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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. 

The Star in my Eye - 9. Chapter 9

Over the next couple of nights, a cold mist rolled in. Low clouds which draped themselves over the hills and pooled in the valleys and didn’t burn away until lunchtime. The snow faded away, trodden to compacted ice and then melting to water until there was nothing left one morning but the dew deposited by the lingering clouds.

Gianni and Angelo marked time as they waited for New Year’s Eve, looking forward to their time alone together and hoping that the weather would bless them with a clearer night for the big evening out. Encouraged by Marta, who had even slipped a bit of extra cash into their hands, they had reserved themselves a table for a late dinner and New Year’s Eve drinks at one of the grand hotels on the Toro, whose panoramic outdoor dining terrace promised a fine view of the midnight fireworks over Minori and Maiori.

In the meantime, life with Sami continued quietly for the most part, but with a faint tension in the air; Gianni was sure he wasn’t the only one who felt it. Sami talked about Reza a lot, often asking if he could go to see him again. When Gianni confirmed that he would be spending a whole night with Reza and Tiziana in a few days’ time, the little boy’s excitement was palpable, so much so that he knocked half his art pencils off the dining table.

“There’s more,” Gianni told him as the little boy scrabbled around on the floor to retrieve his treasures. “Reza and Tiziana are living in our old apartment, so you’ll probably even get to stay in your old room.”

“My old room?” Sami repeated, popping momentarily back up on the far side of the table to fix Gianni with a confused glance from his large brown eyes.

“Yes, do you remember?” Gianni asked. “The long, narrow room with the small window looking down over the valley.”

“Yes!” Sami replied, “but I like my room here.”

“Well,” Gianni replied with half a smile, “it’s just for one night.”

It was on just such a day towards the end of the week that Daniele stopped by for one of his occasional visits to see Sami. He came after lunch, bearing a message from Patrizia that she and Paolo were visiting a friend in Salerno, and would Gianni and Angelo mind if their son stayed for dinner to save him having to cook for himself alone at home, as he so often had to do during the busy summer tourist season.

Angelo, whose turn it was to cook that evening, confirmed that he was happy to stretch the dinner to cater for one more person, so Gianni texted Patrizia to confirm that Daniele was welcome to stay for as long as he liked. Marco, apparently, was off somewhere with Emilia and Luca; Gianni was glad to know that the blond-haired boy had not been forced to become Marco’s full-time comfort and companion while he rode out his troubles at home.

Sami, of course, was thrilled to have the exclusive attention of his friend for a whole afternoon, and he dragged their visitor up to his room for a while, where Gianni and Angelo could hear the distant strains of Daniele giving the little boy another one of his Italian lessons.

After a while, Daniele managed to persuade Sami out for a walk, and Gianni and Angelo offered to go along. They retraced their steps up the winding stairs, then set off down a side turning outside the Villa Cimbrone gates that led down into the valley, re-treading a familiar walk through the lemon and olive groves around the base of the crag on which the villa stood.

The pale winter sun, which had finally burned through most of the cloud, cast dappled light and long shadows on the stone walls that bordered the earthen path. The hard-packed dirt, which was usually so dusty in the summer, had the slightly yielding texture of firm mud, dampened as it was by the daily mist and dew.

They peered over the outer wall, taking in view out over the coast, which glowed with a touch of early evening gold; Gianni had to lift Sami up so he could see, but the little boy didn’t object. Daniele chatted to them all, somehow managing to put everyone at ease at once, and they returned home feeling refreshed and more relaxed.

Angelo had been craving a traditional, winter-warming spaghetti alla carbonara with eggs and pancetta, so they fed Sami early with a simple meal of tomato pasta and insisted on a prompt bedtime despite his protestations. Gianni gave Sami his evening bath, an experience that was livened up by Daniele, who made the little boy giggle by scooping handfuls of bubbles out of the bath and blowing them into his face.

Daniele had even offered to read the little boy one of his own adventure stories at bedtime, so Gianni was able to say goodnight to Sami and head downstairs for a quiet moment with Angelo, who was already assembling the ingredients for the dinner. Angelo put the pasta water on to boil and they relaxed with a couple of glasses of wine while they waited for Daniele to reappear.

“Dani’s a gift,” Gianni sighed as he relaxed at the dining table, sipping at his wine. “When was the last time we had a day this easy with Sami?”

“Well, Dani’s the very definition of big-hearted,” Angelo replied with a smile. “Whatever drugs Patrizia was taking when she was pregnant with him, I want some.”

Gianni raised his eyebrows. “Planning on catching pregnant soon, were you?”

Angelo smirked. “I don’t think even you could violate me to that extent.”

Gianni inclined his head, conceding the point. “Won’t stop a man from trying, though.”

Angelo cast a contemplative glance towards the stairs. “I don’t know, Gianni… I’m not sure we have enough time for that before Dani comes back down.”

Their eyes flicked back towards each other, and then they were both laughing, but underneath it all there was another thought nagging at the back of Gianni’s mind.

When was the last time we got to do that, really?

* * *

Daniele reappeared a few minutes later with the printout of his story tucked under one arm.

“He’s settled down,” he said, returning the sheaf of papers carefully to his rucksack, which he had placed neatly on the church pew when he arrived.

“Thanks, Dani,” Gianni replied. “Would you like a drink?”

Daniele nodded. “Yes, please. All that reading’s left my throat dry!”

“Glass of wine?” Angelo asked, half-jokingly raising his own glass in the blond-haired boy’s direction.

Daniele made a comically disgusted face. “Bleurgh! No thanks.” He smiled. “A Lemon Soda would be great.”

“Not a fan, then?” Angelo asked, topping up his and Gianni’s glasses before turning to give the eggs for the pasta a final quick beat.

Daniele shrugged as Gianni passed him a cool can from the fridge. “Mamma and Papà have let me try it sometimes, but…” he shook his head. “It just tastes weird to me, like gone-off grape juice.”

“That’s pretty accurate,” Gianni smiled, taking another sip from his glass.

“What about coffee?” Angelo asked.

“I can handle a cappuccino,” Daniele replied, sipping on his Lemon Soda. He smiled again. “No matter what Giaco might tell you, it does not make me fly.”

Angelo gave a slightly puzzled laugh. “We’ll… have to take your word for that.”

“How are things with you and Giacomo?” Gianni asked. “And you and Marco, for that matter.”

Daniele flushed a little with embarrassment but, to his credit, he didn’t back away from the question.

“I’m still figuring all that out,” he said.

“And why not?” Angelo chipped in. “There’s no need to rush.”

“Only, I can’t help noticing,” Gianni went on, “that there seems to be a little… push-pull between them, at least where you’re concerned?”

Daniele shrugged again. “Giaco’s the one that’s doing the pulling,” he replied.

In the kitchen, Gianni saw Angelo bite his lip, as he lowered the spaghetti into the pan of boiling water, clearly struggling to hold back the obvious joke; for his part, Daniele seemed blissfully unaware of the many possible meanings of what he’d just said. Unfortunately, the sight of Angelo’s difficulties were more than Gianni could bear, and he found himself laughing.

“What?” Daniele asked with a slightly uncertain smile.

“Sorry,” Gianni replied, recovering his self-control. “Just a random, very silly thought that popped into my head. You’re good company, Dani.”

“Thanks,” Daniele said, although he still looked a little confused.

“You and Giacomo really seem to spark,” Gianni said. “Whenever it’s just the two of you together, he seems so happy to have you to himself. How did your sleepover go?”

“Oh, that…” Daniele replied casually. “We kissed.”

Gianni almost choked on his wine.

What?” he exclaimed.

Daniele gave an embarrassed laugh. “I think he just wanted to know what it would feel like. It wasn’t a big deal.”

Gianni gaped. “But…”

Daniele twisted his mouth in a way that attempted irony but couldn’t quite hide the bubble of pleasure and pride he clearly felt inside.

“It didn’t suck,” he admitted.

“Wow, Dani,” Angelo remarked. “You really have had an eventful Christmas.”

Soon, the kitchen was ringing with slightly hysterical laughter.

* * *

Afterwards, as they ate the delicious, savoury meal in companionable silence, broken only by the occasional snatch of conversation, Gianni couldn’t help comparing the experience to their daily life with their foster son.

Isn’t this what family life is supposed to be like?

Again, he wondered if he had he been incredibly naïve to imagine that parenthood would be dominated by laughter and quality time together. Of course he had known that there would be moments of conflict and tension… but that was something you could cope with, if only your life together was built on a solid foundation of love.

Daniele was just so easy to talk to, and he gave every bit as much as he received.

When, Gianni wondered, had Sami ever made him smile so much?

* * *

A couple of days later, under a slowly clearing sky, Patrizia called Gianni to confirm that Lorenzo and Gemma had agreed to meet the other boys’ parents for coffee in the square that evening. Marco, apparently, would be out with Daniele and Giacomo. With a nagging sense of guilt at what felt like a deception, Gianni wondered whether the boys had any inkling of the meeting that was taking place behind Marco’s back.

While Angelo stayed at home with Sami, Gianni set out into the rapidly cooling street, where the low sun just clipped the courtyard walls as it sank towards the mountains above Scala. He took Alfredo with him, dressed up in a doggy waistcoat, so he could get a little exercise while Gianni met the others.

“Come on, Alfredo,” he urged the little white dog, who had paused to sniff and lift his leg against one of the lime trees bordering the Municipio gardens. A few metres away, a young couple were twined together on one of the benches, and he didn’t want to disturb them.

Reluctantly, Alfredo came along, his claws clicking against the chilly paving stones.

“Do you miss the summer, Alfredo?” Gianni asked as they walked down the avenue of oleanders together. “I’ve decided I do. Christmas didn’t go quite how I’d hoped… I think I’m ready for a change.”

Alfredo looked up at him with his black button eyes and uttered a single bark; what it meant, only the dog knew.

Gianni found Elena, Patrizia and Paolo gathered around a couple of tables at the one remaining bar, which they had pulled together to make room for six people. Gianni let Alfredo off his lead, and the little dog scampered off at once, giving chase to a group of pigeons who were pecking around under the umbrella pines at the far side of the square. Alfredo, Gianni knew, wouldn’t stray too far; he was a home-spun creature these days, his adventurous puppy years well behind him.

Gianni exchanged greetings with the others and slipped into an empty chair next to Elena, positioning himself at the end of the table so he could stay on the periphery of the conversation, only joining in when called upon to do so. This was Patrizia’s initiative, and the last thing he wanted to be was an overbearing presence, antagonising Lorenzo and Gemma by butting in where he wasn’t wanted.

Marco’s parents arrived just as the decorative streetlights sputtered into life around the square, providing a warming glow against the cool winter evening. They had dressed in what were probably the smartest casual clothes they owned; he in a polo shirt and a woolly jumper, and she in a pair of faded but sturdy jeans and a warm jacket. Lorenzo even looked like he had run a brush through his wavy brown hair, although it remained determinedly unruly.

Buonasera,” Lorenzo addressed the group curtly, his grey eyes, so like his son’s, addressing Paolo, Patrizia and Elena in turn; then they flicked briefly to Gianni. “What’s he doing here?” he asked the others.

Well, this is off to a great start…

Sighing quietly, Gianni took a sip of his latte.

“Gianni cares about Marco, too,” Elena said quietly.

Lorenzo’s eyes bored into Gianni’s for a moment. “I don’t doubt it,” he muttered darkly.

Patrizia took a deep breath. “Lorenzo, Gemma, we wanted to thank you for coming tonight. We all care about Marco, and he’s clearly hurting. We wanted to know if there’s anything we could do to help.”

“You think we don’t know what’s best for our son?” Lorenzo challenged her. Beside him, Gemma stared awkwardly at the tablecloth, fiddling with her fingernails.

“With respect, Lorenzo,” Paolo chipped in evenly, “I’m not sure that’s clear.”

Patrizia stirred a little more sugar into her double espresso, which, Gianni wondered, must surely be getting cold already; he suspected it was more of a ploy to give her time to think.

“I think what’s best for Marco,” she said carefully, “is probably what’s best for any child: first and foremost, to be loved.”

Caught off-guard, Gianni looked away for a moment, wrestling with a sudden, unexpected lump in his throat.

Why did that just hit me so hard?

Finally, Gemma spoke up.

“But we do love our son,” she said.

“Then why…?” Patrizia began.

“Loving doesn’t mean accepting everything without question,” Lorenzo snapped. “It also means protecting your child from harmful influences.”

There was a moment’s uncomfortable silence.

“Which harmful influences do you mean, exactly?” Paolo asked, and it was plain that he was restraining his own anger. “Our Daniele? You won’t find a kinder, gentler boy anywhere. Or Elena’s son, perhaps? By all accounts, Marco developed feelings for other boys without any encouragement from Giacomo.”

Lorenzo glared at Gianni again. “Let’s start with this man here. Marco has been spending more and more time with him and his ‘partner’ over the last few months. I dread to think what they’ve exposed him to.”

Paolo shook his head. “That’s faulty reasoning and you know it, Lorenzo. The tension between Marco and Daniele started nearly a year ago, long before Marco had any reason to spend time with Gianni and Angelo.”

Lorenzo bristled, and looked like he was about to respond, but Patrizia raised both hands in a pacifying gesture.

“We didn’t come here to blame each other,” she said. “We just wanted to ask you to look at things from Marco’s point of view.”

“And what point of view is that?” Lorenzo asked.

Patrizia sighed. “The point of view of a vulnerable young boy who’s trying to come to terms with a big part of his identity that his family won’t accept, but that no amount of denial can change.”

“I don’t accept it.” Lorenzo retorted. “In my youth, you didn’t see boys bleating on about ‘identity’. They put childish ideas like that behind them, and they grew up and did the right thing.”

Childish?” Elena repeated. “Really?”

“Lorenzo,” Patrizia said, “do you know what happened to Gianni when he first moved to Ravello?”

“Should I care?” Lorenzo asked, giving Gianni another suspicious glance with his cool grey eyes.

“Would you tell them, Gianni?” Patrizia entreated him.

Gianni took a deep breath. “I fell in love with a boy, that’s all. I didn’t choose it, didn’t plan it, and it’s not what I would have wanted to happen, but it’s the hand that life dealt me. There’s nothing that I or anyone else could have done to change it.”

“And your grandparents…?” Gemma asked.

Gianni nodded. “They thought that I needed help, that I was just ‘confused’ somehow, and that they needed to steer me onto a different path. Nonna seemed to think that the answer lay in the church. But what they didn’t understand was that in rejecting my identity, they rejected me. For a while there, I thought I had nowhere left to go.” This time, Gianni fixed Lorenzo with a stare of his own. “If it hadn’t been for the fact that Angelo loved me back, I probably wouldn’t be alive to tell you this today.”

“Is that what you want to happen to Marco?” Patrizia asked. “For him to feel perpetually unhappy and alone, forced to live as somebody he can never be, left to face the darkest thoughts?” She shook her head. “When I try to imagine my Daniele living a life like that, it just breaks my heart.”

Lorenzo pushed his seat back from the table.

“This is hysterical nonsense,” he said. “Come on, Gemma, I think we should leave.”

Gemma glanced indecisively from Patrizia to her husband. “But…”

Lorenzo smacked his hand defiantly down on the table. “They have the nerve to tell us how to bring up our own son? So that he can turn out as… feeble as their own brood? As long as Marco lives under my roof, I’ll see him brought up as a proper man.”

“What if he rejects that completely?” Paolo challenged him.

“If there’s been that much damage done already, then let someone else have him,” Lorenzo replied. “I’ll have no part in it.”

Gemma placed an ineffectual hand on his wrist. “Don’t say that, Lorenzo…” she protested.

Lorenzo tugged his hand away impatiently. “Let go of me,” he snapped, rising from his chair.

Gemma sighed and got up, too, a defeated look in her eyes. “I’m afraid my husband’s right,” she said. “You’ll have to let us raise our son our own way. Buonasera.”

To dismayed glances from Patrizia and Elena, they turned and left.

“Oh, dear,” Patrizia sighed, “I don’t think that helped at all. If anything, we made them dig in even harder.”

Paolo laid a comforting hand on hers. “We tried our best, cara. We can only hope that, with a bit more time to think about what we’ve all said, they’ll come round.”

Gianni exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Elena.

Somehow, he didn’t think that was going to happen.

* * *

New Year’s Eve finally arrived, and with it came the return of clear skies, promising a chilly but star-filled night for their evening celebration.

Gianni and Angelo delivered Sami to Reza and Tiziana in the early afternoon so they could spend some time together before it got dark. They trailed up the spacious, ceramic-tiled stairs, lined with pot plants, that led up to their old apartment door. Sami’s overnight things were packed into his little rucksack, and, for a moment, Gianni was forcibly reminded of the day that Sami had first moved in with them in the summer. There had been a nervous but excitable energy in the air that day at the beginning of a new chapter in all their lives. This time, the excitement was different: the excitement of a couple, denied intimacy by parenthood, who were looking forward to spending their first night alone together for several months.

Strange as it felt to be knocking on what had once been their own front door, Gianni didn’t have to contemplate it for too long, because Reza answered almost at once. As usual, he was immaculately turned out; his hair was freshly brushed, and he was wearing smart black slim-fit jeans and his stylish peach shirt.

“Ciao, Sami,” he grinned, crouching to offer the little boy a hug; delighted, Sami hugged him back. “We’re going to have lots of fun this evening. It means your foster parents can go off and enjoy themselves too… so, everyone wins!”

“Thanks for doing this, Reza,” Gianni said. “Will you… I mean, is there any chance you’ll be able to chat with Sami about some of his unanswered questions?”

Releasing Sami and ruffling his soft black hair, Reza nodded. “If it comes up, I’ll tell him what I can.”

“I mean, I’ve heard there are different branches of the faith.”

Reza nodded. “My dad was raised a Sunni. They were a minority back in Iran; it’s one of the reasons his family left. But that means that Sami and I share the same teachings.”

“Did you hear that, son?” Gianni asked Sami. “If you have questions about what it means to be a Muslim, Reza’s your man.”

Sami, whose attention was already focused elsewhere, nodded. “Okay!”

Soon, it became clear why, because Tiziana appeared at the door.

“Would you like to come in for a few minutes to see your old place?” she asked.

From where Gianni was standing, the apartment looked much the same as it always had; after all, it had been leased fully furnished and, if it weren’t for the empty spaces on the wall where his and Angelo’s family photos had once been, he could almost have walked in as if they had never left.

Instead, he shook his head.

“No, it’s cool. It looks like Sami is itching to get inside so he can have you both to himself.”

Tiziana laughed. “All right. Reza will bring him back to you at about ten o’clock tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

Angelo grinned. “That sounds great. It’ll give us time to wake up, even if we have a heavy night.”

“Not that we would…” Gianni added, nudging his partner in the ribs.

“Well, let’s get you inside,” Reza said to Sami, who nodded eagerly and shot off at once, probably headed for his old bedroom.

“See you tomorrow, sport!” Angelo called, but the little boy was already gone.

Reza shrugged affably and wished them a good evening together, then they parted company.

As they made their way back down the stairs, Angelo put an arm around Gianni’s shoulders and planted a quick kiss on his cheek; Gianni couldn’t help smiling.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, gattino,” Angelo said. “Let’s make the best of it.”

* * *

It was strange, at first, being on their own without Sami to think about; Gianni found himself reflecting on how easily parents must lose track of their old selves once their lives were defined by their children. What must it be like, he wondered, to have ploughed all your energy into raising one or more children for nineteen years, only to have them all fly the nest – how did you find out who you were again?

All the same, one thing they both agreed on was that, after several months living a life more home-spun than either of them were used to, neither of them wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon trapped indoors. Taking advantage of the beautiful, sunny winter afternoon, they set out together as they had done when they were teenagers, wandering down among the steep steps and lanes on the hillside below the town, holding hands from time to time as they passed by the many small villas with their terraces of dark lemon trees and dormant winter gardens. Glimpsed every now and then through a garden gate or above a terracotta roof, the powder-blue sea glinted in the distance, promising the return of warmer days in due course.

They returned to town as the shadows began to lengthen. With several hours still to go until their late dinner booking, they met Marta and Claudia for drinks in the square, where the New Year’s celebrations had tempted a few more locals to brave the cold weather and socialise. They people-watched as the sun went down, talking about anything but their day-to-day life with Sami, looking forward to the spring and summer months when they would be able to gather outdoors for an evening without having to wear coats and scarves.

By nine o’clock, it was finally time to go to out for their celebratory dinner. The restaurant had promised that they could have the table until midnight if they wanted, so that they could enjoy the fireworks in comfort and the company of other people. Freshly showered and changed into their smartest casual clothes, they walked the short distance up the street to the hotel, which lay just beyond the belvedere.

They were shown to a covered dining terrace, where the smartly dressed waiting staff seated them at a small, front-line table on which a spirit burner glimmered. The lamps on the terrace were turned down low, so that the visitors’ eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the panoramic view.

The mountains loomed against a clear, dark sky spangled with vibrant stars. The terraced mountain slopes below them were dotted with lights from small villas and farmhouses, and the seafronts at Minori and Maiori glowed brightly in the darkness.

Gianni and Angelo were soon absorbed by the atmosphere of gentle music and quiet conversation, sipping on glasses of sparkling mineral water while they perused the menu and wine list in attentive silence.

Once they had ordered, the waiters brought their chosen bottle of white wine to the table in a freestanding ice bucket and gave a little to Angelo to taste. Once he had given them the nod, the waiters poured them each a glass, and then they were left in peace.

Saluti!” Angelo said, raising his glass to Gianni. “Here’s to life going on through parenthood.”

“Cheers,” Gianni smiled, chinking Angelo’s glass gently with his own.

“That’s not all I want, you know,” Angelo replied gently, leaning across the table for a kiss.

Heart beating slightly nervously, Gianni pressed his lips against his partner’s and then sat back down, automatically glancing around the terrace to see if anybody had noticed; he caught a few of the guests casting them suspicious glances, but others were smiling.

“I guess we’ll never be completely accepted here,” Gianni murmured, “but there’s a level of mistrust I suppose I can live with.”

Angelo offered him a familiar half-smile. In the low, intimate light, his brown eyes were like dark pools in which a single star of light, cast by the spirit burner, shone brightly.

“It doesn’t matter what a few old-fashioned people think,” he replied, “as long as I have you.”

With an embarrassed laugh, Gianni shook his head. “I still can’t believe it, sometimes. Did you have to be too good to be true?”

“Sometimes people do get what they deserve,” Angelo replied simply.

Gianni began to smile, but something was nagging at the back of his mind, and his smile faded.

“But what do I deserve?” he asked. “The last few months have got me wondering.”

Angelo sighed. “If Sami isn’t making you happy, it’s not your fault.”

“I just… why can’t I seem to love him better? What’s he really done wrong?”

“Nothing,” Angelo admitted. “I think he’s doing the very best he can.”

Gianni frowned. “Is it me, then? I thought I was a loving person, that I’d come to terms with everything that had happened to me in the past… but Sami just seems to remind me of all the bad parts. Am I… broken?”

Angelo laid a comforting hand on Gianni’s. “Don’t even think it,” he said firmly. “Maybe the last few months haven’t turned out the way you expected, but I’ve seen how much love you have to give. I’ve felt it myself, and I’ve seen everything you’ve done for Toto, for Dani, for Marco…”

“Do… you think he’d be happier with Reza?” Gianni asked quietly.

Angelo sat back in his chair, looking at him in quiet surprise.

“You’re thinking of giving him up?” he asked.

Gianni hesitated. “I don’t know… what do you reckon?”

“Well…” Angelo paused. “You know this was never how I imagined our family life would be… but Sami’s grown on me. I think he loves us more than he lets on, too.” He smiled. “Sometimes, when he hugs you, I can tell he means it.”

“But then, sometimes, it’s like he just doesn’t want us around… and you heard what he said on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t even think I like him!”

“I guess there’s something going on there, yes,” Angelo conceded. “I’m not sure what’s given him that idea; maybe he’s just picking up on all the anxiety you’re carrying. But… I’m sure that could change if we gave him some more time.”

Gianni bit his lip anxiously. “We made a commitment to him, didn’t we?”

Angelo nodded. “We did.”

Gianni sighed. “Then I guess we should try to make it work.”

Angelo reached across the table once again, this time, he took both Gianni’s hands.

Tonight isn’t for worrying about all that, Gianni,” he said. “Tonight is for celebrating us… and I mean to remind you exactly what brought us together in the first place.”

In spite of his doubts, Gianni smiled. “What did you have in mind?”

“Memories, good food, quality time, and…” Angelo grinned mischievously. “other things.”

“Will I like these… other things?” Gianni asked, playing along.

Angelo smirked. “I think you’ll be… satisfied.”

Gianni snickered. “I hope you’re not planning on doing it in public.”

Angelo chuckled. “Not on the restaurant terrace, at least.”

They were interrupted, then, as the waiters delivered their first course, a sharing plate of mixed winter antipasti.

Now we’re talking,” Angelo said in satisfaction, digging straight into the Parma ham and preserved artichokes.

Gianni smiled as he helped himself to some salami and roasted fennel.

They nursed the antipasti, making each helping last, not wanting to rush the evening; and the waiters, knowing that most of the guests would be planning to stay until the fireworks, put no pressure on them.

The second course was the pasta course. Gianni had picked a seafood linguine, while Angelo had opted for a seasonal tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and truffles.

“Do you remember our first time?” Angelo asked after a while, winding some pasta thoughtfully around his fork.

“In that little tent up on the mountain?” Gianni replied with a slight laugh. “How could I forget?”

“I thought it was romantic.”

Gianni smiled. “Oh, it was… just not all that comfortable.”

“I didn’t mind that.” Angelo fixed Gianni with that intense look of his that always made him squirm. “I’d totally do it again.”

Gianni laughed again. “What, in the winter?”

Angelo shrugged. “You could keep your scarf on.”

That cracked them both up, and they had to stifle their giggles, faced with accusing glares from a few of the other guests.

“S-shh,” Gianni managed. “We’re spoiling the atmosphere.”

One of the waiters sidled up to their table. “More wine, signori?” he enquired, a warning edge to his courteous tone.

“P-please,” Angelo replied, nudging his empty glass towards him.

As the courses went on, Angelo continued to remind Gianni of encounters they had shared, until he began to feel a little hot under the collar.

They lost their cool again halfway through the main course, for which they had both chosen saltimbocca alla Romana, a veal escalope wrapped in Parma ham and sage cooked in white wine and butter, with a side of spinach braised with oil, garlic and chilli. The waiter came up once again to ask them, slightly frostily, if everything was all right with their meal.

“It’s d-delicious,” Gianni replied. Once the waiter had gone, he glanced at Angelo, who was just bringing himself back under control. “We’re going to get kicked out before midnight, at this rate.”

“Let them,” Angelo replied. “I’m tired of being on my best behaviour.”

“Let’s try to make it to dessert, at least,” Gianni suggested.

Angelo nodded his head seriously. “All right… but I’m having my real dessert after we’ve left.”

Gianni gave him a playful glare. “Oh, you are so asking for it right now.”

Angelo smirked. “However you choose to punish me, I promise I’ll take it like a man.”

Gianni shook his head. “If Marta could hear you right now…”

Angelo cringed slightly. “Uffa, Gianni, did you have to bring my mother into this?”

Gianni grinned. “Just trying to bring your temperature down a little.”

“You know what does that really well?” Angelo replied. “Ice cream.

But ice cream, as it turned out, wasn’t on the menu. Gianni, who was feeling pretty full already, opted for a small chocolate tart, while Angelo picked at a slightly unnecessary tiramisu.

By half past eleven, they had eaten all they could comfortably manage, and they lingered slightly impatiently over drinks, waiting, along with the other guests, for the fireworks to start. Angelo kept casting Gianni hungry looks, and Gianni had to admit that he, himself, was starting to wish they were elsewhere.

“Shall we just pay and go?” Angelo whispered after a further fifteen minutes.

“But…” Gianni replied, gesturing vaguely at the view.

Angelo grinned. “I have a better idea.”

Gianni gave in. “All right…” he whispered, gesturing at one of the waiters to call him over.

The waiter seemed quite glad to see them go. They split the bill, adding Marta’s contribution, and then snuck back out into the deserted street, which shone in the cheerful glow of the overhanging lanterns.

“So, what’s the big idea?” Gianni asked.

Angelo smirked and took him by the hand, leading him towards the belvedere at a run. Soon, they were both laughing like teenagers.

The little garden was deserted, and they stopped at the railings, where the view down over the coast was every bit as good as it had been from the restaurant. Down below, they could still see the mannered glow of the restaurant terrace, where the rest of the guests had been left in peace to enjoy the moment.

“That’s much better,” Angelo murmured. Gently, he turned Gianni’s head round to face him. “Now we don’t need to hold ourselves back any longer.”

They kissed, and soon they were wrapped passionately around each other, all other concerns forgotten. In the distance, the first of the fireworks rose above Maiori, bursting in the sky into a sea of crimson and cobalt stars.

Copyright © 2023 James Carnarvon; All Rights Reserved.
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I agree they were menacing @drpaladin, but I always got the impression that many of the threats made could not be delivered on i.e. they were bullshitters who were essentially cowards, especially Antonio. I don't have this impression of Lorenzo; I don't think he is one to make idle threats. Of course his appalling behaviour is fresh in my mind too and it is directed towards his son, the little mouse whom I have come to adore with the passing of time. My attitude has become one of "Don't fuck with Marco unless you want to cause yourself unspeakable grief and pain".

Enzo at least redeemed himself with his assistance in rescuing Daniele and Sami from their respective life-threatening situations.

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5 hours ago, James Carnarvon said:

Well, Enzo was quite happy to beat up ‘queer boys’ until the events of Michele, where the boy in question almost lost his life. When Enzo realised that he had almost caused Michele’s death, and when he further realised that he had done so based on a lie (told by Antonio, of course), it caused him to question his choices in a big way. He drummed Antonio out of town and sought to redeem himself by helping Toto and Michele save Dani’s life. He gained a reluctant respect for Toto and Michele after that.

Antonio has never shown such self-reflection. He attempted to molest Michele at 14 and, in Dani the Hero, would have done the same to Giaco at 12 had circumstances not intervened to prevent it. Later on, he was prepared to set to work on Giaco with a knife, too, if it served his boss Ettore’s interests. Luckily, a certain blond ‘superhero’ was in attendance and, with a bit of help from Enzo, Antonio now rots in jail.

God, doesn’t that make my stories sound dark? Thankfully, these are/were exceptional events. Antonio and Ettore are the only two truly irredeemable characters I have created, I think. Even Lorenzo has a human side.

It seems my memory has not served me as well as I thought @James Carnarvon. Not only could I not remember the local priest's name until I searched for and found it  (it is Father Stefano @drpaladin), but I had forgotten Antonio's nastier proclivities. I remembered Ettore, but thought of him as more of an amateurish goon, whereas his sister-in-law, now she was a cold-hearted nasty piece of work.

As horrible as they were, I still dislike Lorenzo more. He may not have the criminal behaviour of the other two (yet), but he is making the life of my favourite 'little mouse" miserable, and for what reason? He has not as far as I can recall (which I am now doubting is as proficient as I thought) shown any particular affinity with organised religion, so his objection to Marco being feeble or a "lesser man" than he wants him to be is motivated by what, machismo? Pathetic loser. If he does raise a finger to Marco at any time I do hope you release Gianni and/or Paolo's inner Alexis Morel Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan and one or both of them remind him of what it is to be a man in accordance with his anachronistic views i.e. beat the crap out of him. Melodrama will be required to protect my favourite "little mouse". 

Edited by Summerabbacat
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Lorenzo saying "I’ll see him brought up as a proper man.” he pretty much said to Paolo,Patrizia and Elena that their sons are not going to be proper men also with Gianni present he said that about Gianni parents also. He believes he knows better then them and is smarter then them.I would like to ask Lorenzo if you think you are smarter then them then how come you are struggling and they by comparison are not.That sounds like a harsh thing to say and it doesn't apply to all poor people but it sure applies in Lorenzo's case

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33 minutes ago, weinerdog said:

Lorenzo saying "I’ll see him brought up as a proper man.” he pretty much said to Paolo,Patrizia and Elena that their sons are not going to be proper men also with Gianni present he said that about Gianni parents also. He believes he knows better then them and is smarter then them.I would like to ask Lorenzo if you think you are smarter then them then how come you are struggling and they by comparison are not.That sounds like a harsh thing to say and it doesn't apply to all poor people but it sure applies in Lorenzo's case

Stupid people thinking they are smart isn't new. I think most of Marco's parent's issues come from the way they were raised and it was an environment of low expectations and a lot of reinforcing out dated beliefs. I also have a feeling Marco was never wanted and viewed as a burden from day one. 

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7 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Lorenzo saying "I’ll see him brought up as a proper man.” he pretty much said to Paolo,Patrizia and Elena that their sons are not going to be proper men also with Gianni present he said that about Gianni parents also.

He pretty much said that already...

They have the nerve to tell us how to bring up our own son? So that he can turn out as… feeble as their own brood?"

Lorenzo does seem pretty irredeemable. I mean, he's lived a life of disappointment and bitterness, but still...

I don't especially enjoy writing characters like this. Thankfully we won't be spending too much more time with him.

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