Luca woke up when he sensed Alessandro's arm pulling him tightly to his body. He lay on his side and felt Alessandro's chest, abdomen and soft genitals on his back and butt. He entwined his legs with his boyfriend's and gave a sigh almost inaudible. A soft breeze wavered through the metal blinds like Sandro's breath through his hair. Opening his eyes he saw the empty bed opposite, laden with open and closed books and with Sandro's laptop. "Do you like studying?" he asked sleepily.

Alessandro stroked his chest. "I do. The teachers are brilliant. They know even more than I do."

Luca heard the smile in his voice, struggled, turned to face Alessandro and ran his fingers playfully over his face. The scars had healed, but on his right eyebrow was a cleft and no hair grew there. His nose now had an interesting hump, giving Alessandro's face an austere sensibility. He was more beautiful than before, at least to Luca.

"Braggart. What have you planned for me?"

Alessandro smirked. "Forty eight hours of sex to make you forget Tristano's cock."

"Ouch. I'm not made of steel, you know."

"No?" Alessandro slid over Luca, pushed away the bed cover and kissed his way down.

"Sandro, what about breakfast?" The voice broke off instantly. "Oh..." Leoni stood petrified in the door frame, absorbing the picture of two men having sex.

Alessandro unfastened his mouth from Luca's penis and threw the pillow at her. "Fuck off, Leoni. Can't you see I'm busy?"

Leoni, bright red, banged the door behind her.

"Holy shit." Alessandro looked down at Luca who tried to hide his grin. "I'd forgotten to lock the door."

"You always forget", Luca chided him. "Does she come in each morning to have breakfast with you?"

"No. That was the first time." He stared puzzled into nowhere. "She knew you're with me."

"She wanted to see two guys fucking?", Luca suggested smoothly. He pulled Alessandro's head down to him and gave him a sound kiss.


"Alessandro?" a sharp voice called to him from the kitchen as he and Luca tried to pass it discreetly.

"What do you want? To apologise for bursting into my private rooms?" He entered the kitchen, dragging Luca behind him.

"Apologise?" Leoni sat at the table with her friend Marisa, empty plates in front of them, puffing away. "I'm quite familiar with your bed, Alessandro Gondi. I've all the right to wake you up", she said haughtily.

Luca could literally feel Alessandro's anger; the grip of his hand became painful. "Watch your mouth, Leoni", he growled, while Marisa was devouring Alessandro with her eyes, shooting evil looks at Luca.

"Why?" Leoni said innocently. "Your boy doesn't know about you and me?"

Alessandro closed his eyes and stomped out of the kitchen, Luca in tow. He said nothing until they were out of the campus. "I thought we were going to pick up Franco?" Luca said finally. He felt himself turned around and pressed to a wall. "Listen, Luca. Whatever Leoni says, don't believe her. She's a pest. She tries to seduce me, she wants me to fuck her, and she tells everyone that we're already doing it."

Luca's gentle brown eyes looked at him and something happened to Alessandro at that very moment which he couldn't quite grasp. He felt a fear of loss and a sort of a realisation of what Luca meant to him.

"No wonder, considering your looks", Luca's voice reached his ears. But there was a slight flicker in Luca's eyes and Alessandro knew Luca wasn't convinced. Alessandro shook him without his usual arrogance. "You must believe ME, no matter what you'll hear." Alessandro had Franco's promise, not to tell Luca that he had caught Sandro and Leoni in bed. He trusted him. There was no reason to make Luca suspicious.

"Hey, you two lovebirds. Have you forgotten about me?" Franco stood behind them, lanky and large as always, with a huge grin on his face. "Let's go, I'm starving."

During breakfast in one of the student's cafes Luca was the centre of attention. He had to tell them down to the last detail all about the examinations of the Medici tombs. "They say the last Medici had caries because they always ate chocolate imported from America."

Franco laughed. "Bad teeth from too much chocolate?"

"Now, tell me again about the finding of the tomb", Alessandro threw in, eagerly. "The article said when they lifted the grave stone of Gian Gastone there was nothing below?"

Luca nodded, licking honey from his fingers. Franco peeled his egg.

"No coffin, just a false door. The entrance was well hidden. They examined the ground stone by stone and eventually found a grey stone, which stood out a bit and behind that stone lay a narrow entrance and a staircase leading down to the last tomb of the Medici's."

"Madness", Franco said. Alessandro's eyes shone. "I wish I could have been there." Franco agreed.

"What's with Don Garzia and Cardinal Giovanni?" Alessandro asked.

Luca hadn't heard of them.

"You mean the sons of Cosimo?" Franco asked. Both - Sandro and Franco - stared pleadingly at Luca. "Please, if you find out anything more, tell us."

Luca grinned at them. There seemed to be real passion for history and secrets.

Franco looked alternatively at Alessandro and Luca as he refilled the cups with hot coffee. "You are both going to be leaving me next weekend, right? I've heard that the prices have gone up since we got the Euro. Our family used to go to Rimini every year when I was little. Now we can't afford it anymore."

"Then why don't you visit us", Luca said instantly, but realised that Franco, being the proud Venetian, would never agree.

Franco looked at him as if Luca had made an indecent proposal. "You still have my offer to visit me in Venice."

Luca knew that Alessandro wanted to go for Rome and that wasn't exactly in the same direction. "It'll be a pleasure", Alessandro said, winking at Luca. "If you've time for us that is. I'm sure you're dying to see your girlfriend again, aren't you."

Franco nodded and choked then on his toast. Leoni and Marisa came strutting by. Leoni in her usual bright pink skirt and sleeveless T-shirt. She saw them sitting and stopped in her tracks. She bent over the table next to Luca and hissed into Alessandro's face. "And you don't need to play hide and seek. Everyone's going to know that you sleep with me when your little boy is absent." She eyed Luca. "Ask Franco whether I'm telling the truth."

People had stopped chattering and had turned their heads, murmured amongst themselves and then carried on as if nothing had happened. But Franco didn't know where to look. Sandro was speechless and Luca felt put out. "What did you do to her that made her hate you so much?" Luca said, getting back his voice. "I thought you were friends."

Alessandro exchanged a quick look with Franco, answering "She doesn't hate me. Quite the opposite."

"She's keen on him. Wishful thinking, you know." Franco said in a brittle voice. He couldn't look Luca in the eyes. Sure he had found Sandro and Leoni in Alessandro's bed, but Sandro had sworn that there had been nothing between him and Leoni. Considering that Leoni tended to over exaggerate and apparently in love with Sandro, he believed him. On the other hand he was for clear relations, and loathed lies. He knew that his friend Claudio was keen on her and that complicated things further and put Franco's loyalty to a hard test.

Alessandro watched the pink spot in the distance. Leoni was going too far, nobody embarrassed a Gondi in front of his friends. And worse; in front of his boyfriend.

* * * * *

Giano beamed when Luca entered the music shop where he worked, even if it was a Saturday morning. He rushed through the rows, filled with CD's and video's and embraced his younger brother. Tino waved from behind the counter and then both started off for their lunch together, just the two of them.

Giano seemed to have changed, Luca thought. There was nothing left of the taciturn loner, the stubborn, reserved, a bit clumsy appearing young man. "Tino's good for you, eh?" Luca stated as they sauntered side by side along the river. Funny, it was the same river that passed their hometown and yet it looked different. Milky-green at some places or muddy brown with golden highlights. The banks were high to protect the town from flood . In the distance the foothills of the Carrara-mountains vanished in the sfumato of a warm day.

Giano stopped and sat on a bench. "He sure treats me well, but tell me about home. Dante's out of hospital, Mamma wrote me."

"Yeah", Luca sighed.

"That makes hard times for you?" Giano asked. The connection between both brothers still worked. Giano could still read his mind, sometimes at least. Since Dante was home again, Luca had hidden all his precious treasures in the Gondi-Palazzo, like Sandro's letters and Masolino's diary. He feared that if Dante found them, he would destroy them. If he wanted to read, he went to Sandro's home. Occasionally he pulled out the leather suit from the wardrobe or tossed the lapis lazuli from one hand into the other.

"I'm not often home", Luca said monosyllabic. Then his face lit up. "What are your plans for the summer's break? We're going to the seaside soon. It would be great if we all could meet up again there. You and Tino and Franco and Rosso."

Giano smiled at his enthusiastic brother. "Sure we can. But first I think I need to see mother. It's been a while. Father has changed his mind about us?"

"I guess so."

Giano took Luca's chin and turned his head towards him. "You happy with Alessandro?"

Luca's brown eyes lit up and he nodded.

"I've heard that the girls are after him, despite that he doesn't hide the fact that he's gay. They simply ignore it because he doesn't have a boyfriend on campus." Giano leaned in close. "Which surprises me to be honest. He could have any guy."

"Including you?"

"Except me." Giano winked. "Not anymore. I can see you both smooching in the hall and in the mensa... eh?"

Luca laughed his pearly laughter. "That's good, Giano. I think he'll be fire and flame if I tell him."

"Certainly. You know..." Giano looked down at him. "It's not a joke, Leoni's serious about that. Perhaps she'll stop with her false hopes when she sees that you and Sandro belong together."

"She caught us this morning in bed", Luca said. "You think that's obvious enough? Some girls seem to think they can turn gays straight."

"And - can they?"

"Absolutely, one hundred percent no. Would you voluntarily sleep with one of them?"

Giano shook his head.

"I've heard gays are much happier too", Luca chattered on. He took Giano's hand and played with his slender fingers. "I can't judge, but I think they're right." He made a goofy face and both laughed. "Are you happy?" Giano asked still half-laughing.

Luca nodded. "I am."

Giano gave him a brief kiss on his lips, then on his cheek and embraced him tightly. "Me too", he whispered. "And I owe it to your boyfriend."

"Look, queers!" a childish voice squeaked. The mother of the boy, passing by, gave him a nudge and smiled apologetically.

The brothers looked at each other and started with their laughter again. Its cheerful sound died away over the river.

* * * * *

Tristano silently watched Rosso's little brothers splashing with their hands in the Neptune-fountain of the Boboli-garden. Rosso had brought some colourful paper sheets and folded ships and hats, little fish and birds. Seppe had set a paper boat into the basin and screamed in disappointment when it sank under the water where a stream trickled down from Neptune's trident. Tristano grinned involuntarily. He sat beside Rosso upon a bench and enjoyed his presence. He had needed someone to talk to, or he would had burst. Luca was out of question - after all he was the reason for his nightly escapades. So he had called Rosso in hope of finding a sympathetic ear. The red head was dying of curiosity.

"It was just a one-night-stand", Tristano finished his report. "Perhaps I couldn't expect more."

"Men think with their cocks", Rosso said. "It's easy to get your satisfaction."

"But it's so empty and quiet afterwards", Tristano objected.

"Girls are more clinging, that's right", Rosso agreed, looking expectantly at Tristano. "Now, tell me, how is it? How did you know that you like boys more than girls? Was there a specific event? And what's the difference?"

Tristano blinked. Seppe fished for the loose, misshapen paper boat and almost toppled over into the water basin. Rosso jumped up and held Seppe's braces. "Geez, Dani, watch for your brother, please", he chided. Seppe bawled, but Rosso took him into his arms and gave Dani a plastic fish looking like Nemo, the clown fish. Dani let it swim and Seppe forgot his tears.

Rosso smiled lopsidedly when he returned.

"You love them, don't you. Where's your mother?" Tristano asked.

"She keeps the paper shop open. After the holidays I'll work there although I'd rather work an apprenticeship in my uncle's leather factory."

Tristano nodded understanding. "Like this paper here?" He took one of the paper sheets with a typical Florentine, floral pattern.

"Yeah, that's waste", Rosso answered. Tristano remembered that Franco, Sandro's friend, had made a shopping spree for it to send it to Venice, his hometown. The Florentines decorated everything with it: pens, books, cards and most of them in work in one of the many family factories.

"Can I have an ice-cream?" Seppe asked now and Tristano knew that Rosso wouldn't be able to resist the large green, pleading eyes. It was a hot day anyway and he was thirsty. Rosso took his brothers' hands and climbed with them up the staircase to the café that was besieged by tourists because it allowed the most splendid view over Florence.

"You haven't answered my question", Rosso reminded him, while Dani and Seppe shared a coppa of ice. He sipped at his ice tea, like Tristano.


"How did you realize you're gay."

"What's gay?" Seppe asked. Rosso rolled his eyes at him. "I explain when you're older, piccolino", he said.

"I know what's gay", Dani said seriously. "That's when you kiss another man on the mouth."

Tristano laughed. "Quite right, angelo, and it is the same as when your pappa kisses your mamma."

Seppe's spoon sploshed on the ground and Tristano felt instantly that he had said something wrong. "Our father left when Giuseppe was born. Three kids were too much for him", Rosso said calmly. He picked up the spoon and gave Seppe his own. The small boy looked unhappy and Tristano stroked his copper corkscrew locks. Rosso wiped Seppe's chin, before he would soil his T-shirt again. "It's all right. I don't miss him. He pays money, but it's never enough. I work in the mornings, delivering newspapers, milk and rolls."

And Tristano had thought that Rosso was just a rich layabout like Rosso's school friend Giuliano was. Even Alessandro Gondi longed to earn his own money and fill his life with sense.

"You still haven't answered my question!" Rosso said. Dani folded the paper napkin to a fish and showed it his little brother.

"It's not easy to say", Tristano answered, his eyes fastened on his empty glass. "Luca just blew me away."

"Physically? Aren't you keen on me too?" Rosso's green eyes sparkled. "Don't say anything wrong now, mate. When the girls don't like me, I can do something with boys instead." He winked and then both roared with laughter. Seppe and Dani joined in just for the merry sound.

The waiter brought another cup of ice cream and placed it between the boys. "For the bambini", he said, ruffling their hair. Tristano looked amazed, but Rosso smiled. "Distant cousin of mine", he explained, while Seppe already spooned the pink strawberry ice cream which landed upon his T-shirt.

"Too bad you aren't gay", Tristano mumbled.

"Why aren't you?!" Dani asked and Rosso laughed at the absurdity. His ears were the colour of his hair now. "Well... er... you know", he started, then ignoring his brother's question, "Do you think you'll see him again? Sexy Sergio I mean? We could go again to the Cascine tonight, what do you think? Perhaps Caro will be there again?"

"Don't say you fancy her", Tristano said instantly.

"Why not?"

"I told her you're nice."

Rosso turned red as a lobster and grinned from ear to ear. "So, it's a deal? Ten o'clock, same place?"

Tristano looked down at his town, spreading in the depression caused by the river, framed by gentle hills, red roofed, ochre buildings, with steep clock towers and the oval cupola of the cathedral reigning in silhouette. In the distance the green patch of the Cascine park blurred with the horizon.


* * * * *

Tristano had spent the afternoon with his parents, telling them the news about Isolde, his sister, avoiding any talk about Carolina, and when they had asked if he was going out with her, he lied. He felt bad about it, but wasn't strong enough to tell the truth yet. First he had to sort out his own feelings. He missed Luca and it was better that he didn't imagine what Luca did with Alessandro in Pisa when they were alone. With Sergio it hadn't been the same, although he had learnt a lot about technique and all. It just wasn't the same when your heart wasn't involved. But Luca was out of reach for him, and he would never fight with Alessandro for Luca's heart.

A voice within warned him not to expect anything from another guy that was beyond sex. But not every guy would only be keen on one-night-stands, would they? On the other hand; had Luca been more to him? Yes, he answered himself. They were friends sharing secrets, trouble and hopes. What could compare with that?

Carefully dressed, he left his flat and took the bus to the final stop Cascine. Rosso was waiting for him already, this time alone. The sun was setting and the lantern lights showed distinctly with each passing minute. Florence's youth gathered here, the unavoidable alcopops circled and here and there the sweet smell of a joint mingled with the spicy pizza scent. They sat in groups, chattering, laughing, bragging, whistling after the girls. Tristano saw some of his old school mates and waved at them, but he was not in the mood to join them. With Rosso, knowing about his secret, he felt safe.

"Have you seen him?" he asked.

"Sure. The centre of attraction. Let's make a plan of action."

"Gosh, no", Tristano objected. He tugged at Rosso's long sleeve. "I don't want to force myself on him. And anyway, he's had me and won't think twice about me. Look at him and look at me."

Rosso looked him up and down. Astonished. "I see a handsome guy, nothing less. And he was pretty keen on you."

"Yeah, to fuck me", Tristano said soberly.

"Ouch. But you enjoyed it. Didn't you?" Rosso locked his green eyes with Tristano's deep blue and once more Tristano wished Rosso played for his team. "Come", Rosso laid his arm around Tristano's shoulder. In front of the disjockey's music equipment he saw Sergio dancing, white jeans so tight he could see the length of his penis, his shirt short enough to reveal his belly button. He watched him dancing, almost oblivious to the world, lost to the pulsating, sexy beat of the black music. In Tristano's imagination he was naked. He remembered the feel of his skin, similar to Luca's moist peach - the bones of his slender hips, the splendid curve of his waist leading to adorable buttocks; firm like those of a one hundred meter's sprinter. Sergio was the most beautiful guy he had ever seen and he had been in bed with him. But the memory was hurtful. Tristano didn't know if he wanted to do it again. What was the use of a pretty face? Remembering that he hadn't exchanged more than three reasonable sentences with Sergio.

Some guys stared enviously at Sergio and his friends, and whispered about the coolness with which Sergio displayed his homosexuality. Luciano was again at his side and Tristano was once more damned to watch.

"That's my favourite", Rosso said suddenly and stormed up near the speakers and swung his arms and hips in surprising synchrony. Tristano laughed and followed him, swept away by the sound. From the corner of his eye he saw Sergio turning his face - obviously surprised. Rosso, playing a game, wrapped his arms around Tristano's waist and kissed his cheek. Tristano struggled, but Rosso hissed, "hold still, he's watching." High-spirited he laughed into Tristano's face and then he kissed him on the mouth. And after a second of hesitation, he opened his lips and started a real kiss. Tristano stiffened, and then he enjoyed it.

"You feel good, man", Rosso smirked, near his ear. "Is he still watching?"

Tristano craned his head around and looked directly into Sergio's eyes. "He's coming", Tristano whispered.

"Good. Are you ready?"

But before Sergio reached the dancing pair, Tristano was touched by another. "Scusa, ragazzo", he said in an apologetic voice and wrenched Tristano from Rosso's arms. "Dance with me?"

Confused, Tristano looked up into a pair of fiery, chocolate eyes, black, short hair, that frizzed to small curls. He was older and a bit taller than Tristano. Tristano was lost for words. "I hope he's not your boyfriend", the guy said, wrapping a pair of strong arms around Tristano's waist to pull him tight.

While Sergio was a prancing thoroughbred, this guy was a solid rock. "No", Tristano stuttered, completely losing track. "He... he's..." Tristano had a grip on himself. "We were just joking. I'm Tristano."

"Hmm, Tristano." The guy grinned. Tristano melted. But it was not the stupidly, empty Sergio-grin, and Tristano wondered why he had ever fallen for that peacock.

"I'm Vito. You've seen that Sergio-papagallo, what a peacock. His stage name is Santino."

"Stage name?" Tristano and Vito were completely out of the music's rhythm. "Yeah, you can book him. As a go-go-dancer and call-boy. I had him once." Vito grinned openly and a bit apologetic.

"Me too", escaped from Tristano.

"You too? You're in need to call for a boy? You're kidding me."

Tristano blushed and was thankful for the light machine throwing different shades of colours on their faces. Rosso waved from the side and gave him a thumbs up. Sergio had shoved his bottom lip forward and seemed to pout.

And then everything happened in a rapid tempo. Among the group of chattering people mingled others with leather jackets, then they encircled almost unnoticed the group of gays standing aside. A loud bang and a flash startled Tristano and Vito and the group of young men scattered away, pushed by brutal hands. Nobody knew what happened; most of the visitors thought it was part of the effects of the music and the light machine, but some guys were laying already on the grass and were hurt. Tristano saw Sergio going down on his knees and Rosso, who got a bottle smashed over his head.

Tristano shouted frightened, then Vito left him, sprinting to the attackers, throwing himself into the fray. Surprised Tristano saw him going into a fighting position, kicking his feet and legs until two of them lay flat out on the ground. Judo or karate Tristano thought and followed Vito to rescue Rosso who was doubled up with pain, holding his head.

Tristano knelt beside him and pushed Rosso's out of the way. Blood covered his red hair. "Are you all right? Rosso?"

Rosso tipped over, unconscious. "Shit. Vito?" Tristano shouted, but Vito was holding down one of the leather guys. Among the hectic shouting and screaming Tristano heard the howling of a police siren. Relieved he held up Rosso's head and wiped the blood out of his closed eyes. Sergio crouched on the ground, his white jeans torn and the shirt bloody. He held his arm.

Vito said a few soothing words to Tristano and rushed to the policemen, talking to them. The blue lights of the first aid flashed through the trees and orange dressed medics swarmed out. Tristano waved frantically until Rosso was cared for. A woman lifted his eye lids and finally he was pushed into the ambulance. Tristano had a deja vu of the Calcio in costume when Alessandro had been carried to the hospital.

Vito appeared at his side. "You all right?"

Tristano nodded. "Rosso's hurt. I need to go with him. Who were those jerks?"

Vito beckoned him to follow. Against a tree two of the leather jackets stood with legs apart, roughly being frisked by two carabinieri.

"Raniero!" Tristano gasped. He stormed to him and gave him a good clout on his ears. Raniero shook his handcuffs; his face distorted with rage. "Filthy faggot. I'll get you."

The carabiniero pushed Tristano away and led Raniero off to his police car. "You know him?" Vito asked surprised. "Follow me." He took Tristano's arm and guided him to the ambulance. There he pulled out an identity card and a golden police badge. "Hop in."

Tristano stood petrified. "You're a policeman?"

Vito flashed him a brief grin and pushed Tristano into the ambulance. He himself joined the driver and the car rolled silently through the park. Others followed.

Estate 9