Luca sat with heavy eyes at the kitchen table and breathed in the scent of the hot wafers his mother cooked. Niccolò slurped his chicory-coffee and seemed to be lost in his own dreams. Dante and Marcello were silent as well. Clarissa looked from one to the other. "I thought you'd be happy to be at work again", she said, but just earned questioning looks.

"Indeed so", Niccolò said, rising. "My fingers are pins and needles. About time I felt the stone between them. All right, ragazzi, time to leave", he said, clapping his hands.

"Go on, pappa", Dante said. "We'll take the piccolino."

Niccolò raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He gave Clarissa a brief kiss and was gone.

Later on the streets Luca wondered why his brothers hadn't taken their bicycles but had gone on foot. They had put him between them and occasionally looked at him. Luca carried a heavy bag because he had packed his Lapis Lazuli to show it Coppo. It was about time he did something with it.

"The faggot has finally thought twice", Dante began.

"To fuck with a girl is the best a man can do, don't you think?" He winked at Marcello who grinned. "Admittedly the girl looks pretty starved. Not even tits or anything. She looks rather like a boy." He looked warily at Luca. "How did it feel when you realized that even the little slut Alessandro Gondi got it that faggots are perverted swines and that you have to follow the rules of the normal people? If there's no other way you have to bash it into their brains. I bet it hasn't been the last attack. So, piccolino, you'd better keep away from the abnormal fags in the future."

Luca flinched.

"That blond guy is always with them recently", Marcello said. "What's his name? Tristano? If your name's Tristano you can only be gay." Marcello laughed nastily.

Luca said nothing but he dearly wished that they would arrive at their destination soon, within the next second.

"Why don't you say anything? He has dumped you, right?" Dante started again, nudging his youngest brother. "He has left you to fuck the brains out of the little girl? I've heard she's pregnant." Dante stood his heavy body in front of Luca. "And you?" He lifted Luca's chin.

Luca snapped it away. For a moment a red veil clouded his eye-sight and he started to yell. "Shut up, Dante. What does it concern you? It's not your business at all."

People on their way to work turned their heads to the group on the pavement, close to the Accademia.

"It's not my business?" Dante repeated loud and menacing. "It's not my business? It sure is." He breathed slowly in and out. Then he said more calmly "It's all right when you went astray, but now you must stop it. We can't have a brother being friends with scum. This is not the right way to live a decent life. We must stick together." He wanted to hug him, but Luca lifted his fists.

"Don't talk to me like that! You don't have eaten wisdom spoon-wise. Mamma and Pappa are on my side. It's my life and you have nothing to say about it."

Dante and Marcello broke out into an unhappy, shrill laughter. "Forget the parents, piccolino. They just try to understand but they never do. It's nothing that can be understood. You belong to us and not to the tainted society squandering our hard-earned money."

With beet red face Luca went to pass them but Dante held his arm. "You heard me. You'll never go to those gay-hangouts, or do you want to end up dying miserably? The faggot-disease has never stopped and it contaminates decent people too."

"Decent people? Like you are?" Luca spat. "Leave me alone."

He freed himself and hurried along into the security of the workshop. Tristano caught up with him at the entrance. He looked into his red face. "What's happened to you?" he asked.

Luca shook his head. His brothers entered the hall, furious like Luca. They saw Tristano standing beside him. Dante stepped to him and hissed. "Go away, fag, leave my brother alone."

Tristano's face was washed over with a surge of blood. They were pushed by workers and apprentices. Then he turned, dragging Luca upstairs.

In the classroom they put their stuff under the table, seated and looked at each other, hands shaking. "I didn't know...", Tristano started.

Luca said nothing until Coppo entered the room. He started the class and for a few hours Luca could forget the incident. It came back with all its power when Coppo released them for their break.

"Go alone, I'm not hungry", Luca said to Tristano, but he wouldn't go either. "I've got a lunch package", he said. But Luca had other plans. "I need to speak to Coppo." When he saw Tristano's disappointed eyes he gave in. "All right, come with me."

They approached their teacher. "Professore, can I have a minute?"

Coppo turned. "Sure, Luca. What's up?"

Luca lifted the bag and produced the wrapped stone. "I have a stone and don't know what to do with it. I thought I could work it into something, later, you know." He lifted the cloth and revealed the Lapis Lazuli. Coppo drew in a sharp breath. "A Lapis Lazuli", he said solemnly. "The stone of Laz, the Babylonian goddess of love..." Coppo's eyes were clouded. "Amazing, Luca. Where did you get it from?"

"It was a gift", Luca said haltingly, looking at his friend.

Coppo looked alternatively into the faces of both lads. "A gift." Then he took the stone and weighed it in his hands.

"There's a crack", Luca continued. "It fell to the ground. Is it bad?"

Coppo followed the crack in the blue stone, tracing the white lines. "The Lapis Lazuli encourages intuition and it was used as aphrodisiac", he started slowly. "encourages fantasy and scares away depression." He looked up. "It fell to the ground, you say?"

"Yes." Luca darted a look at Tristano. "Somebody dropped it by accident. I mean, in a quarrel so to speak."

Coppo nodded. "It is told that a Lapis Lazuli is broken by danger."

"By danger?"

"Yes. It gives a warning to be careful and causes reactions."

Luca didn't know what to think and Tristano didn't understand a word of it. He sensed Luca's unease and decided to leave. Luca probably wanted to have a private word with their teacher.

Teacher and pupil watched him going. "You quarreled with your boyfriend, Luca?"

"Well, yes."

Coppo nodded again. "I can imagine about what." Coppo eyed the young man in front of him. He appeared more mature. He'd grown up during the summer. Tanned from the sun, and a bit marked by sorrow. "The Gondi-lad, right? It was a shock for us when he got married. I thought he wouldn't play on the other team - as you young guys call it, right?" He winked, then he became serious again. "Do you want to talk about it?" He pulled up a chair for Luca and made him sit next to him. Then he pulled out a thermal pot of tea and a package of tramezzini. "Help yourself."

Luca hesitated, then he took one of the breads. He had no one to talk to. At least no one of this age. Grown up. Gay like he himself. Luca started with low voice, not knowing how much he could tell his teacher. "You know, it's not about him playing on which team. He has decided on which one he belongs. The gay team. There were circumstances that made him decide to marry." Greed, he thought and a false sense of honour. Or sentimentality. Or family-liability. No, he couldn't tell Coppo. It was a secret of the Gondi-family that was nobody's business. Luca lifted his head and looked directly into Coppo's grey eyes. "Well, he had to marry and I agreed."

"Really?" Coppo's eyes pierced Luca's. "You agreed? If my partner married a woman all of a sudden I would feel very insulted and hurt. It would be a breach of trust to me. Didn't you feel the same?"

Luca looked away. Of course he'd felt the same. But still the bond between him and Alessandro hadn't been that strong to feel THAT hurt. They hadn't promised each other anything and they weren't partners. And in some way Luca understood the liability Alessandro felt concerning his family.

"Sort of", he said evasively. "Well, what can I do with the stone?"

Coppo sensed that Luca didn't want to talk about Alessandro Gondi and dropped the subject. "I'm afraid we'll have to break the stone in two, Luca. But it is too big anyway. Have you any ideas what to carve from it?"

"A lizard", Luca said instantly. "With a winding tail and green eyes."

"Ah, a lizard", Coppo smirked. And with that he realized that Luca Montori's affection for Alessandro Gondi was stronger than the lad knew.

"All right. Let's see what we can do. We'll have it cut here, you see?" Coppo showed him the line. "Then you'll have to make a clay model of the figure you want to carve. You think you can do it?"

Luca nodded.

"It will need to be the right size. About that." Coppo took a sheet of paper and put the stone upon it, with a pencil he draw a line around it. Then he took half of it away. "That's the area you'll have. The clay model of the lizard must fit exactly. Then you draw a natural copy and take the measurement by a divisor and transfer it point by point onto the stone. If you like we can do it together, here, after school. You want to?"

Luca nodded vehemently. "That would be great", he said. 'And it will keep me busy and out of the house.'

* * * * *

Tristano visited Sergio and Alfredo almost every day whenever they had time for him. Somehow he didn't care that both, had hardly finished with their customers, as they gave him their whole attention - as long as they didn't make him feel they had just now satisfied another guy, no matter if it was both together or alone. Tristano wouldn't have known otherwise what to do with his woken and pent-up libido. Luca wanted him; he had sensed it well, but he wouldn't cheat on Alessandro. And to pick up somebody strange at the hangouts Tristano didn't want that at all. So, again he unlocked the door to the flat - Sergio had given him a key - and heard the water rushing in the bathroom. At least someone was at home.

He sauntered through the flat - living room, bedrooms, two separate rooms, occupied by Sergio and Alfredo, because despite all their common interests, they weren't a couple. Tristano examined the large, framed poster on the walls, showing half-naked men with great bodies. A bum peered out here, and there biceps and a six-pack. And somewhere in the darkness an erect penis.

"Ah, Tris. I didn't hear you". Alfredo had only wrapped a bath towel around his hips and peered with wet hair around the corner. "Can you give me a hand? My balls need a shave urgently." He pulled him into the bathroom and pressed a wet shaver into his hand. Until now Tristano had only been witness to the act. "Here, take this." Alfredo sprayed shaving foam into his palm and smeared his balls.

Tristano crouched down and started cautiously to scratch away the foam. "Careful, amore", With spread legs Alfredo sat upon the rim of the bathtub and looked down. "You've had a good day?" he asked. Tristano wondered how he could talk about daily matters when someone was busy with his balls... not to mention how he was able not to get hard at all. He pushed aside Alfredo's massive member and wiped off foam and shaven hairs with a towel.

"You don't want to hear about the daily grind, do you?" Tristano said, looking up, winking. "Or about my useless tries to get Luca into bed. Turn around."

Alfredo did and supported himself with his arms upon the tub's rim, pushing out his arse cheeks. Tristano spread them and wet the razor. Very cautiously he slid into the crack. "What actually am I doing here?" he asked. "There's no sign of hair in your crack." Alfredo wriggled his ass, and Tristano couldn't help it. He had to bite into the melons and then he slid his tongue into the cleft, washing Alfredo's hole, until it jerked and fluttered with excitement. Alfredo turned and held his member under Tristano's nose. "You tried to get this Luca-whoever into your bed? Is he pretty?" His palm embraced his cock and rubbed it up and down.

Tristano rose and stripped naked. "Do I need a shave too?" Alfredo examined him, from the smooth-shaven armpits over the hairless chest and belly to the trimmed pubic hair. "Well done, amore." He beckoned Tristano to follow, which he all too willingly did, sat upon the freshly made bed, tore open the plastic of a condom and gave it Tristano. "Now to our daily exercises", Alfredo said, his grey eyes sparkling from lust and wantonness. Tristano playfully rolled his eyes, but he took the rim of the condom and blew into it until the slightly bulging end appeared, then he put it into his mouth, bent over and tried to roll it over Alfredo's cock with his mouth and tongue. This time he was better than before.

Alfredo had stretched out upon the bed, arms spread eagled, enjoying the action with little lustful moans while Tris was sucking his fresh shaven balls, rolling them upon his tongue. "You're much too fat to do it with my mouth alone", Tristano complained a minute later, and finished the job with his hand, rolling the condom completely over Alfredo's cock. He wished it wasn't there because he loved nothing more than to snail his tongue around the rim, the head and into the small slit, tasting the precum. "Don't complain, amore", Alfredo had risen, pulling Tristano into his lap and started to kiss him. He fondled Tristano's erection, firmly stroked his inner thighs, spread his legs and caressed his testicles and the path behind, stretching his hole with two fingers. "You didn't tell me if he's pretty", he murmured.

Tristano sensed the greasy fingers and he opened his legs wide, then let himself being pulled higher until he sat upon Alfredo's thighs, his cock lined up with his anus. He let himself sink over the erect spear, dipped the head, let it out and dipped again and with it each time taking a bit more of the shaft until he was stretched without feeling pain. Alfredo pinched his nipples, roamed around his chest and bit gently into Tristano's neck. Tristano shuddered and goose bumps covered his skin. "He sure is pretty", he whispered, leaning back against Alfredo's shoulder.

"And you still fancy him?" Alfredo said, moving his hips forward in a steady, slow-motion rhythm that drove Tristano wild because he had instantly found the right spot and his large, massive tool permanently stroked his prostrate. Tristano's cock jerked without being touched. Both had missed the door opening, but when a wet, pliable tongue started to lick at Tristano's member, he tore open his eyes to see Sergio, crouched on the carpet, his head buried into Tristano's abdomen, swallowing his tool, deep-throating until he released it and sucked only the crown. Tristano squirted instantly into Sergio's mouth and gave a long moan, muffled by Sergio's lips, sharing the taste and fluid. Sergio's mouth wandered along his cheek to his ear, down his neck, leaving a wet trail on his pecs, gnawing at his nipples and back up to meet Alfredo's mouth, who fondled Tristano's spent penis, making it rise again.

Luca was fading from Tristano's mind, at least for the next half of an hour - exactly the time he needed to wake up from his sexual frenzy. He found himself still speared from behind by Alfredo's cock, who now spooned with him and Sergio, spooning Alfredo, and probably fucking him to get his share. At least Tristano sensed Alfredo's body shaking rhythmically, to make sure that he hadn't lost his erection and fucked Tristano as well - involuntary - his hands roaming Tristano's chest and groped his half-hard cock to caress it lazily. Rocked by this gentle, steady movement Tristano almost fell asleep, until the craziness returned.

"Will you join us at the gym?", Sergio asked later, when their heartbeats had become normal and they had untangled their limbs though they were still laying close together on the bed. Sergio traced Tristano's features with his fingertips. "Not that you'd need it, amore. But here and there a bit of muscle can't do any harm." He grinned cheekily into Tristano's face, revealing stark white, regular teeth. His dark-tanned face was without any flaws or wrinkles, like the rest of his skin. He was much too beautiful to be human, Tristano thought. He was just for fun. Still Luca hung in a shaded corner of his heart and didn't want to go away. All the sex he received from the call-boys he would gladly exchange for the bonds of love with Luca.

"All right", he said. Why should he go home alone?

* * * * *

"Wisdom subdues unchastity and lust? You think that's true?" Luca had bent over Alessandro's book with the picture of Botticelli's "Minerva and the Centaur".

"It's not my opinion but Botticelli's. You know the saying 'stupid people fuck well'."

"Then you must be VERY stupid", Luca smirked.

Alessandro had done everything for Luca. Saturday belonged to Luca exclusively, as well as the whole of Sunday. Alessandro had packed him into his Ferrari and drove with him to the sea. It was too cool to go swimming though warm enough to sit on the sand at the deserted beach.

"Have you heard from Leoni?" Luca asked, playing with the little, white sea shells they had gathered.

"Every day. Every fucking day", Alessandro said slowly and without emotion. "She complains about her sickness, about her swollen legs, about how fat she's become and that Anastasia hides her cigarettes and the alcohol. She wants to see me every weekend and screams at me when I don't want to go visit her." Indifferently Alessandro stared at the line of the horizon and let sand trickle from one hand into the other.

Luca looked at him from aside. All this he had to thank himself for. Wasn't it so? "Where did you hide your ring?" he asked, completely out of place.

Alessandro locked eyes with him. "You still can't forgive me, right?"

"Not really. She's carrying your ring, your name, and perhaps..."

"... my baby?"

They measured each other with looks. Luca wanted to believe him desperately. And yet the doubts remained.

"Why can't you simply believe me? I really did everything to explain it and you don't really have any proof that Leoni and I... that's old chestnuts. Just because we crept together into bed in earlier times, it doesn't mean we still do. Or again. Why would I anyway? I have you." Alessandro dropped the sand and pulled Luca tightly to his body. Luca struggled. "It's not about that. I... I don't know what's wrong with me. I want to believe you. I do. Somehow. But then I think it would had spared us a lot of trouble if you hadn't done it." He took a deep breath and guided his view to the sea again. "Why do you have to be rich at any price? One can live without having millions."

"You don't want to understand me. I've always been rich. And I don't see why the money should go up in smoke just because I've been too stubborn, or too noble. It hasn't changed things much for us."

"You should have done it for me", Luca said quietly.

"For you? Damn it, I married for you!" Alessandro jumped up in a sudden outburst. "For you I accepted everything. All the stares and whispering behind my back. Even the disdain of Emilio Pucci! What's your problem exactly? You small people always disdained us because we're rich and do what we want. We can buy what we want and don't give a fart about the opinions of others. And because you people can't be like us, we hear every day how bad we are, how arrogant and condescending!"

Luca had jumped up too, his face red. "You don't give a fart about my opinion? Right, that's what my brothers warned me about. You and your noble, old-fashioned, snotty opinion about the working class. The popolo minuto! Good enough to be a dogsbody to make your life bright and safe and above all: rich!" He turned his back and started to walk away. He stumbled over roots and banks of seaweed and his foot sank into a waterhole near the shore. Nonetheless he walked on, his eyes brimming with tears.

Then he felt himself being harshly turned around. Alessandro stared sinisterly. "Don't you dare run away, Luca Montori. Nobody turns his back on me and leaves me standing", he hissed. Luca pushed him away. "Oh, your nobility won't take it, eh? But there are other people who have a mind of their own. Like me for instance." He took a step forward. The wind was tugging at his hair. "Did you never have the idea that I could feel hurt or betrayed? How would you feel if your boyfriend married a woman? Can't you even see the absurdity? Surely everybody's laughing at you, the poor, gay ass condemned to fuck with a girl because his family tradition wants it that way. Because he has sold his soul and life for gold!"

Alessandro gripped Luca's shoulders and shook him. "What are you saying here? That's the way I am. The guy you've fallen in love with, remember? I was always this way right from the start. Why do you start to complain now? It's too late for complaints. You agreed. You never said, don't do it, Alessandro! No, you were as unsure as I was. Perhaps I waited for a clear comment. For a plea. But it was too convenient for you not to open your mouth because you thought where there's money there's money enough for two. You never cared about my soul, so stop doing so now."

"Jesus Christ." Luca shook his head and looked away from the fiery, blue-sparkling eyes. Alessandro was right. And Luca was right. Pointless to quarrel about it now.

They said nothing for a while. Exposed to the ocean's endless roar and the sinking sun, glittering upon the endless rolling waves, there was one thing that remained: breathing. This was the first, serious test. The blue stone hadn't cracked in vain - just as Coppo Travisero had pronounced it. But they both hadn't understood the warning.

"When this horror is over we'll go away", Alessandro said.

"Go away? Where to? I thought you wanted to study. Or don't you want it anymore because then you'll be rich?"

Alessandro's face was closed again. "Stop that irony, Luca. Either you want me or you don't want me. But if you decide in my favour you'll have to go my way."

Roar. Waves, licking at Luca's shoes. He thought the world ended beyond the horizon. That there was nothing. But there was something. Beyond the horizon. You only have to dare and see. Give it a chance. Like Columbus' Santa Maria sailing to unknown destinations.

Luca turned and a thin smile played on the corner of his lips. "All right. I'll go your way with one condition: we meet halfway. Me on my way and you on yours. Deal?"

Alessandro broke into laughter. "Deal."

* * * * *

A couple of days later Luca smoothed the red clay model of his lizard. It had the right length to match the stone, at least he hoped so. Tomorrow he would take it and show it to Coppo. The small animal's tail was nicely wound. Luca only had difficulties with the feet and claws, but his teacher would surely help. He supported his chin with his palm and looked out of the loggia's open windows. Luca had brought his utensils to Palazzo Gondi because he didn't want his brothers to know what he was doing.

He was startled when his mobile played its melody.

"Why did you do it?" Alessandro asked as soon as Luca had taken the call. Confused he wrinkled his forehead. "Do what?"

"Show Masolino's diary to another person. I told you, you mustn't!"

Luca's stomach cramped painfully. What had Rosso's uncle done with it? And how did Sandro have knowledge about it?

"Luca? You still there? I can't believe you did something like that to me. You knew how much the book meant to me. It was our secret and you've given it away. What did you hope to achieve by it? Please explain to me."

Alessandro's voice sounded cool through the loudspeaker and Luca's thoughts somersaulted. Where to begin? "How do you know about it? And I don't understand what's happened anyway." He paused and listened, but Alessandro said nothing. He heard him breathing. Luca started a walk through the large room, from one corner to the other. "Well, it started with an accident. I spilled coffee over the book."




"Two weeks ago. Before your marriage; while you was sleeping, plastered."

"And you didn't tell me right away? What happened to the book? Was it destroyed?"

"Of course not. It's just a little damaged. How do you know about it anyway?"

"It's all over the place in "La Nazione". I do read the Florentine newspaper. "Extraordinarily finding -- full stop -- Gothic painter Masolino da Panicale's secret diary discovered -- full stop -- Sensational revelations -- full stop." Shall I continue?"

Luca's head swirled. He couldn't imagine Rosso's uncle being so underhand that he hadn't informed Luca about his intentions. He wanted to show the book to his brother or so Luca thought who was a paper-specialist. And what happened then for God's sake? Luca was shaking. He sensed, Alessandro was pissed off. "I'm so sorry, Sandro. I don't know how this could have happened. Listen, Rosso's uncle has this leather factory and I took it to him because the leather binding was torn and falling from the wooden cover. The paper had it bad too. So..." He breathed in and out. "I never told Signore Celli that the book was yours. He promised to do what he could. But whenever I asked him he said it was still being worked on."

"Now the museum wants to have it, right? It will never be our secret again, thanks to you."

Luca was getting angry. "Listen Sandro. I didn't do it on purpose. Something startled me and I spilled the coffee. I just wanted to repair the damage without you knowing. You would have been angry. Well, it's all the same now."

Alessandro sighed at the other side of the line. "That's not what's it about. You should have told me what happened! Did you think I would have cut off your head, eh? Thanks for your trust in me", he said ironically. "And what now?"

"I'll call Signore Celli instantly and ask what happened. I promise. I trusted him too, you know."

"Tomorrow I'm taking the job over. Celli hasn't seen anything yet."

There was a long pause on the phone and Luca feared Sandro would end the call. He didn't. "How's work otherwise?" he asked finally.

"Fine. I've cut my first stone."

"Great. Um, I must go now. Take care. Kisses."

Luca sat dumbfounded and almost squashed his clay model of the lizard. He had prepared a sketch book and pencil to draw the model on paper but he couldn't do it right now. Too much was going on in his head. He stood up and restlessly crossed the room. Then he grabbed his mobile and called Rosso.

Autunno 6