms, burying his head into Luca's hair. "I'm determined not to marry her, believe me. Will you come to my place tonight?"

Luca nodded.


"Congratulations on your fine plot, zio." Alessandro said with an acrid voice. Arrigo slowly folded the newspaper he was reading and stood up. "Congratulations, too, my son", he said smiling, with forced cheerfulness. He came up to his nephew and went to embrace him. Alessandro stepped back. "Don't you dare touch me", Alessandro hissed. "I assume you were the first to know about Leoni's pregnancy, right? So, your plan has worked out. We can all be satisfied." His face was calm but in the depth of his blue eyes he was boiling.

"You look great, son", Arrigo said unmoved and cool as ever. "Please sit down here at the table with me and have a drink." He went to the bar and mixed a Ramazzotti on ice for both of them. "I was happy indeed when Leoni told me the news. Though..." he sized up Alessandro who had leaned back in the leather armchair, "of course I couldn't be sure that you would follow our plan. You certainly remember that we agreed to find a woman for you who would give birth to a child for the Gondi family. She would be paid and that's that." He paused and offered Alessandro the drink. He took it and washed his dry throat. Arrigo sat opposite in the other chair, his eyes never leaving Alessandro's eyes. "We have found her. She agreed to the arrangement, to our satisfaction. Salute, Alessandro. I'm proud of you."

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?"

"Leoni is a decent girl, my dear. And why should I doubt her words? She and I had an agreement. Why wouldn't she fulfill her side of it?"

"Easy enough. Because I never slept with her! "

"No? Leoni told me a different story. Sure, she needed some tricks to make you interested in her, but that should have worked."

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.

"Don't be stupid, son." Arrigo's face was white with determination. "It's not about the family anymore. It's about the money. You shall marry and have a son. A child at least. Who will care whose child it is, eh? If the church wants proof I can easily provide the right proof of you being the father. You can do everything with money." He outstretched his hand. "Deal?"

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."

"You don't seriously think I'll leave Leoni running around with a fat belly for shame for everyone to see? Without a husband?"

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!"

"Ah! It's about the Montori's, right? Well. I think Luca's father is worth a hundred times more than you, setting her up like a fat drone, counting the money that's left from the huge Gondi-fortune. I'm not going to make it easier for you." Alessandro rose and banged the glass upon the table's marble top. He was about to storm out of the house.

"Alessandro? You'll think it over. It won't do any harm. A piece of paper and your father's ridiculous mistake will be corrected."

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."

"You sow the wind, now reap the storm", Alessandro said coolly and left the house.

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."

"He still denies the night we had", Leoni interrupted him furious. "Though I swear to you, nobody else is a possibility."

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?"

"Genuine. And a hen's god." Luca went straight into the kitchen and sniffed.

"Hen's god? What's that for Christ sake?" Tristano had lifted the small black-white stone and found the hole. "Ah, I can thread it on a ribbon and wear it around my neck, right?" He laughed. It was too good to see Luca again.

"Sandro called it by that name", Luca shrugged. "What have you cooked?"

"Risotto." Tristano had followed Luca and now embraced him from behind. "Thanks for the presents, they are lovely."

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.

"You look absolutely great", Tristano said, but then he let go of Luca's body and instead stirred the pot. "Risotto of lemon thyme, prosciutto, pecorino and goat's cheese", he announced and lifted the cooking spoon. "Try."

Luca tried and made an approving face. "Where's the goat cheese?" he asked.

"Later. Now go, I'll follow."

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?"

"Of course." Tristano grinned and lifted the wine glass, Luca had filled. "Salute. To your holidays."

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.

"Have you paid him for the last night?" Luca asked, ignoring Tristano's stare.

"Of course not. He was gone when I woke up. Perhaps it was his night of charity."

"Or he was keen on you and did it for fun", Luca winked at him.

"Can a call-boy have fun with sex? Or does he consider it just his profession? I mean, can he develop real feelings?"

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.

"Still on holiday. Apropos, you haven't told me about yours."

"Well," Luca started, "Sun, sand and sex. Oops", he grimaced playfully. "Sorry. It was great. We went to the quarry and the apartment was actually a small villa, much too big for us; Sandro's always exaggerating, oh, and we met Giuliano who was nasty to Sandro."

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?"

"Would you?" Luca's eyes were bloodshot from suppressed emotions. Tristano rose and opened another bottle wine. "Here, drink, it's good for your nerves." With his own glass he sat close to Luca upon the sofa and took him into his arms. It was so good to hold him... and he didn't know what to hope. "Sandro was behind everything - skirt and trousers, right? At least that's what I'd heard about him before I met him in person. Does he play on both teams?"

"Not for as long as I've known him. He speaks rather disparagingly about girls. I mean, about sex with girls. But Leoni seems to be completely gaga about him, you know. She's always showing up, even one morning when we were still laying in bed. I don't know what to do!"

"It's not about what you'll do, but about Sandro's decision." Tristano sipped at his glass and stared into the softly lit aquarium, watching the bubbles streaming to the water's surface. What would you do in Luca's shoes? Let Sandro do what he wants? Let him marry, let him become a father, and afterwards live happily from the millions with him? Would that be such a hard sacrifice? One thing he approved of: that Sandro didn't want to marry before the child was born and proven as his own. But that implied that Alessandro wasn't unwilling to marry IF it was his kid. Which meant that Sandro took into consideration that it could be his -- or that he had succumbed to the money's temptation. Tristano couldn't blame him for that. Everything depended upon what Luca thought about it. "Would it be very sad for you if he did marry? Would you set him free? Or can you live as his lover on the side?"

"I can't share", was Luca's short answer. "It's either her or me."

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?"

"It might be", Luca admitted after a while. "Then both could have played openly, his uncle especially. They could have make a deal to rip off the church and everything. Perhaps it would have been fun. But now I'm damned to sit and wait to see if the baby is his. And if it is his, then it's over. I can't be even be friends with someone lying to me."

"That's a deal, Luca."

Luca struggled from Tristano's arms. "I must go."

"To him?"

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.

"It's me", Luca said cautiously.

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?"

"Good bye?" Luca asked astonished, then bent down and picked up the stone. It had a crack in the middle. "Giano's back. The only thing he said was that nobody should be confronted with such a decision and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I wasn't on your side. You must think that I don't have faith in you and that I suppose that you were cheating on me without any real proof. When you said you hadn't slept with her I should have believed you because I... because I..."

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?"

"No. Only Arrigo. He comes here every day without warning and it's no use to wander around the town to avoid him. Where would I go alone without you? He would find me everywhere. I'm counting the days until I can return to Pisa. Arrigo will flip for he forbade me to continue my study. He says Florence's society has to see that I and Leoni are a couple."

"When do you go?" Luca asked breathless.

"In ten days. The new semester starts soon and I need to study a bit on my own first."

"Ten days..." Luca whispered.


"Do you remember the night on the beach?" Alessandro asked deep in the night when they were tired from sex, laying there with lazy limbs. The radio played Mama Cass and Alessandro hummed along with her, until he sat up and sang along in his baritone voice: "Stars shining bright above you, Night breezes seem to whisper I love you, Birds singing in the sycamore tree, Dream a little dream of me..."

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."

"I missed you", Alessandro said instantly. "Jesus, what are you doing to me? I've said things I've never wanted to say." But if Luca had thought Alessandro was in a mushy mood, he was mistaken. And it was good this way. Better not to say too much, nor promise too much in case neither of them could hold to it.

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."

"Your brothers? And Dante? You haven't told me about him lately. Has he eaten chalk? Or is he using a tiny percent of his brain finally?"

"Perhaps both. The police are investigating a connection between the attack at the Cascine and the attack on us, months ago. Do you think life has gotten dangerous for us?"

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.

"I'm going to see Leoni today", Alessandro started. "I'm sure we'll just end up arguing, but I have to do something. It's clear that there is no way I will marry her."

"No?" Luca gave him a mysterious look. "What if you did? You'd have the money."

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?"

"Ok", Luca grumbled. "I just want to say that it's fine with me whatever you decide."

"Really? You would be my forbidden lover?" Alessandro appeared amused.

"As long as I can bear you..."

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.

Autunno 2