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Fall Anthology 2023 - Leap of Faith Due Sunday 10/1! ×
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Star in my Eye - 1. Chapter 1

This time, I’m stepping outside my usual teen milieu to tell a story about parenthood – I hope you’ll forgive the detour. Nonetheless, the book continues storylines and themes established in the earlier titles in the Ravello series. I’d always recommend reading the earlier titles first.

A leaden winter sky hung low over the white villas and terracotta rooftops of Ravello. Pines and cypresses clung stubbornly to their dark green foliage, shadowy and stark against the banks of cloud. Over the surrounding, rocky peaks, the chestnut woods were brown and bare, while the olive groves and lemon orchards in the valleys were still and silent, the summer’s cicadas and lizards deep in hiding. The cliffs and terraced mountain slopes below the town tumbled down into a steely grey-blue sea.

It was late November, and the colder season had got off to a harder start than usual. In the town’s broad, stone-paved cathedral square, most of the bars had already closed for the winter. In the one block of outside seating that remained, a few of the hardier locals lingered over coffees, wrapped up in warm jackets and scarves. A couple of them smoked cigarettes in an attempt to keep warm. A few pigeons pecked around their feet, ever hopeful for a crumb or two.

Opposite the town’s simple, whitewashed cathedral, eight majestic umbrella pines framed a dramatic view across the deep Valle del Dragone to the neighbouring village of Scala. They rustled slightly in the faintest of cool breezes, sending a few pairs of green needles spinning noiselessly down onto the paving stones. For once, there was nobody standing at the railings admiring the view. The high tourist season was well and truly over.

On the ridge above the centre of town, the prestigious palazzi and hotels of the Toro huddled together along their narrow central street, enfolding a few smaller houses in their protective grasp. The little street was deserted except for a group of three people, who stood lined up together, staring into the small, creeper-covered courtyard where their new home awaited. A little white dog with a black spot on his right flank snuffled around the courtyard, staking a claim to his new territory by lifting his leg against the flight of stone steps that led up to the old brown front door.

Gianni ran a hand through his short brown hair, his keen blue eyes surveying the house that had once belonged to his grandparents Marina and Vittorio. From the look of courtyard itself, you’d have thought that nothing had changed but, behind the façade, three months of intense, time-consuming and exhausting renovations had finally been completed.

Gianni glanced over at his partner, who looked back and offered him a hopeful half-smile. At twenty-five, Angelo still looked painfully beautiful to Gianni, although no amount of money would make him admit it. He still kept his black hair spiked up from a fine, clear brow, and his brown eyes were as dark as pure chocolate.

Together, they looked down into the space between them, where their young foster son Sami clung anxiously to their outstretched hands with his tiny, strangely perfect fingers. At seven years old and small for his age, the little refugee boy was all big brown eyes and soft black hair.

“Is it done?” Sami asked, glancing up at Gianni and Angelo in turn.

Angelo nodded faintly. “Yes, Sami, it is,” he replied.

“Even the den in the ba… ba…” Sami faltered, searching for the right word.

“Basement?” Gianni suggested.

Sami nodded vigorously. “Yes!”

Gianni smiled. “Absolutely! Right down to the squashy corner sofa, the wood burner and the big television.”

“Coo’,” the little boy replied, which, Gianni knew, was Sami-speak for cool. For Sami, Italian was still a work in progress.

The silence was broken, then, as a battered white Fiat Cinquecento squeezed very carefully through a tight stone arch further up the street. The car crept down the narrow lane, rumbling over the uneven crazy paving beneath the grand old palazzi and traditional lanterns that overhung it. The strange little family watched as the car passed the stone arched façade of a landscaped belvedere and drew to a halt just below the building opposite, a faded-looking ceramics shop called Ceramiche d’Agnello.

The driver, a beautiful young woman in her early thirties, clambered out of the front seat. Her long dark hair was swept back over a warm winter coat with a furry lining, which she wore over a long white dress. At the sight of the strange little family, she beamed.

“Look at the three of you,” she said indulgently. “Don’t you look adorable?”

Gianni rolled his eyes at her. “Ciao, Anna,” he replied with a smile.

Anna walked over and shivered slightly as she adjusted her coat. “Aren’t you cold, Gianni?” she asked, looking down in faint disbelief at his short-sleeved shirt and sleeveless gilet.

Gianni glanced briefly at Angelo and Sami, who were both looking at him expectantly from the depths of their warm winter coats. He chuckled.

“I grew up in London, Anna,” he replied. “Twelve degrees isn’t exactly cold for me. You Mediterranean types are just a bunch of lightweights, that’s all.”

Anna crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “Well, if you’re going to be like that, little cousin,” she challenged him, “maybe I’ll just drive your luggage straight back to where it came from.”

Gianni drew back slightly, taken by surprise. Behind him, Angelo snorted with laughter.

“Spoken like a true Rossi,” he remarked. “Claudia must have been giving you lessons.”

Anna inclined her head slightly and smiled. “I miss her. I hope she’s enjoying University.”

“Don’t worry,” Angelo assured her. “She’s coming back for Christmas – it’s all confirmed. Mamma had a letter.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant!” Anna replied. Returning to the car, she began to open the doors. “Well, we’d better get you all unloaded.”

“Thanks for bringing all our stuff up, Anna,” Gianni said gratefully.

“It was a pleasure,” Anna replied. “I just can’t believe I managed to fit it all into my little bug here,” she added, placing a hand fondly on the roof of her car.

Angelo shrugged. “Perils of renting a furnished apartment, I guess,” he replied.

Anna began to heft suitcases and boxes out of the boot. Angelo hurried over to help her at once, leaving Gianni alone with Sami.

“Shall we go inside?” he asked gently.

Wordlessly, the little boy nodded.

* * *

Gianni climbed the courtyard steps with Sami in tow, his heart beating excitedly in his chest. Alfredo the dog followed a few steps behind, investigating everything thoroughly with his beardy face and black button eyes.

Although Gianni and Angelo had told their foster son what to expect from the house, they had kept him away from the site itself, wanting the big reveal to be a surprise. Angelo had been working hard and, applying all his carpentry skills, had done most of the work himself. Gianni, who was more at home with a paintbrush than a hammer and saw, had done what he could to help as and when Angelo had allowed it.

Gianni recalled his first arrival at his grandparents’ house all those years ago. Fresh from the loss of his parents, he had stepped through this same front door and into the unknown, torn between desperate anxiety and a sort of fatalistic comfort in the knowledge that things surely couldn’t get any worse.

Despite the many challenges that had followed, his grandparents’ modest house had been instantly warm and welcoming, dark and cosy with the faded air of a home that has been lived in and loved for many years. It had been a wrench to change it, and they had retained as much of its character as they could, but he and Angelo had both agreed that it had to be updated if it were to meet their needs as a modern family house.

Now, Gianni turned the key, swung open the same old brown door and led his foster son into his new home.

Although they had kept the original terracotta floor tiles, Angelo’s efforts had transformed Gianni’s grandmother’s eclectic old kitchen into a classic farmhouse kitchen with a contemporary twist. In remembrance of Marina’s old Aga, a large modern range cooker dominated the side wall, surrounded by fitted units made of local pine wood with sleek black granite worktops. Hidden lighting shone down on the cooker top and the new Belfast sink.

Gianni felt a twinge of nostalgia for the way his grandmother’s old cooker had heated the whole house, even during the summer when no additional warmth was wanted or needed, but the new system they had installed was more practical. In Ravello, heating was only really needed for a few weeks of the year. A wood burner had been set up in the new den in the basement, and its warmth gradually heated the rest of the house. Angelo had stopped by to fire it up first thing this morning, and the kitchen area was already pleasantly warm.

Beneath the main stairs, a new spiral staircase led down to the den, which had been created from one the old storage rooms beneath the house. Opposite, a new breakfast bar separated the kitchen from the dining area. There, they had elected to make very few changes. The sight of Marina and Vittorio’s solid old chestnut dining table and the battered church pews that lined the wall beneath the two small back windows imbued the room with a comforting familiarity.

Gianni noticed that Sami’s eyes were roving around the space, taking in every detail, from the ancient brass lantern that glinted dully above the dining table to the many old family photos that still lined the walls.

“What do you think, son?” he asked. Over the past few months, he had tried calling the little boy caro, tesoro and various other terms of endearment he had learned during his time in Italy, but none of them had quite seemed to fit. Maybe, he had wondered, he just wasn’t the sort of person who could be so effusive?

Sami frowned uncertainly. “I liked our old house,” he said.

Gianni felt his earlier excitement begin to deflate like a punctured football.

“But… it’s okay, at least?” he ventured.

The little boy shrugged and nodded.

“Come and check out the view, Sami,” Gianni exhorted him.

He led the way through to the dining area and, after a moment, the little boy followed. Gianni knelt on one of the church pews and made space for Sami to scrunch in beside him. He placed an arm around Sami’s shoulders, and the little boy brightened a little.

“I can see the sea!” he said.

Gianni smiled. “That’s right.”

The mountainside outside the town tumbled away steeply below them on its way down to the coast. Dotted with silvery olive trees and white villas, terraced plantations swirled around the sides of the valley that led down to the small seaside town of Minori. Come the spring, Gianni knew, the little town would seem to shine in the sunlight, and the sea would be a bright, sparkling blue. But, under the dull November sky, it was little more than a haze of drab terracotta roofs leading down to the grey sand of a small, deserted beach.

We came by the sea,” Sami said quietly.

Glancing thoughtfully down at the little boy, Gianni nodded. It wasn’t often that Sami spoke about the aunt and uncle who had brought him here, long since captured and deported by the authorities. For several weeks in the summer, he had been forced to survive on his own in an abandoned farmhouse, with only the occasional visits of two local boys to keep him going.

“You’re where your family wanted you to be, Sami,” Gianni said gently.

Sami gave him a searching look with his big brown eyes, then hopped down from the church pew.

“Can I see my room?” he asked.

“Of course, son,” Gianni replied.

The little boy set off up the main wooden staircase at a run. Gianni pursued him, eventually catching up with him in the small front bedroom that had once been his own.

The sloping, roughly plastered ceiling had been painted white, and the walls had been replastered and painted a breezy, summery yellow, but otherwise the room was largely unchanged, with the same old wardrobe, ceramic tiled floor and battered bedside lamp. While Sami examined the space, Gianni stooped and gazed nostalgically out through the little window under the eaves. The window looked out through the winter-dried fronds of the creeper that lined the courtyard, where Angelo and Anna were just turning in from the street with boxes of clothes and kitchenware in their arms. He remembered a summer morning, not so long ago, when a teenage Angelo had called him out for a secret excursion by flicking little pieces of gravel up from the courtyard floor.

‘Couldn’t stay away,’ the other boy had said that morning.

How true that had been…

“Do you like it?” Gianni asked the little boy.

Sami nodded. “Yes!”

The dog puttered in behind them, snuffling at the little boy’s low-hanging hand. Sami giggled slightly and knelt down to scratch him about the ears.

Gianni smiled again. “It looks like Alfredo’s decided to keep you company,” he said. “I’d better go and help the others. Do you want to get comfy up here for a bit?”

Sami unshouldered the little rucksack in which he had insisted on packing his most favourite books and toys. “Okay.”

Taking a relieved breath, Gianni left his foster son to it.

So far, so good…

“How did it go?” Angelo asked as Gianni joined him in the kitchen.

“Sami likes his room,” Gianni replied. “So do I,” he admitted. “I… sort of wish it was still mine.”

“That makes two of us,” Anna chipped in as she entered the house for a second time, carrying a cat basket that was emitting a loud, ill-tempered yowling. “Sleepovers with Nonna and Nonno when I was little… those were the days.” She smiled. “I’m so glad you decided to keep the house. All those memories…”

“Not all good,” Gianni reminded her.

Anna nodded. “True, but… now you can make a whole photograph album of new ones.”

“Well, Sami has your room now,” Angelo said. He slipped an arm around Gianni’s waist, shaking his head in mock sympathy. “You’ll just have to sleep with me instead.”

Gianni gave him a sideways look. “We all have our crosses to bear, I guess…”

Angelo smirked, his dark eyes narrowing with a trace of a challenge. Gianni had a feeling he would be paying for his remark later on.

Anna chuckled. “You know what, boys…? I think I’ll go and get some more stuff from the car.”

* * *

After a hastily assembled lunch of mozzarella panini, Gianni and Angelo were organising the contents of the kitchen cupboards when there was a knock at the door. Alfredo, who had taken root in a dog bed under the stairs, raised his head blearily for a moment; Ennio, their plump silver tabby, who had taken up a position on the old church pew, gave the door a suspicious glare with his pale green eyes and then returned to washing his paws. Gianni, recalling an old wives’ tale from his childhood in England, had smeared a little butter on them to help the cat settle into his new space.

“Are you expecting anyone?” Angelo asked, frowning curiously as he went to answer the door. Gianni shook his head.

Angelo thumbed the latch and swung the door open to reveal a shy-looking woman in her early forties. She was wearing a woolly cardigan over a rather old-fashioned dress, and her dark hair was prematurely streaked with grey. Clutching a large oven dish covered with kitchen foil, she smiled uncertainly at them both.

“Elena!” Angelo exclaimed in surprise. “Come on in.”

He stood aside as Elena Agnello, proprietor of the ceramics shop across the street, stepped gratefully inside, wiping her boots carefully on the doormat. Her thirteen-year-old son Giacomo trailed in after her, wearing a warm jacket open over a smart-looking shirt, looking around the new kitchen in a rather self-conscious sort of way.

Buongiorno,” Elena said, passing the dish to Gianni. “I… made you a lasagne.”

“Thank you!” Gianni replied. He set the dish, which was still warm, carefully down on the granite worktop. “But you really shouldn’t have.”

Elena smiled nervously. “I just thought, you did such a good job on my shop doors, Angelo… and now that we’re neighbours… with you having just moved in today, you wouldn’t have much time to cook.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Angelo assured her. “We’ll make good use of your lasagne tonight, for sure.”

“Ciao, Giacomo,” Gianni offered, with a friendly nod at Elena’s son.

“Ciao, signore,” Giacomo replied, fixing Gianni briefly with his dark eyes.

Giacomo was the apparent ringleader of a group of four local teens who were often seen together, but Gianni was more familiar with his friends Daniele and Marco, who called regularly to visit Sami. Giacomo often reminded Gianni of a younger Angelo; he had the same carefully spiked black hair, a gregarious manner, a similar tendency to wind up his friends and a sense of style all of his own. Right now, however, the social situation seemed to have made him awkward.

“There’s no need to call me signore, Giacomo,” Gianni replied. “Dani and Marco don’t.”

The dark-eyed boy shrugged, and it seemed he had no more to say for the moment.

“I was sorry to hear about your grandmother, Gianni,” Elena ventured. “Marina was always very sweet to me, and she was always ready to have a chat…” She paused. “After Vittorio died, I tried to check up on her every now and then, at least…” here, she and Giacomo exchanged the briefest of glances, “when I wasn’t too caught up with my own problems.” She offered Gianni a sad smile. “My parents and grandparents are all gone, too. If you’d ever like to talk…”

Gianni nodded. “Thanks, Elena. It’s great to hear that Nonna had somebody else she could talk to towards the end.” He glanced uncertainly around at the unopened boxes that littered the room. “Would you like to stay for a coffee…? I mean, I’m sure we have an espresso machine around here somewhere…”

Elena brightened, and looked like she was about to accept, when there was another knock at the front door.

Angelo raised his eyebrows. “We’re popular today,” he remarked as he went to answer the door for a second time.

“Ciao, Angelo!”

A boy in a pale blue tie-dye hoodie stood grinning on the doorstep. His light blond hair, a rare sight in Italy, tumbled down in soft, carefree tufts over a pair of penetrating, light blue eyes.

Giacomo came to life at once. “Dani!” he exclaimed.

Daniele glanced across at the dark-eyed boy, favouring him with a surprised and entirely genuine smile.

“Giaco?” he asked as he stepped into the kitchen. “What are you doing here?”

“Mamma was just visiting,” Giacomo began. “I…” but then he halted, his face falling slightly as a second boy walked in. “Oh, ciao, Marco.”

Marco, a slight-framed boy with untidy, mousy hair and a pointed nose, returned the greeting and glanced about the room with his cool grey eyes.

“Why’s it so busy in here?” he asked bluntly.

Gianni exchanged a mystified glance with Angelo, who seemed equally baffled by the sudden mass invasion.

“Honestly, Marco, I have no idea,” he replied.

Elena raised a hand to her mouth, caught somewhere between embarrassment and amusement. “Perhaps we’d better have that coffee another time, Gianni,” she said. “I can see this isn’t the best moment.”

Gianni sighed. “Maybe. I’m sorry, Elena. Next time, we’ll be more prepared, I swear. Thanks for the lasagne.”

Elena smiled. “Come by any time,” she replied. She made for the exit, coaxing a reluctant Giacomo along with her. “Come on, caro.”

Giacomo followed his mother back out through the door with a forlorn glance in the direction of the other two boys, who were warming themselves up next to the iron flue from the wood burner downstairs.

“I like what you’ve done with the house,” Daniele said, brushing absently at his mop of blond hair. “It looks much brighter.”

Teenager or not, Gianni observed, Daniele seemed as polite and confident as ever. Marco, as always, seemed less comfortable in his own skin, standing back and letting his friend do most of the talking.

“Thanks, Dani,” Gianni replied. “Angelo did most of the work himself.”

“That’s so cool,” Daniele said, glancing around the kitchen in renewed appreciation. “I’d love to be able to do that.” He glanced at Marco for a moment. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Sure,” Marco mumbled. “I guess.”

“Thanks, Dani,” Angelo replied, leaning back against the breakfast bar. “Give it a couple of years and maybe I’ll teach you. But I don’t think you came here just to congratulate me on my carpentry, did you? I expect you’ve come here to see…”

He was saved having to complete the sentence by a thundering of small, eager feet on the stairs. Sami hurled himself into the room, making straight for the two boys with a joyful cry of “Dani! Marco!”

Amidst the ensuing group hug, Alfredo scrambled out of his bed and hurried over to them, barking enthusiastically, begging to be included. Ennio remained on his church pew, glaring at the energetic display with disdain.

Gianni exchanged another glance with Angelo, and they both laughed slightly, but for Gianni the moment was also tinged with a trace of sadness.

When’s the last time Sami was so pleased to see me?

* * *

Marco had been helping to teach Sami Italian ever since the hot summer days all those months ago, when he and Daniele had helped to keep the little refugee boy clothed and fed in the abandoned farmhouse at Sambuco. Since Sami had come into Gianni and Angelo’s care, Daniele had joined the teaching effort. The two boys approached the task with boundless creativity, always seeming to find a way to turn it into a fun game or give the little boy some kind of reward when he did well.

Marco, for one, never seemed happier than when he was playing with Sami. The awkwardness he showed around adults faded away and, with his guard down, he sometimes even allowed a shy and rather sweet smile to emerge.

The three boys had set up camp at one end of the dining table, furnished with chilled Lemon Sodas by Angelo, ever the dutiful host. Gianni watched the two older boys as he unloaded fruit into a large ceramic bowl with a hand-painted lemon design, trying to figure out the dynamic between them. Daniele and Marco worked well as a team; their thought processes seemed to be very much in synch.

Daniele and Marco, Gianni knew, were a classic example of enemies to friends. But he also knew that something a little more than that had happened between them in the summer. It had been ever so brief, and there was little sign of it now; if they did have feelings for one another, they hid them well.

Gianni paused, reflecting on his thoughts.

Are you really speculating on the love lives of a couple of thirteen-year-olds?

He gave himself a mental shake and returned to his chores.

* * *

The luggage had been unpacked and Gianni and Angelo were collapsing all the large cardboard boxes by the time Daniele and Marco had left. As Marco squeezed back into a slightly undersized winter coat, Gianni was a little saddened to see Daniele pull a smartphone out of his pocket and flick briefly through his messages. There, at least, something had changed.

Once the boxes were neatly flattened and stacked against the wall under the stairs, Gianni set out to take the air for a few minutes. Angelo, who had promised to call his mother to report back on the move, had agreed to keep half an eye on Sami for a little while.

The dismal grey light was already starting to leave the sky, edging the temperature down a little further, so Gianni wrapped up in a warmer coat, zipping it up a little further as he stepped out into the cool, deserted street. After a moment’s thought, he set off uphill, heading towards the belvedere next door, where he felt sure he would be able to take in the sea view in peace.

He was about to turn through the arched entrance when he realised that he was not alone after all. Daniele and Marco were standing by the railings overlooking the mountainside, huddled together in an odd sort of way. He hesitated on the threshold, not wanting to disturb a private moment, but then he relaxed a little as the two boys broke apart and he realised they had only been taking a selfie with Daniele’s phone. All the same, Gianni hung back, wondering where else he could go instead.

“Papà was saying they’ll try to get me a phone soon,” Marco was saying. “It won’t be top of the line like yours, though.”

“I hope they do,” Daniele replied. “It’ll help us keep in touch with Emilia when we move schools next year.”

“Do you think she really wants to study science at the liceo?” Marco asked.

“Pushy parents…” Daniele said, “but she did say she wanted to be a doctor.”

“I guess,” Marco replied neutrally. “I’m glad the rest of us’ll be together, at least.”

Daniele sighed. “You should be going to art college.”

Marco shrugged. “Yeah, but my parents can’t take me to Salerno every day. That was never going to happen.” He frowned. “Why aren’t you studying languages, Dani?”

Now it was Daniele’s turn to shrug. “I don’t need to go to college to write my stories,” he replied. “I’d rather be with my friends. Giaco’s fine with going to the istituto tecnico, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Marco grumbled, “but he doesn’t have your talent.”

“Pity there’s no superhero school,” Daniele mused. “I’d be there.”

“Not without me, you wouldn’t,” Marco insisted.

Daniele giggled. “Are you offering to be my sidekick?”

Marco shook his head. “Nah. I’d be the best friend who goes bad and becomes a supervillain.”

Daniele assumed a pose. “Beware!” he declared in dramatic tones. “It’s Marco Fardello the evil artist. He will draw you into oblivion!”

Marco brandished an imaginary pencil. “You got that right.”

Gianni left them to their laughter, smiling slightly.

Let them still be kids for as long as they can all manage it.

All the same, their exchange had made him think. In just a few short years, Sami would be facing the same sort of choices, and Gianni himself would only be in his early thirties. It gave him an odd, chilly feeling to imagine it.

Gianni’s feet led him on up the street to a tiny, crazy-paved square containing a small church. From there, Gianni turned onto an outer path that overlooked the coast. He gazed down over a view framed by oleander bushes that had been carefully trained to form little trees. In the winter cool, the bushes were dormant, but by the spring they would be festooned with sprays of hot pink flowers.

Heavy rainfall in the autumn had caused part of the path to collapse, and it still hadn’t been repaired. A few lingering pieces of crazy paving teetered on the brink of an ugly landslip of dry brown earth and rocks, littered with uprooted shrubs and trees, all the way down to the main Naples road that wound around the lower edge of the ridge.

Not for the first time, the orange plastic barriers that had been used to close the path had been moved aside and lay drunkenly against the stone retaining wall at the upper side of the path. Gianni sighed and moved them back into position. One of these days, somebody was going to get seriously hurt.

Dusk was closing in now, and the streetlights sputtered into life around him. Gianni closed his eyes for one last breath of the cool winter air. It was time to go and give Sami his bath.

Somehow, parenthood hadn’t quite brought him the unadulterated happiness he had expected.

* * *

“Go on, son,” Gianni said. “Rub it in.”

Sami began to massage the shampoo into his soft black hair, rendered sleek and shiny by the water. His questing fingers dug in, mussing the hair up into eccentric tufts.

“Now lean back.”

The little boy did as he was told, entrusting his weight to Gianni’s arm, until his scalp was submerged. Gianni helped him to rinse the bubbles and suds out of his hair until there was only water, trickling in runnels down his neck and over his dusky little shoulders. Gianni hitched him back up until he was sitting comfortably in the warm bath. The new bathroom suite and ceramic wall tiles that Angelo had installed glinted dully in the warm glow of the uplighters on the walls.

Gianni offered Sami his sponge, and the little boy began to wash himself with it, gazing up at Gianni with his large brown eyes. His expression was troubled.

“What’s wrong, son?” Gianni asked.

“Why don’t I have a mamma?” Sami asked.

Gianni rocked back a little on his heels, thrown for a moment. “Well, ah… love can take many forms, I guess.” He hesitated. “Angelo and I love each other just as well as a husband and wife can.”

Sami frowned. “Are you married?”

Gianni shook his head. “No… no, we’re not allowed to be.”


“It comes from the church originally, I suppose.”

“The church…” Sami repeated, still frowning in a puzzled sort of way.

“What about you?” Gianni asked. “You must have seen couples like us before, back home?”

Wordlessly, Sami shook his head.

“No…” Gianni conceded. “I guess maybe you wouldn’t have.”

“Should I be going to church?” Sami asked.

“The church…?” Gianni replied. “No… I don’t think you should.”


Gianni frowned anxiously.

He can’t have forgotten already…?

“It’s because you’re a Muslim, Sami. Muslims go to mosques to pray.”

“So, should I be going to a mosque?

Gianni twisted his mouth uncomfortably. “We don’t have one here, Sami. I’d help you to pray at home if I could, but… I don’t know how.”

“Oh,” Sami replied. Casting his eyes down into the bubbly water, he fell silent.

Testing the bath water as a distraction from the awkward moment, Gianni realised that it was beginning to cool.

“Let’s get you out, son,” he said.

Compliantly, Sami stood up in the bath and stretched out his arms. Once he had dripped dry a little, Gianni grabbed him by the armpits and hefted him out onto the bathmat, then pulled a fresh, fluffy towel from the electric rail and began to towel the little boy down. Soon, he was thoroughly swaddled, with just his legs and his head poking out, hair sticking up in all directions. It was such a comical sight that Gianni couldn’t help but laugh a little.

Sami smiled slightly, then he shook himself free of the towel and, before Gianni knew what was happening, he hopped forwards and threw his skinny little arms around him in a hug. Gianni, caught off-guard by the unexpected display of affection, closed his own arms around the little boy’s narrow shoulders. In spite of himself, Gianni couldn’t help warm feeling spreading through his heart.

“Come on, son,” he said gently. “Let’s get you to bed.”

* * *

“What’s on your mind, G.?” Angelo asked.

Later that same night, the two of them were in the den, nestled together on the corner sofa. In the far corner, the television was on, but the volume was down low and neither of them were really paying attention. Ennio the cat was curled up on Angelo’s other side, and he was stroking him gently.

The den was a cosy space, floored with terracotta tiles and a colourful, second hand rug. The old, vaulted storage room had been partitioned in two, leaving a cupboard area that was still large enough for their bicycles and household appliances. In deference to practicality, they had also kept the original outside door, but it was sealed against drafts and covered with a curtain. What the room lacked for windows, it made up for in cosiness, with warm lighting and tapestries on the walls. The embers in the wood burner were still smouldering gently, emitting waves of comforting heat against the winter cool.

Wearily, Gianni laid his head against his partner’s shoulder.

“I sometimes wonder if we know what we’re doing,” he sighed.

Angelo smiled a little. “Right now, we’re not-watching the television… or did you mean in life, generally?”

Gianni gave him a slightly reproachful look. “You know what I mean. With Sami.”

Angelo gave him a slightly puzzled frown. “Well… you’re the one who wanted this, Gianni.”

Gianni sat up, separating from his partner for a moment.

“Are you saying you don’t?

Angelo shook his head. “No! No… of course not… I mean, I might not have gone into it in such a hurry, but Sami’s a great kid.”

“Is he, though?” Gianni asked. “I mean… he’s sweet, of course he is. But, sometimes, it’s like he’s just not really… there when he’s with me, you know? When Dani and Marco come, on the other hand… it’s like he lights up the whole room.”

“He’s been through a lot,” Angelo said reasonably. “Is it surprising that he’d have a few trust issues?”

Gianni gaped. “You think he doesn’t trust me? But… it’s been four months! How long does it take to build trust?”

Angelo shrugged. “I don’t know, but… after you’ve been thrown overboard by fake smugglers, abandoned by your family and left to survive on your own for several weeks, maybe quite a while.”

There was silence for a moment. Gianni exhaled slowly.

“We’re never going to be able to make that stuff go away, are we?”

Angelo shook his head. “No, but… maybe he can learn to live with it, given time.”

“There’s more,” Gianni went on. “In the bath tonight, he was asking me all sorts of questions… and, some of them, I just couldn’t answer. There are whole parts of his culture that I just can’t access or understand.”

“That’s true,” Angelo conceded, “but, really, who round here can?”

Gianni sighed. “How can we raise a child like Sami? We have no idea how to bring him up as a Muslim, but what’s the alternative? To strip him of his identity? How is that right?”

“Gianni,” Angelo said, pulling him into a reassuring hug. “I think you’re over-thinking this. You’re trying so hard to do everything perfectly, but… what Sami really needs is for us to just be there for him… to make him feel like part of the family.”

Gianni hugged him back, drawing strength from his gentle embrace. “But how can I do that if I’m not even sure I feel it myself?”

“Just don’t push yourself so hard.”

They looked up at the sound of a quiet cough from the spiral staircase. Sami was standing there, dressed in his pyjamas, watching them anxiously.

“Hi, sport,” Angelo said in surprise. “How long have you been there?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Sami whispered.

“Okay, son,” Gianni said. “One second.”

Tiredly, he began to heave himself up from the sofa, but Angelo tugged him back down.

“Don’t worry, Gianni,” he said gently, “I’ve got this.”

Angelo rose to his feet and, taking Sami by the hand, led him gently back up the stairs. Ennio opened his eyes, stretched his front paws out until his claws were kneading the sofa cushions, then stood up and sloped onto Gianni’s lap, where he curled up once more.

“Everything was much easier when it was just us,” Gianni murmured quietly, running his hands through the cat’s thick, soft fur.

Ennio answered with a purr. It rumbled deep within the cat’s chest until Gianni began to feel sleepy. He yawned.

“You’d tell me, wouldn’t you, if I was making a total mess of things?” he asked.

Ennio raised his head for a moment and stared inscrutably back at Gianni with his green, orb-like eyes.

“Thanks, Ennio,” Gianni yawned again, “I knew I could count on you.”

Soon, there was no sound in the room apart from the rise and fall of gently slumbering chests.

Copyright © 2023 James Carnarvon; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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5 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Had I known who you were when this first posted it would have been perfect timing as it was a day before my birthday .I would have considered it a early birthday present.

A couple of things Gianni should be reminded of for the most part he is no different then the traditional parent who has doubts and worried they are doing it right.The details are different but the concerns are the same.

For any shortcoming Gianni thinks he might have Sami is still 150% better off with them then any kind of alternative

Time will tell...!

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What a delight to come across another story in the Ravello series. To make it even better the differences sit well with the other stories. The change in season can only help us to appreciate the town more, strange as it may seem but it's true to say that it will be the same but different due to the change of season. Angelo and Gianni are grown men, not the teens that we were introduced to, making this story a continuation of their lives. The biggest change, which we were introduced to at the end of the previous story, is that they are also foster parents. This is a great start to this new story with Gianni experiencing mixed feelings about their 'new' home. Moving into his late grandparent's home will have many memories, some good and some not so good as it became his home after losing his parents, hopefully making new and happy memories will ease his mind. The doubts about doing the right thing are normal for any parent and especially a foster parent, these feelings will naturally be magnified in this scenario as they are from a Christian background and Sami is from a Muslim background. While there may be some similarities there are also many differences, they would benefit from support in this matter, and I hope they seek and receive it.

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4 hours ago, Mancunian said:

What a delight to come across another story in the Ravello series. To make it even better the differences sit well with the other stories. The change in season can only help us to appreciate the town more, strange as it may seem but it's true to say that it will be the same but different due to the change of season. Angelo and Gianni are grown men, not the teens that we were introduced to, making this story a continuation of their lives. The biggest change, which we were introduced to at the end of the previous story, is that they are also foster parents. This is a great start to this new story with Gianni experiencing mixed feelings about their 'new' home. Moving into his late grandparent's home will have many memories, some good and some not so good as it became his home after losing his parents, hopefully making new and happy memories will ease his mind. The doubts about doing the right thing are normal for any parent and especially a foster parent, these feelings will naturally be magnified in this scenario as they are from a Christian background and Sami is from a Muslim background. While there may be some similarities there are also many differences, they would benefit from support in this matter, and I hope they seek and receive it.

Welcome back! There's plenty more material for you to enjoy between this story and the next one, The Summer of the Selfless, which I have only recently finished publishing.

It was a good writing experiment to return to Gianni and Angelo and write for an adult perspective for once. I wasn't 100% happy with the results, but I think there are still some good moments.

So, yes - an adult perspective this time, but, as you'll see, Gianni still has some of the naivety of a young man and caring for Sami will no doubt be a steep learning curve. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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