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The Summer of the Firefly - 11. Chapter 11

Gianni had soon left the hotel behind him, but still he ran, his flat-soled wedding shoes pounding the uneven paving stones in the darkness, oblivious to the chirruping of the nighttime crickets and the cheerful sounds of voices and music that drifted out of the houses as he made his way up the hill. A tide of pain and humiliation was welling up inside him, driving him on at a desperate pace, a jumble of images and voices filling in his head as the events of the evening echoed in his mind.

Oblivious to the thumping of his heart, Gianni crested the hill at the end of his grandparents’ street, where a family of feral cats, startled by his noisy approach, took fright and slipped away down the side of the small church as he passed. It wasn’t until he had reached his grandparents’ courtyard that Gianni allowed himself to slow down: he coasted to a halt, breathing heavily, and climbed the short flight of steps to the front door. Fumbling in his pocket for the key, he let himself in, switched on the dim overhead lights and flung himself down on one of the dining room chairs, head in his hands and hot tears coursing down his cheeks, spattering the wooden tabletop with droplets of salty water.

Angelo’s rejection had hurt him more than he could have described, and even now felt like a jagged knife buried deep within his gut. How could he have got things so wrong? After the afternoon on the beach, and all those long conversations up at the viewpoint, he had felt so sure of Angelo’s feelings... but could it be that it had all meant nothing? In his mind’s eye, Gianni replayed the events of the last few weeks, trying to find some clue that he’d missed.

Gianni wasn’t left alone to his contemplations for long. After what could only have been ten minutes, there was the sound of a key in the front door, and Gianni looked up to see Marina and Vittorio enter the kitchen. Marina looked pale, and Vittorio’s wiry eyebrows were knotted in concern.

What was that all about, Gianni?” Marina asked.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Gianni replied tearfully.

Marina shook her head despairingly. “I’ll tell you what I do understand,” she replied. “I understand that you may just have ruined Anna and Pietro’s wedding party. What I don’t understand is why.”

“I didn’t mean to ruin anything,” said Gianni. “I just wanted to dance.”

“With Angelo?” Marina asked incredulously.

Gianni nodded bleakly.

“What are you saying, son?” Vittorio croaked.

Gianni put his head down on his arms. “What do you think? I’m in love with him.”

There was a ringing silence. Blearily, Gianni looked up to see his grandparents staring at him in shock. After a tense few moments, Marina was the first to find her voice.

“That’s absurd,” she snapped, her brow furrowed in rising anger.

Stung, Gianni sat up in his chair. “Why?” he protested.

“You know why, Gianni,” Marina replied. “He’s a boy! Not to mention, Pietro’s younger brother!”

Gianni stared back at her. “I can’t help that.”

Shaking her head, Marina looked to her husband. “Vittorio, talk to him.”

The older man raised his hands. “I think we’re all tired,” he said. “We can discuss this tomorrow. Gianni, why don’t you go to bed?”

Nodding, Gianni got to his feet. “Fine,” he said. Leaving his grandparents standing in the kitchen, he hurried up the creaking wooden stairs and ran shakily along the hallway to his room. Pushing the door shut behind him, he sagged down onto the bed and kicked off his shoes. It was too hot. Tugging down his tie, he tossed it to the floor, then reached for his shirt collar and undid the top three buttons; as if on cue, Angelo’s pendant popped out from under his shirt and dangled down over his chest.

Pain coursed through Gianni in a fresh wave, and he grabbed the carved wooden ornament; part of him wanted to tear it free and cast it to the floor.

He couldn’t do it. Tears flowing once again, Gianni flung himself down onto his pillow, where he lay, face down, sobbing quietly in the light of his battered old desk lamp.

* * *

Gianni slept fretfully that night, and woke up feeling less than rested. His hurt hadn’t abated, and he had tossed and turned his way through unpleasant dreams.

Not knowing what he would face when he went downstairs, but sick of the sight of the same four walls, Gianni forced himself to get up. He had nothing to dress up for, but the long night had left him feeling sweaty and sticky, so he took a shower and put on a fresh shirt and a clean pair of shorts, before grabbing his wallet and keys, shoving them absently into his pocket and stepping out into the hallway. Perhaps, if he could just get through the day, things would get better.

Gianni proceeded cautiously down the stairs to find his grandparents already at breakfast. A place had been set for him at the table, and a croissant and a glass of fruit juice awaited his attention. Marina was slicing an apricot, while Vittorio read the paper. Both looked up as Gianni entered the room.

“Buongiorno, Gianni,” Marina said. “Have a seat.”

“’giorno,” Gianni replied, pulling back his chair and sitting at the table. He took a sip of his orange juice, glancing warily from one grandparent to the other.

“Buongiorno, son,” Vittorio echoed.

“About what happened last night,” Marina said. “I realise we were all worn out from a long day. I thought we could have a calmer discussion about it this morning now that we’ve all had a night’s sleep.”

“Okay,” Gianni said uncertainly.

Marina put her callused fingers together contemplatively and glanced down at the tabletop; Gianni could tell she was trying to find a way to broach what she found to be a difficult subject.

Taking a deep breath, Marina said, “Are you still insistent that you’re in love with Angelo?”

“Yes,” Gianni replied.

“And how long have you known that you felt this way?”

Gianni shrugged. “I don’t know, really. It just sort of happened. Three weeks, maybe.”

“That doesn’t sound like very long,” Marina replied, a sceptical tone in her voice that lit a spark of anger in Gianni’s chest.

“I haven’t been here very long,” he replied.

“But how can you be sure?” Marina asked insistently.

Gianni shot her a stubborn look. “I’m sure.”

Marina was silent for a moment, during which there was a rustle as Vittorio put down his paper. “Tell me, Gianni,” he said, “does young Angelo share these feelings of yours?”

Marina looked shocked. “Surely not!” she exclaimed, turning to her husband.

Vittorio shrugged. “It seems a reasonable question, cara,” he said.

Gianni slumped forwards. “I’m not sure,” he said miserably. “I thought he did, but after last night...”

He tailed off, and tore a piece off his croissant.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said at length.

“You have to put it out of your mind, Gianni,” Marina said quickly.

Gianni looked up at her in disbelief. “I can’t just forget about it,” he protested.

“You must,” said Marina anxiously. “I’m sure Marta, Pietro and Anna will be fine about it once they realise it was a misunderstanding.”

Vittorio watched in silence, looking discomfited. Marina reached across the table and took Gianni’s hand. “This needn’t be the end of the world,” she said.

Gianni stared back at her for a few moments, hurt by her lack of support, but unable to hold on to the anger that had, for a moment, buoyed him up. Washing his mouthful of croissant down with a small amount of orange juice, he got to his feet; he no longer felt very hungry.

“Where are you going?” Marina asked.

“Out,” Gianni replied.

“You’re not going to Scala, are you?” Marina said. “It’s too soon.”

Gianni shook his head. “I guess not.”

“When will you be back?”

“Not sure,” Gianni replied as he opened the front door. “Later.”

Once he had got outside, Gianni leaned back against the front door and exhaled slowly. Could he really do what his grandmother had said, and forget all about his feelings for Angelo? He didn’t think so – not yet. And how could she really suggest such a thing?

The air seemed more humid than ever as Gianni stepped out of the courtyard and into the paved street between the looming palazzi; he could tell that it would be another hot and sticky day later on, once the sun had got into its stride. He thought of how it had felt to swim in the cooling sea down on the coast, and rubbed his eyes as he remembered how close he and Angelo had been on the beach. He wondered, once again, if he could really have read the signs so wrongly.

Realising he must look odd standing vacantly out in the street, Gianni set off aimlessly down the hill and drifted down the steps towards the square. Once there, he gazed up at the plain white façade of the cathedral, remembering the feeling of celebration that had been in the air only yesterday, when he and Angelo had still been friends.

Morosely, Gianni wandered over to the railings and stared out across the valley to the steep slopes and criss-crossing roads of Scala, where he supposed Angelo was now; there was a distant chime from the village as the cathedral bells rang the hour. Gianni surveyed the panorama: although the sun was shining, the green vegetation of the valley now looked dusty and tired, and there were more clouds drifting across the sky than he had seen since his arrival in Ravello. Looking up into the high canopies of the pine trees that framed the view amidst a scattering of fallen needles, Gianni realised with a pang of loss that the sound of cicadas had gone – the summer was getting old.

Gianni turned and slumped down onto one of the benches, facing back towards the cathedral. Out of habit, he cast his eyes towards the turning that led down to the ceramics workshop, and pictured Angelo trundling in on his skateboard. But, of course, there was nobody there.

Gianni balled a fist and placed his brow heavily on the heel of his hand. If he waited, maybe Angelo would come; maybe he would still want to be friends. But then Gianni thought of the fearful way that Angelo had shaken him off the previous night, right in front of all the other guests, and felt the same sense of shame and humiliation all over again. Did he even really want to see the other boy?

Something in the lining of Gianni’s shorts was digging into his thigh. As he reached into the pocket, his hand snagged on something, and he pulled it back out to find Angelo’s pendant dangling from his fingers. He must have picked it up accidentally when he’d grabbed his wallet and keys before heading downstairs for breakfast.

Tears threatened to break forth from Gianni’s eyes once again, and he shoved the pendant back in his pocket, taking deep breaths to bring himself back under control. Of course he wanted to see Angelo; how could he not?

Gianni got to his feet and tried to think of something to do. He looked around the square: every shop, every bar, every turning reminded him of Angelo, so much time had they spent there together, exploring what the town had to offer.

He had to know. Determinedly, Gianni struck back across the square and climbed back up the hill, emerging back in his grandparents’ street just below the courtyard. Quietly, he snuck into the storage area under the steps and retrieved his bicycle. Wheeling it out into the street, he mounted the saddle and juddered off along the paving stones, making for the square with the fountain and the road to Amalfi.

* * *

Gianni’s sense of resolve and purpose lasted most of the way down the hill, past the fountain, past the turning for the ceramics workshop and the mouth of the main road tunnel, and down through the olive groves. But as he approached the Scala turnoff, he faltered and jammed on his brakes. The bicycle came to a slithering halt, metres from the exit, and there was the blare of a car horn as the driver of a small Fiat had to swerve around him. Hair and clothes flapping in the car’s slipstream, Gianni stared at the junction.

He couldn’t go up there, could he? Not yet. He couldn’t face the family. He blinked as Pietro’s words echoed in his head once more.

Just go, before you ruin anything else!

Gianni shook himself. What would he do if he went back? Sit around, feeling miserable, until it was time to go home for dinner? He had to try. Standing on the pedals, he set off once again.

Gianni flogged the ageing bike up the winding hill, perspiring in the muggy warmth of the morning, but fixing his mind firmly on his destination. Across the valley, the view of Ravello atop its undulating crag unfolded before him, and for once he was glad to be out of the town.

A nagging sense of doubt began to take hold of Gianni once again as he turned off the main road into the village and climbed the last few hairpins to Angelo’s house. He hadn’t planned this part... What was he going to do when he arrived? Barge into the house, demanding to see his friend? He was hardly likely to be welcome. Gianni decided that a more subtle approach would be needed.

Rounding the last corner, Gianni coasted to a halt just short of Angelo’s house and paused to mop his brow and to dry and adjust his damp hair. Wheeling his bike beside him, he approached the property cautiously, listening with care for any clues as to what he might find there.

Hearing the bounce of a football, Gianni quickened his pace hopefully. Reaching the corner of the front terrace area, he halted, surveying the scene.

Angelo and Claudia were playing a listless game of catch on the terrace, bouncing the ball to one another. Seeing the new arrival, they stopped, and for a moment brother and sister stared across the terrace in silence. Then Angelo turned to Claudia, and said quietly, “Get yourself a drink.” With a nervous glance from Angelo to Gianni, Claudia made for the open door, only to be stopped again by Angelo, who caught her by the shoulder. Gianni watched as he whispered something in his sister’s ear, glancing warily across to Gianni as he did so, and then released her. Once she had disappeared inside, he crossed the terrace to meet Gianni at the boundary wall.

“Claudia won’t tell anyone you’re here,” he said quietly.

Gianni hesitated; he hadn’t planned this part, either. “How are you?” he said lamely.

“Fine,” Angelo replied, but he looked and sounded anxious. “What are you doing here, Gianni?”

“I’m not sure,” said Gianni. “I wanted...” he began, but he tailed off.

Angelo glanced nervously over his shoulder, as if he expected someone to come storming out of the house at any minute. “What, Gianni?”

Gianni found his voice again. “I wanted to talk to you about what happened last night.”

“I can’t talk about that now,” Angelo said urgently.

“But...” Gianni said desperately.

Angelo looked pained. “It was a mistake,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened like that.”

Gianni felt his last ember of hope flicker and die. Feeling crushed, he forced himself to fix the other boy with one last look in the eye.

“Are we still friends?” he asked.

“Yes,” Angelo hissed. “Now go on, get out of here!”

Dejectedly, Gianni turned and wheeled his bike away. As the terrace fell out of sight, he heard Pietro’s voice and he halted, looking back over his shoulder.

“Who was that, Angelo?” he heard Pietro ask.

“Just Gianpiero from up the road,” Angelo’s voice replied. “It was nothing.”

It was nothing. Angelo’s words resounded in Gianni’s head as he mounted his bicycle and set off back down the hill. Marina, it seemed, had been right; but that thought only made him feel worse.

Normally, freewheeling at speed down the hill from Angelo’s house gave Gianni a pleasant rush as well as cooling him down. Today, however, he barely noticed; his mind was still struggling to process the information it had just been given, and he descended the hill on autopilot, slowing and stopping only where the most dangerous junctions demanded it.

So, in spite of everything that had happened, Angelo still wanted to be friends – but how could they, Gianni wondered, after what had unfolded last night? Amidst the pain and confusion came the first seeds of resentment, as Gianni reflected on how the other boy had treated him – after they had both promised to look out for one another all those weeks ago.

Gianni didn’t want to hate his friend, and the better part of him fought against it as he emerged onto the main Amalfi road and began pedalling laboriously back up the hill towards Ravello, beads of sweat forming on his brow once again in the oppressive heat; but it was hard. If Angelo came to him, he wondered, could he really manage to be the kind of friend the other boy wanted?

At the turning for the ceramics workshop, Gianni paused. He didn’t feel like going home to his grandparents just yet, so he took the side turning, cycling past the workshop and onwards up the avenue beyond until he reached the square.

Thirsty after his exertions, Gianni propped his bike up against a lamp post and contemplated getting a drink. He was distracted, however, as a brightly coloured football came rolling into the square from the direction of Via Roma, closely followed by two small figures. Automatically, Gianni stuck out a foot to intercept the ball, and looked up to see who it belonged to.

“Ciao, Toto,” Gianni said, when he recognised the small boy who now looked anxiously back at him, his usual friend standing at his shoulder. “Want your ball back?”

“Papà says I’m not supposed to talk to you,” Toto replied, backing away a step.

Gianni’s stomach gave an unpleasant lurch. “What?” he said. “Why?”

The small boy shrugged. “Dunno. He said I wouldn’t understand.”

But Gianni thought he did. As the realisation dawned on him, it brought with it an unpleasant icy feeling, which spread slowly in the pit of his stomach. The boy’s father must have got wind of what had happened the previous night.

“Fine,” he said, kicking the ball back. “Sorry.”

Without another word, Toto ran forward to retrieve the ball and ran off with his friend, glancing nervously over his shoulder as he went.

Feeling strangely dirty, Gianni took a seat at one of the bars, and stared moodily out over the empty space where he and Angelo had themselves spent so many happy hours playing football. It wasn’t long before a waiter emerged from the building and approached Gianni’s table.

“Yes?” he said.

“A Sprite, please,” Gianni replied.

The waiter nodded and returned to the building; Gianni followed him with his gaze. Reaching the bar, the waiter huddled closely with the barman and they had an intense whispered conversation. As Gianni watched, both turned to look back at him. Gianni flushed and fixed his eyes on the tablecloth, feeling embarrassed. First Toto, and now this – could he really be the talk of the town already? But there had been a lot of people at the wedding, he supposed, and in a small community like Ravello, news probably travelled fast.

A chinking of glass on china roused Gianni as the waiter brought him his can of drink, along with a tall iced glass resting on a small saucer.

Grazie,” Gianni said dully.

Prego,” the waiter replied, turning and heading back into the building once more.

Gianni poured his Sprite and sipped at it, trying to put what he had just seen out of his mind as he cast his eyes about the square; but now that he was sensitised to it, wherever he looked he thought he saw lone passers-by staring at him, or couples stopping in their tracks to discuss him in hushed voices as they went about their business. Never keen on being the centre of attention at the best of times, but least of all like this, Gianni finished his drink as quickly as he could manage it, cast some change down on the table and left.

Grabbing his bicycle once again, Gianni wheeled it slowly and aimlessly across the square, eyes downcast. His feet led him out through the tunnel, and soon he was standing by the bus stop at the end of the panoramic road by which he had first arrived in the town. Down below, he saw the same view of Minori that has so grabbed him on the day he had arrived. Back then, Gianni reflected, it had seemed to hold so much promise of discovery and adventure to come; but now it all seemed like a con, like so much window dressing on a place to which he could never truly belong.

Gianni desperately wished he had someone to talk to, but Angelo was avoiding him, Pietro apparently hated him, and he could hardly ask Anna or Sergio; he could think of nothing to do, nowhere he could go, where he would be free of the last few weeks, culminating as they had in the events of last night. Feeling utterly alone, Gianni laid down his bike and sagged down onto the pavement, staring glumly at the dusty cobble stones.

* * *

Gianni returned to his grandparents’ house in the early evening, after keeping a low profile for the afternoon. He’d been in no hurry to go home, and had gone cycling up the valley above Minori, ending up in the village of Sambuco, an odd heap of houses nestled in the landscape below the rocky, wooded slopes of Monte Brusara, which he vaguely remembered Angelo once having mentioned visiting. There, at least, nobody seemed to know him, and he had been able to regain a degree of anonymity. When, at last, he arrived back in his grandparents’ courtyard, Gianni leant his bike against the wall without bothering to lock it away.

Marina was on her hands and knees in the kitchen, washing the terracotta floor tiles with an old sponge as Gianni stepped in through the front door; she grunted a greeting at him as he arrived. Pausing on the threshold, he carefully took off his shoes and carried them through to the dining area.

Marina was making heavy weather of the work, mopping her brow intermittently against the heat. Observing this, Gianni thought he spied an opportunity to make up some ground with his grandmother, and, taking a stiff old cloth from under the sink, joined Marina on the floor.

“Want some help?” he asked.

Marina nodded. “Thank you.”

Marina had a bucket of soapy water beside her; Gianni dunked his cloth in the suds and watched it soften. Fishing the cloth out once it had soaked right through, he squeezed it out and set to work on some flecks of fatty residue close to the range, from which warmth still emanated in waves.

“Where’s Nonno?” Gianni asked, for the sake of conversation.

“He’s gone for a drink with his friend Guido,” Marina replied.

Gianni paused in his scrubbing, trying to remember the name. “Do I know Guido?”

“I don’t suppose so,” said Marina. “He’s an old workmate from Vittorio’s days as a plasterer. They helped to refurbish the Palazzo Sasso together.”

“Was Nonno good at what he did?” Gianni asked.

“Yes, very good,” Marina replied fondly. “They used to say he was the best in all of Ravello and Scala.”

Gianni nodded as he digested this.

“I went to Scala today,” he said.

Marina looked up sharply. “You did what? Gianni...!”

“I didn’t let Pietro or Anna see me,” Gianni said quickly. “I just wanted to speak to Angelo.”

Marina shook her head in exasperation. “And...?”

“You were right,” Gianni said, squeezing the cloth tightly so that water began to drip down and pool on the floor. “He doesn’t love me. And the way he said it...” he tailed off.

“What exactly did he say?” Marina pressed.

Gianni turned his attention back to the floor tiles, mopping up the pool of water he had just created. “He said that it was a mistake, and it shouldn’t have happened,” he said unevenly.

“I’m not surprised,” Marina said. “The poor boy was probably frightened to death.”

In spite of what had gone before, Gianni was hurt by her lack of sympathy. He gave her a pained look.

“He said he still wanted to friends,” he said.

“You can’t be thinking of going back?” Marina asked incredulously.

Gianni shook his head. “No. Not after that.”

“Good,” said Marina. Softening her tone, she continued, “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, Gianni, but you’re obsessed with that boy. He’s obviously been kind to you since you’ve been here, and you’ve got yourself confused.”

Gianni stared at her. “It isn’t like that,” he protested.

Marina was undeterred. “Trust me,” she insisted. “Eventually, this will all blow over, but you need to give the family time.”

Gianni cast his cloth aside and put his head in his hands; after the day he’d had, this was too much. “You don’t understand!”

Gianni heard Marina sigh, and he lifted his eyes from behind his splayed fingers.

“Gianni, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”

“What do you mean?”

Marina spread her hands despairingly. “What happened to the nice, quiet boy who came to live with us back in July?”

“I haven’t gone anywhere!” Gianni said angrily.

Marina sat back on her haunches. “I suppose I thought you’d end up marrying Claudia,” she said sadly. “She seems so fond of you.”

“Claudia?” Gianni repeated incredulously. “How could you expect me to marry Angelo’s sister? Angelo’s the one I’m in love with!”

“It’s not natural, Gianni!” Marina snapped. “You need to get a hold of yourself! Two boys can’t be in love.”

“You’re wrong!” Gianni shouted. “It happens all the time. You know it does!”

“Not here,” Marina said. “Here, we listen to what God teaches us. Listen to me, Gianni. I think you should go to see Father Stefano. Maybe he can help you.”

Gianni stood. “Is that your answer to everything?” he said shakily. “The church?”

“I don’t know who else to turn to,” Marina replied.

“Why can’t you just accept me for what I am?” Gianni protested. “Mum and Dad would have.”

Marina looked stung. “Perhaps they would.” She shot him a look. “But look what happened to them, Gianni.”

This was such a low blow that Gianni felt like he had been stabbed in the stomach all over again, and he had to struggle to restrain himself from lashing out. For a moment, words failed him, and he only stared at his grandmother, his eyes hurt and his mouth slightly open, pain threatening to turn into hatred deep within his chest. Wanting only to get away from his grandmother, he backed away slowly.

“I’m going to bed,” he said.

“But we haven’t even had dinner yet,” Marina replied.

“I don’t care,” Gianni said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Leaving his grandmother watching from the kitchen floor, his own cloth lying discarded a couple of feet away, Gianni retreated up the creaking wooden stairs and ran along the hallway to his room, slamming the door behind him and drawing the ragged curtains. The heat and humidity was oppressive, and Gianni stripped to his underwear, discarding his sweaty clothes on the floor. He could feel the day’s events building on top of him with suffocating pressure, and ran his hands harshly through his hair, trying to work it out of his system, staring at the whitewashed wall above the bed. As he did so, the frame he had mounted there caught his eye.

His parents’ tapestry stared at him from the wall above the bed, its lovingly embroidered lettering taunting him with its simple message.

Always be true to yourself.

Taking the frame down from the rusty nail on which he had hung it, Gianni held it in trembling hands for a few seconds, letting its words sink in. Angry tears formed in his eyes and splashed down onto the black wooden frame; he’d tried following its advice, and look where it had got him – he’d lost his friend, made himself a pariah, and now he’d probably lost his remaining family. Crying out, Gianni flung the framed tapestry under the bed, where it hit the back wall and he heard the glass break. Collapsing onto the bed, he cried, tugging at his hair.

* * *

It was a tired and pale Gianni who came down to breakfast late the next morning. Marina and Vittorio had already dined, and were doing the washing up; there was leftover ciabatta on the table, and there were two oranges awaiting juicing. Without saying a word to his grandparents, Gianni dragged himself to the table, reached for the fruit and began to squeeze them listlessly, pouring the juice into the glass that had been provided.

Vittorio, who had been drying a plate, paused and leant on the sideboard, looking at Gianni.

“You look unwell, son,” he said.

“Didn’t sleep,” Gianni replied.

“This has to stop,” said his grandfather. “You’ll make yourself ill.”

“Nonna seems to think I’m ill already,” said Gianni, drinking his orange juice and glaring at his grandmother.

“I don’t think you’re ill, Gianni,” said Marina wearily, “but I do think you need help – and I don’t know if we can provide it.”

“I know what I need,” said Gianni, “and I don’t think you can provide it either.” He got to his feet, crossed to the kitchen and set down his empty glass, making for the front door.

“Where are you going, son?” Vittorio said.

“Out,” said Gianni. “Thanks for the juice.”

“You can’t keep running away from the issue, Gianni!” Marina snapped.

“I’m not the one who can’t accept that I’m in love with another boy,” Gianni retorted. “It’s who I am. No amount of help is going to change that.”

Gianni slouched moodily down the stone steps and into the shady courtyard. The sun-drenched street awaited him once again, as it had done almost every morning since his arrival in Ravello, and he stepped resignedly out onto the baking paving stones.

Gianni’s night hadn’t been an easy one. Deprived of sleep by the thick air in his small attic room and the events of the past twenty-four hours, he had lapsed into grim contemplations, trying to imagine what future he would face when the new school term started, and how he could possibly expect to make new friends now that his name was so notorious in the town. He had found himself dwelling upon the abruptness of his dismissal by Angelo and the lack of sympathy shown by his grandmother, and his resentment of both of them had grown. From time to time he had thought of the broken tapestry under the bed, fuelling his restless mood with a layer of nagging guilt.

Now, Gianni felt, he probably wouldn’t be heading home again until quite late that evening. He wasn’t quite sure as yet what he was going to do, but he thought perhaps he might take that hike up Monte Brusara, as he and Angelo had once intended to do, despite the heavy, sultry weather. If that was the case, however, he would first need some provisions.

Gianni headed down the avenue of oleanders and turned straight into Via Roma, making for Salvatore’s, the grocers. Standing outside the shop with his friend on the scooter was Toto, who had regained his bicycle; said boy stared warily at Gianni as he crossed the threshold, but Gianni kept his eyes fixed determinedly forwards. The grocer himself was courteous as ever, but Gianni thought he detected a cooler edge to the man’s service than he was used to; remembering the way the younger boy had behaved in the square the previous day, however, somehow Gianni wasn’t surprised.

Gianni emerged back into the warm street a couple of minutes later, wielding a carrier bag full of food and drink that would form his lunch. To Gianni’s relief, Toto and his friend had moved on. He looked critically down at the plastic bag: it wasn’t, he realised, very suitable for a long hike. Pondering his options, he thought briefly of his big old rucksack, back at the house, but the thought of facing his grandparents again so soon was far from appealing; perhaps it was finally time to replace it with something more practical. Having reached this decision, Gianni wandered on down the street, into the shade of the overhanging buildings, until he reached the gift shops and clothiers, and peered in through the brightly lit windows.

Not many of the shops had what he was looking for, but in the back of one shop he did spot something promising: a few shoulder bags of the kind that Angelo had worn down to the beach, in a neutral khaki colour, hanging from pegs on the wall. Stepping into the shop, under the watchful eye of the proprietor, Gianni crossed the floor and inspected them more closely: they weren’t completely plain, being embroidered with the word “Ravello” and a crude representation of the familiar twin domes of the church on the hillside below the Villa Rufolo, but it was a level of tastelessness that Gianni thought he could live with. As he took one of the bags down off the peg, however, his eye was caught by a colourful rack nearby, from which hung several of the garish, multicoloured baseball caps that he had once bought for Angelo. His gut wrenched tightly once again, and he tore himself away to pay for his new purchase.

Slinging the bag across his chest and adjusting the strap, Gianni left the shop and wandered back out into the street, decanting the items one by one from his carrier bag into their new vessel. As he fiddled with his mineral water, bread, salami and apricots, Gianni became aware of the tapping of clunky shoes on paving stones as a figure came to a halt beside him, and he looked up.

“Buongiorno, Gianni.”

“Father Stefano,” Gianni replied blankly. The priest, who was wearing his usual black gown, gave Gianni a sympathetic smile – something that had been hard to come by for the last couple of days. He put a paternal hand on Gianni’s shoulder.

“Walk with me.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Gianni allowed himself to be led back up the street towards the square. Bearing the glances of the onlookers, Gianni accompanied the priest up the cathedral steps and through the side doors.

The nave was refreshingly cool and was, for the time being, free of worshippers and other visitors. Father Stefano led Gianni to a pew about half way down the aisle, where he gestured that they should sit down together.

“What’s this about, Father?” Gianni asked once they were both seated.

Father Stefano rubbed his bottom lip thoughtfully. “I understand you created quite a scene at Pietro and Anna’s wedding party on Saturday,” he said at length.

“I guess,” Gianni replied guardedly; he thought he knew where this was going.

The priest sighed. “I believe you may have upset a lot of people.”

Gianni bridled. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone!” he said hotly. “I just wanted Angelo to know how I felt. How was I supposed to know that nobody here could handle it?”

The priest closed his eyes and raised both hands in a pacifying gesture. “Gianni,” he said patiently, “Gianni. Do you think you’re the first person in Ravello ever to have faced these kinds of difficulties?”

Gianni simmered down. “I suppose not,” he admitted, “but it’s not allowed, is it?” He paused. “I guess the Bible says I’m going straight to Hell.”

The priest rose to his feet and paced briefly up and down the aisle. “Officially, I can’t disagree with you,” he said. “The Bible doesn’t permit homosexuality. There are many here who would consider it a grave sin.”

Gianni frowned in puzzlement. “Don’t you?”

The priest glanced at him for a moment. “This is a conversation I normally reserve for members of my flock,” he said, “but I still live in hope that you might join us some day, and you look like you need a friend right now.”

The priest took his seat once again, and looked seriously at Gianni. “I don’t believe you’re a bad person,” he said. “Truthfully, I don’t suppose anybody here really does. And I think the Lord will still have room in his heart for you, whatever your sexuality may happen to be.”

Gianni thought back to the cool treatment he had received in the shops and the stares he had received from onlookers. “But everybody...” he protested.

“...will get over it, given time,” the priest insisted, “even Pietro and Anna. Or, at least, most of them will. It’s true that one or two of them may never really accept you for who you are.”

“Pietro didn’t look to me like he would,” Gianni said sceptically.

At this, the priest actually smiled. “Well, you have to admit that your timing was less than opportune.”

Gianni glanced at the floor, humbled; perhaps the priest had a point.

“That all sounds great,” he said at length, “but my grandparents will still hate me.”

“I don’t suppose for a minute that they hate you, Gianni,” the priest said, “but you have to remember that they’re much older than either of us. They grew up in an earlier time when this kind of thing was less commonplace – or, at least, less known about. They’re bound to be confused and hurt by your revelation, particularly the means and timing by which you chose to make it. I think it’s fair to say that they’ll need more time than most to adjust.”

Gianni looked up at the priest. “I’ve tried to explain,” he said, “but they just don’t want to listen. I don’t know what else I can do.”

The priest looked grave. “Listen to me, Gianni,” he said quietly. “Do you know the story of how your mother came to leave Ravello?”

“Yes,” Gianni replied, “Anna told me.”

“Then you’ll know that Marina has regretted parting with her daughter on such bad terms ever since,” the priest pressed. “Don’t let the same thing happen to you.”

Defeated, Gianni sagged back into his seat. “Okay,” he sighed. “I’ll talk to them.”

The priest smiled, and placed a hand on Gianni’s shoulder once again. “Good boy,” he said. “I know it won’t be easy, but it’s worth the effort. If it helps, you can tell them that you talked to me.”

“Okay, I will,” Gianni said. “Thanks.”

Leaving the priest sitting in the pew, Gianni rose to his feet, hitched his new bag higher on his shoulder and made his way back up the nave, where dust motes danced in the sunbeams that streamed in from the high-level windows. Reaching the doors, he set out once again into the sweltering heat – although the sun had, for the moment, disappeared behind a bank of cloud – and made his way back up the avenue of oleanders, which rang with silence now that the cicadas in the adjoining gardens had ceased to sing.

Reaching the courtyard, Gianni climbed the stairs to the front door of his grandparents’ house, fishing out his key and letting himself in. The warm kitchen and dining area were in darkness except for the dusty beams of light that streamed in through the two small windows at the back of the house and the soft glow of the candle burning in the shrine above the sideboard; Marina and Vittorio must have gone out. Making his way quietly across the tiled floor, Gianni took a seat at the dining table and waited for them to return.

* * *

Gianni didn’t have too long to wait. The sound of a key in the door heralded the arrival of his grandparents, as it had done two nights before. Now, however, Gianni felt that had himself under control and was ready to make an effort; he hoped Marina and Vittorio were feeling similarly receptive.

Marina entered the kitchen first, closely followed by Vittorio, who was carrying a bag of shopping. She halted when she saw her grandson waiting at the table.

“Gianni!” she said, “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”

“I went to see the priest,” Gianni said.

Marina looked surprised. “Oh! That’s good.”

Gianni frowned; he had expected more. He got the feeling that something wasn’t right.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” he said.

“Yes,” Marina replied, “but...” she approached the table and sat down opposite Gianni, while Vittorio advanced to the sideboard and leant on it. She exchanged a glance with her husband. “There’s something I have to tell you. I think you should know, Gianni, that I’ve spoken with your social worker back in England. She’s going to reopen your case.”

Gianni felt like he had been slapped. For a moment he froze, staring at Marina in disbelief, but then he stumbled out of his seat, raising a shaking hand towards his grandmother.

“You can’t do that!” he cried.

“It’s done,” Marina replied quietly.

“But... you can’t just ditch me the moment things get difficult, just because you don’t understand!”

“Maybe it’s for the best,” Vittorio suggested.

“How? How is it for the best?” Gianni cried. “Because you won’t have to be ashamed of me any more?”

“That’s not what it was about,” said Marina. “I wanted you to get help.”

“I came back here to try to make things right with you,” said Gianni, “and instead you tell me this.”

Marina looked back at him wordlessly.

“And Father Stefano did help,” Gianni blurted out. “He told me it was okay for me to be myself. What do you think about that?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Marina replied.

The jagged knife reappeared in Gianni’s stomach and twisted itself a little deeper. He glanced desperately about the darkened room, feeling claustrophobic. He seemed to have lost the ability to think.

“I can’t stay here,” he said, backing towards the front door. “I have to leave.”

Marina grabbed him by the arm as he passed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Gianni,” she said, her expression one of concern. “Where will you go?”

Gianni shook his arm roughly free. “I don’t know!” he said. “Anywhere’s better than here.”

Turning on his heel, Gianni ran for the door. Vittorio, too, tried to grab hold of him as he passed, but Gianni jerked his arm free and wrenched the door open, pulling it closed behind him as he fled outside.

“Gianni!” he heard Marina cry, but the door had already slammed shut in its frame as Gianni ran down the steps and into the courtyard, hot tears running down his cheeks.

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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Ideally I'd have posted chapters 11 and 12 together... but for readers following me 'live', I'm afraid there will be one more enforced wait!

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Is this heading in a very unpleasant direction, no friends or family and cerainly no love? I woud at this point be very concerned for Gianni,

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I can’t get over how consumed I am with this story.  I’ve actually thought about it all day at work.  I just found this series yesterday so I’ve read it all in one sitting up this chapter today.  I can’t get Gianni out of my mind.  That poor kid!!

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21 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Should one have expected better from Marina? She forced her daughter to leave and now she is forcing her grandson to do the same. Seemingly she didn't learn anything the first time, but then she has never seen her grandson so can have no great feelings for him. Plus, she is old and deeply influenced by her RC faith. I guess one shouldn't be too hard on her, but....... 

I’m actually glad you’re wrestling with that question. In my mind, at least, there are no ‘bad guys’ in this story.

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23 hours ago, James Carnarvon said:

Ideally I'd have posted chapters 11 and 12 together... but for readers following me 'live', I'm afraid there will be one more enforced wait!

“Patiently” waiting for the next chapter 😬😬.  ⏱⏱⏱

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I am not surprised at the initial reaction of Gianni's family.  He didn't give them enough time or preparations for the impetuous act that revealed his homosexuality.  I do believe he has misread Angelo  and truly believes that Angelo has also rejected him.  Father Stefano's talk did help, but Marina's rejection has him with no alternatives and I am sure he feels hopeless. I do fear he has been pushed to the brink one more time. I only hope he can make it through this one more time with the help of Angelo.

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