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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 - 7. Chapter 7

Gianni didn’t sleep for the rest of the night; the combination of the heat in his room and the confused thoughts that were circulating in his mind saw off any hope of rest.

As the hours wore on, Gianni began to feel confined in his small den below the eaves and so, at dawn, feeling the need for fresh air, he donned his clothes from the previous day and stole out of the house without showering so as not to wake his grandparents. Pausing in the kitchen, he splashed a little water on his face in an attempt to freshen up.

The cool of the early morning was soothing, and the streets of the town were still deserted as Gianni made his way down the avenue of oleanders and slipped across the square. Seeking somewhere he could be alone for as long as he liked, he climbed the long, winding steps to the vegetable garden and made his way down the narrow footpath to the vantage point that he and Angelo liked to call their own.

Sitting himself down on the outer wall with the view of the coast unfurled below him, Gianni rested his chin in his hands and contemplated his lot. A snatch of the conversation he and Angelo had had in this spot on the night of Marina’s birthday party drifted into his thoughts.

‘You don’t think there’s something wrong with us, do you?’

‘I don’t know... I don’t think so.’

But this wasn’t what he wanted, was it? Hadn’t he been happy with the way things were before? And how did Angelo feel? He wished he had somebody to talk to, and, not for the first time, thought of his parents; surely they would have been able to help?

Glumly, Gianni watched the sun rise.

* * *

At about half past seven, Gianni returned home to find that both of his grandparents were already up and about. Marina was at the range, lightly boiling a few eggs – a breakfast concept that Gianni had introduced, and one to which his grandparents had rather taken – and the air was heavy with the scent of toasting ciabatta. Marina gave Gianni an appraising look as he slipped in through the front door.

“Where’ve you been?” she asked.

“Just for a walk,” Gianni replied evasively. He made his way to the sideboard, where a few oranges were lined up for juicing. “Want me to do these?”

“Oh, yes, please, Gianni,” she replied, “that would be kind of you.”

Pausing to wash his hands and taking a sharp knife from a block on the sideboard, Gianni cut the oranges in two and carefully squeezed the juice from the fruit, sifting out the pips. When he had filled a glass, he took it over to the dining table, where his grandfather was seated.

“Good lad,” Vittorio said, looking up from his newspaper as Gianni put the glass of fruit juice down in front of him.

Gianni returned to the sideboard and juiced the remaining oranges, filling two more glasses. He took them to the table and sat down opposite his grandfather, while Marina busied herself with draining the eggs and serving them up with the slices of toasted ciabatta.

Gianni regarded his grandfather uncertainly. While he was sitting up on the hill, he had worked out a way to seek his grandparents’ advice without giving too much away; now was probably as good a time as any to give it a try.

“Nonno...” he began.

Vittorio looked up. “Yes, young sir?”

Gianni took a deep breath. “How do you know when you’re in love?”

Marina put the empty saucepan down with more of a clatter than she’d probably intended, and looked across at her grandson in surprise. “That’s an unusual question,” she said.

Vittorio, meanwhile, gave Gianni a look of great interest and set his paper down. “Who’s the lucky girl?” he asked.

Gianni felt himself flush, and hoped it didn’t show. “Nobody,” he replied quickly. “I was just asking.”

While Marina put the breakfast things on a tray, although Gianni could tell she was listening attentively, Vittorio nodded – a trifle knowingly, Gianni felt – and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Of course,” he said. “Well, for one thing, I suppose, you know when they’re not about.”

Gianni frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you can feel it, like something gnawing at a great empty space in your chest,” Vittorio said.

Gianni blinked. “Oh.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Vittorio!” Marina chided her husband, arriving at the table with the loaded tray.

Vittorio took his wife by the hand as she sat down at the table. “All right, cara mia,” he conceded, “What would you suggest?”

Marina pondered Gianni’s question. “Everything looks brighter when they’re with you,” she said at length.

Vittorio nodded, and put his free hand to his chest. “And your heart beats faster whenever you see them.”

“You find yourself drawn to all the funny little things they say and do,” Marina added, with the faintest trace of a smile, “and they can make you laugh, even when you’re feeling miserable.”

Vittorio stroked one stubbly cheek contemplatively as he considered his next response. “You worry about what they think of you,” he said at length.

“Even when you’ve no need to,” Marina added.

Vittorio nodded. “That’s true,” he said. “You’re more aware of their feelings than you are of anyone else’s.”

“And when they hurt,” Marina said, “you hurt.”

Vittorio, choosing to say no further, kissed his wife’s hand and then turned back to Gianni, who was desperately trying to remember everything they had said.

“I hope that’s given you enough to think about,” he said, with a customary twinkle in his eye.

Gianni chewed his lip thoughtfully. “It has,” he said, “thanks.”

Apparently deciding that this closed the matter, Marina placed the toasted ciabatta and a dish of butter in the centre of the table, then passed Gianni a plate containing two boiled eggs.

“We’d better eat these up before they get cold,” she said firmly.

* * *

After he’d helped to wash up the breakfast things, Gianni showered and put on some fresh clothes. Realising that he was running late to meet Angelo, he slipped out of the house as soon as he could, and made his way quickly back down the avenue of oleanders.

As he reached the corner of the square, Gianni saw that Angelo was already there, and felt a momentary urge to hide. There were other children playing in the square, but Gianni only had eyes for his friend; ducking behind the peeling rendered corner of the old newsagent’s building, he watched the other boy practicing with his football.

Angelo was rehearsing trick moves, keeping the ball in the air with his feet and knees and passing it from hand to hand under his legs. He did all of this with the customary grace that Gianni had noticed before but had, until now, scarcely thought about, darting in and out of the dappled shade of the trees; to Gianni’s confused eyes, it looked a little like dancing.

If he approached his friend, Gianni wondered, would Angelo be able to tell what he was thinking? He could feel his heart beating harder than usual, as his grandfather had described, although he thought it could just be nerves; he wondered if it would show. Part of him wanted to stay where he was, where he was safe; after all, watching wasn’t so bad...

But, said a small voice in his head, do you even want to keep it a secret?

Gianni shook himself. That last thought had frightened him a little. Doing his best to put it aside, he set off across the square, pondering how strange it was that doing so should have come so easily only yesterday.

“Ciao,” he called as he approached the other boy.

“Ciao, Gianni,” Angelo replied with a bright smile, bouncing the football to Gianni in a way that echoed their first meeting of weeks ago. Gianni, who had wanted to seem natural so that nothing would seem amiss, found himself momentarily lost for words. Privately cursing himself for it, he settled for passing the football back.

“Want to play a few rounds?” Angelo asked, bouncing the football on the spot.

“Okay,” Gianni replied.

“Here, or shall we go up to the Villa Cimbrone?”

“Here’s fine.”

Angelo dropped the ball to the floor and passed it to Gianni. Suddenly self-conscious, Gianni intercepted the ball ably enough, but hesitated.

“Come on,” Angelo urged.

Gianni passed the ball back. It was an easy pass, not enough to challenge the other boy in the slightest; Angelo stopped the ball, giving Gianni an odd look.

“You can do better than that,” he said, passing the ball towards Gianni again.

“Sorry,” Gianni said. He ran to intercept the ball, but then halted as a bicycle shot across his path: the small boy was back, playing chase once again with his friend on the scooter.

“He’s always trying to run me over, that kid,” Gianni said as he brought the ball under control.

“You’re not the only one,” Angelo said with a slight smile.

Gianni began to dribble the ball back towards Angelo, who ran forwards to tackle him. Unprepared for this and suddenly nervous at the thought of contact, Gianni backed off, yielding the ball before Angelo could reach him.

Looking puzzled, Angelo picked up the ball and approached Gianni curiously. Gianni had a fleeting urge to back away, but stood his ground, looking back nervously at his friend. He found it an effort to keep eye contact.

“Are you okay?” said Angelo. “You’re quiet today.”

Gianni chewed his lip. “So are you.”

“I guess,” Angelo replied, but continued to look expectantly at Gianni, evidently wanting to hear more; Gianni, wanting to break the deadlock, yielded.

“Bad night,” Gianni said. “Stuff on my mind.”

Angelo nodded. “Me too.” He gave a half smile. “Good thing Pietro isn’t here – he’d be going on about ‘synergy’ again.”

Gianni, too, smiled at this. It felt good to do so, and his nervousness ebbed away a little.

“I guess football isn’t going to work today,” Angelo said, bouncing the ball once on the ground. “So what do you want to do?”

In truth, Gianni wasn’t sure, and he floundered for a moment; he was saved from having to answer Angelo’s question, however, as a sudden loud clatter arose from the middle of the square, followed by a cry. Both Gianni and Angelo looked round to see the cause of the noise.

The small boy had come off his bike, and was lying on the paving stones next to it, while his friend on the scooter looked on in dismay. Gianni and Angelo hurried across the square to see if he was injured.

“Hold this,” Angelo said, passing the ball to Gianni.

The boy didn’t look to be seriously hurt. As Gianni and Angelo crouched down beside him, he scrambled into a sitting position, weeping slightly.

“Are you okay, Toto?” Angelo said gently.

“My leg,” the boy sniffed, pointing to a large graze just below the hem of his shorts. Gianni winced and glanced across to his friend.

Angelo shook his head and glanced back at Gianni. “That’s no good, is it?” he said.

Gianni shook his head in agreement. “Nope.”

Angelo turned back to the younger boy. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll get something from the shop.”

“I’ll stay with him,” Gianni said.

Angelo gave Gianni the thumbs-up and got to his feet. Gianni and the boy called Toto watched as he made for the entrance to Via Roma and disappeared out of sight. Still hunkered down on the ground next to the smaller boy, Gianni bounced the football on the paving slabs. Distracted by the noise, the smaller boy turned to look at him.

“Who are you?” he said.

“Gianni. Pleased to meet you, Toto.”

Gianni stuck out a hand, but the small boy, who seemed to have momentarily forgotten his injury, merely continued to look at him with unashamed curiosity. His friend on the scooter remained at a distance, watching in silence.

“Angelo won’t be long,” Gianni said.

Toto looked back across the square and nodded. “He’s nice.”

“He is,” Gianni replied.

The distraction of Gianni’s appearance seemed to have worn off, and Toto looked back down at his graze, on which small beads of blood were forming, and sniffed. Seeing that a layer of dust had been ground into the small boy’s grazed skin, Gianni licked his fingers and reached out tentatively to clean the wound.

“Hold still,” he said.

Toto tensed and whimpered as Gianni wiped the dirt out of the graze, but did as he was told. When he was finished, Gianni wiped his fingers on his shorts and turned his attention to the bicycle. Finding that the chain had popped off the gears at the back, he folded the lower bracket forwards and fed the chain back onto the gear assembly. Giving the wheels a spin, he found that they seemed to have escaped damage.

“Good to go when you’re ready,” Gianni said to the small boy, cleaning his fingers with a blob of saliva and another wipe on his shorts.

“Thanks Gianni,” Toto said.

There was a clatter of feet as Angelo rejoined them. He was carrying a packet of plasters and a small tube of antiseptic cream.

“Are you being brave, Toto?” he asked. The small boy nodded.

Gianni watched as Angelo squeezed a small amount of the antiseptic cream onto his fingers and rubbed it into the small boy’s injury; Gianni was strangely fascinated by how gently but firmly his friend worked to treat the wound. Once he had applied the cream, Angelo placed a plaster over the wound and helped the small boy to his feet.

“Your papà said to take these with you,” he said, passing the cream and the plasters to Toto, who put them in the pocket of his shorts. “You should be okay now.”

Gianni stood and righted the bicycle. Dusting off his hands, Angelo turned and moved towards Gianni, only to be intercepted by the younger boy, who flung himself upon him. “Thanks Angelo,” he piped up.

Looking a little embarrassed, Angelo extricated himself from the small boy’s clutches. “It’s nothing,” he said.

Gianni passed the bicycle to the younger boy, who ran off to join his friend, and the two of them scooted off together for destinations unknown, leaving Gianni and Angelo alone. Bouncing the ball across to Angelo, Gianni backed away and then retreated to the edge of the square, where he flopped down on a bench and watched the other boy approach him. He felt like a bulldozer had driven through his head, clearing out all structured thought. He laughed wearily.

“Now who’s the pussycat?” he said as Angelo joined him at the bench.

Angelo grinned. “Don’t tell anyone.” There was a pause, during which he looked closely at Gianni, and then he laughed. “You look spaced.”

“Sorry,” Gianni said again.

Angelo stared intently at Gianni for a few more seconds. Looking uncertainly back, Gianni had the uncomfortable feeling that his mind was being read. He wondered what the other boy saw in his own eyes, and what he was thinking.

As it happened, it was Angelo who broke eye contact this time. He stood. “I know something we could do that’ll wake you up,” he said.

“What’s that?” Gianni asked.

Angelo stuck out a hand to help Gianni up but, seeming to think the better of it, lowered it again. “It’ll be fun. Come back to Scala with me and I’ll show you.”

Gianni got up, intrigued in spite of himself. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll need to get my bike.”

Angelo nodded. “No problem.”

They crossed the square together and climbed the avenue of oleanders, Angelo bouncing the ball as they went. Gianni became aware that the other boy was stealing odd little glances at him, and felt his face redden. He covered for this by making a play for the ball as Angelo bounced it, swiping it from mid-air.

“Well played, Fortuna,” Angelo said, looking in surprise from at his empty hands to Gianni. “I wish you’d played like that earlier.”

As they reached the top of the steps, Gianni tossed the ball back. He turned and, climbing the street to his grandparents’ courtyard, retrieved the old bike from behind the door under the steps.

Angelo bounced the football on the ground as Gianni dusted down his bike and checked the brakes and tyres. “Where’s yours?” Gianni asked.

“At the ceramics workshop,” Angelo replied.

Gianni nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”

They set off up the street, Gianni pushing his bike by hand so as not to leave the other boy behind. At the top of the hill, Gianni mounted the bike and cruised very slowly down the stone-paved street that led down the other side, while Angelo walked. As they reached the fountain, Angelo looked from the water to Gianni and grinned.

“Good times,” he said.

“I still need to get you wet,” Gianni replied.

“Is that a promise?” Angelo asked.

Unsure how to take this remark, Gianni flushed. He couldn’t think of an answer, so he settled for dismounting once again and pushing the bike down the next street. When they reached the ceramics workshop, Angelo disappeared inside as he had done many a time before, and reappeared moments later wheeling his bicycle, with the football once again strung over his back.

“Cousin Rosa says hi,” he said.

They mounted their bikes and began to cruise down what Gianni now thought of as the Amalfi road, with Angelo leading the way and Gianni following a couple of metres behind. Once again they were enveloped in rugged cliffs and silvery olive trees as they reached the head of the valley and took the Scala turning.

The weeks since his arrival in Ravello and his meeting with Angelo had brought about a change in Gianni. He had barely been aware of it, but now he realised he was keeping pace easily with his friend as they climbed the hill; spending much of his time outdoors playing football, climbing steps and cycling from village to village had toned his muscles and improved his balance and co-ordination. Gianni allowed himself to feel a little pride at his new-found fitness.

“Dig deep, Gianni,” Angelo called over his shoulder as they approached the village; by now, Gianni would normally have been struggling. However, this time he had held his position, and was determined not to be left behind.

“I’ve got your back,” he replied. Angelo, glancing over his shoulder once again, looked impressed.

They reached the gateway to the village and, without stopping, turned into the side turning that led onwards up the hill towards Angelo’s house. After a couple more hairpin bends, Gianni did begin to tire, but he barely noticed; his attention was focused on his friend, who was now standing on his pedals. Gianni saw, in a vivid way he had never experienced before, the concentration evident in Angelo’s shoulders as he drove himself onwards up the hill, and the determined way in which he pounded the pedals with his feet.

They pulled the bikes in to the side of the road as they approached Angelo’s house. As they dismounted from their bikes, Angelo clapped an enthusiastic hand round Gianni’s shoulders. “That was your best run yet,” he said.

Gianni jumped slightly at the other boy’s touch but, too out of breath to tense up too much, gave him a smile.

At this Angelo’s face, too, lit up in a smile that made Gianni feel like flushing all over again. “That’s more like it,” he said.

* * *

As they stepped in through the gate to Angelo’s house, Gianni was surprised to see Pietro and Andrea sitting together at the small patio table on the terrace, playing cards.

“What’s going on?” Angelo asked as he and Gianni wheeled their bikes up the footpath.

“We’ve been banished,” Andrea replied, looking up from his game.

“Anna’s trying on her wedding dress,” said Pietro. “Women only.”

Gianni and Angelo set their bikes against the wall and joined the others at the table. Andrea examined his hand, scratching his moustache thoughtfully. “I think you’ve got me,” he told his older son, putting the cards down on the table. Turning to Angelo, he said, “We weren’t expecting you back so early. What’re you up to?”

“Angelo won’t tell me,” Gianni replied. “He’s being mysterious.”

Pietro snorted. “Heaven forbid.”

Angelo grinned.

“Well,” said Andrea, “if you’re here, we can at least make you comfortable.” He turned towards the open front door. “Claudia!”

There was a pause, and then the familiar figure of Angelo’s younger sister emerged from the shadows of the hallway, wearing a bridal veil thrown back over her head. She froze momentarily when she saw Gianni, but then turned to her father, blushing. “Yes, babbo?”

“Get the boys a drink,” Andrea said gently.

Reluctantly, Claudia turned on her heel and made for the kitchen.

“Who’s winning?” Angelo asked, glancing from one hand of cards to the other.

Andrea raised his hands into the air in theatrical despair. “Pietro keeps beating me,” he lamented. “The boy has no mercy for his old papà.”

Pietro laughed. “It was your idea to play for real money.”

Andrea nodded as if this proved his point. “Not content with letting his devoted family pay for his wedding, he insists on fleecing his poor papà for every scrap of change.”

“Perhaps you can win it back,” Pietro suggested innocently.

“You’ve been saying that to me for the last half hour,” Andrea replied. He turned back to the two boys. “You’d think I’d have learned by now.”

Claudia reappeared at that point, carrying Lemon Sodas in iced glasses. She gave the first to Angelo, who gave her the thumbs-up, and then approached Gianni and pressed the second glass nervously into his hands, looking up at him with large, trembling eyes. From behind her, Angelo shot Gianni a sly grin as he took a sip of his drink.

“Thanks, Claudia,” Gianni said.

“It’s okay,” Claudia replied breathlessly, backing away and bumping into a chair, before retreating hurriedly into the house.

“The perfect gentleman,” Pietro observed. “Perhaps, once this wedding’s over, we can start to plan yours?”

Angelo made a sickened face. “Not likely!”

“Just you wait,” Andrea said. “The lightning will strike both of you one day.”

Gianni glanced automatically towards Angelo at this and, unexpectedly catching the other boy’s eye, covered his embarrassment by taking a slurp of his drink. He was relieved to see that Pietro and Andrea didn’t seem to have noticed.

“Don’t you think you’d better put Gianni out of his misery, Angelo?” Pietro said. “What have you got planned?”

“I’ll need to get into the shed,” Angelo replied, before adding to his father, “If you’re sure that’s allowed?”

Andrea gave the appearance of considering this deeply, but then nodded. “I expect so,” he replied with a smile. “But don’t peek in through the windows on the way past.”

“I’ll be right back,” Angelo said to Gianni. Setting his drink down on the table, he disappeared round the side of the house.

Pietro turned his attention to dealing two new hands of cards. Andrea mopped his brow, and Gianni noticed, as he had done before, how pale and drawn he looked compared to the rest of his family. Still, he didn’t seem to have let his illness dent his attitude. Gianni respected him for that.

Angelo reappeared a few moments later, carrying two skateboards. One was the smart new board Gianni had learned to ride on. The other was older, and the pattern was worn, but it still looked serviceable.

“That’s the secret plan? Skateboarding?” Gianni asked, slightly disappointed.

Proper skateboarding,” Angelo replied. He passed the older board to Gianni, and then paused to finish his drink. “Up for a climb?”

“I guess,” Gianni replied, nonplussed.

They turned to go. “See you later,” Angelo said to others.

“Don’t get Gianni into trouble,” Andrea said.

“No, papà,” Angelo replied automatically. He turned to Gianni and grinned, adding quietly “None that you don’t want to get into, anyway.”

* * *

Exiting from the terrace, Angelo led Gianni onto a network of quiet paved footways that snaked around the hillside to the rear of the house. Lizards scattered into the shelter of the creeping plants that overhung the stone walls as they passed a row of scruffy but lived-in-looking houses.

“Where are we going?” Gianni asked.

“Campidoglio, right at the top of the village,” Angelo replied.

“And we’re going to skateboard all the way back down?” Gianni asked, catching on.

Angelo nodded. “If you think you can take it,” he teased.

“Cool,” Gianni replied.

As they zig-zagged between small villas and climbed steep flights of steps, Gianni lost track of how far they had travelled, but he got the sense that they had already made good progress up the hill. Before long, they re-emerged on the road, and as the dwellings that had lined the quiet lanes fell away, Gianni realised that they were now higher up than much of Ravello, with only San Martino and the string of houses that climbed the slopes of the mountain above, which Gianni had learned was called Monte Brusara, competing for altitude. Between the roofs of the houses they passed, Gianni could now glimpse the distant sea. The road was quiet, and the two boys walked up the hill with only the cicadas in the olive trees between the scattered houses, the shrill cries of the swifts that flew overhead and a welcome lick of sea breeze for company. Above them, the mountain stretched on upwards towards a craggy stone-capped peak. From time to time they had to move aside to let a car or scooter pass, but by and large they were left alone.

The hike up the hill took a good twenty minutes, but Gianni didn’t mind. It was a clear day with only the lightest of haze and, as they climbed, Gianni was able to look down towards the water with the whole of Ravello spread out below them and the rugged peaks above Maiori beyond. He recognised the tree-lined cathedral square, the ridge of palazzi among which his grandparents lived, and the leafy crag of the Villa Cimbrone staring out towards the azure expanse of the sea.

C’è un bel panorama,” Gianni murmured.

Davvero,” Angelo replied.

They passed a compact church with a tiny bell tower, and then the road finally peaked among a small cluster of buildings, where they found a small viewpoint with a couple of benches. Here they paused for a rest, overlooking the view down to Ravello and out to sea.

Gianni mopped his brow and exhaled slowly as they sat down together on one of the benches. “Do you come up here often?”

“I used to, before I met you,” Angelo replied.

“I guess we’ve been keeping each other busy,” Gianni said.

Angelo flashed him another of his confusing smiles. “Fine by me,” he said.

“Me too,” Gianni replied quietly. Looking at his friend, he was struck by the sudden, frightening and yet strangely exciting urge to lean across and kiss him. Looking down to inspect his hands, he fought the urge, and tried to think about something else.

Gianni was saved from further unsettling contemplations by Angelo, who bounced suddenly to his feet. “Let’s do this,” he said.

Angelo put his board to the road and pushed off, and Gianni followed suit. They began to trundle on down the hill, which was shallow at first, weaving a little from left to right as they negotiated parked cars and protruding buildings. Looking up, Gianni realised that they really were close to the top of the village, with only one further row of buildings and a few metres of cultivated land lying between them and the wild woodland above. They were descending away from the direction they had come, towards the sea; looking down into the landscape below, Gianni could see the snaking green terraces of far side of the Valle del Dragone as it made its way down towards Atrani.

It wasn’t long before they had picked up substantial speed. The descent whipped up a brisk breeze that blew Gianni’s hair back from his forehead and cooled his face; it was intoxicating, and he felt more of his tension wash away.

“How do you like this?” Angelo called from a few metres ahead.

“It’s fantastic!” he called back.

Before long they had negotiated their first major turn, a sweeping left hander that Gianni managed without incident. The landscape turned around them, and Gianni could see San Martino and Monte Brusara again; the string of houses that climbed up the mountain was already starting to gain height above them as they descended towards the valley. Feeling liberated, Gianni turned his attention back to the road, where once again they were starting to encounter parked cars and protruding buildings as they entered another small hamlet.

They passed another small church, and the road narrowed right down. Seeing no traffic coming the other way, Gianni followed Angelo through the shady street, and the view across the valley was momentarily obscured. The rumbling of the skateboards’ wheels echoed in the enclosed space, adding to the exhilarating sense of speed.

As they broke free of the buildings, Gianni saw that they were approaching a blind corner, around a protruding retaining wall of rugged stone, from which protruded sprays of pink valerian flowers.

“There’s a double hairpin just ahead,” Angelo called back.

“Okay,” Gianni replied. Following the other boy, Gianni concentrated his attention on steering himself to the outside of the bend. At once the first corner of the double hairpin came into view. Assessing the corner, Gianni saw that the road was quite wide, and decided he could make the turn.

Gianni was already crossing towards the outside of the corner, when he realised that his friend had pulled in at the side of the road and dismounted.

“You’re not chickening out, are you?” Gianni asked as he passed the other boy.

Angelo looked up in alarm. “Wait!” he said urgently.

Gianni was already entering into the turn and didn’t have time to answer. He swept into the corner, all his attention focused on keeping the skateboard on course. Using all of his newly learned skills and the best of his balance, he guided the skateboard around the turn, and had time for a brief moment of elation, before he heard the sound of an engine over the rumble of his wheels, and looked up.

All Gianni had time to register was a flash of red and chrome, then something hard and heavy struck a glancing blow to his left. Tumbling from his skateboard, Gianni saw the top corner of the stone boundary wall rushing up towards him. Thrusting out his hands automatically, Gianni’s caught hold of the wall to slow his descent, but he was unable to stop himself completely. Fetching up against the stonework with a gasp and a painful scrape to the head, he slumped to the floor, panting.

“Gianni!” Angelo’s voice cried. Gianni was aware of the sound of running feet and then a clatter as the other boy dropped his skateboard next to him. Angelo grabbed Gianni about the back and shoulders and helped him into a sitting position, propping him up against the wall, where he sat, blinking, brushing the hair out of his eyes.

More clattering feet. It was the driver of the car that had hit him, a man in his forties. His face was a picture of anxiety.

Dio! I didn’t see you,” the man panted. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Gianni mumbled.

“Are you sure?” the man said, grabbing Gianni’s arms one by one and checking for breaks. “Can you move your fingers and toes?” Turning to Angelo, he added, “You shouldn’t have moved him.”

Gianni flexed his fingers to show that he could. His forehead stung where he had bashed it, but nothing felt broken. “I’m okay, really,” he said. “Sorry.”

Angelo was watching anxiously from the sidelines. “It’s all right,” he said to the man. “I’ll take care of him. You go on.”

The man knelt back uncertainly. “I don’t think I should.”

“We’re not far from home,” said Angelo.

“At least let me give you my details,” said the man.

“Okay,” said Angelo.

Shakily, the man returned to his car. He returned a few moments later with a piece of paper, on which he had written the name ‘Maurizio’, and a telephone number. This he gave to Angelo, who was still crouched next to Gianni.

“Call me if you need anything,” said the man.

“Thanks,” said Angelo, pocketing the piece of paper.

Pausing to look once more at Gianni, the man shook his head and set off back up the road towards his vehicle. Gianni watched as he clambered back in and drove off unsteadily up the road.

When silence had fallen once again, Gianni turned to his friend.

“You saw him coming?” he asked.

Angelo nodded. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t see,” said Gianni. “I was too busy making the turn.”

Angelo cast his eyes downwards. “It’s my fault,” he said. “You weren’t ready for this.”

Gianni shook his head. “Don’t,” he said. “You didn’t force me to do it. I should’ve paid more attention.”

Angelo blinked and rubbed his eyes. With a pang, Gianni realised his friend was crying, and tried to think of something to say that would cheer him up.

“Pussycat,” Gianni said quietly. It seemed to have the desired effect; Angelo laughed quietly and looked up, but then his face fell again.

“You’re bleeding,” he said.

Gianni raised a hand to his forehead; it came away slightly blooded. “It’s just a graze, like Toto’s,” he replied.

“I wish I still had those plasters,” Angelo said.

Frowning, he licked his fingers and very gently mopped the blood and grit away from Gianni’s wound. It stung at first, and Gianni winced, but then he got used to the sensation, and settled for watching his friend’s anxious face as he worked. After a few moments, Angelo seemed to realise he was being studied, and his eyes flitted down to meet Gianni’s. The hand which had been cleaning his wound drifted, and gently brushed a lock of Gianni’s hair aside, almost unconsciously.

A small spark of hope ignited in Gianni’s chest.

“Angelo?” he said.

The other boy said nothing. Gianni felt locked into the other boy’s gaze, as if the whole of the rest of the world had fallen away apart from the ever-present sound of cicadas. But then, after what seemed like an eternity, Angelo blinked and scrambled to his feet, and the world came rushing back, leaving Gianni with a slight sense of disappointment and loss.

“We should get back,” he said. “Mamma can fix you up.”

He stuck out a hand, which Gianni took gratefully. Having helped the injured boy to his feet, Angelo picked up his skateboard from the side of the road. Gianni, meanwhile, limped to the centre of the road, where his own skateboard lay, fractured across the middle. It must have gone under the back wheels of the car, he supposed.

“I think this is finished,” Gianni said, picking up the broken object.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Angelo, “it was old anyway.”

They set off down the road. Gianni had a momentary head rush and staggered; Angelo put a steadying arm around his shoulders.

“Want a hand?” he said quietly.

“Thanks,” Gianni replied. Reaching up, he placed his right hand on the other boy’s shoulders, and together they set off down the shimmering road.

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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The vague conversation Gianni had with his grandparents probably won't be forgotten by them. It is fairly obvious the only person he spends time with is Angelo. His dream has caused him to begin sending signals when he is around Angelo which will be and are difficult to ignore. Is it imagination or is Angelo having disconcerting thoughts of his own? How long will it be before their attraction becomes clear to both of them?

Their escapade with the skateboard nearly ended tragically. Gianni might have ended up like his skateboard, damaged beyond repair.

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The ackwardness between the two boys suggests that they are both having the same thoughts but don"t know how to broach the subject to each other. The accident allows Angelo the intimacy of cleaning Gianni's wound and the tenderness of brushing his hair. Angelo sheds tears of guilt that he caused the accident, but his subsequent actions give Gianni hope.

What an icebreaker!  Whew!  (A date at Starbucks is much easier.... :unsure:)

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5 hours ago, travlbug said:

The ackwardness between the two boys suggests that they are both having the same thoughts but don"t know how to broach the subject to each other. The accident allows Angelo the intimacy of cleaning Gianni's wound and the tenderness of brushing his hair. Angelo sheds tears of guilt that he caused the accident, but his subsequent actions give Gianni hope.

What an icebreaker!  Whew!  (A date at Starbucks is much easier.... :unsure:)

No Starbucks for miles around, I'm afraid. A near-miss with a car is the only way to go.

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3 hours ago, James Carnarvon said:

No Starbucks for miles around, I'm afraid. A near-miss with a car is the only way to go.

I've never been in a Starbucks and yet I don't feel culturally deprived.

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6 hours ago, drpaladin said:

I've never been in a Starbucks and yet I don't feel culturally deprived.

I think I may have been into one for a cookie once... 🤔

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