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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 - 2. Chapter 2

“Come on, daydreamer!”

Gianni tore himself away from the view to find Pietro waiting beside the car with his laden rucksack held out in one hand. Shouldering the proffered bag, Gianni fell in beside Pietro as they set off along the road.

They were at a cobbled turning area lined with small trees, below which the road zigzagged off down the hillside to serve the scattered houses below. A few elderly locals, their faces weather-beaten and heavily lined, looked on with beady interest from their vantage point at the bus stop as Pietro steered Gianni into a short tunnel running under an elevated palazzo, which offered a brief but welcome respite from the relentless July sun, and the coastline vanished from view.

Before long, Pietro and Gianni had emerged in the quietly bustling surroundings of a large, tree-lined square, enclosed on two sides by ancient, worn-looking buildings with rusting ironwork. Looking around, Gianni spied narrow, cobbled lanes enclosed by further old buildings and high stone walls leading out from the square in all directions. To the right, a grand flight of steps led up towards a plain but imposing cathedral with a slender and ornate bell tower, whose whitewashed façade appeared to glow in the sunshine; up in the belfry, Gianni saw a small group of pigeons sheltering from the heat. In the nearest corner of the square stood a tall, stout and ancient-looking stone gatehouse, standing astride a pointed archway that led to a green, leafy-looking space beyond, while, around the edges of the square, bars spilled out into the sun, their comfortable-looking chairs and neatly dressed tables lined up invitingly under the shade of giant parasols. Looking from table to table, Gianni observed smartly-dressed young couples talking quietly over coffees, while older locals in polo shirts sipped glasses of beer as they conversed with the waiting staff. Rose bushes and planters full of petunias created splashes of colour all around the square, while visitors posed for photos and came and went from intriguing-looking shops. The general hubbub of town life surrounded them, but even that was drowned out by the raucous scraping of cicadas in the trees, celebrating the summer heat.

But what really caught Gianni’s attention was the view. Opposite the cathedral, the sturdy trunks of eight tall, sculptural-looking pine trees with flat, mushroom-like canopies framed a striking vista across a deep, sun-drenched valley enclosed by tree-crowned mountain peaks. Finding himself drawn towards it, Gianni wandered across the stone-paved square until he was standing at the railings in the dappled shade of the trees, where the racket of the cicadas was at its strongest.

Like the hillside outside the tunnel, the far side of the valley had been heavily cultivated, but possibly even more so. Above and below Gianni’s vantage point, terraced plantations abounded in all but the steepest, rockiest places, giving the mountainside the same striated appearance as the hillside out by the road. Interspersed between these plantations were a series of interconnected hamlets, whose eclectic buildings clung to the contours of the slope in loose paintbrush strokes, linked by a single road that climbed to and fro up the mountain. At the centre of the scattered development was a larger cluster of buildings, where Gianni could see the ancient stone nave of another substantial cathedral, whose curved and windowless rear wall glowered out over the valley.

“That’s Scala, where my family lives,” said Pietro, joining Gianni at the railings.

Somewhere nearby, a cracked-sounding church bell chimed four times, and then a higher-pitched bell chimed twice more. Checking his wristwatch, Gianni saw that it read half past three; he must have forgotten to change it while he was on the plane.

“Is that the time?” Pietro said in surprise, and before he could adjust the hands of his watch, Gianni found himself being led firmly away from the railings and back into the sunlight. “There’ll be time for exploration later. Marina and Vittorio will be waiting.”

Pietro led Gianni back across the square to the left hand corner, where a long, broad flight of steps lined with carefully-trained oleanders formed an inviting avenue that climbed gently beside the cathedral. Pietro set off up the stairs at a brisk pace; Gianni, unused to the heat and laden down with his rucksack, trailed along a few paces behind, engulfed in the overhanging sprays of light pink and magenta flowers and old stone boundary walls, out of which small tufts of greenery grew.

The steps ended at a narrow street paved with irregularly-shaped stones, where an ad-hoc layout of palazzi rendered in shades of faded salmon and cream faced out onto the colourful gardens of the small town hall. The street climbed gradually along a ridge above the cathedral, overlooking the rooftops of the town and the distant hillside of Scala beyond. A couple of passing locals shouted a greeting to Pietro, who returned the gesture and then set off up the hill, indicating that Gianni should follow.

As they climbed the street, Gianni, still a few steps behind, became aware of the rhythmic thudding sound of somebody kicking a football against a wall. He looked around, trying to identify the source, but was soon distracted as a beautiful young woman with olive skin and long dark hair stepped out of a small courtyard to the right, carrying a bundle of fabric under one arm. Her bright white dress lit up in the sunlight, momentarily dazzling the tired Gianni.

“Thank you for the sheets, Nonna!” the young woman called over her shoulder. Gianni heard an indistinct answering call from somewhere behind the courtyard entrance.

“Anna!” Pietro exclaimed, running to greet the young woman. Surprised, she turned around just in time to be embraced by Pietro. Gianni looked on with slight embarrassment as the two shared an enthusiastic greeting.

“Pietro! You’re back!” the young woman said, between kisses. “Then, that means...” she looked round, and her eyes fell upon Gianni, who froze.

With a cry, the young woman pressed the bundle of sheets into the unsuspecting Pietro’s arms and then descended on the alarmed Gianni, who dropped his rucksack as she swept him into an embrace, kissing him on both cheeks. “You must be Gianni,” she beamed. “I’m your cousin Anna. It’s wonderful to meet you at last!” she paused, and brushed a lock of Gianni’s hair off his forehead. “But I didn’t know you were going to be so handsome.”

Released from her grasp, Gianni staggered back a step, blushing in spite of himself. “Ah... hi,” he managed at length, automatically putting out a hand.

Anna laughed delightedly and took the proffered hand. “Nonna,” she shouted over her shoulder, “he’s here!”

There was the sound of feet clomping heavily down stone steps and then a slightly stout older woman in a black dress emerged onto the street. Her gait was ungainly, but her face was kind amidst her long, wavy, greying hair. She was followed a moment later by an elderly man with a weathered-looking face, who wore a buff jacket, glasses and a flat cap and carried a pipe between his teeth. The man, who looked like he had been a powerful figure in his youth, now seemed to walk with a permanent stoop. Both looked to be in their mid to late seventies.

“Gianni!” the older woman said warmly as she stopped to greet the new arrival, putting a rough hand on each of his shoulders. Her voice was husky and reassuring, like chocolate. “It’s so good to finally see you. I’m your grandmother, Marina, and this is your grandfather, Vittorio.”

“Buongiorno,” the older man winked. His voice was thinner than his wife’s, with the telltale croak of a heavy smoker.

Touched by their welcome, Gianni felt that he should say something meaningful, but, finding himself stuck for words, picked his rucksack back up and settled for a simple greeting and a smile. “Hello.”

“Come inside,” said Marina, leading Gianni back up the street, “you must be tired.”

Pietro and Anna were having a hushed, smiling conversation just outside the courtyard entrance. As Gianni and his grandparents approached, they hailed Marina and made their excuses, explaining that they had errands to run together before Pietro returned to Scala.

Waiting patiently by the gate, which looked like it hadn’t been closed in years, Gianni became aware that the sound of the bouncing football had stopped. Glancing into the courtyard, he realised that he was being watched: a dark-eyed boy of about his own age, with short, black, spiky hair and a crumpled blue shirt hanging untidily around a pair of beige shorts, stood with one foot on the battered football, looking at Gianni with open curiosity.

“Ciao, Gianni,” Pietro said, drawing Gianni’s attention away from the other boy and giving him a brief squeeze about the shoulders. “It was good to meet you.”

“Yeah, thanks for the lift,” Gianni replied.

Anna embraced Gianni again, giving him a quick kiss on one cheek for good measure. “Ciao, Gianni,” she echoed. Then, more quietly, “If you need anything, or even if you just want to talk, I want you to know that I’m here for you, okay?”

Gianni smiled once again, and nodded to indicate that he understood.

Pietro exchanged goodbyes with Gianni’s grandparents, then, bundling the sheets under one arm and putting the other around Anna’s shoulders, set off up the street. “Come on, Angelo!” he called. The boy in the courtyard scooped the football up into his arms and, with one last quick glance at Gianni, set off after the others.

* * *

The shaded courtyard was small and intimate. Old houses surrounded the space, interlocking and overlapping in a way that made it quite impossible to tell where one ended and another began; Gianni spied about three doors, all on different levels, amidst the rambling creeper that festooned the buildings, while on the upper floors, small leaded windows peeped out intriguingly from between the leaves. Gianni was led up a narrow flight of stone steps to a plain wooden door, which Marina opened, inviting him to come inside. Gianni followed her in, with Vittorio bringing up the rear.

The enticing scent of something rich and savoury cooking assailed Gianni’s senses as he stepped through the door and into a dark but homely-looking, low-ceilinged kitchen, where wooden cupboards surrounded an old iron range from which heat emanated in waves. Fixed to one whitewashed wall was a rank of wooden shelves, upon which stood an assortment of dried and preserved ingredients, including dried herbs, olives, canned artichokes and big glass jars containing an assortment of pasta shapes. Strings of garlic and dried chillies hung to either side, bunched up so that they resembled ears of wheat. Opposite the range stood a large ceramic sink with ancient-looking, limescale-encrusted brass taps while, further into the room, a sideboard containing a stack of crockery and a bowl of fresh fruit separated the kitchen from a living area, in the centre of which stood a sturdy wooden dining table. Gianni’s eye was drawn to an alcove above the sideboard, where he was surprised to find a small shrine: fresh flowers had been arranged carefully around a painted wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on the cross, lit by the glow of a tea-light that flickered in a small red jar. Gianni moved towards the shrine to examine it more closely.

The source of the delicious aroma turned out to be a large pan of pasta sauce, which was simmering quietly on the range. Marina hobbled across the worn terracotta tiles to check on its progress. Stirring the sauce and finding everything to her satisfaction, she made for the gap by the sideboard and invited Gianni to follow.

“Come on through,” she said.

Gianni, his rucksack still over his shoulder, followed his grandmother into the living area. The dusky space was lit by two small windows on the back wall and the glow of a lantern that hung over the dining table. Kneeling on an old, cushioned church pew that sat below the windows and peering out into the sunlight, Gianni saw that the house looked straight down the hillside outside the town to the distant water’s edge and the terracotta roofs of Minori, clustered at the foot of the valley.

The walls of the living area were lined with framed, black and white photographs of what Gianni took to be members of the family. Looking around with interest, Gianni recognised Pietro and Anna’s faces smiling down from a formal portrait mounted on the wall between the two windows. There was also a photo of a young-looking Anna standing with an older couple who were presumably her parents, and a more recent group photo of Marina, Vittorio and Anna with Pietro and his family. Beside Pietro and his parents stood two young children, one of whom Gianni took to be a younger version of the boy with the football, and the other of whom was a smaller girl. Gianni was disappointed to find no photos that he could recognise for certain as being of his mother, although he did find himself drawn to one particular picture, in which a much younger, darker-haired Marina, accompanied by a girl of about ten, smiled happily at the camera with a small baby in her arms.

Marina was waiting for Gianni at the bottom of a flight of wooden stairs in the corner of the room.

“I hope you like it,” she said. “Come on up and I’ll show you your room.”

Gianni nodded and followed her. Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, he glanced expectantly at Vittorio, who had taken a seat at the dining table.

“You go on, young man,” his grandfather said, a twinkle in his eye as he reached for a tobacco box in front of him. “My legs aren’t what they used to be. I’ll see you when you’ve had a chance to settle in.”

The stairs led Gianni and his grandmother up into a small hallway on the top floor, which was lit by a single skylight. First on the right was a closed door, which Gianni presumed led to his grandparents’ bedroom. A second door opened onto a small bathroom containing archaic but clean and cared for-looking plumbing. It was the third door, which stood ajar at the far end of the landing, that Marina now led him towards.

Marina pushed the door open, and Gianni found himself in a small, warm loft room with plain whitewashed walls of rough plaster and a sloping ceiling. To one side was an old wardrobe, and to the other side a bed with a small wooden table beside it, upon which stood an antiquated desk lamp. A threadbare-looking rug in the middle of the room softened the effect of the ceramic tiled floor. In the far wall was a small square window, hung with a pair of tatty curtains, which looked out under the eaves of the house to give a creeper-lined view of the courtyard and the sunny street beyond.

“Here you go,” Marina said, standing by the door with one hand on the door frame for support. “Anna used to stay in this room sometimes when she was little. It’s probably a bit smaller than you’re used to.”

Dropping his rucksack on the tiles, Gianni sat on the bed and looked back gratefully at his grandmother. “I love it, thanks.”

The corners of Marina’s mouth creased in a smile. “Make yourself at home. Come down when you’re ready; dinner won’t be for some time yet. Vittorio and I can’t wait to meet you properly.”

“Okay,” Gianni replied.

Gianni heard Marina’s heavy footsteps receding down the hallway. Kicking off his trainers, he lay back on the bed, which was made up with soft but rough blankets, his hands behind his head.

Gianni stared at the cracked ceiling. So, this was his home now, he thought; it didn’t seem so bad. Closing his eyes, he listened to the murmur of his grandparents’ voices downstairs. Through the closed window, the distant scraping of the cicadas was still discernible, and there was the occasional snatch of conversation or laughter as people passed by in the street outside; but what struck Gianni most of all was that the sound of traffic – ever-present around his old London home, and so dominant in the busy towns around Naples – was nowhere to be heard.

The soporific heat and the gentle wash of background sounds were making Gianni drowsy. For fear of falling asleep, he forced himself to sit up, then slid off the bed and began to unpack his things.

First to come out of the stuffed rucksack was a motley bunch of slightly crumpled shirts and t-shirts, which he put aside temporarily. This revealed the picture frame containing his parents’ tapestry, which he pulled out and placed carefully on the end of the bed. Having fished out his deodorant and sponge bag, Gianni paused as he came across a nest of carefully balled socks. With a pang, he realised that they must have been paired up that way by his mother. He picked one up and bounced it briefly in his hand, his mind momentarily on his old life in London.

Gianni shook himself and began looking for somewhere to store his clothes. He opened the old wooden wardrobe, which smelled of sawdust and mothballs, and found it to be empty apart from several coat hangers; these he used to hang his jacket, his shirts and a spare pair of jeans. Below the hanging area was a drawer, which Gianni used to store his t-shirts, his underwear and other smaller items. This left Gianni with his books and his few valuables. Casting his eyes about the room, he saw two drawers in the bedside table.

The bottom drawer was empty. Carefully, Gianni placed his family photos in a corner of the drawer. Then he checked his iPod: the battery was low and, without a cable to charge it, it would soon be useless. He tossed the device into the bottom drawer, along with the books.

Within the top drawer, Gianni found a Bible and a small fabric doll. He examined the doll curiously: its clothes were patched and frayed and some of the stitching was coming undone, but it must at one time have been somebody’s prize possession. After a moment’s thought, he placed it in the corner of the window ledge. Then, dumping his toiletries into the top drawer next to the Bible, he shoved his now empty rucksack into the corner of the wardrobe.

Gianni picked his parents’ tapestry up off the bed and cast about for somewhere to hang it. After a moment, his eyes fell upon a rusty nail sticking out of the wall above the bed, where a faint dusty outline suggested there had been a picture hanging once before. Finding the string on the back of the frame with his fingers, he hung the tapestry carefully over the head of the nail.

Gianni glanced round the room and scratched his head. Everything seemed to be in place, which meant it was time to go and be sociable. Finding a mirror on the back of the bedroom door, Gianni paused to make sure he looked presentable.

A skinny fifteen-year-old in shirt sleeves looked back at him, his features losing their childish softness but his skin, fairer than many of the people he had met today but darker than his English friends, still mercifully clear of acne. In his own reflection, Gianni recognised for the first time his father’s keen blue eyes and his mother’s thick, dark hair, whose slightly-too-long fringe hung intermittently over his eyes. Lifting back the hair from the left hand side of his forehead as Mrs. Deakes had done, Gianni saw that he did indeed have a slight scar, tracing a faint line from the middle of his forehead down to the corner of his eyebrow, where it left a pale mark – a lifelong reminder of the accident that had changed his life.

Gianni let his fringe fall back into place and then brushed at it with his left hand until he was satisfied. Then, pulling the door open, he set off down the hallway and padded down the wooden steps to join his grandparents in the warmth of the living area.

Marina had taken a chair at the dining table, next to Vittorio, who was puffing contemplatively on his pipe, creating a slight haze in the low-ceilinged room.

“Gianni!” she said, “come and join us.”

Slightly uncertainly, Gianni pulled out one of the wooden chairs, which made a hollow scraping noise against the terracotta tiles, and sat down opposite his grandparents. Regarding their lined but alert faces over a large bowl of fragrant potpourri that stood in the middle of the table, Gianni imagined that this must be how a job applicant felt when put before an interviewing panel.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Marina asked, clasping her hands together fretfully. Perhaps, Gianni realised, he wasn’t the only one who was nervous. The thought made him feel a little better.

“I wouldn’t mind a lemonade,” he ventured.

Marina appeared to think for a moment. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I think I did pick some up at Salvatore’s this morning. Just a moment.”

Marina heaved herself out of her chair. Gianni made as if to help, but she stopped him with a dismissive shake of the head and a wave of a finger. “No, no, you stay there.”

Gianni watched as Marina made her way into the kitchen. Stooping behind the sideboard, she took out a clean glass and then, ferreting in a nearby fridge, produced a can of something, which she popped open on the sideboard before bringing both back to the table and placing them in front of Gianni.

The name inscribed on the side of the can, ‘Lemon Soda’, was unfamiliar to Gianni. “Thanks,” he said, pouring out the drink as Marina sat back down. The drink was cloudy, like homemade lemonade rather than the clear, sugary drink that he was used to, but it fizzed enticingly in the glass; tasting it, Gianni found it to be a little bitter, but refreshing.

There was a moment’s awkward silence. Gianni glanced briefly over his shoulder, towards the window. “I like your view,” he said, as much for the sake of something to say as for any other reason. “The house, too.”

“It’s kind of you to say so,” Marina said. “But it’s not much, really. My Vittorio” – here she squeezed her husband’s hand – “was a plasterer by trade. It kept our family fed and watered, but we never had enough money to think about moving.”

“How long have you lived here?” Gianni asked.

Vittorio unclamped the pipe from between his teeth. “Ever since we were married,” he said. “For Marina, longer than that. Marina grew up here – in your bedroom, in fact.”

“All your life?” Gianni asked his grandmother, surprised, glancing at the stairs and picturing the small room overlooking the courtyard.

Marina nodded. “My family goes back for generations in this town. My great grandparents lived in this house even before Nevile Reid brought the road to Ravello.”

The name was unfamiliar to Gianni. “When was that?” he asked.

“In the late nineteenth century,” Marina replied. “Before that, the only way to get here was on foot, up the steep footpaths from the coast. Goods had to be brought here by mule.”

“My family moved to Ravello from Atrani in the fifties,” Vittorio said. “We took a house just off Via Roma. That’s where I met your grandmother.”

“In the grocery shop,” Marina smiled reminiscently.

“We got married soon after that,” Vittorio added, “and it wasn’t long before we had our dear Giulia. The house may be small, but it’s been a good home for us over the years.”

Marina nodded. “It has. God couldn’t have granted us a happier life with our two beautiful girls.”

Gianni waited hopefully, wondering if she was about to talk about his mother, but instead she tailed off, with a pained look. Gianni saw her glance at the photo he had seen earlier, in which the younger Marina smiled at the camera with the young girl and the baby. Seeming to gather herself, she said, “I’d better check on the pasta sauce.”

Disappointed, Gianni watched as his grandmother returned to the kitchen and stirred the simmering saucepan. Pausing to add a little water, she returned to the table.

“How was your journey?” she asked.

“Oh –” Gianni started at the abrupt change of subject. “It was okay. They chaperoned me on the flight and helped me through Arrivals. Pietro was waiting for me – he seems like a nice guy.”

This was evidently a happier subject for Marina, who brightened visibly. “Oh, yes, he is,” she said. “We can’t wait for the wedding. Pietro’s parents, Marta and Andrea, have been wonderful about organising it.”

“When is the wedding?” Gianni asked.

“In six weeks,” she replied. “I’m sure Anna would love for you to come too.”

Gianni gave her a small smile over his drink. “That would be great.”

Deciding that it was a safe subject, Gianni listened to his grandparents talk at some length about the wedding, during which time he learned that it was to take place at the cathedral in the square, with a reception to be held afterwards at the hotel next to the Morescan fountain – wherever that was. Anna was to be given away by Sergio, her father, with whom she lived alone in San Martino, the hillside area on the edge of the town that Pietro had pointed out as they approached Ravello in the car.

Marina put a hand to her mouth and gasped at a sudden thought, “Oh, we’ll have to get you some smart clothes!” She paused, thoughtfully; “I think Rosario’s in Amalfi will have something that would fit a growing boy like you.”

“Don’t get him anything too nice, Marina,” her husband chuckled, “he’ll have all the women of Ravello falling at his feet. I don’t think the groom would be very impressed to be upstaged.”

Vittorio winked at Gianni, who laughed, embarrassed. Marina laughed too.

“You look so like your mother when you smile, Gianni...” she began, but then she broke off. After a moment, she sniffed, and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. Gianni looked on, feeling suddenly miserable.

Putting his pipe down on the table, Vittorio placed an arm around his wife’s shoulders and whispered comfortingly in her ear. Gianni, himself feeling the sting of tears, rubbed his eyes and turned back to the window, sipping his drink. Suddenly, he wanted to escape from the cosy little room. Somewhere, not far away, the church bells chimed a quarter to six.

“I’m sorry, Gianni,” said Marina’s voice after a moment. Gianni turned, reluctantly, and was relieved to see that his grandmother was smiling again. “Forgive your old Nonna a moment of silliness. I expect you want to get outside; why don’t you go for a wander?”

“Okay,” Gianni replied, relieved. Finishing his drink, he rose from the table.

“Your Italian is very good, Gianni,” said Marina as he made for the stairs.

“Thanks,” Gianni replied. He paused, uncertainly. “Mum taught me.”

Marina dropped her gaze morosely at this, but Gianni thought she looked pleased. “Of course,” she said.

Gianni watched as Marina heaved herself up once again and made her way back into the kitchen. “Don’t go too far,” she said. “I’ll have dinner ready in about an hour.”

* * *

Returning to his room, Gianni donned his trainers once again. Out of habit, he made for the wardrobe as if to reach for his jacket, but, glancing through the window at the sunny street outside, checked himself and left without it.

Vittorio met Gianni in the living area. “Don’t go out without these, young man,” he said, pressing a spare set of keys into Gianni’s outstretched palm.

Gianni, caught slightly unawares – he hadn’t yet got used to the idea of coming back here every day – thanked him and pocketed the keys. “See you in a bit,” he said in passing to his grandmother, who was slaving over the range. Marina dismissed him with a wave.

Gianni let himself out, ambled down the stairs and stepped out from the shade of the courtyard into the warmth of the stone-paved street. As he looked indecisively from left to right, his attention was caught by a set of inviting-looking stone arches just a little further up the hill. Approaching these, he passed through the largest arch to find himself on a landscaped belvedere, from which he could look down upon the sparkling sea and the hills around Minori and Maiori. The high-pitched racket of a two-stroke engine arose from below, and Gianni glanced down to see a local on a Vespa scooter passing along the main hillside road on their way into town.

After spending a few minutes contemplating the view, Gianni returned to the street. He headed back down the hill, past the courtyard of his grandparents’ house, until he reached the top of the avenue of oleanders. From where he stood, the distant hillside of Scala swept majestically across his view, forming a striking backdrop to the descending stairway. With the onset of evening, the shadows on the hillside were beginning to lengthen, casting the terraced landscape into sharper relief.

Gianni sauntered down the steps, glancing into the overgrown cathedral gardens as he went, until he emerged on the edge of the main square. He jumped back, startled, as a small boy on a bicycle hurtled out of the lane to the right, pinging his bell. Glancing down the narrow street, Gianni saw that it contained a row of shops, but decided that the serious exploration could wait until tomorrow.

The small boy on the bicycle was now engaged in a game of chase with a friend, who was pushing himself around the square on a micro scooter. His pace was no match for that of the boy on the bicycle, but still he propelled himself gamely round in circles, trying to catch his companion.

Gianni mooched about the square, investigating the bars and other businesses. As Gianni drew close to one of the bars, he made accidental eye contact with the proprietor, who gave him a courteous nod from his vantage point under the awning; Gianni gave him an uncertain wave in response. Drawn to the old stone gatehouse in the corner of the square, Gianni found it to be the entrance to the Villa Rufolo, formal gardens and concert venue; a marble plaque nearby spoke of the purchase and restoration of the villa by the Scotsman Francesco Nevile Reid in the 1850s, which at least answered one of Gianni’s questions.

After spending a few minutes back at the railings overlooking the valley, surrounded by the exuberant rasping of the cicadas, Gianni crossed the square and plonked himself on the cathedral steps, appreciating the evening sun, which had lost its ferocious edge of the early afternoon. In the middle of the square, the two small boys continued their game, while all around Gianni the life of the town carried on, with couples and families – a few of them tourists, all of them seeming cheerful – going about their business together. Gianni began to feel out of place, and very alone.

Closing his eyes briefly, Gianni immersed himself in the sounds of the world going by and drifted into daydreams. With no idea of what else to do or what the coming days would bring, he remained where he was for some time, until the sun began to dip towards the looming hillside of Scala, lengthening the shadows on the far side of the valley even further.

As the time neared seven o’clock, the throbbing of life in the square showed no sign of abating; in fact, it seemed to Gianni that there were more people sitting at the bars and milling around the square than there had been when he’d come down the hill about an hour ago. Even the two small boys had been joined by further local children, who were now engaged in an energetic game of tag. Feeling weary, however, Gianni stood, stretched and made his way back to the colourful, oleander-lined steps leading back up towards his grandparents’ house.

“Ah, good,” Marina said as Gianni let himself in, “we’re nearly ready. Have a seat.”

Marina was busy at the range, boiling a large pan of pasta. Gianni took a seat at the dining table.

“Normally we’d eat a little later than this,” Marina explained as she drained the pasta, “but we thought you might be tired after your long day.”

“I am a bit, thanks,” Gianni replied.

While Vittorio set to opening a bottle of red wine, Marina tossed the pasta expertly with the savoury-smelling sauce, and dished it out onto three heated plates that she pulled out of the range. She placed the first of these in front of Gianni, where it steamed appetisingly, before returning with the others for herself and her husband.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese,” she smiled. “We thought it might help you to feel at home.”

Talking to Marina and Vittorio in the more informal context of dinner was easier than their awkward conversation of earlier that evening. Gianni answered his grandparents’ questions about his friends, his hobbies and his school, keeping references to his parents to a minimum. Gianni was even offered a small glass of wine; tasting the heady, fruity drink dubiously, he concluded that it wasn’t too bad. It was only when Vittorio asked whether Gianni had had a girlfriend back in London that the awkwardness of their earlier conversation threatened to return: although some of Gianni’s school friends had started to show interest in girls, it was something that he himself had never yet been able to understand and, feeling embarrassed, he replied that he hadn’t.

After the meal, Gianni helped his grandparents with the washing up and then, confessing to feeling exhausted, said that he was ready for bed.

“Of course,” Marina replied. She gave the compliant Gianni a quick hug and a kiss on the forehead. “I hope you sleep well. We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, young man,” croaked Vittorio from his seat at the table. Gianni wished him the same as he made his way back up the stairs.

Gianni brushed his teeth in the antiquated bathroom and then returned to his room. Shutting the door, eyelids drooping, he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Untucking the blankets at the corner, Gianni made ready for bed, then paused for a solemn moment to re-read his parents’ tapestry.

“Good night,” he said quietly.

Stripping to his underwear, Gianni clambered into bed and tucked the blankets around him. The sound of conversation and laughter could be heard, very distantly, drifting up from the square. The refrain of one of the songs he had heard in the car drifted into his consciousness as he closed his eyes.

Don’t cry tonight,’ he thought.

With the words echoing in his mind, Gianni slept.

* * *

He was running down a suburban London street, traffic passing by, in pursuit of the two figures that jogged along ahead of him.

“Wait,” he cried, but they didn’t seem to hear.

He ran and ran, dodging trees and lamp posts on the narrow pavement, but still the two figures remained resolutely distant, his mother with her long dark hair jogging next to the taller, greying-haired form of his father.

His mother and father had reached the beach, but the pursuing boy stopped short, for a Motorway now strode across his view, endless traffic flashing by in an impenetrable blur.

“Mum! Dad!” he shouted, but his words were drowned out by the noise of the cars.

The two figures were playing in the shallows, laughing, as they receded into a dazzling white light. Their pursuer, trapped behind the carriageway, stretched a hand out desperately.

At last, the boy saw his mother turn to him. “Come on in, Gianni! The water’s lovely!”

The world was fading around him. Fixing his eyes upon his parents on the beach, the boy threw himself into the traffic.

And in his small bedroom in Ravello, Gianni awoke with a start and a muffled cry. For a moment, he didn’t know where he was, but then he slumped back onto the bed, hot tears soaking into his soft pillow in the darkness.

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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I am enjoying your story very much.  Your descriptions of his surroundings--from the dusty, crowded, noisy urban ones to the jumbled, verdant town in which his grandparents live, and the many vistas of the valley and the sea--are beautifully detailed.  I look forward to learning the life that he will lead in Italy, and discovering more of the past and present lives of his parents and grandparents.

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48 minutes ago, everett Weedin jr said:

I am enjoying your story very much.  Your descriptions of his surroundings--from the dusty, crowded, noisy urban ones to the jumbled, verdant town in which his grandparents live, and the many vistas of the valley and the sea--are beautifully detailed.  I look forward to learning the life that he will lead in Italy, and discovering more of the past and present lives of his parents and grandparents.

Thank you! I will keep posting.

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Even though Gianni's grandparents are strangers, at least they're trying. That said, he feels constrained against discussing his mother, which will affect his ability to grieve on the one hand and connect with his grandparents on the other.  Conversation between them is still awkward, and I'm looking forward to seeing these strangers morph into the family they're meant to be. (I agree that Tagliatelle alla Bolognese is a good start! ^_^)

Another good start:  Angelo of the dark eyes had to take one last look at Gianni before leaving the courtyard.  Hmmm.... 

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The descriptions of the small town are extremely vivid and filled with both familiarity and life.

the grandparents seem nice and they are trying. It will be hard for them to adjust to having a teenager around again. There are still uncomfortable secrets between them which need to be brought into the light, even though it might not be pleasant. These are ghosts which need to be laid to rest.

Unless he finds some.friends, this will be a lonely place.

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Fantastic chapter, you transported me into the mountains of Italy and a small medieval village nestling into the hillside, it's stone buildings adorned with climbing greenery and colourful blooms, the shadows drawing out in length as the sun goes down, superb descriptions. I could hear the cicadas and glimpse the distant blue, blue, sea. I could almost smell the pipe smoke of Vittorio and see the dust reflected in the sunbeams across Gianni's bedroom. The characters are very well drawn, you created the perfect image of his elderly grandparents, just as you did with the young children chasing each other in the square. You paint a picture with your words that is sublime.

Edited by Talo Segura
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Excellent chapter! Your descriptive writing is beyond superior! I felt like I was there!  Great story - thank you!

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2 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

Excellent chapter! Your descriptive writing is beyond superior! I felt like I was there!  Great story - thank you!

Thank you!

The descriptive writing has been much commented on. The characters take centre stage in the coming chapters; I hope you enjoy it!

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I could feel like I was in the village with Gianni and again in the home of his grandparents.  Your vivid and colourful descriptions so added to the mood of the story.  Gianni's awkward discussions with his grandparents were very realistic considering their backgrounds.  His dream is concerning, since it seems he still has not dealt with the deaths of his parents.  Nonna's  reactions to the mention of Gianni's parents was expected, and I feel both Gianni and his Nonna may need each other to discuss the past in order to heal.  I am hooked!

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