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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 - 4. Chapter 4

Marina and Gianni’s conversation of the night before wasn’t mentioned at breakfast the next morning. Instead, Gianni and his grandparents spoke of easier subjects, such as the weather, the latest news about the health complaints of Marina and Vittorio’s elderly friends and neighbours and, of course, the preparations for the forthcoming wedding. However, Marina’s assumptions about Gianni’s faith still lurked at the back of his mind, a nagging source of unease that had made sleep difficult last night.

As he tossed and turned in bed, Gianni’s thoughts had turned back to his parents. He had found himself rehearsing once again his incomplete memories of the accident and the events that had followed it, and wondered more than ever how his mother and Marina could have come to fall out so badly. Now, as he ate his breakfast of toasted ciabatta in bleary silence while his grandparents talked, Gianni tried, with no real idea as to how, to think of a way to persuade them to tell him their story.

After breakfast, Marina pressed a shopping list and some money into Gianni’s hands, and asked him to pop down to Salvatore’s on Via Roma to pick up a few essentials, inviting him to keep the rest for himself. Gianni, who welcomed the opportunity to get out of the house, accepted the task willingly. Setting out into the street, he made his way down the avenue of oleanders, flitting from shadow to shadow against the warmth of the morning sun.

The small grocery store was a treasure trove of food and drink, which was stacked high to the ceiling on deep metal shelves. His eyes adjusting to the cool gloom, Gianni gazed around at the myriad jars of olives, artichokes, capers and pickled anchovies, bags of risotto rice and pasta shapes of all varieties, cheeses, pesto, passata and tomato puree, mineral water, bottled beer, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes, as well as the more ubiquitous basics such as flour, milk, herbs and spices. The proprietor, one Salvatore Friuli, was a slim, balding man in his forties; he was welcoming and courteous, and carefully retrieved on demand those of the items on Gianni’s list that he kept behind the battered old counter. Confessing that he didn’t recognise his new customer, signor Friuli nodded attentively while Gianni explained who he was, and then asked him to pass on his greetings to Marina and Vittorio, who, he explained, were regular customers of his. Promising that he would do so, Gianni left a few moments later with a bag of shopping and a few spare Euros in his pocket.

By about ten o’ clock, Gianni was back in his room, feeling more awake, half-reading a book and occasionally glancing out of his small window to see if Angelo had arrived yet. Before long, a loud whistle drew Gianni’s attention, and he looked down through the courtyard to see his new friend waving from out in the street, where he stood with his bicycle. Gianni grinned and waved back, then dropped the book and made his way downstairs.

“Buongiorno,” Angelo said, wheeling his bike into the courtyard as Gianni descended the stone steps. “Got somewhere I can keep this?”

Angelo had the football strung across his back as he had the day before, and was wearing a shirt and shorts once again. Gianni, anticipating this and not wanting to be outdone, had forsaken his tatty old t-shirts in favour of a short-sleeved shirt of his own. However, he still only had his heavy jeans to wear, and, remembering Marina’s suggestion that he should get some smarter clothes for church, made a mental note to get himself some lighter clothing as well as soon as he could.

Gianni showed Angelo to the basement storage area under the stairs, and invited him to store the bike next to his own.

“Is this yours?” Angelo asked, when he saw the other bike.

“Yeah,” Gianni replied. “I restored it yesterday.”

Angelo seemed genuinely impressed. “Nice work,” he said, inspecting the glinting chain and gears. “I think I remember Anna riding this, ages ago, but it never looked this good back then.”

“Thanks,” Gianni replied, pleased at the other boy’s assessment.

Angelo stood back contemplatively, then turned to Gianni. “Fancy a test run this afternoon? We could get some lunch, and then you could ride over to Scala with me.”

Gianni shrugged. “Okay, sure.”

Angelo grinned. “Excellent.”

“What did you have in mind for this morning?” Gianni asked as they stepped back out into the courtyard, pausing to shut the door securely behind him.

“I thought we could go up to the Villa Cimbrone,” Angelo said, “kick a ball about, check out the view, that kind of thing. Up for it?”

Gianni nodded. “Why not?”

Companionably, the two boys made their way down the avenue of oleanders and across the cathedral square, where the cicadas were making their usual racket and Scala shimmered in the distance. Up they climbed once again, through the cool, shady porch of the Convent of San Francesco and past the café at the top of the steps, where Angelo paused to say hello once again to the cat that they had met the day before, which had adopted its usual perch among the ceramic bowls and tiles. Before long, they had reached the vegetable garden, where Gianni and Angelo peered hopefully over the wall in case old Alfredo were in residence, but the old gardener was nowhere in sight. Instead, Gianni’s eye was drawn once again to the view across the Valle del Dragone, where the sunlight gleamed off the chrome headlamp of a distant scooter as it made its way down through the village of Pontone and into the valley below, while out on the sapphire blue water far beyond, a pleasure boat left a tiny white wake behind itself as it followed the coast in the direction of Sorrento.

Beyond the vegetable garden, the lane ended at a small complex of buildings that Angelo identified as the Monastery of Santa Chiara. Turning off, Angelo led Gianni down a sweeping flight of steps that descended between the monastery and the vegetable garden until they reached a small cluster of houses, where the writing inscribed on an iron archway informed them that they were now entering the Villa Cimbrone. To one side, next to the houses, a further flight of steps descended invitingly into the leafy valley below.

Angelo led Gianni through the archway and up a narrow, shady footpath that ran between the houses and the high, ivy-covered retaining wall that bordered the monastery, and before long they had emerged in a picturesque walled garden lined with giant plant pots that resounded to the chirruping of crickets. Alongside the small lawn, which baked in the stillness of the sun, the pathway climbed to a steep flight of steps leading to a pair of giant wooden doors, in which a small wicket gate stood open.

The two boys climbed the stairs and passed through the wicket gate to emerge in the courtyard of an ancient classical villa, complete with cloister and tower, all of which was overshadowed by another of the town’s massive, signature pine trees. Angelo led the way over to a small wooden ticket kiosk, where a bespectacled woman in her thirties was manning the sales window.

“Ciao, Viola,” Angelo said, approaching the counter.

“Ciao, Angelo!” the woman beamed, looking up from the novel she was reading. “How are you, caro?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Angelo replied. “Mamma says hello. This is Gianni.”

Viola looked at the new arrival with interest. “Marina and Vittorio Bianchi’s grandson?”

Gianni nodded. “Buongiorno, signora.”

Viola laughed. “So polite! It’s lovely to meet you...” She paused, seeming to drift off for a moment, before adding thoughtfully, “But, oh, the circumstances...”

Gianni and Angelo exchanged a glance; Gianni wondered how much of his recent past the other boy understood.

“Can we come on through?” Angelo ventured, turning back to his cousin.

“Of course, caro,” Viola replied, breaking out of her reverie and smiling once again. “Have a nice time.”

Angelo led Gianni on past the villa, whose weathered plaster took on a warm, rustic look in the dappled shade of the pine tree, and then on to a narrow but immensely long and straight dirt pathway that struck out through the grounds of the villa. His eyes drifting to the top of a row of stone columns that ran to one side, Gianni saw that they were passing beneath a pergola draped with grape vines and fragrant wisteria flowers. Hydrangeas to one side faced an ivy-encrusted wall on the other, giving the avenue a feel of quiet, shady seclusion, adding to the soporific effect of the heat and the ever-present burr of the cicadas. At the far end of the avenue could be seen an open arched structure like a small temple, beyond which the blue horizon was visible. Gianni began to lose himself in the sights, sounds and scents of the gardens around him.

About half way along, Angelo nudged the distracted Gianni on the arm, and then led him out of the avenue and into a long, narrow and sunny lawn overlooked by the distant villa and enclosed on the far side by a bushy hedge. The lawn itself, despite the lack of shade, looked green and healthy, evidently well maintained by the owners.

Angelo unstrung the football from his back. “Fancy a few rounds?”

At home in London, Gianni would have felt too self-conscious to play football in the playground or the park, in front of better players or the lads from school who might mock his lack of prowess. Here and now, however, the idea that he might play badly didn’t seem so important. Glancing over his shoulder just to be sure and seeing no one watching, he turned back to Angelo and inclined his head. “Okay.”

At Angelo’s suggestion, they began simply by kicking the ball to one another, which, after a shaky start, Gianni began to get the hang of. After a while, Angelo started firing trick shots at Gianni, who managed to save most of them either by hand or foot, and did his best to respond in kind, despite having uncertain aim. Gianni felt particularly proud when Angelo began to miss one or two of his better-placed shots, and when, in a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness, he threw caution to the winds and dived to catch a particularly wide shot, landing on the springy grass with the ball caught securely in his hands, Angelo actually applauded.

Bravo!” Angelo cried as Gianni scrambled to his feet, feeling pleased with himself. The other boy cocked his head, the faintest suggestion of a challenge playing about his eyes. “Ready for some contact?”

Gianni looked dubiously at the shoes they were wearing. This part, the rough and tumble of playground football, was the part that he’d never been keen on and had tended to avoid, for fear of injury.

Angelo was following his gaze. “Maybe this’ll help,” he suggested, with a half-smile, and slipped off his shoes. Gianni laughed gratefully and did the same, putting his trainers out of the way in the shade of the hedge.

“Now try to tackle me,” Angelo said.

Angelo began to dribble the ball towards Gianni, as if to pass him. Poised, Gianni waited for his moment and then ran to intercept the ball, but Angelo raised an arm and bounced him out of the way.

“Nice try,” he grinned, “but not quite. Have another go.”

After three failed attempts, Gianni succeeded in stealing the ball from under Angelo’s feet, and cheered, earning a high five from the other boy. They repeated the exercise, and once Gianni had begun to get the hang of things, they began competing to fire the ball through the opening into the avenue. As they became caught up in the moment, Angelo began a running commentary.

“Fortuna hits the post, and it’s Rossi with the ball... valiant attack there by Fortuna, good but not quite good enough... Rossi shoots... he SCORES! Oh yeah!”

Angelo broke off to do a complicated victory dance while Gianni went to retrieve the ball. “I’ll get you yet,” Gianni retorted as he brought the ball back into play.

“Prove it,” Angelo teased.

Gianni dribbled the ball back into the middle of the lawn, where Angelo relieved him of it and ran a few metres back up the lawn with it in readiness to make his run. Turning, Angelo made for the goal, but Gianni was already on the move. He was just leaning back to make his tackle, when his sock skidded on the springy grass: his feet tangled with Angelo’s, and both boys yelped and went tumbling to the ground.

“Okay,” panted Angelo, laughing as he lay sprawled on the lawn, while Gianni lifted himself groggily into a sitting position. “Let’s take a break.”

“Yeah,” Gianni grinned sheepishly, “let’s.”

Leaving the football and their shoes where they were, they got up, dusted themselves down and wandered back out onto the avenue. Turning left, they padded further along the earthen path towards the temple-like structure and the view of the sea.

“Wow,” Gianni gasped as they stepped out of the arched temple. They had emerged on a long, open terrace lined with carved marble busts set into a low stone wall, beyond which all that could be seen was an endless expanse of perfect blue.

“It’s called the Terrace of Infinity,” Angelo said. “This whole garden is built on a massive stone crag that sits just above the coast.”

Gianni went to the edge and looked over the stone wall. Beyond the boundary was a sheer drop, where a giant stone cliff fell away beneath them. A hundred or so metres down below, a concrete lane lined with olive trees and banks of colourful flowers snaked around the base of the cliff. Below the lane, only a couple of steep, terraced slopes dotted with villas and tall, sculptural pine and cypress trees separated them from the coast road, while, to the right, the rocky Valle del Dragone descended down towards the water and the hidden inlet of Atrani.

“That’s Via San Cosma,” Angelo explained, joining Gianni at the edge and pointing down to the concrete lane below. “That’s where you end up if you take the steps down the hill that we passed just outside the villa.”

“It’s a long way down,” Gianni said.

“Yeah,” Angelo laughed. “Dare you to stand on the edge.”

Gianni glanced at the other boy. Determined that his new friend shouldn’t see him as soft or cowardly, he frowned and nodded.

Angelo’s mouth fell open as Gianni placed a foot on top of the wall between two of the marble busts and levered himself up to stand on the top. Spreading his arms and using the arches of his feet for grip, he balanced himself on the rounded top of the narrow wall, staring out to the horizon and the infinite blue sea.

“Whoa,” he heard Angelo murmur from behind him.

Feeling fiercely proud, Gianni made as if to glance over his shoulder, but then his knees wobbled and he made the mistake of looking down. The distant concrete ribbon of Via San Cosma, far below, swam into view. He stared at it, transfixed.

He imagined what it would feel like to fall.

“Gianni...” came Angelo’s voice, uncertainly, from behind him.

How long would it take to hit the bottom?

‘Come on in, the water’s lovely!’ Gianni thought.

He couldn’t move.

“Gianni, come down,” said Angelo desperately, tugging on Gianni’s shirt. “It was a dumb thing to say – I’m sorry.”

Gianni blinked, and felt some control return to his knees. Shakily, he stepped back down off the wall. “Sorry,” he said, turning to his friend.

Angelo’s dark eyes were wide with concern. “Come on,” he said, putting a hand on Gianni’s shoulder, “let’s go and get our things.”

* * *

The two boys returned in silence to the lawn and put on their shoes. Still feeling shaken, Gianni waited as Angelo returned the football to its string bag and slung it over his back. Having done so, Angelo gave Gianni a sidelong glance, ran a hand thoughtfully through his spiky hair, and then appeared to reach a decision.

“Come with me,” he said.

Gianni walked back down the lawn with his friend. Angelo stayed close as they returned to the long avenue and proceeded past the villa. When Viola wished them goodbye as they passed, Angelo didn’t stop, but responded with a distracted wave.

They left the grounds of the villa and climbed back up the steps running around the edge of the monastery. As they passed Alfredo’s vegetable garden, Gianni automatically made as if to continue back towards the cathedral square, but Angelo gave him another tug on the arm and steered him off up a narrow side lane. The meandering lane, which was only just over a metre in width, was canyon-like, bounded by stone walls nearly three times as high as it was wide and overgrown with climbing plants with thick, dark green leaves. Insects hovered in the sunlight around the dusty foliage.

“Where are we going?” Gianni asked.

“Just follow me.”

Angelo led them round a bend and they descended a narrow flight of steps, past a small salmon-pink villa. Beyond the bottom of the steps, Gianni could see the distant water, and soon they had arrived on a quiet stretch of pathway, hung with old-fashioned lanterns, from which a panoramic view looked down towards the shining waterfront at Minori and Maiori and the massive, rocky ridge beyond.

Angelo perched himself on the outer wall, looking back at Gianni, who sat down on the ground and propped himself up gratefully against the rugged stone retaining wall behind him. He closed his eyes briefly and soaked up the sun.

“This is one of my favourite spots,” Angelo said. “I come here sometimes when I want to be alone. Not many people make it down this far.”

Gianni looked back, touched to know that his friend was prepared to share such a private place with him; unsure how to respond, he settled for “It’s nice.”

Angelo looked uncertainly at the floor for a while and swung his feet, as if unsure how to say what was on his mind, but then he looked up and managed to hold Gianni’s gaze.

“I know why you’re here,” he said. “I know about your parents.”

Gianni nodded slowly. “Anna and Pietro told you?”

Angelo nodded in response. “It was after I first saw you, the day you first got here. I wanted to know who you were, and they told me all about it.” He paused, anxiously. “That’s what it was about, wasn’t it? Back there on the terrace.”

Gianni nodded again. “You probably think I’m crazy.”

Angelo shook his head. “No,” he said seriously. “If it happened to me, I... I can’t imagine what I’d do. I think you’ve been really strong, coming here where you don’t know anyone.”

“Everyone’s been really nice,” Gianni said. “My grandparents, Anna, Pietro... and I love this place,” he glanced around, taking in the blue sky and the vivid colours, “but it’s like there’s this gap inside me. When I’m alone, I can’t stop thinking about my parents, and about home.”

“It sounds hard.”

“Yeah,” Gianni said. He paused. “Being with you helps me forget.”

Angelo gave a small smile. “When Anna and Pietro told me, I wasn’t sure whether to come and find you. I wasn’t sure you’d want to be friends.”

Out of his comfort zone, Gianni drew his hands around his knees. “I’m glad you did,” he said awkwardly.

Angelo shuffled down off the wall and sat down on the ground, opposite Gianni, looking at him attentively. “What was it like, back in London?” he asked.

Gianni hesitated. “It was... you know, different.”

Angelo continued to look at him questioningly, so, after a moment’s thought, Gianni continued. “Like, look at you and me. We’ve done lots of cool outdoor stuff already. I wouldn’t have done that at home. I’d probably just have been watching TV or playing games on the Wii.”

Angelo frowned. “Why?”

Gianni pondered. “People get scared, I guess,” he replied. “Parents worry about things like traffic, muggers and perverts and stuff, and they don’t want their kids to go out alone. And then, even if you do go out, there’s not a lot to do, unless you play sports.” He paused, and then added with a small smile, “Plus the weather sucks.”

Angelo shook his head in amazement. “I think I’d go crazy if I had to stay in all the time,” he said. “Didn’t you get bored?”

Gianni shrugged. “Yeah, but I was used to it. It was okay. It’s just how it was.”

“What about friends?”

“I had a few mates from school,” Gianni said, “they were okay. We used to go round each other’s houses, and sometimes we’d go to the park, but not often... we weren’t close. What about you?”

Angelo shrugged. “There are a few boys my own age in Scala, but they’re always chasing around after older girls. It gets boring.” He paused. “I guess I’ve always been more interested in what’s around me.” He gestured around, pointing Gianni to the stone walls, the view, the shrubs and the trees.

Gianni nodded. “So you don’t hang around with them?”

“Not much,” Angelo replied.

“So what do you do?”

“I go out,” said Angelo. “I’ve explored all over. I’ve climbed the mountains and I’ve walked down to the coast. I’ve cycled up to Santa Caterina, above Scala, and out to Sambuco on the road to Tramonti. I’ve met lots of people that way.”

“Like old Alfredo,” Gianni put in.

Angelo grinned. “Yeah.”

“I get it,” said Gianni, “it’s amazing here.” He paused, before adding quietly. “I wish Mum had told me about it.”

“She never mentioned Ravello?”

Gianni shook his head. “Mum and Nonna never talked. I don’t think Mum liked to think about her old life too much.”

Angelo frowned slightly. “Didn’t you know that your parents met here?”

Gianni blinked, and shook his head. “They did...?”

Angelo nodded. “Anna told me.”

“My dad was brought up in England,” Gianni replied, sceptically.

“But he was half Italian, wasn’t he?” said Angelo. Gianni nodded. “Anna said he made a trip here to find his roots. That was when they met. They got married soon afterwards.”

“Another wedding,” Gianni mused.

Angelo rolled his eyes. “Don’t start,” he said.

This was the first time Gianni had heard anyone speak ill of the wedding. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Angelo made a face. “Everyone’s going crazy making plans for Pietro and Anna’s do,” he replied. “They’re busy almost all the time. And then, whenever there is a bit of peace and quiet...”

He stood and, turning his back, wrapped his own arms around himself and mimed a passionate embrace. “Oh, Pietro...” he swooned. “Oh, Anna, amore mio!”

Gianni couldn’t help laughing. “Is it that bad?”

Angelo flopped back onto the ground. “Just you wait. You’ll see!”

Gianni grinned. “It could be worse.”

Angelo looked at him seriously. “I guess you’re right,” he said at length. “But it isn’t all easy... and this is the bit where I can maybe slightly start to understand how you’re feeling at the moment.”

“What do you mean?” Gianni said.

Angelo dropped his eyes. He grabbed a piece of twig and scrubbed it against the ground. “My dad’s sick,” he said.

“What’s wrong with him?” Gianni asked quietly.

“Weak heart,” Angelo replied. “He says he’s okay, but I can tell mamma worries about it.”

“Of course,” Gianni nodded.

Angelo raised a slightly anxious smile. “So let’s agree to look out for one another.”

Gianni smiled back. “Yeah.”

At Angelo’s instigation, the two boys shook on it, and then, their pact made, they fell into silence and rested in the sunny lane.

* * *

As lunchtime approached, Gianni and Angelo returned to the vegetable garden and made their way back down into town. The mood between them had eased since the conversation at the viewpoint, and Gianni felt the better for having shared his thoughts with someone. Angelo’s revelation about how Gianni’s parents had met had given Gianni another piece of the puzzle, but he still didn’t really feel any closer to understanding his parents’ and his grandparents’ estrangement.

To ring the changes, Angelo led Gianni down a back route which, after a short, steep descent took them along a long, winding lane that twisted and turned between small white villas. Throughout their descent, views could be glimpsed across the sun-drenched valley to Scala. Having gone through the morning without a drink, Gianni began to feel very thirsty.

Before long, they had returned to the square. Settling themselves down outside one of the bars, the two boys ordered drinks – Gianni asked for a Lemon Soda – and pizza slices, which they enjoyed in the shadow of one of the giant parasols, watching the world go by and occasionally laughing at the bizarre outfits of some of the tourists. Keen to return the gesture from the previous day, Gianni paid for their meal using the change from his morning’s shopping.

After lunch, they returned via the avenue of oleanders to Gianni’s grandparents’ house. Gianni popped in briefly to let his grandparents know where he would be for the afternoon, while Angelo went to the storage area under the steps to retrieve their bicycles.

Before long they were on the move, bumping their way up the unevenly paved street, past the old palazzi and towards the church at the top of the hill.

“How long does this ride take?” Gianni asked his friend.

“Only about fifteen minutes,” Angelo replied, “but there’s a bit of a climb.”

The two boys zigzagged their way down through the edge of the town, via the square with the fountain and down to the Scala road just below the ceramics workshop. Nearby, a church chimed two o’clock. They made a hard right and freewheeled down the gently sloping roadway, slowing down only when they joined the main road from Tramonti as it emerged from a tunnel running under the centre of town.

Angelo led the way as they followed the winding road into the crest of the valley, Gianni enjoying the sense of freedom and the feeling of the breeze they were creating as it blew his hair back from his forehead. In between the olive trees that lined the road, Gianni was able to glance down the length of the lush Valle del Dragone, until it disappeared behind tall cliffs somewhere just shy of Pontone. On the hillside above, the ancient cathedral of Scala with its three curved rear bays loomed over the valley.

At the head of the valley, they reached a steep hairpin bend as the main road carried on down towards the coast. At the bend was a junction; it was this side turning that Angelo now led Gianni towards, and soon they had begun to climb. The smaller road wound around the base of the cliffs, and soon they had crossed the Dragone itself, which turned out to be a brisk stream that flowed out from a narrow chasm between the rocky slopes. As they swung around onto the far side of the valley, Gianni looked back the way they had come and saw Ravello, standing proud on the undulating rocky crag upon which it had been built, the cathedral’s slender bell tower just visible above the terracotta rooftops.

In the heat of the early afternoon, climbing the hill wasn’t as easy as freewheeling down from Ravello had been. Still Gianni persevered, but just when he thought they must be getting close to their destination, they reached another hairpin bend and the road turned abruptly back on itself, sending them back the way that they had come as they climbed further up the side of the valley. Changing down a gear, Gianni did his best to match the pace of his more experienced friend, sweat dripping from his brow as the relentless sun took its toll.

“Slow down a bit,” he panted, conceding defeat.

Angelo looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Nearly there,” he said. “We’ll stop for a rest in the square.”

A further hairpin bend brought them onto the final approach to the village, spurring Gianni to dig a little deeper. They climbed a broad, sunny avenue, and then plunged into the welcome shade of a narrow, tree-lined street as they entered the heart of the village.

“My house is a bit further up the hill, back there,” said Angelo, gesturing back the way they had come, “but you look like you could use a break.”

Gianni nodded. “Thanks.”

The street opened out once again to the hillside and, from within the relative cool of its tree-lined confines, Gianni was able to better appreciate the view back across to the centre of Ravello, where the towers of churches and the elegant shapes of the town’s signature pine trees punctuated the assortment of pastel shaded villas and palazzi with terracotta roofs. Closer to hand, a few elderly locals sat on benches along the edge of the street, while a snack bar opposite did a gentle afternoon trade.

They pedalled on into the heart of the village and found themselves in a small square, where the imposing façade of the cathedral screened the view of the valley. Around the square were a couple of shops, which seemed to be closed, and another small bar. In the heat of the afternoon, most of the residents seemed to have taken refuge indoors.

Angelo dismounted, and Gianni followed suit. They wheeled their bikes on through the square, past a small fountain that was vaguely reminiscent of the ancient fountain in Ravello, and onwards into another narrow street, where the two boys kept to the patches of shade.

“It’s pretty quiet,” Gianni said.

Angelo shrugged. “Siesta time,” he replied. “It’s the hottest part of the day. They’ll open again later.”

Gianni pondered this idea; yet another difference for the list, he thought.

“What’s it like in the evenings?”

“It’s okay,” said Angelo. “Not as busy as Ravello, but then Scala’s a smaller place.”

The small street was lined with similarly small houses and occasional shuttered businesses. From time to time, they broke back out of the buildings, allowing Gianni to look across the valley once again. He now saw the crag of the Villa Cimbrone, where they had spent the morning, sticking out in the direction of the sea and crowned by trees. He thought of the incident on the terrace, and shuddered.

When they reached the far end of the village, from which point the road wound onwards up the hill, Gianni and Angelo stopped for one last look at the view down the valley, where the sea could now be seen glittering between the rocky cliffs to either side. Gianni, who could still feel the lure of the sparkling water, eyed it yearningly.

“Ready to carry on?” Angelo asked. Gianni, who had recovered a little from their earlier exertions, turned to his friend and nodded.

The two boys climbed back on their bikes and cycled back through the sleepy village, encountering little other traffic. In the square, Gianni paused to splash a little of the water from the fountain onto his face. They rode back past the snack bar, where Angelo waved at one of the staff, and back out into the broad avenue, where Angelo led them off onto a side road that snaked onwards up the hill. There was no shade to speak of, and Gianni felt himself starting to sweat again, but Angelo assured him that it wasn’t much further.

After a few more sharp bends, they came to a small cluster of houses. Angelo dismounted outside one of these houses and led Gianni onto its pleasant, shady front terrace, where a wooden latticework supported a roof of creepers. Gianni was reminded of the shady avenue at the Villa Cimbrone. They leant their bikes against the wall of the house, and Gianni paused to mop his brow and adjust his damp hair.

Angelo grinned. “You look wiped out.”

Gianni scowled back at his friend, who looked remarkably unfazed by the heat. Angelo’s brow bore a few beads of sweat, but his short spiky hair appeared largely dry, and there were no dark patches under his arms.

“Am I that much of a mess?” Gianni asked.

Angelo laughed. “No, you look okay. Come on.”

Angelo pushed open the front door and beckoned for Gianni to follow him. They stepped through together into a narrow, cool hallway, and Gianni found himself blinking in the sudden gloom. As his eyes adjusted, Gianni saw ceramic tiles lining the floor as the hallway headed deeper into the house. The whitewashed walls of roughcast plaster were cast into relief by the lights that burned on wooden brackets and, in an alcove to one side, a large glazed vase contained a display of dried flowers. Surrounding the vase was the general clutter of a busy home, including a telephone, a dog-eared address book, a notepad and pens and an ashtray containing a few miscellaneous bits and pieces. Doors stood open to either side and at the far end of the hallway, and Gianni could hear the murmur of voices coming from beyond the furthest doorway.

There was a sudden clatter of footsteps, and a small figure appeared at the far end of the hall. The girl, who looked to be about nine, was pretty, with large brown eyes of a similar shade to Angelo’s, and long plaited hair. She stared at Gianni, open-mouthed, for a few seconds, and then turned and shouted “Mamma! Angelo’s back, and he has a strange boy with him!”

“Tell them to come on through!” came an answering call from beyond the doorway.

The girl didn’t. Instead, she stared at Gianni for a couple more seconds, before turning and running back through the doorway without another word.

Gianni and Angelo exchanged glances. “Claudia,” Angelo explained, before setting off down the hallway with Gianni following behind.

They emerged into a small dining room, where a large window on the far wall looked out onto a cobbled footpath, with a second row of houses and the steep hillside of Scala beyond. Pot plants lined the window, and black-and-white photographs of actors from the early days of Hollywood lined the walls. Gathered about a round table in front of the window were Pietro, Anna and an older couple whom Gianni took to be Angelo’s parents. All four were looking at the new arrivals expectantly. Claudia, meanwhile, lurked watchfully in the far corner of the room, clutching a teddy bear.

“Gianni!” Anna smiled. “How are you?”

“Ciao Anna,” Gianni replied. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Andrea, Marta,” Anna addressed the older couple, “this is Gianni, my cousin.”

The older woman, Marta, who looked to be about fifty but whose black hair already had traces of grey, spoke first. “Pleased to meet, you, Gianni,” she said. “Angelo has told us all about you.”

Gianni gave his friend a questioning look. Angelo shrugged and nodded. Looking back at Angelo’s parents, Gianni replied, “Buongiorno. Pleased to meet you too.”

Andrea, Angelo’s father, was a slight man, a little older than his wife. His face was prematurely lined, but his eyes were keen, and he was equipped with a fine moustache.

“Has our Angelo been giving you the run-around?” he said, smiling wryly. Gianni glanced down at his slightly sweaty person, then mopped his brow and gave a slightly shamefaced smile.

“A little,” he replied. “I’m not used to these hills.”

Andrea chuckled. “Pietro, get our guest a drink.”

Pietro nodded and rose from his seat. “What would you like?”

Gianni considered. “Just water, please,” he replied, pondering how he would never normally have asked for this in England.

“Got it,” Pietro replied, casually pointing a finger.

Gianni and Angelo advanced on the table, where the four adults had been poring over a series of charts showing a complicated layout of tables and chairs, labelled with names and covered with many crossings-out.

“Seating plans?” Gianni enquired.

Anna nodded. “For the wedding dinner,” she replied.

“There seem to be a lot of people,” Gianni observed.

“That’s the way we do it around here,” Marta explained. “We have extended family coming from all over the country.”

“Friends from the local area, too,” Anna added.

Pietro returned with a glass of water, which he pressed into Gianni’s hands.

“Thanks,” Gianni said, taking a welcome gulp and feeling refreshed.

“We’ve actually still got some thinking to do over these plans,” Marta said, addressing Angelo. “Why don’t the three of you go out and play for a while?” She looked back to Gianni. “We can meet properly later on.”

“Okay,” Angelo replied. “Come on, Gianni.”

Angelo and Gianni led the way back down the hallway, with Claudia trailing along a short distance behind.

“She’s not normally this quiet,” Angelo told Gianni, inclining his head towards his sister. “I don’t know what’s got into her. She’s usually ordering everybody around.”

“No I’m not, you liar,” Claudia protested. Gianni gave her what he thought was a sympathetic smile, but she dropped her eyes, flushing furiously.

They returned to the shade of the front terrace, where there was just about room for a small game of catch. Angelo unstrung the football from his back and they bounced it gently to one another, the afternoon heat preventing them from attempting anything more energetic. Claudia was apparently no expert, as she fumbled the ball from time to time, but she generally managed to hold her own. She seemed, however, to be a little reticent about passing the ball directly to Gianni, tending to pass it to her brother instead until Gianni started inciting her specifically to pass the ball back to him. It felt strange to Gianni, who had been very much the novice when he had played against Angelo that morning, to be the one trying to help someone else feel more confident.

After the simple exchange of the ball began to grow tiresome, Angelo devised a game. Each player would pose a question, and the first one to give a good answer would get the ball.

“What do you call a man who always wins?” said Gianni, tossing the ball from hand to hand.

“Vittorio,” Angelo replied after a pause. Gianni passed him the ball, and he tossed it in the air for a moment while he thought. “What do you call a bearded lady?” he said with a grin.

“Barbara!” Claudia chipped in.

“Very good,” Angelo replied, passing her the ball.

Claudia frowned with concentration. “What do you call a tall, dark stranger?” she said.

“Gianni,” Angelo replied mischievously. Gianni flushed and shot him a look as Claudia giggled and bounced the ball back to him.

“What do you a boy who can’t take the heat?” said Angelo teasingly.

That one took Gianni some time to work out. While he waited, Angelo bounced the ball on the spot, an amused smile playing about his lips.

“English?” Gianni said at length. Grinning, Angelo nodded and passed him the ball.

Gianni was already running out of ideas. “What do you call an Italian chef with no pasta?” he said, with no real answer in mind.

“Lost,” Angelo pitched in promptly. Gianni laughed and passed him back the ball.

Angelo tossed the ball into the air a couple more times. “What do you call a Pietro with no Anna?” he said.

“Sad!” Claudia exclaimed.

Angelo bounced the ball to his sister. “Actually, I was going to go for suicidal,” he said. Gianni laughed again.

Claudia wasn’t impressed. “What do you call a big, mean brother?” she pouted.

“Angelo?” Gianni suggested. Claudia nodded emphatically and passed him the ball, while said brother beamed unrepentantly.

Gianni bounced the ball on the spot again, but his mind had gone blank. He screwed up his face in frustration.

“What do you call a silly boy who can’t think of anything?” Angelo said, laughing. Claudia giggled again as Gianni passed the ball vengefully back to him.

Their game was interrupted as Anna emerged from the house, staggering under a heavy load of fresh fruit and vegetables in baskets and rolled-up paperwork covered with hastily scrawled seating plans. She hailed the three youngsters.

“I need to take these things to the car,” she said. “Gianni, could you help me?”

Gianni shrugged at his friends and went to help his cousin, relieving her of two of the heavier-looking baskets.

Grazie, tesoro,” she smiled.

“No problem,” Gianni said. “Where is it?”

“It’s just up the road. Follow me.”

Anna led Gianni out through the gate and they made their way on up the hill.

“I was hoping we’d find a moment to chat,” Anna confessed. “How are you settling in?”

“Oh,” Gianni said. “Fine, thanks... Marina and Vittorio have been very nice to me.”

“‘Marina and Vittorio?’” Anna echoed, raising her eyebrows.

“Nonna and Nonno,” Gianni corrected himself.

Anna smiled sympathetically. “Still getting used to it?”

“Yeah,” Gianni admitted.

Anna nodded. “I suppose I can understand that,” she said. “What do you think of the house?”

“It’s great,” Gianni replied. “I like my bedroom.”

A dreamy look passed across Anna’s face. “Yes, I remember that little room. I used to stay there sometimes when mamma and papà were away.”

Gianni nodded. “Nonna told me. And I found a doll in the top drawer... a fabric one, pretty worn.”

“You found my Principessa?” Anna gasped. “I thought she was lost years ago!”

Gianni grinned. “Not any more.”

“And you restored Nonno’s old bicycle,” Anna said. “I saw it propped up against the house on my way out. It looks fantastic.”

“Thanks,” Gianni replied. But Anna’s words had made Gianni think of his father again, and he was silent for a moment.

“Here we are,” Anna said. They had arrived at a battered old white Fiat Cinquecento, which was parked overlooking a small garden in which vegetables were growing below a framework of rough wooden poles. The distant villas and palazzi of Ravello were visible on the rugged crag beyond.

Anna unlocked the car, and they loaded their things onto the back seats. Gianni, doubting that there would be a better time, decided to bite the bullet and ask the question that had continued to bother him.

“Angelo told me my parents met here, in Ravello,” he said, leaning on the top of the car and looking across the valley to the distant town.

Anna stopped adjusting the cargo on the back seats and pulled herself out of the car.

“That’s right, yes,” she said.

“Why did my parents and my grandparents fall out?” he asked.

Anna sighed. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that.”

“Please,” Gianni persisted.

Anna nodded sadly. “Nonna and your mamma, Francesca, had a row when she found out that Francesca was getting married.”

“Why?” Gianni asked.

“Nonna was upset that Francesca was planning to leave for England and hadn’t told her,” said Anna. “According to my mamma, Nonna was also worried about the fact that your father wasn’t a religious man.”

Gianni’s heart sank as he remembered his conversation with Marina of the night before, and his hope that he might be allowed not to go to church. “So what happened?”

Anna took a deep breath, as if preparing herself.

“She threw Francesca out,” she replied.

“That’s horrible!” Gianni cried, appalled.

Anna gave him a pleading look. “Please, Gianni, don’t think too badly of Nonna. It was a long time ago, and I know Nonna’s regretted having that fight ever since. When my mamma died a few years back, and Nonna was left with no daughters at all, it hit her really hard.”

“What about Nonno?” Gianni pressed. “Why didn’t he stop her?”

Anna shrugged. “Where Nonna goes, Nonno follows.”

A spark of anger flared up in Gianni’s chest – anger for a link to the past that he and his mother had never had.

“But for all those years,” he protested, “Nonna never wrote or anything!”

“Neither did Francesca,” Anna said quietly. “Maybe it was pride, or maybe they were ashamed, I don’t know. But sometimes those kinds of wounds are hard to heal, and now they’ll never get a chance to.” She paused. “It doesn’t mean Nonna and Nonno love you any the less.”

Gianni inspected his hands, his ire subsiding. “I guess.”

Anna shut and locked the car door sadly, and put an arm gently around Gianni’s shoulders. “Come on, tesoro, we should be getting back to the others.”

* * *

Gianni stayed with Angelo’s family for much of the afternoon. Gianni and Angelo talked with Angelo’s parents, and recounted how they had spent their time together so far – except, of course, for the incident on the terrace and their ensuing conversation. Marta, Gianni observed, was a forceful character without being overbearing. Throughout their conversation, she was bustling around the place making notes of things she had to do for the wedding as they occurred to her, or organising refreshments for the family. Andrea, meanwhile, remained seated at the table for much of the time, and when he did move around it was with the slightly careful air of one who wasn’t entirely confident of his strength.

When the sun threatened to dip below the peak above Scala, Gianni decided that it was time to return to his grandparents’ house, and made his excuses. He was seen off by Angelo, who promised that they would hook up again within the next couple of days, and Claudia, who lurked in the background but gave Gianni a shy little wave as he set off on his bicycle.

The journey back to Ravello was easier than the journey up to Scala. The day had lost its fierce heat as the sun sunk lower in the sky, and Gianni enjoyed freewheeling back down into the head of the valley. However, he thought as he urged his bike back up the gentle climb into town, he would have a lot to contemplate as he went to bed that night.

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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21 minutes ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Pride is such a waste.... In the mid 60s we had a visit from  a young guy I'd never met, and never saw again--he was my half-brother from my father's first marriage.  They'd had a fight and never spoke after that, apparently over a set of tires!  In '87 when my father learned I was gay, that was the last time he spoke to me, and he died in 2001 in Florida where he'd moved with an old girlfriend he knew between his first marriage and my mother's.

I have been cool toward Gianni's grandparents from the information we had until this chapter, and now I hold no chance of them endearing themselves to me further.  In fact, I can see pain ahead if they insist on Gianni being confirmed.  Maybe he can move in with Angelo's family?

It's really interesting to hear your perspective on Marina and Vittorio, and how it's been influenced by your own experience. I think in cases of estrangement there's often a fine line between pride and shame at how one has behaved. All I can say is watch this space!

Your story about your father is a sad one. I guess it's the fear of rejection that keeps many of us in the closet for so long, whether or not we're right to fear it. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.

Edited by James Carnarvon
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I am enjoying how Gianni's and Angelo's friendship continues to grow. I am glad Gianni has learned more about the estrangement between his mother and her parents, even if it wasn't pleasant. Your descriptions of the boys' explorations continue to entertain me! I like the way you get in a lot of description without dragging down the story. Thanks. 

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3 minutes ago, JeffreyL said:

I am enjoying how Gianni's and Angelo's friendship continues to grow. I am glad Gianni has learned more about the estrangement between his mother and her parents, even if it wasn't pleasant. Your descriptions of the boys' explorations continue to entertain me! I like the way you get in a lot of description without dragging down the story. Thanks. 

That balance was a challenge for me. I'm a bit obsessed with this part of Italy. Believe me, the text has been through many edits and rewrites to remove excessive/repetitive description so that the actual characters and story can shine!

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This story is a hard sort to write and a rare pleasure to read.  Quotidian and mundane chronicle relies not upon the sensational, startling, and bizarre, but upon the author's detailed, responsive, and empathetic depiction of ordinary human life.  The gothic novel and movie is far easier to produce than an attentive evocation of quietly important human events, thoughts, and emotions.  Your attentive and sensuous portrait of hours filled by daily actions is a thorough delight.  I hope that, though a lot of work, it was a pleasure for you to write.  Perhaps you have already read Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs?  I think that you would enjoy it.    

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16 minutes ago, everett Weedin jr said:

This story is a hard sort to write and a rare pleasure to read.  Quotidian and mundane chronicle relies not upon the sensational, startling, and bizarre, but upon the author's detailed, responsive, and empathetic depiction of ordinary human life.  The gothic novel and movie is far easier to produce than an attentive evocation of quietly important human events, thoughts, and emotions.  Your attentive and sensuous portrait of hours filled by daily actions is a thorough delight.  I hope that, though a lot of work, it was a pleasure for you to write.  Perhaps you have already read Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs?  I think that you would enjoy it.    

I almost don't know what to say. Thank you!

I've never thought about it that way, but I suppose a large part of the story is a chronicle of the everyday, because it's through the everyday that most friendships develop.

It was a pleasure to write. It was also cathartic to write! I first had the idea for the story in 2004 and didn't write it until 2010, so it felt very good to get it out of my head. It has been endlessly revised and tweaked since then as I have revisited it once or twice a year. It has taken a very long time to see the light of day!

I've never heard of the book you mentioned, but from the title I like it already! Will have to check it out.

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This story is a joy to read. Your descriptions of the landscape, towns, and cities of Italy are so evocative, they leave me with strong mental images of the place. You inspired me to look up Ravello on Google Street View. I love the hairpin turns in roadways and the views of terraced hillsides. And how exciting to learn that Villa Cimbrone is real! Seeing a photo of that wall with the "infinity view," and its rounded top, gave me the shivers.

As someone who's hiked in dry Mediterranean climates during the summer, the descriptions of the relentless sun and soporific heat ring true. No wonder people take siestas. It reminds me of Call Me by Your Name and all the people lounging around during the heat of the day.

I like reading fiction that I can learn from, especially stories that introduce me to daily life in other cultures. Simmering pasta sauce, pergolas, palazzi, and pine trees -- I feel transported to Italy!

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The incident at the cliff wall was ominous. When one is the lone survivor of an accident, they often experience guilt for having survived.

neither Angelo nor Gianni seem interested in girls. Perhaps this will be more than friendship ahead.

the background of his mother's estrangement doesn't bore well for Gianni's reluctance to embrace religion. Maybe his grandmother learned something over the years, but it is possible she did not.

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The countryside has truly become one of the "characters" in this novel:  It would be a very different story if set in Naples or Rome.

I was pleased to see Gianni tire out and become a sweaty mess by the time he reached Angelo's: While boys have plenty of "free" energy, Gianni has been a couch potato in England, and it would not have been realistic for him to have kept up with Angelo, who has climbed and bicycled the region all his life. Gianni will certainly become fit, but he will have to earn it.

So, the outspoken Claudia becomes quiet it Gianni's presence: Someone may have a little crush!

A key secret/truth comes to light in this chapter:  Anna shares that the rift between Francesca and Marina occurred because Gianni father was not religious; and as Gianni himself is not religious, he may be facing future difficulties with his nonna--and not simply because of his refusal to accept confirmation. If Gianni does turn out to be gay (is there a doubt? 😅), her religion may cause her to reject him completely.  We'll have to see if she has learned her lesson with Francesca or if history will repeat itself.

I was horrified by Gianni's suicidal thoughts as he stood on the wall above the Via San Cosma.  They demonstrate that, despite the beauty of his surroundings, his soul still harbors crushing grief.  At least, Angelo knows his circumstances so that they can talk.  If Gianni were in England, I'd say that he needs to see a therapist. However, in the middle of the Italian countryside, in a situation where communicating with his grandparents is awkward, his pact with Angelo to take care of each other may have to be enough. 

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“Fortuna hits the post, and it’s Rossi with the ball... valiant attack there by Fortuna, good but not quite good enough... Rossi shoots... he SCORES! Oh yeah!”

This was such a fun visual.  My family is crazy about football and debates over which player is better can go for hours in the garden while they play. So, I loved this. 

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This story has a great feel to it.  Your words create conversations, actions and setting that are so realistic.  I feel like I'm a quiet friend accompanying Gianni from one interesting spot to another.  It is interesting to even leave the heat and sun just by going into one of the home.  I do worry about Gianni and his grandparents' relationship.  I can only hope that Nonna has mellowed and changed over the years.  The wall incident was of a concern, but really didn't feel like it was a long term problem, just a momentary thought. I was happy that the boys swore to be there for each other. 

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