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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 - 8. Chapter 8

By the time Gianni and Angelo had returned to Angelo’s home, Anna had finished trying on her dress and relative normality had been restored to the Rossi household. Marta and Anna were shocked when they learned of the accident, and fussed over Gianni, despite his protestations, until they were satisfied that he was suitably patched up. Angelo tried to stick with him, but was shooed away by the two women, who seemed to want nobody to get in the way of their ministrations. When it was finally decided that Gianni was recovered enough to be released to cycle home, he mounted his bike and set off down the hill, resolving to play down his accident when he got back to his grandparents’ house so as to avoid a repeat performance.

Gianni went to bed that night confident that sleep would evade him; his head was full of thoughts of his friend, and a dull ache had set in where his forehead had collided with the stone wall. However, exhaustion soon claimed him, and his sleep was deep and dreamless.

‘Clack!’

Gianni awoke abruptly to a bright morning, certain that he had heard a sudden noise. Glancing around the room and seeing nothing amiss, he slumped back onto his pillow.

‘Clack!’

Gianni jerked into a sitting position. The noise had come from the window. Rubbing his eyes against the light, he stuck his head and shoulders out through the tatty old curtains just in time to see a third piece of gravel smack against the leaded window pane. Angelo was standing down in the street with his bicycle; he waved at Gianni.

Gianni raised a puzzled hand in response. He blinked; suddenly realising that he had no shirt on, he withdrew hurriedly from the window and set about making himself presentable.

Scrambling around his room for clothes, Gianni put on some fresh underwear, a clean shirt and a pair of shorts, then turned his attention to his reflection in the mirror on the back of the door. His hair was a mess from a night’s heavy sleep; he did what he could to tidy it up. Then he took hold of the sticking plaster on his forehead, placed there by Marta the day before; peeling it back with a wince, he saw that the wound seemed to be healing well, and resisted the temptation to pick at the scabs. Making his way to the bathroom, he washed his face, cleaning the area around the wound and pausing to flatten down the wildest tufts of hair with a little water. He could hear no other sounds in the house, and realised that his grandparents must still be in bed; checking his wristwatch, he saw that it was only half past six.

Gianni returned to his room so that he could grab his notepad and a pen. He dashed off a quick note to his grandparents explaining his whereabouts, then headed downstairs, leaving the note on the dining table on the way out.

“What’s going on?” Gianni asked as he descended the stone steps outside the front door.

“Couldn’t stay away,” Angelo grinned, wheeling his bike into the courtyard. “How’s your head?”

“Stings a bit, but it’s okay,” Gianni said, lifting back the hair from his forehead. “Have a look.”

Angelo peered forwards to inspect the healing wound. “Cool...” He paused. “It’s right on top of your old scar.”

“You’d noticed the scar?” Gianni said.

Angelo inclined his head. “Yeah. Was it from... the crash?”

Casting his eyes downwards, Gianni nodded.

“If it helps,” Angelo said hesitantly, “I thought it was neat.”

Gianni looked hopefully back up at his friend. “Really?”

Angelo nodded emphatically. “Yeah.”

“Thanks,” Gianni replied.

“Can I lose this?” Angelo asked, gesturing at the bike.

“Sure.” Gianni turned and opened the door under the stairs, allowing Angelo to stand his bicycle next to his own.

Grazie,” Angelo said, once the bikes were securely locked away. “Let’s go exploring.”

“Exploring?” Gianni said as they stepped out into the street. “You mean there are actually places here you haven’t seen already?”

Angelo grinned. “Maybe just a few.” Raising a hand and placing it on Gianni’s shoulder, he leaned in conspiratorially and said “We could end up getting lost forever in the wilderness...”

Gianni gave his friend a sidelong glance as he tried to decide how he was expected to react to this. Plucking up his courage, he lifted Angelo’s hand off his shoulder and lowered it back to his side. “I guess I could think of worse things to happen,” he said. Pausing carefully for effect, he cast his eyes skyward and added airily “I mean, it’s a nice day, after all.”

Angelo met this with a sly smile, and Gianni, feeling that he’d hit his mark, joined him. “Come on, then,” Gianni said, edging away down the street. His fingers felt tingly where they’d touched the other boy’s hand, and he rubbed them together as he went. “Where are we going?”

Angelo followed, and fell into step beside him. “Down the hill?” he said.

“Which side?”

Angelo shrugged. “Minori side?”

“Okay.” Gianni replied.

Gianni made as if to turn down the avenue of oleanders, but then jerked in surprise as he felt a hand on his arm.

“Jumpy,” Angelo grinned. “This way,” he said, gesturing towards the Bishop’s Way.

Angelo released Gianni’s arm, and they made their way down the worn steps together. Over the racket of the early morning cicadas in the trees that lined the high stone walls, Gianni heard the church bells chime the quarter hour.

“Do your family know you’re here?” he asked.

“They’re probably still asleep. But I left them...” Angelo began.

“...a note,” Gianni finished with a smile. “Me too.”

Gianni paused as a thought occurred to him. “I never would have done this back at home.”

But that wasn’t right, was it? His old house in London didn’t feel like it was his home any more.

“Home?” Angelo said, frowning.

“Nah, I guess not,” Gianni replied. He held out a fist; Angelo looked at it in puzzlement for a moment, but then, cottoning on, he smiled and boxed it with his own.

They reached the bottom of the steps, and Gianni led the way on down the hill, away from the square. Soon they were passing through the gloom of the narrow tunnel beneath the Villa Rufolo.

“This place is mental,” Gianni said, his voice echoing in the darkness. He began to run his fingers down the rough and slightly damp stone wall, then froze as he felt a hand slip something into the right side pocket of his shorts. “What the...?”

“Not yet,” Angelo hissed as Gianni reached for the object.

Giving the other boy an odd look, Gianni resisted the temptation to reach for his pocket as they emerged from the tunnel. Ahead, beyond a turn in the footpath, the familiar twin domes of the small church further down the hill came into view as his eyes adjusted to the light. Although the twin domes seemed to crop up on almost every postcard and calendar sold by the gift shops in the centre of town, he still hadn’t seen them up close.

The two boys made their way on down the winding footpath, whose stone steps, half polished with years of wear, became steeper as they went.

“I’m really sorry about yesterday,” Angelo said abruptly.

Gianni turned to look back at his friend. “I said it wasn’t your fault,” he replied. “I meant it.”

“I know, but...”

They had passed the building with the domes, and now found themselves in the ancient stone-vaulted porch of a second small church. An empty niche was set into the rough rubble wall, creating an informal bench. Angelo gestured towards the niche, and they sat down.

“But what?” Gianni asked.

Angelo looked at the floor and scuffed the battered flagstones with one foot. “You scared me, Gianni,” he said awkwardly. “I don’t want to lose you. I’ve never had a friend like you before.”

Gianni felt a flush of embarrassment. “It’s okay,” he replied, putting a tentative hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Angelo looked a bit more cheerful. “You’d better not.” He paused, glancing from right to left to make sure nobody was watching. “You can look in your pocket now.”

Gianni dropped his hand to his right pocket. Reaching inside, he fished out a small pendant. It was made of a small, unevenly shaped piece of wood, which was heavily worn so that it was smooth around the edges, like driftwood on a beach. A small hole had been drilled at one end, through which was strung a piece of black, elasticated thread. On the smoothest side of the piece of wood, a design had been engraved and inked in. It showed the silhouette of a cat sitting alert beneath a sky of roughly drawn stars and a crescent moon. Angelo looked on nervously as Gianni examined the object.

“Did you make this?” Gianni asked, a strange feeling like butterflies playing in his stomach.

Angelo nodded. “Yesterday, after you’d left.” He bit his lip. “Do you like it?”

“It’s brilliant,” Gianni replied. Angelo smiled, but then he looked up and held out a hand to stop Gianni as he made to put the pendant on.

Gianni followed the other boy’s gaze and saw that an elderly couple had entered the porch as they made their way slowly up the hill. He returned the object to his lap.

The older man glanced across at the two boys, and tipped his cap courteously. “Buongiorno.

Buongiorno,” Gianni and Angelo replied.

’giorno,” the elderly woman croaked. The older man leant in to speak to his wife, and they continued to make their way creakily up the steps.

When they had gone, Angelo smiled again. “Okay.”

Retrieving the pendant from his lap, Gianni took a moment to straighten out the cord, and then lifted it over his head, arranging it inside the collar of his shirt so that the pendant hung out through the open top button, resting on his chest.

“How does it look?” Gianni asked.

Angelo grinned. “Awesome.” He rose, looking expectantly back at Gianni with one hand resting on the side of the stone niche. “Let’s go.”

Gianni sidled out of the niche, and they set off down the steps. Crossing a road, they descended deeper than Gianni had ever gone before into the hillside housing below the centre of the town. Once again, high stone walls rose around them; it was still early, and the air was cool, but there was already warmth in the sun. The craggy ridge beyond Maiori formed the backdrop as they wound their way down the side of the hill, house martins flitting from building to building as they passed. Gianni fingered his new pendant contemplatively as they went, running his fingers over the smoothly worn edges and the carefully etched design; he hadn’t realised that his friend was an artist.

“Where did you learn to do this?” Gianni asked.

Angelo glanced across at him. “Papà used to be in woodwork,” he said. “He still has a lot of his tools.”

“That’s cool,” Gianni said. “Like I said, my dad used to make ice cream.”

“Did he ever teach you how?” Angelo asked.

“Kinda,” Gianni replied. “I haven’t tried in a long time.”

“I’d like to watch that,” Angelo grinned. “I bet you’d make such a mess that Marina’s kitchen would never be the same again.”

“I’d just blame you,” Gianni said. “‘Angelo did it’ – sounds believable to me.”

Angelo responded by sticking his tongue out. This looked so ridiculous that Gianni burst out laughing. Angelo, looking somewhat abashed but also amused, advanced on Gianni. “Want to fight?” he said.

Gianni backed away, feeling a strange kind of nervous excitement. “No thanks,” he said. “I’d only win again.”

Before he could be trapped against the wall, Gianni darted aside and set off down the steps at a run. As he pelted down the stone steps as fast as he was able, with the other boy in pursuit, he realised that he had been in this situation before... sort of. And then he realised what was coming next.

Just as he reached the sheltered porch of a third small hillside church, a pair of arms closed around his chest. There were several moments of scuffling, and then Gianni felt himself wrestled to the ground.

“You’re not outrunning me this time, Gianni,” Angelo panted as they landed in a heap on the flagstones.

Breaking apart from his friend, Gianni sat up on the flagstones. “Okay, you win. Peace?”

Angelo was breathing heavily and his face was flushed. Gianni hadn’t had time to tell for sure, but he suspected he looked similar himself. Angelo grinned and nodded.

“Peace.”

Gianni got up and dusted himself down, and Angelo followed suit. Angelo approached Gianni – but without malicious intent this time, he thought – and Gianni looked down as the other boy reached for the pendant around his neck, adjusting it so that it sat back inside his collar. Gianni tried not to show his nervousness as the other boy’s hands brushed against his skin.

“It was crooked,” Angelo said mildly, in response to Gianni’s somewhat wide-eyed look.

Not far below the church, they passed through a small area of uncultivated land. Not so far away below, the coast sparkled in the early morning sun, but before long the view was lost again as they were swallowed up by the confines of a small hamlet. A narrow footpath threaded its way between the weathered old buildings, periodically engulfed by archways and tunnels.

“What is this place?” Gianni asked.

“Torello,” said Angelo. “It’s really old; that’s about all I know.”

The people of the village were beginning to stir. From behind open windows they passed as they walked between the buildings, they heard voices and snatches of music. Dogs barked, and Gianni could smell cooking. His stomach growled.

“Damn, I’m hungry,” he muttered.

“Plenty of lemons on the hillside,” Angelo replied nonchalantly.

“That’s more your style, isn’t it?” Gianni suggested.

Angelo grinned. “Are you after another fight?”

Gianni shrugged. “Maybe. I reckon I could take you.”

The hamlet ended at a square that housed a small church with a colonnaded frontage. For now, the square was deserted, but Gianni suspected that it would get busier later on as the village came to life. After pausing for a moment’s thought, Angelo led Gianni down a small side turning, and before long they had left the buildings behind them and had plunged into a narrow, high-sided lane that ran along the hillside. The tiny footway had a forgotten feel to it that made Gianni wonder whether anyone ever used it – and, were it not for the carefully tended lemon groves that surrounded them on all sides, he might have believed that nobody ever did.

“This is neat,” said Angelo.

“Don’t you know it?” Gianni asked.

Angelo shook his head. “Never been down here before,” he admitted. “I know pretty much where it has to come out, but I’m not sure.”

The footpath swept around the back of a broad indentation in the hillside. Ahead, Gianni could see the cultivated slopes rising up towards the foot of a familiar rocky crag, on top of which he recognised the distant castellated tower of the Villa Cimbrone.

“We’re a long way down the hill,” he said.

Angelo nodded. “About half way down, I guess. It’s not far to Minori from here.”

Wanting to check out the view, Gianni grabbed the top of the high boundary wall and hoisted himself up to peer over the edge; Angelo joined him. Gianni could see the water down below, but he couldn’t see Minori – the village of Torello, perched on top of a steep hump of land, blocked the view. Slightly disappointed, he lowered himself back down.

“I still want to go to Minori,” Gianni said as Angelo touched down beside him.

“Let’s do it, then,” Angelo replied.

“What, now?” Gianni asked.

Angelo looked amused. “Not without breakfast. But we could go tomorrow – we could catch the bus. We could go for that swim.”

“Okay,” Gianni replied.

Angelo grinned. “Cool.”

The two boys continued along the footpath in amicable silence, until Angelo came to a halt, looking puzzled.

“What’s up?” Gianni asked.

Angelo was glancing from left to right. “I’m not sure...”

Gianni followed his gaze. Ahead, the paved lane seemed to peter out into an overgrown earthen footpath. The power lines that had run alongside the path since they left Torello came to an end. To the left and right, meanwhile, very narrow, steep stone steps continued up and down the hill.

“Don’t tell me you’re lost,” said Gianni.

“We’re not where I thought we would be,” Angelo admitted.

“I can’t believe it,” said Gianni. “I didn’t even think it was possible!”

“Which way, do you think?” said Angelo.

“Not sure,” Gianni replied. He glanced at the narrow steps to their right. “I guess we have to go up at some point.”

The two boys exchanged a glance, shrugged, and then set off up the narrow steps. At once they were enclosed by wooden frameworks draped with grape vines, from which hung large bunches of green grapes, ripening in the sun. The footpath was strewn with bits of timber and coils of training wire.

“I think this someone’s private land,” Gianni whispered. “We should go back.”

It was too late. A small hillside dwelling had come into view, outside which an elderly woman was re-potting some seedlings, while two small dogs puttered around her feet. Angelo tugged Gianni on the arm, and they ducked hurriedly behind an uneven stack of packing crates.

Gianni realised, too late to prevent it, that they must have clipped one of the crates in their rush to hide; for a moment it teetered on the brink, and then it fell to the ground with a clatter.

Gianni cringed. The dogs began to bark at once, and soon both appeared from behind the stack of crates, barking and wagging their stubby tails.

Realising that the game was up, Gianni and Angelo rose slowly from behind the crates. The elderly woman was already approaching; she gave the two boys an appraising look.

Buongiorno,” she said.

Buongiorno, signora,” Angelo replied warily. “We – er – just came to buy some of your grapes.”

The old woman leant on one of the wooden posts holding up the vines, and gave Gianni and Angelo a deeply sceptical look. “No, you didn’t.”

Gianni and Angelo exchanged a glance. Gianni shrugged at his friend; they might as well tell the truth.

“You’re right,” Gianni admitted. “We got lost.”

The elderly woman snorted. “I thought as much. Where are you trying to get to? The road?”

Angelo nodded. “Yeah.”

The woman gestured at a further flight of steps leading up through her property. “Up through there,” she said. “Now be off with you.”

Grazie, signora,” Angelo replied with a nervous smile. Edging around the stack of crates – Gianni paused to return the one they had dislodged to its rightful place – they set off at a run up through the grape vines.

“Pretty embarrassing, huh?” said Gianni as they emerged onto the road.

“Just a bit,” Angelo replied.

“And that was the best you could come up with?” Gianni added. “‘We just came to buy some of your grapes?’

Angelo shot him a look, and they both dissolved into fits of nervous laughter.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Angelo said when they had both recovered.

Gianni put a fist to his chest, enclosing his new pendant in his hand. “Your secret dies with me,” he said.

* * *

Some time later, two tired boys re-emerged in the cathedral square, where the businesses were just beginning to set up for a day’s trading. The church bells had barely struck quarter to nine, so Gianni suggested that they return to his grandparents’ house to get some breakfast. As they reached the courtyard, Gianni tucked his new pendant under his shirt – he felt it might lead to a few awkward questions if his grandparents saw it.

Marina was darning some socks at the dining table when Gianni and Angelo stepped in through the front door.

“There you are!” she said as Gianni entered the kitchen. “This is becoming a habit.”

“Sorry,” Gianni replied.

Marina shrugged this off. “Ciao, Angelo,” she said, on seeing the second new arrival.

“Ciao, Marina,” Angelo replied.

“What have you two been up to?” Marina asked.

Angelo gave Gianni a meaningful look.

“Just... exploring,” Gianni replied.

From his perch at the far corner of the table, Vittorio chuckled behind his newspaper. “The boys’ll be hungry from their exertions, Marina,” he said.

Gianni nodded. “Very.”

“There’s some leftover ciabatta in the oven,” Marina said, returning to her darning. “Help yourselves.”

Gianni and Angelo thanked her, then helped themselves to a few pieces of bread and some apricot jam. Taking some orange juice from a jug on the sideboard, they retreated upstairs to Gianni’s room with their breakfast.

Someone – presumably Marina – had made up the bed while they were out. Gianni sat down at one end of it, feeling a little self-conscious, as Angelo explored his domain.

“It’s only small,” Gianni said.

Angelo examined the wardrobe and peered out through the window, looking down through the creepers at the sun shining on the street. “I like it,” he said. “It’s cosy.”

“I guess it is,” Gianni replied.

Angelo plonked himself down on the other end of the bed and took a sip of his orange juice, looking at Gianni watchfully. Feeling a little nervous, Gianni fished out his pendant from underneath his shirt and examined it. “This is really cool,” he said. “I wish I could make stuff like this.”

“Can’t you?” Angelo asked.

“I guess I’ve never tried,” Gianni admitted. “I used to draw, though.”

Angelo frowned. “Used to?”

“I haven’t done it in a while,” Gianni said.

“What changed?”

“I used to like art at school,” Gianni continued, “but that was before... you know.”

“I get it,” said Angelo quickly.

School... Gianni had barely given it a thought since arriving in Italy. He would have to go to one, come the end of the summer. He supposed summer had to end sometime; but it felt odd to imagine that the strange new world he had arrived in might ever be anything other than hot and sunny.

“You should try it again, though,” said Angelo. “I’d like to see what you can do.”

“I wouldn’t know what to draw,” Gianni said.

Angelo was unfazed. “Look around you,” he said simply.

“I guess,” Gianni replied.

As if following his own advice, Angelo looked up at the wall, his eyes settling on the framed tapestry. “What’s this?” he asked.

“My parents made it,” Gianni replied. “I think Mum learned how to do it from Nonna, but I’m not sure.”

Angelo looked closely at the tapestry, forming the shape of the English words with his mouth. Watching his friend’s expression of gentle concentration, Gianni felt the urge to do something crazy rise in his chest, but settled for inching a little closer to his friend.

“Can you speak English, then?” Gianni asked.

Angelo glanced across at him. “A little,” he said. “We learn it at school, like you with your art lessons.”

“What d’you think?” Gianni asked.

Angelo glanced back at the tapestry. “It’s nice,” he replied, reading the embroidered words for a second time. “In a way, it’s like they’ll always be here, watching over you.”

Gianni felt a slight lump come to his throat. He swallowed, and rubbed his eyes.

Angelo, too, shuffled a little closer; Gianni half expected him to put a hand on his shoulder, but he seemed less sure of himself all of a sudden.

“Are you all right?” Angelo said.

Gianni nodded. “Yeah. Let’s hear some of your English.”

Angelo chewed the side of a finger thoughtfully. Then, he looked up at Gianni, and said, “Once upon a time, there were two boys. One was a long way from home, and one wasn’t, but they were both lonely.”

Listening to Angelo speaking the English words was strangely fascinating to Gianni. After weeks of hearing and speaking nothing but Italian, the sound of his own language had an immediate and strangely nostalgic quality that penetrated his defences and sent a faint shiver down his spine.

“And...?” Gianni said at length.

“They became best friends,” Angelo said, still in English, “and they did everything together. They never wanted to be apart.”

“You make it sound like a fairytale,” Gianni said.

Angelo shrugged with a smile. “Maybe.”

There was a pause, during which Gianni eyed his friend; he felt that something important was about to happen, and he didn’t want to spoil it.

“Did they live happily ever after?” he ventured.

“I don’t know... but I guess I’d like to find out.”

The thought hung in the air, leaving a deafening silence in its wake. Gianni stared at his friend; Angelo looked nervously back, like a frightened cat preparing either to fight or run. Had he meant his words to sound so much like an invitation? There was an opportunity here – Gianni was sure of it – but he wasn’t sure how to take it.

Outside, the church bells chimed half past nine. Angelo jumped, and checked his wristwatch. He winced.

“I have to go,” he said.

“Really?” Gianni asked, disappointed.

“Family stuff,” Angelo replied, “but... I had a great time today.”

“Me too.”

The moment was broken. Gianni got to his feet and accompanied his friend to the bedroom door.

“What time should we meet tomorrow?” Angelo asked.

“I dunno...” Gianni said. Then, as a sudden thought occurred to him, “I don’t have any swimming gear.”

Angelo shrugged. “You could go naked,” he suggested.

Gianni blanched. “Are you serious?”

Angelo laughed. “As if. You can buy something in Amalfi on the way.”

“Oh, okay,” Gianni replied, feeling foolish.

“How about eleven?” Angelo said.

Gianni nodded. “Sure.”

“Cool,” said Angelo. “I’ll meet you by the bus stop. Ciao!”

“Ciao,” Gianni replied. He watched as the other boy retreated down the hallway, then turned to gaze out of the window. After a few moments, he heard the clatter of the store room door shutting, and watched regretfully as his friend cycled out onto the street and disappeared round the corner.

* * *

Angelo’s sudden departure had left Gianni slightly at a loss for something to do. He moped around the house until midday, occasionally pausing to read a chapter of one of his books but generally without gusto.

After joining his grandparents for lunch, Gianni decided that enough was enough. Deciding to take Angelo’s advice, he grabbed his notepad and a couple of pencils and made his way down to the square, looking for something to draw.

Gianni’s first instinct was to drift to the far side of the square, under the pine trees, where the view across to Scala unfolded dramatically before the eyes of the town. However, sizing up the terraced landscape and the intricate lattice of hamlets, he realised that he couldn’t hope to capture it all in one afternoon after so many weeks without practice.

Turning back to face the square, Gianni’s eyes fell upon the simple Palladian façade of the cathedral. Taking a seat at one of the benches in the shade of the pines, Gianni tuned out the sound of the cicadas and the gentle hubbub of the square, and set about trying to capture his subject.

The drawing came slowly at first, but soon pencil lines were unfurling rapidly on Gianni’s page. The triple-bayed shape of the building came first, followed by the more subtle details of the pediment, the heavy bronze doors and the grand main staircase. Pausing occasionally to chew the end of his pencil, Gianni infilled the background of the image with a few distant pine trees and a sketchy take on the ornate bell tower.

Gianni was just putting the finishing touches to the second of the two smaller trees that lined the staircase when he became aware of a figure standing at his elbow.

“Buongiorno, Gianni.”

It was Father Stefano, the priest.

“Buongiorno, Father,” Gianni replied, looking up at his visitor.

“Has young signor Rossi abandoned you today?” said the priest.

“What do you mean?” Gianni asked nervously.

“The two of you are frequently to be found in the square,” said the priest mildly. “Your association has not gone unnoticed.”

“Oh,” Gianni replied, his hand moving automatically to the pendant around his neck. “Yeah, he had to go home for the day.”

Father Stefano glanced from Gianni, to the cathedral and back again. “It’s good to see you drawing the house of God,” he said. “I don’t suppose this is a sign that you’ve found your faith?” he added hopefully.

Gianni shook his head. “Sorry, Father.”

The priest sighed regretfully. “May I look at your work, at any rate?”

Gianni nodded, and held the pad out for the priest to inspect. Father Stefano examined the drawing carefully, glancing up every so often to look at the real cathedral.

“Not bad at all,” the priest said at length, handing the pad back to Gianni. “I’d go so far as to say that you have a talent. You should nurture it.”

“Thanks,” said Gianni in surprise, looking critically back at his efforts. They looked a little rough to him, and some of his straight lines were decidedly wonky, but he supposed he’d caught the essence of the building and its surroundings. Something was missing, though.

“I’ll leave you to it,” said Father Stefano. “Give my regards to your grandparents.”

“Thanks,” Gianni said again. “I’ll tell them you said hello.”

The priest bowed courteously. “Arrivederci.”

Gianni continued to examine his work as the priest retreated across the square, his black gown sweeping behind him.

Life, Gianni realised – that was what he was missing from his picture. He looked around the square, hoping for a suitable subject to inject into the foreground; but everyone seemed to be on the move, drifting from one side of the square to other, or seated at bars where he couldn’t see them properly.

Gianni shrugged, and decided to improvise. Setting pencil to paper, he began filling in figures in front of the cathedral. What emerged from his efforts were the silhouettes of a small boy on a bike, a boy on a scooter and, in the foreground, an older boy with a football. There was no mistaking it – it was Angelo’s profile.

Chewing his lip, Gianni tore the picture out of the notepad and pocketed it. Flipping the notepad shut, he got to his feet and set off back across the square. All of a sudden he felt that he’d drawn enough for one day.

* * *

It was a somewhat nervous Gianni who made his way down Via Roma to join his friend at the bus stop the following morning. An afternoon on the beach had seemed like a good idea before but, during an uneasy night, the plans he had made with Angelo for the coming afternoon had taken on a mammoth significance in Gianni’s mind.

Gianni had brought his rucksack with him, and had stuffed it with an old picnic rug and large towel he had borrowed from his grandparents. He shifted this from shoulder to shoulder as he went, for fear of breaking out into a premature sweat in the late morning heat.

As Gianni descended the short flight of steps to the bus stop, he saw that Angelo was already there. His stomach gave a lurch as he remembered the terms on which they had parted the previous day.

Angelo grinned and waved as he caught sight of Gianni. Angelo had also brought a bag, but one that hung on his hip, slung over the far shoulder with a long strap. Gianni thought this a much more practical solution than his own oversized khaki rucksack.

“Ciao, Gianni!” Angelo called. “Going hiking?”

Well, Gianni thought, at least his friend was on form.

“Gimme a break,” Gianni said as he joined Angelo at the bus stop. “You know I came here with nothing.”

“Says the boy with the debit card,” grinned Angelo. “Admit it, fashion isn’t your thing.”

Despite his nerves, Gianni couldn’t let that one lie unanswered. “Well, I guess not,” he replied. “After all, I let you dress me.”

Angelo looked delighted at this. “And he scores!”

The bus could soon be seen growling its way round the head of the valley from Scala.

“Have you got the tickets?” Angelo asked.

Nodding, Gianni took off his rucksack and produced the tickets. He gave one to Angelo. “In England, you pay on the bus,” he said.

Angelo frowned. “Weird.”

There were several other passengers waiting for the bus, and by the time Gianni and Angelo had boarded the small single decker vehicle and validated their tickets the seats were already full. The two boys joined the other passengers standing in the aisle and sought something to cling on to. In the end they stood side by side, both sharing the same metal pole.

The bus lurched into life and set off down the Amalfi road. To begin with, Gianni looked out through the windows as he had before in Anna’s car, but the first hairpin bend at the Scala junction soon put a stop to that. Gianni became a lot less involved in watching the scenery and concentrated on staying upright as the bus swung around the steep downhill bend, with Gianni’s own inertia threatening to send him sprawling over the passenger seated next to him.

“The buses in London are... a bit... more... relaxing,” Gianni said, gripping the metal pole tightly. Next to him, Angelo grinned.

“You’re not in London now, Gianni.”

Gianni certainly knew it. They continued down into the Valle del Dragone, and there were a few moments of respite, but soon they hit more of the hairpin bends, and he and Angelo were thrown around again, colliding with the chairs and each other. As the driver approached the blinder corners on the narrowing road, he let rip with the now familiar sound of his twin-tone air horn, but even so he often had to stop and back up to allow traffic coming the other way to pass.

It came as something of a relief to Gianni when the bus swung laboriously down onto the coast road and cruised into Amalfi with its imposing waterfront buildings and serried ranks of colourful parasols, where they would have to change buses to continue their journey. With the slightly drunken feeling of an inexperienced sailor returning to shore for the first time, Gianni alighted with his friend on the cobbles of the busy bus interchange on the waterfront.

“The next bus is in twenty minutes,” said Angelo, “we’ll have to be quick.”

Negotiating the busy traffic on the seafront, the two boys slipped between the buildings and into the cathedral square. Keeping their eyes open for a shop where Gianni could find some swimming gear, they made their way up the teeming high street. Gianni was struck once again by the contrast between the hustle and bustle of the coast and the quiet of his mountain sanctuary.

Before long, they had returned to the bus stops. Gianni, after fretting over some small Speedos, had settled for the safer option of a pair of large swimming shorts, along with a beach ball that he had picked up at the same shop. He stowed these in his rucksack as they prepared to board the bus that would take them back along the coast towards Minori.

The short bus ride along the coast road was a much more relaxed affair than the journey down the Valle del Dragone had been. Gianni and Angelo found seats on the side of the bus that looked out over the water, and Gianni watched the coast before him unfurl as they journeyed east. The coast road, although narrow and winding, was free of the tight hairpins that had made the journey down the hill so uncomfortable, and the calm blue sea was never far away.

Gianni’s first sight of Minori was a glimpse of a sandy beach between buildings as the coast road descended gradually to water level. Then the road turned inland, away from the water, and they descended into the back of the town. The bus came to a halt at the top of a broad street leading down towards the waterfront, and Angelo suggested that they disembark.

A cluttered mix of buildings, some modern and some older, Minori didn’t look as picturesque from ground level, Gianni thought, as it did when seen as a cluster of terracotta roofs from hundreds of metres above; however, as they wandered down the hill, they passed between colourful restaurants, bars and shops that conjured up something of the feel of Amalfi but without the heaving crowds.

“So this is Minori,” Angelo said as they turned the corner onto the seafront. Gianni, contemplating what lay ahead, froze for a moment as he took in the broad promenade lined with pine and palm trees, on which people walked and chatted in groups, beyond which lay the beach. He was just taking in the backdrop of terraced slopes and rocky cliffs at the far side of the small bay, when Angelo interrupted his thoughts.

“Want to get some lunch first?” he asked.

“Oh – okay,” Gianni replied.

Angelo led the way to a small waterfront square lined with grand old buildings and bars with outdoor tables shaded with parasols. Taking a seat at one of the bars, they ordered two Sprites. Angelo took a grateful sip of his drink as soon as it arrived, but Gianni remained as he was, looking nervously at his friend, his imagination in overdrive. Fingering the straw that the waiter had provided, Gianni stirred his Sprite unconsciously, causing the ice to chink against the glass.

Becoming aware that he was being watched, Angelo looked back silently for a couple of seconds, but then the corner of his mouth twitched. “Earth to Gianni...” he said, waving a hand in front of Gianni’s eyes. “What’s on your mind?”

Startled out of his reverie, Gianni jumped. “I – er – haven’t swum in ages,” he replied; it was the first thing he could think of.

Angelo shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. It’s not like we’re going to do much proper swimming anyway.”

“I guess not.”

They ordered lunch, and the moment that Gianni was most anxious about drew inexorably closer. When they had finished their panini, they paid the bill and made their way onto the broad waterfront promenade.

Like Amalfi, part of the beach was privatised, but Angelo led Gianni past the seafront bars and colour-coded parasols and down a slipway at the far end of the promenade, which opened out onto a small stretch of sandy beach that was free for all. Instead of the regimented rows of tables and umbrellas, the beach was dotted with isolated groups of tourists, some with parasols of their own, some reading, some chatting and some just reclining on blankets enjoying the sun. The calm sea lapped at the water’s edge, and the sunlight danced off the shallows.

Gianni and Angelo found a quiet spot in the middle of the beach and deposited their bags. Digging around in his rucksack, Gianni fished out the old picnic rug and unfurled it on the sand. Angelo produced a smart new beach towel, which he set down next to Gianni’s. As they sat down together, Angelo, at last, seemed nervous.

“Well... here we are,” he said, giving Gianni an excited-looking glance as he took off his shoes and socks, scrunching his toes into the sand.

“Yeah,” Gianni replied, shedding his own footwear, strangely fascinated by the sight of his friend’s bare feet.

Angelo glanced towards the sea, and then back to Gianni. Gesturing towards the water, he said, “Shall we go for it?”

Gianni nodded slowly. “Sure.”

With a resolved air, Angelo put his hands to his chest and began to unbutton his shirt. Gianni watched helplessly as his friend shed the garment, revealing a lean and lightly muscled figure. As Gianni watched the way Angelo’s bare shoulders worked as he stooped to put the shirt into his bag, a shiver passed through him. Heart pounding, he swallowed hard and tried to avert his eyes as Angelo removed his shorts, revealing a pair of swimming trunks, which he must have put on before they left.

Angelo stood and took a couple of steps towards the water. Gianni looked up at him as he turned to look back.

“Come on, Gianni!” he said.

Gianni blinked and reached for his own shirt buttons. Feeling very self-conscious, aware of Angelo’s eyes on him, he removed the shirt, setting it down carefully beside him. The pendant Angelo had given him hung down on his chest where the shirt had been. Reaching into his rucksack, he pulled out his new swimming shorts and his towel.

Gianni’s face was burning, and it wasn’t just because of the sun. “I’ll just be a minute,” he said to Angelo, holding the shorts up in the air. Angelo nodded, and headed down towards the gently lapping waves.

Using the towel as cover, he changed into his swimming shorts. Placing his shirt and street shorts carefully in his rucksack but leaving his towel on the rug, he made his way across the sand, his eyes never leaving the figure that now stood at the water’s edge, chucking pebbles into the water.

“Here I am,” Gianni said as he joined Angelo at the foot of the beach.

Angelo’s eyes fell upon the pendant hanging around Gianni’s neck. Reaching out, he took hold of it; Gianni shivered slightly as Angelo’s fingers brushed against his chest.

“You don’t want to get this wet,” Angelo said with a smile, his dark eyes glancing into Gianni’s own. Lifting the pendant carefully over Gianni’s head, he ran back up the beach and dropped it on Gianni’s picnic rug, next to his towel. Jogging back down to join Gianni, Angelo gestured towards the water. “Let’s swim.”

Gianni nodded, and they both splashed into the water. Gianni had expected it to be cold but, warmed by the sun, the water temperature was mild. Gratefully, he plunged into the waves, allowing their refreshing saltiness to wash over his body. Angelo fell in beside him, and began at once to flick water at him, laughing. Gianni cursed as the water splashed him in the face and began to send water back towards his friend, who seemed undaunted.

“Catch me if you can,” Angelo shouted, before setting off into the deeper water at a brisk crawl. Determinedly, Gianni set off in pursuit, unmindful of the tang of the seawater that washed into his mouth. Soon he had caught up with his friend, and registered this by tagging him with a hand to the back.

“You know I can catch you,” Gianni said.

“My turn then,” said Angelo, blowing some seawater out of the corner of his mouth. “Run!”

Gianni set off at once, with his friend in hot pursuit. It wasn’t long before he felt an arm grab him about the waist, and he came to a splashing halt, swallowing a mouthful of water. Spluttering, he turned to look at his friend, treading water.

“Gotcha,” said Angelo, his eyes dancing. “You’ll need to do better than that.”

Before Gianni could respond, Angelo had launched himself away once again, and Gianni, feeling infuriated, set off after him once more.

Half an hour later, after several rounds of aquatic tag and an energetic game of catch, two tired boys trotted out of the water and back to their spot on the beach, the sand clumping together at once and sticking to their feet. Discarding the beach ball, Gianni and Angelo dried themselves off and then collapsed on their respective blankets. As they had had worn themselves out in the waves, so Gianni’s earlier nerves had begun to abate, and now he lay back on his beach rug, staring gratefully up at the cloudless blue sky and soaking up the sun.

“That was fun,” Angelo said.

Gianni rolled onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow. Angelo had risen into a similar position, stretched out on his beach towel, and was raking the small strip of sand between their two blankets with his free hand.

“Yeah,” Gianni replied, running a hand through his hair and brushing it out of his eyes. “Like I said, I haven’t swum in ages, but I guess you never forget how.”

Angelo nodded. “I suppose even Marina and Vittorio could still swim if they put their minds to it.” A sly smile flickered onto his face. “I can just imagine them sneaking down here and making out in the waves.”

The image filled Gianni’s mind and he fell back onto his beach rug, laughing. “That’s gross!”

There was a shuffling sound and then Angelo popped up in Gianni’s view of the sky. He was resting on his elbows and looking down at Gianni in amusement. Regaining his composure, Gianni looked back up at him.

“Do you often think about making out on the beach?” he asked.

“Depends who I’m with,” Angelo said, with a familiar half smile.

Gianni’s heart skipped a beat and he locked eyes with his friend. They were close. For a few agonising seconds Angelo gazed back, and then he glanced briefly down at the ground and dropped one hand to the floor. “I’ve got something for you,” he said quietly, looking back up to meet Gianni’s eyes once again.

Gianni swallowed hard. “What’s that?”

Angelo’s free hand fell to the waistband of Gianni’s swimming shorts. Gianni’s eyes widened – this was too much, too soon – but then Angelo let loose one of his trademark devilish grins and, before Gianni could react, had shoved a large handful of sand inside his shorts.

Gianni doubled up with an ecstatic cry of mingled outrage and relief as Angelo rolled away, laughing. Without stopping, Angelo jumped to his feet and fled down the beach; Gianni, too, scrambled to his feet and was soon in hot pursuit. Catching Angelo in the shallows, he shoved him to the ground and fell on top of him, trapping him.

“I can’t believe you just did that!” Gianni said, breathing heavily.

Propping himself up on his arms and grinning back at Gianni, Angelo replied, “Couldn’t resist it.”

“You drive me crazy,” Gianni said.

Angelo smiled. “Good.”

Gianni released Angelo just as a warm wave broke over the sand, soaking them both. Spluttering and glancing down at his dripping body, Angelo laughed. He looked back up at Gianni with sparkling eyes. “I guess you finally got me wet.”

* * *

From the moment Gianni helped Angelo to his feet in the shallows, he felt sure that things were different. They walked closely together back to their things, conversing in quiet tones. The outside world, which had deserted him since they arrived on the beach, came rushing back in and seemed somehow even more vivid and colourful than it had done before. From the blue of the sky and the sea to the greens of the trees and the vivid oranges and pinks of the parasols and rugs on the beach, colours assailed him. Far above the buildings of the town, which clung to the headland to the west as the coast road made its way back round towards Amalfi, he noticed for the first time the hillside houses of Ravello staring down at them from a distance, with the distant tree-capped peak of Monte Brusara beyond. Perched on a rocky crag high above the headland, he even saw the Villa Cimbrone, the temple-like structure at the head of the Terrace of Infinity standing proud on the outer edge.

When the time came for them to go, Gianni and Angelo packed up their things and, returning to the promenade, began their climb back up the hill. Angelo led Gianni up a series of flights of steps, and soon they had left the terracotta rooftops of Minori behind them. The steeply stepped path zigzagged its way up the hillside, through olive groves that rang with the raucous song of cicadas.

At one point, Gianni stopped to take in the view. The bay unfurled below them, enclosed by the distant peaks beyond Maiori in the hazy east and the crag of the Villa Cimbrone to the west, at the foot of which Gianni could now identify the small cluster of buildings that was San Cosma, and below which unfolded the verdant terraced slopes that led down towards the sea. Gianni’s eyes lapped all of this up with renewed vigour.

Angelo fell in close beside him, and their hands brushed against one another, but this time neither boy flinched away. They exchanged glances, and Angelo sighed slightly.

“I wish I could see it the way you do,” he said, “like it’s all new.”

“Maybe I could show you how I see it,” said Gianni. “I did what you said – I started drawing again.”

Gianni reached into his pocket, where he found the folded piece of paper he was looking for, still there from the previous day. He pulled it out and handed it to Angelo. “Take this.”

Curiously, Angelo unfolded the piece of paper and examined the drawing, looking from the cathedral to the trees and then smiling as his eyes settled upon the silhouette of the boy with the football.

“It’s really cool,” he said, looking at Gianni earnestly. “Thanks.”

Slowly, they made their way up through the reverberating olive groves. It was one of those eternal, lazy summer afternoons that Gianni hoped would never end.

* * *

That night, sleep was slow to come to Gianni. It wasn’t for worrying this time, however, that he lay awake. His nerves were abuzz with the day’s events, and his thoughts were on what might be to come.

At half past midnight, he gave sleep up as a bad lot and switched on his battered desk lamp. Sitting up and blinking, he caught sight of his parents’ tapestry on the wall. Always be true to yourself.

Pulling his notepad and a pen out of his bottom drawer, Gianni turned to a blank page and lay down on his front to compose a letter.

Dear Mum and Dad,

I had an amazing time today. Me and Angelo spent the day down on the beach. We had fun and it was another fantastically hot and sunny day. But there’s more to it than that.

I think I’m in love. With Angelo. Isn’t it crazy? I didn’t think I could ever be in love. And I think he likes me too. I’m sure of it.

You told me to be true to myself. Well, I think I’m going to. I’m going to go for it – and I reckon Angelo will be up for it, too.

For the first time since the accident, I feel like I have a future!

Love,
Gianni

Closing his notepad and concealing it carefully back in the bottom drawer, Gianni put the light out once more and finally allowed sleep to claim him.

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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Thanks. All three of you have stuck with me for over a week now, and to see you all so engaged and commenting with such insight - into my characters, not just my writing - well, as a writer, there’s no greater vote of confidence really!

Thanks also to other returning readers who have commented on the earlier chapters.

There’s more I could say, but I will let the story do the talking. I have four chapters left to share with you. What will happen next?

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umm, your characters exist and live in your writing, no?  and when one recalls the fundamental meaning of "just" ("just my writing"), well...I am very grateful to you for writing this story

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4 hours ago, everett Weedin jr said:

umm, your characters exist and live in your writing, no?  and when one recalls the fundamental meaning of "just" ("just my writing"), well...I am very grateful to you for writing this story

Well, okay, let's say just my "writing style" or "description" then - or something else similarly superficial.

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Another almost day filled with good times for the boys.  They edge closer and closer to each other without actually making contact.  Just brushes and jostling. Gianni's letter to his parents was sweet and has the promise of finally making the move we all want to see happening.  I wish them both the best.

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12 minutes ago, raven1 said:

Another almost day filled with good times for the boys.  They edge closer and closer to each other without actually making contact.  Just brushes and jostling. Gianni's letter to his parents was sweet and has the promise of finally making the move we all want to see happening.  I wish them both the best.

Don't we all sometimes just wish that things could progress smoothly towards a happy ending? ;) 

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