Jump to content
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 - 5. Chapter 5

Gianni was at a loss to explain his panic attack. It was as if every trauma he had ever experienced had been triggered all at once and, just for that moment, he had lost all control.

All the same, talking to Angelo about it helped. By the time he had talked himself out, his heart rate had returned to normal, and he was beginning to feel sleepy. They cuddled for a while in the quiet of the den, where the only sound was the gentle crackle and sizzle of logs settling in the wood burner.

“I thought I was stronger than this,” Gianni murmured after a while.

“Are you kidding?” Angelo murmured back. “Do you remember what I said to you, soon after we met?”

“You mean about losing my parents and stuff?” Gianni asked.

Angelo nodded. “Exactly.”

Leaning his head on Angelo’s warm shoulder, Gianni thought back. “It was something like… ‘If it happened to me, I can’t imagine what I’d do. I think you’ve been really strong, coming here where you don’t know anyone.’”

“That’s right. You were just fifteen, and what you’d been through was enough to blow anyone’s mind. One panic attack in ten years… that’s not weakness!”

“But why now?”

Angelo shrugged. “Maybe it’s something to do with Sami, or what happened to Marco this morning. It’s a strange time.”

Gianni looked hopefully up into his partner’s dark eyes. “So… you think I’m strong, like a warrior?”

Angelo’s mouth quirked into a familiar half-smile. “No, you’re a pussycat. But even pussycats can be strong sometimes.”

Gianni punched him gently on the arm. “Not fair,” he pouted.

Angelo narrowed his eyes playfully. “Don’t poke that lip out at me,” he whispered. “Someone might just have to nibble it…”

* * *

Over the next week or so, the weather settled into a brighter pattern. There was warmth in the sun, but overnight the temperatures dropped to new lows. Still, Gianni thought, if it continued, it promised a dry and starry night for Angelo and Emilia’s birthday party.

Indeed, the birthday party was now just around the corner. Gianni finally found a solution for Angelo’s present from Sami, which they worked on together with a little quiet help from Reza and Tiziana, who kept a number of tools at the construction site and were both handy with a saw.

For his own main present for Angelo, Gianni had commissioned a special bowl from Elena Agnello. On the Thursday evening before the party, while Angelo was out putting the finishing touches to a new staircase at a house in San Martino, Gianni crossed the street in the gathering gloom to collect it.

This deep into the off-season, Elena’s shop was keeping very limited hours, so Gianni knocked instead on the door that led to the apartment above the shop. Before long, he heard feet descending the stairs inside, and the door swung open to reveal Elena herself, wearing another of her faded old dresses. She smiled in surprise at the sight of him.

“Oh, ciao, Gianni!” she said. “I was expecting Daniele. Come on up, I’ve got the bowl in the apartment.”

Gianni followed her humbly-dressed figure up the ceramic-tiled steps. The staircase led straight up into one of the apartment’s main social spaces, a small but light and bright kitchen diner overlooking the street. The single, tall window offered a pleasant view over the arched stone wall of the belvedere and, beyond that, the distant blue-grey of the dusky sea.

Giacomo and Marco were sitting opposite each other at the battered pine dining table, playing a game of Pokémon cards. Giacomo was turned out in his typical style, with a tight-fitting t-shirt and an athletic bomber jacket; Marco was wearing a faded, olive-green checked shirt. They both turned as he entered the room to offer him a perfunctory greeting, then returned to their game, which seemed to be in its final stages. It looked like Giacomo was winning.

Gianni was surprised to see them. Somehow, he had got the impression that Giacomo and Marco didn’t spend a lot of time with each other these days without one of their other friends there to hold them together.

“Would you like a drink?” Elena asked.

After a brief attempt to protest, Gianni accepted a glass of sparkling mineral water, and hovered uncomfortably by the window while Elena disappeared down the hallway to look for the bowl in her bedroom.

The game seemed to have run its course for the moment, because both boys set down their card decks. There was a slightly awkward silence.

“Just pretend I’m not here,” Gianni said, wondering if he was the cause of it.

The two boys looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then they appeared to lose interest.

“How are things at home?” Giacomo asked the other boy quietly.

Despite his best efforts to look away, Gianni sensed their eyes on him once again. He glanced back at them just in time to see Marco shrug slightly.

“It’s okay,” Marco replied. “Gianni knows.”

Giacomo nodded in relief. “So…”

“They’re mostly ignoring me,” Marco mumbled. “But… what else is new?”

Giacomo scowled. “That sucks. Can’t they just get over it?”

“I wish it were that simple,” Gianni murmured. “It takes time.”

Giacomo’s dark eyes flicked towards him briefly, then returned to the other boy. “All the same,” he said to Marco, “you’re their son. They need to figure out what’s important.”

Marco plucked a plastic Pokémon coin from the table and fiddled with it miserably, dancing it effortlessly over his grubby fingernails.

Dani’s parents get it,” he grumbled. “They don’t mind that he’s… you know. They love him anyway, maybe even more for it.” He paused, before adding, with a trace of bitterness, “I wish they were my parents, too.”

At the mention of Daniele’s name, Giacomo’s supportive demeanour clouded a little.

“What’s the deal between you and Dani, anyway?” he mumbled.

“Deal…?” Marco replied, his cool grey eyes flicking towards Gianni with slightly less comfort. “There’s… no deal.”

An air of awkwardness seemed to descend on the room once again. Fortunately, they were saved by Elena’s return.

“Here it is,” she said, holding a large ceramic salad bowl out to Gianni with an anxious smile.

Gianni’s mouth opened slightly in awe as he examined what could only be described as a work of art.

The bowl was perfectly symmetrical in shape, deep, with a pleasing heft to it. Elena had hand-decorated the edge of the bowl with a typical local motif of olives and lemons; but, in the centre, she had crafted a simple but unmistakeable representation of a lion and a wolf twined around each other: the national animals of England and Italy, in perfect union.

“Wow,” Gianni breathed. “This is… even better than I could have hoped for. Thanks, Elena!”

Elena shrugged and looked a little embarrassed. “I enjoyed the challenge,” she replied. “It’s not every day I get to create something totally new like this.”

There was a loud knock from the front door, and Gianni glanced down the stairs in surprise as whoever it was opened the door without waiting to be invited in. Whoever it was must have known they would be welcome.

It was Daniele, of course. He came hurrying up the stairs with his winter coat open over a lavender tie-dye t-shirt and a pair of dark blue jeans. He smiled in surprise as he saw Gianni.

Buonasera,” he said brightly. Turning to Elena, he began to apologise as he took off his coat. “Sorry I’m late, I…”

But then there was a loud clatter of a chair being pushed back, and Giacomo was there at once, grinning at the blond-haired boy. “Ciao, Dani!” he interrupted, “come on through.”

Giacomo grabbed Daniele by the arm and tugged him straight towards the hallway. With an apologetic glance at Marco, who was still in his seat, looking on with his mouth slightly open, the blond-haired boy thrust his coat hastily into Elena’s arms and allowed himself to be led through to Giacomo’s bedroom.

Marco slid out of his chair, pocketed the plastic coin and picked up both decks of Pokémon cards; in his haste to greet the other boy, Giacomo had left his own abandoned on the table.

Mi scusate,” he mumbled. Elena and Gianni drew aside to let him pass and watched him as he trailed after his two friends.

Gianni and Elena exchanged a glance.

Elena shook her head in a weary sort of incomprehension.

Boys…!” she sighed.

* * *

Saturday, the day of the party, dawned without a cloud in the sky. For once, there was a real wintry edge to the air, although it still wasn’t quite cold enough to be freezing.

After breakfast, Gianni and Angelo took Sami for an airing on the belvedere. Swaddled in his warm winter coat, the little boy wandered about the landscaped garden, inspecting everything carefully. Alfredo the dog trotted around with him, sniffing at everything, occasionally lifting his leg against a tree or a stone wall.

“Check this out, Sami,” Gianni said, exhaling slowly and creating a cloud of vapours that danced away in the light morning breeze. “Do you see it?”

“Breath!” Sami replied, his eyes like saucers. At once, he began to do it himself, experimenting with different faces, and began to charge about the garden, giggling. Alfredo bounced around after him, barking excitedly.

Gianni and Angelo huddled together at the railings. The terraced mountain landscape was still brown and wintry, but the unexpectedly bright sunlight had brought back an echo of the summer. Far below, the distant sea had taken on a pale imitation of its summer crystal blue, and a couple of boats were out on the water, glinting in the winter sun.

“Happy almost birthday, Angelo,” Gianni said.

“You know,” Angelo replied thoughtfully, “I’m not sure how I feel about this. You’re aging me before my time.”

Gianni grinned. “It just because you’re such a wise soul, like an old man’s head on young shoulders.”

Angelo raised an eyebrow. “Great. Now I’m an old man?”

Gianni hooked an arm through his. “You’re the cutest old man I know.”

Angelo snorted with laughter. “Thanks, I think.” He gave Gianni a questioning look. “So, do I get to open my presents today as well? If I’m celebrating over a week early, I might as well go all the way.”

“Presents?” Gianni asked, feigning ignorance. “Nobody told me there needed to be presents.”

“Okay, now you’re asking for trouble,” Angelo whispered in his ear.

Gianni snickered, wondering how long he could make this game last. “I was always taught that you stop getting presents after you’re twenty-five…”

But Sami, it seemed, was having none of it.

“Presents! Yes!” he exclaimed, charging in from the far side of the belvedere.

Angelo feigned a sympathetic shrug.

“Looks like you’re outvoted, G.,” he said, a teasing twinkle in his dark eyes.

Gianni sighed. “Fine,” he replied. “Let’s go back inside.”

The little group returned cheerfully to the street and clattered up the courtyard steps. Before long, their coats were hung up and they were rubbing the warmth back into their hands. Alfredo puttered over to his bed and sank into it with a quiet, doggy sigh of contentment. Ennio the cat, who had just finished licking his breakfast dish clean, stalked past the dog with a glance of disdain and then hopped up onto the old church pew, where he sat, washing his face with his paws.

Gianni drew out one of the dining room chairs.

“If sir would like to take a seat?” he asked solicitously.

“After that introduction, these presents had better meet my expectations,” Angelo said, sliding into the chair and pulling it under the table.

“Don’t worry,” Gianni replied. “We’ve got a nice lump of coal for you, on account of how naughty you’ve been this year.”

Angelo smirked. “I thought you said I was wise?”

“You can’t be both?”

Gianni gave Sami a few whispered instructions, and the little boy disappeared eagerly up to his bedroom, where Angelo’s presents had been concealed in the old wardrobe.

Remembering that his own main gift was fragile, Gianni waited a little anxiously for the little boy to return. When he did appear, however, he had stacked the smaller, lighter presents quite sensibly on top of the pile, his small arms wrapped tightly around the curving base of the parcel containing the ceramic bowl.

“Nice job, son,” Gianni said as the little boy tottered down the stairs and heaved the small pile of presents up onto the dining table.

Sami grinned and hurried to sit opposite Angelo.

“Let’s do the small stuff first,” Gianni suggested to the little boy, “saving the really special things until last.”

Sami sighed a little impatiently. “Okay.”

Gianni sat down next to Sami, dragging the gifts along with him and handing his partner the lighter ones off the top.

The morning sun streamed in through the two small windows, glinting off the shiny wrapping paper and making little highlights in Angelo’s neatly spiked black hair. Dreamily, Gianni watched them for a moment as Angelo took up the first package and tore off the wrapping paper without ceremony, revealing a CD album.

Angelo smiled slightly. “Is this another part of my education in British music?” He squinted at the writing on the front cover. “Pet Shop Boys…?

Gianni grinned. “Dad was a fan,” he explained. “This house needs more eighties.”

Angelo was squinting at the track listing. “I’m Not Scared…” he mused, “I think I know that song. Thanks, Gianni.”

Next, he picked up a floppy-looking parcel and unwrapped it to reveal a pair of garish blue and green socks.

Angelo chuckled. “Ah… just what I always wanted,” he joked.

“Read the writing,” Gianni urged him.

Angelo glanced from one sock to the other, examining the writing that had been worked into the design. “Best… boyfriend…” he read with a smile.

“The worst boyfriend socks were out of stock,” Gianni said apologetically. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Angelo narrowed his eyes once again in a final playful challenge.

“Can he do mine now?” Sami urged, fidgeting with excitement.

Gianni ruffled his hair. “Almost there,” he replied. “Just one more boring grownup gift to go.”

Setting Sami’s neat oblong parcel to one side, he pushed the largest, heaviest package towards Angelo.

“What’s this?” Angelo asked with a curious frown. Carefully, he tore the wrapping paper free and examined the bowl. “Dio… this is a thing of beauty, Gianni!”

“Isn’t it just?” Gianni replied.

“I’m guessing… Elena made this for you?” Angelo asked. When Gianni nodded, he went on, “Remind me to thank her later. I love it!”

“And so…” Gianni said, “last but not least…”

Eagerly, Sami pushed his parcel towards Angelo.

“Open it!” he chirped.

Angelo picked the parcel up, feeling curiously around the edges. “What’s this you’ve made for me, sport?” he asked. “It feels framed…”

“It’s a…” Sami began excitedly, but Gianni placed a finger gently to the little boy’s lips.

“Don’t spoil the surprise, Sami,” he told him. “Let Angelo find out for himself.”

Perhaps sensing that the cat was about to be let out of the bag, Angelo tore the paper off before Sami could say another word, then he stopped and stared.

It was a photo of the three of them that Claudia had taken in the summer, set against the endless blue backdrop of the Terrace of Infinity at the Villa Cimbrone gardens. Gianni and Angelo had their arms around each other, and with their free hands they were holding Sami, who stood in front of them, beaming at the camera.

They had mounted the picture in a bespoke beaded frame of local pine wood. Aided by Reza and Tiziana’s expert hands, they had achieved an immaculate finish. They had also cut out and painted a few basic shapes, which Sami had stuck onto the frame himself with wood glue; the corners of the frame were adorned with two yellow lemons, a white star and a bright red heart.

“Wow,” Angelo said. “This is so… thanks, Sami.”

Confronted with Sami’s smiling face, he glanced away for a moment, before managing to look at the little boy again with an embarrassed laugh. It could have been a trick of the morning sunlight, but his dark eyes definitely looked a little brighter than usual.

Gianni stared at him in amazement.

Is he getting… emotional?

Gianni had always doubted Angelo’s investment in their little family, but… maybe he had been wrong.

* * *

The party had been set for six o’clock, not too late for the younger guests but late enough for everyone to have some room in their bellies for the buffet dinner. Gianni and Angelo set out with Sami at half past five, wanting to make sure that, as co-hosts, they were there in time to greet the rest of the guests.

Sami was dressed in a pair of dark blue skinny jeans and a smart shirt Gianni had bought for him when he first moved in. He had been bouncy and excitable, impatient to get going, and they had argued for a while about whether he should wear a coat. In the end, Gianni and Angelo had conceded that he could make do with the warmest zip-up hoodie he owned, reasoning that he would probably be charging around too much to get cold.

And it was cold. As the three of them set out into the darkened street, their breath was rising visibly from their mouths again. There was a wintry clarity to the air, and the stars shone brightly in the black sky, casting the great pine tree on the belvedere into a mysterious silhouette.

The traditional lanterns that hung from the old palazzi cast a bright glow on the crazy paving, and the accent lighting in the Municipio gardens down the street lit up the ring of bare lime trees in fine detail.

Gianni and Angelo, who were both wearing smart shirts and slacks under their warm winter coats, exchanged a smile, remembering the magical times they had stolen out together when they were younger. Of course, it had often been warmer then, but it was the company that mattered.

Gianni shouldered the rucksack he had brought along to gather up any extra presents that Angelo might receive – the same old rucksack that he had arrived in Ravello with all those years ago – and then they were on the move.

Sami led the way as they made their way down the avenue of oleanders next to the cathedral. He flitted from bush to bush, staring up through the foliage, open-mouthed, at the decorative globe lights that glittered overhead.

“I remember when I found it all so exciting here,” Gianni said.

Angelo smiled. “If your drawings are anything to go by,” he said, “you still do.”

The square was quiet, although there were splashes of light shining out from the restaurants in the side streets. On the distant, far side of the valley, beneath the canopies of the umbrella pines that lined the square, strings of lights picked out the zig-zagging roads and hamlets of Scala.

The small party crossed the stone-paved space, heading for a narrow little street on the far side that was lined with closed gift shops. From there, they passed through an arch beneath an old stone house, and began to climb a long, winding flight of steps that lay beyond it.

During his ten years in Ravello, Gianni had climbed these stairs countless times, albeit usually by day. In the summer, they lured you into a quiet, secluded world, far away from roads and cars. If you followed the path to its ultimate conclusion, it led you straight to the gates of the beautiful Villa Cimbrone gardens; one of the first places where he and Angelo had really begun to bond, and a place where many of Gianni’s friends’ relationships had been made or tested.

Tonight, however, their destination was closer at hand. They climbed the winding stairway between an eclectic assortment of houses, terraces and gardens, always by the light of the decorative globes. Despite the winter cool, Gianni felt himself beginning to warm up, and he unzipped his coat.

The path led them through the high, echoing porch of a convent, whose vaulted ceiling glowed brightly by the light of four glass lanterns, then climbed up through a serpentine configuration of high walls and pine trees until they reached a quiet lane at the top of the hill. The street was deserted, but lamps shone brightly at the entrance to the wedding venue they had reserved for the occasion.

A romantic villa set in an elevated position overlooking the sea, the venue beckoned them onwards as they turned through the arched entrance. They climbed a few steps until they reached a beautifully kept lawn framed by pine trees and beautifully kept palms. Wisteria and other climbers trailed over the pergolas and other garden structures, bare for the moment, but lying in wait for the spring.

The small estate was dotted with cheerful lights, with barely a dark corner to be found. In the back corner of the garden, quiet music was floating out from an outdoor dining room where Gianni caught an enticing glimpse of a mountain of buffet food. Beyond, at the back of the villa, a grassy terrace looked down on what promised to be a spectacular view of the coast at Minori and Maiori and the looming, darkened mountains beyond.

Emilia’s parents, Gianni thought, had outdone themselves.

“Where is everyone?” Sami asked, looking around the empty garden in disappointment.

Angelo ruffled his hair. “Don’t worry, sport,” he replied. “They’ll be along soon enough. We couldn’t be late for my own party, could we?”

But, at that moment, they realised that they weren’t alone. Emerging from an outside bar at the front corner of the garden, Emilia’s parents stepped out to greet them.

Buonasera,” Roberto smiled, looking dapper in a casual suit and an elegant shirt. “Welcome!”

Buonasera,” Gianni replied. “Where’s the birthday girl?”

“She’s fetching Luca,” Roberto replied. “She’ll be along in a little while.”

Monica, who was wearing a fur-lined coat over a long, floral evening dress, stepped forwards. Interposing herself between Gianni and Angelo, she wound her arms through their elbows and led them up onto the lawn, leaving Sami goggling at them from where he was standing. Gianni and Angelo exchanged an amused glance as she led them towards the outdoor dining room.

“What a handsome pair,” she smiled, with a devilish glint to her eye. “You must come and inspect the buffet. I want you to be certain that a good time will be assured for all who come here tonight.”

* * *

It wasn’t long before the guests began to appear, streaming through the gates in twos and threes. Gianni, Angelo and Emilia’s parents stood by to greet them.

Among the first to arrive were Anna and Pietro, accompanied by Angelo’s mother Marta.

“But who’s running the restaurant?” Angelo asked in surprise.

Pietro, who was handsome in an uncompromising, business-like sort of way – so unlike Angelo’s more insightful, engaging manner – pulled him into a brusque hug.

“Think nothing of it, little bro,” he said. “It’s hardly the high season.”

“Well, thanks for coming,” Angelo replied.

Marta stepped forward, dressed in an elegant green dress with her hair streaked with grey, as was her style.

“And is there a spare hug for your old Mamma?” she asked.

“Of course,” Angelo replied, embracing her and accepting a kiss on each cheek, “and you’re not old, Mamma.”

Marta chuckled and adjusted the tweed jacket she was wearing for warmth. “I just need to hear you say it, sometimes.”

Emilia and Luca were next to arrive. The birthday girl, who was normally more at home in jeans, had donned a dress for the occasion and had done her hair up beautifully. The green-eyed boy had also turned himself out well, with a pleated white dress shirt and an emerald bowtie.

“Happy birthday, Emilia,” Gianni offered. Emilia smiled back politely as her mother swept in for hugs and kisses.

“Thanks for doing this,” Emilia said to Gianni and Angelo. “With everyone here, this should be the best party ever.”

“Well, I hope you have a lovely time,” her father offered.

Luca looked him straight in the eye. “I’ll make sure of it, signore,” he declared.

Roberto looked on approvingly as Emilia and Luca moved on to say hello to Sami, who was hanging around by one of the palms, looking a little lost. He brightened as they approached, but cautiously; it occurred to Gianni that the little boy had never really had the chance to get to know either of them that well.

Soon, guests were streaming in too quickly for Gianni and Angelo to greet them all, and they gave up the effort and began to mingle. Last to arrive as they moved away was a pair of seventeen-year-old boys: one with tousled hair and intense brown eyes, who was wearing a light blue shirt and beige slacks, and one with mid-length chestnut brown hair, who was wearing a navy blue shirt with a subtle floral pattern and a pair of dark blue jeans. They walked in hand-in-hand, making no effort to hide the fact that they were a couple. Remembering the explosive start to their relationship a few years ago, Gianni marvelled at how far they had come.

Toto!” Sami yelled excitedly, charging across the lawn to greet the tousle-haired boy.

“Hey, Samino!” Toto replied, sweeping the little boy up into his arms. “Long time no see!”

His boyfriend, Michele, gave Gianni and Angelo a smile of greeting as they moved off in the direction of the buffet.

“Well, that’s the three of them out of trouble for a while,” Angelo remarked, tracking them across the lawn with his dark eyes.

“Do you think we should supervise them?” Gianni asked. “There are things over there that Sami’s not really supposed to eat.”

Angelo pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Live and let live tonight, I think. What Sami doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”

“We’re not doing too well, are we?” Gianni said. “Helping Sami to hang onto his faith and his culture, I mean.”

“There is someone who could probably help us with that,” Angelo reminded him, gesturing across to the outside bar area, where he had just spotted Reza and Tiziana.

“Hey!” Reza called as they approached, raising his glass in greeting; dressed in a natty red shirt, he appeared to be nursing an aranciata, while Tiziana was sipping on a glass of wine. “It’s the local legends! Happy almost birthday, Angelo.”

“Yes, auguri!” Tiziana added, brushing a lock of shoulder-length black hair away from one pretty brown eye. “Thank you for having us. I’m looking forward to meeting some new people.”

Reza smirked. “There’s more to life than networking, Tiz.”

“I meant socially, you nitwit,” she said, scolding him with a gentle slap across the back of the head.

Nitwit?” Angelo mouthed at Gianni. Gianni smiled slightly; Tiziana must have picked the uniquely English word up from her husband.

Reza sighed and shook his head. “You see what I have to put up with?”

“Where’s little Sami?” Tiziana asked, casting her eyes curiously around the increasingly crowded garden.

“Off with some young friends of ours, I think,” Angelo replied.

“I was wondering if we could talk to you about Sami, Reza,” Gianni said. “You know you said you’d be happy to be a friend to him – someone who could help him with some of his questions?”

Reza nodded. “I remember.”

“Well, if it’s not too much to ask… would you be willing to spend some time together? I mean, for example… he doesn’t even know how to pray. I don’t even know if he wants to, but he should have the chance to.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve done it myself,” Reza mused, “but I think I remember how it’s done. Dad taught me pretty well.”

“Thank you,” Gianni said. “He’d need to get to know you a little first, but that’s very kind.”

“How’s the apartment?” Angelo asked.

“It’s lovely,” Tiziana replied. “Why do you ask?”

Angelo gave Gianni a questioning glance. “Time to break the news, do you think?”

Gianni nodded. “Your new place… it used to be our apartment. We just moved out of there a few weeks ago.”

Reza’s eyes widened. “Seriously?

Tiziana gaped in amazement. “So… if Sami came to visit, he’d be coming back to his old home? You don’t think that’d confuse him?”

Angelo shook his head. “No, I don’t think so…” he replied, “Sami knows what’s what.”

“Wait a minute…” Reza said. “So, that fat tabby cat that showed up the other day demanding treats is yours?

Angelo drew back a little in surprise. “Ennio, you cheeky canaglia!

Tiziana chuckled. “I told you we needed to block off that cat flap, Reza.”

* * *

By the looks of things, Sami was still exploring the buffet with Toto and Michele, so Gianni and Angelo decided to wait a while before going for food. Each armed with a drink, they returned to the lawn, where they ran into Elena, who was chatting with Daniele’s parents, Patrizia and Paolo.

“Ciao, guys,” Gianni said. “So, the boys are here then?”

Patrizia smiled and gestured into a quiet corner of the gardens, where the younger teens had gathered in a little group and were chatting animatedly. Emilia and Luca had been joined by Daniele, who was wearing a dark blue denim shirt quite unlike his usual pastel hues, and Marco, who was wearing his best yellow checked shirt once again. The mousy-haired boy seemed slightly more cheerful than he had the last time Gianni had seen him. Emilia had added, to her ensemble, a simple gemstone bracelet that someone must have given her as a gift. To Gianni’s surprise, the usually stylish Giacomo seemed to be the most under-dressed of the group; for reasons probably best known to himself, he was wearing a red tie-dye t-shirt. Gianni noticed that Daniele kept casting it odd little glances when Giacomo wasn’t looking.

None of the boys had decided to wear a coat for the occasion, despite the cold weather. Gianni smiled slightly, admiring their cocky determination given that none of them shared his own experience of growing up in a cold and rainy London, although he was prepared to bet that at least a couple of them had vests concealed under their outside clothing.

Auguri, Angelo,” Elena ventured.

“Thanks, Elena,” Angelo acknowledged. “Glad you could make it.”

“We were just talking about poor Marco,” Patrizia said. “We were wondering whether we should try to meet with Lorenzo and Gemma… maybe persuade them to see sense. This business really seems to have torn the family apart.”

“Although,” Paolo remarked, running a hand through his short brown hair, “it’s not like they were exactly close before this happened.”

“That’s true,” Patrizia admitted.

Elena looked doubtful. “I think it might be too soon, Patrizia. But maybe, once Lorenzo’s had some more time to calm down, he’ll be… oh!”

A determined hand had grabbed Angelo by the shoulder and spun him round. He gaped as he found himself face-to-face with a strapping young woman with a plait of long black hair and handsome, dark brown eyes. The resemblance between them was striking.

“You tried to have your birthday party without me!” she said furiously.

Caught on the back foot for once, Angelo offered her an uncertain smile. “Ah… hi, Claudia,” he said. “It’s great to see you…”

Claudia folded her arms crossly. “I had to come home a whole week early. I’m missing a very important tutorial on mixed media for this!”

Angelo rallied. “I don’t know how they’ll manage without you…” he said, in a voice dripping with false sincerity, “but I expect they’ll find the strength to go on.”

Claudia smirked, and suddenly they were embracing. “Happy birthday, big brother.”

Gianni realised that their mother was watching from a few paces away.

“Ah… I take it you had something to do with this?” he asked.

Marta’s mouth creased in a smile, and she nodded. “I had a feeling Claudia would have a thing or two to say if we left her out.”

“Hey, Claudia!” called a voice.

That was Toto. He and Michele were waving from outside the buffet area; Sami was practically bouncing in his excitement to see her, his mouth smeared with sauce from whatever he had been eating.

Claudia thrust a gift hastily into Angelo’s hands.

“Sorry,” she said, “but I need to go and check in with my boys.”

She headed off to join them at once. Marta chuckled slightly and followed from a distance.

“My…” Elena murmured to Angelo. “Your sister really is a force of nature, isn’t she?”

“I think I liked her better when she was a shy little girl struck dumb by a hopeless crush on Gianni,” Angelo replied, tearing the present free from its wrapping.

It was a pendant embossed with the slogan ‘#1 Lover’. Another letter had been added, graffiti-style, so it also read ‘#1 Loser’. Angelo laughed and put it on at once.

“Why don’t you ever buy me anything amazing like this, Gianni?” Angelo asked with a wink.

Now that everybody seemed to have arrived and relaxed into the occasion, Gianni and Angelo were able to take some time to themselves. Noticing that Claudia and the others had moved on, they took the opportunity to raid the buffet.

The caterers had outdone themselves with the spread of food. There were baskets of artisan bread and soft, herby focaccia; seasonal antipasti with salami, preserved artichokes, fresh anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes; a large dish of Parma ham and melon; pizza slices loaded with olives, capers and mushrooms; a winter salad with beans and diced pancetta; and, of course, a selection of tasty-looking cakes and fruit pastries.

Angelo’s eyes gleamed at the sight of so many of the foods he had been missing, and he dived straight in for the Parma ham and melon. Between them, they took some of everything and adjourned to the grassy terrace at the back of the villa for a moment of peace and quiet.

Under the starry sky, the visibility was crystal clear. Down on the coast, the water lapped at the seafront, creating dancing reflections of the bright lights of Minori and Maiori, picking out the silhouettes of the trees on the terraced mountain slopes below Ravello. They huddled together against the cool, enjoying the sense of privacy and closeness.

“I’m still grateful, you know,” Gianni said, nibbling on a piece of focaccia, which sang with hints of salt and rosemary.

“For what?” Angelo asked.

“To everyone, but to you especially, for making me feel like I belong here. Ten years on, and I still appreciate it.”

Angelo smiled. “It’s not as if I was being purely altruistic. I was into you from the moment I first saw you, remember? There was definitely something in it for me.”

“So… you were really just taking advantage of me in my vulnerable state?” Gianni asked.

Angelo nodded. “Oh, most definitely.”

Gianni laughed. “Oh, you know that’s not true. Anyway… I hope Sami will come to feel as welcome here as I did, some day.”

Angelo glanced back across the garden. Toto, Michele and Claudia were chatting by the outside bar, but the little boy was no longer with them. “Where is Sami, anyway?”

Gianni frowned. “I’m sure he’s fine, but I’ll go and check.”

Leaving Angelo to his meal, Gianni wandered back through the outdoor dining area and onto the main front lawn. It wasn’t long before he spotted the little boy; he had joined the group of younger teens, and seemed to have become the centre of attention.

Wondering what they were all talking about, Gianni sidled over to their side of the garden and watched from a short distance away.

The teens had formed a cosy group in the cheerful glow of the accent lighting in the flowerbeds. Giacomo was perched on a large boulder in the corner, looking relaxed despite the cold. Emilia and Luca stood to one side of him, holding hands. On the other side, Daniele and Marco stood shoulder-to-shoulder, smiling as Sami finished a performance of some kind.

“An’ the lion went roooaaarrr,” Sami said grandly, “and ate up the nasty vultures.”

Sami waved his hands in a pretend panicky sort of way. “‘Why are you eatin’ us?’ the nasty vultures cried.” He made a charming attempt to deepen his voice. “‘You shouldna killed the sheep,’ the lion said. ‘They were only tryin’ to get their lamb to safety.’”

“An’ the lions, the lambs, the wolves and the friendly birds all lived happy ever after.”

There was applause from Sami’s appreciative audience. Grinning, Sami bowed.

“That was a great story, Sami,” Daniele said. “I especially liked the bit where the sparrows brought the lamb some seeds and berries to eat, and the bit where the swifts used their wings to put out the wildfire.”

“This lion sounds like a pretty cool guy,” Giacomo interjected. “But… what happens the next time he gets hungry? Won’t he eat the lamb?”

“Giacomo!” Emilia protested, but Luca smiled and whispered something in her ear.

Sami, who seemed completely unfazed by the dark-eyed boy’s remark, shrugged. “I don’t know that part o’ the story yet.”

“Did the lamb miss his family?” Marco asked.

Sami nodded.

“Like you miss yours?” Marco went on.

Sami nodded again. “Alway’,” he said, looking a little forlorn.

“Don’t be sad, Sami,” Luca said. “It sounds like the lamb got lots of new friends to look after him.”

Sami gave the green-eyed boy an appraising look. “Like a new family?” he asked.

Luca nodded. “That’s right. New families can be just as good. I should know.”

Sami cocked his head curiously. “Huh?”

Luca reached out with one hand and drew the little boy closer to him. “I had to leave my old family too,” he said gently. “I’m adopted, Sami.”

Sami’s eyes widened. “You are?

Emilia nodded. “It’s true.”

Unnoticed by the others, Marco and Daniele exchanged a troubled glance.

Sami, however, only had eyes for his newest friend. He threw his hands together in a gesture of prayer.

“Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!” he begged desperately.

Emilia gave the others a questioning look. “I guess we should take this elsewhere. Do you guys mind?”

Giacomo shrugged. “Sure, whatever.” He glanced at Daniele and Marco. “Right, guys?”

But they weren’t paying attention. Emilia, Luca and Sami were already moving off; Marco watched them go with an unhappy, pinched look on his face.

“Figures,” he muttered, averting his eyes from the three retreating bodies.

Daniele, meanwhile, was watching him with a typically compassionate look in his blue eyes.

“C’mon, Marco,” he said gently, “let’s get a drink”. Placing his arm around his friend’s shoulders, he led him away towards the outdoor bar.

“Hey, I’ll just…” Giacomo called after them, but then he slumped slightly in his seat as he realised they weren’t listening. “I’ll just stay here,” he said.

Glancing down, he fiddled miserably with a stray thread of cotton that was dangling from the bottom of his red tie-dye t-shirt.

“Stupid,” he mumbled.

Gianni stared unthinkingly at him for a moment, caught short by the sudden breakup of the group. Giacomo looked up, apparently noticing him for the first time.

“Ciao,” the dark-eyed boy said quietly, raising a hand in a vague sort of wave. “Great party.”

Gianni hesitated, temporarily lost for words.

This didn’t go quite the way you expected, did it?

“Thanks,” Gianni replied at length. “Can I get you anything?”

Giacomo shook his head. “Nah, I’m cool.”

Gianni sighed and turned away. Halfway across the lawn, he ran into Angelo.

“There you are!” Angelo exclaimed. “I was starting to think you’d got lost. Did you find him?”

“Sami’s fine,” Gianni replied. “He’s found a new best friend.”

Casting his eyes about the garden, he gestured to a quiet corner under one of the pine trees, where Emilia, Luca and Sami had sat down together. The two boys were chatting earnestly to one another, while Emilia watched.

“Hmm…” Angelo mused. “Mercurial little guy, isn’t he?”

“I’m a bit worried about Marco,” Gianni said quietly. “He seemed to take it pretty hard.”

His eyes roving around the garden once more, he spotted the other two boys chatting together in the glow of the accent lighting under one of the palm trees not far away. They had procured a couple of Lemon Sodas. Daniele seemed to be trying to cheer the mousy-haired boy up, so far with limited success.

“Everyone always leaves,” Gianni heard Marco say, kicking vaguely at the grass with one foot.

Daniele’s free hand brushed against the back of the other boy’s for a moment.

I’m not going anywhere, Marco,” he replied earnestly.

The mousy-haired boy looked back up at him with the faintest trace of a smile. “And to think I used to hate you,” he said.

Marco’s cool grey eyes flickered slightly as they caught sight of the figure who was now sneaking up behind Daniele, but he held his tongue.

There you are,” Claudia cooed, wrapping her arms around the blond-haired boy’s chest in a pretence of a loving embrace and resting her head on his shoulder. Daniele jerked as if burned, craning his neck desperately to see who had ambushed him.

Claudia!” he cried, flushing furiously. “When did you get back?”

Even Marco couldn’t seem to help laughing as Claudia released the younger boy, snickering quietly to herself.

Still such an easy target, Dani,” she sighed. “I’ve missed you.”

Angelo chuckled and tugged Gianni away.

“I think Marco will be just fine,” he said, “at least for tonight.”

“Where are we going?” Gianni asked. Angelo seemed to be leading him towards the exit.

Angelo shushed him and led him quietly out into the street, glancing around first to make sure nobody was looking.

Gianni fixed him with a suspicious glare. “Are we sneaking out of your own party, Angelo?” he whispered.

Angelo grinned. “Just for a minute.”

Angelo took Gianni’s hand and led him a short distance down the deserted lane, until they arrived at a low stone wall, where a terraced vegetable garden sloped steeply down the hill. Below, the lower reaches of the Valle del Dragone completed their meandering journey out to sea. On a ridge just beyond, a cluster of twinkling lights marked the spot where the village of Pontone watched over the rocky crag that separated the twin bays of Atrani and Amalfi.

The vegetable garden was dormant in its bare winter clothes, with just a few withered tomato plants awaiting their spring renewal. A few long, dried-out cucuzza squashes hung from faded vines draped over a chestnut pergola that spanned the concrete staircase leading down through the terraces. All the same, under the pale starlight, the view was beautiful.

“Just for tonight,” Angelo said, “you don’t need to worry. Everyone’s together, and everyone’s happy.” He smiled. “And we can steal just a few moments alone.”

Gianni looked up and found himself transfixed by his partner’s dark eyes, which were watching him with a particular soft intensity that, lately, he had had few opportunities to see.

“It’s hard for me to worry,” Gianni admitted, “when you’re looking at me like that.”

“Gianni, you silly boy,” Angelo sighed, “I’m planning to do a lot more than look.”

He moved closer and, suddenly, nothing else seemed to matter.

Copyright © 2023 James Carnarvon; All Rights Reserved.
  • Like 9
  • Love 16
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. 
You are not currently following this author. Be sure to follow to keep up to date with new stories they post.

Recommended Comments

Chapter Comments

7 hours ago, Summerabbacat said:

How do you do it @James Carnarvon? How do you turn something so plain and bare into a picture of beauty. @drsawzall said it best, a masterclass in wordsmithing.

Therein lies the challenge of writing a story set in the winter. How do I bring Ravello to life without all the usual summer tropes? Also, I’ve never even seen the Amalfi coast in winter, so I’m having to do my best imagining!

Thank you for all the character-by-character comments, too, even if I don’t have time to respond to them all. I’m glad you’re all enjoying the ‘wordsmithing’!

  • Like 1
  • Love 4
Link to comment
17 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:


Thank you for all the character-by-character comments, too, even if I don’t have time to respond to them all. I’m glad you’re all enjoying the ‘wordsmithing’!

Rest assured, you are forging an excellent story.🙂

  • Love 5
Link to comment

 It took me awhile I wasn't convinced that Dani/Giaco/Marco was a triangle but it will be certainly heading that way.Giaco by far is the most conflicted in addition to not really being sure he wants that kind of relationship with Dani he also has conflicting thoughts about Marco.The fact  that he had Marco over one on one after he heard about the incident with Marco's father shows that he cares for him and is genuinely concerned for his situation but the same time it seems he wishes Marco would stay the hell away from Dani. Giaco has gone from being the most self assured of the group to doing something lame like wearing Dani's tie- dyed shirt (I I bet he though Dani would also)

We found out a little more about Luca he seemed to act act the right way when he and Emila showed at incident with Marco father and of course how he interacted with Sami.It looks like Emilia found a great drama free guy good for her.

A good scene would have been Reza trippin out at how different Claudia is .

  • Like 1
  • Love 1
Link to comment
5 minutes ago, weinerdog said:

Giaco by far is the most conflicted in addition to not really being sure he wants that kind of relationship with Dani he also has conflicting thoughts about Marco.The fact  that he had Marco over one on one after he heard about the incident with Marco's father shows that he cares for him and is genuinely concerned for his situation but the same time it seems he wishes Marco would stay the hell away from Dani. Giaco has gone from being the most self assured of the group to doing something lame like wearing Dani's tie- dyed shirt (I I bet he though Dani would also)

I'm so glad you caught that about Giaco! It's highly relevant to what follows in the next story...

Speaking of which, The Summer of the Selfless is careening rapidly towards its conclusion. It's such a big story, I don't think you're quite going to catch up before I'm done posting. Sorry!

Edited by James Carnarvon
  • Like 2
Link to comment
View Guidelines

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Newsletter

    You probably have a crazy and hectic schedule and find it hard to keep up with everything going on.  We get it, because we feel it too.  Signing up here is a great way to keep in touch and find something relaxing to read when you get a few moments to spare.

    Sign Up
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..