Alessandro heard mumbling beside him. He sat in the last row of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce and listened to the mass on Sunday morning. He stared at the back of Luca's head, as blond as his brother's, Giano, sitting next to him. He would give a penny for their thoughts. The whispering beside him didn't stop and he occasionally saw a head bent forward to examine him. Alessandro lifted his chin and pretended not to see them. He knew what the reason was. Florence was strictly devided into four Quartieri - quarters - and to attend the church service of a Quartiero you doesn't belong to, was sort of a faux pas.

Alessandro's eyes wandered over the heads of the family of Montori; the black hair of Dante and Marcello and of Niccolò, the father, whose stubborn, dishevelled strands were ran through with silver. Luca's mother Clarissa was a fragile bird compared to they first sons. She had tied a black veil over her blond hair and was apparently praying.

Alessandro usually had nothing to do with the church. It was just an old habit that he followed the Sunday's mass and an tribute to Florence way of life. Now, that the family money was in danger because of the greed of the Dominican monks - again a foreign Quartiero his home place actually didn't belong to - made him dislike it more. Again he cursed his father, that he had chosen this odd way of teaching him lesson. And still he was undecided what to do. Give into uncle Arrigo's demands who put the family reputation higher than the happiness of their last and youngest member or to throw it all into the wind and start his own life, afar from wealth and social acknowledgement? Alessandro knew very well that noblesse didn't count in Florence. Not anymore. Even the old noble families had settled down to a normal life, living from a small income; working to have a living. But none of them were as famous as the Gondi's, one of the last really important families of this town. The Medici's had died out as well as the Pazzi's. The banks of the Bardi's, Tornabuoni's and Sassetti's had lost their money centuries ago. The Albizzi's and Corsini's had moved away and all that was left were their splendidly decorated chapels in the churches of Florence.

Alessandro thought briefly about Emilio Pucci. He was the one who had given back his old family a last touch of splendour, but he too was working hard for it with his own brain and hands. And he - Alessandro? Should he carry on and continue his life as layabout, squandering the money as he did before?

Luca had shown him another way. His family was poor as seen by Alessandro's own eyes. But they had more compared to others. They owned a palazzo, Luca's father was the acclaimed master of the inlay workers and Alessandro considered his income not so little. And yet they managed to live on a basis that made the family important, not the money. Despite that Luca didn't get on well with his elder brothers - Alessandro was sure that Dante would give his life for the piccolino of the Montori's. His wrath against Alessandro was proof enough.

The people around him fell forward on their knees upon the hard foot supporters and started to pray with a lot of murmurs. Alessandro didn't move, nor did he fold his hands. He caught an astonished look from the priest's eyes, standing high over the heads of the congregation in his stony pulpit. Alessandro held his gaze indifferently until the priest looked away.

When everybody started to gather their things, he rose and waited for Luca to pass by. Clarissa saw him first and looked surprised. Luca beamed at him, Giano raised his eyebrows, and Dante gave him his usual sinister stare. Alessandro lined up and followed the Montori's, pulling Luca aside finally just before the exit, next to Michelangelo's grave monument. Clarissa joined them. "Alessandro, how nice to see you. I'd heard you were in town." She ruffled Luca's hair. "I haven't seen my son for the whole weekend. How do you like Pisa?"

Alessandro, a bit put out with the demonstrative joy shown in seeing him, smiled politely. "Very good, signora. But I felt a little homesick." Niccolò tugged at her handbag and cleared his throat. He nodded briefly to Alessandro but said nothing.

"Why don't you join us for dinner?" Clarissa asked and Alessandro accepted. Of course he had hoped to get an invitation. He winked at Luca and followed.

"How come you have changed your mind?" Marcello asked over the kitchen table where they all had gathered, waiting for the rabbit to be served.

"Scusa?" Alessandro said.

"Studying is so unusual for your family. I mean, I thought you had enough money to live on."

"And who tells you that I study to earn money? Sometimes I do things for pure pleasure." He thanked Clarissa who had put a plate with rabbit in front of him. She served him some of roasted potatoes that smelled heavenly of rosemary.

"History of art, piccolino said."

Alessandro nodded.

"There's no money in it", Dante grumbled, crouched over his plate.

"Why? As far as I understand you're busy with art too." Alessandro dabbed his mouth with the serviette and tried a gulp from the herb white wine Niccolò had surprisingly offered.

"I do something with my hands", Dante said proudly, briefly lifting his palms. "And you? What is there to learn anyway?"

Clarissa shot him a look. "I'm sure, Dante, that our town lives from the many works of arts displayed here. Or do you fancy to work in a large industrial factory?"

"Right", Luca chimed in, "You would be nothing without the museums here."

And anyway, Alessandro thought, you're just a stone cutter, but he swallowed the words with a large bite of the tender rabbit Clarissa had spiced with black olives and dried tomatoes.

"I'm not talking to you", Dante said, eyeing his youngest brother. Niccolò cleared his throat. He had said nothing so far since the family had arrived home. This showed his obvious disapproval that his wife had invited this layabout but for his holy Sunday's peace he held his mouth. It was bad enough that Luca was spending so much time with him. And what did Clarissa see in him anyway?

The rest of the meal passed in silence, until Luca wanted to show Alessandro his room. He wasn't ashamed of it anymore. The Lapis lazuli was laying on the window sill, carefully protected with a cloth, Luca unveiled it. "Any idea what to do with it?"

"Father said I shouldn't show it around. Later, when I've learnt the technique I can work with it. I think I know what to do."

"What then?"


Alessandro smirked. "Secret?" He came closer and stroked Luca's neck and his thick hair. "Do you have any idea what we can do before I have to go at least?"

Luca shrugged. Actually he wished for nothing more than to slip into bed with Sandro, despite the fact that his arse felt sore and so was his genitals. Alessandro seemed to have the same thoughts for his blue eyes started to sparkle. Without a word he took Luca's hand. "Wait", Luca said, "I need the loo urgently."

Alessandro was still weighing the stone in his hand when Dante came and stood in the door way. "I thought I'd better check on you."

"Huh?" Alessandro turned. "Before what happens?" he finished the sentence.

Dante stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "You still don't have enough?" he growled. Dante was a half head larger and probably 25 pounds heavier, but Alessandro didn't feel fear.

"I've heard you're about to attend the Gioco? How do you intend to fight against my team?" He looked Alessandro up and down. "You're just a half portion, I'll easily break every single bone of yours."

"We'll see. Weight isn't everything", Alessandro quipped. He came closer until he stood in front of Dante. "Better to exercise some abstinence. You know that fucking gives you weak legs", he sneered. "But I'm sure you're not having half of much sex as I earn."

Surprisingly Dante broke out into laughter. "Have you? With your faggot friends? You don't call that sex, do you. It's like fucking with goats."

Alessandro raised his hand and slapped Dante's cheek. The strike was heavy, and Dante's head flung back. Beet red he stared at Alessandro. Fury was boiling in his black eyes. "Don't you dare do that again, Gondi. I warn you."

"I warn you, I warn you", Alessandro parroted. "When you're with friends you're strong, right? But alone you're just a little wretched sausage." He stood aside. "Come on, big one." He beckoned him. "Or are you afraid of a faggot. I can show you real sex."

Luca stood in the door again, looking flabbergasted at his brother and his boyfriend, standing like two fighting cocks with ruffled up plumage. "What's the matter with you both? One minute alone and you start to fight." Quickly he tugged at Sandro's sleeve and pulled him out of the room.

"What's the matter with your brother?" Alessandro asked when they were out on the streets. "Why this attitude?"

"You mean his homophobic attitude? He says he has been groped by gays too often."

"So what? I'd take it as compliment."

"Pah, you don't know the straight macho man he is. Submitting to another male means defeat."


Luca shook his hand. "Honestly, I don't know. It's not about what the church says. It has a deeper meaning."

Alessandro eyed Luca from aside. He didn't understand what he was trying to say. Probably Luca didn't understand himself. No gay man could understand this behaviour. Were they afraid of admitting that the male body had something alluring and beautiful? And why could a woman admit that another woman was beautiful without being accused of being a lesbian? He sighed. The world was hard to understand.

Luca listened to Alessandro's purring as he sat leg's spread upon the wicker bench in the open loggia in Alessandro's room; his boyfriend kneeling between his thighs, deep throating and sucking at Luca's penis. He had come twice already and wondered about the never ending supply his body was providing. Never ending and never tiring - the fortune of being seventeen. He wanted to lay down, but Sandro's bag was already packed and waited down in the kitchen. Alessandro finally released his cock and crawled up on the bench, straddling Luca and sitting down in his lap. He took the cross, dangling between Luca's pecs and weighed it in his palm. "I'm glad you wear it", he said, rubbing his penis gently over Luca's belly.

"I wear it always. Nobody has seen it so far."

Sunbeams died upon Alessandro's naked skin, a last reflection met his hair, made it flaming red with a golden aureole. Luca felt cold despite the closeness. "When will you return?"

"Next week you're coming to Pisa, sweetie", Alessandro reminded him. "You promised to show up with your family, you've forgotten?"

"Hell, yes." Luca beamed. "Giano and mother that is."

"So, we'll see each other then. What's the problem?"

Luca said nothing. He watched Sandro stepping from his lap and walking into his room. His butt cheeks gleamed in the setting sun, rosy and ivory, the rest of his skin was bathed in a delicate bronze tan. Who of the guys would resist that beauty? And would Sandro's libido stand the parting? Luca sighed, clutched the cross with his palm and followed him.

* * * * *

When a knock came at his door, Alessandro didn't know at first where he was. He blinked at the closed curtains and felt the hard mattress under his back. Shit, if he had to spend the next few years in this bed he would have to buy another or his back would be sore. Another knock.

"Come on in", he groaned. Franco opened the door and stuck his head in. "Buon giorno, sleepy head. Ready for breakfast?" he asked cheerily and Alessandro groaned. "Geez, it's in the middle of the night."

"Not my fault you came back so late yesterday. Big farewell scene with your boyfriend?" he asked cheekily.

"Sure enough." Alessandro pushed away the bed cover and stepped stark naked out of the bed. Franco looked a trifle embarrassed. His eyes followed Sandro crossing the room. "If you can wait a minute I'll be ready", he heard him saying before he vanished into the bathroom.

By afternoon the university was filling up with students dropping back by and by after their semester break. There were even new students who would be starting their first semester like Alessandro. But no one was sharing his room, no wonder, since Sandro had made sure that there wouldn't be one, offering the caretaker a certain amount of Euros. He had his own plans and he was sure that Luca wouldn't agree.

Franco made him meet some of his friends whose names Sandro always mixed up. There were too many Claudio's, Mario's and Tino's to be memorized. Somehow it was always Franco who crossed his path and he felt comfortable with. By Friday the longing for Luca was great despite that they were talking every evening on the phone. It just wasn't the same and Sandro was looking to tomorrow when the Montori's would arrive.

"Up for a Friday out?" Franco asked him when they had finished their meal at the student's cantina that had newly opened. Sandro felt still hungry. Those meals were something for swines he thought, though Franco seemed to be satisfied. "If there's something to eat I'm with you", he retorted, catching an amused look. "Your noble stomach's pretty spoilt, huh?" he said.

Alessandro had told him about his upbringing and that was a source for Franco's good humoured teasing. Alessandro had been furious at first, but over time he had gotten used to it.

"Exactly." He eyed Franco's slim features and the stubble upon his head. "Don't you think you should grow your hair? You look like someone from the Russian army." He slapped Franco's stomach and laughed. "And anyway, where do you want to drag me too? Are there any gay bars in town?"

Franco rolled his eyes and pushed him hard. "That's for the Russian army comment, bugger. Besides, I thought you'd be the expert in finding gay bars. You won't mind me following you, eh?"

"Why not? Some guys are keen on trimmed hair cuts."

Franco moaned. "Why don't you join the community club here? There are dozens of kindred spirits."


Franco nodded, but Alessandro dismissed the thought. He wasn't keen on displaying his sexuality and probably would be drawn into a class fight between the good straights and the pitiful gays, fighting for the rights the straights would assign them like crumbs for the dogs. "Not interested", he said. "Now, do you know any?"

"Wait a sec."

Franco returned with a gay guide he had borrowed from a fellow student. "There you are. The first one is in the student's quarter a few steps from where we used to have breakfast."

"Great. Now then, hurry up." He slapped Franco slightly with the guide and was surprised that Franco obeyed. He returned in a pink shirt, and the tightest light blue jeans he had. "Good enough?"

Alessandro stared speechless. "What funny ideas you straights have", he howled. "But come on. That's fine."

"Isn't your boyfriend coming tomorrow?" Franco shouted into his ear. They leaned against a wall in the darkness, only illuminated by a red light from lamps that were hidden in all four corners of the small room. The dance floor in the middle of it was empty and just a few guys were lounging nonchalantly at the bar, trying to make small talk. "How's this for a wretched establishment? Has Pisa nothing better to offer? I mean, it's Friday!"

"Ever been to a straight disco?" Franco asked him.

"Sure. I even fucked a girl if that's your next question."

Franco's eyes shot open. "Have you. Why?"

Alessandro went to the bar and came back with two fresh beer.

"Why? Because there was nothing better at that time."

Franco swallowed his beer wrongly. "You're pretty cocky, my dear. What makes you think that girls are less worthy than your boys."

"I don't mean they are less worthy. It's just less fun."

Franco sipped at his beer. "Then let's get out of here. Along the street is another bar for gays."

Alessandro followed him, leaving the beer. The Night In was stuffed, the music loud and the guys all dressed up from hair to shoes. Franco felt appropriatedly dressed with his pink shirt and relaxed visibly though he was outshone by Sandro's white, tight fitting pullover that emphasised his pecs and showed his nipples, not to mention the tight, black satin trousers. Apparently Franco had a lot to learn about the dress code. Abruptly he felt himself dragged into the middle of the dance floor, felt pushed by other couples and watched Alessandro moving to the music like a graceful cat. Madonna. But then the drowning music took the upper hand, he felt the beat in his guts and the bass in his abdomen and it didn't count anymore whether he was dancing with a guy or a girl.

Panting and thirsty they ordered beer and disappeared into a corner to watch the entertainment. "So, that's what it's about?" Franco asked, watching guys snogging, hands shoved between skin and jeans, half undressed.

"That's about it." Alessandro said with gleaming eyes. He had to bring Luca here tomorrow. He had always fancied sex on the dance floor.

"That's where you would pick up your one night stands, eh?"

"Don't you do the same with your chicks? What's the difference?"

"Well... chicks usually don't go for a one night stand."

"Don't they? You've met the wrong ones then." Alessandro said arrogantly.

Franco shook his head in disbelief. "So it's true then, yes? Gays gave more sex. More, longer and better?"


"And why?"

Alessandro turned to Franco and looked at him meaningfully. "It's because you get what you want. I could show you what I mean, but what for? I don't want to confuse you." He paused. "But one thing you can explain to me. What is the reason behind a homophobic attitude?"

"You mean you don't want to sleep with a straight because you're afraid I might like it?" Franco grinned.

Alessandro shrugged. "Perhaps I don't want you to share my playground."

"Alright, that's a compliment."

"What about my question?"

Franco caught stares and winks and looked away. He was overwhelmed by too much testosterone. He wouldn't know what to do if one of the guys came up to him and asked for a dance. Or worse...

Worse? Why worse? It might be that Alessandro was right. You get what you want. Only a guy knows what a guy likes - as the saying goes. But that wasn't of course a basis for a relationship. What had he in common with another man? He looked at Alessandro searching for an answer. Well, friendship of course. Perhaps the same interests that went beyond shopping sprees, nail studios, hairdressers and marriage.

"I haven't thought about that, honestly", he said then. "I've never been homophobic. Why should I be?"

"Because a guy showed interest, asked you out, and you felt repulsed? What if I was to kiss you right here and now? Would you feel flattered?"

"Flattered? Well, I don't know. Why should I feel flattered?"

"Well, if it was a girl kissing you, you would certainly feel flattered."

"Madonna, what's this about? I'm straight. I love girls. You and me - we can't come together. We have different needs."

Alessandro looked back at the dancing guys. Franco was right. This phenomena wasn't to be explained. Some say, homophobes were afraid to show their feelings, or they were afraid they would find the same liking deep within themselves. Didn't they say that everybody was a bit gay? So why not let it out.

"Alright," he said aloud. "Then you can dance with me for a while." He sat his glass upon the next table and took Franco with him.

When they came home, a little drunken and in a joyful mood, a letter was waiting for Alessandro. It was from Florence and the sender's name read Luca Montori. Alessandro tore open the envelopment and a letter fell out, together with a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it carefully and saw a drawing of himself, in all his glorious nakedness. Alessandro laughed out loud. He could certainly see Luca's face when he had stuffed the drawing into the letter, grinning mischievously as he always did, with his pearly laughter upon his lips.

"This is my evening occupation", he read. "And before you start to ask: yes, I'm jerking off as much as I can - afterwards. Hm... do you like it? See you soon. Luca"

Alessandro pinned the drawing onto the door of his wardrobe. He hoped the next one would be a naked Luca.

* * *

When he saw him, his heart beat faster than it had ever done and he wondered what Luca had done to him. He had never been in love, so was this a sign of it? Luca waved out of the window of the train and Alessandro ran up to the wagon's door. Luca embraced him, though he could stop himself starting a long kissing session.

Giano followed him, carrying two suitcases. "Books", he explained, shaking Alessandro's hand. "Where's your mother?"

"Father has become ill, so she couldn't come." Giano said.

"Oh, I hope nothing serious?"

"Just a summer's cold. But he felt awful."

Alessandro nodded. "So it's just the two of your, right?" His eyes sparkled. "Come on then." He stowed away Giano's suitcases into his Ferrari and they drove the short way from the railway station to the campus of the University. "Ever been to Pisa before?"

"Sure, but a long time ago."

"You were a kid", Giano throw in.

Alessandro unloaded the baggage and parked his car in the guarded parking lot nearby. Luca and Giano stood in the large yard, the lawn in the middle of it was sprinkled with water hoses and they examined the impressive Renaissance pillars and -arches connecting the ground floor with the second, leaving a continuous balcony from which doors and windows branched off. "My room's in the building attached. Behind those." He pointed with his hand and took one of Giano's suitcases. "Everybody has to register with the care-taker who has the keys and a plan. Then we have to go to the secretary to make it official. No hurry of course."

The care-taker, as always chewing at his slices of bread and sipping at his flask of wine, found Giano's name and put him into a four-bed-room. Alessandro flinched inwardly. He couldn't stand to live with three other guys in the same room, but Giano didn't show any sign of discomfort. Apparently he was prepared for it.

In the afternoon he showed the brothers around and paid for their supper, both were uneasily accepting. Those Montoris were proud, he thought. A bit like him. Typical Florentine.

It was of course no problem for Luca to convince his brother that since there was a bed free in Alessandro's room he would sleep there.

"I see your beauty outdid my drawing a lot", Luca whispered and grinned while he was creeping into the bed next to Alessandro. It was small and nothing like his bed at home, but this was better than nothing. He pushed away the cover and revealed Alessandro's body, waiting for him. "What makes you think I'm beautiful?" Alessandro said with a hint of cockiness.

"You're fishing for compliments." Luca stroked his legs up and halted at the fork of them, where Alessandro's equipment was about to rise.

"Others say I'm too slim."

"Hm. What do you mean? This?" Luca's hand embraced Alessandro's penis. "This certainly isn't too slim", he chuckled.

"Dante said he would break every bone of mine", Alessandro mumbled, succumbing to Luca's stroking hand.

"Dante's a pillock. He doesn't know how quick you can be."

"Quick? You mean premature ejaculation?"

Luca gave a snort of laughter. "Nothing that can't rise again." He stroked faster now while kissing Sandro's lips and felt his penis jerking and shooting, gushing over his belly and finally his hand. "That was indeed premature."

Two filled condoms later Luca lay tightly pressed to Alessandro's body, letting his sweat dry in the soft breeze that came through the window. "Dante might be right," he started quietly. "I can't believe you're determined to attend the Gioco."

"Too late, gioia. They've already put me on their list. They need a fast sprinter who's good with the ball. I can easily avoid Dante's stomping."

"So, that's your plan?"


Luca couldn't keep his eyes open. His mind glided into oblivion, guided by Sandro's stroking hands.

He was woken up by a harsh knock on the door and its instant opening. "Sandro, there's your... oh..." Luca saw a head with short cropped hair that vanished at that very minute and the door was closed.

"What's the matter?" Alessandro murmured sleepily.

"There was a guy at the door", Luca said, untangling himself from Sandro's arms and legs.

"A guy? Your brother?"

"No." Luca sat upright and wiped his eyes.

"Probably Franco", Alessandro said after his brain function set in. "He always does this. Early bird."

"But he saw us."

"So what. He knows about you and me."

Luca fell back onto the pillow next to Alessandro's head. "That's good then. Friend of yours? Gay?"

"No. Straight as an arrow. I could convince him to follow me to a gay bar, but he couldn't decide to say yes to a guy making advances."

Luca was up again. "You've been to a gay bar? When?"

"Yesterday. Is it forbidden?"

Luca said nothing. Though he felt a small sting in his heart. "Of course not", he mumbled. Alessandro was stroking the skin of his back and pulled him down to his side. "No reason to worry. I did nothing." His eyes were milky blue from sleep. "He took good care of me." He winked and chewed on Luca's earlobe. "Guess we've got to get up."

* * *

They met at the ceremonious semester-opening in the Aula Magna - the assembly hall - of the university. The president - a relatively young man with a shock of black hair that was always falling into his eyes and he flung back with a swing of his head - greeted the first semester students, referring to the long history of the university of Pisa, founded in the 12th century and whose most-famous student had been Galileo Galilei who had afterwards held a chair for mathematics and physics.

Alessandro, knowing all this, examined the students, sitting in rows on red, upholstered chairs. The walls were covered with greasy oil paintings showing previous rectors and presidents, and the windows were decorated with coloured bull's eye panes in a theme Alessandro couldn't decipher.

He sat with Giano in the last row, and behind them sat and stood family and friends. He turned his head when the door opened and a girl entered the room, cheeks flushed with embarrassment because she was too late. Alessandro gasped. He knew her very well: Leoni da Firenzuola, a chick he was friends with and had laid several times, in the past. Actually they had met the last time at the Teatro Verdi when he and Luca was watching 'Tosca'. He cursed under his breath. What an unpleasant coincidence. She hadn't told him that she would be going to Pisa too. She sat next to him on the last free seat and breathed out audiblye. Then she turned her head to him and fluttered her eye lashes. "Hi Sandro. I lost my way. It's all too exciting here."

He mumbled something incomprehensiveable. With her orange dyed hair she looked somewhat like a carrot and he wondered why he had ever been keen on her. He must have been drunk then. But then, you could have a lot of fun with her if you liked to, he thought. Probably just the right chick for Franco. He wondered though what to do with her when the ceremony was over. Leoni could be a real leech.

"What are you studying? You haven't told me", he whispered.

"History of art, like you", she informed him, beaming.

He moaned inwardly. This meant he wouldn't be able to get rid of her.

"History of art?" he repeated aloud as the students streamed out of the Aula. She followed him to the big hallway where several marble statues stood. He knew Luca was waiting for him anxiously and he rolled his eyes at him, indicating that he was annoyed by the girl's presence. "What do you want to do with that? Become a tourist's guide?"

"Perhaps? But not an outside tour guide, rather in a museum where it never rains."

Alessandro's laughter was harsh and abrupt. "Well, then, good luck. I have to go." He turned but halted then. "Where do you live?"

"I have a comfortable single room", she chirped. "Close to you, I've learnt."

Just great. Alessandro nodded and went across to the waiting Luca and Giano. "So, honeys, what are we doing with the evening? Have you met your room mates?" he asked Giano.

"Two of them. The third either didn't show up or he's coming later. Seems to be alright."

Alessandro saw Luca's longing eyes and wished for nothing more than to take him to Night In for a nice dance, but what should he do with Giano then?

"Well, I'm off", Luca's brother surprisingly said, as if he had sensed the situation. "Have fun both of you. I need to unpack my things. See you in the morning then." He gave Luca an odd glance that he couldn't interpret and went away.

"Your brother's sensible."

"Who was the girl you was talking to?" Luca asked when they were alone in Alessandro's room, getting ready for going out.

"You've met her at the opera."

Luca looked confused, then he remembered the three girls besieging Sandro. "Your school friend?"

"Sort of."

Luca stood himself in front of the undressing Alessandro. "What kind of ort of? You slept with her, right?"

"Is it that obvious? Embarrassing."

Luca raised his eyebrows. "I guess I'll have to send you a drawing of me so you won't forget how I look, eh?"

Alessandro quickly pulled him close to his naked body. "Looking forward to it. But why forget? You're etched into my eyes." A happy laughter followed and Luca joined in with his pearly laugh.

Part 19