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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.

The Summer of the Firefly - 10. Chapter 10

Gianni made it most of the way up the hill to Angelo’s house before they had to get off and walk. Perched on the back of the saddle, Angelo clung to Gianni’s waist as they freewheeled down the zigzagging descent from Gianni’s grandparents’ house; it was a feeling Gianni thought he could happily get used to. Angelo, however, was quieter than usual; a few days ago, Gianni supposed, he might have whooped and cheered, but now his enthusiasm was more muted. He managed a laugh as they shot down the hill on the way out of Ravello, congratulated Gianni when he almost lost control while slowing down for the main road tunnel, and even encouraged him as he struggled to pedal them up the last few stretches of hill; but there was something missing, an essential spark that Gianni could only hope would return in time. He hoped he would be able to help his friend find it again.

The next morning, Gianni repeated his journey alone, in order to join Angelo and his family for the wedding preparations. The wedding was now only four days away, and with the funeral out of the way, Gianni half expected to find a scene of chaos as the last minute panic set in.

In actual fact, the chaos was more contained than Gianni had expected. Arriving ahead of time, he found the front door open, so he set his bicycle aside, tucked Angelo’s pendant inside his shirt and wandered in through the cool, dark hallway until he arrived in the small dining room. There he found Marta, who was sitting at the table with Anna and Claudia. Claudia was clutching a small bouquet of flowers and listening attentively as Anna gave her instructions in hushed tones, while Marta watched; Gianni assumed from this that Angelo’s younger sister was destined to be a flower girl. A copy of the seating plan for the wedding dinner was pinned up on the wall.

“Come in, Gianni,” Marta said, giving the new arrival a kindly but tired-looking smile and gesturing at the chair next to her. Obediently, Gianni crossed the room and took the chair next to the older woman.

Buongiorno, signora Rossi,” he responded.

“Ciao, Gianni,” Anna said brightly, glancing up from her conversation with Claudia as he sat down. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“Ciao Anna,” Gianni replied. Turning to the younger girl, he added, “Ciao, Claudia.”

Claudia gave him a nervous glance. “Ciao,” she piped up.

While Claudia and Anna huddled closer together, conversing in whispers and gesticulations, Gianni exchanged an awkward glance with Marta. Despite having spent so much time with her younger son, Gianni realised he barely knew her at all. Feeling that he ought to break the silence, he tried to think of something cheerful to say, but the events of the previous day were all he could think of.

“Thank you for inviting us to the funeral,” he said. “I think it meant a lot to Nonna and Nonno.”

Marta nodded. “And it meant a lot to Anna to have you there,” she said. “I think Angelo was glad to see you, too.” She paused, a look of concern crossing her face. “How did he seem to you, yesterday?”

“What do you mean?” Gianni asked.

“I’ve been worried about him,” Marta confided. “He’s been very quiet for the last few days, and he hasn’t cried.”

“Oh –” Gianni hesitated; how much would Angelo want him to tell her? Deciding to keep the details vague, he said, “No, he’s cried.”

Marta looked relieved. “I’m glad to hear it,” she said. “I suppose you must have done something to cheer him up yesterday, anyway – he did seem a bit better last night.”

“I want to help,” Gianni said.

Marta gave his hand a squeeze on the tabletop. “I’m sure you will,” she said. “Thank you, Gianni; you’ve been a good friend to him these last few weeks.”

Gianni gave her a small smile, feeling both slightly embarrassed at Marta’s gesture and slightly ashamed of the fact that there was more to it than she knew. He was saved further discomfort, however, as Marta got to her feet.

“I’ll see if I can find that son of mine,” she said. “Anna will be finished soon.”

“Okay, thanks,” Gianni replied.

Gianni was left alone at the table, but it wasn’t long before Anna broke off her conversation with Claudia.

“Sorry about that, Gianni,” she said. “I think we’re clear now –” Claudia nodded fervently “– so we can press on when Angelo gets here. Can I get you a drink?”

“Could I get a Lemon Soda?” Gianni asked.

Anna nodded. “Coming right up.”

Anna, too, left the room, and Gianni glanced automatically towards Claudia, who froze, not having managed to escape in time.

“How’s it going?” Gianni asked.

“Okay,” she replied in a small voice.

“Are you looking forward to the wedding?”

Claudia nodded. “Lots.”

“Have you got a nice dress for the day?” Gianni asked.

Claudia flushed scarlet. “Yes,” she said. “Everyone’s got pretty clothes to wear... I bet you look handsome in yours.”

This was so unexpected that Gianni, caught off-guard, laughed. “Not as handsome as Angelo.”

It was out before he had realised what he was about to say. Frightened, he froze, but Claudia soon dispelled his momentary panic by breaking into a comical grimace.

“Angelo? Yuck! He’s ugly and smelly.”

Relieved, Gianni grinned. “Maybe you’re right.”

Anna reappeared carrying a glass of the sparkling drink, which she gave to Gianni. Claudia, who moments ago had had the nervous look of a trapped animal, now didn’t seem to want to leave; Anna, however, dismissed her with a kiss on the cheek and a word in her ear.

Moments later, Gianni heard a door opening from behind, and then Angelo slid into the chair next to him. Angelo, who still looked a little tired, flashed Gianni a quick smile that made Gianni’s pulse quicken, and then both boys turned back to Anna to receive their instructions.

“So,” she said, “have either of you been ushers before?”

Gianni and Angelo exchanged a glance, and shook their heads.

Anna pursed her lips. “Then you’ll need some training.”

“It can’t be that hard, can it?” said Angelo.

“What do you want us to do?” Gianni chipped in.

“Well,” said Anna, “I’ll need you to greet the guests at the church, and show them where to sit... Be polite, and no practical jokes,” she added, turning to Angelo, who grinned. “After the ceremony, I need you both to be on hand to give the guests directions to the hotel.”

“Won’t most of them know anyway, if they’re from around here?” Gianni asked.

“Most of them, maybe,” said Anna. “Some of them are coming in from further away.”

“What about at the dinner?” Angelo asked.

“I’ll need you there as well,” Anna said. “Papà’s team will be doing most of the work, but they may need your help taking coats and passing round the drinks.”

“We can do that,” Gianni said, glancing at Angelo, who nodded. “Anything else?”

“Well, yes, there is one more thing,” Anna replied.

“What is it?”

Anna beamed. “Be my two handsome, favourite boys for the wedding photos.”

Angelo groaned. “Anna!”

Anna laughed. “Am I embarrassing you?”

“Just a little,” Gianni said.

Anna shook her head. “Boys,” she said. “Well, I know you’ll make a lovely pair.”

Gianni couldn’t help but exchange another glance with Angelo at this, and shot his friend a smile. He thought they would, too.

* * *

In the hour or so before lunch, Anna ran through the wedding timetable with Gianni and Angelo in more detail, so that they could be sure where to be and when. Gianni found his head brimming with facts and figures, and the special requirements of the various guests; eventually, wishing he’d brought his notepad with him, he had to ask for a pen and paper so that he could write it all down.

Lunchtime came around, and Marta served up a tasty snack of homemade pizza with anchovies. They were rejoined by Claudia, and the three youngsters tucked into the salty meal together in companionable silence while Anna and Marta discussed the last minute preparations for the wedding. From time to time their conversation strayed onto how Andrea would have liked things to be, and how proud he would have been to be in attendance; at these moments, a gloom descended over Angelo and Claudia that Gianni couldn’t help but notice, and that he couldn’t help feeling in sympathy.

As they were finishing their meal, there was a clatter of feet and Pietro appeared in the dining room, laden with bags. Anna got up at once and relieved him of some of the bags, exchanging a quick kiss with him.

“Ciao, bello,” she said, “how was Salerno?”

“It was fine, tesoro,” Pietro replied, depositing the remaining bags on an empty chair. “I’ve ordered the flowers, just the way you wanted them.”

“Perfect,” Anna replied, giving her fiancé a hug.

Gianni looked appraisingly at Pietro, remembering what Angelo had said after the funeral. He’s been on edge, Angelo had told him. Spying Gianni eyeing him from the table, Pietro nodded. “Ciao, Gianni.”

“Ciao, Pietro,” Gianni replied.

Pietro turned back to Anna and rummaged in one of his bags. “I also got the programmes and the name tags for the dining tables back from the printers,” he said, producing two carefully taped-up white boxes.

“Wonderful, thank you,” Anna replied, working at the sticky tape with one carefully-tended fingernail. Then she froze, and looked up with a look of horror upon her face. “Oh, no!”

“What is it?” Pietro asked.

“I forgot to give the final seating plan to papà,” she said. “He wanted it by yesterday so he could work out the details with his team.”

Anna cast her eyes around the room, looking from person to person, and then her eyes settled on Gianni.

“Gianni,” she said, “I’m really sorry to have to ask you this, but could you possibly run a copy of the seating plan across to the hotel for me?”

Gianni exchanged a brief glance with Angelo, who looked back curiously. “Sure,” he said. “Want me to take the name tags as well?”

Anna smiled. “That would be perfect,” she said. “Thank you, caro.”

Gianni got to his feet. “Please could I have a bag?” he asked.

“Of course,” Anna replied. Placing the box of programmes on the table, she put the box of name tags back in the carrier bag, which was passed to her by Pietro, and busied herself with detaching the seating plan from the dining room wall and folding it up for Gianni to transport.

Angelo stood and joined them as they made for the exit. Saying goodbye to the rest of the family, and getting a shy little wave from Claudia as he left, Gianni followed Anna down the hallway.

Emerging back onto the sun-dappled terrace at the front of the house, Gianni squinted as the sunlight hit his eyes. With the onset of the afternoon, the day had become hot and humid, with a thick haze in the air that made the distant hilltops look fuzzy and indestinct.

“Okay,” said Anna, handing Gianni the carrier bag as he fetched his bicycle, “I think that’s everything. Will you be okay riding back with it?”

“Should be fine,” Gianni said, “thanks.”

“I’ll come with you,” Angelo said. He made as if to fetch his bicycle from the shed, but was stopped by Anna.

“Sorry, Angelo, I need you here this afternoon,” she said.

Angelo halted, looking disappointed, and gave Gianni an apologetic look. “I guess I’d better stay.”

Gianni, too, felt disappointed. “It’s okay,” he said, wheeling his bicycle down the path. “I’ll catch you later.”

It was as Gianni was freewheeling back down towards the centre of Scala, carrier bag dangling from one hand, that he remembered that he and Angelo hadn’t agreed a time to meet up again. Cursing, he wished, not for the first time, that Marina and Vittorio had a telephone.

Reaching the head of the valley, Gianni pedalled up the hill into Ravello past the olive groves, struggling more than usual in the muggy heat of the early afternoon. It was with relief that Gianni finally reached the square with the fountain, and he paused to splash a little of the water onto his face to cool himself down.

Crossing the small, dusty square, Gianni propped his bike up under the arched façade of the hotel and ventured through the doors, carrier bag dangling from one wet hand. The quiet lobby was refreshingly cool as Gianni made his way across the ceramic tiled floor, glancing around at the assorted works of art that lined the walls, until he reached the reception desk.

Manning the desk was a smartly dressed and immaculately presented woman in her forties, who looked up from her paperwork as Gianni approached.

“Buongiorno,” she said.

“Buongiorno,” Gianni replied. “I’m looking for Sergio Amato.”

“He’ll be in the dining room,” the woman said, indicating an archway to one side of the lobby.

“Thanks.”

Wandering curiously around the edge of the reception desk and through the archway, Gianni found himself in a spacious and airy dining room, part of which was vaulted and old-looking, and part of which was modern, with a large picture window in the far wall overlooking the view down towards Minori and Maiori. Large pot plants and wine racks added a splash of colour to the surroundings. Waiting staff in shirts and waistcoats busied themselves around the various round tables, cleaning up after the lunchtime service and placing fresh napkins, glassware and cutlery in front of each of the seats. Gianni looked around the unpretentious space, which seemed dark after the glare of the afternoon sunlight outside, and tried to imagine it bedecked with flowers and colourful lights, much as he had seen in his dream. He supposed it would take the party quite nicely, and hoped that the groom and his family would feel up to celebrating on the day.

The kitchen doors swung open and Anna’s father, wearing the cream-coloured jacket of a head waiter, swept into the dining room carrying a tray laden with oil burners in glass jars. He placed these down on a nearby sideboard as his eyes fell upon his visitor.

“Buongiorno, Gianni,” he said. “This is an unexpected pleasure; what can I do for you today?”

“Buongiorno,” Gianni replied. “Anna sent me – she wanted me to give you this.”

Digging into his carrier bag, Gianni fished out the rolled-up seating plan and passed it to the older man. Unrolling the paper and inspecting it with a professional-looking eye, he grunted and nodded his head.

“This will be useful,” he said, “thank you, Gianni.”

“Anna also wanted me to give you these,” Gianni added, handing his host the carrier bag.

“What are they?” Sergio asked, glancing at the white cardboard box nestling in the bottom of the bag.

“Name tags, for the seats, I think,” said Gianni.

“Ah,” Sergio replied, taking the box out of the bag and examining it, “of course.” He paused, glancing back across at his guest. “How come you’ve ended up with the job of bringing these over to me, Gianni?”

“Everyone’s busy,” Gianni replied.

“Well,” Sergio said reflectively, “Anna did say that she was going to ask you and Angelo to be ushers. What I suppose that really means is that you have to do all the hard work.”

Gianni grinned. “Yeah.”

“Well, once it’s all over, I think the two of you will each have earned a large piece of wedding cake,” Sergio mused. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m afraid – we have a large party coming in this evening – but thank you for bringing me the seating plan.”

“Sure,” said Gianni, turning to leave, “no problem.”

Arrivederci,” Sergio said. Taking up the laden tray of oil burners once again, he set about distributing them among the tables.

Making his way back out into the sun, Gianni began to wheel his bicycle back up the hill towards his grandparents’ house. Opting for a detour, he lugged the bike up a short flight of steps that led to an outer path, from which he could gaze once again down at the view over Minori and Maiori, and from which he could look inland towards San Martino and the tree-capped peaks that denoted the edge of Tramonti. Just a few more days until the wedding, he thought, and then maybe he and Angelo could finally grab some time to themselves. With their afternoon on the beach now seeming like ancient history, Gianni felt that they had a lot to catch up on.

* * *

Gianni didn’t see a lot of his friend over the next few days. As he might have expected, the wedding kept everybody preoccupied, even when there was nothing to be done, so thoroughly had the family planned it all already – and so it was with a sense of mounting frustration that Gianni awaited the day itself, when he and Angelo could expunge their duties as ushers and then move on to enjoy what was left of the holidays.

The day of the wedding dawned as another hazy morning with a few clouds drifting across the sky, as had become the norm over the last few days. The hottest hours of the passing days had continued to be sticky and humid, with Gianni often taking refuge under the trees at the Villa Cimbrone, book in hand – having finished all of his English books, he was now reading in Italian.

Now, as Gianni prepared to do his afternoon’s work as an usher, minor pre-show nerves had begun to set in, not least because he would be spending much of the day with Angelo for the first time in almost two weeks. Pacing his room, he laid out his wedding clothes on the bed, put them away, laid them out again and finally settled for sitting on the far end of the bed, staring into space and twitching a foot anxiously.

An agitated Gianni was eventually saved from jumping out of his own skin by Marina and Vittorio, who called him down to the living area to suggest that they go down to the square for a morning coffee at one of the bars. Perhaps, he supposed, they too were impatient for the afternoon’s events to get underway. And so, adjusting his pendant – after all, he no longer had to keep it hidden from his grandparents – he joined them downstairs, and they made their way slowly down the steps to the centre of town.

Taking a seat at an outside table, Marina and Vittorio ordered cappuccinos, while Gianni ordered a small bottle of water. As they drank, Gianni eyed the cathedral, where the wedding was to take place a few hours later, wishing he could skip the rest of the morning and proceed straight to the start of the ceremony.

When it finally came to lunch time, Gianni found that he wasn’t hungry. So that his grandparents wouldn’t worry, he forced himself to eat a small Parma ham and mozzarella panino, but then retreated upstairs to shower and wash himself thoroughly in readiness for the afternoon’s duties.

Anna had asked her two ushers to come ahead of the rest of the guests, so that they could be ready to meet and greet people as they arrived at the cathedral and help to direct them to their seats. As such, at half past one, Gianni set out alone, leaving his grandparents behind to finish getting ready. Having applied copious quantities of deodorant and spent some time adjusting his clothes and fiddling with his hair in the mirror, he had finally judged himself ready to go. Angelo’s pendant was tucked carefully away underneath his shirt, with his lavender-coloured tie covering up the bump where it rested on his chest.

The heat of the early afternoon was once again approaching its humid zenith as Gianni made his way down the avenue of wilting oleanders, so he walked slowly, not wanting to break out into a sweat. Feeling a little self-conscious in his wedding finery, Gianni half expected to attract stares, but the few passers-by seemed quite unconcerned by his appearance; he supposed weddings must be commonplace at the cathedral.

As he rounded the corner of the square, Gianni was thrilled to see that Angelo was already there, leaning against the stone wall to one side of the cathedral steps and looking at ease in his smart suit and tie – no longer the self-conscious picture that he had cut when they had bought their clothes in the shop. Gianni quickened his pace; Angelo, seeing him approach, grinned and waved.

“Ciao, fellow usher,” he called.

“Ciao,” Gianni replied as he mounted the steps, coming to a halt a couple of steps below the other boy. He looked his friend up and down, noting with rare clarity once again how well the clothes hung off his figure. “You look good.”

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Angelo replied.

“Is anyone else here yet?” Gianni asked.

“Mamma’s around somewhere,” Angelo replied, glancing over his shoulder. As if on cue, Marta emerged from the cathedral and carefully descended the steps, looking resplendent in a dark green dress and a pearl necklace, her dark hair carefully styled and streaked with grey. She was accompanied by a lanky, longish-haired young man in a grey suit whom Gianni vaguely recognised but couldn’t place.

“Ciao, Gianni,” Marta said as they drew level with the two boys. “This is Fabrizio, Pietro’s best man. Have you met before?”

“I don’t think so,” said Gianni, shaking the young man’s hand; he had a firm, confident grip. “Not properly, anyway. Buongiorno.”

“Buongiorno,” the young man replied.

“Gianni is Anna’s cousin,” Marta explained to her companion. “He lives here in Ravello with Anna’s grandparents.”

Fabrizio nodded, looking Gianni keenly in the eye. “Pietro’s told me about you,” he said. “It’s always good to meet a new member of the family.”

“Family? So you’re –” Gianni began.

“Cousins,” the young man confirmed. “Rosa’s my older sister.”

Gianni began to wonder if there was any limit to the size of Angelo’s family.

“Is everything set up all right in the church, mamma?” Angelo asked.

“I think so,” said Marta. “The flowers look wonderful – Pietro’s done us proud, organising those.”

“I think we’ll be fine,” Fabrizio concurred. Glancing from Gianni to Angelo, he added, “Do you guys know what you’ve got to do?”

Gianni and Angelo exchanged a glance.

“Yeah,” said Gianni, “Anna’s briefed us.”

“For about an hour,” Angelo added.

Fabrizio laughed. “That sounds like Anna,” he said. “In that case, we’ll leave you to it. The guests will be arriving soon.”

Fabrizio and Marta returned up the steps to the cathedral, where they were met by Father Stefano, who had just opened the main cathedral doors. Pausing for just long enough to tip Gianni a wave, which Gianni duly returned, the priest engaged the other two in hushed conversation and led them back inside.

When they had gone, Gianni turned to Angelo; a thought had occurred to him during their conversation with Marta.

“Where is Pietro?” he said.

“He’ll be along in a bit,” said Angelo. “I don’t think he wants to have to meet and greet too much, at least before the ceremony.”

“That figures,” Gianni replied.

Angelo exhaled slowly and leant back against the wall. “I’m glad this is nearly over.”

“Me too,” said Gianni.

“The last few days have been crazy,” said Angelo. “I’m still kinda tired.”

“You look better to me,” Gianni said earnestly. He meant it; the shadows were long gone from under Angelo’s eyes, and his gaze seemed to have regained much of its old sparkle, despite his momentary weariness. “Sorry I haven’t had your back.”

“You did, though,” Angelo replied.

“Up on the hill?” Gianni asked doubtfully, “That was days ago.”

“Not just up on the hill,” Angelo insisted.

Gianni frowned. “What do you mean? I’ve hardly seen you.”

“This,” Angelo said. Reaching into his inside pocket, he pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper and passed it to Gianni. Unfolding it, Gianni recognised his own sketch of the cathedral from nearly two weeks ago, with the silhouette of the boy with the football in the foreground.

“Oh, cool,” Gianni breathed, touched.

Angelo smiled and, taking the scrap of paper back, folded it up again and returned it carefully to his pocket. Humbled, Gianni leant against the stone wall next to the other boy, wishing once again that they could spend some time alone to pick up where they had left off after their afternoon on the beach; he could still feel the pressure building inside him, threatening to overturn rational thought, and longed to succumb to it – but, for now, they had a job to do.

“I wonder when the guests will get here?” he said.

Angelo checked his watch. “Not long now, I guess.”

Sure enough, within a few minutes, the guests began to arrive. Gianni and Angelo were soon busy greeting the new arrivals, directing the bride’s friends and family to the left hand side of the church and the groom’s friends and family to the right. Gianni, who had had plenty of time during the last few endless days to memorise the notes that he had written down during their conversation with Anna, managed to remember which elderly aunts and uncles required assistance up the stairs and which were the deafer guests who needed to be seated nearer to the front of the cathedral, without once having to refer to his list. Angelo, meanwhile, seemed to be carrying out his role with similar aplomb, offering the guests cheerful greetings and even asking after some of their families. During the quieter moments, Gianni watched him work, trying to keep at bay the daydreams that threatened to distract him.

Marina and Vittorio were among the last guests to arrive, neatly presented in the smartest clothes they possessed, with Marina’s silver crucifix pendant prominent on her chest. Seeing them approaching from the corner of the square, Gianni hurried down to meet them, and accompanied them back up the cathedral steps. He led his grandparents down the aisle of the rapidly filling church until they reached the row that had been reserved for the bride’s closest family, right at the front of the nave where the priest and the best man were waiting.

“Thank you, caro,” Marina whispered as she and Vittorio took their seats. “We’ll save a space for you on the aisle here.”

“Are you sure?” Gianni whispered back.

“Yes,” Marina insisted, “it’s a special occasion. There’s no need for you to sit at the back.”

Gianni gave her a smile. “Okay, thanks.”

“See you shortly, son,” Vittorio whispered.

Having seated his grandparents, Gianni returned to his post on the steps. As the start of the ceremony approached, Fabrizio appeared to await the arrival of the groom. Before long, his patience was rewarded as Pietro, looking dapper in a black suit with a cream-coloured rose pinned to the lapel, appeared at the foot of the cathedral steps. Fabrizio stepped forwards and they embraced, the best man saying a few quiet words in the groom’s ear and then patting his jacket to indicate that he had the wedding rings safe and secure in his inside pocket.

“We’re supposed to tease him,” Angelo whispered to Gianni, “and try to make him think that Anna isn’t coming.”

“Really?” Gianni whispered back.

Angelo nodded. “It’s traditional. But I don’t want to push him too hard right now.”

“I guess not.”

Looking up, Gianni realised that Pietro was approaching them.

“Ciao, boys,” he said, “how’s it going?”

“It’s going fine,” said Angelo. “I think almost everyone’s here now.”

Pietro smiled briefly. “Fantastic. You’re both doing a great job – thanks.”

“No problem,” Gianni said.

Fabrizio appeared at Pietro’s side and put a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, boss,” he said, “the bride will be here soon.”

“All right,” Pietro replied, taking a deep breath, “let’s do this.”

Gianni and Angelo watched as Pietro accompanied Fabrizio to the doors and followed him inside, to the sound of quiet applause.

Angelo checked his watch again. “Almost there.”

“Have you seen Anna’s dress?” Gianni asked.

Angelo shook his head. “No,” he said, giving Gianni a provocative look. “Are you excited?”

“I’m just curious,” Gianni replied.

Angelo grinned. “I guess I am too.”

They didn’t have long to wait. After a few minutes, an elegant black car with tinted windows and decorative ribbons pulled up at the edge of the square next to the old stone gatehouse of the Villa Rufolo, followed by a smaller car. Gianni and Angelo watched with interest as Viola and Rosa, who were dressed in simple white bridesmaids’ dresses and wore flowers in their hair, clambered out of the tailing vehicle and opened the doors of the wedding car. A smartly-dressed Sergio was the first to emerge, and he turned at once, extending a hand to help the bride out of the vehicle, while Claudia, who was wearing the traditional garb of a flower girl and was carrying a small basket on one arm, hopped out the other side.

Clambering carefully out of the back seat, Anna was a vision in white, wearing a flowing dress that emphasised her narrow waist and a delicate silver necklace that glinted in the sun. Her bridal veil hung around the back of her hair, which had been done up for the occasion, and her bronzed skin shone in the sunlight. Sergio linked arms proudly with his daughter, while Viola and Rosa took their positions behind Anna and picked up her train. Viola gestured urgently to a nervous-looking Claudia, who had been hovering to one side but now took her position in front of the bride, and the five of them began to make their way slowly towards the cathedral, Anna seeming to float across the stone-paved piazza. She did, Gianni had to admit, look exceptionally beautiful, a fact he thought he saw reflected in his friend’s eyes when they exchanged a glance and a quick grin.

As had been arranged, Gianni and Angelo hurried up the steps and took position to either side of the doors. Gianni exchanged hasty signals with Pietro, Fabrizio and the priest, who were waiting at the far end of the aisle, to indicate that the bride had arrived. As the party reached the bottom of the cathedral steps, Claudia reached into her basket and began to scatter rose petals on the stone stairs; Anna dropped the silk veil over her face and, as the organ music began inside the cathedral, Sergio led her proudly up the steps. Beaming nervously at her two ushers, who gave her encouraging smiles as she passed, she crossed the threshold and the wedding began.

* * *

Afterwards, what Gianni remembered most about the ceremony were the tears. Things went okay at first; Anna was smiling and graceful, and Pietro composed, but when the time came for them to exchange their vows, the normally resilient Pietro’s façade crumbled. Breaking down in tears, he struggled to get through the last of his vows, holding tightly onto Anna’s hands as he did so. This set Marina off, and soon many of the groom’s family were also dabbing at their eyes; Gianni supposed that the late Andrea was probably not far from their thoughts. In fact, only Angelo, who was sitting on the far side of the aisle from Gianni, seemed to have himself fully under control; he shot a weary smile at his friend as the rest of his family disintegrated around him. Father Stefano, who was patient and sympathetic, told Pietro to take his time, and waited quietly for the groom to get himself under control while Anna stroked the sides of his hands comfortingly with her thumbs.

When the priest pronounced the couple husband and wife, Anna threw back her veil and they leant close and pressed their lips together. There was so much need and joy in that one kiss that even Gianni, to his embarrassment, began to feel emotional, and he cast his eyes quickly down to his hands to conceal it. Marina, obviously noticing his discomfort, put an arm tenderly around his shoulder. Cringing slightly, Gianni glanced back across to Angelo, who looked back, obviously amused, although Gianni wasn’t entirely sure he couldn’t see a tear in the corner of his friend’s eye, too.

After all the weeks of preparation, the ceremony seemed to Gianni to be over almost before it had started. Before Gianni knew it, he and Angelo were back flanking the doors while the happy couple, showered with confetti by the bridesmaids and other members of the family, descended the stairs into the square, hands entwined, to much applause from tourists and other passers-by. The photographer that Marta and Andrea had booked was already waiting for them, and soon Gianni, Angelo and the rest of the family were being lined up for the group photos in the afternoon sunshine. Smiling on demand, Gianni posed first with the bride and groom, Angelo, Claudia, the best man and the bridesmaids; then with Marina, Vittorio, Sergio and Anna; with both Pietro and Anna’s immediate families; and finally with the whole extended family, in a group photo that took up the entire width of the cathedral steps. He wondered what his parents would think if they could see him now, and hoped they would be proud.

In due course, Pietro and Anna broke away to have further photographs taken on their own, and the crowd began to disperse. As they had been instructed, Gianni, Angelo and Fabrizio hovered by the cathedral steps, giving the guests directions to the hotel. The first part of their day’s duties as ushers, it seemed, was almost over.

* * *

The reception wasn’t officially due to start until an hour after the ceremony. As such, when the crowds had dispersed, Gianni and Angelo took a moment’s time out in the square. Buying small ice creams from the bar in the corner, they took them to one of the benches under the pine trees.

“How d’you think we did?” Gianni asked his friend, between licks of his rich lemon gelato.

“I think we did great,” Angelo replied, sampling his mint choc chip.

“We’re not going to want our dinner,” Gianni remarked.

Angelo shrugged. “We earned this,” he said, waving his cone for emphasis.

“Agreed.”

There was a brief silence while they munched on their ice cream cones, broken only by the general background hubbub of life in the square.

“Some wedding, huh?” Angelo observed.

“Yeah,” Gianni said. “Pietro seemed okay, I thought.”

“He’s happy,” Angelo nodded. “I’ve never seen him cry before, though.”

“Maybe he was just moved?”

Angelo grinned. “Like you were, pussycat?”

Gianni shot him a look. “If I was, I don’t think I was the only one.”

Angelo answered this with another nonchalant shrug as he finished off his ice cream cone. “I don’t know what you mean.” Licking his fingers, he got to his feet. “We should go. We’ve got meeting and greeting to do... again.”

Gianni, too, finished off his wafer and stood, pausing to stretch. “Hard work, this wedding business, isn’t it?”

“It is when you’re as dedicated to your ushering duties as we are,” Angelo concurred.

Gianni sighed. “We have to do everything around here.”

The two boys made their way companionably down Via Roma, exchanging waves with Salvatore the grocer as they passed his shop. Before long, they were climbing the quiet road to the square with the fountain, where the arched façade of the hotel awaited them. Gianni mopped his brow as they passed the water feature; the muggy heat of the afternoon had begun to catch up with him in his heavy wedding clothes.

“I could just go for a dunking right now,” he said.

Angelo grinned. “Maybe later.”

As it had been before, the tiled hotel foyer was refreshingly cool. Although a few guests were milling around in the bar area, Gianni and Angelo made their way straight through to the dining room to see how things were shaping up.

The dining room had been lavishly decorated with flowers and lights. Under Sergio’s direction, the round tables had been arranged in the familiar form of Anna’s seating plan, with an oblong table at the head of the room for the bride, groom and their parents. Sergio, who was already in attendance, came to greet them.

“Buonasera, boys,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here: my staff are all busy in the kitchen. Could you make sure the guests are comfortable, that you’ve taken their coats and that they know where the toilets are?”

“Sure,” Gianni replied.

“No problem,” Angelo added. He turned to Gianni. “Let’s go, gattino.”

To begin with, the task was boring, with few guests to attend to and little fetching and carrying to be done. However, as four o’clock approached, they started arriving in numbers. Tracking Gianni and Angelo down in the foyer, Sergio pressed them into service distributing the champagne, and soon they were pacing to and fro with silver trays laden with fizzing glasses. During a rare quiet moment, Gianni helped himself to a glass in the dining room while nobody was looking, blinking in surprise when the bubbles went up his nose as he swallowed the heady beverage.

Shortly after the hour, there was a murmur from the crowd as the wedding car pulled up outside the hotel. Temporarily relieved of their trays of glasses, Gianni and Angelo went to the doors as the newlyweds walked in, hand in hand, to applause from the assembled guests. Having greeted the crowd, Anna descended at once upon her two ushers, giving them each a vigorous hug and a kiss on each cheek.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, “you’ve both been brilliant.”

While they were recovering from this onslaught, Pietro, too, clapped them each on the shoulder. “Yeah, great job.”

Descending from the dining room, Sergio shook hands with Pietro and embraced his daughter. “Welcome to you both,” he said. Turning to Anna, he bowed courteously. “Signora Rossi, would you care for some champagne?”

Anna laughed. “I’d love some.” She turned to Pietro. “And you, caro?”

“Lead the way,” Pietro nodded.

Once everyone had arrived and Pietro and Anna, each fortified by a glass of finest Moët & Chandon, had exchanged greetings with several of the guests, the assembled crowd was ushered through to the dining room, where they began to take their seats. The waiting staff took over, and Gianni and Angelo were at last allowed a rest, taking their seats at one of the round tables close to the front of the room with Marina, Vittorio and Claudia. Anna and Pietro sat down at the head table, flanked by Marta and Sergio. Once everyone was seated, Marta chinked a teaspoon on a glass for attention, and Sergio stood to make his speech.

“My friends,” he said, “it is with both great pleasure and great sadness that I stand before you today. Great pleasure because I know Anna has found a wonderful new family in Pietro and the Rossis, but great sadness because my only daughter will no longer be around to keep me company at the family home up in San Martino... not to mention the fact that I will have to do all my own cooking and washing up from now on.”

There was mild laughter from the assembled guests.

Bowing slightly, Sergio continued. “Little did I know, back when Anna was a mere slip of a thing wreaking havoc with her mother’s wardrobe with a needle and thread, that she would end up leaving me at the tender age of twenty-four, for a fellow from Scala, no less,” – more laughter – “but she won’t be far away, and I know I’ll still have many opportunities to make a nuisance of myself. Let me just conclude by saying that I’m tremendously proud of all she’s accomplished, and I know that my dear Giulia would have been so, too. May God bless this wonderful union. Thank you all.”

There was applause from the crowd, which Gianni joined in. Between claps, Marina dabbed at her eyes once again, perhaps at the mention of her elder daughter’s name.

Dinner was a long time coming, but Gianni had long since learned that, in Italy, these things weren’t to be rushed. Instead, the assembled guests passed the time with more speeches (including a suitably scurrilous recounting of Pietro’s past misdemeanours, courtesy of Fabrizio, which the groom bore with a patient if threadbare smile), party games and the drinking of the numerous bottles of wine that were circulated by the waiting staff.

At last the food did arrive, and the assembled guests ploughed their way through a four-course meal of mixed antipasti, homemade pasta with seafood, veal with mushrooms and a choice of desserts. When faced with a choice of chocolate cake or tiramisù, Gianni baulked and decided to abstain, sipping on a glass of mineral water instead.

As dusk began to fall, the dinner things were cleared away and the tables and chairs were moved to the side of the room. The bar was opened, music was played and the guests were encouraged to mingle. Perhaps it was the mood of the crowd, or perhaps it was the effects of the champagne and the small glass of wine that Gianni had had during the meal, but the place seemed to have taken on a magical air, the decorative lights twinkling in the vaulted alcoves of the room and the jewellery of the guests sparkling as it caught their reflections. Gianni drifted around the room, lost in a haze of colour and voices, exchanging words with guests when he could, but finding their animated conversations and expansive gestures increasingly hard to follow.

Eventually the dancing started, as Gianni had known it would. As the lights were dimmed and the music switched to a slow, romantic number, Pietro and Anna took centre stage, holding one another closely and looking admiringly at one another as they swayed. They were joined by Viola and her husband Giovanni, Rosa and Fabrizio with their respective partners and, at length, Marina and Vittorio. Sergio, too, took a flustered Marta’s hand and led her onto the dance floor.

As more and more of the guests coupled up for the dance, Gianni backed respectfully towards the edge of the room, out of the way of the swaying couples.

“This is where I get completely lost,” said a voice.

It was Angelo. He was leaning against one of the round dinner tables nearby, in the soft glow from the decorative lights hanging from the wall above. He had tugged his tie down low and undone his top two buttons, splaying out the collar of his shirt for ventilation. Gianni found his eyes drawn to the point where the two lapels of the shirt met.

“Me too,” Gianni agreed, approaching the other boy. “I don’t have a clue.”

“It’s nice, though.” Angelo laughed. “Look at mamma.”

Marta was gyrating slowly with Sergio, looking decidedly embarrassed.

“Are they...?” Gianni asked.

“No,” said Angelo. “They’re just having fun.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Gianni said.

Angelo shot him his familiar half-smile. “Yeah.”

Gianni could feel the heat rising within him, flushing his cheeks red. The long and tiring day was beginning to catch up with him, making his brain feel slow and woozy.

“We could have fun, too,” he suggested quietly.

Angelo laughed. “What, like that lot?” he said, gesturing towards the swaying guests.

“I’m serious,” Gianni replied.

Angelo shook his head. “You’re crazy.”

“I’m not,” Gianni said. Reaching out, heart pounding, he took the other boy’s hand; it was warm and dry to the touch, and pleasant to hold.

“What are you doing?” Angelo asked nervously, looking down at Gianni’s hand holding his own.

“Don’t you want to dance?” Gianni asked desperately.

“No, Gianni,” Angelo cried, tugging at his hand. He looked frightened now. “Get off!”

“But...”

At the sound of whispering voices, Gianni looked up. Several of the couples in the room had stopped dancing, and were looking at the two boys in astonishment, including Marina and Vittorio, who were frozen in mid-dance, staring at Gianni and Angelo in shock.

The crowd parted to reveal Anna and Pietro, who broke apart as Pietro stared at Gianni with a kind of horrible incomprehension.

“What the...” he shouted, anger knotting his brow as he took in the scene before him. “Get your hands off my brother!”

Gianni released Angelo’s hand as if burned. All eyes in the room were now upon him, and he backed away, bumping into the sideboard and dislodging a neat stack of cutlery, which collapsed with a harsh jangling sound. “I... I...” he stammered.

“Just go,” Pietro snarled, “before you ruin anything else. Get out of here!”

Gianni’s nerves finally broke and he turned and fled, out through the foyer and into the darkening street, a hundred eyes following him as he left.

Copyright © 2019 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.
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Chapter Comments

2 hours ago, redwood said:

The dancing scene began like a dream but turned into a nightmare. And tipsy Gianni acted like it was just a dream. In dreams we can do crazy, irresponsible things, like leaping off cliffs or flying like an eagle, yet still wake up intact on the other side. There's no real consequence to our actions. Impulsively pulling Angelo onto the dance floor was not the right way to come out, for either of them. It should have been a private moment, without fear of horrified gazes as drpaladin put it. The tragedy is that this moment was building for several chapters and would have happened naturally, in private, except for intervening circumstances.

Pietro's angry reaction is also very disappointing. You don't shun family unless it's a completely unforgivable offense. Especially a kid who was just orphaned. Ugly homophobia on display there.

James, I'm curious to see how you'll sort all this out!

 

Indeed! The next chapter, Chapter 11, was the most difficult to write. But it's all working towards the climax the story was always going to have!

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This is without reservation one of the best stories I have read on any of the sites I frequent. Having said that, I have reread the last scene trying to make sense of it in the context of the rest of the story. IMO, it just is not supported by what preceded it. There is no suggestion that Gianni has had so much to drink that he would forget himself so dangerously nor, despite his feelings for Angelo, is there any real narrative that would support him dropping his defenses in this way. I look forward to see what you do with this just as I look forward to anything else you may write in the future. I really do appreciate your craftsmanship.

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1 hour ago, starboardtack said:

This is without reservation one of the best stories I have read on any of the sites I frequent. Having said that, I have reread the last scene trying to make sense of it in the context of the rest of the story. IMO, it just is not supported by what preceded it. There is no suggestion that Gianni has had so much to drink that he would forget himself so dangerously nor, despite his feelings for Angelo, is there any real narrative that would support him dropping his defenses in this way. I look forward to see what you do with this just as I look forward to anything else you may write in the future. I really do appreciate your craftsmanship.

Fair enough. I agree that it does seem a  reckless act and here perhaps we have a character who is rather naive. None the less, I hope you’ll stick with me to the end now we’ve come this far!

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4 hours ago, starboardtack said:

This is without reservation one of the best stories I have read on any of the sites I frequent. Having said that, I have reread the last scene trying to make sense of it in the context of the rest of the story. IMO, it just is not supported by what preceded it. There is no suggestion that Gianni has had so much to drink that he would forget himself so dangerously nor, despite his feelings for Angelo, is there any real narrative that would support him dropping his defenses in this way. I look forward to see what you do with this just as I look forward to anything else you may write in the future. I really do appreciate your craftsmanship.

Am glad to see someone else shared my views on that scene. It just didn't ring true which was a shame.

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20 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Am glad to see someone else shared my views on that scene. It just didn't ring true which was a shame.

I have to agree. The scene would benefit with some revision.

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Fair enough, I can see how you would all feel that way. I did my best to build up to it, but no story is perfect!

This is a key turning point in the plot and isn’t one that I could avoid. I hope you’ll be more satisfied with the way I deal with the fallout.

Edited by James Carnarvon
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13 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:

Fair enough, I can see how you would all feel that way. I did my best to build up to it, but no story is perfect!

For me the off part was it didn't go quite far enough to get so much attention. Italians tend to invade each other's personal space and be touchy feely with each other. Gianni would have needed to do more than just take Angelo's hand to draw so much attention. Maybe something could have been knocked over before rather than after with Angelo trying to pull away. Just a thought.

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Yesterday i didn't know what to say. Everything seemed like it goes exactly like it should. You know, Taking his hand, dance and love each other but i didn't see coming what happened there. Over the last 12 hours i thought about what could happen next and i'm really looking forward to it. I wrote my suspicion down. 

This story is written really good and to this point i really like it. I can't really wait until the next chapter is available

 

;) 

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7 hours ago, James Carnarvon said:

Fair enough. I agree that it does seem a  reckless act and here perhaps we have a character who is rather naive. None the less, I hope you’ll stick with me to the end now we’ve come this far!

Stick with you? Like Crazy Glue. You are a fantastic storyteller and you have my trust as a reader!

Edited by starboardtack
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I actually had a dream about this last night!  Was upset about how this was playing out for poor Gianni but am very anxious to read what comes up next.  Great story telling, imho, but I  can see some of the other opinions points of view - it did seem to happen a bit too quickly.  Maybe Gianni just really got caught up in the moment...and wanted to be with the one he loves...bad judgment and naivety on his part.

Do you know how many chapters overall?   Thanks for Writing! - John 

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53 minutes ago, johnnyd said:

I actually had a dream about this last night!  Was upset about how this was playing out for poor Gianni but am very anxious to read what comes up next.  Great story telling, imho, but I  can see some of the other opinions points of view - it did seem to happen a bit too quickly.  Maybe Gianni just really got caught up in the moment...and wanted to be with the one he loves...bad judgment and naivety on his part.

Do you know how many chapters overall?   Thanks for Writing! - John 

Hi John, there are just two more chapters to go. We are definitely heading towards the finale now.

You actually dreamt about this? I would love to see that dream!

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Pietro is a monster.  I realize that he has been on edge and that his father has just recently died--further, that he's likely tense from the wedding and pickled in alcohol.  However, technically, all Gianni has done is grasp his friend's hand and ask him to dance. There is no discussion of age-appropriate girls for the boys to dance with, and teenage girls dance with each other all the time.  Yet, his attention drawn by Angelo's cry of "get off" (an overreaction in and of itself), Pietro goes crazy, staring at Gianni with "horrible incomprehension" and yelling at him to "get your hands off my brother!" Single-handedly, Pietro has turned a private discussion between two boys into a public catastrophe.  Then, after creating the catastrophe, he refuses to hear anything Gianni may have to say:  "Just go,” Pietro snarled, “before you ruin anything else. Get out of here!” His reaction is over the top and completely uncalled for (he doesn't even know how Angelo is feeling about the situation). For Pietro to publicly eject a family member from the wedding is an unforgivable and irrevocable act, and I'm fearful of the consequences for both sides of the family.  I am also fearful that his vicious attack may retrigger Gianni's suicidal urges. 

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On 8/9/2019 at 6:09 AM, starboardtack said:

Having said that, I have reread the last scene trying to make sense of it in the context of the rest of the story. IMO, it just is not supported by what preceded it.

I completely understand the sense of acting out of character that has been expressed in a few comments. If I am not mistaken there was some foreshadowing and hints of things to come. The dream, Gianni's emotions reaching that inevitable explosive point. He thinks he knows that Angelo has been giving all the right signals, but Gianni is a reticent English boy, frightened to touch or show his feelings, and scared. But there comes the point when he has "to be true to himself," and it simply explodes. It's bad timing, the wrong place, inappropriate, something he's never done before, but he "loses it," if you like, loses his self controlled person. He has had a glass of champagne and a glass of wine. Not that he's drunk, but it gives a kind of Dutch courage. Everything just bursts out. I can see how it could happen and how it is out of character, but that's the point, isn't it? He's reached the point of "do or die," he throws all caution to the wind and does what he could never ever imagine doing, he tries to drag Angelo onto the dance floor.

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A beautiful wedding followed by an emotional explosion.  I have to agree that Gianni, Angelo and Pietro's reactions were out of character and very unexpected.  This was an unusual plot twist.  The only reason I see for this is the desire to resolve the point of Gianni being gay in this small town in one quick swoop, not the usual long term one on one resolution.  I'm anxious to finish the next few chapter to see how everything settles.   

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8 hours ago, raven1 said:

A beautiful wedding followed by an emotional explosion.  I have to agree that Gianni, Angelo and Pietro's reactions were out of character and very unexpected.  This was an unusual plot twist.  The only reason I see for this is the desire to resolve the point of Gianni being gay in this small town in one quick swoop, not the usual long term one on one resolution.  I'm anxious to finish the next few chapter to see how everything settles.   

As you've seen, you're not the first one to feel that way!

I don't actually agree that it's out of character - there are circumstances at work here - but it is an extreme reaction that is not completely rational (and it may be over-written just a little).

I think I lulled you all too much with the romance! This moment was always coming. But it is addressed, to some extent, later on and in subsequent stories.

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