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 euphanism 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 th

ere 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."


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?"


"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 goint 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 weres 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 hisneck 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 haven 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 jerkded 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."

Estate 5