"Did you say good bye to your stabber?" Dante hissed when Luca came home. But Giano pulled Luca aside. "Nobody knows you weren't at home last night. I told them you left early this morning." Giano's gentle brown eyes were a little bloodshot.

"Had fun at the opera?" his mother chirped, ruffling Luca's hair. Luca ducked away and mumbled "Yes". He wanted to be alone, away from Clarissa's cheerfulness, Dante's lurking eyes and Giano's concerned watchfulness.

"You said the Gondi boy is leaving today?" Clarissa went on, while her agile hands washed the plates and cutlery from the supper. "There's rabbit left, if you like. Aren't you hungry?"

"No", Luca mumbled once more and dropped his head. From the corner of his eye he saw Dante open his mouth, but he received a blow from Giano's elbow. "Have you nothing to do?"

Dante, dressed in jeans and jacket with a scarf of AC Firenze around his neck, shot him a look and left the kitchen. Luca was reminded that on next Wednesday he had to meet his friends for the football match and he sighed inwardly. What a prospect. Without a further word he left and entered the narrow staircase. He felt Giano at his heels.

Without being invited, his brother followed him into his room. "Has he left?"

Luca nodded and dropped down upon his bed. "Thanks for lying for me", he said, not looking at his older brother. Giano squatted in front of him. "Next week I'm off too. You think you'll be alright?"

"I will. Please stop treating me like a baby."

A little smile curled Giano's lips. "I reckon he will return soon, won't he? Next weekend perhaps?"

Luca looked up and suddenly tears welled up in his eyes. He couldn't stop himself from stretching out his arms and embracing his brother. He felt his soothing closeness. "Hey, I'm sure you'll survive a week", Giano whispered. He wasn't sure if the Gondi-boy was worth all the heartfelt pain. He had watched him long enough to know that Alessandro was a slut and a heart-breaker, with a remarkable talent to lure women and men to his side to play with them and then toss them away for the next one. He was angry that his brother could become one of them. But no way in hell would he tell Luca. He freed himself from the embrace and lifted Luca's chin. "You've plenty to do next week. Going to work, learning a lot, meeting with your friends, and you'll see, in no time it's Friday evening." He winked.

Luca sniffed and felt consoled. How good it felt to have a brother to share his secrets with. "Has Dante said anything?"

"No. I'll make sure he doesn't."

But in two weeks you're gone too, Luca thought, and what then?


Alessandro put on his sun glasses to stop the sun shining into his eyes. He drove straight west, upon a country road that led between kiwi-plantations and vineyards, peach trees and tree nurseries. The Ferrari buzzed satisfied under his buttocks and he turned on the radio. A minute later he turned it off. It was disturbing his train of thoughts. Red statues shimmered through a hedgerow as he passed a workshop for terracotta. The sun inflamed the burnt stone to a deep crimson red.

He knew that next to the country road ran the lazy flow of the Arno. Alessandro drove slowly and enjoyed the silence of the Sunday's late afternoon so much that he took detours to reach his destination. On the right hand side he passed Empoli and the junction that would lead to Leonardo's birthplace Vinci, all hidden between olive plantations, the black peaks of cypresses and large, wild meadows in between, now and then interrupted with houses painted with the colours of the south: dark terracotta, yellow in all shades, light ochre and faded orange. He met hardly any cars, at least not before he crossed the Arno again, approaching Pisa, the former almighty town at the Tyrrhenian Sea whose fleet had once ruled the world. Little was left of it. Alessandro's hometown Florence forced Pisa under its yoke, and this even without Leonardo's great plans to deflect the river to cut off Pisa from the harbour; it was nature and time that did it itself. The town was situated now ten kilometres away from the sea, because the river had shovelled great heaps of sand and mud to its mouth. The heavy anchor chains of the ships he had seen hanging at the walls of the great cemetery, and he longed to study all of them again.

In the distance towered the Apuanian mountains, foothills of the mountains where the Cararra-marble was broken. The river snaked in a wide bow through the town when Alessandro turned into the autostrada, passing a stony gate that lead into the town. The water had a different colour, milky green, almost grey, from the gravel and marble the waves brought with it on its long journey.

Cars streamed into the town returning from their Sunday trips and Alessandro orientated himself with the signs that would lead him into the centre, to the university. The last of tourist's busses jammed the streets when he arrived at the large, sandy coloured building. He stopped his car directly in front of it and entered the two story, square yard, similar to his own home's yard, just much wider.

"Very few students here, young man", the old caretaker said, interrupting his meal of bread and salami. He poked around pieces of it between his teeth as he rose achingly, pulled on an old cardigan and shuffled in his baggy cord trousers next to Alessandro across the yard, through a hallway, to an attached building that was adapted to the old Renaissance-style of the university.

"Kitchen is not yet open for the students, young man", he croaked, "but in the student's quarter you'll find lots of appropriate places for you." He looked Alessandro up and down, sniffing the air. Apparently he sensed Alessandro's rich upbringing, although he had tried to appear as casual as possible.

Alessandro presented him his registration form and the old man nodded, still chewing at the remains of his supper. "The semester starts in two weeks, young man, but the library is open for kids like you. What are you studying?"

"History of Art."

The old man nodded again. "Bene. Like so many of you." He rummaged in the small bag he carried and handed Alessandro a plan of the buildings. "This might help with your orientation." Together they entered a large floor from which doors opened to the right. The left side was covered with windows, overlooking the Piazza dei Cavallieri, with the same named large palazzo.

"There are fifteen students here, who didn't go home for holidays." He held Alessandro's registration form close to his eyes. "I see you wished a comfort-room. The single rooms are booked out."

"Alright", Alessandro said, following the old man, wishing he would go faster for his bags were getting heavier with every minute.

The room he was offered was attached to a kitchen in the middle; with two beds on each side, two wardrobes, tables and stools. "TV costs extra. But the use of the kitchen is free. And here's the key" he said, fumbling with a huge key ring and again raised it close to his eyes. "It opens your room, nothing else. I'm always there if you need help."

Alessandro nodded. He signed for the key and let out a heartfelt sigh when the old man had shuffled away. He dropped upon the bed, and stretched his body out. A light headache was throbbing behind his forehead and his stomach growled. "Kitchen is cold", he remembered the words of the care taker, so he had to find out a place where he could grab something to eat for himself.

On the landing he bumped into a lanky youth with stubbled hair, cut so short that it was just a centimetre long, covering his skull. He raised up his eyes and laughed then. "Hey, I didn't expect anyone else here. New?" He eyed Alessandro from head to toe, a brief, curious look. He stretched out his hand and said brightly "I'm Franco. What's your name?"


"Fine. Hungry? If yes, we have the same intention. What are you studying?"

"History of Art."

"Great! That's my direction too." Without any further ado, he shoved Alessandro down the staircase, along the hallway, through the yard and out of the university. Alessandro laughed quietly to himself. Usually he was the master of talks and actions; now he had found his master himself. Probably. He squinted against the setting sun when they were standing upon the street. "Look, there's the house of Galileo. He had a chair for mathematics here."

Alessandro nodded friendly. He knew that of course.

"Where do you come from?" Franco asked, starting a fast tempo directly into the old town quarter. Soon they were surrounded by the noise of Vespas and the chattering of people coming through open doors and windows, street cafes, trattorias and the smell of fresh baked pizze and vegetables hung in the air. Alessandro had classified Franco's dialect to somewhere in the north.


"Ah, I guessed so. I'm from a small village near Venice. I've no money to travel home for holidays, so I had to stay here. Well, it was a short break anyway. And you?"

"What me?"

"Why do you came so early?" Franco had led Alessandro to a pub in a narrow street, and to a gathering of youths sitting at little tables in front of it.

"Well, why not. I have some things to do here."

"Family? Friends?"

"You're pretty nosy, honey."

Franco gave him an odd stare from aside and shut his mouth. He pulled Alessandro with him though to an empty table and called to the waiter. Apparently he was good friends with him. "I'm starving", he said, studying the menu. "I'll think it's pasta."

"I think it's a panzanella first", Alessandro said. "You'd like one too? Feel invited."

Franco made round eyes and hesitated. "You know... you don't feel you have to."

"I'd like to. It's my first day here." He waved to the waiter and ordered two panzanella salads, pasta for Franco and salsicce with polenta for himself. Franco remained silent and eyed Alessandro from aside.

"Perhaps you'll gain some fat on your ribs then", Alessandro winked. Then he nudged Franco. "Hey, don't be so stubborn. The next time is on you."

Franco's a little pock marked face lit up. "Alright then."

Alessandro wondered how quickly Franco cleared his plates. "So you'll have started your studies already, yes?" he asked. "We won't be in the same class then."

"Well, of course we can have some courses together. What are you interested in?"

"The history of Florence especially. I'd like to become a guide. You?"

"Well, restorer actually. I dream of an employment in Venice."

Alessandro whistled through his teeth. "A never ending task." He pushed over his credit card and signed. Franco made big eyes, but said nothing. They sat for a while and finished their glasses of cheap wine, enjoying the atmosphere of low sounding music, quiet chattering, clinking glasses and cigarette smoke. This he had dreamed of, Alessandro thought, to be among kindred spirits, having a buddy he could have good talks with.

"Where do you live?" he asked. "Single room?"

"Hell, no, I can't afford that. Three-man-room, actually pretty stuffed, but what can I do."

Alessandro felt a little ashamed of his money, but that wasn't his fault either. He rose and sauntered with Franco through the illuminated streets, making a big circle until they reached the campus again. "Have you a girlfriend?" Franco asked. "I left mine in my home town. Well, we haven't been together for that long, so..."


Franco looked frankly at him. "Well, how do I know what she's doing?"

Alessandro was quiet. Yes, how did he know what Luca was doing? Suddenly he felt alone.

"I left mine in Florence", he mumbled, almost involuntarily.

"But she can come each weekend, it's just two hours away."

They stood in front of Franco's room. "It's a he", Alessandro said.

Franco lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh. Well... cool." He grinned and turned the key. "See you tomorrow then. What are your plans? We can have breakfast at the same spot. They offer cheap prices; they know students are always in need."

Alessandro nodded, somewhat relieved.

"Thanks for being honest", Franco said when he closed his door.

Like a tiger in a cage Alessandro went from the bath to the kitchen and back to his room. It wasn't a very wise idea to come here so early, was it? He considered phoning Luca but remembered that he hadn't a mobile and that one of his parents would answer the phone. In the worst case scenario it would be Dante. Then he had an idea and made a mental note to do this first thing the next morning. So, he had plenty of time to explore the town, probably together with Franco. Or go to the secretary and pick up the list of possible courses he had to take. Visit the National Museum to see Masaccio's painting of San Paolo, the apostle, Masolino had mentioned in his diary.

Finally he searched for bed linen in the wardrobes and made his bed. He pulled out towels and placed all his toiletries in the bathroom. Luckily he had his own that he would only have to share with his room mate.

The bed was hard, but not uncomfortably. After a few attempts to stuff his pillow under his head the way he liked it, he stood up and opened the window. He simply had to get used to it all, the foreign smell, the noises, the sound the rustling bedcover made and his naked feet upon the carpet. Instead he pulled on a t-shirt and sat at the table where he leafed through his travel guide of Pisa. He had always puzzled in his head where the Carmine-church would be. He couldn't find it in any travel guides, nor on internet sites. Masaccio had painted his large altar piece for that church that had been taken to pieces and spread over Europe. The panels were all at Berlin, Germany, The Crucifixion at Naples, the Madonna at the National Gallery, London. Just San Paolo had remained here at Pisa.

Alessandro remembered Masolino's mysterious words when they had parted. Masaccio on his way to Pisa to start the work of commission for the Carmine-church, his brother in tow. "Lo Scheggia" - the splinter - as his contemporaries had called him, for whatever reason. Why did they call a man The Splinter? Masolino had had a very bad feeling when he had watched them going. Alessandro smelled a family drama, that had its origin here in this place: The Pisan Carmine-church. With the help of some natives he should be able to find it.

* * *

Two days later a parcel awaited Luca when he came home from the Opificio. A cardboard box, wrapped with red paper coming from Pisa. Luca's heart beat faster. A parcel from Alessandro? And he hadn't even been away a week. Niccolò and Marcello, just arrived home from work and hungry, eyed curiously alternating between the parcel and the glowing Luca who would have loved nothing more than to unwrap it in his room. "You made close friends with the Gondi-boy, didn't you", his father asked, slipping off his shoes. Again he had gone home in his dirty overall, and Clarissa had laughingly scolded him. "Sending you parcels already."

Marcello watched Luca silently. "Where's Dante anyway?" Niccolò asked him.

"Date", Marcello answered monosyllabic.

Niccolò shook his head. "I thought he would rather train for the Gioco."

"You mean, sex isn't good for a sportsman?" Marcello asked, hiding his grin. Niccolò rolled his eyes. "Of course it gives you weak legs. And he needs his strength for the match, now our Quartiero is in the final." He sniffed and searched for his pipe.

A wire burnt suddenly in Luca's stomach. The Gioco would take place soon and Alessandro had been determined to attend. He was in the Quartiero of San Giovanni, so he and Dante would probably be rivals. But, was it likely that Alessandro would be allowed to participate? On the other side: who would oppose the Prince of the Lilies?

"What about your workout and training?" his father asked, eying his son. "We want to make sure the victory is on us this time, d'accordo?"

Marcello mumbled something, still his eyes on Luca's parcel. Luca snatched it, pressed it to his chest and was about to leave the kitchen. "Dinner's ready soon", Niccolò called after him.

Up in his room Luca hastily opened the cardboard box and yet another and then held a mobile phone in his hands. It was not just a cheap thing, but an expensive looking phone with shiny, silvery buttons and a blue display. A card was attached.


This is something useful for us, don't you think? I would had phoned, but actually I don't fancy a talk with any of your family. Please phone me as soon as you can, my number is stored already.


Luca's excitement peeled off. No "I miss you", no virtual kisses for him? He examined the mobile, found the place with the telephone numbers and Alessandro's and pressed the button. Alessandro answered immediately and sent a little stab into Luca's heart. It was good to hear his voice so close to his ear.

"Wasn't that one of my brighter ideas, eh?" Alessandro chuckled into the loudspeaker, "You can talk as long as you want, it's all on me. So, how are you?" His voice echoed somewhat as if he was standing in a big hall.

"Where are you?" Luca asked instead of giving an answer.

"In a church."

"Church? The big cathedral?"

"No, the Carmine-church. That's where Masaccio worked."

"Ah! Now, do you come home for weekend?"

"Of course. Make sure you've plenty of time for me, capisce?

Luca grinned and nodded. "I miss you."

"Miss you too. Until later, ciao."

Alessandro had cut off the call. With shame Luca realized that he hadn't even thanked him. By all means he would make sure that he had his weekend off, all day and all the nights. Before that he would go to Alessandro's home to make it comfortable for the two of them.

That night he dreamt of a blazing torch that lured him into a dark tunnel deep beneath the earth. It smelled damp and mouldy and he heard water drops flow from silver shimmering walls. He knew it was Alessandro he was following because he heard his light foot steps. He walked on silent feet as usual. But Luca couldn't reach him, as fast as he was hurrying, stumbling over rubble, slipping in oily water puddles. When the fingertips of his outstretched arm almost reached the back of Sandro a flush of fire shattered between him and his boyfriend, parting them, causing Luca to yelp with pain. An arm, carrying a torch burnt in front of his face and took his sight. Luca shouted and screamed . and woke up, bathed in sweat.

He sat up and wiped the moist strands of his hair, then he rubbed his eyes. What was that crap? Tunnel, torches, fire. Sandro lost. Deep within him Luca knew that his subconsciousness he feared that he would lose his lover to another town and perhaps another man.

Luca clutched his drawn up legs and stared into his morning dawn lightened room without seeing anything. To make the trouble perfect he had to go today and endure the football match. He sighed loudly and scrambled out of his bed. At least it would bring a bit of a change. Soundlessly he padded across the hallway to the bathroom and thought wistfully at Sandro's spacious bathroom, that was actually a separate room of Sandro's huge living room that was almost took up the whole length of the Palazzo.

Luca fumbled with the bathroom boiler, put some more wood into the shutter and lit it. Tired and somewhat hung-over he sat upon the toilet seat and rubbed his face. What a dream. He jumped when the door opened and Giano peered in "Up so early?" he asked, entering the room.

"Bad dream". Luca rose and made room for his brother who had difficulties aiming his morning wood into the toilet bowl. Luca grinned and stepped in front of the mirror. A pair of gentle brown eyes stared back, a little swollen from sleep. Another face appeared in the mirror behind him. Giano wrapped an arm around Luca's chest and leaned his face against Luca's hair. "Aren't we a happy pair?" he whispered. Luca leaned against his brother's body, feeling his hardness. "You certainly mean beautiful pair", Luca chuckled. "Better you find another place for that", and winked at Giano's mirror image. Giano winked back, though somewhat melancholic. "How come we are so different?" he asked. "You and me. There's no similarity to Dante and Marcello. Whether outwardly or inwardly." He pressed Luca tightly to his chest, still speaking to his mirror image. "Promise to tell me instantly if they harm you, alright?"

Luca nodded. "But I can take care of myself, Giano."

"I know you can. I just want to know what's going on."

Luca hesitated for a moment. "Sandro has given me a mobile. If you get yourself one we can stay in contact always." He saw Giano's eyes brightening in astonishment. "Given you a mobile? Such an expensive gift? Wow."

"He said he didn't want to phone me in case it's Dante answering it."

"Since when is he so shy?" Giano answered. "He never avoided any conflict before."

Luca pondered for a while. "It was Dante who beat us up on the street recently", he mumbled, avoiding Giano's eyes. He felt himself turned to face his brother. "Are you sure?"

"Sandro recognized him. And anyway, Dante didn't deny it."

"You've talked with him about that?" Giano asked surprised.

"Not really. But I know it was him and some others."


"Don't think so."

Giano stroked over Luca's cheek, then he untangled his hair with his fingers. What if the same waited for himself? What if he had came out earlier? Would he had prepared a smooth way for Luca then? He was not sure how his father would react - having two gay sons. And Clarissa? Would she still be the lovingly, innocent mother? Giano would be alright if it wasn't so, but Luca was still too young for that burden.

"Does Sandro come over the weekend?" he asked instead. Luca had meanwhile started to brush his teeth and nodded. "You must do me another favour", he said indistinctly, white foam upon his lips. Giano put some toothpaste upon his brush and looked up. "Another night of freedom?" His brown eyes sparkled. Luca blushed and bent his head to rinse his mouth. "No need to feel ashamed, gioia", Giano whispered close to his ear. "Make sure it's safe, ok?"

With a jolt Luca remembered that they hadn't used a condom the last time. But he trusted Sandro. His brother had died of AIDS, and he wouldn't be so stupid to be careless if he wasn't absolutely sure about his state of health. Would he?

Giano eyed his brother in the mirror, saw the worries painted on his face, and then relief. He wondered what was going on in his head. Sandro had a large consumption of girls and boys; he knew that. How far had both gone? For Giano it had been just hand and blowjobs in a darkroom, or a wild fumbling in the park and somehow he envied his younger brother. At least he would have a bed to lay down with the Prince of the Lilies.. He chuckled. A bed of lilies.

Luca had stepped stark naked into the bathtub and turned on the heated water. Before he could pull the plastic curtain to avoid setting the bathroom under water, Giano climbed into the tub and started to soap first Luca than himself. Luca enjoyed his brother's hands and it was hard to stop his body showing his excitement. Actually it was impossible since he heard Giano's chuckle through the beating of the water.

"Surely I'll help you. Though it was close last time", Giano explained after a while. He rinsed off the water from his body and stepped out. "I guess Sandro has a better bathroom, hasn't he?"

Luca heard the tease in his voice and grinned, while he wrapped himself into a towel.

"How do you get along together actually? Doesn't he consider us as the poor workers who maintain his lifestyle?"

"What makes you think so?" Luca said a bit angrily. "He hasn't any class snobbery." He has for sure, he thought immediately, but held his tongue.

Giano smirked. "Hasn't he, ah. Well, then." He slipped into his tight boxer-shorts, combing back his wet hair with his hands. Luca thought his brother looked marvellous. Thankfully he missed the beefy stature of his two older brothers, but he had a finer bone-structure and his skin was smooth and shimmered like gold from the sun. His now soft penis and the low hung balls were clearly defined under the thin, blue material, and were identical to his own equipment. Which was looking good by the way, Luca grinned to himself.

"Hurry up, I'm going to make breakfast." Giano was out of the door.

* * * * *

"Football?" Tristano repeated and frowned a bit. "I've tickets too, but actually..."

"You've got better things to do? Going out with your girlfriend?"

"No, with my sister. She's the one interested in football."

Odd, Luca had thought that all straights were mad for football. Inwardly he rolled his eyes. Just another one of those clichés. Standing in front of the class, Coppo handled the slide projector, showing photos of the Chapel of the Princes at San Lorenzo, and high-defined details of stone inlays, counting the names of the stones.

"So, we'll meet then, right? Let's say 7 p.m. at entrance C?"

Tristano nodded. Luca could had sworn that there was a sparkle in his eyes, though it might be a sun's reflection that came through the covered windows. Suddenly he felt a wet sting on his neck. He turned and saw the stupidly grinning face of Raniero playing with a plastic straw. "Faggot" he mouthed and throw him a folded note. Luca caught it. "Another victim?" it read. Luca crumpled it and put it into the pockets of his jeans. Tristano gave him a questioning look but Luca shook his head.

"These are the steps of an inlay picture. To the left side you see the finished model." Coppo pointed to a bunch of multicoloured flowers. "In the middle is the drawing model every one of you will have to make as a start. To the right are the suiting stones. Our first task is to get a feeling for right colours. Match your supply of stones with the colours of nature and you will see that everything is possible." Coppo peered over his spectacles and searched for the reason of the noise. His eyes stuck on Luca Montori who had turned his head.

Coppo cleared his throat and Luca's head whipped back. Raniero couldn't hide his plastic straw and Coppo sighed. Once in a while parents sent him their kids who weren't suitable at all for the skilful task that was taught in this workshop. Certainly Raniero belonged to them, despite that he had managed the enrolment test.

Coppo leaned his hip at the teacher's desk and focussed on the lad with the cheesy skin. "Ragazzi", he started low. "If anybody is among you who doesn't want to be here, then I am the last person to stop him or her from leaving. This workshop is honourable and the task will be difficult. It requires love and devotion. So, please, leave your private problems out of this room, d'accordo?"

Fifteen heads nodded, but Luca bent his head. That fun was to come, he thought. But he was determined to stand up against intolerance, even if the cost was high. He was just angry that here was another one besides Dante who wouldn't leave him the way he was.

When Coppo hurried them out for dinner break he caught Luca's sleeve. "Just one word, Luca", he said, taking off his glasses, pinching his eyes. He looked tired. "Any problems? It's between you and me and nothing that is said will leave this room."

Luca's eyes widened but he regained confidence very quickly. "There's nothing, Professore."

"It's Coppo", Coppo reminded him.

"Well, there's nothing I won't solve by myself. I really like your lessons and I'm eager to start with a real task." Luca tried a grin.

Coppo examined him seriously. "One after the other, Luca. Your father and I started our apprenticeship in the same class. He outdid me, so there was nothing left for me but to become a teacher, while he became the master of the stone cutters and then the leader of the inlay workers."

"But you are professore and my father isn't", Luca objected.

Coppo laughed friendly. "But that's not important. I was better with theory and your father with his hands. It means nothing."

Luca smiled at the obvious understatement. "Um, Coppo, what did you have to learn to become a professore. I mean, I have a friend who starts his study at Pisa."

"Ah, Pisa! I've studied there too. History of Art. I wanted a background. And geology, also a few semesters archaeology."

"My friend is studying History of Art too. He wants to become a guide. Working in a museum perhaps."

"An early decision about which direction he likes to chose would be useful", Coppo said. Then he nodded to the door. "I guess there's someone waiting for you."

Luca saw Tristano lounging outside the room and his face lit up. Coppo patted his arm. "Enjoy your meal."

"What did he want?" Tristano asked excited. They went down the staircase and joined the others at the cantina, standing in a row.

"Apparently he had noticed, that there was something between me and Raniero." His eyes searched the room and found Raniero sitting and gobbling up his spaghetti like a pig. Disgusted Luca turned away.

"What is between you and Raniero?"

Luca hesitated. He couldn't tell him the reason. But then... what the hell. "He's envious."

"Envious? What about?"

Luca sighed impatiently. His stomach growled. "Do you know Alessandro di Gondi-Lucertola?"

"Sure. He was beaten up lately on the streets at night."

"Right. I was with him that evening. I mean, I'm friends with him."

Tristano's blue eyes stared at him. "Wow, aren't you shy with that guy? He certainly outclasses us."

"Ah, Tris, you show the same class prejudices that separates us from people like him. He's human, nothing more." And he wipes his ass at the loo the same way we do, as his father had told him many times, Luca thought chuckling.

"But, I mean, wow... he's so... he has a bad reputation." Tristano eyed Luca, apparently not knowing what to make of Luca now. "And that is the reason Raniero is envious?" he asked not very convinced.

"Well, he thinks I'm a scrounger who made friends with a noble man to receive many benefits."

"Like what?" It was Tristano's turn to receive his plate with spaghetti and another with a schnitzel and vegetables.

Luca shrugged and took his own plates. What was he to tell him? The gift of an opera-evening, receive the precious Gondi-cross and clothes he would have to work some years for if he bought them by himself?

Raniero grinned nastily when he and Tristano passed his table to sit at another, constantly peering at him and laughing his ass off. Luca moaned and rolled his eyes. Best to ignore him.


The letters "Artemio Franchi" were beaming over the stadium's entrance, but Luca had difficulty finding his way. He was here for the first time. It was Rosso who had told him that there would be an entrance 'C' everybody wanted to meet in front of.

Fans of both clubs - AC Firenze and AS Monaco - stood in groups, drinking, laughing and bitching at each other from aside. Guards had separated them and lead them to difference entrances.

"Oh no, the faggot again!" he suddenly heard a familiar voice behind his back. There was a harsh tap on his shoulder. "Since when faggots are interested in football? And where did you leave your stabber actually?

Raniero was draped with blue-white shawls around his neck and hanging from his baggy trousers and he sipped from his beer bottle. Behind his sneering, pale face, appeared a few more with similarly stupid expressions. Luca didn't know what to answer. He tried to evade and to vanish among the swarm of fans, but Raniero followed on his heels. "You can surely tell me, or the whole class will know."

Luca whirled around. "What will the class know? That you're an idiot? I can arrange that."

"Gosh, a faggot with a courage!" Somehow Raniero wasn't intimidated nor could Luca shake him off. Desperate Luca tried to fight his way through entrance C until he finally saw Rosso's fire red hair. He waved. Luca slipped like a lizard through the fans where suddenly Tristano appeared, tugging at his sleeve. Luca panted a little. Cheering sounded behind him, coming from the blocks of fans, and hoarse battle songs. He regretted coming here. This was certainly not his cup of tea. But Tristano grinned at him and pointed to his side. "That's Isolde, my sister." Isolde, blond as her brother with coal-black eyes and a scarf draped around her waist, beamed. She obviously enjoyed the riot. "Tristano and Isolde?" Luca couldn't resist his tease and Tristano rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we've had enough of that, thanks."

Rosso still waved and pulled him closer finally. "What took you so long? And where's your scarf?"

"Scarf?" Luca asked stupidly and Rosso strangled him almost with his spare one. "Much better", he said. "Come on, Giuliano and Micky are already in."

"What's your seat number?" Luca asked Tristano and noticed they weren't that much apart from each other. Together they were herded through the entrance where guards frisked the rucksacks and bags for fireworks and bottles. With glee he saw from the corner of his eyes, that Raniero and his louts were relieved of both of them and he rushed to follow his friends.

The stadium was an oval bowl with flat seats, forming at the opposite side the writing "AC Fiorentina". The main stand was covered and despite the prices almost filled with people. Luca's heart started to beat fast when dusk fell and the first of blue-white fireworks started among the crowd. The opposite party answered with red smoke and when the stadium speaker announced the players he was as excited as the others were. Tristano and Isolde had changed their seats and sat now next to him, but to his annoyance Raniero and his buddies were right behind.

Through Giuliano's binoculars he followed the ebony-skinned Nonda in his red-white shorts and he didn't care that he belonged to the opposite team. His home club was hopelessly defeated anyway. When the first goal fell for Monaco an ear deafening thunder clap went through the stadium, coming from the stand, and he heard Raniero cursing sharply.

"What an eye catcher", slipped out of Luca's lips, as he followed Fernando Morientes' fast speed over the field, dark hair blowing in the wind. Immediately he sensed the stares from his friends. "Woo, Luca, gioia, you haven't joint the sweeties, have you?" Giuliano fluttered his eyelashes at him, and Luca tried to hide his blush - in vain. They all laughed and patted his shoulders.

"That's alright, Luca," Rosso said, "I would give everything to have such a tight ass as Morientes has."

Luca joined in their laughter, but thought he caught an odd look from Tristano. He couldn't sort it out, he just hoped that he wasn't thinking Luca was gay and despised him for being that. But then he saw his laughter and was eased.

The time was almost over when Fiorentina was four goals behind and there wasn't much hope for the return match next week. People streamed out of the stadium, and a large whistling and booing rang in Luca's ears. Raniero had vanished. He saw him minutes later standing on the staircase parting groups of fans, where he tried to light a flag. His buddies helped him and in no time a fire was burning. Police came rushing, but then Luca saw the sneering face looking directly in his direction. A rocket shot at him and he was too slow. It detonated between the crowd, showering them with burning sparkles. People screamed and whirled around, trying to extinguish their burning clothes.

Luca's hair had caught fire. Tristano hectically tried to cover it with his shawl. A biting stench hung in the air and a panicking crowd tripped over each other to the exits. Police and guards hastened to Raniero and his gang, who was still standing, laughing and interested in following what happened. Giuliano lay on the ground, coughing badly, while Michele patted his back; Isolde's jeans were scorched like her scarf.

The stadium speaker admonished calmness. Luca sat upon his seat, let the crowd pass and fumbled with his hair. One side of it was scorched and smelled nastily and his jacket was riddled with holes.

The culprit had been lead off and calmness returned. An ambulance man came through the rows, stopping by Luca. "Everybody alright?" Luca pointed to Giuliano who was still coughing badly. After a quick examination Giuliano was taken away and the rest of his friends followed. He was brought into a tent.

"That's really much fun", Luca squeezed out.

"Sorry, buddy", Rosso said. "I hadn't thought it would be that way."

"Did you see, it was Raniero", Tristano said. "Bastardo."

"Raniero? Do you know him?" Rosso asked.

"Sure, he's our class mate."

"Congratulations. I don't know about you guys, but I need a drink to wash my throat." They left Michele with Giuliano and looked for a stand offering tramezzini and drinks. Isolde took a handkerchief and wiped Luca's face. "You really look funny", she said. "Guess only a barber will help."

Shit, Luca thought. Sandro is coming and you look a drooling yokel.

"Ah, nonsense", Rosso chimed in, opening a water bottle. "It's not that bad, Luca. A bit has to be cut off, that's all."

They all watched fans streaming through the exits, howling and whistling, and it would be a long party for all the fans of AS Monaco.

"If she saw it on TV Caro will worry, don't you think?" Isolde said to her brother.

Tristano pulled a face. "She never watches football, and this shit happens every time."

"Caro?" Luca asked.

"My girlfriend, I told you." He eyed the police car standing alongside. Probably Raniero was in there, being interrogated. Perhaps this would be enough to get him expelled from school.

Clarissa raised her hands up when she saw Luca coming home. She lamented about this football crap and the fans especially and chided Luca that he had gone there.

"Dante's always going and you don't chide him", Luca protested.

"Basta. Sit down here." She took a scissor and furtively cut the tips of Luca's hair, while combing it. "You look like a negro. Wash your face then."

Luca trotted into the bath and looked at himself in the mirror. Rosso was right, it wasn't that bad, now the scorched strands had vanished. He had a smoky line under his eyes and across his face and his clothes stunk badly. The jacket was torn anyway.

He dropped his clothes and stepped into the bath tub. Clarissa had made a fire, so the water was warm when it washed away the remains of that unhappy evening.

Part 17