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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are your plans for the summer?" Tristano asked him during a break. "I never have enough money to go anywhere." He looked down and bit into his apple. "You'll certainly be going to Pisa, right? Or will you spend the holidays at home with Sandro?"

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

"The seaside? Why not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They said nothing for a while. Tristano unwrapped a silver paper and offered Luca the half of his tramezzino.

"We're not alone", Tristano said after a long period of silence. Luca dropped tiny crumbs of his bread for the sparrows. "That's a relief", he answered. "They'll get used to it, by next week they won't even mention it."

"And we can kiss openly in the yard like the other couple did?", Tristano asked, bending forward to peer into Luca's face.

"I thought you didn't have any intention of kissing me at all, but instead to romp around with the other guys you want to pick up", Luca retorted instantly.

"What did you expect? You don't want me for your boyfriend."

"And the night before meant nothing to you?"

"I thought you did it just for me", Tristano said quietly.

"Nonsense. If I hadn't wanted it I'd never have done it." Luca chewed on his last bite and swallowed. Then he pulled out a bottle of mineral water and swallowed some down. The rest he gave to Tristano. "What can we do? It was wonderful with you, but you mustn't fall in love with me."

Tristano stared at him. "I've done that already and you know it."

"Yeah". Luca tried to hide his reddening cheeks. This kind of love declaration came of the mouth of the wrong guy. Alessandro didn't carry his heart upon his sleeve. And yet… all he wanted that very moment was to be embraced, to feel Sandro's firm body, his hot breath on his ear and the kisses he used to cover his face with. He felt Tris' hand on his arm, then on his chin, turning his face towards him. They locked eyes. Suddenly Tris' face was very close and then his lips covered Luca's, furtively, like a gentle breeze rattling the plane's leaves, until it grew stronger: a hurricane, shaking the branches. They held each other until the storm was over.

The old men watched in surprise and stopped chattering. Luca's face was beet red, but he saw them giggling and shaking their heads in a mocking, good-humoured understanding. At least some of them. He took Tristano's arm and pulled him up. Hurriedly they vanished.

They didn't exchange a word. As if as in a silent agreement both let themselves be driven through the town, pushed by people who jostled on the small pavements. It was a miracle that so little happened considering the traffic. It was difficult to walk in Florence especially when walking on the streets that weren't a pedestrian zone. The lithe inhabitants were used to it, but the foreigners were in danger when they wanted to stop and look at the buildings, or take a photo. With sorrow Luca saw the guides in their neat dresses and suits, with their shiny shoes and journals, talking confidently in so many languages. Had Alessandro ever thought of learning a foreign language? At least he had never said so. But it would widen his possibilities.

At the junction in front of San Lorenzo Tristano stopped. The market stalls were besieged by tourists, who discussed the quality of leather ware of all kinds, preferring belts, shoes and bags. T-shirts with prints of Florentine sights were blowing in the soft wind, accompanied by ties of pure silk; angora pullovers were displayed along with cashmere clothing.

Luca followed Tristano along the long row of stalls, passing the entrance to the Medici chapels. "Coppo has promised us a visit to the Prince's Chapel", Tristano said.

"When? I thought they were closed."

"Not the big one, just the others in the crypt. They want to open all the coffins to find out about the family disease."

"Gout?" Luca suggested, gathering his knowledge of the Medicis.

"Perhaps. But why would you die of gout? It must have been a special sort of it then."

Luca of course was quite familiar with the interior of the Prince's chapel. His father had been a child when Luca's grandfather had been one of the workers on the big floor mosaics. Niccolò was still proud when he spoke about the event and he could remember the pomp and ceremony with which the chapel was officially finished; four hundred years after its beginning.

The queue was long, because every guide was convinced this was a highlight of the Florentine sights, and Luca felt they were right. "Come on", Tristano said, pushing his way through the crowd, chattering and dickering with the traders. "I've got nothing to eat at home."

Luca followed. Anything was good as an excuse to stay a little longer with Tristano. If he only knew why he felt that way.

The steel construction of the market halls came to sight, and they always reminded Luca of a gigantic railway station. It was the easiest place to fulfil any of your longings and at a reasonable prices. No ripping off of tourists. The typical Florentine gathered here to exchange the newest gossip and to have a cheap meal. "I need bread, vegetables and fruit", Tristano said and hurried along the market stalls. "You like olives?" he then asked, turning to Luca who threw longing glances at the big hams dangling from the ceilings. Then he heard a familiar voice just around the corner. Rosso stood at a stall and tried to sort out his little brothers. Luca grinned. As always. "Seppe, no", Rosso took the hand of his youngest brother who had wiped his tomato sauce red fingers upon his T-shirt, while Dani, the seven-year old one faked a sword-fight with his French fries.

Luca watched them for a while until Rosso saw him. "Ciao, Luca, doing the shopping?"

Luca pointed to Tristano, buying plastic bowls full of olives, capperoni and filled, hot chillies. "Sorry, but I'm hungry", Rosso said, pulling out a handkerchief and cleaned his brother's hands.

Luca eyed the trippa - tripe -, and his mouth watered. "Tris", he shouted, "do you want a portion of trippa?" Tristano nodded while he counted out his money.

Luca bought two servings and wiped the tomato sauce with a piece of bread. They were hot and delicious, just the right way to eat them.

"What happened to your face?" Rosso said suddenly, eyeing the blue mark on Luca's chin.

"An accident", Luca said reluctantly.

"What accident? Have you been in a fight?"

"Actually, yes", Tristano said and licked his lips. "At the workshop. It was our class mate."

Rosso pondered for a second. "That guy who kept fouling at the Gioco?" His green eyes examined alternatively Luca and Tristano, but couldn't make sense of anything. "Well, I thought he was after Alessandro then? Why you?" The answer dawned on him at that very minute. "He has it in for you, right? Because you..."

"Because I'm his boyfriend, right", Luca finished.

Rosso noticed the hurt look Tristano gave Luca.

"Can I have ice-cream?" Seppe threw in, whining.

"Later", Rosso said, "now finish your fries."

Seppe rolled his eyes and fished some potato strips from the plate of his brother to stuff them into his mouth. "I want it now", he nagged and received a cuff from Dani. "I said, later!" Rosso said sharply and Seppe looked for a moment as if he was going to cry. All of Rosso's family had red hair in different shades and Seppe's small face was covered with countless little freckles. Luca smiled at him and stroked his hair. "I'll buy you ice-cream when you've been quiet for a minute, ok?"

Seppe seemed to be satisfied and tried to finish his paper cup of cocoa. Of course he poured it over his shirt where it made a nice pattern in the tomato-sauce. Rosso closed his eyes but pulled out his handkerchief wordlessly and wiped Seppe's chin.

"You're good as a nanny", Tristano said without sarcasm in his voice.

"Long time of experience. Now, let me finish this. You got into a fight with that jerk? Did he call you names? I hope you clobbered him well."

"Tris did."

"Ah." Rosso's eyebrow vanished under the mob of red hair. "How are your brothers? Actually it should be their job, shouldn't it."

"Not sure about that", Luca said quietly. "They think Raniero's right. That's what fags deserve."

He felt Tristano jerking at his side and that he wanted to say something. But he restrained it.

Rosso had finished his trippa. His mouth now matched the colour of his hair which Luca found very enticing. "Before I forget, Luca, have you decided about Forte? We booked the camp site for a fortnight, but I have to care for these two frogs here." He looked regretfully at his little brothers who behaved all of a sudden as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

"No problem", Luca said. Briefly he wondered what Sandro would think about living in a tent, probably he wouldn't like it. "I'm still not sure, Rosso", he said. "I'll have to phone and tell you tomorrow, ok?"

Rosso nodded knowingly. "Alright. But if Sandro's too noble to live in a tent you'll have to look for a hotel room", he said grinning from ear to ear.

"You have tomato on your mouth", Dani said, reaching up and giving Rosso a paper serviette. "Very gracious", Rosso said. "Ah, what are your plans for the weekend anyway? There's the open air disco at the Cascine, fancy coming along with your girlfriend?" He looked at Tristano who stared back. "I'm not sure", he stuttered, then, more sincerely, "I broke up with Caro."

"Oh, what a pity. She's a pretty girl."

"That's sometimes not enough."

"Right. It's never enough", Rosso said and dropped the subject. "Well, then you and me are free to go hunting the place", his green eyes winked. "I suppose you'll be with Alessandro?" he asked Luca.

Luca nodded.

"Alright, boys, let's go for your ice cream now." He took Seppe's hand and guided his steps to the next ice cream seller.

"I still need the bread and such", Tristano said and looked at Luca. There was open longing in his blue eyes and an unspoken question.

Luca looked down. The shock of the kiss had subsided but it still lingered somewhere in his body. He had felt the heat again, and he didn't want to make Tristano unhappy. But was it worth making himself unhappy? He wiped his hair off his forehead. Unhappy.... the only guy unhappy here would be Sandro. IF he knew.

"I'll call you later, ok?" he said and hurried after Rosso.

Tristano's shoulders fell but bravely he turned to finish his shopping.

"Why did they break up?" Rosso asked while all four of them were licking their ice-cream. Seppe's T-shirt now had a pretty pattern of red, brown and green from the pistachio ice-cream.

Luca shrugged. "He said, he wasn't sure anymore."

"Sure of what? I thought she was nice."

"As you said, that's not enough."

"I said, pretty is not enough. Being nice is very important." Rosso's eyes pierced him. "You think he will come?"

"I'll ask him." The summer open air dances at the Cascine-Park were always an attraction. Luca had been there one time with Dante, and he realized very quickly what went on there. Guys selling ecstasy, boys picking up girls for a one-night-stand and boys meeting boys later in the darkness of the trees. But altogether it was great fun and the music was pulsating in the heat of the night. He regretted that Alessandro wasn't with him to go there.

"What's going on in Tris' head?" Rosso asked, nibbling at the crispy cone. "He looked at you like a love sick calf."

Luca swallowed wrongly and coughed. "What?" With a beet red face he tried to keep his countenance but Rosso grinned at him. "I'm right?"

"Right about what?" Luca snapped. Dani offered him his paper serviette which he took and wiped his mouth.

"There was another reason for breaking off with Caro. You."

"And you think all of a sudden that everyone is becoming gay?"

"What's gay?" Seppe asked.

Luca and Rosso stared down at him. "Giuseppe", Rosso said softly. "I'll explain when you're older."

Seppe pouted.

"I'm not an expert, Luca, but I believe you can't become gay. You either are or you are not. It's just a matter of finding out."

"Right." Luca declared in defeat. "You think being seventeen is the right time for finding out?"

Rosso nodded. Suddenly Luca felt a relief. He was thankful for his friend's wisdom. Rosso had always been a mixture of a cheerful, unrestrained lad with the wisdom of the old.

"That's a coincidence for sure", Rosso whispered. "And what now?"

Luca shook his head and his friend looked sadly at him. "You sit between all seats, right? If I were gay then I'd be keen on both."

Luca had to laugh. "It's marvellous to have such an understanding friend like you", he teased him, but it was seriously meant.

Rosso's eyes sparkled.

* * * * *

Alessandro sat in the computer room and leafed through the virtual picture database. He had skipped his seminar because he had felt like a piece of shit. The little man still worked in his skull despite the fact that he had swallowed two pain pills. He simply couldn't believe it about last night. That he had such a major headache meant that he had drank to unconsciousness. He knew that wasn't the case. His memory was working well until it was suddenly knocked out. Absolutely blank. He could neither remember how he had fallen into bed, nor about the supposed action Leoni had been on about.

Apropos Leoni; what had happened to that girl anyway? He couldn't say that she'd ever been a sexbomb in bed. And what was that odd comment that his cock would be sore? From what? It looked alright and he felt no pain. Probably Leoni was too drunk herself to remember and invented such a horror story to prove ... whatever. To brag about in front of her friends. He got hot. Jesus, if she told everybody what happened? She'd already told everybody that she and he would be a couple. That they would marry as soon as their finished university.

Alessandro stared at picture details of the Battistero. Proto-Renaissance. The kind of art that influenced the sculptors and architects with its green-red-white marble and the cool, geometric forms. This had been built even before Masolino had been born, before Donatello had created his 'Habakkuk', before Ghiberti had worked on his golden doors. Florence was the home of all of this and a living museum that followed the steps mankind made to free itself from all restraints, to become a free Republic that found its expression in the art of living, the art of politics, the art of sexuality.

But then the Church intervened and everything regressed, back to the stone age so to speak. Well, at least to some extent. If he became a guide he would certainly not leave out this important aspect of the cultural life. Alessandro was good at French and English; his family had attached great importance to the learning of languages, but he would need certainly to polish them up and to complete his knowledge.

He sighed and logged out of the database. He had no patience for this right now. In a fortnight school would be over and he had the whole summer. He remembered that Luca had said he had an invitation to go to Forte dei Marmi with some of his friends. Good, he thought. Some weeks at the seaside couldn't do any harm. Images of hot sand, blue waves licking at the shore and sex on the yielding beach flooded his mind. He wouldn't allow Leoni to destroy that, she could say what she wanted.

He left the Computer room and the library and sauntered to the student's cafe‚ where Franco waved frantically at him. Alessandro bought himself a milky coffee and a piece of cake and sat at the table next to Claudio. "What's up?" he asked, sweetening the coffee with sugar. Franco eyed him curiously. "I thought you'd tell us."

"Tell you about what?" Alessandro asked suspiciously.

"About what, he dares to ask!" Claudio said, gesticulating. "About your hot night with Leoni!"

For a moment the sweat broke out from all of Alessandro's pores before he found his self-confidence back. "My hot night with Leoni? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Come on, don't lie to us", Franco said. "When I went to wake you up you two were lying close in your bed, sleeping peacefully."

Alessandro couldn't stop a traitorous redness. He took a deep breath. "Ok. You found me out. And what now?"

"I thought you were gay", Claudio said. "Or rather bi?"

"Nonsense. Nothing happened."

"Hah! Who would believe that?" Claudio's voice hid something Alessandro couldn't quite grasp. If he wasn't mistaken it was jealousy.

"And where did you hear it from?" Alessandro snapped.

"She's telling everybody! A student dorm is the best rumour factory."

Alessandro snorted with disapproval and hid his face in the largeness of the coffee bowl. Holy shit, he thought. But when he lifted his face it was haughty and his voice was cool. He let out the long trained Gondi-arrogance. "If I said there was nothing, there was nothing, capisce? I was out with her yesterday that's true, but it was just a reward for her taking notes for me while I was absent. We got a little drunk and she didn't make it to her bed. Apparently." His blue eyes flashed cold flames. "She's always been that way; over effusive and absolutely unbelievable."

"That's your version, but who's going to believe it?" Franco objected. "Claudio and I might believe you, but the rest?"

Alessandro rolled his eyes. "For heaven's sake! Is it a crime? I thought students would always fuck the brains of each other in a student dorm, why are you being such a drama queen?"

"I'm not out to make a drama", Franco defended himself and patted Alessandro's arm. "I don't give a damn who you fuck. I just wondered. Everybody wonders because of your sexuality. You never hid it."

At that moment Leoni entered the cafe, some of her fellow students in tow. She looked around and waved her hand sweetly at Alessandro. He closed his eyes in disgust and shook his head. He would have to sort this out. In private.

"Ciao, gioia,

How are you? Are the bruises still on your chin? If I come home I'll get Raniero for this, be sure of that. Has he finally been dismissed from school? I dearly hope so. And Dante? I certainly think they became allies against you and me. Or to protect your virginity. Which reminds me: I'm so horny for you. I can't wait until Friday. I'll pick you up from the train. Let me know what time you arrive.

I suppose Giano has phoned you?; he's doing well. I don't see much of him, but we meet occasionally at the mensa. He has this unbelievable shit-eating grin on his face that makes me believe Tino is treating him well, if you know what I mean.

Has Tristano said why he broke up with his girlfriend? I bet it's because of you.

Have you decided about the trip to the sea? If yes, I'll organize a nice hotel for us. Are your friends coming along? And you can ask your parents about a trip to Rome. You know that I want to visit the chapel.

I miss you. XXXXXXXXX


* * * * *

"I've never been here before." Tristano's hands slid into the back pockets of his jeans. He breathed deeply. His eyes wandered over the soft downward rolling hills, sprinkled with silvery olive trees, accompanied by a few black cypresses. The sound of cicadas was the only sound to be heard. "Unbelievable", he muttered. "It's as if the town below has vanished."

Luca silently agreed. How often had he stood here with Alessandro after their fumbles and stolen kisses in the empty tomb. A red roofed villa stood lonely with its gentle Mediterranean painted wall glinting against the sun. It was getting warm again. The sky was violet and cloudless - a translucent covering of the hills of Fiesole opposite. He took a white sketch pad and a pencil and started to sketch the landscape. Coppo had suggested they try to understand the colours of nature on a bright day. It was sort of homework to do.

In the glaring late afternoon sun the colours were sharp and pure. He saw Tristano doing the same thing next to him, but he spread his paint box, set up the bottle with water they had filled at the cemetery of San Miniato and wet his paintbrush. With black he outlined the contours: a line for the horizon and below for cypresses and olive trees.

"Did you know that the Roman conspirator Catilina fled here to Etruria and to the old hill town Fiesole where he was given a friendly welcome by the discontented people?" Tristano asked quietly, absorbed in his work. "He called himself a consul. Rome sent troops against him, led by the noble Roman worrier named Fiorino", he continued.

Luca looked up. "Fiorino?" he asked. "The blooming one? He must have been pretty then."

Tristano smiled. "Perhaps. Well, Fiesole was too heavy fortified against the assaults and Fiorino therefore set up a camp at a ford over the Arno, there where our town is situated now. But when the besieged ones tried a nightly sally, Fiorino was killed. Emperor Caesar advanced with reinforcements and started to erect a town at their camp. Fiesole was conquered and destroyed. Catilina and his comrades fled into the hills of Pistoriae, but were followed there by Caesar's legions and defeated in a big battle."

Tristano painted the sky, translucent, with just a faint touch of blue-violet, almost white at the horizon line and stronger against the edge of the paper. "Fiorino is just an invented mythical figure like Romulus, but there was an Etruscan ford and a marketplace on the Arno near Ponte Vecchio, on the smallest part of the river", Tristano added.

The cicada's chirping was mingled with the clinking of Tristano's paint brush when he rinsed off the colour in the water bottle. Luca felt enchanted. Tristano oozed peace. More peace than Alessandro would ever give him. It was as if he had two boys, each for a different time: a boy for uninhibited fun and adventure, and a boy for romance and mutual understanding. If he could only merge them together into one ...

"That's a nice story", he said. "Perhaps it's true."

"There's always a core of truth in every legend", Tristano retorted. He now filled in the hills with different shades of green.

"Coppo says if you're good enough at painting, you can specialise in painting upon stone", Luca said. He had given up filling his sketch with colours. He would never be as good as Tristano was, at least not with water colour painting. Tristano looked at him. "Did he?" A shadow fell over his face. "Raniero's been expelled from the workshop. This time for good I hope. Nevertheless he was good at working with stone. Can you explain why such a jerk can have an artistic talent? I thought bad guys don't have music, as the saying goes."

"Look at my brothers", Luca replied. "Do you think they are bad? Dante assured me that he didn't hate me, just the things I'm doing, what I have turned into."

Tristano looked at him for a long while. "I don't think they are disgusted by the idea of you loving a man, but they're disgusted by the expression of it. Of what we're doing. The arse is only for shit."

They said nothing for a while. Tristano finished his painting and let it dry, while Luca stowed away his utensils into his rucksack. The sun was still glaring and he sweated. He pulled out his water bottle and drank, offering it to Tristano who took it, then he rummaged in his own rucksack. "I've got something for you." He opened the lid of a cool box, unwrapped silver paper and broke a Chelsea bun in two. "Here, home made. You liked my cooking, don't you." He held out the half of it and Luca took it. He bit into it and tasted the chocolate cream. "Great", he mumbled. "There's something more than chocolate?"

"Bananas." Tristano had chocolate around his mouth. "A recipe from the Naked Chef", he grinned. "Yeast dough with Nutella and bananas, dredged with hazelnuts."

"Oh God, you should open a restaurant!" Luca laughed, licking his lips. "Do you cook all of his recipes? And you still haven't told me why he's called the Naked Chef."

"Because that's his concept of cooking; pure and genuine. Naked. It's simple and easy to do."

"It's not for me. I can't cook. But mother was pretty interested in the melanzane last time."

"Tell her she should watch him on TV, every Sunday or so."

They both ate in silence for a while. "Marvellous", Luca said finally, wiping his hands. Looking at the grinning Tristano he leaned in and kissed him, licking away every bit of chocolate he could find, before he felt Tristano's grip around his waist which pulled him close and engaged him in a real kiss. Luca purred instantly, but then he struggled. Tristano set him free. "Sorry", he said softly, "but you've started it." He grinned and Luca reciprocated.

"Come", Tristano said then. "Let's go back."

Luca led him to the fallen god he had visited so often. The moss in the cleft of his naked buttocks had dried to brown crumbs. Luca wiped them away and stroked over the line of his back to the water corroded hair of the head. "How old do you think this is?" he asked.

"Not very old", Tristano said, crouching down, examining the statue. "Victorian or Art Nouveau. What do you think it portrays? A man with a flaming torch, In despair and mourning, fallen over the grave."

"Sandro said, it's the idea of the followers of Mithras, the Persian God of the Sun. It's life and death. The flame of life expires, represented by the torch."

"Sounds reasonable. But why would they know that about a God ... Mithras was the name?"

Luca shrugged. Perhaps it was just general knowledge that the light of life extinguishes. The lizard, that made its home there stuck his flat head out from under the God's belly and rushed out to the other side to sun itself. "Is it true that a lizard can lose its tail and it will grow another?" he asked.

"Some can I guess."

"Sandro said it's a metaphor for himself. The Lucertola's always slip through your hands when you try to hold them."

Tristano rose and pulled Luca up with him. They stood and stared at each other. "Are you aware that every second word of yours is Sandro?" Tristano said somewhat tiredly but without accusation. "Why are you so besotted by him. Is it just the sex? His good looks? His money? He never appeared to me as if he would really care for you."

"You don't know him the way I do", Luca said simply. "He's gone through hard times."

"What hard times? He's always had fun."

Luca shook his head. "His brother died of AIDS, did you know that? No, nobody knows that in this town. It's a well hidden family secret. Sandro was the only one who visited and cared for him when he was dying. Along with the housekeeper. It's not fun to see your brother withering away."

Tristano looked down, under his suntan he had become pale. "I didn't know that", he whispered.

Luca touched his arm. "It's easy enough to set up a mask of inviolability. But it is worth a look behind."

Luca considered telling Tristano about the will of Sandro's father and that it was up to him to save the family's money with a sacrifice that would destroy his whole concept of a free life. But he decided against it. That was just between him and Alessandro.

Tristano looked down the long alley of graves and tombs, of monuments, marble steles and pictures set into stone plates, separated by weathered iron fences. The sun was burning and he felt his skin prickle. He felt the uncontrollable urge to lay down in the heat and make love. Luca was still looking at him. Then, surprisingly, he made a step forward and embraced Tristano. He felt lips searching for his own and welcomed the tongue's caress. A heat wave rolled over his body and he felt his arousal growing until it pulsated in his jeans. "Will you be meeting Rosso at the Cascine Friday evening?" Luca asked close to his ear when they had broken the kiss, but they still remained in an embrace. "I'm going to Pisa."

Tristano pushed him gently away, but still held his hands. "I guess I should. Perhaps I'll find another Luca." To ease the all too mushy feelings, he broke out into laughter. "At least someone similar."

Estate 7