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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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Summer of the Selfless - 11. Chapter 11

Daniele set out for the cathedral square the next morning wearing his new tri-colour tie-dye t-shirt, wondering what to expect from his first meeting with Marco as boyfriend and boyfriend. He tried to imagine them greeting each other with a kiss, but it didn’t seem likely somehow, not under the watchful eyes of all those other people. A relationship with Marco, he suspected, would be a much more private affair altogether.

As he walked up his usual stairway, surrounded by high stone walls, old villas and hidden gardens, rucksack with the day’s supplies slung over his back, he reflected on his choices of the last few days. The image of Giacomo’s wounded eyes still haunted him, and he supposed it always would.

I’m sorry, Giaco…

But it was too late, wasn’t it? The damage was done; he had hurt the dark-eyed boy enough already, and he would never know for sure how things might have been. It was time to make the best of what he had left.

He still hadn’t told his parents about what had happened with Giacomo, let alone the territory he was now straying into with Marco. In the first couple of days after his split with the dark-eyed boy, it had hurt too much to talk about it; when they had asked him about Giacomo’s early departure, he had explained away with a mumbled excuse about an argument. He could tell they were concerned, but they had restrained themselves from pressing him too hard and, as he had cheered up in the days that had followed, the urgency of their interest had waned.

All the same, he felt well behind the curve in opening up to his parents and, having come so far on his own, he was unsure where to begin. Emotional debris was really beginning to pile up in Via Daniele, and his mother and father, the two people in the world who ought to care about him the most, were hardly aware of it.

Daniele and Marco had arranged to meet in the cathedral square to pick up Sami from Reza’s construction site, after which they would take him up to the villa gardens. He turned into the square and made his way to one of the stone benches under the umbrella pines to wait for his friend.

I mean… boyfriend…

There was no sign of the other boy yet. To save himself from over-thinking their situation, he switched off his inward thoughts as he so often had when he was younger and gazed around the square, watching the passers-by and the customers at the bars, trying to work out their stories.

A young couple, who looked foreign – English, perhaps – stood hand-in-hand, admiring a pile of colourful ceramics outside one of the shops; or, at least, that was what they were trying to do, but they couldn’t seem to stop turning to admire each other instead. The young man’s hair was cut short and immaculately styled, while his partner’s was long and glossy; she wore a light and wispy summer dress, cinched tight about her narrow waist. Daniele caught a glint of sunlight on metal amidst their entwined fingers.

Honeymooners, he thought. As he watched, they leaned in to kiss each other, much to the chagrin of the shopkeeper who had been trying to make a sale, who gestured to the sky in good-natured frustration.

Daniele looked away with a smile. His eyes settled on a group of three slightly older teenagers he recognised but didn’t know, who had just strolled into the square from the tree-lined street at the corner. Two of their number were also walking hand-in-hand. The boyfriend was looking at his girlfriend in awe, as if he couldn’t quite believe his luck. What he couldn’t see was that the other boy who was walking with them was also gazing at his girlfriend and, from time to time, Daniele thought he saw her eyeline shift a little, eliciting a secret smile from the other boy.

Trouble brewing…

At a sunny table outside one of the bars, two young women seemed to be having a blistering row over a pair of cappuccini, to the slight alarm of some of the other customers around them. Their exact words were lost to the general babble of conversation in the square, but Daniele could tell from the amount of angry gesturing that things had got serious. One of the waiters was watching them anxiously, apparently weighing up whether he should intervene or ask them to leave but, just as he finally stirred from his post under one of the giant parasols, the two women leaned across the table and kissed each other fiercely.

This time, Daniele actually laughed. He looked down at his hands, an oddly adult thought straying into his mind.

Love in all its glory

He looked up again and, this time, his eyes found two more familiar figures. Michele and Isabella were strolling into the square, passing the ancient stone gatehouse of the Villa Rufolo. They were chatting cheerfully together, reminding Daniele of the time before Toto and Michele had got together, when Toto had feared Isabella as a rival for his affections. It was easy, Daniele thought now, to see that the way they interacted was more like the good-natured banter of a brother and sister than the lovestruck admiration of a young couple… but maybe that sort of thing was harder to divine when you were in the thick of it yourself. His own experiences he certainly made it hard to see clearly.

As they passed the cathedral steps, Michele exchanged a wave with Father Stefano, the priest, who had stepped outside for a moment to take the air. Spotting Daniele on the far side the square, Isabella smiled and blew him a kiss. He poked his tongue out at her; she laughed and made a face back at him, and they moved on.

Daniele followed them with his eyes as they made their way to Via Roma. As they passed the bottom of the avenue of oleanders, he finally spotted Marco.

The mousy-haired boy was just descending the last few steps. He was wearing the new shirt Gianni and Angelo had bought for him in Rome, but he had declined to tuck it into his shorts for once, giving him a slightly more relaxed air. Daniele’s ring glinted on his finger, and his new, shorter hair was neater and more carefully swept than ever. Daniele sighed slightly.

We shouldn’t have got here this way, but here we are. Maybe we can make it work.

Spotting him, Marco quickened his pace, hitching his own small rucksack higher on his shoulder. He trotted across the square with a nervous smile, nimbly dodging passers-by.

“Ciao, Dani,” Marco said breathlessly as Daniele rose to greet him. He moved forward for a moment, as if to hug Daniele, take his hand or offer some other sort of physical greeting, but then he seemed to think the better of it and rocked back onto his heels.

Daniele smiled. The other boy’s awkwardness was sort of endearing.

“Ciao, Marco,” he replied.

“I was thinking about this all night,” Marco went on. “What to wear today, how to seem cool, how to make you laugh… it was stupid.”

Daniele twisted his mouth ironically. “You know we’ve come out to see Sami, today, right?”

Marco pouted slightly. “Yeah, but that’s not all, is it? It’s also, like…” his voice descended to a whisper, “our first proper date.”

Daniele laughed. “I guess it is.” He extended a hand towards the other boy. “Andiamo?

Marco looked at the proffered hand in vague fascination, almost took it, then pulled his own hand back again.

“Yeah,” he nodded earnestly. “Let’s go and find him.”

They headed over to Reza and Tiziana’s building site at the corner of the square. Daniele kept stealing glances at his companion, more out of curiosity than fascination. He was waiting for the excitement to kick in as it had with Giacomo but, so far, it had remained elusive. All the same, the notion that they were together was sort of… intriguing.

On the last of these glances, their eyes met, and they smiled nervously at each other as they drew level with the old garage doors of the ground floor unit, which stood open. The rough walls of the still largely unrenovated space were lit up with the harsh daylight blue glow of a work lamp, and there was the sound of someone sawing methodically inside.

“Ciao, boys,” called a voice.

They blinked and looked up as they realised it was Tiziana who had spoken. It looked like she was the one who had been doing the sawing, too; she appeared to be mitring wooden beading for a window frame.

“Ah… ciao, signora,” Daniele replied, flushing slightly in embarrassment. The two of them must have looked pretty obvious for a moment there. If Tiziana had noticed anything, however, she offered no comment.

“How are you both?” she asked. “Sami’s just out the back somewhere. He… oh!”

She jumped as a small figure came hurtling out through a doorway in the back corner, almost upending a stack of timbers that were leaning against the wall. The little refugee boy threw himself into Daniele and Marco’s arms, nearly knocking them off their feet. He was beaming, his dark brown eyes gleaming with excitement.

“Dani! Marco!” he babbled. “Where’ve you been?”

Daniele laughed and exchanged a glance with Marco, who gave him a slightly confused smile in return. Perhaps the other boy was beginning to realise how little date potential this outing actually had, thanks to Sami the adorable gooseberry. Daniele felt slightly ashamed of himself as he recalled how he had planned it this way to help bring their friendship back onto an even keel.

But I didn’t know, then, did I…?

“Ciao, Sami,” he replied. “Sorry, we’ve all been really busy.”

Maybe that was stretching the truth a little, he thought, but it was easier than trying to explain his romantic disasters to Sami and his mother.

Marco rallied, adjusting his focus with admirable speed. “But we’re here now,” he said to the little boy. “We’re going to have lots of fun today.”

Tiziana chuckled, abandoning her sawing for a moment to have a few last words with her adopted son.

“Be good, Sami,” she said, gently turning the little boy back round to face her. “Listen to Marco and Daniele, and don’t go running off too far without them.”

The little boy nodded obediently. “Yes, Mamma.”

She bent down and they gave each other a kiss on the cheek.

“Reza’s on a supply run at the moment,” she said, straightening up to address Daniele and Marco, “but just bring Sami back here when you’re done. We’ll make sure that at least one of us is around all day.”

They thanked her and set off back across the square, hand in hand with Sami.

“Where’s Luca an’ Giaco?” the little boy piped up, glancing at them curiously.

Daniele winced slightly, wondering at the ability of young children to go straight to the most uncomfortable subject. “Oh, they… they’re not around at the moment.”

“Why?” Sami asked.

“We’re… just having some apart time. Marco and I are keeping each other busy.”

“Coo’,” Sami replied distractedly, already losing interest.

Apparently tired of having his hands held, the little boy stopped and, in one deft movement, squirmed out of their grip and placed their hands firmly in one another’s. “You do it,” he giggled.

“Hey!” Daniele protested, as he and Marco hastily let go of each other. “Don’t do that, Sami!”

Sami’s face fell slightly. “Sorry,” he mumbled, looking a little tearful.

Even Marco looked a little startled by his reaction, blinking at him with his cool grey eyes. Daniele mouthed an apology of his own to the other boy as he pulled Sami into a conciliatory hug.

“It’s okay,” Marco replied quietly. “Caught us both by surprise, I guess.”

Daniele smiled. “Yeah… I’d like to hold your hand in my own time.”

Marco relaxed a little. “Yeah,” he smiled. “Maybe later.”

Sami gave them a slightly funny look and led the way along the little street lined with gift shops that led towards the winding stairway up to the Villa Cimbrone.

“Oh, Dio,” Daniele whispered to Marco. “You don’t think he knows, do you?”

“How can he?” Marco whispered back. “He’s, like, three minutes old.”

That made them both giggle, and they stifled it hastily as the little boy turned back to look at them once again, a puzzled frown knotting his dusky brow.

“Okay, less weird, more fun,” Daniele whispered, “or he really will be onto us.”

“Right,” Marco nodded. “Hey, Sami,” he called, “I bet you can’t climb these steps two at a time!”

“Can too!” Sami called with a playful scowl, and then he was off, leaping like a gazelle up towards the arched porch of the convent.

Daniele grinned. “That worked! Only…” he swallowed hard. “Now, we have to run too.”

With muffled curses, they set off in pursuit.

* * *

The morning sun shone through the trees as they darted along the old stone footways, passing visitors buying cold drinks at the café on the hill, feral cats stretched out in the shade of the hedges around the little park opposite, and a few more people admiring the view from the top of the vegetable garden. Down below the rolling landscape of cliffs, terraces and valleys, the sea was a vibrant shade of aquamarine.

Sami trotted down the lane, as determined as the pleasure craft sailing back and forth along the coast, Daniele and Marco hurrying along in his wake. At one point, Daniele stumbled on an uneven step and Marco caught him, taking hold of his arm before he even realised he was falling.

“Thanks!” he said in surprise. The other boy responded with a bashful smile.

At the villa gates, Viola Rossi let Daniele and Marco in at half price. She smiled down at Sami, who gazed back up at her with his large, brown orbs, but she made no move to charge for his admission.

“It’s wonderful to see the three of you out together again,” she said. “Have a lovely visit.”

They thanked her set off along the main central avenue of the gardens, wandering through the dappled shade of wisteria and grape vines; over their heads, clusters of fresh young fruit could now be seen, growing and ripening in the sun. They found a quiet spot on one of the long lawns that ran parallel to the avenue, then Marco unearthed a football from the bottom of his rucksack and they played with it for a while.

The mood was a little strange. The goal of the game was to try to keep the ball away from each other, but Daniele and Marco shied away from any physical contact, and Sami ended up doing most of the work.

“Come on, guy’!” the little boy protested in frustration, as Daniele backed off from yet another easy tackle against Marco. The two older boys exchanged a confused glance.

Surely, being together shouldn’t make this more difficult?

Maybe it was the awkward nature of the occasion, where they were having to act normal around Sami before they had had time to explore their feelings in private? Daniele found himself looking forward to the afternoon, when the playdate would be over, and he and Marco could spend some time alone.

After a while, Sami grew tired of the stilted game, and they ventured in among the welcome shade of the pine trees and rose gardens at the centre of the estate and switched to hide and seek. Daniele made sure Sami had some water to drink, while Marco took care to explain to the little boy, very carefully, the designated perimeter that he was not to leave.

Daniele watched the little boy sipping at his water bottle, listening seriously to Marco’s instructions, and he smiled as a stray thought occurred to him. He tried to imagine what Toto and Michele would say if they could see them now:

Check out Dani and Marco, playing the dads! What cute parents you’d be.

But, would they? As far as he knew, Toto and Michele still thought he was with Giacomo. How would he explain that?

Daniele and Marco teamed up, and they took turns to search for Sami or hide from him. They could seldom elude him for long; after what seemed like just moments, he would turn up, giggling, with a proud declaration of “Found you!”

Sami, on the other hand, was extraordinarily adept at hiding; Daniele wondered if it had been more of a question of survival in his previous life. At one point, the little boy disappeared for several minutes, and they began to worry, until they found him lying down on his belly under a hedge that they had already walked past twice already. He grinned at them, scrambled back out, brushed himself down and instructed them to hide, whereupon he buried his face against a pine tree and began to count down from thirty in a strange mix of French and Italian.

Daniele and Marco hurried off again, splitting up just before they got back to the rose garden. His trainers kicking up fine clouds of dust from the dry dirt paths, Daniele found a particularly dense clump of rose bushes in the shade of one of the tall umbrella pines and crouched down behind them, knowing that his improvised hiding place wouldn’t last for long.

He heard footsteps only seconds later, and for a moment he thought Sami must have cheated, but it was only Marco, who hadn’t managed to find a place to hide of his own. They exchanged a breathless smile and then he hunkered down next to Daniele, pressing against him to make them as small a target as possible.

“You know Sami won’t be fooled by this,” Daniele whispered.

Marco snickered. “I know. It’s sort of nice, though…”

Daniele giggled slightly. “But we’ve been avoiding touching each other all morning.”

Marco shrugged. “It’s just weird being together around other people for the moment. I don’t know…” he tailed off.

…where our boundaries are? How far we’re ready to go?

“I know what you mean,” Daniele replied.

“I wish we’d seen Sami another day,” Marco whispered. “’cause right now, I just want to know…”

He leaned a little closer, and Daniele, despite his confusion, felt himself responding.

Here goes nothing…

“Found you!” came a gleeful voice.

Daniele and Marco broke apart abruptly and looked up just in time to see Sami thundering down the footpath towards them. The little boy stopped a couple of metres short, a curious frown creasing his brow once more.

“Were you two about to kiss?” he asked.

“What?” Marco blustered, “No! We were, ah…”

“Are you boyfriends?

Daniele and Marco exchanged another glance, and for a moment they were both lost to an utter cringe. Marco covered his face in embarrassment, one grey eye peeping out between his fingers. The sight of it was so comical that Daniele began to giggle.

“We’re… thinking about it,” he managed.

Sami folded his arms determinedly.

“I seen boys do it before,” he declared loudly. “I seen Gianni and Angelo kissing.”

“Oh, Dio, someone please make him stop!” Marco squeaked, which just made Daniele want to laugh even more. Marco’s fist flashed out, his ring catching the sun, punching him furiously in the arm.

“Ouch,” Daniele whispered ruefully, rubbing at the spot with his other hand.

Sami dropped to his knees at Daniele’s side, looking scandalised.

“Don’t hit him!” he protested.

“Yeah, Marco!” Daniele echoed. “Don’t hit me.”

Marco dropped his hands to his sides, looking lost for words for a moment, but then they both broke out into gales of nervous laughter.

* * *

When they had played all the games they could think of, they broke for lunch. Daniele had brought some fresh bread and sliced mozzarella cheese, which he shared with the others under the shade of the pine trees, along with a couple of Patrizia’s wonky pastries.

Before long, the late June day was rising up towards its ferocious hottest, and they decided to beat a retreat. Waving goodbye to Viola, they made the walk back towards town, mixing it up a little by taking a back route, a quiet street dotted with white villas, pink oleander bushes and valley views.

The atmosphere between them seemed a little easier now that Sami had sussed out their secret. Daniele and Marco walked a little closer together, not quite daring to hold hands, but willing at least to acknowledge their new status to an extent. Sami trailed along at their side, tired, it seemed, of running on ahead for the moment.

“We made it!” Marco sighed as they made their final crossing of the square and Sami began to pull away from them again.

“The look on your face when Sami caught us!” Daniele whispered, which set them both off giggling again. They were still laughing and shoving each other playfully when the little boy led them round the corner into the garage at the building site.

Reza had taken Tiziana’s place while they were out. He set his work aside as they rolled into the workspace, looking up with interest as Sami ran into his arms.

“Well… you two seem to be in a good mood,” he told Daniele and Marco. “I take it everything went well?”

Daniele smiled, unshouldering his rucksack. “Yeah. No problems.”

“Except,” Sami piped up, “Dani and Marco almost…”

Marco coughed loudly, making Reza and Sami jump. Hastily, Daniele reached into his bag and offered the other boy a bottle of mineral water.

“Here,” he said, as naturally as he could manage.

“Thanks,” Marco said, taking a slurp of the rather warm water and grimacing slightly.

“Hey, don’t worry –” Reza said hastily. “Let me get you a cold one. We keep a cooler out the back.” He gave an embarrassed laugh. “Construction in this heat is thirsty work.”

Reza disappeared into the back room, leaving Sami looking a little lost. Daniele placed a finger to his lips to warn him not to tell tales. The little boy giggled and nodded.

Reza reappeared a moment later with three cans of Sprite, which he gave to each of the boys.

“Would you two like to look around?” he asked them. “The place is coming together pretty well.”

Marco shrugged and nodded, popping his can open. “Sure.”

Leaving Sami in charge of the garage, Reza led them up an outside staircase and into the upstairs apartment, proudly describing each of the rooms to them. In truth, they all seemed like empty white boxes to Daniele, aside from slightly different configurations of wires or pipes poking out of the walls, but he supposed the place had come a long way from the wreck it was before. At least the drink was nice and cold, and beautifully refreshing after their hot and busy morning.

Reza’s tour finished on the upstairs balcony, which looked down between the umbrella pines on the edge of the square, providing an unusually steep outlook down into the valley, which was baking quietly in the afternoon sun.

“This is a great view,” Daniele offered.

Reza nodded, leaning on the balustrade. “It’s pretty much our main selling point – right on the edge of the square, as well.”

Daniele could even see down into the car park, all the way to the large iron gates at the entrance to the compound where, even now, Cosmo probably stood unhappy guard over the Neris’ illicit merchandise. Suddenly, he realised that Marco knew nothing of the family’s latest criminal activities.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” he whispered to the other boy. Marco jumped slightly, but then gave him a curious look with his cool grey eyes.

Reza gave them a sideways glance, seeming to notice the smaller boy’s exaggerated reaction. “I think I’ll go and check on Sami,” he said. “Stay as long as you like.”

“Thanks, Reza,” Daniele said. The young man nodded affably and headed back downstairs.

“So, what’s the big deal?” Marco asked when he had gone.

Slowly and carefully, Daniele told the story of what they had discovered while Marco was away, and the shockwaves it had caused between Emilia and Luca. By the time he had finished, Marco’s eyes were wide and shocked.

“That’s incredible,” he breathed. “Luca’s a Neri? That’s why Emilia ditched him?”

Daniele nodded. “Although Laura and I are sort of hoping they might still sort things out.”

“And there’s what,” Marco gestured down at the compound, “a load of hardcore weapons down there, right now?”

Daniele nodded. “As far as we know.”

The mousy-haired boy shook his head in disbelief. “Like what? Shotguns? Knives? AK-47s?”

Daniele laughed slightly. “Does it matter?

“Wow,” Marco murmured. “I think you were right to stay out of it. That sounds seriously dangerous.” He drained the last of his drink. “Luca having a secret brother, though… that’s just weird!”

They rolled back out into the square a few minutes later, having said their goodbyes to Reza and Sami, and perched for a moment on one of the stone benches in the shade of the pines. The cicadas chattered in the trees overhead, while the square buzzed quietly with the conversation of visitors enjoying an afternoon beer or soft drink at the bars.

How do you and Giaco keep getting tangled up in this sort of stuff?” Marco asked. “Me, I’ve hardly had any adventures.”

Daniele smiled slightly. “Just luck, I guess,” he replied, although the mention of the dark-eyed boy had brought his mood down for a moment, and he glanced at his feet.

I miss our adventures…

“Hey, sorry,” Marco mumbled awkwardly. “I didn’t mean to, you know…”

“No, it’s okay,” Daniele said, looking back up and attempting another smile. “I… can’t just hide from what I’ve done. I need to put it behind me.”

Marco glanced around the square. “Do you want to take off?” he asked. “I don’t know where, but…”

“How about…?” Daniele began, but then he broke off.

He had been about to suggest they go to his house, but a familiar figure had just entered the square from the tree-lined street next to them. Seemingly on her own, she approached them amiably enough, sunlight glinting off her silver bracelet.

“Ciao, Laura,” Daniele ventured. “What’s up?”

“Ciao, Daniele,” she smiled. “And, hey… you must be Marco.”

Marco nodded. “Buongiorno.

“Where’s Giacomo?” she asked.

“We’re… taking a break,” Daniele said.

Laura frowned slightly. “Oh…” she said, “that’s a shame. Fair warning, then. It’s about to get a lot more loved-up around here.”

She gestured behind her shoulder, and Daniele looked down the street to see Emilia and Luca approaching. They were holding hands again.

He grinned. “So… they made up, then?”

“Yeah, they’re back on track now. I guess Emilia finally realised Luca couldn’t help how he was born…” Laura smiled. “Once we’d done enough shopping, that is.”

“Thanks for looking out for her,” Daniele said.

Laura shrugged. “No big deal,” she replied.

There were quiet voices as Emilia and Luca drew level with them. They both smiled and let go of each other’s hands as they arrived.

“Ciao, guys,” Luca said. “Sorry for the, you know… disappearing act. It’s good to see you again.”

“I’m glad you guys sorted everything out,” Daniele said.

“How was Rome, Marco?” Emilia asked.

“It was brilliant,” he replied distractedly. He glanced uncertainly between them. “Dani’s just told me everything.” Turning to Luca, he added, “I’m sorry about your br –”

But Luca’s green eyes clouded, and he looked away.

“Best not to go there,” Emilia whispered.

“Okay,” Marco mumbled, “sorry.”

Luca mastered himself and managed a smile. “No worries.”

“Do you guys want to hang out for a bit?” Laura asked. In a low voice, she added, “I’m feeling kinda like a third wheel here.”

Daniele and Marco exchanged a glance, and he felt an understanding pass between them.

“Sorry Laura,” Daniele said, “but… we’ve been out with Sami all morning and we were about to take off. Need to get out of the sun.”

Laura sighed slightly. “No problem.”

As quickly as politeness allowed, Daniele and Marco slid off the bench and retreated across the square.

“My place?” Daniele whispered.

Marco nodded at once, his silence not quite concealing the nervousness and excitement he obviously felt.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered back.

* * *

As they set off down Daniele’s usual stairway, the gentle noise of the square receded behind them until they were alone, save for the crunching of their footsteps on the tiny fragments of mortar and gravel that were scattered loosely over the stone steps and the distant scraping of the cicadas in the pine trees up in the Villa Rufolo gardens.

Now, finally, they had a real chance to explore what being together meant for them, and even Daniele began to feel nervous. It wasn’t on the same level he had felt with Giacomo, but it was exciting all the same.

During his couple of days with Giacomo, he had come to know the dark-eyed boy in ways he had never dreamed he would. Over such a short spell of time, Giacomo had gone from an endlessly enticing mystery to someone Daniele felt he knew from tip to toe, as if all the barriers between them had crumbled to dust.

He sensed, now, that they had moved too fast, and he regretted having lost himself so completely in the other boy before he’d had a chance to work his way through the doubts that had ultimately split them up. However, he couldn’t quite bring himself to regret everything they had done together, and the thought of trying it with Marco one day – probably far, far in the future – was oddly intriguing.

They smiled uncertainly at each other, and Daniele felt Marco’s hand slide into his own, tentatively at first, but then with more confidence. It felt different from Giacomo’s: smaller and more delicate, for one thing, but Daniele also knew that there was almost nothing that those fingers could not do.

They walked that way for a while, shifting their grip now and then, seeing how it felt. Daniele found it pleasant, but also a little strange. Marco’s grey eyes looked a little starstruck; Daniele was reminded of the teenage couple he had seen in the square, the boy dazzled by his luck while his girlfriend secretly admired the boy walking next to them.

Don’t worry, Marco. I may have made some mistakes, but I would never cheat on someone like that.

Did he look so dazed, he wondered? He wasn’t sure he felt so far gone but, all the same, there was something dreamlike and surreal about the whole thing. So soon after his experience of a lifetime with Giacomo at the top of the mountain… how, exactly, had it come to this?

They released each other, maintaining an appearance of normality as they crossed the first arm of the hillside road. A few minutes later, Daniele let them both into the quiet of his deserted house, and they shed their shoes in the hall.

It was a Tuesday, family meal night, which meant that his parents would both be back before too much longer. However, Daniele estimated he had at least an hour before either of them would arrive – long enough to see what he and Marco really meant to each other.

Even though they had the whole ground floor at their disposal, Daniele led Marco into his bedroom out of force of habit. It was, after all, his domain, the one place in the world that was his to control, where he felt the master of his own destiny.

Marco eyed the double bed, and something about it seemed to make him uneasy. Daniele supposed he was imagining what he and Giacomo might have done there. He felt a stab of sympathy for the smaller boy; it can’t have been easy, he realised, to be the second choice, or to feel so inexperienced by comparison.

Marco shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m not Giaco,” he said abruptly. “I’m not ready to, you know, do things that really…” he hesitated, before brightening a little. “I’d be okay with kissing, though.”

Daniele smiled. “It’s cool. What happened with Giaco was… kinda strange. I sort of wish we’d waited, too.”

Marco seemed to relax a little. “So, talk to me, Dani,” he said hesitantly. “Tell me what we do next.”

Daniele snickered slightly. “Normally I’d take a shower, but… maybe I’ll start by getting us a drink.” He moved towards the doorway, adding over his shoulder, “not limoncello, I swear.”

Marco gave him a puzzled frown. “Huh?”

Daniele smiled and slipped out to the kitchen. He returned a few moments later with a couple of glasses of cool water from a bottle in the fridge. Marco gulped his down gratefully, then they sat down together on the side of the bed.

Daniele drained about half of his glass and set it down on the bedside table, then turned to face the other boy, heart beating slightly nervously. He sensed that their moment was finally coming.

“I really like you, Dani,” Marco mumbled. “You know that, right?”

Daniele smiled. “Yeah, I… couldn’t really miss it.”

Marco gave an embarrassed laugh. “Then you’re more awake than Giaco ever was. He was totally oblivious. I thought there was something wrong with me.”

Daniele shook his head. “There’s never been anything wrong with you, Marco…” He snickered. “Well, except maybe that you like to hit first and ask questions later.”

Marco cringed. “Oh, Dio, don’t… I’ll be living with the humiliation of that fight forever.”

“It won me some respect from Toto and Giaco, though,” Daniele admitted. Trying to recall the words Toto had spoken after he’d explained why his t-shirt was so scuffed and dusty, he quoted, “‘are you really telling me that the gentlest boy in Ravello…?’”

“You are gentle,” Marco affirmed quietly. “That’s one of the things I l… like most about you. You’re sort of how I always wanted to be.”

“I’ve seen you be gentle,” Daniele said earnestly. “Through all the time we’ve spent with Sami, you’ve been just… perfect.”

“Perfect?” Marco echoed, a faint flush reddening his cheeks. It was plain that it was a word he’d never have linked to himself on his own.

Daniele reached across and laid a hand on the other boy’s own. “I’m glad you’re my friend,” he said. “What’s the point in having enemies? That doesn’t make anyone happy.”

Marco ran a nervous hand through his new, shorter hair. His swept fringe flopped back down in a spidery, chaotic way Daniele had to admit was sort of cute.

“You make me feel like I’m… better, you know?” Marco mumbled. “I always used to kinda hate myself. But now I’ve got you, Gianni, Angelo… even Alfredo and Ennio.” He smiled. “Sometimes I feel so happy I could burst, and I’m just not used to it. The rest of me tries to tell me that it’s all a mistake, and soon everything’s going to go back to being as crappy as I deserve it to be.”

Daniele shook his head. “Things don’t ever have to go back to the way they were before. Where you are, right now? That’s where you deserve to be.”

Marco laughed slightly, running a distracted hand across his brow. “This isn’t happening. I’m in the bedroom of the cutest boy in Ravello, me… and he’s trying to make me feel like I’m amazing?” He turned back to Daniele. “Please… can we just get to the kissing now?”

Daniele smiled. “Works for me.”

They leaned across to each other and, ever so gently, their lips touched. They stayed that way for a couple of seconds, then they pulled away.

“Well… that was nice?” Daniele said, offering the other boy another smile, but Marco looked troubled. He reached up and cupped Daniele’s cheek in one hand.

“Please, can we just…?” he asked, and leaned in again.

Daniele wondered if he’d done something wrong. Aiming for a little more intimacy, he placed a hand on Marco’s shoulder, and they kissed for a second time, for slightly longer. This time, when Marco pulled back, his eyes were dark and unhappy.

“We’re just friends, aren’t we?” he said quietly.

Lost for words, Daniele nodded. He wanted to disagree, but… such little excitement as he had felt had been uneasy and weird.

“I guess we are,” he murmured.

Marco looked away. Hunching low over his lap, he covered his eyes with one hand.

Crap,” he said raggedly.

Daniele’s heart sank as he watched tears begin to roll silently down his friend’s cheeks. He placed an arm around the smaller boy’s shoulders and leaned his forehead against the soft hair above his ear.

“I’m… sorry,” he said. “I really thought we could do this. I wanted to, I swear.”

“It’s okay,” Marco mumbled. “You’ve got to, you know… follow your heart.”

“Yeah,” Daniele murmured. “I’ve been doing a great job of that, haven’t I?”

Without bitterness, Marco pulled away from him and wiped his eyes.

“This would have destroyed me, once,” he said. “But now… I dunno, I think I’ve maybe got a bit more to cling to.” He slid away a little, as if to leave. “Would you like me to, you know… go?”

Daniele placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Please don’t,” he said quietly.

Marco shuffled back towards him, frowning curiously. “Why? What’s up?”

Daniele felt tears spring to his own eyes and wiped at them in shame. He had no right… not after what he’d just done to Marco… and Giacomo, too.

“I just… can’t lose two best friends in the space of one week,” he choked.

For a few seconds, Marco looked like he was fighting a painful internal battle, but then he reached for him and they pulled each other into a tight embrace, letting their emotions run down their cheeks like so many little rivers.

Copyright © 2023 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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Chapter Comments

It felt different from Giacomo’s: smaller and more delicate, for one thing, but Daniele also knew that there was almost nothing that those fingers could not do.

After all those puns in that one chapter when Dani and Giaco  were on the mountain top I thought for sure somebody would have jumped on this line

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Unlike that reaction Marco had the previous time Marco kissed Bani Marco took it very maturely. I wonder how much of that was because of being with Gianni and Angelo. Well I hope you find someone for Marco..... uh except for Luca of course we don't need something like that

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8 minutes ago, weinerdog said:

It felt different from Giacomo’s: smaller and more delicate, for one thing, but Daniele also knew that there was almost nothing that those fingers could not do.

After all those puns in that one chapter when Dani and Giaco  were on the mountain top I thought for sure somebody would have jumped on this line

Puns? Us??

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5 hours ago, weinerdog said:

It felt different from Giacomo’s: smaller and more delicate, for one thing, but Daniele also knew that there was almost nothing that those fingers could not do.

After all those puns in that one chapter when Dani and Giaco  were on the mountain top I thought for sure somebody would have jumped on this line

You and me both!

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