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'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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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?"
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."
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.
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?"
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."
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..."
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.
Tristano shook his head and looked at the empty wine-bottle. Luca rose and brought another from the fridge, standing in a corner.
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."
Tristano looked perplexed, then he t automatically took Luca's hand.
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.
Tristano opened his eyes and looked confused.
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.
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.
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.
Zorro talked more to Alessandro than to Pietro, blinking his eyes disbelievingly.
Alessandro breathed slowly in and out.
Pietro and Zorro laughed. The guard was passing them. Alessandro was still breathing.
In and out, Alessandro thought. Breath in and out as Mario had taught him. And say nothing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
"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.
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."
Raffaele would spend the evening with his parents at Bellosguardo, Luca knew. As he would spend the holidays with Giano and his parents.
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."
Alessandro gave him a long glance. "Don't say they want to apologize."
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.
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.