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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. 

Together We Can Fly - 1. Chapter 1

The June sun beat down on the Italian seaside town of Amalfi, a densely packed sprawl of old terracotta rooftops on the shore of a turquoise sea. Narrow and crowded, the main street wound its way up a green and rocky gorge flanked by tree-crowned hills and mountains soaring almost vertically out of the water.

Away from the seafront and the tourists, at the quiet end of town, a teenager leant nonchalantly against a creeper-covered wall of rough-hewn rock and stone outside the gates of the local secondary school, shoulder bag hanging from one hip: a tall, slim figure with dark, tousled hair and brown eyes alight with intelligence, dressed in jeans and a light summer jacket, waiting for his best friend to appear.

This was Toto, sixteen years old and, for now, quite relaxed… and why shouldn’t he be? As of today, school was out for the summer.

He cast his eyes up to the far side of the steeply sloping valley, where, long ago, every scrap of even slightly cultivable land had been carefully terraced and laid out for crops, in a time before tourism when life among these mountains was a matter of survival. Lemon trees and grape vines covered the terraces, trained carefully over criss-crossing structures of wooden poles, giving the mountain a strange, striped appearance. The terraces were dotted with old stone dwellings and flights of steps. Far beyond, rocky peaks receded into a bright blue sky.

Toto supposed he should be impressed, but he had seen it all ten thousand times before. Such things were just a fact of life when you lived on the Amalfi coast. He glanced down to check his wristwatch.

Michele should be coming out any minute.

No sooner had he thought this than an electric bell sounded, and students started to stream out of the buildings. They were all in their mid to late teens, most of them stylishly dressed and chatting excitedly to their friends about their plans for the summer. Sunglasses and bracelets glinted in the afternoon sun as they made their way down the hill towards the main street.

It wasn’t long before Michele appeared, wandering down towards the gates alone, not far behind a petite girl with a bob haircut and neat black glasses. She turned and tipped Michele a goodbye wave as she left.

Arrivederci, Michele!” she said brightly.

“Ciao,” he replied casually, then smiled as he caught sight of Toto. “Hey, college boy!”

“Hey,” Toto smiled back as he looked his friend up and down. Today, his friend was wearing smart navy-blue shorts and a blue check shirt open over a plain grey t-shirt. Toto took in the familiar smile; the soft brown eyes; the mid-length, chestnut-brown hair; the slight but well-formed figure that had had broadened a little in the last year or two; and he sighed inwardly.

Toto had been best friends with Michele for most of his life, but he had been in love with him for at least two years. At least, that was how long he had known he was in love. In truth, he supposed it could have been a lot longer. It wasn’t a secret: Michele knew all about Toto’s doomed affections for him, but for Michele, at least, things didn’t seem to be the same way.

At least we’re still best friends. Not everyone would be so lucky.

“Stop calling me that,” Toto said, punching his friend playfully on the arm, “just because I’m studying at the liceo.”

“Sure,” Michele smiled, “it’s nothing special. How many languages can you speak again?”

“Three,” Toto muttered bashfully. “But I wish I was going to your school.”

“Are you kidding? That place could be your ticket out of here. Me, I’m just learning a hundred ways make tourists hand over their money.”

Toto shrugged. “It’s Papà who wants me to go to University.” He cast a sidelong glance at his friend. “I don’t think it would be so bad to stay here with you.”

Michele brushed this off: he either didn’t notice the hidden meaning behind Toto’s words, or he chose to ignore it.

“Can you believe it?” Michele sighed contentedly. “Three whole months with no school.”

Toto raised both fists to the sky in exaggerated celebration. “It’s going to be heaven!”

Michele laughed. “You’re so lame.”

They set off together down the narrow lane that led to the main street.

“Do you still want to walk back up the hill today?” Toto asked.

Michele nodded. “Sure,” he said. “But I’d better let Mamma know where we’re going to be first.”

At this end of town, the main street was lined with quiet apartment blocks, but they soon found themselves among older buildings. They passed an endless rank of Vespa scooters lined up against an old stone wall from which small tufts of vegetation grew, and then the street began to get a little busier as they passed a couple of shops selling tourist trinkets and gift boxes of local food and wine. Toto saw tea towels and aprons covered in decorative designs of lemons. Outside a clothing shop, a few girls from Michele’s school had gathered and were admiring the racks of incredibly light summer tops and dresses.

The bar where Michele’s mother worked was just a little further down the street. A few couples sat at the outside tables, relaxing and chatting over ice cold drinks; the full onslaught of the high summer season, when the town would be overrun with holidaying families, would not arrive for a few more weeks. Toto and Michele stepped into the cool interior, taking a welcome break from the baking sun that bore down on the street outside.

The owner of the bar, a kind-looking man with a moustache and a bald pate, hailed them as they stepped inside.

“Ciao, boys,” he said, tossing them each a cold can of Lemon Soda. “Happy holidays!”

“Awesome!” Toto said, catching his can with both hands.

“Thanks, Maurizio,” Michele said, cracking his drink open with a hiss.

Maurizio nodded. “Your mother will be right out.”

Toto followed suit and opened his own drink, taking a sip and relishing the way it fizzed coldly down his throat.

Soon Michele’s mother, Chiara, appeared through the kitchen doors, tightening an apron as she went. A shapely woman of about forty, her long wavy hair was tied back in a ponytail for hygiene’s sake, making her look younger than she was. She beamed as she saw her two visitors.

“Well, this is a surprise,” she exclaimed.

“Ciao, Mamma,” Michele said. “I just wanted to tell you that we’re going to walk home today.”

Chiara looked horrified. “You’re not really going to climb the cliff steps in this heat?”

Michele shook his head. “No, Mamma. The Valle delle Ferriere.”

Chiara shrugged in a resigned way that suggested that, in her mind at least, they were both slightly mad. “All right,” she said, “if you really want to. I’ll let your Papà know you’ll be late.”

Michele brightened at once, and for a moment Toto thought he saw the excitable child his friend had once been break through. “Is he home?”

Chiara nodded. “He got back at lunchtime. He reckons he’ll be around for a few weeks.”

“That’s brilliant!” Michele replied.

Chiara smiled. “He’s looking forward to spending some time with you, I’m sure.”

“Me too. We’d better be going. Thanks, Mamma.”

Chiara nodded again. “See you later,” she replied. “Ciao, Toto,” she added with a wink.

Toto grinned. “Ciao, signora.”

They turned to leave. Toto understood why his friend was so pleased. Michele’s father, Davide, represented a co-operative of local producers of wine and limoncello liqueur. He travelled widely for work, and it was rare for him to be home for more than a week or two at a time.

‘Home’ itself was the mountain town of Ravello, nearly four hundred metres above sea level, and Toto and Michele would have a long walk ahead of them to reach it by the valley. Normally they would have caught the bus home, but they had hatched a plan few days ago to end the school year by making the journey on foot. It seemed symbolic, somehow, of the languid summer days to come.

* * *

A short while later, Toto and Michele passed the school gates once again as they began their long climb.

To begin with they made their way up a sunny flight of steps along the side of the gorge, passing between old stone walls and scattered villas with flaking paintwork in heat-repelling shades of yellow, cream and white; then the valley opened out into a leafy bowl full of carefully ordered lemon plantations. Rugged rock and tree-crowned peaks enclosed them from all sides. Toto and Michele walked together and talked about their day. The mood was light, and Toto felt a spring in his step that only the summer holidays could bring.

After a while, the landscape closed in again and became wilder. In the depths of the valley, they could see the old stone shells of abandoned mills, their blank, glowering windows overgrown with wild scrub. The brisk Canneto stream wound along the bottom of the tightening gorge, cascading now and then over small waterfalls. Speckly brown and green lizards, which had been basking in the sun, scuttled for cover as Toto and Michele approached.

Soon the path was swallowed up by the woodland scrub at the bottom of the valley. The fierce afternoon sun gave way to a humid and dappled shade, although the air retained its intense heat. The two boys found themselves walking along a tunnel of trees, stepping over ferns and mossy rocks, passing the broken down remains of mill after mill. The little river, close at hand now, tumbled down invitingly over rocks just below the path. Knowing that they would soon be spending most of their days among the sun-drenched peaks of Ravello, Toto welcomed their temporary spell in the shady gloom.

Michele was recounting the latest news from the schoolyard.

“So, Emanuele was caught behind the bicycle shed with Paola from the year below,” he said. “He might have got away with it… but it was his girlfriend who found them.”

Toto laughed. “Totally busted.”

“And then these two guys, Nicola and Giorgio, they…” he began, grinning as if he were about to say something very funny, but then he stopped, glancing awkwardly at Toto. “Never mind.”

It’s all right, Michele, Toto thought. You don’t have to be that way with me.

“What about you?” Michele asked.

“I’m just glad to be done with school,” Toto said. “Some of the other kids don’t have much to say to me.”

They all know I’m gay, you see, and some of them don’t like it.

“It can’t be that bad, can it?”

“Most of the kids are okay, but I don’t go looking for trouble.” Toto smiled. “I save all my sass for you, boy.”

They had reached a spot where the chuckling stream ran right next to the path.

“Want to cool off?” Michele asked.

Toto shrugged. “Maybe in a minute,” he said.

Michele took off his school bag, shed his shoes and socks and then stepped gingerly down into the stream, hitching up his shorts. He waded towards a small pool at the base of one of the little waterfalls and gasped slightly as the water lapped over his ankles.

“It’s cold,” he smiled at Toto. “You should…”

But then he must have slipped on something beneath the surface. For a split second, Michele’s face registered comical surprise as he tumbled, arms pinwheeling, into the water.

Toto’s eyes widened in alarm. “Michele!” he cried, hurrying forwards, but the other boy was already lifting himself back out of the pool.

“I’m okay,” he said, blinking foolishly as he looked down at himself.

All of Michele’s clothes were soaked. His t-shirt had gone a much darker grey, and water dripped down in quantities from the open lapels of his shirt. His shorts were wrinkled and plastered to his legs.

Michele was in such a sorry-looking state that the sight of it was more than Toto could bear. He burst out laughing, sinking to the ground with the force of it.

“The state of you,” Toto managed to say once he had regained his breath. “Oh, dio…!”

“Thanks a bunch, Toto,” Michele said bashfully, picking his way back to the bank of the stream. Toto offered him a hand to help him climb out.

“Give me your shirt,” Toto said, more sympathetically.

Michele took the shirt off and handed it to Toto, who did his best to wring it out. Cold water trickled out from the corners, darkening the light dirt of the footpath and kicking up a pleasant earthy smell. When he had finished, Toto hung the shirt on the wooden handrail of a nearby footbridge.

“And the tee,” he said.

“Seriously?” Michele asked, but then he shrugged. “Ah, whatever.”

Michele stripped to the chest and handed the grey t-shirt to Toto, then grabbed his shoes and returned to the water’s edge. Dipping his feet once more to remove the dirt he had picked up, he shoved his socks back on and re-tied his trainers.

Toto had forgotten all about the t-shirt; he was too busy watching his friend’s bare back and shoulders as he worked at his shoelaces in the dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. The light starred off the silver chain of a small pendant that Michele often wore, which depicted a swift in flight. Toto had given it to him a year ago as a birthday present.

After a few moments, Michele rose and turned, catching Toto staring vacantly at him with the wet t-shirt dangling from one hand.

“Stop perving over me, Toto,” he whispered, taking the t-shirt from him.

Toto smiled guiltily. “Sorry.”

Michele averted his eyes and set to wringing the t-shirt out, a flush of embarrassment playing about his cheeks, but Toto thought he looked flattered.

“That pendant really suits you,” Toto said.

“Yeah, I know,” Michele replied as he struggled back into the damp t-shirt. “Let’s go.”

* * *

Before too long, they reached the deepest point of their route, a fork in the path where they had to double back along an upper branch of the valley. They climbed quickly and had soon broken out into full sun among the lower mountain peaks, with the valley spread out below them. The earthen path gave way to dry rock and gravel, and the broadleaved woodland of the valley was replaced by drought-loving herbs and scrub. Cicadas could be heard scraping away in the scattered trees. Michele’s damp clothing began to dry in the sun as they went.

After about half an hour of walking in this fragrant isolation, occasionally climbing flights of stone steps as they worked their way up into the mountains, they found themselves among the first scattered houses of the village of Pontone. Soon they were walking along a panoramic footpath. Far below, Amalfi, where they had started their journey, was just a cluster of white buildings and terracotta roofs leading down towards the blue sea, flanked by the rugged cliffs of the valley.

Toto whistled a tune as they walked, feet crunching on fragments of gravel that littered the concrete path. He still felt that strange lightness of step, which was only enhanced by being so high up among the hills.

The centre of the village was a cluster of old buildings at the head of a rocky crag, crowned with small pine trees, which jutted out towards the sea. They paused for a rest, leaning on the railings next to a tiny old church, where a sign next a footpath leading out onto the crag read Torre dello Ziro. Michele stared out at the crag, seemingly lost in thought. Toto had a feeling he knew what his friend was thinking about.

“Enzo and his idiot friends should never have run out on you like that,” Toto said.

Enzo Palmeri was a hard-hearted boy a couple of years older than Toto and Michele. His father, Giuseppe, ran a garage on the edge of town. A couple of years ago, there had been a short spell when Toto and Michele weren’t talking. A reluctant Michele had spent some time with Enzo and his friends Filippo and Antonio, until an adventure on this self-same crag had ended badly, almost costing Michele his life.

Michele glanced back over his shoulder, and Toto was saddened to see the old trauma still lurking in the depths of his brown eyes. “They just left me to die,” he said. “Sometimes, when I dream, I’m still hanging off that cliff.”

Toto inspected his hands awkwardly. “I’m sorry. I should have been there.”

Michele shook his head. “It was my own fault! I knew what kind of guys they were before we went up there. Anyway, I’ll tell you one thing, Toto.”

“What?” Toto asked.

“You would never have run off and left me like they did. You would have found a way to reach me.”

Toto nodded fiercely. “No doubt about it.”

“I haven’t been back since,” Michele said. “It was beautiful there, really. I always thought I would take you, but…”

“Too many bad memories?”

Michele nodded.

“We should go,” Toto said. “Maybe it will help you put it to rest.”

“I don’t know…”

“I mean it,” Toto insisted. Suddenly, he felt certain it was the right thing to do. “Let’s go there tomorrow.”

Michele gave Toto a long, searching look, but then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and nodded.

“All right. I trust you. It’s just… some of those footpaths by the cliffs…”

What’s going on here? How could I not have noticed?

“Michele?” Toto asked quietly. “Are you afraid of heights?”

Michele scowled and shook his head. He seemed incredibly frustrated with himself.

“I’m all right when I know I’m behind a fence or a wall,” he said, smacking the railings with a free hand to illustrate the point. “It’s just those unfenced edges. They make me feel really weird, like I’m about to fall all over again.” He turned away. “It’s so stupid.”

Toto bit his lip uncertainly. “Hey…” he said, reaching to put an arm round Michele’s shoulder. He thought the other boy might shake him off, but he didn’t. “I understand. If you’re not ready…”

“No.” Michele looked back at him, his eyes hardening with a new resolve. “This has gone on for long enough. I want to do this. We’ll come back tomorrow, like you said.”

* * *

Toto and Michele’s home town of Ravello stood on a high rocky promontory on the far side of the Valle del Dragone, a deep valley where another brisk stream carved its way down to the sea, finishing up at the small village of Atrani.

There was no easy way straight across the valley from Pontone, so the two boys completed their journey by climbing steeply up to the neighbouring village of Scala, a sprawl of isolated hamlets peppered over the sun-drenched mountainside, linked by a zig-zagging hairpin road. They made their way down to the village centre, passing silvery olive groves and lush terraced vegetable plots. Swifts flew overhead, uttering their shrill summer cries, and cicadas still scraped away in the trees. On the far side of the valley, the churches, villas and palazzi of Ravello stood proudly along the top of the hill, dotted throughout with tall thin cypress trees and sculptural umbrella pines. By following the road, they were able to cross the head of the main part of the valley, where the tree-crowned summit of Monte Brusara loomed over both towns.

Before too much longer, two tired boys reached the top of the single valley road that led up to Ravello from the coast. They climbed the final stretch, reaching the centre of the town as they passed the back of an old stone church with barrel roofs and an ornate cupola. As they passed a small, whitewashed workshop selling colourful ceramic plates decorated with patterns of local flowers, grapes and lemons, they finally left the road behind them.

They set off up a narrow street of worn, dark grey crazy paving, flitting between the shadows of small decorative trees until they passed under the tall stone arch of a ruined palazzo that straddled the street. With that, they finally emerged in the main cathedral square.

The life of the town buzzed cheerfully around them in every direction. At the head of the large stone-paved space, the slender, ornate bell tower and plain, whitewashed façade of the cathedral glowed in the evening sun at the top of a broad flight of steps. Opposite, eight magnificent umbrella pines framed a view out over the valley to the terraced slopes of Scala and the rugged mountains beyond, cicadas scraping raucously among their rich green canopies; people stood at the railings in twos and threes, admiring the view and enjoying the shade cast by the trees. To either side, old buildings with peeling paint and rusting ironwork played host to a number of colourful shops and bars.

Several of the bars had colonised the open part of the square with clusters of outside tables, at which small groups of people sat, enjoying a drink, an ice cream, or an evening snack. Pigeons pecked around their feet, looking for crumbs. In one corner, next to a tunnel leading out to the bus stops and the inland road for Naples, an ancient stone guard tower covered in creepers marked the entrance to the colourful gardens of the Villa Rufolo. A handful of younger children roamed freely among the locals and visitors, playing excitable games, safe under the watchful eye of the community at large.

Toto remembered when he had been one of those children, charging around the square on his bicycle while Michele tried desperately to keep up on his micro scooter. He smiled at the memory.

“I’m seriously thirsty,” he said. “Fancy a drink?”

Michele nodded with enthusiasm. “Definitely.”

Distant church bells chimed half past five as they took a seat outside one of the bars. When a waiter came over to take their orders, they both asked for a Sprite. Toto stretched and relaxed, resting his aching feet.

The drinks weren’t long in coming. Michele raised his glass, and they chinked them together.

“To the end of school,” he said.

Toto smiled and took a sip of the cool, fresh drink.

“We’re sixteen now, Michele,” he said. “We could leave school forever, if we wanted.”

Michele laughed. “Why would you want to do that?” he said. “You’re at the liceo. Whoever’s idea it was, university comes next. A whole bright future awaits.”

Toto looked steadily at his friend. “I don’t know if that’s what I really want.”

Michele looked back at him, his brown eyes anxious for a moment. “Be serious, Toto,” he said. “Aren’t you just saying that because…”

But they were saved from having to discuss it any further, because at that moment a bright voice cut across the square to them.

“Toto! Michele!”

A girl of about eighteen had just entered the square from the direction of the bus stops and was approaching their table. She had dark brown eyes and long black hair, which she kept tied in a plait down her back. She was wearing stylishly threadbare jeans and a light summer top and was carrying a large rucksack over one shoulder.

“Ciao, Claudia,” Toto called. “Come and join us.”

“Thanks, pretty boy,” she replied with a teasing smile at Toto, sitting down and ordering a freshly squeezed orange juice from the waiter. “Ciao Michele.”

“Ciao,” Michele replied, taking a sip of his Sprite.

“Are you all done for the summer, too?” Toto asked her, glancing at her bulging rucksack.

“Yes, thank God,” Claudia sighed.

“I thought you liked your school?” Michele replied.

“Oh, I do!” she insisted. “I love Salerno, and the cousins I stay with there are great… but I only get to come home at weekends. Mamma’s on her own now.”

Michele frowned. “Don’t your brothers visit her?”

“Sure, they do, but it’s not the same.”

“Sucks for you that the nearest art liceo is thirty kilometres away,” Toto interjected.

Claudia shrugged. “It’s worth it. You’ve got to chase your dream.”

Toto cast a sideways glance at Michele.

What if your dream is unobtainable?

The waiter came with Claudia’s orange juice; she thanked him and then turned back to the others.

“So, what’s new with you both?” she asked.

“Well, we walked up from school,” Michele said.

Toto grinned. “And Michele made a total ass of himself in the Canneto stream. I think his underpants are probably still wet.”

“There you go,” Michele sighed, “thinking about my underpants again.”

Claudia snorted into her drink. “You two crack me up. You’re so perfect for each other.”

“If only…” Toto replied, glancing at Michele. The other boy looked a bit embarrassed and took another sip of his drink.

“So, I guess you’ll be spending most of the holidays together, huh?” Claudia asked.

“We’re not always together,” Michele protested.

“Nah,” Toto added. “Just most of the time. But it’s not an exclusive club.” He glanced questioningly at Michele, who nodded. “We should all hang out some time, if you’re up for it?”

Claudia nodded. “Totally.”

They were interrupted again, just then, as a man in suit trousers and a white shirt appeared on the scene. Michele sprang up from his seat at once.

“Papà!” he said, stepping forward to embrace the newcomer.

“I thought I’d find you here,” the man smiled, hugging him firmly. “Ciao, Michele.”

Michele’s father, Davide, looked like a man who had just finished a long day’s journey. He had undone the top button of his shirt and had managed to shed the jacket and tie he normally wore when he was on business. His brown eyes, so like Michele’s, were tired but kindly. With close-cropped, greying hair, he lacked Michele’s flowing locks, but Toto could easily imagine that his hair might once have been chestnut brown like his son’s.

Buonasera, signor Romano,” Toto said.

“Ciao, Toto,” Michele’s father replied. “How are you today? Glad that school’s out for the summer?”

Toto nodded and smiled. “Couldn’t be happier.”

Davide chuckled. “Do you mind if I steal my son from you now? We have some catching up to do.”

“Sure thing, signore,” Toto replied. “See you tomorrow, Michele.”

Michele nodded. “Ciao, Toto.”

Michele and his father set off across the square, arms around each other’s shoulders. Toto and Claudia watched them go until they were out of sight, disappearing down a side street near the old stone gatehouse to the Villa Rufolo. Toto sighed.

Claudia gave him a sympathetic smile. “Cheer up, Toto.”

“I’m fine,” Toto replied. “It’s just, sometimes…” he tailed off.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be the best friend when they don’t feel the way you do,” she finished for him. She paused, looking back across the square to where Michele and his father had left. “I wonder…” she mused, but she didn’t complete the thought.

A companionable silence fell between them for a few moments.

“Fancy some dinner?” Claudia asked after a while. “Mamma will be helping at Pietro and Anna’s restaurant tonight, so I’m meeting Angelo and Gianni. I’m sure they’d let you join us.”

Toto looked up, feeling more cheerful. “Sure, that’d be great.”

“Your father won’t mind?”

Toto shook his head. His father, Salvatore, ran a small grocery store on Via Roma, Ravello’s narrow and winding shopping street. Salvatore would be busy doing the late shift and would barely notice that Toto was gone.

“He’ll be fine,” Toto replied.

“In that case,” Claudia said, fishing an old mobile phone out of her rucksack, “let me just send a text.”

* * *

Since they had befriended Toto a couple of years ago, Gianni and Angelo had helped to give him hope for the future. Now in their early to mid-twenties, the two young men lived together in an apartment a short walk from the cathedral square.

Angelo was Claudia’s middle brother. Their family lived across the valley in Scala. One summer, in the aftermath of a fatal car crash that had cost him his parents, Gianni had moved from London to live with his estranged grandparents in Ravello. The two boys, both fifteen years old at the time, had met through Gianni’s cousin, Anna, who was engaged to Claudia’s eldest brother Pietro. Gianni and Angelo had bonded quickly and, over the course of that summer, had secretly fallen for one other.

Their relationship had gone public in spectacular style following an incident at Pietro and Anna’s wedding. The fallout had rocked both of their families for a while, but eventually the dust had settled, and they had found a sort of acceptance in the community. Angelo worked as a freelance carpenter, following in his late father’s footsteps, while Gianni held down a simple job as a waiter at a hotel, which he said gave him time to work on his art. The way Toto saw it, if Gianni and Angelo could survive in this environment then so could he.

When Toto had run away from home after his father found out about his feelings for Michele, it was Gianni and Angelo who had sheltered him and, with a little help from Gianni’s grandmother Marina, ultimately helped to patch up Toto’s relationship with his father enough for him to move home.

Gianni and Angelo arrived a short while after Claudia sent her text. They strolled into the square together from the corner of Via Roma next to the cathedral, hands in pockets, both wearing smart casual clothes and chatting cheerfully. Catching sight of Toto and Claudia, they waved and made their way over to join them at the table.

“I swear to you, I don’t fancy Zac Efron,” Gianni was saying. “I never have!”

“Come on,” Angelo teased. “Your hair when I first met you was pure High School Musical.

“It was a popular enough style,” Gianni said, with an attempt at dignity.

Angelo grinned, and ran a hand through Gianni’s short dark hair. “I miss those locks.”

“Ciao, guys,” Claudia said as the new arrivals sat down together.

“Ciao, Claudia,” Angelo replied, reaching across to give his sister a quick hug.

“And Toto!” Gianni added with a smile. “We meet again.”

“Ciao, Gianni,” Toto replied.

Gianni, whose father had been half English, always stood out in a crowd because of his piercing blue eyes. His usually neat hair now looked rather mussed. Angelo’s spiky black hair was as stylish as ever. He looked across the table with eyes every bit as dark brown as his sister’s.

“How was school this week, Claudia?” Angelo asked.

“Good, thanks,” she replied. “The teacher really liked my photography series on the abandoned farmhouses in the hills.”

“And how’s the drawing going?” Gianni asked.

Claudia shrugged. “It’s still a work in progress,” she smiled. “I don’t think I have your gift.”

Toto had seen some of Gianni’s art before. Even now, years later, he still captured the buildings and landscapes of Ravello as if he had just arrived for the first time and was seeing it through fresh eyes. Despite Gianni’s top tips, Toto’s own attempts had never been half as good.

“What about you, Toto?” Angelo asked lightly. “Where’s your friend Michele? Has he abandoned you again?”

Toto shook his head and smiled. “His father came home. I guess they haven’t seen each other for a couple of weeks. We’re meeting up tomorrow.”

Toto recounted their walk up the Valle delle Ferriere once again. When he got to the part about Michele falling over in the stream, Angelo laughed.

“A wetting is the best way to start the summer,” he said. “Sort of a rite of passage, eh, Gianni?”

Gianni glared at him playfully. “I got you back for that, don’t forget,” he said.

“You just keep on believing that,” Angelo grinned.

The waiter came to take the newcomers’ drink order.

“Wouldn’t you normally be working tonight, Gianni?” Toto asked.

“Sergio gave me the night off,” Gianni replied. “I guess he knew we’d be wanting to mark the end of school.”

Sergio, Anna’s father, was head waiter at the hotel where Gianni worked. Gianni had once admitted to Toto that he thought Sergio had probably pulled a few strings to help him get the job.

“I’ve got some leave coming,” Gianni continued. “Would you two like to get together with us soon for beach games, or something? Michele could come along as well.”

Toto and Claudia both nodded.

“Look me up at the hotel tomorrow, then,” Gianni said. “We’ll sort something out.”

“Your friend, Toto,” Angelo said. “Is he still…?”

Toto shook his head. “Michele doesn’t see me that way.”

“That’s too bad,” Angelo commiserated. “He doesn’t know what he’s missing, I’m sure.”

Claudia punched Toto on the arm. “Too right.”

* * *

They lingered over drinks in the square for couple of hours, chatting about the year gone by and their hopes for the summer.

The decorative streetlights that lit the square by night burst into life once the sun began to dip behind the mountains on the far side of the valley, casting Ravello into a long, early dusk. Rows of distant golden lights began to appear along the zig-zagging road that linked the scattered hamlets of Scala. The air lost the worst of its heat, and the gentle buzz of a Friday evening in Ravello rumbled on. Quiet music began playing from one of the other bars across the square, and the cicadas in the pine trees had not finished their day’s summer chorus just yet.

Toto, Claudia, Angelo and Gianni adjourned to a nearby pizzeria, which stood at the foot of a flight of steps that climbed gently beside the cathedral. Fairy lights were already twinkling in the oleander trees that lined the path, covered in sprays of pink flowers, casting dappled shadows on the stone paving from the overhead streetlights. They enjoyed a meal together in the restaurant’s garden courtyard; Toto devoured a traditional Neapolitan pizza topped with cheese, tomato and anchovies.

“Someone’s hungry,” Gianni smiled as strings of melted mozzarella trailed down Toto’s chin.

“Long walk,” Toto replied, taking another large bite.

Eventually Toto, feeling well fed and much in need of a shower after the day’s exertions, said good night to the others and set off for home. It was only a few short steps back down to Via Roma, where he lived with his father in an apartment above their grocery shop.

A narrow, winding alleyway, Via Roma would normally have been bustling with shoppers, but many of the traders had finished for the night. Reaching Salvatore’s store, Toto found his father behind the counter, getting ready to close up himself.

Salvatore was a tall, slim man with a thin moustache and dark hair rising to a widow’s peak; he had a tired and careworn look about him, born out of years of running the shop on his own. The store itself was a real Aladdin’s cave, shelves stacked from floor to ceiling with dried and canned goods both in front of the counter and behind. A tall fridge unit contained cold drinks, popular with day visitors, and a few fresh products.

Buonasera, Toto,” Salvatore said.

“Ciao, Papà,” Toto replied. “How was business today?”

“Fine, thank you,” he replied. “Viola Rossi bought my complete supply of phallic pasta shapes again.”

Toto smiled. “She is a strange lady.”

Salvatore nodded with a thin smile. “How was your last day of school?”

“Good, thanks,” Toto replied. He decided to spare his father the details of his antics with Michele. “And I had a nice dinner with Claudia, Gianni and Angelo.”

“That’s good,” Salvatore replied distractedly as he sorted through the contents of the till. “I’m glad you’ve made a few more friends these last couple of years.”

“I’m pretty wiped out,” Toto said. “So I’m going to turn in, if that’s okay?”

Salvatore nodded. “Of course.”

“Do you… will you want any help in the shop this summer?”

Salvatore looked up and considered his son for a moment. “I should be fine, thank you, Toto,” he replied. “But I suppose a bit of help now and then during the peak of the Festival might be welcome.”

Toto shoved his hands in his pockets. “Sure thing,” he said. “Buonanotte, Papà.”

“Good night, Toto.”

Toto made his way back outside and let himself in through the separate door that led to their apartment. As he climbed the stairs, he contemplated how far they had come. It wasn’t so long ago that things between them had seemed like they were ruined for good, but now, even though Salvatore had always struggled to accept his interest in Michele, Toto and his father were actively trying to spend a little more time together.

* * *

Two years ago

Toto Friuli, aged fourteen, flees down Via Roma, his trainers pounding the crazy paving in the hot July sun, rage and shame coursing through his heart and mind.

He has just tried to kiss his friend Michele, and his father saw the whole thing. Worse still, Michele pushed him away. Toto’s right eye smarts where Salvatore accidentally struck him as he tried to stop him leaving.

He sprints out into the square, ignoring the locals and visitors enjoying a lazy afternoon, unaware that his actions will push Michele into the hands of Enzo and his friends, resulting in Michele’s ordeal up by the Torre.

He charges round the corner towards the road that leads down into the valley, accidentally ploughing into a young blond boy who had been walking the other way. The younger boy falls to his bottom, looking up at Toto reproachfully.

“I’m sorry!” Toto calls over his shoulder, but he sees that the younger boy isn’t badly hurt and he keeps on running, one foot in front of the other, leaving the square behind him. Suddenly, his home and his life seem too small, too confined.

Right now, all Toto wants to do is escape and never come back.

Copyright © 2021 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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A trip back to Ravello! So glad to meet up with old friends and, once again, enjoy the slow pace of life and natural beauty of the Italian countryside.

Sad to see that Toto's love remains unrequited. Perhaps it will take a "younger blond boy" to make Michele realize what he stands to lose.... (Just a wild guess. ^_^  If Michele is truly straight, Toto would never ask more of him than friendship--and maybe to take off his shirt once in a while. :lol:)

Another reason why Toto should have good karma: He likes anchovies! (Save some for me!) :thumbup:

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Another wonderful beginning to a Ravello story.  Toto is doing well, but still is in love with Michele.  Michele has grown some, but still seems to not have figured out his own sexual identity.  Angelo and Gianni have settled into a very laid back lifestyle and fit well into the community.  Sweet Claudia is back with all her humour and liveliness.  Thanks James for continuing this marvellous series.

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1 minute ago, raven1 said:

Another wonderful beginning to a Ravello story.  Toto is doing well, but still is in love with Michele.  Michele has grown some, but still seems to not have figured out his own sexual identity.  Angelo and Gianni have settled into a very laid back lifestyle and fit well into the community.  Sweet Claudia is back with all her humour and liveliness.  Thanks James for continuing this marvellous series.

Thanks!

I went for humour in this story more than I have in the others. Toto & Michele lend themselves quite well to banter. I hope you enjoy it.

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