Three days later Luca entered the Opificio workshop and saw a new lad standing in the way. He passed him, wished him a good morning and sat at his table which he shared with two others. The guy stood until Coppo Travisero arrived and rushed him to the free seat opposite Luca.

Luca smiled and made a little room for him. "Missed the first days?" he asked.

The guy's dark-blue eyes widened. "I've been in hospital. Tonsils."


"Tristano", the guy said. He had blond hair like Luca. Sun-kissed, his mother would say, because it was golden at the parting.


At their places lay little bowls with different kind of stones, all marked with little tags describing the contents.

"This is an example of our extensive stock of antique marbles and rare stones like hard stones or semi precious stones", Coppo started to explain. He took one stone from a bowl and held it high in the air. "This is Imperial Egyptian Porphyry. We call it Porfido rosso. It has similarity to the porphyry that is used at several churches in our town, though it was mined from quarries in Tuscany." He looked around. "Now who of you can tell me which churches it was used for?"

Luca was reluctant though of course he knew the answer. "For Giotto's Campanile", said one, "for the facade of the cathedral", "for San Miniato", and each time Coppo nodded. "Fine. Of course it was used for the Baptistery too. I'd like you to learn the differences. This one here has a finer structure and is a shade darker than our porphyry so that it resembles a fresh slice of roast beef." Coppo grinned, and took a stone from the second bowl. "Serpentine", he said. "This dark green example was used for the multicoloured facades of the same buildings you have mentioned before. White, green and red, these are our national colours. And this," he lifted another stone, "is Nero Antico, that is quarried in Belgium, thus it is commonly called Belgian Black."

Luca stared at his bowls and grabbed a blue stone, Lapis Lazuli as he knew. It was a small stone with sharp, white edges, though the fractured surfaces had a deep, vivid blue. While Coppo was musing about Antique Alabaster, Malachite and Giallo Antico Luca was watching the new guy opposite him.

"Have I missed a lot?" he whispered.

"Well, we are still beginning. Today we start with the different kinds of stones. You missed the grand tour."

"My family has a carpenter's workshop", Tristano explained later at the cantina. "I started to carve figures from wood and my grandpa said that I'm talented. He has a stand at the flea market with all kind of antiques, both fakes and genuine. The entrance exam was really heavy, wasn't it."

"Yeah." Luca answered. Though for him it was easy. He just hoped that it wasn't his father's influence that gained him the place for his apprenticeship. Looking into Tristano's eyes he thought them like two plates of Lapis Lazuli and he had to grin at the comparison.

"And your family?"

Luca was reluctant to speak. "My mother's at home but the rest of the family works here."

"Here?" Tristano asked excited. "Stone cutters?"

"Well, yes, my brothers. But my father is the master of them. He works the stones into marquetry. You know," Luca leaned over, suddenly engaged, "my family worked on the chapel of Principes at San Lorenzo. The Medici-burial place, you know it."

"Yes, I know it!" Tristano's eyes sparkled. "Wow. So you're famous, yes?"

Luca laughed. "Not me."

"Not yet!"

Luca grinned at him and his enthusiasm. "Look, there he is." Tristano followed Luca's finger and saw a stout man with dishevelled, black hair, accompanied by two guys that looked similar though a head taller. "My brothers", Luca explained. He caught a nasty look from Dante, and saw his eyes scurrying over Tristano's features. Luca was getting hot. What if he thought that...

"You don't look like them", Tristano stated and turned to his unfinished lamb.

"I take after my mother", Luca mumbled, picking at his food. Suddenly he had lost his appetite.

"Do you think you can become as good as your father?"

Luca shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure. What if I don't? Though I love stones and working with my hands, I don't know what to do either."

"That's a good sign. If you love what you do it'll be fine."

Luca stared at Tristano and his surprisingly adult statement. "I know", he said simply. "What're you doing afterwards?" he heard Tristano asking and was startled. "You could give me the grand tour I missed."

"Well," Luca couldn't resist the pleading eyes so he nodded.

Luckily Alessandro wasn't waiting for him when they exited the museum. Luca hadn't known how to explain his staying after work with a lad unknown to him. "See you tomorrow, Luca", Tristano said and grinned sheepishly. "My girlfriend's waiting. I promised to go to the cinema with her."

Luca nodded.

"Thanks again", Tristano shouted from across the street. Luca took his bundle and trotted home. Four more days and Alessandro would be gone to Pisa. What was he supposed to do then? Return to his old buddies to talk about football and girls? He had neglected them enough to raise suspicion but they all referred this fact to him having his first girlfriend and not wanting to tell her name. Luca let them believe that. Their teasing was easier to bear than to tell them the truth.

When a hand closed around his neck from behind, Luca jumped and turned. It was just his father. He had forgotten to take off his overall, but he had clutched his folder under his arm. "It's just me, son. Had a good day? Coppo satisfied with you?"

"Pappa, you will know better how I'm doing since you're the pal of Professore Coppo, eh?"

Niccolò laughed. "Professore Coppo! He would laugh if he could hear that. Surely enough you're just starting, I just want to know if you're attentive and if you enjoy the lessons."

"I do."

"You don’t sound too happy about that, son." Niccolò eyed him over his glasses.

"You've forgotten to remove your glasses." Luca took his father's arm. "You'll trip over in the streets."

"Oh gosh, and there's still the overalls." Niccolò chuckled. "Your mother will throw up her hands." Then he became serious. "What about the Gondi-lad? Why don't you invite him again for dinner? Your mother was asking, you know. Seems as if she likes him for some reasons."

Luca's cheeks reddened and he looked down. He waited at the low curb for motor bikes to pass. Manly laughter sounded from the open door of a bar and thick billows of smoke streamed out.

"Sandro will soon be gone to Pisa", Luca said depressed.

"Ah, for his study? What is he studying there? I wonder why he has to go to Pisa for it, since there are dozens of good institutes here."

"History of Art. He wants a real course with a professional exam. And probably he likes to be out of town."

Niccolò raised his eye brows, surprised. "An official exam? I hadn't thought him capable of so much enthusiasm and staying power. I thought he was a happy-go-lucky sort with lots of nonsense in his pretty head."

At the piazza beside Giotto's campanile the street painters had set up their easels and were busy with tourist’s portraits. Luca saw caricatures of politicians, most of them were Silvio Berlusconi, George Bush and Gerhard Schröder. Kids played with balloons and scooters, Japanese tourists listened to their guide, staring up to the bell tower, armed with huge cameras around their necks, photographing everything that came in front of their lenses. Another group was positioned in front of Ghiberti's bronze plates covering one of the four entrance doors of the Battistero, while the guide tried desperately to drown out the traffic noise on the street beside them. Others were licking ice cones or held a half-eaten pizza in their hands, squinting against the sun. With their Bermuda-shorts, socks and sandals they outed themselves as non-Italian and Luca had to grin. He pictured Alessandro guiding them through the town, in his posh jacket and neat blue jeans while he was flirting with the young men in his group. Although... Luca couldn't imagine Sandro having such a bad taste.

"He isn't a happy-go-lucky sort", he said then. "He has a lot of intelligence. I think he can become a great tourist guide. He knows simply everything."

"Ah, that's what you talk about all the time then?"

"Yes... That Biancone there", Luca pointed to the large marble statue of Neptune standing in a basin surrounded by naked nymphs, "the people say he's the mighty god of the Arno who was turned to stone because he disdained, like Michelangelo, the love of a woman..." Luca swallowed his saliva wrong and coughed. What was he saying here? He wished he could stuff his words back into his mouth when his father looked oddly at him. "He's telling you this?" Niccolò chewed on his under lip. "Odd story. I've never heard that Neptune was a fag."

Luca flinched at his father's words. "Not Neptune, the god of the Arno", he said quietly. "Under the light of a full moon he walks at midnight in the piazza and talks to the other statues. Well, wasn't half of Florence gay in the olden times?" he asked then cautiously.

Niccolò nodded his head vehemently. "Right, son. It wasn't a crime to have a boy in your bed when you were lonely." His stare was intense. "Has the Gondi-lad done kinky things with you?"

"Kinky things?" Luca blushed once more. "What do you mean 'kinky'?"

"You've got me, son."

"Surely not. It's... it just the stories of the town."

Niccolò continued. "There are rumours you know. Seems as if he's playing in both teams." Niccolò breathed out. "But he'll be gone soon as you said. Have you made friends with the other pupils?"

"Well, a few of them." Blushing Luca remembered the words of Raniero, the guy with the inflamed eyes. What if he told his father of the rumours about his own son? That he was Alessandro's boyfriend? And Sandro wouldn't be there to stick this out with him.

"Luca! Luca!" Luca searched for the voice and found one of his old friends, waving at him from a table in a trattoria. He held something high in the air. "Go, son, but be home for dinner, alright?" Niccolò pushed him gently in the back.

Luca, although he wanted to go to Alessandro, had no alternative than to go to the table where he was greeted cheeringly. "Look what we have", a short one with fire-red hair that he had styled into all possible directions said. "Five tickets for the UEFA-cup next Wednesday, AC Firenze versus AS Monaco!" he was literally screaming. "I got them via internet and offered the highest price on eBay. You're going with us!"

Luca tried to look pleased although he wasn't in the least interested in football. "That's great", he tried to cheer, patting his friend on his back.

"Let's have another coppa." His friend called the waiter and ordered ice-cream for everyone.

"Haven't seen you for a while." Rosso, the boy so called because of his red hair and his freckles, eyed Luca suspiciously though his green eyes were still sparkling for joy.

"Well, my apprenticeship started", Luca said into the circle of three other of his old school-friends.

"What, so soon? And I thought you was enjoying the Spring! Or the summer. What are your plans?"

"For summer?" The ice-cream cups arrived and Luca scratched the sweet cream from the top. He hated sweet cream and spooned it into Rosso's cup. Giuliano stood his sun glasses up and played with the ear pieces. He was the typical Italian heartbreaker. Black hair, black eyes, a red swelling mouth and an Elvis-like grin that put dimples in his cheeks. "Yes, for summer. We're going to Forte dei Marmi, laying on the beach", Rosso said.

"Pah, Forte dei Marmi", Michele chimed in, "we're going to Ostia, to the bath."

"Ostia?" Giuliano said disdainful. "That's just a sewer. Everybody goes to Ostia". He parroted in nasal tone, "Très chic!" He stretched out his little finger and stood his sun glasses up again. The others laughed. "That's something for queens and queers."

Michele gave him a slap on the head. "Then you would be at the right place."

Giuliano whistled after two girls, passing the trattoria in short skirts and high heels. "Who's the queen, eh?" he said. Luca stared after them, watching them doing fare bella figura in the late afternoon-sun, wagging their arses, darting looks back and giggling. Luca inwardly rolled his eyes. They could get lost. He remembered Sandro's butt plug and started to giggle too. They all had no idea...

"That's the old Luca", Rosso stated, mistaking Luca's laughter. "Now, do you want to join us at Forte?"

"I'm not sure", Luca mumbled, "the workshop and museum are closed during August, so... but I don't know about the money."

"Ah, money." Giuliano could talk because his parents had a posh hotel and money was always there for him.

"Braggart", said all three in unison and laughed. Luca though wondered what he would do at the beach, lying mindlessly in the sun, whistling after girls in bikinis, playing volleyball? His parents had never had a real holiday, they just stayed where they were, trying to bear the Florentine hot summer as best as they could.

"Perhaps I'm going to Pisa", Luca heard himself saying.

"Pisa? For god's sake why do you want to go to Pisa? To study the pendulum rules?"

"Well, I've never been up the tower since it's allowed to go up it again." He saw that all three were rolling their eyes.

"Our little Luca has become a professore."

"Ok," said Rosso, finishing his ice cup, "You come to Forte and visit Pisa, it's a cat's jump away, d'accordo?"

"Ok", Luca said dejectedly. "Listen, gotta go. Thanks for the ice-cream and see you Wednesday at the stadio." He hastened to leave without looking back.

Part 14