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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 - 3. Chapter 3

The next morning, Marina declared that the three of them were to go to Mass.

The day after Gianni’s arrival had dawned fresh and cool, but Gianni, waking promptly and sticking his head out through the small creeper-lined window, could tell from the sunlight already falling on the street and the distant sound of cicadas in the trees that another hot day was in the making.

It was over breakfast that Marina, who was ferreting about in the kitchen, made the announcement. Gianni, caught unawares, dropped his croissant in surprise: he and his parents had never gone to church back in London. Reluctant to argue, however, he remained silent.

“You’d better put some smarter clothes on before we leave, Gianni,” his grandmother said, not unkindly.

Looking down at his tatty black t-shirt, Gianni had to concede that it wasn’t, perhaps, the best outfit to wear to church. So, when he’d finished his breakfast, he returned to his room, exchanged the t-shirt for a long-sleeved shirt and put on his smarter pair of jeans.

When the time came, Gianni left the house with his grandparents, both of whom were wearing their Sunday best. Marina, upon seeing Gianni’s improved attire, had commented that it would do for now, but resolved to get him some smarter trousers and shoes as soon as possible.

The sunny morning was off to a hazy start, and the hillside of Scala on the far side of the valley looked slightly out of focus as the three of them made their way down the avenue of oleanders. Gianni looked about nervously; other locals could be seen behind and ahead of them, all drifting towards the square, where the cathedral awaited.

Marina and Vittorio seemed to know everyone. In the square, they encountered a number of friendly-looking acquaintances, all of whom expressed great interest in Gianni’s arrival and commiserated when they learned of his circumstances. Gianni, who was feeling increasingly anxious and would have preferred to be left alone, was forced to smile politely and exchange small talk with the locals.

As they joined the tide of people climbing the steps of the cathedral, an alarming thought occurred to Gianni. He tugged his grandmother’s sleeve as they crossed the threshold.

“Yes, Gianni?” she whispered.

“Are – are we going to have to take Communion?” he whispered back.

“Yes, we will,” she nodded, “why do you ask?”

Gianni decided that honesty was the best policy. “It’s just that I’ve never...” he searched for the right words.

“You’ve never been confirmed,” Marina finished for him.

“No.”

Marina looked disappointed, but didn’t appear too surprised. “All right, Gianni,” she said gently, “come with me and we’ll sit you at the back.”

Relieved, Gianni allowed himself to be led to a pew in north aisle, where he was able to feel reasonably inconspicuous, and looked around. Unlike some churches Gianni had visited, the interior was light and airy, with whitewashed walls and a row of high-level windows that let the sunlight in below the exposed timber roof, catching motes of dust in the air. Plain marble pillars supported the roof while, on a simple wooden frame next to the altar, candles twinkled in front of an effigy of the Virgin Mary. While Gianni took all of this in, Marina and Vittorio joined the rest of the congregation, which was filling up the pews in the main part of the nave. There was an air of expectant hush among the growing crowd, broken only by the creaking of pews, the clopping of footsteps and the occasional squeak of a shoe on the stone floor. From time to time, brief exchanges of whispered voices could be heard emanating from various corners of the echoing interior.

When the congregation was fully assembled, there was the sound of chanting at the entrance, and the cathedral fell silent. Gianni watched curiously as the priest, a small man but impressive all the same in his full ceremonial robes, glided down the centre aisle, followed by a small group of altar boys carrying candles and incense. When he reached the altar, he turned to the congregation and made the sign of the cross.

“In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he proclaimed.

“Amen,” came the reply.

The ceremony that followed was solemn and devout. Observing everything from his niche at the back of the aisle but understanding little, Gianni felt like an intruder; in spite of everything, however, when it came to the Communion rite itself, he couldn’t help but be impressed as the congregation came before the priest in silence, one by one, to receive their share of the consecrated bread and wine.

Gianni lost track of time in the cool shade of the cathedral, and allowed himself to drift into daydreams, only coming to his senses when, at length, the priest drew things to a close. As the congregation stood and began to file slowly out, Gianni checked his wristwatch: the whole service seemed to have taken about an hour.

* * *

When most of the congregation had dispersed, Marina and Vittorio, who were conversing in hushed tones, joined Gianni at his pew.

“Ready, Gianni?” Marina asked quietly. Gianni nodded, and joined them as they led the way out of the cathedral.

The priest was standing at the top of the steps, greeting members of the congregation as they emerged into the sunlight. Gianni squinted, the sudden brightness momentarily dazzling him.

“You go on ahead, Gianni,” Marina said, placing an encouraging hand on the back of Gianni’s shoulder. “I’d just like a word with Father Stefano.”

Hands in pockets, Gianni made his way thoughtfully down the cathedral steps and paused to scuff a shoe against the stone paving slabs of the square. Brushing his hair back absently with one hand, he pondered the service he had just witnessed. It hadn’t occurred to Gianni until today that his grandparents would expect him to go to church; the thought made him uncomfortable, and he wondered how they would react if he asked not to go.

“Heads up!”

Looking up just in time to catch the battered football as it bounced up towards his hands, Gianni found himself face to face with the dark-haired boy who had accompanied Pietro and Anna to his grandparents’ house the day before.

“You’re Angelo,” Gianni said, bouncing the ball back.

“And you’re Gianni,” the other boy replied, with a half-smile. “I thought I’d find you here.” He inclined his head, indicating that Gianni should follow, and walked across the square towards the pine trees, bouncing the ball as he went.

After a moment’s hesitation, Gianni followed. Angelo, Gianni observed, was of roughly his own height, of slim build and moved with the easy grace of one who was physically very fit but perhaps didn’t know it. When he entered the shade of the trees, he sat on a bench, deposited the football by his side and waited expectantly for Gianni to join him.

Gianni slid onto the bench next to the other boy and gave him a sideways look.

“Shouldn’t you be in church?” he said.

“Already been,” Angelo replied. “I’ve just cycled over.”

“From Scala?” Gianni frowned.

The other boy nodded. “It doesn’t take long. Do you have a bike?”

Gianni shook his head. “No.”

“You should get one.”

There was a pause, during which Gianni, feeling suddenly awkward, tried hard to think of something to say. Thanks to Angelo, however, he didn’t have to wait for long.

“What do you think of Ravello?” Angelo asked.

Latching onto the other boy’s question, Gianni glanced over his shoulder at the view across the valley.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he replied.

Angelo looked intrigued. “So it’s all new to you then?”

“Pretty much,” Gianni admitted.

“Want me to show you around?”

After a moment’s consideration, Gianni nodded. “Okay.”

The other boy flashed Gianni a grin. “Cool.”

“Ciao, Angelo!” Marina and Vittorio were crossing the square towards them.

Angelo turned, and bounced his football once on the stone paving. “Buongiorno, Marina,” he called back. “How was church?”

“Fine, thank you,” Marina replied as she and Vittorio arrived at the bench. She glanced with interest from Angelo to Gianni. “I see you two have met.”

Gianni glanced at the other boy and nodded. “Angelo’s going to show me around,” he said, adding hastily “– if that’s okay.”

“Of course,” Marina said, nodding, “no, that sounds like a lovely idea.”

“Don’t go getting our grandson into trouble, now,” Vittorio said to Angelo. Angelo met this with another grin, at which the older man chuckled.

“Watch out for this one, Gianni,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. Turning back to his wife, he whispered something in her ear, at which the corner of her mouth twitched. Gianni watched them go as they set off together back across the square with a parting wave.

“What was that all that about?” Gianni asked curiously when his grandparents had left.

“No idea,” the other boy replied brightly, jumping to his feet. “Come on, let’s go.”

Angelo set off across the square, tossing the ball up into the air repeatedly as he went. Falling into step beside his new companion, Gianni only just managed to catch the ball as Angelo passed it to him.

“Football not your thing?” the other boy said, with an appraising look in Gianni’s direction.

“Not exactly,” Gianni conceded.

Angelo shrugged. “Same here.”

“But...” Gianni waved the ball at him and gestured emphatically at it. The other boy gave a slightly shamefaced smile.

“I just like passing it around, doing tricks and stuff – you know.”

Angelo had led Gianni into a small side street finished in uneven paving stones, not far from the ancient stone gatehouse of the Villa Rufolo. Gianni looked around with interest as they passed a small walled garden, and slowed down as they passed a couple of shops to get a better look at their displays of colourful ceramics, which were decorated with lemons, grapes and other local motifs.

Before long, they had passed under a building and arrived at the foot of a steep, winding flight of steps bedecked with more of the town’s signature sprays of light pink oleanders. The steps ascended between old stone walls and white, terracotta-roofed villas of ad-hoc design. Gianni fell in beside the other boy as they began to climb.

The morning sun was beginning to beat down with more intensity, and Gianni welcomed the intermittent patches of shade and the occasional lick of breeze that flitted through the gaps between the buildings. One such gap afforded a view across to what Gianni took to be the Villa Rufolo itself: an extraordinary collection of humpbacked roofs, balconies and shutters, strange square chimneys, shabby stucco render and creeper-lined stonework, surrounded by trees.

“So you’re Pietro’s brother?” Gianni said once they had left the view behind them.

“Yeah,” Angelo replied.

“He seems okay.”

Angelo nodded. “He’s all right. I have a little sister, too. She’s about this big,” he said, holding his thumb and forefinger a few centimetres apart, “but she thinks she’s in charge.”

“What’s her name?”

“Claudia.”

“Do you all live together?” Gianni asked.

“Yeah.”

“Must be a full house,” Gianni said.

Angelo shrugged. “I guess.”

They had arrived in a high, vaulted porch overhanging the footway, from which decorative lanterns hung on chains. Gianni gazed around curiously.

“What is this place?” he asked, his voice echoing in the cool shade of the stone arches.

“The convent of San Francesco,” Angelo replied.

“A convent? With nuns and stuff?” Gianni said, astonished.

Amused, the other boy nodded. “Yeah. And they spend all of their time healing small animals.”

Gianni stared disbelievingly at Angelo, who managed to hold his gaze for a moment, but then shook his head and laughed.

“Half the places in this town are named after saints,” he said, deftly tackling Gianni for the football. “C’mon.”

As they continued to climb the winding stairway, Gianni felt that they were disappearing further and further into a secluded, soporific world with only the sounds of the cicadas in the trees, the crickets in the shrubs and their own footsteps for company. But then the tinny sound of music playing on a portable radio assailed their ears, and they emerged next to a small café in the shade of a few trees.

“Thirsty?” Angelo asked.

Gianni nodded. “A bit.”

“Just a minute.”

Angelo took some change from the pocket of his shorts and disappeared into the café. Surprised, Gianni stayed where he was, until a mewling sound caught his attention. A young tabby cat was lurking on a low wall outside the café amidst a display of ceramic bowls and tiles, hoping for food. Gianni knelt to say hello to it, and after giving his carefully proffered hand a sniff with its damp nose, the animal conceded to a stroke on the head.

“Here.”

Angelo had emerged from the café with two cans of Sprite, one of which he gave to Gianni. Sitting on the wall, he scooped up the cat and held it in his arms. The cat glanced around nervously, but it made no attempt to escape.

“Thanks,” Gianni said, opening his drink and taking a welcome sip. He looked curiously at the compliant way the cat was sitting in the other boy’s arms. “How’d you do that?”

“You’ve just got to know how to hold them,” Angelo replied, scratching the cat under the cheek. Despite its initial reservations, the animal seemed to be enjoying the attention, and leant into Angelo’s hand. “There are a lot of cats around here. Some of them are feral, but then some are pretty tame.”

“Do you have any pets?”

The other boy shook his head. “Mamma says we have enough mouths to feed already.”

The cat, evidently deciding it had had enough, began to fidget, so Angelo plopped it back down on the ground and the two boys continued along the quiet footpath, which had now levelled off into a broader paved lane with high walls to either side. Gianni tried bouncing the football along as the other boy had done earlier, but fumbled after the first couple of bounces, sending it rolling off down the lane.

“It’s really not your thing, is it,” Angelo laughed as a slightly embarrassed Gianni hurried to retrieve the ball.

They passed an attractive, leafy terrace laid out with tables and chairs, which Gianni presumed to be a restaurant, beyond which could be glimpsed another mountain view, and then the buildings on the right hand side fell away, and the view opened out in earnest. They paused together at the boundary wall.

They had come further round the mountain since leaving the cathedral square, and what Gianni now saw, instead of the customary view of Scala, was a layered view of the landscape leading down towards the sea. Just beyond the low boundary wall, a vegetable garden sloped off down the hillside. On the far side of the valley, they looked down upon a rugged crag of rock that jutted out towards the water, with a small village sitting watchfully on a promontory behind it. Beyond that was a small bay, above which loomed a steep mountainside covered with trees, with a second village perched improbably half way up it.

Gianni was impressed. “Is this what we came up here to see?” he asked, leaning on the wall and taking another swig from his drink.

“Yeah, like it?” Angelo said. He indicated the nearer valley. “That, down there, that’s where the Valle del Dragone runs from Scala down to the sea at Atrani. The village down on the crag is Pontone.”

“And the bay?” Gianni asked, pointing at the open water beyond the crag.

“That’s Amalfi, but you can’t really see it from here.”

“What’s it like down on the coast?”

Angelo seemed to ponder this for a moment. “Nice, I guess, but busy.”

“Do you often go there?”

“Sometimes,” said Angelo. “You can walk down to the coast without taking the road, if you know where to go.”

Gianni was about to suggest that he might like to do just that when a movement down in the vegetable garden caught his eye. Glancing down into the greenery, he saw that an old man in gardening gloves and a flat cap had emerged from below a set of vines, and was now making his way slowly along a row of aubergine plants. The old man stooped with a knife to cut free one of the deep purple fruit.

“It’s old Alfredo,” Angelo whispered to Gianni, “he grows vegetables for the restaurant back down the lane. He’s pretty deaf.” Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted, “Hey, Alfredo!”

He waved at the older man, who looked up and waved back. “Ciao, Angelo! How goes it!”

Returning to his work, the old man picked his way stiffly back along the row of aubergines and deposited the fruit carefully in a wicker basket that he’d left on the steps, then turned to repeat the exercise. A mischievous look stole across Angelo’s face.

“Watch this,” he whispered to Gianni.

Bemused, Gianni watched as the other boy backtracked a little along the lane, vaulted over the wall and snuck stealthily down into the vegetable garden. The older man, who was focused on cutting another aubergine free, seemed completely unaware as Angelo snuck down the stairs to the wicker basket, grabbed the first aubergine and ran quietly back up the steps. By the time the old man was returning along the row of plants, Angelo had rejoined Gianni in the lane and stood innocently at the wall as if nothing had happened. The two boys exchanged a glance, and Gianni couldn’t help a quick smile.

Gianni watched as old Alfredo reached to deposit the second aubergine in the basket then did a comical double-take as he realised it was empty. He paused for a moment, scanning the stairs with his eyes in search of the missing aubergine, but then straightened and looked suspiciously up at Angelo, who, beaming winsomely, waved the stolen fruit back at him.

Both boys laughed at the mixture of indignation and amusement on the older man’s face.

“Angelo Rossi, you will be the death of me!” he said, advancing up the steps and waving an accusing finger at the grinning culprit, who tossed the aubergine back to him. “Now get out of here and let me get on with my gardening!”

* * *

Once they had left the old man in peace, Angelo’s prank was quickly forgotten. The other boy didn’t gloat about it, nor did he refer back to it. Gianni, who was still trying to get the measure of his new friend, found this strangely appealing.

“What else is up here?” Gianni asked as they returned along the lane towards the top of the steps.

“There’s a monastery, some good walks, and there’s the Villa Cimbrone,” Angelo replied.

“What’s that?”

“An old villa with a big garden that has a great view of the sea,” Angelo said. “My cousin Viola works at the gate during the week – I can probably get you in for free some time.”

“That’d be cool.”

The two boys made their way back down towards the centre of town, Angelo bouncing the football on the flat parts of their route and carrying it down the steps. Just before they reached the square, Angelo turned down a side street and took them on a detour via a maze of steps and lanes running down the hill just below the Villa Rufolo. Back in suburban London, Gianni had been accustomed to climbing into the family car to go pretty much everywhere, but this, he was coming to realise as he gazed around at the narrow paved footways, stone archways and high boundary walls, was the true preserve of this town: built on such a steep landscape, and established so long ago, cars and their particular needs and limitations held little sway here.

Gianni and Angelo’s route back up the hill took them through a long, cool tunnel running under the villa itself, in whose echoing confines the two boys enjoyed making a series of whooping and howling noises. Then Angelo introduced Gianni to what he called the Bishop’s Way, a leafy and shady back route that climbed up to his grandparents’ street above the cathedral. Before long they had returned via the avenue of oleanders to the square, where visitors were starting to populate the various bars and shops.

Now, Angelo led Gianni along the narrow shopping street that Gianni had seen the day before, which Angelo called ‘Via Roma’. Gianni looked around with interest as they passed a shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables, whose carefully laid-out display included strings of garlic and dried chillies like he’d seen in his grandparents’ kitchen and several very large lemons. Then, as the winding street passed under a cluster of crowded buildings, they found themselves passing several more small shops, including grocers, a bank, clothing stores, wine merchants and gift shops catering to the tourist trade.

“What do you think?” whispered Angelo, nudging Gianni in the ribs as they looked into one of these stores and saw a young woman trying on a horrendous fluffy pink shoulder bag embossed with a multicoloured ‘Ravello’ insignia.

“Tragic,” Gianni whispered back, and they both laughed.

At length they emerged from the shade of the enclosed shopping street on a sun-drenched footpath perched half way up a small stone cliff, which overlooked the valley and the view across to Scala. Gianni mopped his brow, feeling the summer heat once again.

“We’re being watched,” Angelo said, stopping Gianni and pointing to the low retaining wall.

A small speckly lizard with patches of green and brown had been basking in the sun, but now regarded the two boys with a beady eye. Gianni approached the creature, fascinated, until it took fright and skittered away, disappearing into a crack between two stones.

“I’ve never seen a lizard before, except in the zoo,” Gianni said.

“We get a lot of them here,” Angelo replied. “Snakes, too.”

“Snakes?” Gianni repeated nervously.

Angelo grinned. “Only in the mountains.”

Angelo’s tour ended at a small tree-lined square overlooking the valley, which contained an ancient fountain with a deep stone basin and a few parked cars. Water trickled into a pool from spouts mounted below two intricately carved stone beasts, which glared imperiously down from their high plinths. Gianni went to the fountain to have a closer look.

“You’re meant to kiss the water,” said Angelo from behind Gianni, bouncing his football on the paving.

“What?” said Gianni, glancing over his shoulder.

“It’s a local custom,” Angelo said. “New arrivals kiss the water for good luck. Like this.”

To demonstrate, the other boy bowed, spreading his upturned arms. Dubiously, Gianni turned back to the fountain and, mimicking the gesture, bent close to the water.

There was a loud ‘thud’ and then the football thwacked into the seat of Gianni’s jeans, upsetting his balance and pitching him head-first into the water before he could grab the edge of the basin. Fishing himself out, spluttering and dripping, he turned to see Angelo, who was standing some distance away, dissolving into peals of laughter.

“Score!” Angelo managed between gulps of air. Outraged, Gianni reached for handfuls of the water and flung them at the other boy, who shrank back, still laughing, then raised his hands in a gesture of submission.

“What was that for?” Gianni cried.

“I just couldn’t resist,” the other boy replied. Calming down under Gianni’s furious gaze, he added, “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like you.”

There was no malice discernable in Angelo’s eyes, but Gianni still regarded the other boy suspiciously as he went to retrieve the ball, which had come to rest against the wheel of a small Fiat that was parked at the side of the square. Having done so, Angelo checked his wristwatch.

“I should be getting back,” he said, sounding a little disappointed.

They were on a small road now, which ran along the edge of the hill on which the small town centre stood. Below them, a second road dropped down as it looped its way around the head of the valley towards Scala. Brushing his damp hair back, Gianni followed his new friend down the tree-lined street, watching him doubtfully.

When they’d rounded the back of a small church that stood the bottom of the hill, Angelo disappeared inside a small ceramics workshop and reappeared a few moments later wheeling his bike. The football had been secured in a string bag which was now slung across his back.

“I don’t get you,” Gianni said. “You carry a football, but you don’t like the game. You buy me a drink and show me around and everything, but then you prank me. I just... don’t get you.”

The other boy swung himself onto his saddle and shot Gianni another one of his signature grins. “Then I guess we’ll just have to hang around some more so you can figure me out. Same time tomorrow?”

Gianni shrugged, and nodded. “Okay. See you then.”

With a cry of “Ciao!” the other boy pushed off on his bike and shot off down the hill towards Scala. Gianni watched him go until he was out of sight, and then, feeling slightly flat, turned to find himself at the foot of a broad avenue that led back up to the main cathedral square. He followed the avenue, passing under the giant stone arch of a ruined palazzo as he went, until he reached the quietly bustling surroundings of the square. Checking his own wristwatch once again, Gianni found that it was nearly lunchtime, and made his way back up the avenue of oleanders to his grandparents’ house.

* * *

Over lunch, Gianni asked his grandfather where he might obtain a bicycle.

“Was this young Angelo’s idea?” Vittorio asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Vittorio pondered, waving a piece of tomato and mozzarella panino in the air as he spoke, “I think I’ve still got one somewhere. It would need a bit of work doing on it, mind; Anna would have been the last one to use it, and that would have been a few years ago.”

“That’s okay,” Gianni replied, “Dad taught me how to maintain a bike.”

After lunch, Vittorio took Gianni down into the courtyard and tugged open the rusty steel door to a basement storage area under the stairs. He led Gianni to the back of the gloomy, vaulted room, which was packed with the clutter of ages, where an old grey bicycle leant against the wall. Moving aside the parts of an old metal bedstead, Gianni heaved the bike out and blew the dust off it. The tyres were flat, and the chain a little rusty, but otherwise it seemed, as near as Gianni could tell in the dull radiance of the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, to be largely intact.

Vittorio presented Gianni with a wire brush, a bucket and sponge, a spanner set, an old bicycle pump and a can of oil, which he had dug out from a battered wooden table loaded with broken saucepans, tools and bits of plastering equipment.

“This should be everything you need,” he said. “You can use the tap outside.”

Gianni spent the hottest part of the afternoon in the shade of the courtyard, carefully restoring the bicycle. The bike was steel-framed and heavy, but not totally old-fashioned, and had a few gears, which Gianni thought would be useful for negotiating the hills around Ravello and Scala. Gianni washed the bike down thoroughly with the sponge, then dismantled the gears and cleaned them up as best he could. Turning his attention to the chain, he used the wire brush to remove the flecks of rust then, remounting it on the bicycle, oiled it thoroughly. He inflated the tyres then, after a pause to adjust the brakes and tighten the gears, stood back to admire the results of his efforts.

The bike stood against the wall, its moving parts clean and shining and the chain glinting blackly with oil. Pleased with his handiwork, Gianni emptied and rinsed the bucket, washed his hands, returned the various tools to the basement storage area and decided to take the bike for a brief test run.

Gianni wheeled the bicycle out into the street and turned to point away from the steps leading down to the cathedral square. Mounting the saddle, he set off up the gentle hill. The uneven stone paviours of the street made for bumpy going, but otherwise the bike seemed to be working well.

Past the various ancient palazzi, the street forked at a small open space, to the side of which stood a small Palladian church, like the cathedral in miniature but with the addition of two freestanding columns where there must once have been a porch. Taking the left fork, Gianni found himself coasting down a sloping street leading down to the square with the fountain. Sensing that this would be a good time to test the brakes, Gianni squeezed both levers; they squeaked a little, but worked, slowing Gianni down before he reached the fountain and saving him another wetting.

Gianni steered himself around the fountain and continued down the road that he and Angelo had walked down that morning. When he reached the top of the road to Scala, he branched off and instead took the avenue leading up past the ceramics workshop and the ruined palazzo to reach the cathedral square.

The square was busy with the Sunday afternoon crowd; people sat at the bars, drinking beer, cocktails, mineral water and coffee under the shade of the giant parasols while a few finished late lunches. At one bar, Gianni saw a group of young friends tucking into large, extravagant-looking ice creams. Pigeons circled around the feet of those who were dining, pecking at scraps and crumbs. Visitors drifted in and out of the Villa Rufolo gatehouse and the lanes to either side, while a group of young children were playing football in the middle of the square, making Gianni think of Angelo. In the pine trees, the cicadas continued their ceaseless summer chorus.

Feeling the odd one out, Gianni did a lap of the square and set off back the way he had come. Returning to the square with the fountain, Gianni made for an opening at the far end and found himself climbing steeply through the shade of a quiet and narrow alleyway until he reached another small, irregularly-shaped square. From there, the road continued as a steep flight of steps lined by a curving wall of imposing terraced townhouses, where house martins darted in and out of nests under the eaves. Seeing a sign reading ‘Via San Martino’, Gianni realised he had happened upon the way to Anna’s neighbourhood, but, unable to take the bike any further, turned back the way he had come once again.

Pleased that he was starting to get his bearings but feeling the need for some company, Gianni returned to the square with the fountain and made his way back up the hill towards his grandparents’ house.

* * *

A little later that afternoon, Gianni, who had sought shelter from the relentless sun, was to be found sitting in the living area of his grandparents’ house, looking out through the windows at the view down to Minori and the sea beyond. Marina, who had been cleaning out the range, took a break at the table with a glass of mineral water.

“I’m glad you’ve made a friend in Angelo, Gianni,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll be good for one another.”

“Really?” Gianni asked. “He seemed happy enough to me.”

Marina nodded. “Yes, but he’s quite a lonely boy himself, you know. There aren’t many children his own age in Scala.”

There was a pause while Gianni contemplated this.

“There’s something else I wanted to mention,” Marina continued. “I spoke to Father Stefano this morning about having you confirmed.”

Gianni looked up, suddenly alert. “Oh.”

“I know this may be a little unexpected,” Marina said hurriedly, “but I would like you to at least think about it. I’ve asked Father Stefano if he can come round at some point so that he can talk to you about it.”

“Right,” Gianni replied.

Marina looked relieved. “Well, that’s settled, then.”

“Can I go?” Gianni asked, after a pause.

“Of course, caro.”

“Thanks.”

Gianni retreated to his bedroom and sagged down onto the bed, a knot of anxiety constricting his chest. This wasn’t what he wanted. Going to church in the morning had felt wrong, like trying to force a hand into a glove with only three fingers, or trying to put on a jacket that was two sizes too small.

Gianni looked up to the wall, where his parents’ tapestry was hung. Always be true to yourself. He sighed; he wished he had someone to talk to. Anna had offered a sympathetic ear, but he barely knew her. Could he really turn to her with this?

Gianni pulled open the bottom drawer of his bedside table and fished out his notepad and a pen from amidst his collection of books. Turning to a fresh page, he inscribed the date in the corner and, after sucking the top of the pen thoughtfully, wrote:

Dear Mum and Dad,

I had a nice time today. But I’ve just realised that I hardly thought about you all day, and now I feel bad about it.

Partly it’s this place. It’s so new, so different from everything I know, and so amazing and sunny. It’s so hard not to be distracted by everything there is to see. I wish you’d told me about it, Mum, and what it was like to grow up here.

But there’s also this boy, Angelo, who’s always lived here and who’s been showing me around. I’m never sure what he’s going to do next, but he’s generous and funny and really seems to want to be friends. I could use a friend.

Nonna wants me to be a Catholic, but I don’t think I can do it. I wish you were here to tell me what to do.

Love,
Gianni

His short message completed, Gianni hid the pen and notepad amongst his books and lay back on his bed, contemplating the ceiling once more.

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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As an American with Italian heritage, and someone who has been to Italy4 or 5 times (but sadly, not to the Amalfi coast area), I love this story so far. Your describing of the surroundings is both very descriptive and accurate, making me wish I were once again in Italy. My ancestors came to America, to Angels Camp in California during the Gold Rush of 1849: from Genoa.

I'm very much looking forward to more chapters, and thank you!

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2 hours ago, diggerboi said:

As an American with Italian heritage, and someone who has been to Italy4 or 5 times (but sadly, not to the Amalfi coast area), I love this story so far. Your describing of the surroundings is both very descriptive and accurate, making me wish I were once again in Italy. My ancestors came to America, to Angels Camp in California during the Gold Rush of 1849: from Genoa.

I'm very much looking forward to more chapters, and thank you!

 

I love the fact that the story is making you feel this connected to the place, thank you! It's also interesting to hear how your family came to move. I wonder if the move lived up to their expectations?

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A three chapter binge has me caught up, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Gianni is a very likeable boy. It will be interesting to see how he settles in with his grandparents and living in Italy. I imagine leaving London for a more rural part of Italy would be a big change. Your descriptions are wonderful! I have been fortunate to visit Italy, and I can picture what the grandparents' town is like from your descriptions. I'm looking forward to more.  Thanks. 

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Always be true to yourself. It is an easy homily to say, but much harder to practice.

Angelo is still a mystery to be explored, but he already seems to be a friend Gianni might count on. This place almost is trapped in another distant time far from modern life.

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Grandmother wants Gianni confirmed, but Gianni is clearly unhappy with the idea. While Marina says just to think about it,  she may ultimately escalate the pressure to get her way:  This situation may ultimately serve as a test case as to how flexible she intends to be towards  Gianni, and I hope she decides to accept his wishes on the issue.

So, does  Angelo like Gianni as a friend or as something more? (The prank where he pushes Gianni into the fountain feels to me like the equivalent of a schoolboy tugging on a girl's pigtails to show his affection.) Time will tell.

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On 7/31/2019 at 1:38 PM, James Carnarvon said:

 

I love the fact that the story is making you feel this connected to the place, thank you! It's also interesting to hear how your family came to move. I wonder if the move lived up to their expectations?

While I obviously never knew them, I think they enjoyed America. To this day, there is a store in either Angels Camp or one of the nearby community with my family name as the name of the store. They had kids, my grandparents, and were a successful part of their small community, I know that. I don't believe either of my great grandparents spoke English when they arrived, but I know they did learn quickly, and I feel that's part of their success & happiness in the new world.

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Spending time with Angelo going around talking and getting to know each other was delightful.  They seem to get along well.  I like Angelo's open and playful manner.  Grandmother's idea of getting Gianni to become a Catholic is a bit concerning.  I hope it does not become a divisive issue between them. I like that Gianni is using a journal to write to his parents.  It is a positive way to deal with their absence in his life.  Great chapter.

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