Luca spent the holidays with Raffaele, Giano and Tino at Forte dei Marmi. It wasn't the same as the summer he had spent there with Sandro. Sitting under a sun shade on the beach, he wistfully stared at the come and go of the waves. He wished Rosso was there, but he was with Carolina somewhere else. Well, not that he didn't feel happy for his friend, but he missed his cheerful being. Raffaele was in some sense a substitute, but he wasn't the same, familiar buddy Luca had known since his childhood. Instead he wrote long letters to Alessandro, almost every day. Even if their relationship seemed to have cooled down, for Luca it was an emotional desire to share his feelings.


How's it going? I must admit, I miss my work. For me it's hell to know the workshop is closed during August and I don't have anything to keep me busy, except writing to you. My brother Giano and Tino are playing volleyball on the beach and I sit here and watch them. OK, Raffaele is laying next to me in the sun - in case you are wondering.

You wrote that Lauro's father has been held in custody, being accused of The abuse of his sons. Will Lauro give testimony?

I lately received a postcard from Tristano who's with Vito in Austria. Lots of snow-covered mountains there. I'm so glad they do so well together after all that has happened to Tris. I guess he's now much more on the settled side, with no glances aside if you know what I mean. Tris has by the way decided to move into Vito's flat rather than to return home to his parents. Of course he needed a reason, so he told his parents Vito needed a roomie and that it would be him. Vito is a little pissed at Tris because he didn't tell the truth since this was the right time to do it. I guess I need to help him out of his dilemma. At least my parents turned out to be cool about it."

Luca stopped writing. Glancing at Raffaele's tanned back he suddenly didn't know what to write. He couldn't speak about his emotions. He was unable to put them into words and write them down. So, he put the letter aside and took his sketch pad and a pencil and made a sketch of Raffaele, lying upon his belly in the sand. His fingers itched to work on his stones. Over the years he had become used to this artful work and Coppo had shown him how to carve a ring. During their work together Luca had learned a bit about the meaning of stones. Coppo taught him that the Lapis Lazuli for instance is said to be associated with self-confidence, truthfulness, openness and inner tranquillity. For the ancient Egyptians, this stone was a favourite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs; it was also used by the Assyrians and Babylonians for seals. The Romans believed that the Lapis Lazuli was a powerful aphrodisiac. It was the ancient stone of mental and psychological health and therefore just the right stone for Alessandro.

Luca's inlay works had found a place in the exhibition of the first works of the apprentices and his father Niccolò had burst with pride.

Raffaele turned and squinted against the sun. The bulge in his tiny trunks had expanded, but he did nothing to adjust it. Luca felt a twinge in his stomach and a stir in his short, white pants. Raffaele was alluring and he knew how to play the game. "What are you doing? Sketching me again?" he now asked, raising his upper body, protecting it with his elbows. He stretched his body luxuriously and grinned shamelessly. He knew that girls were watching him whenever he strutted along the beach.

Luca grinned back. Then he put his pad away, rose and pulled Raffaele up. "Who's going to be the first in the water", he shouted and started to run into the sea, Raffaele at his heels. They scuffled like two puppies in the water, splashing and dunking each other until Raffaele's mouth found Luca's. Pulling his shorts down under water, he fondled Luca's erection until Luca screamed for mercy. "Come out", Raffaele laughed, "we're going home for a nap." The sparkle in his black eyes promised more than a nap. "I'll suffer the hell and walk out with a hard-on, honey", Luca said, laughing himself.

With a sardonic grin Raffaele clutched Luca's penis and rubbed it up and down until Luca couldn't help it anymore and blasted into Raffaele's hand. The white drops were carried away by the water. "Madonna!" Luca gasped.

"Your turn." Raffaele paddled with Luca in tow to the shore. He still had a hard-on, but didn't care. Hastily they grabbed their stuff and vanished to their hotel.

"Well, I'm enjoying the holidays nonetheless", Luca continued his letter later. Raffaele was sleeping next to his side. "But I look forward to my next visit. Be careful with Mario. I still don't grasp why he's so careless to risk his job. Is he in love with you?"

Luca halted once more. Alessandro must think that Luca didn't care about him anymore since he so freely and without bitterness talked about the man who was fucking Luca's boyfriend. It did hurt. But Luca couldn't help it. He wasn't in the position to appear hurt. Alessandro and Luca - that seemed to be over. And it was nobody's fault.

"What will happen when you are released? Will he still be your boyfriend then? How do you feel about it?

Let me know about your next visitor's day.



Raffaele blinked sleep from his eyes. "What are you writing all the time?" he asked and tried to peer at the paper sheet. "I thought you've got a new boyfriend and he as well." He leaned over and nibbled at Luca's neck "And then we'll stay together."

For a moment Luca couldn't breath. Was this the truth? He liked the careless, cheerful Raffaele, but his serious core longed for a pendant. Luca was smitten by the enigmatic, dark and wild Alessandro Gondi. He couldn't help it. Even if it made him unhappy. "What if you fall for another?" Luca asked, nonetheless enjoying Raffaele's tender bites. "So, don't promise me anything."

Raffaele peered into Luca's face. "It'll never work with us as long as you carry your chain."

Luca automatically clutched the Gondi-cross. As long as he wore it, there was hope that Alessandro would return to him one day. Maybe.

"Will you wait all this time for him?" Raffaele pushed away the bed covers and sat in front of Luca. Gently he massaged Luca's shoulders. "You said that Alessandro isn't sure whether to return to you. And you complain all the time that he's changed. He isn't the old person."

"And then I should dump him? You forget that all this that he's got to go through he did for me. I can't cut him out of my life."

"Rubbish", Raffaele objected. "He did it only for himself. The Alessandro Gondi I know was selfish and useless and a pain in the ass. Were you really able to change him? Don't you think you let him appear as the glamorous knight on the white horse coming to your rescue? You weren't in deadly danger. Alessandro fought because he wanted to. He was pissed that someone had taken away what belonged to him."

Luca stared disbelieving into Raffaele's face. "You can't mean what you've just said. You're just jealous. You want me to dump him." Furious Luca pushed Raffaele's hands away and jumped out of the bed.

"I'm sorry", Raffaele said immediately, following Luca's naked body into the bathroom. "I don't want to lose you."

Luca, standing at the toilet, pissing, turned and hissed "You don't want to lose me and so you try to knock Sandro in front of me. Sandro was never selfish, he did so much for me, and..." he fell silent.

"What did he ever do for you?" Raffaele snorted displeased. "Bought you a designer-suit? Invited you to the Opera? Booked an apartment at the Seaside? Lent you his Gondi-cross?"

Luca turned furious. "What on earth do you expect? That he bought me a rocket and a place upon the moon? What proof do you need when you love someone? I didn't ask for all of that. I'm happy when he's with me." He hurriedly passed Raffaele and searched for his shorts that he had dropped somewhere. The disheveled bed was witness of the hour passed, filled with sex and lust.

"He said he loved you?" Raffaele had followed him, standing now stark naked with folded arms, watching Luca hopping on one leg, trying to pull up his white shorts. Then he stepped closer. "Stop that. Those shorts are wet."

Luca flopped upon the bed and dropped his head. "I don't know what to do", he said after a while. When he sensed Raffaele kneeling in front of him, he lifted his head. "Can you be sure of somebody? I can't trust. First you're happy, then your boyfriend's looking for somebody else. You'll do it too one day. So, why make a commitment anyway. It only hurts."

"And therefore we should use the time and not shout at each other. Come on, get new trunks and we'll go to the beach."

Luca was glad when the Opificio opened again. He got up early, and returned home late. Alone with nobody's help he cleaned the Palazzo Gondi, removed the dust and dirt that had gathered over months of not using some of the rooms and furniture, swabbing the boards and floors and even the windows. He needed something to do. Raffaele was much too lazy to do the housework and excused himself by saying that he'd always had a housekeeper.

One day in late September Tristano appeared in the kitchen of Palazzo Gondi with two filled bags from the grocery shop. Luca saw some stalks of leeks and two bushes of herbs. "Wow", he said. "Don't say you've come to cook for me."

Tristano gave him a kiss on the lips and heaved the bags upon the kitchen table. "Surely. You've lost five kilos at least since I don't care for you anymore."

Luca eyed him suspiciously. "Have you had a row with Vito?"

Tristano turned "Huh? Why should I? Vito's got patrol duty the whole night. And since I've got something to celebrate I thought to celebrate with you." He kissed Luca's nose who stood dumbfounded at first, then his excitement grew.

"You've got olive oil and sherry vinegar?" Tristano asked, plundering his bags. Green asparagus appeared, shallots, a bunch of blue and green grapes, a little package with goat cheese and a wrapped package from the fish market. "Scallops", Tristano explained. "They're delicious with the asparagus. But first the salad."

Luca's heart pounded fast. He was so happy to have Tristano at his side that he could have jumped for joy. He had the herbs held under his nose and sniffed. "Marjoram and tarragon, right?" he said.


"Naked Chef?"

Tristano nodded and swirled through the kitchen, pulling pans and plates, sorting spices and cutting the shallots. "You can wash the herbs and pluck the marjoram. The tarragon you can leave as it is."

Luca did as he was told, then cut the grapes into halves. "What have you to celebrate then?" he asked. Tristano put his finger over his lips. "I'll tell you later."

Luca decided, it was time for a bottle of wine from Gondi's wine cellar. When he returned, a delicious smell of fried asparagus, butter, leeks and herbs wafted through the kitchen. Tristano had already laid the table and placed the salad on extra plates. He was busy decorating the scallops on to the leeks and asparagus, scattering some lemon juice and fried marjoram above it, then he sat down. Luca uncorked the wine, filled the glasses and lifted his. "Now, what shall we toast to then?"

"To my coming out", Tristano said solemnly.

"Wow." Luca clinked his glass with Tristano's. "To your coming out."

They drank and smiled at each other. "I'm glad Raffaele isn't here", Tristano said. "I wanted to be alone with you." He snatched a bit of tarragon and goat cheese on his fork and ate. "I like him, but I don't want to share this with him. I owe you so much."

Luca locked eyes with Tristano, then he tried the salad and clicked his tongue. "Fantastico! I really missed your cooking."

"Eat as long as the scallops are hot."

They said nothing until the plates were almost empty. "You mustn't spend so much money on me", Luca said then, but when he saw Tristano's sparkling eyes he knew that sometimes giving was better than receiving. "Your parents are all right about your coming out? About Vito?"

Tristano nodded. "Absolutely cool. Well, more or less. Marianna, my stepmother, had sort of known it all the time, at least since I was beaten up at Sergio's." A momentary darkness clouded his face, before it lit up again. "What was I doing there if I wasn't gay?"

Luca beamed at him, devouring the last tarragon leaves and the last crumbs of the cheese.

"I only wish you were as happy as I am", Tristano said.

"I am", Luca said bravely enough, but Tristano felt this was a lie. He refilled the glasses and sat next to Luca. "You don't have to lie", he whispered. "You don't have to play the strong man. Not with me. We've gone through so many things together, remember? Have you broken up with Raffaele?"

"Not at all. He comes and goes. Takes what he needs and gives what I need. He's a good listener and I like him very much. But he's not Alessandro."

Tristano nodded. "I like him too."

Luca lifted his head from Tristano's shoulder and looked at him. "And you and Vito? Are you happy?"

"Sure. Haven't you noticed that the attacks on gays have completely ceased? He's got them all chucked out of town." Tristano grinned.

"Yeah, probably they gather at Poggibonsi now", Luca mumbled. It wasn't hard to read between Alessandro's lines that he was still harassed for being a fag. He feared that Sandro would lose his temper completely some day and he would get extra months on his sentence.

"Dante has won the prize for cutting the thinnest alabaster plate", Luca said. "Pappa told me today. He wants to give it to me as an inlay for an orchid."

Tristano was confused about this statement. "That's great, but what has it to do with Poggibonsi and Sandro? And you and Raffaele? I thought you were so much in love with Sandro." He brought a little space between him and Luca. "I mean, I thought Raffaele was just sort of a fill in. I can't say I do understand your actions, but I never chided you, right? Only you mustn't encourage Raffaele to fall in love with you when you want to be with Sandro again when he's out."

"You don't know how I've tried", Luca objected. "But Raffaele doesn't want to hear. What should I do?"

"I can't tell you what to do, Luca", Tristano continued their talk. Luca had pulled Tris' feet into his lap and slowly kneaded his friend's sock covered toes.

"I thought you and Sandro were the ideal pair, although", a wary look met Luca, "I'm always in great awe with Sandro. He has something that frightens me sometimes."

Luca smiled to himself. Tris was right; he had felt it too, but then, nobody knew Alessandro Gondi as well as Luca did. "He's very special", he said aloud, removing Tris' socks and continued his administering. "I don't want to cheat on him, but..."

"Your sex-drive is stronger?" Tristano ended the sentence.

"Yes. And I really like Raffaele. Probably I'm only the fill-in for him too, as much as he's my fill-in. Is this bad?"

Tristano groaned a bit. "Surely not." He sat upright and slid closer. Luca detected a leather band around his neck and conjured a stone from under his shirt. It was the hen's god he had found on the beach of the Thyrennian Sea.

"My good luck charm", Tristano said. "Vito has given me the leather band. He says the stone has magical power, healing effects and is a charm against evil."

"Oh. I didn't know that." Luca bet that even Coppo didn't know about this strange stone. After all it wasn't precious. What if Tris had worn it earlier, would it have protected him against the rape? They shared a look, knowing what the other was thinking. "Do you still get nightmares?"

Tristano shook his head and looked at the empty wine-bottle. Luca rose and brought another from the fridge, standing in a corner.

"The Est! Est!! Est!!! tasted superb said Sergio", Tristano grinned when they clinked their glasses. "We emptied it when I had taken him home for the first night." He grinned mischievously before a shadow fluttered over his face. "I really went over the top those times."

"But why? Just because you had an affair with two guys at the same time? I guess it was pure pleasure for all of you."

Tristano agreed silently. "But the price was high." He emptied his glass and felt the alcohol force his pulse. "I was so desperate because I thought I wouldn't be able to bear the view of a naked man anymore." He hiccupped. "You know, when Vito touched me I was afraid. When he undressed I thought I would scream with fear, as the image of the guy opening his fly and zipper stuck in my mind. But somehow...", he hiccupped again, "somehow I wanted Vito more than anything. He never forced anything. How great for me that he's older."

"And wiser", Luca said and poured himself another glass. He felt the alcohol making his body relaxed and calm.

"Does Sandro know about us?" Tristano asked. His voice slurred a bit.

"Yes", Luca answered sleepily. "Why don't you stay here?"

"He knows?" Tristano asked with wide open eyes. "So what did he say then?"

"Nothing." Luca rose and held out his arm. "Come, I'm tired."

Tristano looked perplexed, then he t automatically took Luca's hand.

"I mean, he said not much", Luca said. "If he was fancy-free he probably have seduced you."

"Ha!" Tristano laughed. Then he tried to ponder the consequences if he stayed there with Luca. Vito wouldn't come home before eight in the morning.

"So, are you happy with Vito?" Luca asked when they lay in bed with only their pants on.

"Yes", Tristano answered and slid closer to Luca's body until they lay close like two puppets in a basket. Luca smiled. The next minute he entered dreamland.

A noise woke Luca. He blinked. Dawn swept through the curtains. He recognized a dark figure standing in the middle of the room. For a tiny moment he thought Alessandro had returned but then he saw the familiar features of Raffaele. "What are you doing here?" Luca whispered, darting a glance to the sleeping Tristano at his side.

Raffaele stepped closer. "I see you've refreshed your old memories with him?" he said reproachfully.

"And you? You smell of another guy too. Had a good fuck?"

Tristano opened his eyes and looked confused.

"You're not in the position to talk to me like that", Raffaele snapped.

"What?" Luca jumped out of bed. "And where are you coming from now? You smell of alcohol and smoke. Who did you pick up? And then you have the cheek to show up here in the middle of the night to crawl into my bed?"

Tristano had pulled the cover up to his chest and followed the quarrel in awe. He flinched when Raffaele banged the door behind him. He heard him rumble down the stairs.

Luca sighed and bent his head. Then he felt Tristano embracing him from behind. "I'm sorry", he said.

"Don't worry, he will return. As always." Luca leaned against Tristano's body. "It would be better if he never returned. It's no use anyway."

Tristano's mobile played its melody. Vito announced his coming. "Shit", Tristano said after he cut the line. "Have to hurry. See you in two hours at the Opificio."

Luca said nothing. He looked depressed. Tristano went to his friend and embraced him once more. It felt so good. Briefly he remembered the lustful night they had shared.

Before Luca could feel his growing excitement Tristano loosened his body and kissed Luca's cheek. "See you later." He gathered his clothes and vanished through the door.

It happened shortly before Christmas. Alessandro had exactly seven months to go when the matter escalated.

"Did you hear what they've done with the father of the little weakling?"

Alessandro pricked up his ears while he was busy hemming button holes on a leather jacket. He floored the pedal of the sewing machine and pretended to be absorbed in his work. But Zorro's croaking voice couldn't be missed.

"Nope, what did they do?"

"You know what happens to kid fuckers." For a brief moment, Zorro's and Alessandro's eyes met.

"I thought he was in solitary confinement?" Pietro Zardi leaned over and cursed. The thread was torn off again.

"He was. But it didn't pay off. They ripped his arse."

Zorro talked more to Alessandro than to Pietro, blinking his eyes disbelievingly.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"It's that what I like to do with Gondi, to give him what he deserves." Tito Boni's deep voice hummed. He stared openly at Alessandro who stared back, ruining the button hole. Alessandro stopped the machine and unpicked the seam with a tiny scissors. "Look at this", Tito gloated, "the perfect housewife, enjoying this sissy-work."

Alessandro breathed slowly in and out.

"What do you mean by that?" Pietro repeated the question.

"Madonna, don't be so stupid", Boni said. "They fucked him almost to death. Paying back what he did to his sons, and he deserved every single cock up his arse."

Pietro and Zorro laughed. The guard was passing them. Alessandro was still breathing.

"What do you think, Gondi", Tito Boni shouted over his table. "Do you think every arsefucker deserves this?"

In and out, Alessandro thought. Breath in and out as Mario had taught him. And say nothing.

"Ey, Gondi! Fallen asleep or have you pissed your pants with fear?"

In and out. Slowly. Though Alessandro felt hate boiling up. The stick of the guard banged upon Boni's table. "Stop blathering", he snarled. "And what's with you?" he bent towards Pietro Zardi. Pietro had tried in vain to fix his thread. While the tailor master fixed a new thread on Pietro's sewing machine, Alessandro pondered about Lauro's father. He hadn't heard about that, nor Mario had told him. Alessandro's good deed of rescuing Lauro when he tried to commit suicide, had helped Alessandro win a few credit points from the director. For Lauro himself it was a chance to pour out his heart. He wasn't mad with Alessandro because he had saved his life. It was as if a dam had been broken, Alessandro received letters from Lauro, living now in a supervised flat-share since he had been placed as a ward of court, away from his mother. His sister had been taken by an aunt. Lauro was proud that he hadn't shoplifted a single piece since he'd been out of prison. And Alessandro was proud too, Lauro had given testimony against his father even if it did arouse painful memories.

Alessandro considered at least to send him his monthly salary which he got for this work.

"He saved the weakling", Zorro started again. "I bet he needed him for his shit stabbing. Gondi", he peered over the table, "did you need him? I mean, he was well ridden up, wasn't he?"

Alessandro bit his lips until he tasted blood. In and out, he repeated like a Mantra. He sensed the stares though and wished the day was over.

Franco wrote in his letters that Claudio and Enrico - both once bed comrades of Leoni - had quarreled about who was the baby's father. Apparently Claudio had been so stupid as to tell Enrico about his suspicions. Franco - being always the reasonable lad, had warned him to take a test, because if this got into the wrong hands, Alessandro could lose everything to the Dominican monks. Alessandro sighed. Another problem. The best would really be if Leoni would vanish from Firenze together with her son. Untraceable. Arrigo could handle that. Unfortunately Arrigo's wife was besotted by little Matteo and would rather die than to give away him voluntarily.

Alessandro took the next jacket and worked as carefully as he did before. When he looked up, he saw Zorro's and Boni's mouth moving without hearing them. They all could get lost. "Do you know now how to spell motherfucker?" Alessandro asked pretty loudly to over the droning rattle of the sewing machines.

Pietro Zardi made a stupid face, then it reddened. With shame, Alessandro hoped. He grinned. "Can you write down your first words like school and apprenticeship?" Alessandro leaned over. "Or kleptomaniac?"

Zardi jumped up from his stool, saved by the ringing of the alarm bell, indicating that the working day was over. No one noticed that Alessandro had received a heavy punch from Tito Boni directly into his solar plexus. Alessandro collapsed, fell to the ground and gasped for breath.

"What's the matter here?" The guard came rushing, bending over Alessandro.

"Don't know", Boni said innocently. "One minute he was standing happily as a fish in the water, the next he was laying on the ground."

The guard pushed Boni away and helped Alessandro up. "Bad stomach?" he asked. Alessandro gritted his teeth and nodded. Then he doubled over and threw up, directly onto Tito Boni's shoes. "Wooeeiiiiii", Boni shouted and jumped back. "You pig! You'll clean that up!"

The guard shoved Boni away. "Clean up your own mess", he snarled. "Out you are. And you", turning to Alessandro, "go to the kitchen and clean away this shit."

Alessandro stared, wiping his mouth. Then he did what he was told.

His stomach hurt until it was time for dinner. Benno waited for him as always and looked concerned when he saw Alessandro's greenish face. Thankful and embarrassed at the same time he also gobbled up Alessandro's plate. "Visit the doc if you aren't feel well", he munched.

"Perhaps", Alessandro answered monosyllabic. He glanced at Tito Boni's table and heard the giggling.

"Have you heard about Lauro's father?" he asked Benno who nodded. "Yes, visitors spread the news, probably inside information. I hope he doesn't survive."

Alessandro flinched inwardly. For a second he thought of Tristano. What if he had to met Tristano's rapists here at Poggibonsi? Suddenly a shower ran over his head into his collar, blinding his sight. Alessandro tasted luke-warm Minestrone.

"Oh, sorry" he heard from behind his back. Zorro.

Alessandro heard the laughter. Felt the stares from the others. The oily vegetable soup dripped slowly into his lap. Alessandro's mind blanked out. He jumped up, his chair crashed to the ground, as he whirled around and threw himself upon Zorro and Zardi at the same time. He knocked them over with the weight of his body. Now all the hours at the gym would pay off.

Benno would tell him later that he had yelled like a bull and that he had clutched a blunt knife he had grabbed from one of the tables. In a blink of an eye a circle of excited shouting boys was watching the fight, until the shrill whistle of the guard summoned other guards and they were separated.

Mario looked disappointedly at him. All four had been brought to his room where Mario waited together with the social worker Emilio. Mario knew very well that it was no use to interrogate the boys about what was going on. The quarrels and fights within the group he knew of all too well. That Alessandro Gondi's pride never allowed him to talk openly about his problems Mario was also aware of. "I'm sorry", he said, "but I have to report this. You'll get a warning in your file. It's the decision of the prison's director what to do with you. You can go now." A small nod indicated Emilio to accompany the boys out.

"Alessandro? One word please."

Alessandro met Tito Boni's acid look. "You're copped, Gondi", he hissed dangerously low. A sly glance met Mario.

Alessandro turned slowly. "That's it", he said. "You'll lose your job."

Mario stared mutely at Alessandro's greasy hair stubble. Some pieces of carrots stuck on his cheek and he had slices of zucchini on his shirt. It smelled rancid. "Go for a shower", Mario said.

"You're joking. No way I'll go shower now." When Mario blinked incomprehensibly, Alessandro said bitterly "You've got no idea what's going on here, do you."

"I have", Mario said, stepping closer. "I would know more if you'd open your mouth and talk to me. Don't be so haughty, damn you. You noble people always think you can solve any problems your own way." He stepped even closer. "This is not the life outside, Alessandro. Here there are different rules. How can we help such boys as Boni when we haven't control over what's going on within the group?"

"Then open your eyes and stop thinking about your cock! You thought to help me when you was fucking with me, yes? You're so blinded." He stepped back, turning, but Mario held his shoulders firmly. "I thought you felt something for me", he hissed. "I thought there was more than solely physical relief." He forced Alessandro's body close to him and pressed his lips upon Alessandro's. That moment the door opened and Emilio returned, rooted to the spot when he saw Mario and Alessandro. With shock on his face he closed the door from the outside.

"Merry Christmas, Luca,

I hope you'll have a great time. I hate to tell you this, but my stay here at the institution has been extended by four months. Mario and me have been caught. Boni's and Zorro's testimony found a friendly ear with the director. The social worker interrogated us and I could only stop him from accusing Mario of fornication with dependents because I did it voluntarily. Nonetheless he's suspended and has to look for another job. Because of the fight I had with Zorro, Zardi and Boni I've got four months in addition to my sentence. The others have been sent to another institution. At least that is good news. Perhaps I'll have a better time now.

Benno was released this morning.

Still eight months to go. Don't wait for me, Luca. Enjoy life with Raffaele. Although I'd be happy to hear from you from time to time.


On Christmas Eve Luca entered the visitor's room. He had decided to drive to Poggibonsi as soon as he had received the letter. He couldn't leave Alessandro without a word. He had spent all of his earnings on his family and the rest on Alessandro. It wasn't a difficult decision what to give his boyfriend for Christmas for Alessandro needed everything. He had never thought that the young man with the noble upbringing would enjoy so much simple underwear, new shoes and jeans, not to mention soap and toothpaste. More than anything he yearned to fall into Alessandro's arms when he saw him, but he had to restrain himself and not embarrass Alessandro more. Yes, it was a relief that Boni, Zorro and Zardi had been removed from Poggibonsi. Alessandro's hair had grown again and short curls covered his skull. He beamed.

"I didn't expect you to come." They sat in their usual corner and Alessandro sorted his gifts. Luca hadn't made the effort to wrap them because he would never have passed the guard with wrapped parcels.

"I've got nothing for you", Alessandro said, eyeing socks, pants and other clothes.

"This is from Leoni", Luca said, "books I suppose."

"Great. Thanks so much for all this. I've got parcels already from Franco and my uncle. And your brother Giano sent me cigarettes and more books I need for my study."

Luca smiled at him. "I know. He's now doing his block practice in a hospital. Tino's almost finished his study. He wants to go to Africa for some months."

"Oh. Another parting?"

"Perhaps. But they will survive a couple of months apart, won't they?" Luca looked attentively into Alessandro's blue eyes. He looked much better. Healthier. The years of training at the gym had made him muscular in a very smooth way. Luca loved it. "Do you miss Mario?" he asked.

"He comes from time to time to visit us. He's found another job as a social worker, caring for kids living on the streets. Though there's not much to do in this little town Poggibonsi, so he looked for a job at Siena."

"But do you miss him?" Luca insisted.

"I do. But not in the way you mean. Tell me you what have planned for Christmas. Going out with Raffaele?"

Raffaele would spend the evening with his parents at Bellosguardo, Luca knew. As he would spend the holidays with Giano and his parents.

"Dante and Marcello moved out", he said instead of give an answer.

"That's a nice surprise for you."

Luca nodded. Although... He produced a folded letter and put it upon the table. "From Dante and Marcello", he said.

Alessandro stared. "A letter? From your brothers? For me?"

Luca nodded. "They didn't say anything."

"Have you read it?"


Alessandro gave him a long glance. "Don't say they want to apologize."

"Sandro..." Luca started slowly. "What are you going to do? Throw it away? Please give them a chance." He felt the little parcel in his trouser pocket and hesitated whether to give it to Alessandro or not. He was very unsure.

"Lauro wrote." Alessandro changed the topic, still eyeing the letter laying on the table top, "his father's doing better. I really want to stay in contact with him. He's still at Gubbio in the flat-share."

"Is he gay?" Luca asked instantly.

Alessandro stared at him. "I don't think so", he said. "I never thought about that." Another long glance. It hurt more than Alessandro wanted to admit to himself, seeing his boyfriend so close and not being able to kiss him, nor have sex with him. His body - once in daily uproar - had fallen asleep. He had stopped jerking off a long time ago. Sometimes he felt like an old man with no other desire than to stretch out in his bed after a long day and to fall asleep and to dream of nothing. Nonetheless there was a tiny remnant of the old, horny Alessandro Gondi that only had to be awoken by a tender hand. "How's Raffaele?" he repeated his question.

"Fine", Luca said not very enthusiastic. He looked at his watch. "Gotta go, Sandro. Mamma is cooking for the whole day and I don't want to be late." He stared at the small, decorated Christmas tree standing in a corner. The room was filled with chattering. Heaps of Christmas gifts covered the tables. Coffee scent hung in the air.

Alessandro nodded. "All right. Thanks for coming."

When Luca rose he quickly pulled out the little parcel from his pocket and pressed it into Alessandro's palm. "Merry Christmas." He embraced Alessandro briefly.

When Luca had gone Alessandro unwrapped the tissue and stared at a ring. Lapis Lazuli. He took it with two fingers and held it in front of his eyes. Then he smiled.


A patient said to me 'In contrary to you I don't live in the stone age'. At the beginning I didn't understand. After the month at the AIDS-hospice I learnt how to say farewell. Today I know that we are what we are meant to be. My little brother will be better than I; that he was already better than we all put together I learnt when you went to jail and he was still talking about you as if you had just gone out to buy a package of cigarettes.

I can't express myself very well; I've always worked with my hands. I still can't understand. Everyone loves the one he likes to love. Perhaps I can accept because I learnt to tolerate it. I don't need to recount all those things that are spoken about homo's, you know them all. Today I'm ashamed for what I've done to Luca. After all, I'm responsible for where you are right now. There's no excuse for that.

Marcello thought it would be good to write you, if we are too cowardly to visit you. I'm not sorry to see Riefoli go, but his death is still monstrous. Probably you will have a good laugh about my words, me, the macho-hetero man, or you'll throw this letter into the loo. I can't help it. The most important thing is that you to know that Luca has nothing to fear. He doesn't want to have anything to do with us. Even this I have to accept.

Dante Montori"

Alessandro dropped the letter upon the bedcover before he leaned his head against the cool wall of his cell. Was this an apology? In some cases it was. Did it mean that finally Dante and Marcello realized that there existed more lifestyles on earth worth living than they were able to accept? Probably. Then all this had given something good in the end. And Raniero Riefoli hadn't died in vain. A bitter smile appeared on Alessandro's lips. A unnatural death was never something good. But it made Alessandro's life easier.

Inverno 9